Author: talatyaq

The Tiresome Sexism in our Media

Chair and Co-Founder of Women 5050, Talat Yaqoob, tells us about how media and cultural stereotyping contributes to a landscape with fewer women leaders:

Sexism in the media is apparent day in, day out. Whether it is the pages of The Daily Star who seem to thing a naked woman is needed sprawled across a page to enable us to understand the news or advertising selling apples but of course needs a woman seductively biting into one for us to purchase it. Sexism in media is not new, but it is an on-going, and what feels like an increasing, problem.

When I talk about this I often get told to “brush it off”, “That’s just how it is” or the rarer but more painful “at least women are in the media, it’s only a problem if you make it one.”

The reality of course is – I am not making it a problem, it is a problem. A big one. Let me show you just a few examples of how much of a problem this is:

Here’s how Nicola Sturgeon was depicted during the General Election (The Sun 2015):


Nicola Sturgeon again, during the independence referendum (The Daily Mail 2014):


This is how Kezia Dugdale MSP was described (Edinburgh Evening News 2015):

evening news

When Kezia Dugdale goes on Question Time (blogger, 2015)



When was the last time a male leader was described as this? (Daily Mail, 2016)


Liz Kendall in the 2015 Labour Leadership election:


Who cares what you think Ruth, why are you wearing that colour? (Daily Mail, 2016)


The headline of the above article (Daily Mail, 2016)

Iron Lassie

What Ruth Davidson received (LBC Presenter, 2016)


And  most recently, how the media is illustrating Theresa May – evidence A (Daily Mail, 2016)


Evidence B (Mirror, 2016) – ask yourself; when was the last time we asked a male MSP to justify why he doesn’t have children:

theresa children

And finally, there was that time where women (Sorry, girls) were not members of the cabinet, but on a modelling contract:

The Daily Mail's 'Downing Street catwalk'

The Women 5o50 campaign is fighting for more women to be leaders in councils, parliament and on public boards, but when you have media critiquing women leaders or potential leaders not for their policy stances, but what they wear, their haircuts, their personal lives and the pitch of their voices, it is not surprising that fewer women than men come forward to take on these roles. Who would put themselves under that level of cruel scrutiny? It is old, it is tired, it is time for it to stop. There is potential that main parties both north and south of the border will be lead by women – whilst this is certainly not a sign in of itself that we have reached a “post-feminist” society (trust, me) it does bring to the fore just how ridiculous this commentary is and highlights how much of a novelty our media seems to think women in positions of power are -still. Get over being surprised at their existence, get over thinking they are there to look good. Ask them the questions that matter – how will they make our country fairer? What is their view on austerity? What will they do for the 1 in 4 women who experience gender based violence?

Media and women’s representation – it’s a chicken or egg situation:

Do we need to have more women in parliament first, their leadership becoming normalised and therefore media taking their existence more seriously will follow. Or do we need media to become more mature and respectful in its depiction of women first and then more women leaders will follow? The reality is, we need both to be happening at the same time for there to be any advancement in women’s representation and for us to change the culture of sexism around us.

In the meantime, I will prepare myself for my regular dose of eyerolls and tweeting disdain at papers/journalists. Feel free to join me.


Meet the Women #4

Meet the Women is a regular blog from new women MSPs who support our campaign. This week it’s Gilliam Martin, SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire East86857ea3-f669-48e2-af63-0a573c170e75

I never imagined myself as a politician and if I’m honest, I’m still a little bit dazed at the fact that I now am. I’ve always held very strong political opinions and have been arguing for an independent Scotland as long as I can remember arguing about anything, but my aspirations always lay elsewhere in terms of a career.

Up until now there have been two main threads running through my working life- the media and teaching. I have been a Further Education lecturer on and off since I graduated, mixed in with working for production and media relations companies and latterly running my own corporate and training video company.  Throughout my teaching career I’ve always been pushing my female students to overcome the barriers of a fairly male dominated television production industry and step outwith their comfort zone. So when it came to being politically involved, I took a bit of my own advice.

Like so many other women I know, it took the independence referendum for me to stop sitting on my sofa shouting at the television and get out and start actively campaigning. Women for Independence that was my first formal membership of a political organisation. I felt, like so many of us that the advantages of a Yes vote from the female perspective were getting lost, and that there were just not enough women at the town hall debates, either in the audience or on panels. So I took personal responsibility for that in my area and set up my own branch of the group, The Indy Quines.

There’s something about taking your first steps into a political arena alongside other women that made it feel more comfortable for me- I still haven’t come to grips with defining exactly what that is. When I felt ready to join the SNP, I was given the confidence to get active within the party by my campaign experience as one of the Indy Quines. I’d like to think that women will see the sheer number and variety of female MSPs in the SNP group and feel that the political arena in Scotland is less daunting. With the work of organisations like Women 50:50 and WFI as well as some political parties’ gender equality policies, it’s my hope that together we’ll break down the psychological as well as the societal barriers to more women feeling they might want to enter politics. Perhaps if the landscape looked like this 20 years ago, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out it’s where I belonged!

Meet the Women #3

Meet Monica Lennon Scottish Labour MSP for Central Scotland:monica

Being one of the 51 new MSPs elected to the Scottish Parliament makes me tremendously proud. In total there are only 129 MSPs so when I wake up in the morning I feel both a huge sense of empowerment and responsibility. I believe in the power of politics to do enormous good. I am already in love with our Scottish Parliament. It is a place where we can transform Scotland in the interests of all our constituents. All too often politicians talk down our expectations but I refuse to talk about what we can’t do. My Scottish Parliament is one of opportunity and possibility. I can’t wait to represent the views and ambitions of my constituents. I want each and every one of them to feel that the Scottish Parliament belongs to them and reflects their lives.

As a feminist I am acutely aware that our Parliament does not yet represent all of us. Scottish Labour and the Scottish National Party are close to achieving gender balance but other political groups have failed. Some didn’t even try. The Tories to be precise.

As one of few women elected in Scotland as a local councillor (24 per cent) and now a MSP (35 per cent) I will never be satisfied until women have the same chances as men to make our laws and decide how our taxes are raised and spent.

Women 50:50 excites me. I have met so many inspiring women from various political parties as a result of the campaign.  In my new role as an MSP I am committed to doing everything I can to advance women’s representation. Including men in this cause is a big area of untapped potential.

Challenging gender inequality isn’t simply women’s work. We need feminists however they define their gender to come together to fight inequality and sexism. I hope to use my term in the Scottish Parliament to help change our culture. With Scottish Council elections less than a year away, political parties should already be looking at their selection processes. Tired old excuses about women not being interested or the best candidate won, he just happens to be a man, simply won’t wash. Especially if the vast majority of your candidates aren’t women. My policy on gender inequality is one of zero tolerance. Women 50:50 rightfully campaigns for legislative gender quotas. All the evidence from around the world proves this is works. We have learned in Scotland that gender equality doesn’t trickle down. It’s not enough to have a women First Minister. I believe that we have a big opportunity to make democracy in Scotland a world leader in terms of women’s representation. I will be reaching out to MSPs across the chamber asking them to help make it so.

Meet The Women #2

Women 5050 is hosting blogs from women MSPs from across political parties who support fair representation.

This week, meet Ruth Maguire, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South.Ruth Swearing In

I’ve long supported the 50/50 campaign. To me the under-representation of women in public life is simply unacceptable and we have to address the structural reasons behind that with meaningful action that gets results.

Whilst I acknowledge we all still have a great distance to travel in terms of the ethnic diversity in the Scottish Parliament, it is evident that, where positive action has been taken by the main parties, the public get representatives who better reflect their community.  It’s also crystal clear which side of the chamber doesn’t see the problem!

With the argument won that action is needed, it’s crucial that we continue the momentum.  I am very pleased that SNP national council agreed mechanisms at the weekend which will see even more women SNP candidates for the council elections in 2017.

This week I set down my first parliamentary motion and was happy to receive cross party support and congratulations for Ayrshire College on their #ThisManCan campaign and event on the 26th.  That excellent campaign aims to encourage more men into careers in health and social care.  It’s not only women that are held back by inequality.  If we can stop limiting ourselves by notions of what men and women “do” then it’s better for society as a whole.

I look forward to continuing to work both in and outside the parliament on driving the 50/50 agenda forward.

Meet the Women #1

Women 5050 will be hosting guest posts from women MSPs from across parties who are supporters of fair representation. We will hopefully be posting these weekly (depending on how busy the MSPs are!). Here is our first edition:

Meet Gail Ross SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross:CqBArLkC

It’s a huge honour to be elected as an MSP and represent the area that I grew up in and love. It’s also great to be able to be a strong role model for young women who are trying to find their way in life and are unsure what path to take. Politics has traditionally been seen as a male dominated profession in the past, now I am glad to see that is changing.

I’ve come across a few instances of casual sexism in the past few years as a Councillor and recently as Civic Leader, from joking remarks about the ‘weaker’ sex to outright astonishment that I should hold such a post. The most memorable was a piece in our local newspaper by a columnist musing on who would hold positions in a new Caithness Council. I was to be promoted to ‘Meenister fur Weemin’ and my primary responsibilities were to be things like ‘advising women on skirt lengths, make up and nail polish, reminding men about their wives birthdays and making the tea’. Satirically written but underlining a more serious challenge that a lot of women face every day in the workplace. I must say I’ve had a lot of mileage out of it though, I used it as the basis for a speech to the SNP conference last October about gender balance and people are still talking about it!

As we move forward we have to encourage more women to get involved in politics. The SNP group now have 43% female representation, we have a gender balanced cabinet and we strive to make the Scottish Parliament more family friendly. This job comes with enormous responsibility and it’s not for everyone but at least we can show women that whether it’s politics or some other career or life goal, gender doesn’t have to be a barrier anymore.


Full List of Candidates for 2016

Here is an outline of all candidates and how the Scottish Parliament is fairing for women.

(all data has been taken from party websites or press coverage – get in touch if we’ve got something wrong!)

Scottish Labour: List Candidates: 50% – 43 out of 86 candidates

Scottish Labour: Constituency Candidates: 53% – 39 out of 73 candidates

SNP: List Candidates: 45% – 43 out of 96 candidates

SNP: Constituency candidates: 41% – 30 out of 73 candidates

Scottish Conservatives: List Candidates: 16% – 12 out of 74 candidates

Scottish Conservatives: Constituency Candidates: 16% – 12 out of 73 candidates. 2 out of 8 lists have no women standing whatsoever.

Scottish Liberal Democrats: List Candidates: 41% – 11 out of 27 candidates

Scottish Liberal Democrats: Constituency Candidates: 37% – 20 out of 54 Candidates

Scottish Greens: List Candidates: 50% – 33 out of 66 candidates

Scottish Greens: Constituency Candidates: 33% – 1 out of 3 candidates

RISE Scotland: List Candidates: 55% – 22 out of 40 candidates

RISE Scotland: Constituency Candidates: Not standing in constituencies

Solidarity: List Candidates: 45% – 18 out of 40 candidates

Solidarity: Constituency Candidates: Not standing in constituencies

UKIP List Candidates: 15% – 4 out of 26 candidates are women. 4 out of 8 lists have no women on them whatsoever.

UKIP Constituency Candidates: Not standing in constituencies

Women’s Equality Party: 100% – 5 out of 5 candidates (Lothians and Glasgow Lists only)

Women’s Equality Party: Constituency candidates: Not standing in constituencies


There are 460 candidates running across the lists, of which 188 are women (41%)

There are 276 candidates standing in constituencies, of which 102 are women (37%)

Imagine the talent we are missing out on, without a fair representation of women on the ballot paper. After this election, we will be working to make fair representation a reality by the time another Holyrood election comes around.


Loaded questions and myths

That’s the Scotswoman from 21 years ago…still talking about how we get more women into leadership. Shall we just do it already?

Talat Yaqoob, Chair and Co-Founder of Women 5050 highlights the problem with the quota public narrative:

It’s International Woman’s Day and to celebrate The Scotsman has become the Scotswoman. It’s actually a great thing to see (although a more regular occurance would be even better). The writers at the Scotsman (all women for the day) have been quick to get in touch with us for commentary and to include the campaign. For that, we thank you.

The Scotswoman has done an exclusive poll for today, which, unsurprisingly reveals that 1 in 4 people have experienced gender discrimination in the workplace and sadly that only a third of people think gender equality will be a reality in their lifetime.

They also polled a question about Women 5050’s aims for legislated candidate quotas. This found that only 23% of the polled public (1000) supported quotas.

But here is the reality of how that was asked:

Respondents had 3 options:

  1. Yes, I support quota measures for gender equality
  2. No, it should be the best person for the job regardless of gender
  3. Don’t know

The Scotsman did what many do – they fell for the myth and gave people a false choice. This question assumes that quotas would prevent the best person for the job to actually be recruited or elected. That simply is not true. On that logic, that would mean that somehow men are just more competent that’s why 75% of them are in the parliament. Seriously? We do not exist in a meritocracy, quotas will allow us to promote women with the ambitions and talent. Women will have to go through the same selection processes and training, all that will change, will be that the starting point from which men and women run for election will now be on par. It was an incredibly loaded question, if The Scotsman would like to run a poll again, we suggest they get support in ensuring that questions are not leading and are asked through robust unbiased language.

If you say a lie enough times, it becomes the truth:

That’s what has happened with quotas. This idea of merit being forgone for the sake of a headcount of more women is so deeply insulting, yet men and women seem to think it an acceptable retort to the only, I repeat, only real measure to change the status quo.

On Call Kaye this morning, I lost count of the number of contradictions. Every caller agreed; “Women should be paid fairly, there should be more women leaders, we need more women in our councils”. So should be introduce quotas and actually make it happen? “no, no, that’s a step too far in favour of women”.

So, what’s your solution?

Training for women? – been done, gets done by all political parties

Mentoring? – done by most political parties

Voluntary mechanisms like all women shortlists? – done by the majority of parties, has been used for over 20 years and usually gets us to an increase of around 35%

The solution is legislated change. Even then, we will still have work to do. There is legislation (which people at the time called patronising to women, by the way) for equal pay and yet despite it being a criminal offense, women get paid around 11% less than their male counterparts. So quotas are not even that radical, they in themselves are the starting point. Ideally, the quota mechanism is temporary, to normalise the existence of women’s leadership and overcome the institutionalised attitudes in our system which close the door on women. Are we saying a temporary, radical measure for fairness is going too far? The alternative is to sit and make women wait another 50 years, for something that should have existed from day one.

There is not an equal footing in politics for men and women. The status quo favours men. If you really want to do something about equality, saying the right words and reassuring yourself that you really care isn’t enough.

Change doesn’t come from warm words, it comes from progressive action. Quotas are the only truly progressive action.