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Meet the Women #6 Jenny Gilruth MSP

In this week’s blog Jenny Gilruth, SNP MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes tells us about why she supports all women shortlists and Women 5050: Jenny Gilruth - SNP - Mid Scotland and Fife

‘My name’s Jenny and I’m an MSP because of positive discrimination.’

Quite the confession. But true, nonetheless. Would I have stood for election had it not been for an all women shortlist? Probably. Did it impact upon my decision to stand? Undoubtedly. Have I always believed in positive discrimination? Unreservedly so.

In 2005 when I was an idealistic University student, I decided to focus my dissertation on women in politics. I wrote about Blair and his ‘babes’.

Swept to power to the tune of D-Ream’s ‘things can only get better’ – only to become ‘window dressing.’ As part of my research I interviewed ten political women. It is a surreal memory sitting in my cold tenement flat on the landline to Edwina Currie, who told me a bizarre story about being sent a free pair of tights in the post following a radio interview. Another one of the women I interviewed was a Labour MP. She told me working class people didn’t care about the war in Iraq. And the one that made the difference – that was Tricia Marwick. Then a list MSP for Mid Fife and Scotland. Working class girl. State educated. No University degree. Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. And the former constituency MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes – now the seat that I hold.

In 2005 the SNP didn’t have a great record when it came to female representation. Out of the 27 MSPs we had in Holyrood only 9 were women. Across Holyrood, however, female representation stood at 39%. The main reason being Labour’s use of positive discrimination. Indeed 56% of all Labour MSPs were women during session two.

But in Westminster female representation didn’t fare so well. Following the 2005 General Election only 1 in 5 of all MPs were women. In early 2006 the annual Sex and Power report found it could take another 200 years for women to reach political equality in UK Politics.

A week on from Donald Trump’s election in the U.S, how does the political landscape appear to Scotland’s girls today? We’ve a female First Minister. Both the main political opposition parties are led by women. Both of our Deputy Presiding Officers are women. And yet…the Green Party returned only 1 female MSP this year. The Liberals none. The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body is entirely comprised of male politicians. Today only 35% of MSPs are women. And whilst I am so proud that my party has now put in place measures to increase female representation, others decided lack of action has blocked progress. Of the 31 (mostly) shiny new Tory MSPs, only 19% are women. That is simply not good enough for the main party of opposition.

I’d like to believe in the idea of the American Dream. That if you work hard enough anyone – regardless of background – can achieve their goals. But the reality is that women face disadvantage which is entrenched by societal structures.

Last week Equal Pay Day marked the last day in the calendar women are paid for – relative to their male counterparts. 51 days before the end of the year.

To effect real change we need every party to adopt action on gender in politics. That’s why I support the Women 50 50 campaign – Scotland’s girls deserve better.



Girls Against – a rally call against sexual harassment

Anna Cowan, is 17 and lives in Glasgow.  She along with 3 of her friends, founded and run the campaign; Girls Against girlsagainst

I believe all powerful political movements and campaigns begin from a sense of anger or alienation; the feeling that you’re being overlooked and dismissed – perhaps due to ethnicity, sexuality, or age. For us, it was gender. One of my best friends was sexually assaulted at a gig last year. It was difficult to comprehend at first; it had happened to so many people we knew, despite sexual assault at gigs being an issue most rarely talked about or even acknowledged as an issue. However, we all shared a mutual feeling of pure, raw anger. How could this happen in the one place we felt safest, somewhere you were encouraged to be yourself, sharing this with others who felt the same as you? How could we allow this to be taken away from us?

The four of us – Hannah, Anni, Bea and I – knew we had to do something productive with our fury by taking control over something which took control of us far too often. So we started Girls Against – a campaign to raise awareness of and eventually eradicate sexual assault and harassment at gigs. A priority for us in starting the campaign was clarifying to others that sexual assault at gigs was a result of the rape culture prevalent in our society. The reason some men may commit an assault within the context of a gig is because of the power they hold both as a result of the patriarchy, and as a result of the excuse of being in a crowd. However, this is never a valid excuse, and we refuse to allow such dismissive attitudes to be accepted, as opposed to what they should be – condemned as a sexual crime. Indeed, we are a campaign for all genders – as intersectional feminists, this is a given. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the reason so many women fall victim to assault is because of these structural inequalities in society, which result in other issues such as the glass ceiling and misogyny. We must acknowledge the fact that it happens most often to women simply because they’re women, but exclusion will exist if we exist solely for one group, hence why we are here for all. But what do we actually do?

We offer support to victims, interview musicians and contact venues and security companies. After starting up in October, we have been featured in publications such as NME, The Independent and Vice, and have featured on BBC Newsbeat and BBC Breakfast. These have been key ways in shining a light on the issue, and have been incredible opportunities to do so. We also have over 80 Reps around the world who represent us in their local area, doing all they can to highlight sexual assault to venues and musicians so to help put an end to it. Put simply, we want gigs to be a safe and fun environment for all. We want them to remain what they’re there for – a great night out, where you can forget all issues ongoing out with the safety of the walls of the venue (or gates, if you’re at a festival!).

We won’t stop until we achieve this – the fight has only just begun!

You can get involved in Girls Against by following them on Twitter: 

What Parties are Doing for Women Candidates

Women 5050 has written to all the main political parties and asked what specific activities they are doing to tackle the significant under-representation of women in local government. Currently,  only 25% of Councillors on Scotland are women. Local government is responsible for schooling, housing, local environment, hospitals and clinics, transport and an endless list of issues which effect our daily lives. It is only right that the decision makers fully represent society.

We wrote to all parties on the 17th of August 2016, below are the responses we have received in order of date:

Statement from the Scottish Labour Party: received 23rd August 2016 

As you know, the Scottish Labour Party stood the highest number of female candidates of any party during the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016 – over 53%. While we will regrettably fall short of that level for this election, it is our intention to make progress on our 2012 levels of women representation. That means:

–          we will require local parties to select at least 50% of our new candidates (those candidates who are not sitting councillors) using positive action measures, such as all women shortlists and twinning.

–          Over and above this we will protect the number of sitting female councillors in every Labour Group.

We have held four women only events in June in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Lanarkshire and Stirling to reach out to potential women candidates for 2017. The aim of these events was to give attendees an insight into the role of a councillor, how local government works and support and advice on our selection procedures. The sessions were designed to be welcoming and informative forums; a key element of the sessions was having a current female councillor giving their experiences, talking about what the role is really like and how being a councillor can fit around other responsibilities including other employment and caring responsibilities.

We had a good take up for each of the events and feedback was positive, with many of the women saying that they appreciated the supportive environment these events created, as well as the opportunity to ask questions and hear about the experiences of a female councillor.

As a party, we have led the pursuit of equal representation in the Scottish Parliament since 1999. In 2012, we increased our proportion of women candidates to 27.2% from 20.3% in 2007. This is still not good enough and we will continue to aim to improve our representation of women with the overall objective of achieving the aims of the Women 5050 campaign.

Statement from the Scottish Green Party: received 3rd September 2016

The Scottish Green Party has a constitutional commitment to gender balance that requires all Branches to have a mechanism in place to ensure 50% of candidates in winnable wards are women, and that 40% of all candidates are women.

We passed a motion at our conference last year which has led to us doing more research into how to improve our approach to assuring equalities. We are creating a development programme which is also about proactively.

But we are well aware that merely choosing women as candidates in winnable wards won’t necessarily mean they get elected, so our Women’s Network has been offering support and training to women candidates and creating suitable opportunities for women in order to develop

 Statement from the SNP – received 6th September 2016

On 12 March this year, at the SNP Spring Conference, the SNP membership instructed the party’s National Executive Committee to bring forward a mechanism to ensure that many more women are put forward for election than in the past.  New rules agreed at the SNP’s National Council in May 2016 will require both women-only and open shortlists in seats where the party is standing more candidates than sitting councillors.

In a ward where the party has one sitting councillor and stands two candidates, at least one of the candidates will be required to be a woman.

Similar procedures were adopted by the SNP for this years’ Holyrood election, where women-only shortlists were submitted in seats where an incumbent SNP MSP was stepping down. Due to this mechanism, 43 per cent of SNP MSPs elected were women, an increase from the 2011 term.

The SNP also have a National Women’s and Equalities Convener (NWEC) who is responsible for the development, implementation and monitoring of equality strategies. The NWEC also supports constituency and branch women’s officers and chairs the SNP Women’s Academy, while advising on equality issues relating to internal procedures, such as vetting and selection. There have been several successful Women’s Conferences, bringing women together to share ideas, support each other and learn from best practice across the country.

The SNP are committed to ensuring Scotland’s council chambers reflect the communities they represent, and we look forward to working hard to turn a record number of female candidates into a record number of female Councillors.

Statement from the Scottish Liberal Democrats – received 8th September 2016

Thanks for your email. I agree that more needs to be done to ensure that women can play a full role in our political system. As a party the Liberal Democrats are committed to ensuring that more women are elected under our banner. We think it is important to ensure that our parliamentary parties reflect the communities we serve and at the moment we are not doing well enough in this regard.

As you are aware, earlier this year our party conference passed a motion that means we will have female candidates in top target seats for the next round of UK and Scottish Parliamentary elections. A female candidate will also top our European election list in 2019, should it go ahead. I led the debate and was made the case successfully for changing our party rules to ensure that we are more representative. The changes were controversial in some corners of the Liberal Democrats but I was clear that this was the right thing to do.

We currently have a number of fantastic female councillors. Around 40% of our current team of councillors are women and we are working hard to ensure that there will be more after the election next year. In terms of support, women who want to stand for election have been offered help through specialist away days and training weekends. This process has been ongoing since the last set of local elections in 2012.

Our central campaigns and candidates committee is currently working with the Association of Scottish Liberal Democrat Councillors and local party officers to ensure that our team of candidates is as representative as possible.

The motion passed earlier this year included new responsibilities for office holders to support the drive to secure the election to parliament of more women and candidates from other underrepresented groups. They will also encourage and support more women and candidates from underrepresented groups to be elected to councils and internal committees in the Party.

Other measures include a new diversity fund, the appointment of new mentors and plans for a programme of information and training events to provide support and information for aspiring candidates. 

I appointed a gender balanced leadership team following the election in May. This balance will be maintained over the course of this parliament.

I am aware that there is more to be done here. I would like to make clear to you that delivering gender balance in our parliamentary groups is a priority for me. And as you would expect, I will be working hard to ensure that as many Liberal Democrat women as possible are elected to councils next year.

Statement from the Scottish Conservatives – Received 20th September 2016

Thank you very much for writing to us.

Women have played a significant role in Scottish politics from the beginning of devolution and it is great to see the three largest parties currently led by women.

However, it is clear that this is not the case across public life. As you point out, the proportion of female councillors in Scotland remains low. We do agree that political parties need to attract more women to stand as candidates and consequently serve as elected representatives.

Scottish Conservatives have not supported initiatives such as all-women shortlists, believing that we must address the root causes rather than just the symptoms of unequal representation. We seek to welcome candidates from all sections of the community, drawing experience from people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. As the Party that has now delivered two female Prime Ministers and is led in Scotland by a high-profile female politician, we want to send out a clear message to all women – politics is for you too.

We remain committed to tackling the barriers preventing women from participating in politics and public life. We will continue our outreach work to female candidates through the Scottish Conservative Womens’ Council and keep continually reviewing best practice with our Candidates Board.

The Political Glass Ceiling – cracked not shattered. 

Terri Smith is a Member of The Scottish Youth Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith and is Chair of SYP. She tells us about the her experience as an MSYP and why the answer to progressiveness is in our young people: 

A woman is the First Minister of Scotland, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and now a United States presidential nominee. Has the proverbial glass ceiling really been shattered? Is 2016 the year girls and women across the globe can finally say our gender is not a barrier to our involvement in politics, and that we can reach the top solely dependent on our capabilities?

Questions like this are more complicated than they might seem. Here in Scotland, the leaders of the three largest political parties are women, but only 35% of MSPs are women. This is despite the fact that 51% of our country’s population is female. The 2011 Scottish Parliament also only had 35% female representation, showing that there has been no natural increase in representation from 2011 to 2016.

Let’s go back to the glass ceiling metaphor for a minute. The ceiling has been broken, but as a young woman looking up at top it seems I have a rope, and my male counterparts have a lift. How do we bridge the gap of 35% of representation to 51% of the population? How do we create a Scotland where everyone is fairly represented because we have shattered not just ceilings, but all the barriers to representation?

The Women 50:50 campaign is important because it aims to do away with the ropes and lifts, and give everyone the same path to representation, to decision making, and to the top. The pledge calls for action to be taken against the disproportionate advantages men have historically had in politics, in councils, and on public boards. Young women need more than a few women at the top; we need women all along the way. We need a Scotland where our inclusion is a given, not something we have to fight for. It should be the norm to say to young girls “you can make it to the top” or “you can do whatever you dream of doing”. I’ve been a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for seven years. I wish someone had told me those things at the beginning of my time, because it might not have taken me seven years to realise my ambition and become Chair.

Like many things, young people are more progressive when it comes to equal representation. While I’m only the second elected female to chair the Scottish Youth Parliament since it was established in 1999, I am also the second female elected to stand as chair in the last three years. Our current membership is the first in which we have more female identifying MSYPs than male, meaning we have broken that ceiling, but we also have proportionate representation. Our parliament supports the Women 50:50 pledge, because we want all aspects of our governments and public boards to be balanced and representative.

Looking up again at the shards of the broken glass ceiling, I know young women like myself have a lot of hard work and obstacles ahead of us if we want to reach the top, but what I want is to look up and see the same view my male peers are seeing. Someone’s assigned or reassigned gender should not determine their ability to stand up and be counted. Let’s make Scotland a place where Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale, and Ruth Davidson aren’t a novelty, and a place where young women feel empowered to take on the world.

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.