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Meet Rachel – our new blog editor!

Rachel is 18, is taking a year out before university to potentially study politics, she’s using this time to get lots of experience and is working with Women 5050 to support this. Rachel is our new volunteer blog editor and will be coordinating our ask for supporters, campaigners and equalities champions to write for us. Interested? Get in touch below:

Hello! My name is Rachel Fergusson and I am excited to join Women 5050 as Volunteer Blog Editor in 2018. I first heard about Women 5050 during a work experience placement at the Scottish Parliament, where I was lucky enough to listen to Women 5050 give evidence at a committee meeting on the Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill. As a young feminist, frustrated by stalling progress on equal representation, I was inspired to contact the chair of Women 5050 and become involved in the campaign.

As 2017 draws to a close, we can reflect on year in which three of Scotland’s largest parties were led by women – a surreal and extraordinary moment in Scottish politics which cemented the normalisation of women in executive positions of power. While this visibility is to be celebrated, it has created an illusion of progress that remains absent at lower levels of politics and across public life. Amongst the headlines of 2017 was the conspicuous failure of the local council elections to turn out more than 30% female Councillors, making the need for action more critical than ever. Too often, rhetorical commitment to gender equality is undermined by reluctant support for material measures that address structural inequality at its core. Women 5050 is absolutely necessary in turning these words into deeds.

Though legal quotas are the only basis on which we can uproot structural inequality, and on which a non-discriminatory meritocracy can exist, the concept is subjected to a host of myths that persistently frustrate progress. In a recent poll, only 23% of the public supported quotas, largely because legislated action is so deeply entangled with the notion that quotas promote ‘positive discrimination’ and inevitably lead to mediocracy. I aim to use this blog to demystify the concept of gender quotas, which, when understood clearly and in context, are neither radical or controversial, and are simply the fairest way to draw the most talent from our parliament and public bodies. As Editor, I am looking forward to promoting voices that are conducive to this change. For legitimate progress to be made, the conversation about the need for legislative solutions must be dynamic and inclusive, and should not be generated by those in the political sphere alone. I hope that this blog can be a platform that reaches beyond that narrow domain, and unites voices from political, public and grassroots levels in support of action on equal representation.

If you have any ideas or would like to contribute by writing a guest blog, please e-mail me at (any questions about the specifics of the campaign go to
See you soon!


“Just ignore it”

Talat Yaqoob  is Chair and Co-founder of Women 5050. download (3)



Over the course of the weekend, the Women 5050 campaign was, as ever, given advice from a number of men who in their own words were, “doing us a favour”. The favour they were doing us was a helpful reminder of how women should respond to online misogyny (Yes, the irony was lost). The advice neatly fitted into one of two categories and I would like to take some time to explain why neither of these provide any helpful advice and detract from the importance of the issue:

Category 1. Ignore it – because the person being a misogynist isn’t worth it or our time is more valuable . 

Has ignoring something, ever really made it go away? Women online could ignore misogyny all they like, but it will still come in droves and it will still attempt to silence them. If your first reaction to a woman online being abused is to recommend she ignores it, you either have no appreciation of the impact such abuse has or do not care. Whilst it may seem helpful to suggest we do not give the abuse oxygen, the reality is, covering our eyes and ears only makes the abuse silent to us individually, it does not overcome the problem.

Category 2: There’s bigger fish to fry – because there are real issues to deal with and we should know better. 

We get told that online misogyny is nothing compared to FGM, domestic abuse and rape, those are real issues that we should be fighting. Well, firstly, violence exists on a spectrum and it is incredibly ill informed to think misogyny online is not linked to misogyny and abuse in “real life”. Secondly, we have the capacity and intelligence to fight against and care about online misogyny and all of the things you deem “more important”.

Here’s some examples of what our women parliamentarians have to deal with, which took me no more than 3 clicks to find. Please be aware, there is misogynistic and abusive language used here


Yes, I doubt there is an MSP or MP today who has not experienced some abuse online, but women MSPs and MPs experience a gendered or sexualised version of it. Study after study has confirmed it. For instance here, where a survey focused on men, still illustrated that women suffered more: “The survey of men found that women were twice as likely to be attacked purely because of their gender. One in four serious and violent threats directed at women were related to their gender, compared with one in 16 for men.”. If we look at MPs specifically the abuse is again, gendered, more likely to be experienced by women and often includes sexual violence. 

Why does this matter to the Women 5050 campaign? Because sexist abuse online and the disproportionate abuse of our women leaders prevents other women from aspiring to these roles. Last year, GirlGuiding UK released a report stating that “49% of girls aged 11–21 say fear of abuse online makes them feel less free to share their views”. Earlier this year, Unison Wales told us that online abuse was putting women off politics.

Finally, the Inter-Parliamentary Union published a report in 2016 with 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries stated that “This study shows that social media have become the number one place in which psychological violence – particularly in the form of sexist and misogynistic remarks, humiliating images, mobbing, intimidation and threats – is perpetrated against women parliamentarians.” 

If we want to see a more diverse Scottish Parliament, if we truly want to eradicate the gendered barriers preventing women from entering politics, then it is all of our responsibility to call out sexism in every place we find it; whether online or in our debate chambers.

If you see us tweeting to condemn online abuse of women, our supporters and our MSPs/MPs, why not considering joining us rather than talking down our efforts? Why not be part of a movement which stands up to sexism and be part of the fightback to make our politics a hate-free space? Hopefully, what is written here, gives you an insight into the damage of online misogyny and the consequence of staying silent about it.


Parliamentary Reform – what’s in it for women?

By Talat Yaqoob, Chair and Co-Founder of Women 5050

Today, the Scottish Parliament debated the report by the Commission on Parliamentary Reform (read here). This reform process was critical for women, not only to ensure that we push for gender balance, but to make way for more inclusive practice throughout our parliament. After the revelation in 2016, that the Scottish Parliament Bureau and Scottish Parliament Corporate body was all male, it was clear reform was desperately needed.

But the reality is, this reform report does not go far enough and leaves much to be desired on gender equality.

Here are the recommendations on gender which have been made and what we think of them:

  1. A systematic review of Standing Orders should be undertaken to ensure that it is diversity sensitive and inclusive to facilitate equal and effective participation by MSPs in all business. We agree and it should be stated that any group convened to take this forward must be gender balanced.
  2. As a first step, committee membership should reflect the gender balance of MSPs in the Parliament. This approach should then be expanded to other protected characteristics once better diversity in representatives is achieved. We agree, however this would mean that committees have at least 35% women, but without accountability for parties, how will this be achieved?
  3. Parliament should report on key aspects of parliamentary business and MSPs by protected characteristic. Subsequently the Parliament,
    political parties and others should work together to agree benchmarks for what is desirable in terms of diversity in candidates for Scottish
    Parliamentary elections and set a realistic timetable for achieving this. Political parties leading on bench marking does not work. This should be led by equalities organisations expressing what these benchmarks should be and how we hold political parties to account. Most importantly, we’ve already told you what the benchmark is; 50%!
  4. The Parliament should report on the diversity of all those who have special access to the Parliament through the provision of parliamentary
    passes. This we are excited by – this could and should mean diversity in special passes which includes media representation – more women journalists please!

In regards to quotas and women’s representation, this is the extent of it:

The diversity of elected members is dependent, to some extent, upon the
candidate selection policies of individual parties and the candidates’ subsequent success at the ballot box. We are aware that other parliaments have taken a more proactive approach to addressing a lack of diversity amongst their members, with some using statutory quotas for female members. Others have gone further, linking funding for political parties to gender balance, such as the Dáil Éireann where parties can lose 50% of their state funding if they don’t achieve a certain level of female candidates (30% at the election in 2016 rising to 40% in seven years).

This was an opportunity to state unequivocal support for measures to address gender balance of candidates, this simply, doesn’t go far enough.

The words creche, childcare, maternity, flexible working come up in the report a total of zero times. Given that women take on the majority of caring responsibilities and it is repeatedly cited as a reason for not taking up a larger involvement in politics, it is disappointing this does not come up as an issue in the report. This is particularly important, when the Scottish Parliament was set up to be a “family friendly parliament”.

We were looking for the following from the commission:

  1. 50/50 committees – there was no recommendation on this.
  2. Flexible working and better access to childcare – there was no recommendation on this.
  3. Equality and Diversity training for MSPs/Staff – This was stated in the recommendations and we are encouraged by this.
  4. An outreach strategy on equality and diversity – This was described vaguely in the report and there was reference to doing more to get diversity into the parliament, we would like to see this defined further and include a strategy on how equalities organisations and campaigns can get involved in this.

Long story short – we had hoped gender was front and centre in this report, but unfortunately it seems more like a footnote. This was an opportunity to be forceful about a 50/50 parliament but the opportunity was lost. The commission report reflects, rightly, that more needs to done on diversity, but stops short on any specifics on what this entails. Critically, there are no targets, no methods of accountability and no consequences for lack of compliance. We’re left thinking; “how will this really make any change?”

Finally, we had hoped this report would have taken inspiration from work on parliamentary reform and gender which has taken place in Westminster such as the recent Women and Equalities committee report and the Good Parliament report by Professor Sarah Childs. Both of which went further than the recommendations here with targets and accountability. The particular inspiration we had hoped would have been sparked, was on quotas for women which both reports advocate.

We hope the Scottish Parliament will take this report as a starting point only and commit to going much further. Otherwise real change is far away.




Where are the women?

Women 5050, the campaign advocating for 50% representation of women in councils and in the Scottish Parliament, has analysed the candidate lists of all wards in the 32 councils for the upcoming local elections on May 4th and found a significant under-representation of women on the ballot paper.

Key findings:

– Women make up only 30% of candidates 

– There are 21 wards in Scotland with only men on the ballot paper

– The Scottish Conservatives are fielding no women candidates in Angus, The Western Isles, Stirling and Dundee. They are however fielding 31 male candidates across these areas.

– Representation by parties is as follows – No party achieved 50% candidates:

SNP – 41%

Scottish Labour – 32%

Scottish Conservatives – 17% 

Scottish Liberal Democrats – 33%

Scottish Greens – 45%

Independent candidates – 18%

– The councils with the worst representation of women candidates are; Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (10%) Orkney (20%) and Moray (20%) Councils

– The councils with the best representation of women are; West Lothian (41%) and East Ayrshire (40%)

PLEASE NOTE- our data is taken from the notice of polls published on council websites, this has been checked and re-checked by volunteers who are helping when they can. If you think there is a discrepancy, please email us your data and we will be happy to publish it and update our content.

Talat Yaqoob Chair and Co-Founder of Women 5050 said:

“Currently, only 25% of councillors are women. With only 30% women candidates in this election and a shocking 21 wards with no women on the ballot paper whatsoever, it is clear that we will not reach fair representation for women in 2017. It is time for rhetoric to be turned to action, and we must implement legislation for all parties to follow, to make sure decision makers reflect the society they are meant to represent.”

Emma Ritch, Executive Director of Engender said:

“Having women in council chambers and around decision-making tables changes the conversation. It’s vital that councils making decisions about vital public services look like the people they are elected to represent. Our recent Sex & Power report found that women fill only 27% of the 3029 leadership roles in Scotland. The time for bold action on women’s representation is now.”

Dr. Meryl Kenny, Steering group member of Women 5050 and Gender and Politics Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh said:

“Levels of women’s representation in Scottish local Government have flat-lines for decades. In 2017, we see the same patterns- some parties taking the issue seriously, while others like the Scottish Conservatives continue to lag well behind. It’s time to follow the evidence and take tough action through gender quotas to ensure 50/50 representation in our councils and parliament”

Women’s Fair Representation is a Global Issue

Karen Kelly is a journalist from East Kilbride. She recently volunteered with Pravah ICS in India, and worked on projects that focused on improving the lives of women and young people in the rural village of Sadri in Rajasthan.  16325816_1333111530087993_1331391662_o.png

The first thing that struck me about the village in which I was living was the veil that all of the women wore over their faces. They wore beautifully bright and embroidered saris that flowed from their waist to the ground. Accompanied with a bodice like crop top, the sari was twisted, looped over the head and fashioned into a veil, which was then pulled down over their face in the presence of men or elder women. Seeing the act of a woman having to stop mid sentence as she realised a man had entered the room and that she should now cover her face was really difficult to swallow. The veil was a physical barrier that prevented her from speaking and from being listened to.16344096_1333110986754714_1802749865_n.png

A week or so into the project my team approached the Sarpanch to ask for advice on how to move forward with the project. I learned that the position of Sarpanch in Sadri was reserved specifically for a woman and my first thought was how reservation could be linked to the campaign for equal representation in Scotland. I smiled at how progressive the idea of reservation was in India. Admittedly I had no prior knowledge of the scheme and was completely naïve to the corruption that went hand in hand with reservation.

As the conversation with Sarpanch continued, the more she gave half answers and avoided answering us completely. As she stumbled over her answers, her husband who was previously perched on the outside of the circle began to speak up.  The more he moved spoke and closed into our circle I realised that the Sarpanch was not as empowered as I first believed.

It turned out that ambitious husbands often exploit positions in Government reserved only for women. They grab the opportunity to enter into politics using their wives’ name and face to campaign. When we spoke about the Sarpanch in the village, people referred to the husband alone.

And so working closely with a Charity called Jatan Sansthan, we tried to empower the Sarpanch to take more ownership of her role. In order to do this we set up a women’s caucus and named it ‘Behenchara’, which translates as Sisterhood. However the term sisterhood is not a commonly used term in the Hindi language and even the concept of this word merited a few giggles in the village.

I chose Pravah to volunteer with as they focus on women’s rights and as a feminist I wanted to improve the lives of women in less fortunate circumstances than myself. However I was not prepared to face the daily inequalities that are a reality for so many Indian women- of which wearing a veil over your face is arguably the easiest to deal with.

For more information on how to sign up to volunteer please visit the ICS website.

For more information on the charity work that Jatan Sansthan carry out visit their website  


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: