Why the NUS Scotland Women’s Campaign Supports 5050

Emily Beever is NUS Scotland women’s officer and supporter of Women 5050:emilyB

Students have long been at the forefront of tackling inequalities that exist within our society. From the students who fought for equal marriage in Scotland, those that are working to tackle lad culture in our society and the students who fought against cuts to the disabled students’ allowance across the UK. Too often in our society, barriers to achieving equality aren’t called out, and discrimination has become ingrained in our society and goes unnoticed or ignored.

We believe that better decisions are made when those making them are more diverse. A more diverse group brings with it more experience, different perspectives and lived experiences. I’m proud that NUS Scotland has four vibrant liberation campaigns – to represent the needs of disabled students, LGBT+ students, black students and women students – and it’s a privilege for me to head up NUS Scotland Women’s campaign which exists to represent, defend and extend the rights of women students across Scotland.

Despite our track record on winning on equality issues and our work to increase representation, the student movement still has a long way to go in achieving fair representation. NUS research in 2011/12 showed that men were more likely to hold the position of president within a students’ union, with 56% of presidents being men. Women in leadership has since become a priority development area within the student movement and we’re starting to see the results already. Last year NUS Scotland passed policy to introduce quotas for women to our student executive committee. This year, we now have more women on our executive committee than we’ve seen for many years, and have the first woman NUS Scotland president in 10 years. We won’t be waiting a decade for that to happen again!

Quotas are a controversial issue, and not everyone is a fan of them, often citing merit as the way people should come to achieve their positions. If the merit system really did work now, would we really have only 17 black women professors in the UK? Or only 29% of women MPs? Or be aiming for 25% of women on company boards? (I emphasise the ‘aiming’ here – most boards are nowhere near achieving this figure, which has been cited as ‘ambitious’). I think as a temporary measure to break the patriarchal structures that keep all kinds of people out, not just women, they work. That’s why we’re particularly disappointed that MPs didn’t pass the gender quota amendment in the Scotland Bill, and we will certainly continue fighting for this.

Women are already leaders on our campuses and in our communities. It isn’t much of a stretch to demand that these women, and many more, are shaping the political agenda.


Intersectionality is the way to an inclusive Scotland

This blog is written by Anna Crow, a non-binary intersectional feminist, Scottish Green Party and Global Justice Now activist and emergency medicine doctorAnn Crow

I am not someone who has always been interested in and involved with politics or someone who has always identified as a feminist.  My engagement with feminism and politics just happened over the past 5 years or so and it continues to be a gradual process of becoming more informed and aware regarding a wide range of issues, frequently getting angry about inequalities, and feeling a strong draw to get involved with others in the fight for positive change.

To me, feminism and politics are intrinsically linked.  I was encouraged to hear about the Women 50:50 campaign when it launched last year because gender inequality in politics, particularly the stark underrepresentation of women, is still a massive problem.  It is so much of a problem that a good friend of mine felt compelled to spoil her ballot for this year’s general election by writing “where are the women?” when faced with an all-male candidate list in her local constituency.

Identifying inequalities like this, acknowledging them to be a problem and taking pro-active measures to counteract them is vital.  But in a world where there is so much inequality and where different types of inequality frequently intersect, in the fight for positive change we cannot only seek to tackle one specific type of inequality while disregarding others.  Addressing the relative lack of female representation in elected roles is a significant and positive step but there is a need for more diverse campaigning also to strive for the inclusivity we all deserve in Scotland and beyond.

There are many other ways in which there is inequality in terms of political representation.  Lack of representation of ethnic minority groups or those from a less privileged socioeconomic background for example, or lack of representation of disabled people.  Queer representation in politics is improving – in the past year there was the highest ever number of openly transgender Westminster candidates and the election of the highest ever number of MPs who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual – but there is still a long way to go.

In recent months I came to realise that I identify as non-binary, meaning that I do not identify as either female or male.  Many measures that work to promote gender equality still do not acknowledge the existence of people like me, because they are based on a binary understanding of gender.  Gender identity is more complex than this and tackling inequality is generally a complex thing to do, because there are so many types of inequality which are often interlinked.  There is an important role for specifically targeted campaigns to play but an intersectional view on this is vital.

I welcome campaigns such as Women 50:50 and the One in Five campaign, which is working to increase political participation among disabled people in Scotland, because they are raising awareness and tackling significant areas of inequality.  All of us who face inequality need to recognise there are others who face different types of inequality.  We need to support each other and work together in order to achieve genuine, sustainable and positive change.  I am proud to lend my support to Women 50:50 as a necessary part of the continued and diverse campaigning process needed to work towards the inclusive Scotland we all deserve.

Press Release – The Campaign For A Fairer Parliament Carries On


Women 5050 disappointed in Westminster decision to reject devolution of political quotas

Last night MPs debated 2 amendments to the Scotland Bill which would have devolved the ability to introduce “gender balancing” or quotas to the Scottish Parliament. Both amendments fell.

Amendment 123, submitted by Ian Murray MP would have allowed the Scottish Parliament to fully debate the issue of the under-representation of women and devolved the power to implement legislative candidate quotas. Amendment 162 submitted by Angus Robertson MP would have allowed for quotas on public boards.

Talat Yaqoob, Chair of Women 5050 said:

“We’re disappointed that these amendments has been voted down. The inclusion of just a few sentences in the Scotland Bill could have changed Scotland’s political landscape for the better and could have been the first step to a more inclusive and representative Scottish Parliament. Tackling the inequality and discrimination women face is the job of our parliaments. Introducing quotas are a fair and effective way for us to address the political imbalance in our politics. Women in Scotland deserve better than a glass ceiling on their leadership ambitions.

These amendments may have fallen, but the campaign for fair representation has never been stronger, especially with four out of five party leaders in the Scottish Parliament, including the First Minister, backing the campaign.

We will continue to pursue every avenue to make a fairer parliament and fairer public life a reality for women in Scotland and we will succeed.”


Will MP’s hear our calls?

The campaign for fair representation is not new, the Women 5050 campaign stands on the shoulders of phenomenal women who have been fighting for a 50/50 parliament since the very idea of a devolved Scottish Parliament.

16 years after these calls, and we are still far away from equal representation. In fact, the number of women in the Scottish Parliament has fallen from the dizzy heights of 40% to 35%. When women make up the majority of the population, can we really be ok with them still being underrepresented?

Women 5050 was launched in September 2014, by prominent political names; Kezia Dugdale MSP and Alison Johnston MSP. It has since gained the support of over a third of the members of parliament, including the backing of First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The time is now for women to claim their equal place in Scotland’s public life.

The reality is, there are women with the talent and the ambition to be political leaders right now, but are faced with barriers in their way; barriers in the attitudes we, as a society have for women’s leadership, and barriers in how we do our politics. The Women 5050 campaign is lobbying for candidate quotas in the Scottish Parliament and local council elections. This would mean political parties have to work harder to eradicate gender inequality and support women to be 50% of their list of candidates on the ballot paper. The steps to equality quality really can be that easy.

Quotas in politics are not new. In fact, over 50 of the national parliaments across the world, including eight EU member states, operate some form of quota system to overcome the institutionalised inequality women face. Sweden has had quotas in their politics since the 1970’s. We are falling behind.

The campaign for fair representation may come a step closer to winning with a recent amendment to the Scotland Bill. Ian Murray MP for Edinburgh South has submitted an amendment for “gender balance” in the Scottish Parliament. This would mean the debate on quotas and how they are implemented would become a fully devolved issue and would give Scotland the ability to yet again, lead the way.

We have a woman First Minister and a 5050 cabinet, let’s cement these accomplishments by making the benches across the chamber reflect the society they are meant to represent.

The issue of tackling political injustice for women does not lie with one party, it is above partisan politics. In the same way Women 5050 is proud to be cross party, I hope we see cross party agreement on this amendment and rightfully devolve the debate to Scotland.

This article first appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News on Thursday 2nd of July 2015

Press Release: Today’s Debate Could Change Scotland’s Politics For Women

Today’s debate could change Scotland’s politics for women

On Monday, MPs will be debating whether equality for women in the Scottish Parliament can become a reality.

The amendment to the Scotland Bill, submitted by Ian Murray MP, would devolve the ability to implement “gender balance” measures into the Scottish Parliament and in public bodies. This is the first ask of the Women 5050 campaign and would bring Scotland a significant step closer to a 50/50 parliament.

A spokeswoman from Women 5050 said:

“The ability to introduce quotas should have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament from day one. Today, we have the unusual set up of one parliament deciding the fate of whether women can have equal footing in another parliament. MPs have the chance to devolve this issue to Scotland, so we can debate it fully and legislate for fair representation. Women’s representation in Scotland has decreased since the set up of the Scottish Parliament, and is currently at 35%, it’s simply not good enough. Women 5050 has the backing of four out of five of the party leaders in Scotland including the First Minister, there is clear political will for this to be devolved to Scotland and that must be listened to.”

The full amendment is as follows:

Clause 32, page 34, line 13,

at end insert, “including a requirement for gender balance among the members of the Scottish Parliament and members of boards of Scottish public authorities.”

Member’s explanatory statement The Amendment would ensure continued progression towards achieving gender balance among members of the Scottish Parliament and on boards of Scottish public authorities

Women 5050 is a cross party campaign group and we are incredibly proud of the formidable women politicians we have on our steering group; Kezia Dugdale, Alison Johnstone and Christina McKelvie. Read why they are involved and why women’s fair representation means so much to them.

Kezia Dudgdale, MSP, Scottish Labour:@zx_235@zy_235

The case for having more women in the Scottish Parliament and in Scotland’s councils is simply – they make up over half of society, of course they should make up half of the decision makers in Scotland. Today we have women with the ambition, the talent and the passion to be leaders but are held back because leadership is not something we tell young women to pursue, because of the attitudes that women who attempt to be leaders have to face, because of an inaccessible politics that doesn’t look like them or speak to them.

I have witnessed phenomenal women campaigning on issues at the grassroots level, lobbying on behalf of others, speaking on stage and winning arguments, and yet when I ask them about being a leader, they dismiss the very idea often responding with “I don’t think that’s for me” or “it’s a boys club”. We can and must change this. Scotland’s political landscape is in a deficit without these women – opening the doors to their talent and experience is what the Women 5050 campaign is all about.

Progress has been made, in 1999 after calls for a 50/50 parliament from campaigners before us, the Scottish Parliament formed with 40% women MSPs, yet today we have 35%. Progress is not just slow, it seems it is going backwards. Our councils are worse, with only 24% of over 1200 Councillors across Scotland being women – we have far to go, and now is the time to take action and legislate for change. Quotas are a fair and progressive way to implement a level playing field for Scotland women.

I’m proud of the progress Scottish Labour has made. We were the first party to introduce all women shortlists over 20 years ago and today, we have the highest number of women MSPs, but I want my party, every party and the whole of Scotland to go further for equality.

Alison Johnstone, MSP, Scottish Greens:

Support for Women 5050 has grown in recent months and I’m sure it will continue to do so.  Political engagement in Scotland bloomed during the referendum and that heightened level of involvement has continued.

Many women, young and old, become engaged during that campaign, found their voices and contributed on both sides of the debate.  It’s essential that they are encouraged to continue.

There is more discussion now about the need for fair gender representation in politics, but there are still those who are convinced that our representatives are all there on merit.  Globally, almost 90% of parliamentarians are men.  This tells me that action is required to provide a truly level playing field.

After all, I’ve attended meetings packed with women campaigning to keep local nurseries or hospitals open.  With less cash, less access to private transport and more likely to have had their much needed benefits cut, women understand the impact of these decisions.

But there are too few women able to influence the debate in our Council Chambers and in the Scottish Parliament.

It’s time now to make sure that far more women are involved in making and voting for these decisions.

My Party, the Scottish Greens, insists that 50% of winnable seats have women candidates.  So it can be done.  Women aren’t a minority, but the under-represented majority.

Please get involved and support Women5050.  Your support will make a difference.

Christina McKelvie, MSP, SNP: christina-mckelvie

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has taken a significant head-on decision in making her Cabinet 50:50 and I applaud that wholeheartedly. During the Referendum campaign, all of us out on stalls, street stands and chapping the doors found there was a real groundswell of women who were determined to be heard.

That campaign changed Scotland’s political landscape. Most of those women who campaigned then have since joined the SNP because they know that our national party is doing all it can to shift to a better and more balanced position. That applies not only in politics but across companies and onto the boards of both private and public sector organisations.

In South Lanarkshire, the SNP has six women as elected politicians now: Linda Fabiani, myself and Aileen Campbell as MSPs, plus Angela Crawley, Lisa Cameron and Margaret Ferrier as MPs. That’s some contingent! There is no doubt we have the ability; what we need now is the legislation to build on that.

It is women who bear the brunt of Westminster’s welfare cuts and I constantly strive to draw more attention to that reality. The public school boys in London have little or no comprehension of the realities of the Bedroom Tax, cuts in disability allowances and the impact of benefit sanctions.

Successful businesswomen have a far harder time of it than the men alongside, as research repeatedly reveals. Sexual discrimination may be slightly more subtle these days but it certainly hasn’t gone away

All of us – including the men of course – need to encourage women to push themselves and to work hard so that they can fulfill their talents and abilities.

Why I am a supporter – Kelly Parry

SNP member and activist, Kelly Parry, tells us why she supports the campaign: 2aad2c7

Across all parties, voters mark their ballots based on who they believe will make the country, and on a wider scale the world, a better place. Something I think we can all agree on, across all party lines, is that making the country a better place involves the equality and liberation of women. I believe one hugely important way to ensure women reach their political potential is implementing 50% representation in our parliaments, public boards and councils.

Earlier this year, we had an opportunity to increase the representation of women in the UK parliament – and to an extent, we did it. Women now hold 29% of the seats in Westminster’s House of Commons and that is a huge improvement from the 23% we held before the election. This is the biggest increase in women MP’s since 1997 which is fantastic. For all we can celebrate this election as a win for women, which it arguably was, it’s important to note what needs to improve and how supporting a 50:50 gender balanced parliament can help us achieve this.

29% of women still means 71% are men; that still means women are hugely underrepresented in the House of Commons and creating the laws that affect women. In May, A Fair Deal for Women found that women are disproportionately, negatively affected by cuts to social services and provisions. The group, made up by 11 women’s rights charities, found that benefit cuts are more likely to affect poorer women, particularly through to the freezing of child benefits and tax credits. The World Economic Forum’s gender gap index listed the UK at 26, a fall of 8 places. This slip suggests a need to ensure women are kept at the forefront of political decision making and by introducing a 50% gender quota, we can ensure women are protected by the state rather than harmed by it.

Having more women decision makers is a priority, as is having more LGB women, women of colour, disabled women and trans women making decisions that affect them. Ensuring political spaces are no longer reserved for white, straight men is crucial for advancing the experiences of all traditionally social minority groups. And we need to reform our parliaments to do this, I have watched and lobbied for parliaments to be more inclusive for all my adult life, for them to be more accessible and less about macho posturing and shouty men – it’s sadly not changed much in my lifetime and we are kidding ourselves if we think it will without a different approach. We have been having the same conversations for too long about women’s inclusion in politics and if we keep waiting for behaviours and traditions to change by themselves I fear we will sadly still be having the same conversation for many years, and decades to come. The behaviours inside of parliaments remain largely unchanged and despite there being an increase of women they still have to negotiate the rows of pale-stale-males and fight for their place and their voices to be heard long after they have been elected.

As a working class woman active in politics, I know I am the lucky one. I believe by implementing a 50:50 gender quota, we can shatter the glass ceiling and ensure the most disadvantaged women have a say in the politics of Scotland and the UK.