Politics has changed dramatically over the independence referendum period with many women becoming more visible and vocal on both sides of the debate. I am very proud of the precedent that we as women have set towards a different type of dialogue involving listening and talking, respectful and dignified discussions, rather than the loud and boisterous interactions I had become accustomed to from our male counterparts.
The 50:50 initiative is a progressive social movement where many of us as women can relate to, to enable our voices to be heard on an equal platform in Scottish politics. With a change in leadership for both the SNP and Scottish Government,the First Minister very quickly moved towards gender equality in the Cabinet, and actively encouraging this model across the party hierarchy. Nicola Sturgeon is a role model for many women, young, old across Scotland. We can relate to her, and we admire the qualities of a strong woman who inspires us to stand up for ourselves, be seen and be heard.
As the main facilitator of a grass roots campaign Scots Asians for Yes, I was struck by the very small number of women from minority ethnic backgrounds who were vocal in the debate around their futures and the futures of their communities, society at large and Scotland. The active ethnic minority women I met through my journey inspired and encouraged me and others to value ourselves for our important and very unique contribution to the political spectrum, during this period. Other grass root campaigns such as Women for Independence and the Radical Independence Campaign were instrumental in empowering many women from different backgrounds with the knowledge, skills and confidence to represent themselves and others.
The last couple of years haven’t been a bed of roses, and I have met my fair share of misogynists and very unpleasant individuals indeed, but on the whole, it’s been a positive and liberating experience where the majority of the people I have met have been supportive, encouraging me to challenge myself in what was sometimes a hostile environment. What has surprised me most has that the most negativity I have faced has been from ethnic minority men, who have repeatedly told me that my place was in the kitchen and asking if I didn’t have ironing to do….. Developing skills of survival (forming a ‘thicker skin’), negotiating ‘spaces’, and overcoming my shyness to standing up for myself and others have been invaluable.
Reflecting back, my political journey has been crucial to me recognising my strengths and weaknesses, moving from seeing myself as a quiet individual to leading campaigns and encouraging both ethnic minorities and women to stand in elections, which helped me confront one of my biggest fears of never seeing myself as good enough. We must challenge ourselves, continuously questioning our place in society, not just for ourselves but for everyone to create the kind of society we want to live in. Until we have full equality, positive action is a mechanism which must be utilised to get fair representation not just in politics, but other institutions and arenas. Let’s start with gender, but also remember those who are side lined due to their race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. Their voices matter too.
A true democracy is inclusive and fair.
A true democracy reflects the society it is meant to represent.
That is why Women 5050 is proud to support the One in Five campaign for the political participation of people with disabilities. The campaign is pushing forward a democracy we can all be proud of; one where all people of Scotland, no matter their ability or disability are able to participate fully, especially in grassroots politics. This is the same ethos of the Women 5050 campaign.
How often have we been to meetings in inaccessible rooms? How often do we consider access in planning political work? How often do we truly engage and empower those with disabilities to be equal partners in our work? The answers to these question, is in reality “not often enough” – The one in five campaign aims to change that with the charter below:
We call on all political parties and organisations to sign up to the ONE IN FIVE Charter:
- All members are asked about individual needs which are actioned to ensure inclusion
- Meetings are held in accessible venues
- Material is available in a variety of formats
- Organisational tasks and responsibilities are clearly defined yet remain flexible enough to empower individual member ability
- Your organisation aims to increase the awareness and understanding of issues affecting disabled people and strives to include and empower all members
As a commitment to this, Women 5050 will be putting in extra effort to be as accessible as possible, and we welcome feedback and support to make that happen.
You can sign up here; http://www.oneinfive.scot/ – please do and tweet your support: @oneinfivescot
First minister gives her full support to Women 5050’s campaign for quotas.
Women 5050 is delighted to have the full support of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, for their campaign for 50% quotas on public boards, in councils and in the Scottish parliament by 2020.
In a letter to Women 5050, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote:
“I truly believe there should be no limit to ambition on what anyone can achieve. If you are good enough and if you work hard enough, the sky is the limit. I am happy to work with all organisations and individuals who share this aspiration and I am therefore pleased to give my support to the Women 5050 campaign.”
The campaign has already gained cross party support from MSPs and has had cross party backing from the very start with Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour Party MSP, Christina McKelvie, SNP MSP and Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green Party MSP on the steering group.
Talat Yaqoob, Chair of Women 5050 said; “To have the support of the First Minister’s shows that the issue of gender equality is being taken seriously and that the need for fair representation is being recognised. Currently only 36% of women are MSPs and a shocking 24% of Councillors are women. The number of women MSPs has decreased in every election of the Scottish Parliament and at the currently rate it would take another 80 years for us to reach 50/50. Women should not be waiting for equality, they deserve it now and quotas are the fair way to make that happen. The campaign is looking forward to working with Nicola Sturgeon to make this a reality”.
Lily Greenan, Women 5050 steering group member and CEO of Scottish Women’s Aid said; “Women suffer inequalities in the home, in the workplace, in the boardroom and even in our parliament. It’s time this changed and I am pleased to see that the First Minister agrees with the Women 5050 campaign. We need a culture change and an attitudinal change in how women are viewed at every level of our society, having more women leading Scotland is a way to set that change in motion. It is long overdue that our parliament and our council chambers reflect the society they are meant to represent”.
Kate Higgins, Women 5050 steering group member and Women for Independence steering group member said; “Not one party has 50% women candidates for the general election, illustrating the need for positive action to be taken by them all to achieve gender equality in our politicians. I’m delighted that Nicola Sturgeon has signed up to the campaign. She has made this a personal political mission and wants to smash the glass ceiling in all areas of public life. We have the chance to change how Scotland does politics and show that we are serious about gender equality; we must take it.”
Eileen Dinning, Women 5050 steering group member and STUC Women’s Committee, said:
“This is an important and welcome endorsement for our campaign. Trade union women in Scotland began the campaign for gender quality in public life in the early 1990’s and it’s clear we still have a long way to go. The backing of a senior women politician who has the authority to help bring about change through public appointments and other measures is a very positive move.”
Notes to Editor:
Many of us in Women for Independence have struggled for 50/50 representation for years. But, as a young, grassroots, organic movement that has inspired thousands of women to get involved in politics for the first time – it was important to ensure the widest possible democratic discussion before endorsing this latest Scottish Women 50:50 campaign. But we are glad to announce that we do. Women’s voices became incredibly influential in the referendum campaign – but that should just be normal politics. After all, we are more than half of the population.
The second part of our name is Independence for Women. So, it wasn’t a surprise that we decided to support 50/50. And I’m not alone in being a supporter of 50/50 for as long as I can remember. But what seems like obvious common sense to me can be a hugely divisive issue. When I and others in the Scottish Socialist Party proposed it – nearly 15 years ago – we had no idea how difficult it would be. There’s nothing like a positive anti discrimination measure to flush out vested interests and, in a substantial minority, downright hostility. The SSP did introduce a democratic 50/50 mechanism – but resentment lingered and had an impact on the character of the SSP for years to come. Sexism is one major reason why I am no longer involved in party politics – despite 50/50.
Our experience demonstrated the limitations of 50/50 – the most energetic resistance to it is borne of ingrained sexism and misogyny. And that culture is a harder, more long term thing to address. But that is all the more reason to implement 50/50. These questions are best brought out in the open and where people, and men in particular, really want to understand structural sexism and privilege, it can be a hugely educational process.
50/50 isn’t a panacea in the struggle for women’s equality. Whilst very welcome, the appointment of a 50/50 cabinet by the Scottish Government is unlikely to mean that gender equality will trickle down any more than wealth trickles down. But it’s action at the top. Where power is. It demonstrates that male domination is not the natural order of things. And with political will, women can become participants and influencers in the world – representative of our number. It signposts a direction of travel. It sends a message to those who complacently assert that the ‘cream rises to the top’. My pal, Rosie Kane, famously quipped in the SSP 50/50 conference debate that, “It’s fine to say the cream rises to the top, but that’s no use if the cream can’t break out of the fridge!”
Unfortunately, too often these issues arise in the immediate context of candidate selection for impending elections. This is when incumbency, vested interests, strategic goals of party leaders etc. are likely to impinge on a genuinely open discussion. 50/50 needs to go in hand with democracy. It’s no use trying to parachute preferred women into seats when it becomes apparent that so called ‘merit’ and existing processes deliver a group of the usual male, pale and stale candidates. The Trades Unions have done better at developing democratic mechanisms like reserved places etc. which are in place before particular individuals are thought to be ‘in the frame’ and before selection and election takes place.
The democratic revival sparked by the referendum, and the rising of the women, should mean there is no hiding place for parties if they revert to business as usual. It became glaringly obvious during it that Scotland, literally, has thousands of talented, capable women – any one of whom would make excellent elected representatives. It will be a sad sight, if, after the 2015 Westminster election, the busload of MPs, of whichever party, that end up in Westminster, looks the same as every other busload that has gone down since time immemorial.
So, Women for Independence is pleased to support Scottish Women 50:50. We regret such campaigns continue to be necessary. Let’s hope the political parties – leaders, activists and members – listen. Women’s equality should, surely, in 2015, be boring mainstream.
The message from Women for Independence is: women aren’t just for referenda.
Monica Lennon, Councillor for South Lanarkshire, tell us about why equal representation matters to her and the very real sexism that women candidates and elected representatives face even today.
When I stood in the 2012 council elections I hadn’t fully appreciated how rare women are in local politics. It was little things at first. “You’re not like most councillors”, one officer remarked as I settled into my new role. “Well done you – a lady councillor,” was one verbal pat on the back from a well-meaning constituent.
Slightly more awkward moments followed – that time when a local clergyman only acknowledged me at an event when a male colleague signaled I was a councillor too. He’d ignored me when he thought I was the bag-carrier.
The brutal fact is that over three-quarters of council seats are occupied by men. I am one of the 24 per cent. The gender imbalance in local politics is staggering.
During the referendum it bothered me a great deal. The persistent gender gap in voting intentions kept ‘women’ in the spotlight. And thanks to the impressive grassroots campaigning by women on both sides of the referendum divide, the under-representation of women in Scottish politics has climbed its way up the political agenda.
Placing an even number of men and women around her Cabinet table, Nicola Sturgeon is earning a reputation as a First Minister committed to gender equality. Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale are leading a gender-balanced Scottish Labour top team. Both the SNP and Scottish Labour are committed to quotas for public boards.
But we continue to hear very little about the exclusion of women from town halls and city chambers across Scotland. It wasn’t hugely difficult for Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Murphy to ensure the top jobs in their teams were shared evenly between men and women. In contrast, smashing down the barriers that keep women out of the corridors of power in their own communities requires serious intervention.
Gender equality is a cornerstone of our democracy at every tier. Politics is too important to be left in the homogenous hands of a few. That’s why I support Women 5050, quotas and all.
In the aftermath of the referendum, Women 5050 was born and warring politicos were reminded there are many issues on which we agree. As general election swords prepare to clash, Women 5050 is the perfect place to take refuge and acknowledge that your opponents are mere mortals too. If a fairer Scotland is your goal, where women and men in a community near you have the same opportunities to contribute to public life, sign up and get involved.
Monica Lennon is a Councillor in South Lanarkshire and is Vice Chair of Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse Constituency Labour Party
A week after the referendum, I found myself back campaigning in the same spot on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk where I’d spent the fortnight before the vote, persuading folk to vote Yes. Only this time, I was bridging the Yes/No divide with Talat Yaqoob, no campaigner and fabulous feminist behind the Women 50:50 campaign, talking to passers by and signing them up to the 50:50 petition.
Standing in the chilly sunshine that day we had a mixed response – twitter informed us that we were traitors to our causes whilst passers by looked at us blankly when we asked if they’d like to sign our petition for gender equality. But thankfully, we had plenty of people stop and chat, sign up and thank us for campaigning on such an important issue.
And of course it is vitally important. In Scotland today, women make up just 35% of our MSPs and a measly 22% of our councillors. We are second class citizens in politics and even more so in the board room where less than 21% of FTSE 100 company board members are women. So why is this a problem? Simple – if we cannot achieve equality in leadership and representation, how can women ever hope to achieve it in the workplace and in our domestic lives? Structural change is badly needed, alongside the policies, practices and attitudes to make it inevitable.
The Scottish Green Party has long had gender equality at the heart of our policy and practice, opting for gender balanced selection processes and co-conveners instead of leaders. Our policies, favouring universal, funded childcare and a well funded public sector are also made with women and tackling inequality in mind so it was a no brainer for us to join the Women 50:50 campaign. However we’re not immune to structural inequality and embedded cultural practice. In party meetings you’ll often still find that women will make the tea and the men speak first – such engrained gendered behaviour is evidently tough to break out of.
Yet, we all have a responsibility to try, in order to make Women 50:50’s goals a reality. To get more women into politics and into leadership, men must be willing to stand aside once in a while and women must be willing to take their place. Without these attitudinal changes, structural change is miles away.
Throughout the referendum campaign many hundreds of thousands of us – on both sides – campaigned for a fairer, more equal Scotland. But that fairer Scotland won’t just emerge from one vote, regardless of the outcome. Nor will it happen overnight. That responsibility now rests with all of us.
Sarah is on Twitter: @SarahBS_27