International Women's Day

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 5th March 2009.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:00 pm, 5th March 2009

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-3456, in the name of Cathy Peattie, on international women's day.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the many events being organised throughout the world to mark International Women's Day on 8 March 2009; notes the role that this day plays in recognising, promoting and celebrating women's issues worldwide; considers that there are still many aspects of women's rights, representation and welfare that need to be addressed through a gendered policy approach, including the gender pay gap, the under-representation of women in senior positions within the public and private sectors and as elected representatives, and with regard to the provision of violence-against-women support services; recognises the requirement under the Gender Equality Duty for the Scottish Government, local authorities and other public bodies to undertake needs analyses and equality impact assessments, and believes that these are central to single outcome and other agreements.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 5:08 pm, 5th March 2009

I thank the many members who signed my motion. Many events are being organised throughout the world to mark international women's day, which is now nearly 100 years old, having been launched in March 1911. We celebrate advances that we have made and recognise and promote women's issues. We highlight what is still to be done and we share our experience here in Scotland and with our sisters globally. We want to advance the social, political and economic equality of women.

Many aspects of women's rights, representation and welfare still need to be addressed through a gendered policy approach. The issues include the gender pay gap, under-representation of women in senior positions in the public and private sectors and as elected representatives, and the provision of violence against women support services.

There is still a large pay gap between women and men. Women tend to have less access to income, earnings, pensions and resources such as cars and houses. Women, young and old, also have real problems with public transport. I have to tell members that getting on an average bus wi a buggy and twa bairns is damned near impossible.

Similar observations can be made about other barriers and discrimination against women. Women are not adequately represented in many professions. Last year's "Sex and Power" report highlighted the fact that there is a declining percentage of women among public appointments, senior police officers, judges in the Court of Session and Scottish MPs and MSPs. Women constitute 7.4 per cent of senior police officers and only 11.8 per cent of judges in the Court of Session, which I believe results in the lack of awareness that is evident in some of the decisions that are made by our justice system. For example, in rape cases, victims do not deserve to be jailed for finding proceedings difficult.

In the Scottish Parliament, 35 per cent of MSPs are women—that is up on the figure in 2007, thanks to the two new Scottish National Party women, but is still down on the figures of 39 per cent in 2003 and 37 per cent in 1999.

In spite of the high number of women who are active in communities, we still remain under-represented in local government and central Government. The struggle for women's representation will be remembered later this year by the Gude Cause group: October 10 will mark the 100th anniversary of the 1909 women's suffrage movement's march along Princes Street. Hundreds of women took part, dressed in violet, green and purple, the colours of the movement. One of the banners read:

"A GUDE CAUSE MAKS A STRONG ARM".

In 2009, the march will be re-enacted. It will be a special day for all women in Scotland—aye, and for men and bairns, too.

Another march will take place this weekend. Edinburgh communities will march together, uniting to end violence against women. On Sunday 8 March, a reclaim the night march will pass through parts of the city where women feel unsafe. However, the organisers are careful to emphasise that, in general, women are safer outdoors than they are in their own homes. One in five women experiences domestic abuse during her life. The "Map of Gaps 2" report, which was published recently, shows that many local authorities in Britain have no specialist violence against women support services such as rape crisis centres, children's services, refuges, outreach projects and services for black and ethnic minority women.

It is recognised throughout Britain that Scotland leads the way in the provision of those services, which is due in no small part to Scotland being the only part of the United Kingdom to take a gender-based policy approach to violence against women. I am, however, concerned that removal of ring-fenced funding for local authorities might lead to a dilution of focus and service. I call on the Scottish Government and local authorities to ensure that rigorous needs analyses and equality impact assessments, as required by the gender equality duty, are central to the single outcome agreements.

This week, Parliament hosted an exhibition by the Women's Environmental Network, an organisation that seeks to empower women to make positive environmental change, to increase awareness of women's perspectives on environmental issues and to influence decision making to achieve environmental justice for women. A gender equality approach needs to be taken to protect women's health and help women to participate more in environmental decision making. It is essential that women are brought into the main stream of environmental decision making, whether it is community based or initiated by Government.

The Scottish Parliament has contributed enormously to Scotland's good record on equal opportunities. We have promoted mainstreaming and the gender proofing of budgets through working with the voluntary sector, businesses, trade unions and campaigning organisations to improve the lives of women. I want that record to be maintained and the equal opportunities agenda to be advanced. I believe that that is key to the continuation of a gendered approach to policy, and I look forward to the Scottish Government reaffirming that commitment.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 5:14 pm, 5th March 2009

I congratulate Cathy Peattie on bringing this debate to the chamber in the week that we are celebrating the events for international women's day.

Cathy Peattie referred to last year's "Sex and Power" report, in which I was mentioned as one of a diminishing group of female politicians in the Scottish Parliament. We have restored the balance slightly, as Shirley-Anne Somerville and Anne McLaughlin are now here, although tonight I am part of a shrinking group on these benches—I am the sole female cheerleader for the Scottish National Party in this debate. Sandra White wanted to be here, but she has a constituency engagement—she wanted me to say that she is here in spirit and in sisterhood.

One of the things that struck me in the "Sex and Power" report was the idea of prejudice. All through my working life I have been involved, as part of the trade union movement, in trying to address the equal pay issue. There are issues with regard to being a woman in a world in which you are trying to get ahead. I worked in social work, which was quite female dominated, but the big positions always went to men. There was a boys' club network: the method of promotion was to go for a pint with the boss. If you were a female who wisnae inclined to go for a pint or play a round of golf with the boss, you faced a barrier to promotion. As Cathy Peattie said, that was usually because women had two weans waiting at hame for their dinner and they had to get back and sort them out, run one to the fitba and the other to something else. Prejudice is still endemic in the working world, and there is still a network of boys' clubs, especially in top jobs in the private and civic sectors.

Another thing that struck me in the "Sex and Power" report concerned female ambition. If a female is described as ambitious and puts herself forward, she is usually described as a nippy sweetie or an aggressive woman, or as someone who is trying to act like a man in a man's world. A woman does not have to act like a man, by which I mean no discredit to any of my male colleagues; she just needs to act like herself—but that is sometimes tough because there is a preconception that if you are an ambitious woman, you are aggressive, which is quite wrong.

There is still an expectation in today's society that the female is the main care giver in a family. That has been an issue for me—I have always been the main care giver. I have been expected to be that person. We should address the long hours culture and resistance to flexible working, and give rights to parents—not just female parents, but all parents—to allow them to have a good work-life balance. That would go some way towards allowing women to advance their career further.

I was going to mention some of the events for international women's day, but Cathy Peattie has already done that. One of the things that brought me into politics and being part of society was my gran, who passed away last year at the age of 98. She went through her young life as part of the suffragette movement, and I have a brooch on today, which one of my friends gave to me, that has the suffragette colours in it. It is a butterfly, which represents rebirth and beauty. We women always have to undergo rebirth and become something else.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe presents an award for female comedians every year—on which I congratulate it. Last year, I had the real privilege of giving the award to Janey Godley. She uses her issues and concerns, and the challenges and barriers that she faces every day as a woman in the workplace and in the family, as humour. She won the award because she has been on a journey through being a woman in a man's world, which led to her success.

Our responsibility as females in the world is to encourage, mentor and empower. Women who, like us, are in positions of power should be the cheerleaders for that. When I was first elected and did my wee interview, I was asked who inspired me the most and who I would have to dinner. A lot of people have inspired me. The interviewer said, "I suppose it would be Winnie Ewing." In a political sense, Winnie Ewing has always been an inspiration to me, but one of my inspirations is Rosa Parks

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Rosa Parks was involved in the civil rights movement, and she said that sometimes you have to sit down to stand up for yourself. On that note, Presiding Officer, I will sit down.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour 5:19 pm, 5th March 2009

Since its birth in the socialist movement, international women's day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration in developed and developing countries alike. The idea started in 1910 at the second conference of working women, where a woman who can certainly inspire us all, Clara Zetkin, raised the question of organising an international working women's day. That conference decided that, from then on, every year and in every country, women should celebrate on the same day a women's day under the slogan

"The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism."

I commend Cathy Peattie, a good socialist woman, for bringing the debate to the chamber this evening to highlight women's inequality at home and abroad. In the past decade, she and other persistent comrades have raised the issues of inequality, discrimination, lack of representation and violence against women. They have done so in the Parliament and outwith it so that those injustices are recognised as societal problems here in Scotland and around the world and to highlight the need for action to address and eliminate them. There have of course been some successes, as Cathy Peattie said.

In a debate in the Parliament in 2000, I said:

"In 1918, the suffragettes won votes for women. Eighty years later, 82 per cent of MPs were men. That picture is reflected across society. For the whole of the past century, women have battled for equality."—[Official Report, 8 November 2000; c 1436.]

Sadly, we have only to consider the terms of Cathy Peattie's motion to know that the same battles continue in the new century. Women remain underrepresented in public life, are paid less than men, endure violence at the hands of men, and suffer disproportionately from the effects of poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth and power. The Public and Commercial Services Union points out that the earnings gap between men and women in the civil service is higher than the UK average.

Whether in debates about equality, violence against women or international women's day, or on other relevant occasions, I and others find ourselves making the same points over and over again. Unfortunately, nearly a decade after the Scottish Parliament was established, there remains a need to debate women's unequal status in Scottish society and abroad.

I note that Jack McConnell has a current motion that encourages MSPs to support One World Action's more women more power campaign. That shows that there are examples of good practice around the world that should be recognised and shared. In Tanzania, the Women's Legal Advice Centre's access to justice for refugee women and girls project helps refugee women and girls to gain access to legal assistance. In Zambia, Women for Change works with and empowers remote rural communities to contribute towards gender-sensitive, sustainable development and the eradication of all forms of poverty. In India, the Self Employed Women's Association is a trade union movement of informal women workers who believe that women's human rights will not be achieved without economic empowerment and self-reliance. We can also learn from socialist Cuba, where the Federation of Cuban Women is an example of female solidarity within a socialist system. It makes real change in fighting for women's rights.

Of course, the lives of women today are very different from the lives of our grandmothers. Christina McKelvie referred to that. We remember that it is only within the past 100 years that women have had the vote. Sadly, however, many women do not use their vote. They are disfranchised and disempowered; they do not see the point of voting because they do not see it as relevant. Despite many advances, women are still oppressed, still not equal and still fighting for our rights. That inequality is rooted in exploitation, patriarchy and capitalism. It is in the interests of private greed to stand in the way of equality.

Perhaps now, with the seeming collapse of global capitalism and the personal disgrace of those who have worshipped at the throne of Mammon, we have an opportunity to try to rebuild society on the tenets of freedom, equality and justice instead of avarice, greed and injustice. We can do that. We can put people before profit and allocate the resources that are needed to deliver a truly equal society.

I finish where I started, with the founder of international women's day. Throughout her political career, Clara Zetkin focused on the liberation of women in society through Marxist reforms of the capitalist system. Her words help to explain why we continue to make the same points over and over again. She said:

"The total liberation of the world of proletarian women ... is only possible in a socialist society."

More than 100 years later, and after 10 years of devolution, I have to concur with that view.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative 5:29 pm, 5th March 2009

I congratulate Cathy Peattie on bringing this important debate to the Parliament. International women's day is celebrated worldwide and provides a welcome and necessary opportunity to highlight and raise awareness about women's issues, in their varying complexity.

The motion mentions, among other things, women's representation and welfare as aspects of women's rights that still need to be addressed. Who could doubt the validity of that statement, given the incidence of trafficking, which has been described as the new slave trade? Trafficking involves predominantly women, but also children, in what has become a growth industry both globally and on an intrastate basis. The last point is worth emphasising and was effectively brought home to me when I attended the recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference on trafficking in London. There is a common misconception that trafficking takes place exclusively between states, but in reality it is also a thriving domestic trade. If today's debate succeeds in making people in general more conscious of and vigilant about the abuses that are being perpetrated on their doorstep, it will have been worth while for that reason alone.

Violence against women is a key welfare issue. In that area, at least, there is some small glimmer of optimism, as the subject is at last receiving the attention that it merits, through domestic violence awareness-raising campaigns such as the highly successful breaking the circle of violence campaign that was launched just before Christmas in the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, in conjunction with Strathclyde Police, North Lanarkshire Council, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and Scottish Women's Aid. The campaign, which ended recently, has had remarkable results in encouraging the reporting of abuse and educating the public about the insidious, complex and manipulative nature of domestic violence, which has such a devastating impact on both the victims and the children involved.

Also to be welcomed are the provisions of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill, which is being considered by the Justice Committee and will reform the law on rape. The bill's provisions bring clarity to the concept of reasonable belief of consent, for example. It is to be hoped that, in doing so, they will help to prevent some of the travesties that take place in courtrooms, where the victim often feels that she, not the perpetrator, is on trial.

I turn to the other aspects of the motion. The first is the gender pay gap, which—like death and taxes—seems always to be with us. When scrutinising the 2009-10 Scottish Government draft budget, the Equal Opportunities Committee focused on the issue of equal pay in local government and the escalating cost—already running into hundreds of millions of pounds—of the 40,000 outstanding cases. Oral evidence that was taken recently from Audit Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been relayed to the Local Government and Communities Committee, which is to pursue the issue.

Meanwhile, the Equal Opportunities Committee has produced guidelines to help committees mainstream equal opportunities in their work across the equality strands, including gender. Among other things, the guidance suggests ways in which committees could scrutinise the Scottish Government's approach to equality impact assessment and its responsibility under the public sector equalities duties. The guidance was discussed recently by the Conveners Group, which brings it another step closer to adoption.

Finally, it is hoped that the Conveners Group's agreement to the Equal Opportunities Committee's request to commission research into sexualised goods aimed at children will result in useful material and evidence to help us get to grips with the root causes of low esteem in girls.

As the motion indicates, many aspects of women's rights are still to be addressed. The various events that are planned to celebrate international women's day will help in that process.

Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour

Like other members, I thank Cathy Peattie for bringing this important debate to the chamber. The number of topics that have already been touched on shows how wide ranging the debate can and should be.

International women's day gives us a chance to review the position of women at home and across the world. Importantly, it allows us to focus on what it means to grow up as a female.

We talk a lot about mainstreaming, which is often taken to mean, sadly, trying to make everything gender neutral when we seem to have so little idea of gender differences in the first place. We need to take on board the concept of the girl-child and how her experiences are different and how her needs must be addressed.

Last month, I attended the Women's National Commission event in Glasgow, which was organised by the commission and the UK

Government Equalities Office. The event's purpose was to raise awareness of, review and take stock of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which is often described as an international bill of rights for women. The UN commission and the convention bring together women's organisations and movements across the world for the advancement of women and gender equality.

The Glasgow event was an opportunity for Scottish women's groups, such as Engender and the Scottish Women's Convention, to present their viewpoints. I look forward to the report-back on that UN meeting. I encourage members to attend that session because the themes of the UN meeting are relevant to our work in Parliament. The priority theme this year is the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS. That is an interesting way to look at the issue, because it looks at equal sharing of responsibilities rather than at equality and rights. The status of unpaid carers is a frequent topic for us in Parliament. I hope that a major debate on it will be scheduled soon.

The review theme, which is last year's theme, is evaluating progress on the implementation of the conclusions on the equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels. That is significant for us and for our political parties because only one third of MSPs are women, and we know that the statistics for local government and Westminster are similarly poor. We ourselves need to take action to make that change.

An emerging issue of concern to everyone is the gender perspective of the financial crisis. Members have talked about equal pay, which is one of the biggest issues for us. Many of our committees are grappling with it, and it is an on-going problem across the public and private sectors. The statistics, as reported by the CPS, are that women's average hourly earnings are 17 per cent less than those of men, with the gap widening to 35 per cent between women and men part-time workers. We know that that is caused by discrimination, the responsibilities of caring and occupational segregation. We need to reverse those gaps.

I welcome the equality legislation and the work of trade unions and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I hope that we can soon see a difference so that we can truly present Scotland across the world as a country of good practices, whether we are talking about how we deal with sexual offences, and the reform of legislation in that regard, or equality measures. I look forward to hearing what action the minister will propose to help us make that difference.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 5:33 pm, 5th March 2009

I, too, congratulate Cathy Peattie on securing the debate and I pay tribute to her work down the years on wider equality issues. It is good to see Elaine Smith back in the chamber in full voice.

I will briefly outline what the Scottish Government is doing for international women's day and then discuss three of the topics that the motion mentions, because I cannot cover in four minutes every topic that has been raised in the debate. The Scottish ministers are more actively involved this year than ever, building on the success of the previous Administration in this area, with events and activities to mark international women's day. I hope that that demonstrates our commitment to the women's agenda in Scotland and to equalities generally, and to ensuring that we make progress on the issues that have been identified.

We are helping to fund three organisations to hold international women's day events: Fiona Hyslop will speak in the chamber on Saturday at the Scottish Women's Convention event, as, I think, will Cathy Peattie; Women@Work is holding an international women's day event on Saturday in Inverness; and Shona Robison is attending and speaking at an event on Friday 13 March, which is organised by the Dundee International Women's Centre.

We are funding the organisers of three events that will take place between July 2008 and March 2011. The three organisers are: the Scottish Women's Convention, Women@Work, and the Dundee International Women's Centre. The Government's assistance is respectively £521,351, £258,855 and £160,000.

In total, we have committed nearly £3 million to continue to fund nine of our strategic partners to carry out specific work to help us to progress gender equality issues. In addition, in celebrating international women's day, a delegation from Armenia is being met and a range of other activities is taking place.

I turn to three substantive issues: violence against women, equal pay and occupational segregation. The subject of the event in the Parliament on Saturday is violence against women. Scotland has been leading the way in developing this agenda over a number of years on the basis of a firm gender-based analysis. We believe that our success comes down in the main to the partnership approach that we have adopted with the organisations that I mentioned earlier.

This work will be developed further during the next stage of the single outcome agreement process, in which we will ensure the full involvement of community planning partners. In turn, that should assist in engaging the multi-agency partnerships that work to prevent violence against women in identifying local priorities. I am conscious of the concerns that what should be going on locally across Scotland is going on locally. The Government has discussed the matter with our national group on violence against women and COSLA representatives. COSLA is keeping a very close eye on the situation to ensure that there is no diminution in service levels or in local network activities in this area. I am keeping a close personal eye on the matter.

Over the next three years, the Government will allocate over £44 million to tackling violence against women and children, including domestic abuse. I am making not a party political but a substantive point when I say that that funding more than doubles that of the previous three years.

The annual domestic abuse publicity campaign, which runs in December and January each year, is absolutely vital to our work in this area. This year's campaign involved a new television advert, "I Soar". There is also our online work to encourage women to contact the Scottish domestic abuse helpline for support. Recent figures from the helpline reveal an increase of 7.5 per cent in calls over the festive period from last year. We are evaluating the campaign to see how we can further improve it in future years.

Given that I am running out of time, or have run out of time—

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Yes, I can. I thought that I had only four minutes in total.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

Will the minister include the issue of pornography within the spectrum of his work on violence against women? Will he further indicate where action can be taken to tackle the issue?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

We discussed the issue of pornography at the last meeting of the national group on violence against women, albeit briefly. We are taking forward the issue in conjunction with our partners at Westminster. Clearly, pornography is a UK issue. We are aware of it, and we will address it in the months and years ahead.

Given the bonus of another two minutes, I have time to address one final issue, which is that of closing the gender pay gap and equal pay. I say to Cathy Peattie that the civil service undertakes regular pay audits in which it has found no significant equality issues in its pay structure other than in terms of senior civil service pay. That needs to be addressed. Obviously, the issue comes under the control of Her Majesty's Treasury in London, which has the primary responsibility for the civil service.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

My point was about women's promotion to posts in the senior civil service, because the number of women in such posts is very low.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Absolutely. We are also keen to address that issue.

The gender pay gap for full-time workers in Scotland is currently 13.5 per cent, based on the average, or mean, and the median figure is almost 11 per cent. Those figures are far too high. In our view, there should be equal pay—I am old enough to remember Barbara Castle introducing the Equal Pay Act 1970. Although there has been a slight decrease in the pay gap since 2007, when the equivalent figures were almost 15 per cent and 12 per cent, that is still not good enough and we are determined to do everything that we can to help close the gap.

The gap is even more profound for part-time work: it is just over 32 per cent based on the average, or mean, and almost 35 per cent based on the median. Because such a relatively high proportion of women work part time, that statistic is at least as important as the one for full-time pay.

Although equal pay legislation is reserved, the Scottish Government is trying, through the gender equality duty, to do what we can to address the issues—as did previous Administrations.

I hear what members say about the problems associated with single status and about the trafficking of women. Although it has not been mentioned, forced marriage is also being addressed. We are also addressing, with our Westminster colleagues, the issue of no recourse to public funds; it does not affect a large number of women, but someone who is affected can find themselves in a desperate situation.

I had much more to say, but I have run out of time. I recommit the Scottish Government to the gender equality agenda and I commit this Government to do everything that we possibly can—working with the campaigners in the Parliament—to promote in the months and years to come not only international women's day but equality for women in pay and in every other respect.

Meeting closed at 17:42.