International Women's Day

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:14 pm on 5th March 2009.

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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