International Women's Day

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:29 pm on 5th March 2009.

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Photo of Marlyn Glen Marlyn Glen Labour 5:29 pm, 5th March 2009

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.