The Scottish Government will be involved in more events than ever to mark this year’s international women’s day. Our celebrations started here in the Parliament on Saturday 5 March when the First Minister gave the keynote address at the Scottish Women’s Convention’s annual event, and they will carry on for most of this week, with the First Minister speaking today at the Scottish Women’s Aid conference. Also today, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs is participating at the Lord Provost of Glasgow’s conference, which is being co-hosted with UNICEF. From Ayrshire to Clydebank, ministers will be sharing platforms and attending events that showcase what progress has been made towards gender parity but also highlighting where we must do more. All those who are here will agree that the work to end gender inequality is not just for one day a year but is part of our Government’s core ambitions for Scotland as we pledge for parity.
I welcome all those events because they all highlight things that we all believe in. Can the cabinet secretary give us an update on what the Scottish Government is doing to ensure that women are properly represented in leading roles throughout not just the public sector but the private sector in Scotland?
As the member knows, both in the public sector and in the private and third sectors, we are doing everything that we can to encourage gender balance on boards. A key part of the Government’s strategy is 50:50 by 2020. Although we do not have the legislative power to force private sector organisations to engage in 50:50 by 2020, nevertheless, as a major user of private services, we are using all the influence that we can to encourage companies both to do that and to reap the benefits of having 50:50 by 2020.
In the public sector, the main area outstanding relates to equal pay in local authorities. Four or five local authorities in Scotland still have not finally settled their equal pay claims. As I am the cabinet secretary with overall responsibility for local authorities, my priority is to encourage them to complete the settlement of those claims as soon as possible. For example, in North Lanarkshire alone, the equal pay claims of over 4,000 people—mainly women—are still outstanding. Given the time that it has taken to do that since the Equal Pay Act 1970 was passed and since the negotiations began to be held, about 12 or 15 years ago, there is now no excuse for any outstanding claims that have still not been settled.
I am sure that the cabinet secretary is as shocked as I am by the University and College Union’s report, which highlights the gender pay gap in our colleges and universities. Sadly for me, the worst figure comes from the University of the Highlands and Islands, where male lecturers are paid £18,637 more than their female equivalents. That is unacceptable in any walk of life but especially in our publicly funded institutions. What is the cabinet secretary going to do about it?
We want to see equal pay implemented throughout the public sector, including in the local authority sector, as I mentioned, but also in the academic sector, in both universities and colleges. We will do everything within our power to encourage those institutions and ensure that those in the public sector who are funded through the taxpayer fulfil our requirement of equal pay for equal work.
I support the comments that have been made about the inequalities that women face at home and abroad, but we need light as well as shade, and I would like to highlight a report that has been published today that talks about underrepresentation of women in Scottish theatres. Does the cabinet secretary agree that our cultural life and expression are important to how we see ourselves? Will the Scottish Government support efforts for greater transparency and analysis of our understanding of the role of women in the creative sector?
I absolutely empathise with the member. It is clear that there is no case for not having women on an equal footing with men when it comes to any aspect of our arts and culture. As arts and culture are supposed to reflect our society, it is particularly important to make sure that women are properly represented. Indeed, it is important to make sure that any minority group is properly represented. Women should definitely be represented in arts and culture, including in the theatre, in television and radio and in the range of other media that we have available in modern society, because in modern society women make up more than 50 per cent of the population of Scotland.
One of the most terrible consequences of gender inequality is domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women. When the First Minister addresses the Scottish Women’s Aid conference this afternoon—she is due to do so imminently—will she respond to this week’s report by Scottish Women’s Aid on domestic abuse and homelessness? As the minister with ultimate responsibility for housing, has Alex Neil looked at the issues in that report? Will he respond positively to them?
We will take our time to look at the conclusions and recommendations in that report, as well as the analysis. It is clear that the report contains some very disturbing research, which needs to be addressed. We will certainly respond positively to the report and do whatever we can to ensure that all the issues to do with women and homelessness and the impact on the wider family, particularly children, are properly addressed.