International Women’s Day

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 8th March 2018.

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Photo of Monica Lennon Monica Lennon Labour

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I welcome the chance to close on behalf of Scottish Labour and to speak in support of my colleague Rhoda Grant’s amendment.

There is indeed much that we can celebrate about on-going work to address women’s inequality in Scotland. However, as well as being an opportunity for celebration, international women’s day is an opportunity for women to organise and to highlight the work that still needs to be done.

The Government’s motion acknowledges its on-going commitment and activity to tackle women’s inequality. I commend Angela Constance for the leadership that she shows as cabinet secretary with responsibility for equalities.

I have been trying to think of a word to describe the debate, and maybe the word is magical. Sandra White’s eyesight improved in the middle of her speech, so something special has happened here today.

I think that there has been an emotional connection across the chamber. Although we are in different parties and have different views on some issues, a lot of the issues that we have discussed today really resonate with us and either affect us directly or affect people who we care about. I am really grateful to everyone for their contributions so far.

We have reflected on the achievements that we have seen here over the past few years, such as the passing of historic legislation in the form of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill and the criminalisation of revenge porn. Those are significant legislative leaps forward that will strengthen women’s rights in Scotland. I commend the activists and parliamentarians alike who have been responsible for achieving those significant wins for women’s equality.

Those victories are evidence of what can be achieved when women—and, more important, feminists and feminist women—are elected to positions of power. They are evidence of why I, like many others in the chamber, remain restless and impatient for further and faster progress on women’s political representation. We know that the key to achieving change on many of those issues lies in ensuring that decision-making bodies are reflective of the society that they seek to represent. I am grateful to Alison Johnstone and others who are part of the women 50:50 campaign, which has really made a difference.

In reflecting on the debate, the progress that we have made so far and the progress that we have yet to make, it struck me that there are only so many times that we can repeat the same arguments and the same statistics and have the same debates over and over again. The statistics around women’s representation have been rehashed many times in the chamber; they have been repeated by me on more than one occasion—and I have not been here that long. It is an unacceptable truth that women, especially women of colour, are underrepresented in our national Parliament—in fact, there has never been a woman of colour in this Parliament—our media, our public boards and our councils.

Why does that matter? It matters because we are still living in a society where violence against women is all too common and where one in three women who work in this building can say that they have experienced sexist behaviour and sexual harassment, as we read in the survey results that were published just last week. Most of us are not surprised at all by those findings. It matters because we still live in a society in which only a fraction of reported rapes are even prosecuted and an even smaller fraction of those result in a conviction. Claudia Beamish, who has had to leave the chamber, was right to highlight how the media reports such crimes, which are about not sex but violence against women and the abuse of power.

There have been some great speeches. I cannot mention them all, but I have already tweeted that Gail Ross’s speech was outstanding. Gillian Martin made me cry, because the issues that she highlighted are very real. I do not want any woman to come into this workplace and feel unsafe—I do not want that for any woman in any part of Scotland or indeed beyond.

The spirit of Labour’s amendment is to highlight the theme of this year’s international women’s day, which is to press for progress. To me, it feels like this year, on the back of the momentum from the me too campaign and the time’s up movement, maybe people will wake up and we will see some real change.

Just last night, a well-known woman in politics, Mhairi Black, was telling it as it is—and good on her. She read out the violent, offensive and frightening abuse that is sent to her in a public forum—so why should she not repeat it in a public place, particularly our Parliament? Why should women in politics keep quiet about that?

On Twitter, I discovered that I had been described as the human equivalent of an anthrax-soaked razor wire tampon. How dare we as women fight to combat period poverty? I have been undeterred and I have worked with women across this chamber, including Gillian Martin, and with Victoria Heaney from Women for Independence. We will not be silent on this issue. I am pleased to mark international women’s day by saying that I have lodged a final proposal for a member’s bill to establish legal rights that would give everyone who menstruates in Scotland the right to access free sanitary products. We have heard a lot today about injustices against women globally, but if we can get that right in Scotland we can help effect change across the world.

My time is almost up. Yes, there is a lot that we can celebrate on international women’s day, but there is still so much more that we have to do. It feels like the spirit of Mary Barbour and her army is with us in the chamber today. Rhoda Grant said that we want to be respected. Gail Ross said that lip service will not do. Rona Mackay said that we will not give up. Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole-Hamilton are a couple of the men who have committed to our cause, too.

That just leaves me to say happy international women’s day to everyone.