International Women’s Day

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alison Harris Alison Harris Conservative

I am delighted to continue the consensus that has been the hallmark of the debate. As we celebrate more than 100 years of international women’s day, I feel a deep sense of pride in looking around the chamber and taking in the success of so many women, as was also noted by Clare Haughey.

Although today is, of course, a day for celebrating our achievements, it is our obligation to ensure that we do not become complacent and, instead, push ahead to make even greater strides in the next 100 years to guarantee the true equality and empowerment of women.

We have heard excellent contributions from across the chamber. In her opening speech, Angela Constance spoke about equality for women and girls, and what matters to our children today. I feel that that cause is one with which surely few people could disagree. Parliament is united in support of protecting and upholding the rights of women and girls in Scotland’s year of young people.

We have acknowledged the role that is played by organisations such as Girlguiding Scotland, Young Scot and YWCA Scotland, to name but a few. Those voluntary groups play their part in helping girls to realise their potential and build their confidence to prove that not only are they every bit as good as men, but that they can strive to surpass them and become leaders in their field, whether that is business, science, the arts or, of course, politics.

In 2018, it is unbelievable that there is an on-going need for women to push every day on causes such as closing the gender pay gap, encouraging more women into public life and standing up for women who suffer from harassment and abuse and continue to call out everyday sexism. A few months ago, all eyes were on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, as actors wore all black in a show of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment.

Rhoda Grant spoke passionately this afternoon about the devastating effects of domestic abuse.

There are obviously still barriers to overcome—and yes, glass ceilings still need to be broken. However, from those on the red carpet down to each and every female, we all want progress to be made, and it is becoming more apparent that women are definitely uniting and becoming active in women’s equality. That work is aided by social media campaigns such as #MeToo and time’s up.

I would like to honour the press for progress campaign, which Christina McKelvie and others mentioned earlier. The campaign is uniting women all over the world in the pursuit of gender equality. The movement aims to challenge stereotypes, celebrate women’s achievements and lobby for greater gender parity. If no immediate action is taken and concerted effort is not made to include women at all levels of the economy, gender pay parity will not be achieved for another 200 years, as we have heard from Alison Johnstone and others. That is quite incredible.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum found that there is a direct link between gender parity and the success of an economy. That illustrates that closing the gender pay gap is not only good for women but good for society as a whole. We need to promote that message in the chamber and in our communities, because women’s rights matter to all of us.

On a positive and indeed pertinent note, the WEF data also shows that, when women are more present and participate in leadership roles, more women are hired at all levels, right across the board. That detail holds true even when we take into consideration the disparities in the size of female talent pools across various industry sectors.

Different political parties might have different ideas on how to close the gap in representation, but we all acknowledge that elected office is an area in which women continue to be underrepresented. We can differ on how we get there, but not on the need for more women to stand for elected roles, whether in councils or in the Scottish and UK Parliaments.

Last year, my party launched Women2Win, which aims to promote the brightest and best in the party. I would like to acknowledge the role that Annie Wells and others have played in pushing forward the agenda for Women2Win Scotland. We heard earlier from Maurice Corry about the launch of the new commission within my party.

As part of the Scottish Government’s programme of themed years, 2018 is the year of young people. It is good that young people are being celebrated. This year of young people gives young girls the opportunity to celebrate their achievements and contribution to communities, and the opportunity

“to shine locally, nationally and globally”,

as is recognised in the motion today.

We heard from my colleague Margaret Mitchell about women’s attainment in the legal profession, and others spoke about STEM subjects. I agree that much progress has been made, but there is still much work to done. It is true that, over the past few years, the number of passes by girls in STEM subjects at school has increased not only in higher qualifications in maths and computing but in chemistry and physics. Nevertheless, I believe that all of us in the chamber recognise that gender stereotyping is still discouraging girls from taking STEM subjects at school and aspiring to STEM careers. I strongly believe that our recognition of that fact is the first step towards correcting that and seeing the numbers of girls in STEM subjects steadily increase, not only at school but at college and university.

Presiding Officer—sorry, Deputy Presiding Officer; that was a promotion—many good points have been made from across the chamber this afternoon, and I recognise that all the speakers in this debate have made very valid and useful contributions. As a mother, I found it very touching to hear Anas Sarwar talk about his mum and how inspirational she was. I hope that my son will in future speak of me in terms that are even slightly glowing.

I am excited to work with everyone in this chamber to advance real gender equality, respect for women and the uplifting of women in politics. I appreciate the opportunity that international women’s day has provided for discussing these important issues on this public platform, and I welcome all input into solving them. Working together we can realise the potential of women in Scotland and improve the lives of all.