I am delighted to open this year’s international women’s day debate. I thank Gillian Martin, who had planned to hold a members’ business debate on international women’s day but who has kindly agreed to participate in the Government’s debate instead. I look forward to hearing her speech.
International women’s day is a day on which to celebrate women’s social, economic and cultural contributions to society and to raise awareness of the structural inequalities, discrimination and violence that are experienced by women and girls in Scotland and around the world. It is a day on which to reaffirm our commitment to women’s rights and to galvanise our collective efforts to end gender inequality.
When I was considering the theme for this year’s international women’s day, balance for better, it struck me that here, in stark global statistics, is a reflection of the on-going inequality that women face. Women constitute just under half of the world’s population and perform nearly two thirds of the work, yet they receive one tenth of the world’s income. Research from organisations working internationally also reveals that 75 per cent of the world’s illiterate people are women, that only 24 per cent of parliamentary seats worldwide are held by women and that violence against women causes more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war. If we add women’s responsibility for caring and community cohesion, the picture is clear: women’s contribution is immense but is not reflected in status, reward or position in society. Women are a long way short of equality, and the need to pursue this agenda is as important as ever.
That is no less the case in Scotland, where one in five women experiences domestic abuse by a male partner in their lifetime; where women earn, overall, 15.6 per cent less than men and occupy the lowest-paid jobs in the lowest-paid occupations; where women are underrepresented in boardrooms and on decision-making bodies; and where women are discriminated against in employment and in access to services. It is very clear to me that we do not have gender equality and that we are still far away from achieving balance. The issue has not passed its sell-by date, it is no less important than other equality issues and it demands the attention of all of us. We inherit the legacy of centuries of discrimination, ingrained sexism and patriarchy, and we should not underestimate the difficulty of overcoming that.
However, it would be pessimistic and greatly disrespectful to the thousands of women in Scotland and worldwide who have fought, struggled and dedicated their lives to achieving equality for women not to recognise the tremendous steps that have been taken and the progress that has been made. It is fitting to acknowledge today the work of the women’s sector in Scotland in holding us to account and in pushing the Government to break down the systemic inequality that women and girls face. Organisations such as Engender, Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Close the Gap, the Scottish Women’s Convention and Equate Scotland provide us with a gendered analysis of women’s experience and challenge us to go further so that women can achieve the position in society that they deserve.
One way in which we can challenge the myths and raise awareness is by remembering, recording and celebrating the contribution and progress of women. Virginia Woolf once said:
“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”
We cannot achieve equality for women without identifying and eradicating the discrimination and disadvantage that they face. That is why the First Minister established her national advisory council on women and girls. The First Minister’s ambition for the council was that it would act as a catalyst for change to address gender inequality by providing independent strategic advice to the First Minister. The advisory council’s vision is of a Scotland that is recognised as a world leader in its commitment to and action towards realising an equal society in which all women and girls can reach their true potential.
Elaine Smith is right to point to that. I was in the chamber for the health secretary’s answer on that issue, which is an important matter to which the Government and society as a whole must give sufficient attention. I thoroughly endorse her remarks on that.
On 25 January, the advisory council published its inaugural end-of-year report for 2018, in which it sets out 11 recommendations for realising gender equality in areas from justice to women’s political representation, childcare and education. The council’s recommendations are ambitious and thought provoking, and they are intended to drive systemic change. They reflect the First Minister’s ask of the council to be bold and even to make the Government feel a little uncomfortable. We are actively considering those recommendations, and I am pleased to announce that it will be my portfolio’s responsibility to ensure that they are given the priority that they deserve.
Over the past year, women’s political representation has been high on the agenda. Of course, 2018 was the centenary of women’s suffrage and women gaining the right to stand for election to Parliament, and a range of events and activities to celebrate the centenary took place across the United Kingdom. In Scotland, a small grant scheme supported 50 projects across the country. I am pleased that the Scottish Government is supporting YWCA Scotland, the young women’s movement, and the Parliament Project to deliver the #ScotWomenStand campaign, which encourages women to consider standing for election and uses a range of online tools and resources to provide practical support and advice.
I do not have time to do justice to all the work that is being done, but I want to highlight some of it. In my portfolio, the Scottish Government has given a commitment in its social security charter that policy development will advance equality, non-discrimination and human rights, which is in line with the principles that are enshrined in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. Women are twice as dependent on social security as men and have less access to resources, assets and occupational pensions. That is due to a number of factors, including the fact that women are more likely to give up work to care and more likely to earn less than men and challenges in accessing childcare. The situation is even more acute in households in which women experience domestic abuse.
Research assessing the UK Government’s social security reform highlights its disproportionate negative impact on women, which has resulted in women being placed at greater risk of deeper and more sustained poverty. The driver for the reform has been austerity, and it has not taken gender equality into account. The design of a social security system can have an impact on the gender pay gap in a number of ways: it can equalise access to income or it can exacerbate inequalities; it can act as an enabler for women to access retraining or to fully and equally participate in the labour market; and it can force women to take jobs that are detrimental to their wellbeing and long-term earning potential. In response, we outlined in our fairer Scotland action plan, child poverty action plan and equally safe delivery plan how we will seek to mitigate the UK Government’s social security reform and make the system fairer where we can. Our system has been founded on the basis of dignity, respect and human rights. However, we recognise that we must continue to look at how we ensure that gender equality is taken into account in our social security system.
Our work to eradicate violence against women and girls continues to be a priority. We are clear that such violence is a fundamental violation of human rights that cannot and must not be allowed to continue. The Scottish Government recognises that we must challenge it, prevent it and support survivors. To help our work towards achieving that goal, we are implementing “Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls”. We are investing significant levels of funding, producing new legislation and working to strengthen front-line services.
However, we recognise that we must also have a strong and decisive focus on building a society in which such violence does not occur in the first place. For that to happen, we must all acknowledge and work to address the root cause of violence against women and girls: women’s inequality. That is why the equally safe strategy prioritises primary prevention and focuses on progressing women’s equality, changing attitudes and behaviours, building up the knowledge and skills of individuals and, ultimately, delivering a progressive shift away from the structural, cultural and societal contexts in which the violence occurs. The strategy provides an overarching framework through which to deliver that change, but we recognise that we must also take specific actions to realise our ambitions. That is why, in November 2017, we published our equally safe delivery plan.
I have had time to touch on only some of the work that we are undertaking with our partners, but I hope that my remarks make clear the Government’s commitment to tackling women’s inequality in a systemic way.
As everyone here knows, this year marks 20 years since devolution. As we celebrate international women’s day, it is fitting that we look back on the gains that have been made since devolution. Irrespective of our political persuasion, we can all, I hope, agree that devolution has allowed us to raise the profile of women’s equality in Scotland—from the first parliamentary debate that focused on domestic abuse to the annual takeover of the debating chamber by more than 300 women to mark international women’s day. Devolution has allowed us to use the powers that we have to make real change for women and girls—for example, through the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 and the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018.
Another aim on which, I hope, we can all agree is to ensure that all women—regardless of their ethnic background, religion, beliefs, sexual orientation, disability or age—can access the best possible opportunities, make a full contribution to society and the economy and improve their own lives. Let us celebrate our achievements and make a further commitment to do all that we can to achieve gender equality and balance for better.
That the Parliament unites behind International Women’s Day on 8 March 2019 to reaffirm its commitment to upholding and protecting the rights of women and girls, which are fundamental human rights; celebrates women’s and girls’ achievements and their social, economic and cultural contribution to society; notes that this year’s campaign, #BalanceforBetter, is a call to action to drive progress towards equal representation and gender equality throughout society, whether in the boardroom, government, media or in terms of wealth and pay; agrees with the campaign that gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive, and unites in its shared commitment to advance gender equality in Scotland and to bring about balance for better.
I feel honoured to be opening today’s debate marking international women’s day for the Scottish Conservatives. I thank all the organisations that sent through briefings ahead of the debate.
Although I celebrate the achievements of women and girls throughout history, I want this year to be a year in which we see real change. Too often, I stand up in the chamber knowing the challenges ahead but feeling disheartened about the pace of progress.
Society has a big role to play—I will stress that today—as, of course, does Government. Although this year’s theme focuses largely on the workforce and the economy, there is so much to say on general societal attitudes, education, sport, the media and—not to forget—politics. Today, we will support the Scottish Government’s motion in the spirit of the global event and reaffirm our support for upholding and protecting the rights of women and girls.
The concept of a women’s day has been around since 1909. Following a march that was held in New York that year, it was suggested at the international women’s conference in 1910 that 8 March—which is tomorrow—should become an official event.
Since 1996, the United Nations has selected a campaign theme to be launched on the day and continued all year round. This year’s theme is, as we have heard, #BalanceforBetter. It brings renewed focus to achieving equality in representation and the workforce; it also reminds us that there is still a long way to go and why a gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive.
Importantly, it is also a time to celebrate the achievements of women both now and throughout history. In my time as an MSP, I have met many women whose achievements have inspired me. Recently, I met Cara Teven, who is a local activist from Glasgow and a student at the University of Strathclyde. She has worked tirelessly on a campaign to get pubs and clubs to offer lids on drinks to deter drink spikers. Cara, using her own initiative to protect women and girls against that awful crime, now has the backing of Police Scotland as she aims to roll out the campaign nationwide.
I met Dee Bradbury who, last year, became the first female president of a tier-1 rugby nation when she took the top job in Scottish Rugby. Last year, I also had the privilege to meet Donna Kennedy, who is the most capped rugby player—male or female—and is now rightly in Scotland’s rugby hall of fame. I was delighted to witness her induction.
I have had the opportunity to reflect on the changes that I have seen in my lifetime—from my time at school when the only options offered to me were either administrative or secretarial, to my niece now studying sports science at the University of Stirling. When I looked into education, I found that women are now far more likely to start a university course than men, with six in 10 first-year Scottish students being women. That is progress.
It is right that we reflect on those changes, as well as the subtler changes in wider society that are not necessarily linked to Government policy. For example, in recent months, we have seen the release and success of major films with all-female leads where the main plot line is not romance; last year, it was announced that women can apply for the Royal Marines and all other front-line military roles; and the #MeToo and #timesup movements have continued. To some, those changes may seem insignificant, but to me they are signs that society is beginning to really question traditional attitudes towards women and girls in everyday life. It is great that the status quo is being challenged and that, as a society, we are becoming more aware of what it means to achieve true gender equality.
However, today’s debate also shines a light on where change is still needed. Although I have used the example of university places to highlight progress, it remains the case that some individual subjects are dominated by either women or men. In the United Kingdom, the number of women studying a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degree is just 24 per cent of the total; and, in 2017, only 15 per cent of engineering graduates were women, compared with 30 percent in India. More concerning is the fact that the proportion of young women studying engineering and physics has remained virtually static since 2012, and in some areas, such as computing degree programmes, the numbers are falling.
Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to visit Walker Precision Engineering as part of Scottish apprenticeship week. Although I was blown away by the positive impact that the apprenticeships are having on young people’s lives, I was disappointed not to meet a female apprentice. When I asked why that was the case, the company stated that women were not applying. It is clear that more needs to be done to change traditional views on what women and men should do educationally and in their careers.
Absolutely, and I look forward to hearing more from the member about that, because we need campaigns like that to be rolled out across the country.
On the point about STEM and apprenticeships, I ask the minister to comment on what action is being taken to overcome the barrier that women and girls face educationally and in their careers. More broadly speaking, it is incumbent on all of us to have discussions about that issue day to day.
All that, of course, feeds into the types of jobs women do. Women still largely represent those in low-skilled, low-paid jobs, and women earn an average of 14 per cent less than men, a figure that rises to 30 per cent or part-time workers.
In business, although there are examples of good practice with companies such as the FDM Group in Glasgow, systemic change is still needed. As will be said time and again, childcare is imperative to that. Women are still faced with the overwhelming societal expectation that they should lead on childcare, and we must encourage companies to incorporate organisational designs that recognise the pressures that women face.
No—I want to make some progress.
In politics, there has, of course, been progress. Last year marked the centenary of some women being given the right to vote, and in 2017 a record number of female MPs were elected to the House of Commons. However, I know as well as anyone that vast improvements are needed. In the Scottish Parliament, only 35 per cent of the MSPs who were elected in 2016 were women, and in my party the percentage is even lower.
I am just in my last minute, and I have a wee bit more to say.
I acknowledge that situation; indeed, I and other colleagues have set up the Women2Win campaign to ensure that work continues to be done to get more women involved. The campaign is working hard to identify, recruit, assess, support and mentor female candidates, but we will not be able to see the results of that work until the next election.
I want to finish by expressing my gratitude to the women and girls who have devoted their lives to upholding and protecting our rights. I whole-heartedly support the sentiment behind international women’s day; I feel privileged to have been able to speak in this debate every year; and I hope that, by continuing to shine a light on this issue, we can inspire women—and men—to achieve the change that we still desperately need.
One last thing: I cannot let this debate go by without mentioning my mum, Maria, who continues to inspire me every day.
We will be celebrating international women’s day this weekend, and I am pleased to speak in support of the Government motion. This year’s theme of
#BalanceforBetter is about ensuring gender balance in all areas, equal representation at every level and equal pay in every occupation.
I am especially proud that the Scottish Labour Party has taken positive action to back up our commitment to having 50:50 representation; indeed, we have achieved that a number of times in the Scottish Parliament. However, if we have learned anything, it is that positive action is needed and that no achievement can be taken for granted. If we let down our guard, things slip back. Unfortunately, in other areas such as the councils and the UK Parliament, we are still struggling and have yet to achieve 50:50, and I ask other parties to join us in taking positive action to increase women’s representation both in this Parliament and at every level of government.
People argue that representatives should be selected and elected on merit alone, and I agree with them. I so look forward to the day when women get elected on their own merit, because it certainly does not happen today. Men are much more likely to be selected and elected not on merit but simply because they are men. Until women can compete on merit alone, we need to take steps to deal with the gendered discrimination that favours men. We all know people who argue that the system works on merit now, but what they are actually saying is that women have less merit than men. Such people discriminate against women, are sexist and need to address their behaviour.
We have seen men favoured throughout society. We have seen it in politics, on boards in the public and private sectors and in our legal system, and we must act to stop it. Given that the Scottish Government appoints public boards, it must ensure that women’s voices are heard on them. More important, their voices must be heard on the appointment boards. After all, like recruits like, and we need women in those positions to ensure that they can recruit other women.
Although all women face an uphill struggle, women from ethnic minority groups face even greater discrimination not just on the basis of gender but on the basis of race. I therefore pay tribute to the work of Talat Yaqoob, a founder member of the Women 50:50 campaign, who has worked for the cause of women both personally and professionally. With her measured but absolutely uncompromising approach, she is an inspiration to all women.
Equality is not an end in itself—it is not simply a numbers game. We all lose out if we do not hear women's voices. We have seen the difference that women make when empowered; their knowledge and personal experience add to the debate, and decisions are made on a broader base with a diversity of views. That is why we must strive for councils, Parliaments, boards and the like to reflect society with regard to gender, ethnicity, disability and sexuality.
I agree absolutely, not just because of the numbers game but because diversity leads to better decision making and reflects the views of all the people who are represented in society. For instance, would we have the laws that we have now on violence against women without women in the Parliament? Would we have a campaign against period poverty without women in the Parliament? I think not.
Equality does not stop with representation—it must go further. Equal pay has been law for decades and yet, even in public organisations, we have not achieved it. Equality applies not just to pay for the job but to promoted posts. In professions where women dominate, such as primary school teaching and nursing, men still dominate the promoted posts. Why is that? Is it because women are being forced to choose between family and career? Is it because we as a society expect women to take on the caring roles? In Scandinavian countries, maternity leave is shared and both parents can take career breaks to look after children. To get equality, we need to have equality at home as well as at work.
Governments are also contributing to inequality. Austerity has had a disproportionate impact on women. Women make up the majority of single-parent households and they have been particularly badly hit. Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty, said that the UK welfare system is so sexist that it could have been compiled by
“a group of misogynists in a room”.
What an indictment that is. Is sexism so entrenched in our society that even our welfare system reflects it?
That is why we in the Scottish Labour Party have targeted poverty. Our budget asks were to increase child support and remove the two-child cap. We sought adoption of those focused policies to mitigate negative aspects of welfare policy that target women.
Sadly, violence against women continues to increase. Domestic abuse levels continue to grow even though, given the actions of the Parliament since its inception, we would have hoped to see a decline. Back in the first parliamentary session, my colleague Maureen Macmillan piloted the first committee bill through the Parliament, which provided protection against domestic abuse. Since then, every Government and every Parliament has continued in that vein, yet we appear to have had little impact on the overall situation.
We need to teach boys respect. We need to stop their access to violent pornography, which forms their sex education and warps their understanding of relationships. It is for all of us—not just parents—to do that. We need to look at how we regulate online pornography. The digital platforms have had long enough to put their house in order; they must now be forced to take action to protect future generations.
We must protect children from abusive parents. No parent has a right of access to their children. When a parent abuses their partner, they also abuse their children, which means that they must lose access to their children. However, too often, that does not happen and access is used to continue abuse. That needs to stop.
We all know that a child’s life chances, health, wealth and education are directly linked to those of their mother. We cannot tackle child poverty without tackling mothers’ poverty. We cannot build a child’s self-esteem while leaving them subject to domestic abuse. On international women’s day, we need to redouble our efforts to tackle those issues and to create a truly equal society for our children to inherit.
“I wish that my role as women and equality spokesperson did not need to exist. I wish that international women’s day did not need to exist.”—[
, 8 March 2018; c 56.]
I agree because, although the day is a global day to celebrate women, it is also a call for action to fight against patriarchy and deliver genuine equality. As such, its continuing need is disappointing, to say the least.
Like other members, I thank those who have provided us with briefings for today’s debate, which remind us—as the minister did—of issues around care, the media, health, representation and violence that still require serious action if we are to overcome inequality.
I also commend Engender for its recent shadow report on measures necessary to give effect to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The UN treaty was adopted 40 years ago, in December 1979. Article 1 of the treaty defines discrimination as:
“any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”
The recommendations that are made in the Engender shadow report, which covers the treaty’s 15 substantive articles—observance of which is a devolved matter—are worthy of close attention. I hope that the Scottish Government will respond to them in due course. We might hear something on that in the cabinet secretary’s closing speech.
In opening the debate on international women’s day in 2017, Angela Constance said:
“It is a stark fact that, in 2017, women nowhere in the world can claim to have the same rights and opportunities as men. No country has eradicated violence against women and girls, eliminated pay inequality or erased discrimination and prejudice.” —[
, 7 March 2018; c 30.]
We know that international women’s day has its origins in New York, Denmark and pre-revolutionary Russia and was a product of socialist organising. It is significant that it was on 8 March 1917 that women celebrating international women’s day joined those protesting against food rationing, leading to riots across Petrograd. Women organised and recruited more than 50,000 to strike against the food shortages and the Tsar and for the end of the first world war.
One hundred years later, women and girls remain the world’s most numerous and discriminated against human beings. For example, in 2006 I moved to Ethiopia. During a long walk through the Simien mountains in northern Ethiopia, we rested for a moment on top of a high escarpment, overlooking a green valley. Even at some distance, we could hear shouting and screaming. We took a close look through binoculars and saw a young girl who was running and being chased by men. They caught her and beat her with sticks before dragging her back to the village from which she was running. She was one of tens of millions of girls in Ethiopia—40 per cent of women aged 20 to 24—who have been forced into so-called marriage before the legal age of 18. Running away affords the slim chance of a better life but is fraught with danger. Many young girls end up on the streets of Addis Ababa, begging or forced into prostitution.
In India, too, there is a long history of endemic discrimination and violence. As Vicky Allan wrote in an award-winning article in
The Herald in 2015,
“Being conceived as a girl in India ... puts you at risk of foeticide, infanticide, neglect, abandonment, bride burning, wife-torturing, dowry killing, and domestic violence.”
In short, in many parts of that country, girls are not wanted.
The struggle for true equality between the sexes is the biggest on-going social struggle facing us all. Women across the world have been bravely leading the campaign to eradicate the patriarchy, but men, too, have a special responsibility to see, listen and learn about and act on the systematic and structural ways that women and girls face discrimination on a structural level never experienced by men.
This is the third occasion on which I have had the honour to speak for my party about international women’s day. On previous occasions, I have risen with some embarrassment because representing the views of a group of five blokes in a Parliament that should reflect the society that we all seek to serve is an embarrassing situation.
However, since I was elected, the party has made strides in remedying that. In Westminster, we now have a front-bench spokesperson team that is 50:50. In the snap general election, we returned a Scottish parliamentary team that is made up of two men and two women. In the poll that was published this afternoon, which puts us on 10 MSPs, the internal party structures that we have in place would see five of the seats being given to women. I am grateful that we are making progress, although we still have a way to go.
In September last year, a man attended a job interview. It was surprisingly acrimonious, for a job interview. At one point, through a veil of tears, he shouted at the panel:
“I liked beer, I still like beer”.
That astonishing admission was in part an attempt to answer allegations that the job panel had heard the day before. A day later, he attempted to justify his outburst by saying that he gets emotional and that he
“might have been too emotional”.
However, he still got the job.
Of course, the candidate to whom I am referring is Brett Kavanaugh, the panel that he was up in front of was the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and the job was as a Supreme Court justice of the United States of America. The highest law officers on the planet, like the highest politicians on the planet, must reflect the better natures of the society that they seek to serve, yet Brett Kavanaugh had been accused of assault and harassment, in dignified detail, by Christine Blasey Ford. He had also become notorious far earlier in his career, having gained attention and notoriety for traducing the reputation of Monica Lewinsky in the late 1990s, in an attempt to bring down the presidency of Bill Clinton. I defy anyone in Parliament to state with certainty that a woman who exhibited any of the behaviours that were exhibited by Brett Kavanaugh in that process would have got that job.
The fact is that we, as a global society, still treat women demonstrably differently from how we treat men, whether that is in pay or in the pink tax. My friend and colleague Christine Jardine this week launched a campaign on how simple toiletries are cheaper for men than they are for women.
There are also the issues of women’s representation in public art, sexual harassment and the fact that we still have a benefits structure—delivered by the Department of Work and Pensions—that pays single payments to households, which sometimes compounds domestic abuse.
We also still have an expectation that provision of childcare will fall to the woman. I am proud to say that, during its time in government at Westminster, my party did something to address that issue through the introduction of shared parental leave. That will—I hope—mean that, for the first time, young women who go for job interviews will not experience prejudice based on whether they are of child-bearing age, and that a woman will be no less likely to ask for leave than her male partner would be.
Coretta Scott King said that the struggle for equality is never truly won but must be won “in every generation”. In the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh and in the increasingly misogynist language in some political quarters of this world, we see where that struggle lies for our generation.
I started my remarks today with a quotation from a Supreme Court justice; I will also finish with one. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I am sure, carries the support of all members, and we hope that she continues in her role for many years to come. I think that this quotation sums things up perfectly. She said that, when she is asked when there will be enough women on the Supreme Court and replies that it will be when there are nine,
“people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
This year’s international women’s day message is #BalanceforBetter. Why is balance better? I will concentrate on why gender balance and women’s equality are good for the economy.
Gender bias—conscious or unconscious—hurts women’s life chances, of course. However, more than that, it hurts Scottish finances. I convene the cross-party group on women in enterprise. No matter what theme we are discussing at a meeting, the barriers that stop women playing their full role in our economy as business owners are the same: the assumption that the woman is the main carer in a household; lack of flexible or agile working opportunities; male-centric business support and unconscious bias from gatekeepers of support and finance; and implied lack of legitimacy if there is not a man on the scene, either as a financial backer or as a company partner. That was mentioned again yesterday by Pheona Matovu, who is the director of Radiant and Brighter Community Interest Company, and who is, I believe, in the gallery just now with ambassadors from Women’s Enterprise Scotland.
The rise of women is not about the fall of men; it is about equality. If equality for its own sake does not do it for you, let me put it this way: not having gender balance across every sector and having a gender pay gap in our economy is wasteful and is a dilution of our country’s economic and global potential. The key study on the issue, which contains facts about the economic arguments for balance and closing the gender pay gap, is the McKinsey Global Institute’s report, “The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth.” The report points to globally operating companies that have targeted making their teams more diverse, and tracks the positive effect of that on their profitability and productivity. The results speak for themselves.
One of the things that I am most proud to have been involved with in Parliament is the work that the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee did on the gender pay gap. Our report, “No Small Change: The Economic Potential of Closing the Gender Pay Gap”, drilled down into the causes of the lack of gender balance in Scottish workplaces, the economic cost of leaving things as they are, and the benefits of closing the gap. Closing the gender pay gap could add £17 billion to Scotland’s economy and, according to Women’s Enterprise Scotland, if the same number of women as men in Scotland set up in business and had tailored support to help them to sustain their businesses, we could be looking at a £7.6 billion influx into the Scottish economy.
A lot has to happen for those economic bonanzas to be realised: Government-funded and flexible high-quality childcare is key. Through the doubling of free childcare, the Scottish Government is making huge inroads into tackling that particular cause of women’s enforced and structural economic inactivity.
A country with a stubborn gender pay gap and a lack of gender balance in all sectors is not fulfilling its potential and is, arguably, failing.
I agree. I thank Emma Harper for coming along to a meeting of the women in enterprise cross-party group, when we talked about women in agriculture, and for her continued support for the work that we do at the CPG.
I will tell one of my favourite stories that illustrates sensible policy decisions on equality and why they are good for the economy. The former Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, was interviewed by
The New York Times in 2011, and the interviewer asked him what was the secret of Norway’s economic success. I imagine that the journalist was expecting a reply about oil and gas, but Stoltenberg simply replied that it was Norway’s women. He said:
“One Norwegian lesson is that if you can raise female participation, it helps the economy, birth rates and the budget.”
Of course, Norway funds all childcare publicly and its tax take is the reward for that investment. Balance is better—not just for women’s equality, but for everyone. Happy international women’s day to you, Presiding Officer, and to everyone. [
I think that congratulating me or wishing me something is the way to get extra time, Ms Martin. It is a good bribe. You missed what I said during the applause for your speech. Don’t everybody try it.
I thank you for that advice, Presiding Officer.
I am honoured to speak in today’s international women’s day debate. It is good to see some of us men stepping up to the mark in the debate.
In 2019, it is not enough to simply acknowledge the good that is being done to promote gender equality; we must work actively to promote it. I agree with the chair of the Scottish Women’s Convention, Agnes Tolmie, who said:
“Issues that confront women on a daily basis cannot be tackled unless policy and decision makers listen to and take action on women’s views, experiences and ideas.”
We are those policy makers, and we have the responsibility to take action to ensure full gender equality. To strive for anything less would be to set our sights too low.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Commonwealth women parliamentarians—or CWP—which is a group that was founded by women delegates to increase female representation in Parliaments. Its recent initiative to promote equality included the appointment of male champions of change to ensure that male parliamentarians also carry the torch for gender equality in Commonwealth Parliaments and legislatures. I have been appointed as the CWP’s male champion for the Scottish Parliament and, although it is clear that women members in this Parliament do not need a man to speak on their behalf, I am humbled by the responsibility. I am determined to do whatever I, as a male MSP, can do for gender balance in all aspects of the Scottish Parliament.
The theme for this year’s international women’s day, #BalanceforBetter, implies that achieving gender balance is not only morally right, but makes sense. As easy as it is simply to say that we are inclusive, some of us men must get out of our comfort zones and challenge our inherent biases. We need to support in word and deed organisations that are working hard to eradicate gender inequalities.
I commend organisations such as Women2Win, which my colleague Annie Wells started. It is dedicated to increasing the number of female Conservative candidates on the ballot. It has done strikingly well, and its support has led, in part, to an increase in the number of female Conservative candidates who have run in elections over the past 10 years. I hope that their number will increase in the near future.
Let us continue to shift our perspective and recognise that we miss out on talent in the public sector and in the workplace when we do not strive for gender balance. When there is parity in the councils of human decision making in boardrooms and councils, better decisions are made.
Inclusion of women’s perspectives also benefits the national economy, as has been mentioned. A landmark study in the 1970s asserted that overlooking gender aspects of development projects led to project failure. From that time onwards, empirical research has confirmed the link between gender variables and national economic performance. Research has found that improving women’s equality affects security, gross domestic product and education and health outcomes. In addition, the proportion of females in the workplace is statistically significant in relation to national economic growth. In the light of such evidence, balance truly is better.
Women’s involvement positively shapes the economy. The presence of women’s voices directly affects economic prosperity and the stability of the political system. Females’ presence in economic decision making can moderate overconfidence and risk. In this volatile world, we need women's voices ever more.
Historically, the system has systematically excluded women from what would be defined as the formal economy. The traditional roles of women in care giving have rendered them invisible in the economic system, but if that labour were to be factored into the economy, even at minimum wage level, it would account for some 40 per cent of world production. As a Parliament, we have a responsibility to recognise the invaluable contribution that women make, both in and out of the formal economy. We can do better here in Scotland.
Without women’s voices and participation, we cannot hope to solve the most important problems of our day. Problems to do with health, the security of nations and economic stability cannot be addressed without the insight of half of our population. We must do everything in our power to include women in the conversation, including stepping aside and simply listening.
In “Women & Power: A Manifesto”, the professor, author and broadcaster
M ary Beard shines a light on how many attitudes, prejudices and strategies to silence women are hardwired into our culture. She recounts the first recorded example of a man telling a woman to shut up, as immortalised at the start of Homer’s “Odyssey”, when a young Telemachus, challenged by his mother, Penelope, to change his tune, says:
“Mother, go back up into your quarters and take your own work, the loom and the distaff ... speech will be the business of men, and of me most of all, for mine is the power in this household.”
Three thousand years later, it is sometimes hard not to conclude that our western culture is well practised in silencing women. Classical writers had much to say about the tone and timbre of women’s voices and about how tiresome their barking, yapping or whingeing was. It is not such a distant culture, is it?
The Cambridge don Mary Beard has lost count of how many times she has been described as an ignorant moron. It was not until I had reached the grand age of 44 and had been appointed as the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning that I had my first experience of being called—to my face, at least—thick. I used to get lots of emails complaining about my glottal stop, which would say, “Don’t you know that there are two Ts in ‘Scottish’?”, which I would pronounce as “Sco’ish”. It is well known that Margaret Thatcher had voice-training lessons to lower her voice, but elocution lessons were never on my priority list.
All women, irrespective of their background, have the right to be heard, and we are not some pale, stale, homogeneous group. In speaking up for all women—whether it is women with a disability, women from the black and minority ethnic community, lesbian women, bisexual women or trans women—I quote Coretta Scott King, who said:
“Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”
In the debate about gender recognition reform, I appeal for tolerance, respect and patience from everyone, without exception, because we all know that we never persuade anyone of our position by using noise or anger. These days, it is easy to become overwhelmed and utterly frustrated by the fact that real equality between men and women is still an aspiration. However, there is hope and there is progress. The establishment of this Parliament, 20 years ago, increased the visibility of women in elected politics and achieved a consensus and focus on the need to end violence against women and girls. Irrespective of what side we were on, a legacy of the 2014 referendum was the creation of a cross-party women’s 50:50 campaign. Further, I very much believe that our public services will be better for everyone as a result of balanced public sector boards.
On whether there is hope for the future, it was utterly uplifting to get a text this week from my nine-year-old nephew Robbie, who wanted to interview me for his homework on international women’s day. He asked who has inspired me. There are many people I would love to mention, but I pay tribute to two very special women. The first is a constituent of mine, Annie MacKenzie, who recently passed away. Annie was my local hero at the opening of the Parliament in 2011 due to her being a carer, a fundraiser and a campaigner on Huntington’s disease. She was a larger-than-life character who will be sorely missed. Like Annie Wells, I also pay tribute to my mother, because my life is so different from hers. I have not had to endure the struggles that she has, in large part because of her. I say to young Robbie, do not be like Telemachus; always listen to your mother.
I learned at a very young age that real men are feminists. As the father of three boys, I hope that I can bring up my sons to be feminists, too.
I will make three points. First, I pay tribute to all the inspiring women who, over the generations, have helped to effect and deliver change—inspiring women who have made personal sacrifices through really difficult times to get change for the generations that followed. Change has not been easy; it has not come about by accident but has involved blood, sweat and tears. I therefore thank each and every one of the women—all the sisters—who helped to deliver the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Equality Act 2010; who recognised the challenges of violence against women by setting up Scottish Women’s Aid; who drive campaigns today, such as the 50:50 campaign for this Parliament; and who are speaking out and challenging as part of the #MeToo movement. I recognise, too, what we, in this Parliament, have done in passing the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018.
However, there is still a lot more work to be done, which brings me to my second point. It is important to recognise that the fight against all forms of prejudice, including sexism and misogyny, cannot be left to individual communities. As men, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with the sisters in this fight. We must amplify their cause, but we must recognise that we, too, need to change. I hope that every man has reflected on his behaviour following the #MeToo campaign. The same principle that applies to women’s fight against sexism applies to the fight against all other forms of prejudice and hate. We cannot just leave it to our ethnic minority communities to challenge racism. We cannot just leave it to our Muslim communities to challenge Islamophobia. We cannot just leave it to our Jewish communities to challenge antisemitism. We cannot just leave it to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to challenge homophobia. Each of those challenges must be seen as a fight for every single one of us. Only if we genuinely see them as our own fight will we defeat prejudice and hate in all their forms.
That brings me to my third point and the focus of my speech, which is the need to recognise the intersectionality of prejudice and hate. I have mentioned homophobia, racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism. A person is twice as likely to be the victim of a racist, Islamophobic or antisemitic attack if she is a woman. That is not a coincidence; that is deliberate, because people see women as an easier target. That leads to circumstances that I have seen myself, such as women having their headscarves pulled off their heads at train stations and women being sworn at or assaulted on our underground system. There is a particular challenge around how people are victimised on our public transport system. Therefore, my challenge again is to ask how we can work alongside those women and amplify their voices so that we can allow Jewish, Muslim and ethnic minority women to come forward and speak about their own challenges and experiences.
I will share one practical example of that. A family shared a story with me about their daughter, who, just the week after the Paris attacks, experienced horrific sexism and Islamophobia in her classroom. During her lunch hour, pupils in her class came up to her, opened their jackets and pretended to be suicide bombers. When the teacher came in, at the end of the lunch hour, and saw that taking place, he did not reprimand the pupils; he joined in and did it with his own jacket. When the parents went to the school to say how broken the girl was by those circumstances, the explanation that they were given was that it was the only way in which the teacher thought he could control the class and get it back in order. How will that child ever have the confidence to speak out on any form of prejudice or hate if that is what she can expect in her own classroom? That is just one little example.
In a time of division, when we see an us-versus-them politics rising in our country, Europe and the world, we must redouble our efforts to fight for equality in all its forms. That is why I stand in solidarity with the sisterhood today.
#BalanceforBetter is a call to action to address the overrepresentation of men—at the expense of women—on business boards, in political chambers and in the media. A situation in which 52 per cent of the population is underrepresented harms everyone. I have said it many times and I will keep saying it: it is not just about unfairness to the women and girls who are neither participating nor visible; it is damaging to society as a whole. Diverse groups make better decisions and policies, which results in better outcomes for our communities.
The UN special rapporteur said of the UK welfare reform that has disproportionately heaped misery on women—in particular, single parents, disabled women and the young—
“If you got a group of misogynists together in a room and said ‘How can we make a system that works for men but not women?’ they wouldn’t have come up with too many other ideas than what’s in place.”
I do not know how many women were in the room when those reforms were developed, but I know that, in 2019, in our Parliaments and council chambers, women—particularly women from black and minority ethnic communities and disabled women—are still woefully underrepresented, and if we are not at the table, we are on the menu.
In 2016, I was one of only 45 female MSPs who were elected to serve in the Parliament. That is not good enough. Neither is it good enough that we have no women from black and ethnic minority communities in the Parliament. Only this week, both at Gillian Martin’s cross-party group on women in enterprise and on my own committee, I heard real-life examples of the structural racism that exists in Scotland. When that is coupled with sexism, we can see how crucial it is that we have more black and minority ethnic women’s voices in our institutions. At the most recent election, Scottish Labour and the Scottish National Party took action to ensure that there were more female MSPs in our Parliament. Waiting for change that moves at a glacial pace is not an option. If we believe in equality, we must take measures to redress the imbalance. Action must be taken; slogans and hashtags are not enough. There is solid evidence that, when we do that, quality does not decrease—it increases.
I ask those who are members of groups in which white, middle-aged, able-bodied men are overrepresented to reflect on the possibility that, when they use the word “merit”, it is actually privilege that they are referring to. I utterly reject the notion that men are overrepresented in public life because they are better, and I reaffirm my commitment to legislation, quotas and action—to deeds, not words, as sister suffragettes used to say.
There is evidence that, when we have more diverse groups of people, the quality goes up. Nobody is talking about having unqualified people. There is a perception that the overrepresentation of men is about merit, but it is not—it is about the privilege of white, able-bodied men.
The Scottish Government’s motion also talks about upholding and protecting the rights of women and girls. The rights of women and girls are fundamental human rights that have been fought for long and hard and should be defended vigorously. The fight is not over. We still have female genital mutilation, prostitution and sexual slavery. Globally, women and girls are being refused access to education and are trapped in conflicts in which rape is used as a weapon of war. Around the world, the number of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth is needlessly high, and women and girls are prevented from making deeply personal choices about their reproductive healthcare.
As the cabinet secretary said in opening the debate, women as a sex class do not have equality and the fight is not over—not in this country and not globally. The rights of women and girls must be defended vigorously. I am very grateful to all the organisations that the cabinet secretary mentioned and to the many individuals who defend those rights, however they describe their feminism.
In concluding, I thank my colleague Joan McAlpine for speaking up this week and for raising a matter that many of us have been uncomfortable about raising. I thank all women who do that.
I, too, am delighted to be speaking in today’s debate. As we have heard, tomorrow marks international women’s day, when people from all over the world celebrate the economic, cultural, social and political achievements of women.
International women’s day first officially occurred in 1911 and more than 1 million people supported it. Nowadays, it belongs to so many more.
After what seemed like years of steady progress, it feels like the past few have been a huge step forward for social and cultural change. The impact of that has been felt all over the world. Attitudes are changing at a fast pace. We have seen that across the spectrum, in politics, business, cinema and sport.
One place where we are witnessing progress is here in Scotland, in the gender pay gap, which shows the difference between the average hourly pay rates for men and women. The Office for National Statistics publishes gender pay gap information annually. In Scotland, the gap has been narrowing consistently. In the decade from 2008 to 2018, it almost halved by going down to 5.7 per cent—the second-lowest figure in any part of the United Kingdom.
There have been other areas of positive advancement in business, too. In various areas, glass ceilings have been broken and talented women have won through. The most recent women in work index report by PWC said that Scotland was the top-performing part of the UK in terms of gender diversity in the workplace.
International women’s day is not just about celebrating; it is also a call to action for accelerating gender parity wherever we can. In 2017, the UK Government made it compulsory for companies with more than 250 employees to report their annual gender pay gap. Last year’s figures revealed that every sector in the UK paid men on average more than women. The construction and financial sectors reported the widest pay gaps. There is always more that we can do, and more progress has to be made.
Scotland still struggles with encouraging girls into science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As reported in June last year, just 9.1 per cent of STEM modern apprenticeship starts were female. If we move forward at that rate, there will be longer-term problems in getting women into senior positions within the STEM sectors. That underrepresentation also prevents women from developing and influencing new attitudes among others in those sectors.
Education is vital in driving towards gender balance here in Scotland and throughout the world. Each year, international women’s day focuses on a different theme. As the motion states and others have mentioned, this year’s focus is on the #BalanceforBetter campaign, which will run throughout 2019, asking all members of society to drive forward gender balance around the world.
The campaign emphasises that everyone, not just women, has a part to play at all times. Gender balance is essential for economies, communities and societies to thrive. Gender balance is improving: in politics, we currently have our second female Prime Minister and a female First Minister and the current and previous leaders of the Scottish Conservatives are both women. I know that the hard work of those involved in our women to win initiative will improve female representation on the Conservative benches in future.
Many aspects of the issue are improving, but there are many that need more attention. As we mark international women’s day, let us welcome and celebrate the improvements, but let us also recommit to the call to action to bring about gender balance throughout our society and in the wider world. A balanced world is a better world.
I have a final point. I read this recently and I think that it is very appropriate for today:
“You’re a woman and that alone makes you pretty remarkable.”
I am delighted to participate in today’s debate ahead of international women’s day. It is a day when we celebrate women’s and girls’ achievements and their social, economic and cultural contribution to society, but it is also an opportunity to come together and continue the conversation about how we ensure that our society is more equal. We have so much work left to do and we still do not see gender equality across society. With a shared commitment, it is certainly achievable, and I encourage everyone to reassess what they can do to help make society equal, whether that is as business owners, the media, members of Parliament or all of us as members of society.
I will spend my time speaking about my campaign for four weeks’ paternity leave or shared parental leave. I am very honoured to be speaking at an event tomorrow, on international women’s day, about how dads impact on gender equality. The event, which is in Edinburgh, starts at 10 o’clock and I can give the details to any members who may want to come along.
I thank Gillian Martin and Ivan McKee for their work in the cross-party group on shared parenting, of which I have recently become the convener. I also thank the members of the group for agreeing at a recent meeting to pursue the issue further.
As members may be aware, in the United Kingdom and Scotland, fathers get up to two weeks’ paid leave, which the dad can take from the birth of the child. Some employers, including the Scottish Government, offer a wee bit more—up to four weeks—but the general standard is two weeks, with one week being paid and the other week unpaid. That situation only reflects and reinforces cultural assumptions about traditional gender roles, in which the father is the breadwinner and the mother is the primary carer. We all have a duty to challenge that head on. Other countries are leading the way on this. For example, Iceland, Slovenia, Sweden, Finland and Norway offer between 10 and 12 weeks of paternity leave. Research from those countries indicates strongly that where there is higher paternity leave, higher levels of gender equality are reported. That is the key: balance is better.
Statistics show that fathers are doing more of the childcare than ever before, but still not as much as mothers do. I think that the research shows that fathers do about half of what mothers do. Clearly, that is not equality—far from it—but it is progress and there is evidence that progress is being made through the generations. People of my generation are perhaps doing more than their fathers and grandfathers. However, if we want true equality we must break down the barriers that are in place. On international women’s day, it is good that it is no longer assumed that the mother will do all the childcare.
I was going to intervene on Annie Wells earlier, simply to say that I have spoken out in the chamber before against the UK Government shared parental leave scheme. The scheme has its benefits and it works for some families, and I think that its intention was sound. However, I agree with many stakeholders who are speaking out about it and a recent paper from North Lanarkshire Council that says that the scheme is fundamentally flawed. That is because, in essence, it results in parents having to work out how to split the same period of leave. Many parents who use the scheme do so on financial grounds, and it sends a message that any time that is taken from the mother to spend attaching with her child is her responsibility. That perpetuates the cultural assumptions that I have spoken about and does not take into account possible power imbalances that could exist in relationships.
There should be a separate paternity leave policy for fathers. I am working with Fathers Network Scotland and others on launching a campaign specifically on that issue and on the devolution of the relevant powers to this Parliament. It is a fact that increased paternity leave benefits everyone—it benefits society as a whole. It allows fathers to spend more valuable time with their children, lowers the rates of postnatal depression for women, allows for a quicker return to work and—importantly—helps us men to reflect on and challenge implicit attitudes about mothers being the primary caregivers.
I can see the Presiding Officer indicating that I am running out of time.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak today. I think that it is important that we hear men’s voices on this topic.
First, speaking as deputy convener of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, we have been trying to make the role of women part of our inquiries in topics that we have looked at, including Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and business gateway. Previously, as I think Gillian Martin mentioned, we did a report on the gender pay gap. It is good that organisations now have to publish data, but we are not making as much progress on this as we should be.
I thank Engender for its briefing for today’s debate, which talks about an average pay gap of 14 per cent, while for part-time workers the pay gap is 30 per cent. Engender also points out that 63 per cent of workers on poverty wages are women.
Clearly, Scotland is not alone in having an unacceptable gender pay gap and I think that the committee was surprised to hear that it is still quite a serious problem in Sweden, which many of us would see as one of the most progressive countries. That is not to excuse our failures here, but it shows that some of the problems are deep rooted around the world.
The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee’s current inquiry is on the construction sector, which has been mentioned already. It is clear that women are seriously underrepresented in the sector, and it does not seem that much progress is being made on the number of women starting apprenticeships. We had nine young apprentices at the committee on Tuesday, two of whom were women. It is clear that peer pressure, family expectations and perhaps stereotypes around the word “construction” mean that things are not changing very quickly.
I accept that there are glimmers of light and some individual organisations are perhaps doing slightly better than others. Just this morning, I met people from TSB. Its new chief executive officer is to be a woman—Debbie Crosbie, who I think will be the only woman heading up a major UK bank. I believe that she was also the first woman to sign a Scottish banknote.
Another piece of positive news has been the settlement—at last—of the Glasgow City Council equal pay dispute. Men and women must be paid the same for work of equal value. Of course, that applies to other organisations, and Asda is one business that is currently going through a dispute. Sadly, that still leaves the problem of a woman in one organisation being paid less than a man in another organisation for work of equal value.
Engender reminds us that 65 per cent of MSPs are men and 71 per cent of councillors in Scotland are men. I think that my party’s thinking has changed on this matter over the years. We saw talented individuals such as Nicola Sturgeon, Fiona Hyslop and Shona Robison rise to the very top and for a while we assumed that equal numbers of women would just come through automatically. However, that proved not to be the case and I whole-heartedly agree that it has been right to make the Cabinet 50:50 and take other positive action to move things forward. Of course, a slight downside is that we now have a predominance of men on the back benches.
Could we ensure a 50:50 split of men and women here in the Parliament? There are options that should be looked at, which include using the list system to create a balance, or we could go as far as saying that half the constituencies should have only female candidates from all parties and the other half only male candidates. That would ensure a 50:50 split; I do not know whether people would want to go that far.
Finally, on a different topic, last Friday—as some may know—was the world day of prayer. It used to be called the women’s world day of prayer but it has been widened out and some men are now allowed to go, although it is still organised by women. This year, the world day of prayer was organised by women from Slovenia, one of whom said
“I am a researcher in a scientific institute. I wish, however, that the balance between family care and work would be more favourable to families and less restrictive to women in their working place. In spite of the full legal equality, women still have to bear a double burden.”
That emphasises why we are marking an international day, because women all around the world have not had a good deal. That is disappointing, but it can be seen as encouraging in that we are not alone in Scotland; we are working with people around the world to improve things.
This has been a positive debate, with many interesting contributions from both men and women. As Anas Sarwar and John Mason said, men should be supporting women in their struggle for equality. Although I note what Maurice Corry said, our male colleagues’ solidarity is very welcome.
In closing for Labour, I join other members in celebrating women’s achievements. I welcome the Scottish Parliament’s commitment to making progress on women’s representation at every level of public life. We rightly celebrate women who inspire each other, their families and their communities. Annie Wells mentioned many examples of women doing that. As Annie did, I too want to take the opportunity to wish a happy international women’s day to my mum Moira. As a school teacher, a champion swimmer, a mum and a grandmother, she has been inspirational to me.
It is not enough simply to celebrate increased women’s representation; the voices of women need to be heard and acted on. That point was made strongly in the debate by Rhoda Grant, Angela Constance and Ruth Maguire. We know that that will result in better policy, stronger laws and a more equal society.
Recently, women themselves are tackling inequalities in women’s health, whether that is mesh survivors, who we heard about earlier this week, thyroid patients or endometriosis sufferers. They are making parliamentarians and governments listen to and support them. Cross-party groups are taking up issues affecting women—a point made by Gillian Martin yesterday at the cross-party group on women in enterprise, which she chairs. Pheona Matovu, from a company called Radiant and Brighter, which supports migrant communities and their specific needs, addressed the meeting. As Gillian Martin pointed out, Pheona is in the public gallery. Pheona spoke about the challenges that she faced when finding work and setting up her business after experiencing years of unemployment as a result of immigration controls and gaps in employment support provision. She emphasised how important it is to listen to migrant communities and work with them in developing the most appropriate services that are needed, which in the main do not exist.
Several members also mentioned that black and minority ethnic women are more likely to be out of work, on lower wages or in households living in poverty. We need to acknowledge that situation and take responsibility as a Parliament for changing it.
As mentioned by other members, the statistics on women living with disabilities tell a tale of greater discrimination, pressure and stress at work, higher unemployment and few opportunities to maximise potential. Only last year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission report “Is Scotland Fairer?” concluded that women and disabled people were more likely to experience severe material deprivation. The speakers from the Multiple Sclerosis Society at yesterday’s CPG on women in enterprise reminded us that we—whether that be employers, business support services or Governments—are not getting it right yet. Too many women with disabilities are out of work or are struggling to get by. Debilitating health conditions such as MS, thyroid problems, mesh complications and endometriosis predominantly affect women.
As mentioned by Shirley-Anne Somerville and Annie Wells, last year marked the centenary of some women in this country getting the vote. Of course, since then, significant progress has been made in women’s representation in the chamber itself, among the staff who work in the Parliament and in the members of the public who come in to engage. This is a Parliament, we should not forget, with a creche facility—I understand that it is the only one of its kind in the world—to facilitate engagement. It is a Parliament that legislates on violence against women, on childcare and on breastfeeding. We should be proud of the differences it has made to women’s lives. We should also recognise, as did those women campaigning for the vote, that we still have work to do. I agree with the point that Ruth Maguire made about male privilege in that regard.
With rising numbers of children living in poverty, many of whom are growing up in households with at least one adult in work, and disproportionately high poverty levels in households headed by women, which increase still more in households headed by BME women and women with disabilities, I am pleased that the Government has used the international women’s day debate to renew a commitment to take more action.
In closing, I remind members that international women’s day has its origins, as Andy Wightman said, in the labour and trade union movement. Those origins recognise the strength of collective voice and action. Collectively, we can do better for women in many of the areas mentioned in this debate—such as health, poverty and enterprise—and we can do better for BME women and women with disabilities.
For the last word, I want to go back to Pheona. Speaking at the CPG on women in enterprise yesterday, she said:
“In Africa, we have a saying. If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
Scottish Labour will support the motion tonight.
In closing the debate for the Scottish Conservatives, I wish everyone a happy international women’s day and thank members for the excellent contributions from across the chamber. The simplicity of the #BalanceforBetter strapline has been touched on today. It encompasses the value of female contribution and representation in the Parliament, the media, other workplaces, life and society. The cabinet secretary set out the stark statistics that reveal the true inequality that women face. However, we have heard today that a good balance benefits our economy and enriches and enhances every aspect of our society, and that is what we must focus on, even though the picture of global inequality is fairly depressing.
I pay tribute to a group from the Borders called CEDAR, which stands for children experiencing domestic abuse recovery. Last year, the group, which runs a therapeutic educational programme for children and young people and mothers, picked up a violence against women award. I congratulate the group on its incredibly powerful work.
We on the Conservative benches are proud to have launched Women2Win Scotland, which mentors, nurtures and supports women into politics. Last year, we also announced a diversity commission, which is led by Nosheena Mobarik and which aims to increase the number of females and BME candidates who are selected and elected. Most members will know that the Conservatives do not support mandatory quotas. To be honest, they are a pretty blunt instrument—we have had that debate previously. However, we recognise that many women count themselves out before they even get to selection or the recruitment process. We need to address those obstacles and not put a sticking plaster on them.
Obviously, working up to 2021, we want more women to be selected and elected. That will probably be our benchmark.
Many have agreed today that women and girls can realise their potential and aim for the top, and that that is vital to ensure that we have a balance in the workplace across society, which is an issue that Ruth Maguire highlighted. Many members spoke about STEM subjects. No subject, whether it is physics, computing studies or chemical engineering, must be out of bounds for girls at school. STEM subjects are the key to our future economy, and girls should be encouraged to participate in them without hesitation at school. However, we know that that is not the case at present.
Given the number of times that that issue has been referenced by the Conservatives, I hope that they welcome the STEM strategy, which I launched as higher and further education minister with special responsibility for STEM. That was specifically to tackle the issues that Rachael Hamilton is raising, which I absolutely recognise.
I congratulate the Scottish Government on its work on STEM and support it in that. However, we have to look at the statistics, and the cabinet secretary knows that, of those studying STEM degrees, only 24 per cent are women. In computer science, the growth in the number of female graduates is far behind the growth in the number of male graduates, at 3.1 per cent versus 9 per cent. Annie Wells highlighted the stark statistic that, in the UK, just 15.1 per cent of engineering undergraduates are women, whereas the figure is 30 per cent in India. Perhaps we should look at international models. Empowering women and girls through education is certainly one way in which we can help to improve that statistic on female participation.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I just want to say that the graduate numbers are not the only thing that we should look at. We should also look at the number of women who stay in engineering, because there is a leakage of women from engineering, which is just as important.
I thank Gillian Martin for raising that relevant point, because we should be looking at returning to work programmes for women. For women who have graduated in engineering, home life or caring for somebody else can often take over, and there is not a way for those women to get back into work. We must provide a nurturing environment and get women back into those roles.
Rhoda Grant mentioned the types of jobs that males and females do. I want to highlight a statistic that I found when looking at research from British Gas. It found that 70 per cent of girls thought that they were most suited to careers in beauty, childminding, nursing or education. Although those careers are certainly rewarding—and, indeed, we need more people to work in social care and nursing—that statistic highlights that getting more women into what would ordinarily be considered male apprenticeships could bridge the gender pay gap.
Alex Cole-Hamilton spoke about work practices, and we need to get things right for women in the workplace.
Gillian Martin spoke about the gender pay gap, which is still too high at 17.9 per cent. The Scottish Government is looking at the issue, and the UK Government is working to narrow that gap. The UK Government equalities office published “what works” guidance to help employers to close the gender pay gap by improving the recruitment and progression of women. I hope that the new south of Scotland enterprise agency, which will be set up next spring, will address the gender pay gap in my constituency.
Presiding Officer, I have taken too many interventions, because I have so much to say—
Okay. I want to make one point about childcare. Yesterday, we highlighted some of the flaws in the expansion of childcare provision. Flexibility is key in allowing women to return to work after having children. Parents should be able to choose the setting that suits their children.
I will sit down now, because the Presiding Officer is giving me the look.
I thank all members for their speeches, and I wish them a happy international women’s day. I am incredibly pleased to close today’s international women’s day debate for the Government, in my role as Minister for Older People and Equalities.
As many members will know, over my 11-plus years as an MSP, I have been an advocate—some might say an outspoken one—for equalities issues. I am proud to have spoken in just about every international women’s day debate in Parliament, because the day holds a special significance for me.
In years gone by, international women’s day was one of the few opportunities when we found space to discuss women’s equality and to raise awareness of the systemic change that is required for women to achieve their rightful place in society. We have heard many examples of how we can do that and many examples of the work that is still to be done.
However, I now see a Scotland where women and girls, and men and boys, are making space to discuss such issues daily—in schools and colleges, in workplaces, in people’s homes and, of course, on social media. The debate on women’s equality can no longer be contained to just one day, or even 16 days; it is now a debate for everyone, every day.
This afternoon’s debate has been far ranging in the breadth and depth of the topics that have been discussed, but I will pick up on some of the points that have been raised.
It was great to hear Angela Constance talk about Mary Beard, who reminded us, through Ms Constance’s lovely accent, that the place of women has been undermined throughout history, and that we should campaign for the freedom of others. When I went to the recent international congress of women’s caucuses in Dublin, I loved meeting Mary Beard and the amazing feminist activists from Ireland who have been in the news recently.
Rachael Hamilton highlighted the work of local groups in minimising domestic violence. She will know that the Scottish Government is committed to tackling domestic abuse through the enactment of the new domestic abuse offence and our work with justice partners to ensure that we are ready for its implementation. The 2018 act will come into effect on 1 April 2019 and will send a clear message that domestic abuse will not be tolerated and can be dealt with under our law. It is vital that we take the necessary measures to ensure that the justice system is prepared and equipped to deal with cases that involve coercive and controlling behaviour. The Scottish Government has provided funding to Police Scotland to support the development of training for 14,000 police officers and staff.
On 26 February, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women carried out its oral examination of the UK. The Scottish Government was represented in Geneva as part of the UK delegation, and Engender attended alongside other UK non-governmental organisations. The committee will publish its report soon, and I am sure that we will all be happy to hear what it has to say about Scotland.
Elaine Smith raised a very important issue about women’s health inequality. Who knows how successful the period poverty campaign would have been had it not been for women working together in this place? Another side of that issue is the menopause campaign, which she will know that I am involved in. I am determined that the Government improves the position for women affected by the menopause. We funded the Scottish Women’s Convention to hold a conference on the menopause last month, when we heard directly from women about their experiences and what action they want the Government to take. I heard many women ask for more clinical research on the menopause, workplace policies that support women rather than discipline them for struggling with their symptoms, increased awareness raising and a consistent health response across the country. I am sure that we all want those things.
I will touch on some of the points—there were so many—that members raised today. Annie Wells, Alison Harris and Rachael Hamilton mentioned apprenticeships. They might be aware of our commitment to having 30,000 apprenticeships by 2020 and the commitments in our STEM strategy. I hope that we will soon get up-to-date information on our progress on the STEM strategy. At this point, I welcome Equate Scotland’s amazing work to ensure that we fix the “leaky pipeline” and keep women in STEM jobs.
Rhoda Grant mentioned respect and consent, which is an issue that we have debated a lot over the past year in the chamber, especially in relation to the position in schools. We are working with our COSLA partners to roll out the equally safe plan, which is a whole-school approach, which I hope will go some way towards tackling the issues that boys and girls face in the school environment.
Andy Wightman, Anas Sarwar and Fulton MacGregor all talked about men as allies; Anas Sarwar said, “real men are feminists”—I agree. He talked about the responsibilities of fathers, and he also brought up a very interesting point about the intersectionality of prejudice and hate. Whether that is to do with race, gender or disability—a woman might be a victim of racism, Islamophobia or antisemitism, for example—we still have a job of work to do to ensure that we tackle that prejudice; indeed, it is key to everything that we do.
Alex Cole-Hamilton reflected on the need for parties to have in place a better gender balance, how global society treats women differently, the pink tax and universal credit. I am sure that the member will welcome our campaign on split payments for universal credit.
Gillian Martin, Alison Harris and John Mason mentioned the gender pay gap and the work that we need to do on that, especially in relation to equal pay. I am sure that they will all welcome the gender pay gap action plan, which will be published very soon.
I was delighted to hear Maurice Corry make a commitment to gender quotas, even though I think that it shocked his front bench. I am sure that the Women 50:50 group is looking for a Conservative member and that it would welcome Maurice Corry should he want to join. [
I will correct that slightly. [
.] I meant to caveat my point by saying that we very much believe that representation should be based on skill and what the job or position requires. Of course, we encourage as many women as possible to come forward—after all, I am the father of three daughters, so I have no option other than to say that.
Ruth Maguire reminded us of Professor Philip Alston’s words about the rape clause and how it was written by misogynists. Like Anas Sarwar and Elaine Smith, she called for better balance and representation in this place, including women from all our diverse groups. Increasing women’s representation across the board is a key element of the work that we need to do.
I am sure that my ministerial colleagues, women and our male allies across the chamber will be really keen to keep working on how we progress the issue of women’s equality in all areas. As we know, we make progress at a local level, so we all have a responsibility, as local MSPs, to take on all the issues that create inequality.
Last year, I took part in this debate from the back benches; this year, along with the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, I am incredibly proud to be leading the Government’s work on tackling gender inequality. As was referenced earlier, that includes overseeing our response to the recommendations made by the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls.
We have come a long way along the path—I thought that we had taken the Conservatives a bit further along that path today—towards gender equality, and I look forward to taking the next step on Scotland’s journey to equality.