International Women’s Day

To mark International Women’s Day on 8th March, the Scottish Parliament debated a motion tabled by Falkirk East MSP Cathy Peattie. Cathy emphasised the need for central and local government and the private sector to take full account of gender issues.

Opening the debate, Cathy thanked the many MSPs who had signed her motion. Noting the many events organised throughout the world, Cathy spoke of advances that had been made and highlighted what still needs done to advance the social, political and economic equality of women.

“Many aspects of women’s rights, representation and welfare still need to be addressed through a gendered policy approach. The issues include the gender pay gap, under-representation of women in senior positions in the public and private sectors and as elected representatives, and the provision of violence against women support services.

“There is still a large pay gap between women and men. Women tend to have less access to income, earnings, pensions and resources such as cars and houses. Women, young and old, also have real problems with public transport. I have to tell members that getting on an average bus wi a buggy and twa bairns is damned near impossible.

“Similar observations can be made about other barriers and discrimination against women. Women are not adequately represented in many professions. Last year’s “Sex and Power” report highlighted the fact that there is a declining percentage of women among public appointments, senior police officers, judges in the Court of Session and Scottish MPs and MSPs. Women constitute 7.4 per cent of senior police officers and only 11.8 per cent of judges in the Court of Session, which I believe results in the lack of awareness that is evident in some of the decisions that are made by our justice system. For example, in rape cases, victims do not deserve to be jailed for finding proceedings difficult. In the Scottish Parliament, 35 per cent of MSPs are women—that is up on the figure in 2007, thanks to the two new Scottish National Party women, but is still down on the figures of 39 per cent in 2003 and 37 per cent in 1999.

“In spite of the high number of women who are active in communities, we still remain under-represented in local government and central Government. The struggle for women’s representation will be remembered later this year by the Gude Cause group: October 10 will mark the 100th anniversary of the 1909 women’s suffrage movement’s march along Princes Street. Hundreds of women took part, dressed in violet, green and purple, the colours of the movement. One of the banners read: ‘A GUDE CAUSE MAKS A STRONG ARM’.

“Another march will take place this weekend. Edinburgh communities will march together, uniting to end violence against women. On Sunday 8 March, a reclaim the night march will pass through parts of the city where women feel unsafe. However, the organisers are careful to emphasise that, in general, women are safer outdoors than they are in their own homes. One in five women experiences domestic abuse during her life. The “Map of Gaps 2” report, which was published recently, shows that many local authorities in Britain have no specialist violence against women support services such as rape crisis centres, children’s services, refuges, outreach projects and services for black and ethnic minority women.

“It is recognised throughout Britain that Scotland leads the way in the provision of those services, which is due in no small part to Scotland being the only part of the United Kingdom to take a gender-based policy approach to violence against women. I am, however, concerned that removal of ring-fenced funding for local authorities might lead to a dilution of focus and service. I call on the Scottish Government and local authorities to ensure that rigorous needs analyses and equality impact assessments, as required by the gender equality duty, are central to the single outcome agreements.

“This week, Parliament hosted an exhibition by the Women’s Environmental Network, an organisation that seeks to empower women to make positive environmental change, to increase awareness of women’s perspectives on environmental issues and to influence decision making to achieve environmental justice for women. A gender equality approach needs to be taken to protect women’s health and help women to participate more in environmental decision making. It is essential that women are brought into the mainstream of environmental decision making, whether it is community based or initiated by Government.” (The exhibition was sponsored by Cathy, and involved women from Falkirk and West Lothian)

“The Scottish Parliament has contributed enormously to Scotland’s good record on equal opportunities. We have promoted mainstreaming and the gender proofing of budgets through working with the voluntary sector, businesses, trade unions and campaigning organisations to improve the lives of women. I want that record to be maintained and the equal opportunities agenda to be advanced. I believe that that is key to the continuation of a gendered approach to policy, and I look forward to the Scottish Government reaffirming that commitment.”

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