The Scotsman

Dis­crim­i­na­tion against women must stop

Scot­land’s women and work­ing peo­ple have borne the eco­nomic brunt of Covid, writes Richard Leonard

- Patriarchy · Sexism · Women's Rights · Society · UK News · Discrimination · Feminism · Politics · Human Rights · Social Movements · Scottish Parliament · Scottish Labour Party · Arbeidersparty · Scottish National Party · John Swinney · Women's Aid · Richard Leonard

Shortly after next year’s Holy­rood elec­tions, women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions around the globe will mark the

40th an­niver­sary of the Con­ven­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of all Forms of Dis­crim­i­na­tion Against Women. In Ar­ti­cle 7, this land­mark con­ven­tion sets out to “en­sure to women, on equal terms with men, the right to... par­tic­i­pate in the for­mu­la­tion of gov­ern­ment pol­icy and the im­ple­men­ta­tion thereof and to hold pub­lic of­fice and per­form all pub­lic func­tions at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment”.

Though sig­nif­i­cant strides have been made down the road to gen­der equal­ity since the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment was estab­lished in 1999, Scot­land’s po­lit­i­cal struc­tures still have a long way to go. At the last Holy­rood elec­tion in 2016, only 35 per cent of suc­cess­ful can­di­dates were women – ex­actly the same as in 2011, and still down from the 2003 high of

40 per cent. Of Scot­tish Labour’s MSPS, 46 per cent were women – close to our long estab­lished goal of 50/50, but still fail­ing to meet the tar­get we set out to de­liver.

So in the run-up to next May’s elec­tion, Scot­tish Labour will be tak­ing ac­tion to re­dress this. It is all the more im­por­tant be­cause of the im­pact that the three linked crises Scot­land now faces – and which the SNP gov­ern­ment left us un­pre­pared for – have dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected women.

Scot­tish Women’s Aid has raised con­cerns that the Covid-19 pub­lic health lock­downs have been used by abu­sive part­ners as a tool in their abuse. The shut­down of schools, and the con­tin­ued un­cer­tainty even now as to how long they will re­main open, has left many women bear­ing the brunt of child­care. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of times I’ve lis­tened to women who tell me they feel like they’re back in the 1950s. And the spi­ralling eco­nomic cri­sis has ex­ac­er­bated the pre-ex­ist­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against women in the work­place. Scot­tish Labour’s anal­y­sis re­cently estab­lished that un­em­ploy­ment among women has risen by half in the past year. This is a trend which pre-dates the pan­demic, but it has been vis­i­bly ac­cel­er­ated by it.

Women are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented in sec­tors like retail and hos­pi­tal­ity – sec­tors in which many more work­ers are likely to be laid off when the fur­lough scheme ends next month. But there are many women who worked in those sec­tors on pre­car­i­ous forms of em­ploy­ment so qual­i­fied nei­ther for fur­lough or for self­em­ploy­ment sup­port.

We know as well that women are dis­pro­por­tion­ately rep­re­sented in his­tor­i­cally un­der-valued key worker grades – such as so­cial care, lo­cal gov­ern­ment, the NHS and child­care.

Prior to the pan­demic, I had set out my in­ten­tion for Scot­tish Labour to ac­cel­er­ate our drive towards equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion through putting a woman at the top

of ev­ery re­gional list in next year’s elec­tion – with pro­vi­sion to en­sure that black and eth­nic mi­nor­ity, dis­abled and LGBT can­di­dates are also rep­re­sented in the top slots. This built on my com­mit­ment when I stood for the Scot­tish Labour lead­er­ship to make equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion not just an as­pi­ra­tion, but a re­al­ity. The ex­pe­ri­ence of the past six months makes it all the more im­por­tant that Scot­tish Labour meets th­ese ob­jec­tives.

I have re­peat­edly said in the past six months that one of the big­gest lessons we must learn from Covid-19 is that we must never again al­low our key work­ers to be un­der­paid, un­der­val­ued and la­belled “un­skilled”. In the next Par­lia­ment, I know there will be a push back from Scot­land’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment – and many politi­cians will be per­fectly con­tent to leave car­ers on poverty pay.

One of the ca­su­al­ties of the pan­demic has been the post­pone­ment of the roll-out of the en­ti­tle­ment to 1,140 hours of funded child­care for fam­i­lies across Scot­land. This is vi­tal na­tional in­fra­struc­ture, and if fully re­sourced it can pro­vide prop­erly valued, and so prop­erly re­mu­ner­ated, se­cure jobs. It can also pro­vide the means to help young moth­ers es­pe­cially into em­ploy­ment. Al­though I was re­cently re­minded that would be boosted if we can break away from what or­gan­i­sa­tions like Close the Gap de­scribe as “the cul­ture of in­flex­i­bil­ity” which forces women into part-time roles in of­ten the low­est-paid jobs. If we are to build back bet­ter this needs to change.

I know too that in spite of the SNP’S de­ci­sion last week to con­cede to Scot­tish Labour’s long­stand­ing de­mand for a Na­tional Care Ser­vice, there will be at­tempts by vested in­ter­ests to wa­ter this down. So make no mis­take – we will need fight­ers and be­liev­ers in Par­lia­ment to en­sure that we build a Na­tional Care Ser­vice wor­thy of the name. We need MSPS who will look out­wards to build­ing a new move­ment and a new so­ci­ety – not in­wards towards in­ter­nal bick­er­ing.

We are liv­ing in chal­leng­ing times, but as I ar­gued in Par­lia­ment last week, there is cause too for hope. It comes from those key work­ers – pre­dom­i­nantly women – who have kept Scot­land go­ing. It comes from the trade union­ists who have fought for ad­e­quate sick pay, the ten­ants’ unions which have cam­paigned against evic­tions. It comes from the school stu­dents, whose re­fusal to be down­graded on the ba­sis of their post­code cre­ated the con­di­tions in which we could force a U-turn with a no­con­fi­dence mo­tion in John Swin­ney.

It is Scot­land’s women and Scot­land’s work­ing peo­ple who have borne the eco­nomic brunt of the cur­rent predica­ment. But it is Scot­land’s women and Scot­land’s work­ing peo­ple too who will build the new Scot­land after the pan­demic.

That is why we need more of those voices in our pol­i­tics, in our Par­lia­ments, and in our coun­cil cham­bers, so that our repre - sen­ta­tives look and sound like the peo­ple they are elected to rep­re­sent. And when we get to the 40th an­niver­sary of the in­sti­tu­tion of that dec­la­ra­tion on the elim­i­na­tion of all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion against women next Septem­ber, let’s make sure we are liv­ing up to the stan­dards it sets. Richard Leonard is leader of the Scot­tish Labour party

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? 0 Fe­male Scot­tish MSPS, pic­tured in 2018, mark the 100th an­niver­sary of women over 30 get­ting the vote
0 Fe­male Scot­tish MSPS, pic­tured in 2018, mark the 100th an­niver­sary of women over 30 get­ting the vote

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK