A Parliament for all
11 February 2022
Holyrood’s Presiding Officer has launched an audit that will review the representation and participation of women in the Scottish Parliament.
Based on work developed by both the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, all of Holyrood’s parties will be represented on a board that will oversee this work, consider the audit’s findings and make recommendations for change.
Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone MSP said: “Last May’s election returned our most representative and diverse Parliament to date. We know, though, from viewing the Parliament’s make up from 1999 until now, that this welcome progress can’t be taken for granted. This is an important opportunity to have a broad look at how the Parliament takes account of barriers to equal representation in its work.”
Working with Holyrood’s political parties, parliamentary staff, pre-eminent academics and Engender, the audit will cover a wide range of issues. These will include the number and position of women parliamentarians, participation and intervention levels in Chamber business and the impact of parliamentary procedures and policies.
Fiona Mackay, Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh and one of the academic advisers to the board, said: “When the Scottish Parliament was created in 1999, it was internationally praised for its world-leading levels of women’s representation, and its attention to equal opportunities and participation. Now is a good time to take stock. This audit, based on a well-tested comparative framework, will let us know how well Scotland has done over the long haul. And, crucially, what work still needs to be done to make it an inclusive parliament for the 21st century.”
Eilidh Dickson, Policy and Parliamentary Manager, Engender, said: “Women are underrepresented in almost all areas of our democracy, resulting in policy decisions which not only ignore women, but actively deepen inequality. By examining the make-up of committees, gathering data on who is being invited to give evidence, and understanding where gender mainstreaming is being ignored, we can work towards a Scottish Parliament which can act as an exemplar for women’s equality. We are delighted to be involved in the project.”
Work on the audit will begin immediately with a report detailing recommendations for improvement due by the end of 2022.
Audit board membership
- Presiding Officer, Alison Johnstone MSP
- Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats
- Eilidh Dickson, Policy and Parliamentary Manager, Engender
- Fiona Mackay, Professor of Politics, University of Edinburgh
- Jeremy Balfour MSP, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
- Karen Adam MSP, Scottish National Party
- Maggie Chapman MSP, Scottish Green Party
- Dr Meryl Kenny, Senior Lecturer in Gender and Politics, University of Edinburgh
- Monica Lennon MSP, Scottish Labour Party
- Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender at Royal Holloway
- Susan Duffy, Head of Engagement and Communications, Scottish Parliament
- Tracey White, Head of Legislation and Parliamentary Business, Scottish Parliament
Academic Advisory Group to the board
Sarah Childs is currently Professor of Politics and Gender at Royal Holloway, University of London, and will move to the University of Edinburgh in May 2022. Her research centres on the theory and practice of women’s representation, gender and political parties, parliaments and institutional change.
An eminent author, her latest book is Feminist Democratic Representation. She also authored The Good Parliament Report in 2016, advised the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion that met between 2016-18 and worked on the pilot (2018) which instigated permanent change to Standing Orders to allow proxy voting for babyleave (2020).
Dr Meryl Kenny is Senior Lecturer in Gender and Politics at the University of Edinburgh and Co-Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change (2021-22). She has published widely in the areas of gender and political institutions, political representation and recruitment, and Scottish politics.
Meryl convenes the University of Edinburgh’s Gender Politics Research Group (which hosts the genderpol blog); sits on the steering group of the University's genderED initiative; and is a member of the steering group of the cross-party Women5050 campaign for legal gender quotas in Scotland.
Fiona Mackay is a Professor of Politics at the University of Edinburgh, and currently Dean and Head of the School of Social and Political Science. Mackay is founding director of genderED, the University of Edinburgh's interdisciplinary hub for gender and sexuality studies. She researches gender, politics and policy at Scottish, UK and international levels. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Engender is a feminist policy and advocacy organisation, working to increase women’s social, political and economic equality, enable women's rights, and make visible the impact of sexism on women and wider society. More information at engender.scot
The review will follow a framework provided by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). The IPU states that a gender sensitive parliament is one that:
- Promotes and achieves equality in numbers of women and men across all of its bodies and internal structures
- Develops a gender equality policy framework suited to its own national parliamentary context
- Mainstreams gender equality throughout all of its work
- Fosters an internal culture that respects women’s rights, promotes gender equality, and responds both to the realities of parliamentarians’ lives – those of men and women – and to their need to balance work and family responsibilities
- Acknowledges and builds on the contribution made by its men members who pursue and advocate gender equality
- Encourages political parties to take a proactive role in the promotion and achievement of gender equality
- Equips its parliamentary staff with the capacity and resources to promote gender equality, actively encourages the recruitment and retention of women to senior positions, and ensures that gender equality is mainstreamed throughout the work of the parliamentary administration
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is made up of over 180 legislatures divided between nine geographic regions of the Commonwealth. It has a network of women parliamentarians which has published guidance on gender sensitive parliaments. This guidance was produced by Sarah Childs.
The objectives of the British Islands and Mediterranean region of the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarian’s Network (on which the Scottish Parliament is represented) are to:
- Build the capacity of women elected to parliament to be more effective in their roles
- Improve the awareness and ability of all parliamentarians, male and female, and encourage them to include a gender perspective in all aspects of their role - legislation, oversight and representation
- Help parliaments to become gender-sensitive institutions
- Encourage more women into politics and connect with the work of the Commonwealth
- Focus on themes of communication, advocacy and engagement
- Link with other groups and associations such as UN Women, UNDP and CSW
- Expand the work and understanding of CWP