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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, March 9, 2023

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Care-experienced and Adopted Children, Portfolio Question Time, Misogyny (Criminal Law Reform), Motion without Notice, Decision Time


Misogyny (Criminal Law Reform)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-08159, in the name of Keith Brown, on reforming the criminal law to address misogyny.


The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

The working group on misogyny and criminal justice received 930 responses to its lived experience survey. The vast majority of the respondents were women and girls. The experiences that were reported are harrowing, and they can and should be unsettling—certainly for women and girls, but also, I would hope, for men.

The examples include the following:

“Being threatened by a man in a pub for not laughing at what he thought was a funny remark.”

“I have been called a slut in a car park because I accidentally moved my trolley too close to a man’s car.”

“In a club, I was grabbed by a man. He groped my bottom and tried to touch my breasts. I pulled away. He laughed and called me frigid.”

“One man tweeted that they would love to watch me getting my teeth kicked in, many others said I was too unattractive for my experiences to be true, they didn’t believe it had happened.”

The pernicious impact of misogyny continues to be felt by women and girls all over the world, including in Scotland, and it is time for action.

In November, I closed the debate on men’s role in eradicating violence against women and girls. In the debate, I agreed to take an intervention only from any man in the chamber who had never heard misogynistic or sexist comments in an all-male environment, or from any man who had heard such comments and had challenged them every time. There was silence; no intervention was made—and I myself could not have made an intervention on that basis.

Those real-world examples of misogyny are important, because they are the reality for women and girls in Scotland, day in, day out, and they demonstrate the need for action. The examples will not come as a surprise to women in the chamber. However, some men might be surprised by quite how routine it is for women and girls to experience that kind of behaviour. As men, we say that we find such behaviour unacceptable, although the uncomfortable truth that must be confronted is that some of us do not actually find it unacceptable, or it would not be as commonplace as it is. It is important that men, who do not experience such behaviour on a day-to-day basis, acknowledge that there is nothing at all unusual or exceptional about it.

Misogyny, in whatever form it takes, belittles women and girls. It drains confidence and limits ambition. It can affect the potential of individual women and girls, and groups of women and girls, by making them more reluctant and less able to play a full part in all aspects of everyday life. It represents a barrier to achieving a growing economy and a dynamic society in which everyone can reach their full potential, free from discrimination.

As its title suggests, this afternoon’s debate is on misogyny and criminal law reform. I am under no illusion; I know that changing the criminal law, on its own, will not be sufficient to address the age-old problem of misogyny. However, criminal law reform can help to spur wider social transformation by encouraging and requiring behavioural change through new laws on what amounts to criminally unacceptable behaviour.

I welcome Jamie Greene’s amendment. I absolutely agree that the reforms that we will propose in our forthcoming criminal justice reform bill will be crucial in ensuring that the criminal justice system delivers a better experience and better outcomes for victims, especially women and girls. I look forward to working with Jamie Greene on the bill and having a shared focus on the importance of putting victims at the heart of the system.

There is a lot in Pauline McNeill’s amendment to the motion that I support. Members will all agree on the need to focus on education and will recognise the importance of tackling misogyny in social media. However, the amendment expresses regret about the length of time that it has taken to get to this point. The Scottish Government will accept the amendment, but I want to put that support in context.

We do not accept that there has been delay in bringing forward the consultation. The initial report of the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls in 2019 recommended criminalising serious misogynistic harassment to fill gaps in the existing law. The initial approach was to seek to respond to that request through hate crime legislation. However, as members will be aware, strong views were offered that that was not the appropriate way to deal with misogyny. Therefore, in February 2021, the Scottish Government established an independent working group on misogyny and criminal justice, chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy, to consider how the criminal law deals with misogyny. The group published its final report in March 2022, and we are now consulting on draft laws—taking into account the experience of previous consultations on specific provisions—to implement each of the recommendations.

As the Labour amendment acknowledges, that is complicated work, because it is not just one item of criminal law that is proposed—five separate items are being consulted on. The idea that the Scottish Government is being tardy in that regard is belied by the fact that, if we can achieve the legislation that we hope to achieve, we will be the first jurisdiction in the world to do so.

I turn to the working group’s report. It made four recommendations for reform of the criminal law. It recommended the creation of a new offence of misogynistic harassment of women and girls; a new offence of issuing threats of, or invoking, rape or sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls; a new statutory aggravation relating to misogynistic behaviour where a crime such as assault, criminal damage or vandalism is aggravated by misogyny; and a new offence of stirring up hatred of women and girls.

The recommendations seek to make it easier to prosecute misogynistic behaviour that does not easily fit into the framework of existing criminal offences, such as threatening or abusive behaviour, breach of the peace and sexual offences. Equally importantly, they clearly label criminal misogynistic behaviour for what it is, so that potential perpetrators and victims are aware that such behaviour is criminal.

In its response in April 2022, the Scottish Government made a commitment to consult on draft legislative provisions. The consultation paper has now been published, and, as recommended by the group, we have developed the provisions as law that specifically protects women and girls. Criminal law is usually provided for on a gender-neutral basis. However, the working group is clear that the law should reflect the fact that it is specifically women and girls who need protection from sexual harassment and misogyny, and the Scottish Government fully endorses that approach.

The comprehensive response that is being consulted on ensures that there will be new, clear and specific powers to deal with situations such as when men or boys harass an individual woman or girl, or a specific group of women and girls, by behaving in a threatening, sexual or abusive way that is likely to cause them to experience fear, alarm, degradation, humiliation or distress; behave in a sexual or abusive manner that causes a woman or girl to experience fear, alarm, degradation, humiliation or distress; commit certain existing offences in a manner that is motivated by or demonstrates misogyny; send threatening or abusive communications invoking rape, sexual assault or disfigurement to a woman or girl, or a group of women and girls, to intimidate or silence women, especially online, with the effect of discouraging women from participating in public debate; or use threatening or abusive language to communicate threatening or abusive materials, intending to stir up hatred of women and girls in others.

In the approach that we have taken, there are issues to which I would like to draw members’ attention. Although the group recommended four new pieces of criminal law, we are consulting on five. The group proposed the creation of a new offence of public misogynistic harassment. However, we have decided that it is better to split that into two new pieces of criminal law, so we are seeking views on two separate offences: one of misogynistic harassment, and one of misogynistic behaviour. That is because, when we considered the kinds of behaviour that the group thinks should be criminalised, we came to the view that the offence that is proposed by the report seeks to criminalise two different forms of behaviour.

The first can be described as misogynistic harassment, which is behaviour that is directed at a specific woman or girl, or group of women and girls, that amounts to harassment of that woman, girl or group of women and girls. That could include, for example, shouting sexually abusive remarks at a woman in the street, or using abusive language at a woman who refuses to engage in being chatted up or rubbed up against in a crowded place.

The second can be described as misogynistic behaviour that is not necessarily directed at a particular victim but which is likely to harm those who might encounter it. It could include, for example, watching pornography in a public place, where it is quite clearly visible or audible, or having loud conversations about what should be done sexually to women in a place where others can hear.

Another way in which we have adapted a group recommendation is that, although an offence of public misogynistic harassment was suggested, the offences that we are consulting on can be committed in both public and private. When it comes to considering the behaviour to be criminalised by the offence, we did not consider that there was justification for why harassment occurring in a private place—such as an office in which people work—should be treated differently from the same behaviour occurring in public.

The consultation runs until June, and I urge anyone who is interested to read it and respond, setting out their views. If people have concerns that the provisions go too far or do not go far enough, they have the opportunity to voice those views and suggest amendments in response to the consultation.

We consider that the working group’s report provides clear and compelling arguments for reform of the criminal law to better enable the justice system to respond to different forms of misogynistic behaviour that is experienced by women and girls across Scotland. I ask the Parliament to support the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament condemns the misogynistic behaviour, harassment, threats and abuse experienced by women and girls; notes that such behaviour is carried out mainly by men and represents a barrier to achieving equality by restricting the ability of women and girls to achieve their full potential in all aspects of everyday life; is concerned at the increase in online spaces being used to perpetrate such misogynistic behaviours, allowing people to hide behind anonymity; agrees that action needs to be taken to address such behaviour; thanks the independent Working Group on Misogyny, which is chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy, for its considered report on how to reform criminal law to address misogyny; welcomes the publication of a consultation paper on draft legislative provisions to implement the Group’s recommendations; notes that the Scottish Government will carefully consider responses to the consultation to ensure that legislation introduced in the Parliament appropriately and effectively criminalises this type of pernicious behaviour, and recognises that legislation alone will not eradicate the centuries-old cultural attitudes that drive such behaviour, and that wider action to address misogyny and promote equality is equally important to change male behaviour and deliver equality for women and girls.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for supporting our amendment to the motion.

Over the years, members might have spotted that I am a fairly middle-class, fairly—now—middle-aged, white male. The middle-aged bit came as a huge shock to me when it happened, but it happened nonetheless. I do not really have to worry about where to sit on a train. I do not have to move seats when, on an otherwise empty bus, another bloke comes to sit next to me. I am not wolf-whistled at on my way to work in the morning. People do not shout things from the windows of vans about my appearance—they sometimes shout about my politics, but that is a different matter.

I do not need to worry about the effect that having children might have on my career prospects. I am not critiqued for the length of my trousers—perhaps only for my taste in ties. I am not subject to threats of sexual violence on social media, by anonymous trolls. I am not one of the 46 per cent of female MSPs who have received death threats, according to a Holyrood magazine poll. My female cousins are not among the 67 per cent of girls who have been sexually harassed at school. I am, perhaps, one of the lucky ones, but that is because I am a man.

I have an inkling of what hatred feels like—do not get me wrong. I have been too scared to hold a partner’s hand in the street—something that, perhaps, feels normal to most people in this room—for fear of abuse or attack. Disgusting comments have been made about me online—about my appearance and, of course, my sexuality. So, yes, I have empathy for what misogyny looks and feels like, but that is not enough, and it is not the same.

We in this place have power—the collective power—to change things, to say things and to do something, and doing something is what we must do. We must do something about the 2,500 crimes of rape or attempted rape that happened in Scotland last year. We must do something about the 65,000 reported incidents of domestic abuse. We must do something about the 50 per cent of women who, apparently, do not report such bad experiences to the police because they do not have faith in the overall system. That is why the message must come out of here loud and clear from every one of us: misogyny is simply not on.

We must face it: men—and it is men—need to have a think about the consequences of their actions, words and deeds that, knowingly or unwittingly, make a woman or a girl feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

We have had some feisty debates in here over the years. Some of us bear the scars from the passing of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 last session, and there has been no shortage of other contentious issues that get to the very heart of how, as a society or as a Parliament, we debate issues of sex and gender and define them—or even how the law defines those things. Despite all our differences, however, I believe that there is consensus among us that more can be done, and needs to be done, on misogyny. The question is not whether we should tackle it, but what we do to tackle it, and how.

The Kennedy report was a great piece of work, and I am grateful for it. Led by Baroness Kennedy, who has more than five decades of legal experience, it was a forensic piece of work that responds to the debate that we had during the passage of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021. However, how all that work translates into law is quite another matter.

I say to the cabinet secretary that I do not envy his Government’s position. This will be a difficult law. However, a consultation is a good place to start. I note Labour’s frustration about the time that it has taken, but I note the Government’s response in return.

Irrespective of what that law might look like, it must, in my view pass this test: is it competent, is it enforceable and is there consensus on its aims and ambitions? I am afraid to say that we in the Parliament have an unfortunate habit of passing law that is not always competent or enforceable and has not always garnered true consensus.

Just this week, the Criminal Justice Committee has been undertaking excellent post-legislative scrutiny of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. In my view, that is a great example of a good piece of law on which there was cross-party consensus. However, in the evidence that we have taken so far, one thing that has struck me is the vast array of new laws that our justice partners already have to deal with. The reality is that the thin blue line is getting thinner and is struggling to meet the existing statutory demands on it, not least because it shoulders burdens belonging to other public services. The reality is that, too often, our justice system has been described as being stacked against victims, rather than as being in their favour.

That is why I was really concerned to hear from Kate Wallace of Victim Support Scotland that delays and repeated adjournments are lead some victims to withdraw from the process altogether—that should shock us all . Even when they get their day in court, the question is how effective the law is anyway. The conviction rate for sexual crimes last year was 79 per cent, compared with 91 per cent for other types of crime.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will if I can get my time back, as I have a lot to get through.


Keith Brown

I thank Jamie Greene for his contribution so far. On the point that he rightly made about laws having to be workable and enforceable, I can say at this early stage, before we lock horns—as we inevitably will, further down the road—that Baroness Kennedy, the Minister for Equalities and Older People and I were very aware of that. The idea of our passing legislation that is never used because it is not practicable, or is overused, was a big concern for Baroness Kennedy. That would have a detrimental effect, and we are very alive to it. Subject to consultation, the provisions that we have proposed so far seek to address those competing pressures.

Jamie Greene

I will come on to the proposals.

Of course, the law is not the only way to tackle the scourge of misogyny. There is no guarantee that any of this will be an effective or true deterrent. That is why our amendment says that wider reform of the justice sector is also required.

The cabinet secretary is right. What of the proposals? It is important that we hear what people think of them—that we hear from the experts, the third sector, charities, legal minds, the judiciary, which plays such an important part as the cog in the wheel, and police officers on the front line, who have to deal with incidents. Most importantly, we also need to hear from victims of crime themselves. I want to hear what is good, bad or indifferent about the proposals.

I suspect that there will be a wide range of views. How we define “misogyny” in law is not the same as how we define it in a working group’s paper. How will it be prosecuted and what sentencing guidelines might go around it? I think that it is inevitable that the consultation will lay bare my fear that some of the proposals may be controversial. When does the offensive become immoral or, indeed, illegal? What is free speech and what is bad taste? How do we define that something is said in private as opposed to being said in public? What is aggravated or consequential, or even just coincidental? Those are really difficult questions that need to be answered. That laundry will all be aired in the future. My only plea at this stage is that we learn the hard lessons from the past of making law in the Parliament. Let us make neither good law badly nor bad law well. We have done both over the years.

In the meantime, I do not think that we need new laws to state the obvious. We should all be free to go about our lives without fear or prejudice. I cannot think of a more fitting way to close the debates that we have had this week—they have been excellent debates, with excellent contributions from right across the chamber—than by finding some much-needed consensus as a Parliament that we will work with, not against, one another on these important issues. Perhaps if we were all a little bit kinder to one another in the first place, we would not even need laws against hatred.

The law alone cannot punish or stop hatred; it is down to the choices that people make. We can make choices. We can, and we should, lead by example.

I move amendment S6M-08159.2, to insert at end:

“; supports these efforts as part of wider reforms to the criminal justice system, and urges the Scottish Government to consider how its proposed Criminal Justice Reform Bill might also be used to deliver better outcomes for women and girls.”


Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

Scottish Labour welcomes the debate and commends Baroness Helena Kennedy and her working group for their excellent report on misogyny, as well as the work that the Scottish Government is clearly committed to in this Parliament.

Labour will support the Government’s motion and the amendment in Jamie Greene’s name. I appreciate the remarks that the cabinet secretary made about the complexity of the issues and the spirit of our amendment, and I put on record my appreciation that it will be accepted. That is important in the light of what Jamie Greene said in his excellent speech. We have a lot of work to do, and finding consensus is really important.

Despite, I have to say, my earlier cynicism when the Scottish Government voted against sex being an aggravator in the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill, I can honestly say that I found the recommendations compelling. The work that we are about to undertake is vitally important. It is high time that we tackled misogyny across Scotland. It is shocking that we find ourselves in such a situation in 2023. Through the examples that he used, the cabinet secretary illustrated clearly and well what we are driving at.

I will use an example, not because it is not from Scotland, but because of how recent it is. Just yesterday, Channel 4 News revealed that a member of the Metropolitan Police’s elite firearms unit is currently under investigation for allegations of serious sexual misconduct after it was alleged that he filmed two women without their consent while having sex. He then allegedly shared the footage on social media. Scotland has also had issues with its own elite firearms unit. That illustrates that, unfortunately, we face this everywhere.

Last week, a disgraced reality TV star was imprisoned for 21 months for disclosing private, sexual photographs and video footage of his ex-girlfriend on social media without her consent. I appreciate that there are particular challenges when it comes to social media, but it is important to include it in the conversation.

For completeness, the former commissioner of the police in England, Vera Baird, said that these behaviours “don’t develop in a vacuum” and are, in fact, a consequence of the widespread nature of sexism and misogyny in our society. We know that, for centuries, misogyny has upheld

“the primary status of men and a sense of male entitlement, while subordinating women and limiting their power and freedom.”

It is also important to note from the report that misogyny goes beyond hatred and is about undermining women’s position in society by belittling them and calling them names, and through the use of language.

I highlight again the cruel murders of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa and Nicole Smallman, because they remind us that, in those cases, men set out specifically to murder women. Unfortunately, there was a mindset of hatred involved in those crimes.

What is striking about Baroness Helena Kennedy’s report is the size and scale of the problem. The working group uses excellent language to illustrate really well what we are trying to achieve. In particular, as the cabinet secretary said, the recommendations include looking at the creation of a “gendered law” that is intended to protect women and girls in particular. It would be hugely significant if we could get to that point. The law prefers to operate on the basis of neutrality in most cases, which means that most laws are available to men and women, but such a law would be aimed specifically at women, and we would whole-heartedly welcome that. According to Baroness Kennedy’s report, the belief in a neutral approach

“disguises the reality that there are particular kinds of behaviour which target women”

simply for existing as women.

We might assume that society is becoming more progressive on gender equality. However, I highlight a piece of research—it is only one, but it is worth highlighting—that was carried out by Ipsos UK and the global institute for women’s leadership at King’s College London. It found that the majority of young people in Britain now believe that women’s rights have gone too far. Some 52 per cent of generation Z and 53 per cent of millennials said that society has gone so far in promoting women’s rights that it is “discriminating against men”. To be honest, I have heard that a few times in my lifetime, but I am sad to read it now. It illustrates the extent to which—I am sure that Christina McKelvie will make this point in summing up—the issue is not simply about changing the law, as we need to go a long way on changing attitudes before we can make any real progress.

As I have said in previous debates, it is also important to include in the law provision to address the gaps around gender-based cybercrime. Certain men have been unscrupulous in using methods to lure boys and young men only to instil in them shocking attitudes towards women. That is quite appalling. We know that, in schools, sexist bullying and sexual harassment are very much underreported and

“are normalised, everyday occurrences”.

They are often positioned as “a joke” and are therefore not often reported.

We are all responsible for calling out sexist attitudes and condemning misogynistic behaviour in our daily lives. As we have said before in this Parliament, it is especially up to men to reflect on and change their behaviour. I welcome the approach that the cabinet secretary has taken to that in saying that you are not living a real life if you have not heard such attitudes in your own personal circles.

Jamie Greene made some important points. I make it clear that Scottish Labour is totally up for working with the Government on this important piece of legislation, which will be instrumental in implementing four or five big recommendations.

The non-legal definition of misogyny for the purposes of the report was helpful, but our job is to ensure that we turn that into a workable legislative framework. If that is done properly, we will have one of the few laws in the world that is aimed primarily at women and for women. It would be a huge achievement and a huge step towards achieving gender justice.

In closing, I note that the heart of the matter is to ensure that the detail of the legislation will stand up and be respected; that it will be seen as useful and helpful by the legal profession and those who have to work with it; and that it will contain clear provisions that can be used in our courts to protect women and girls.

I move amendment S6M-08159.1, to insert at end:

“; appreciates that this is complicated work that needs scrutiny, but regrets that it has taken so many years only to get to consultation level; recognises how important wider education is, particularly for young people, to generate the fundamental shift in attitude that is needed, and notes the importance of recognising the toxicity of social media.”


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary, Jamie Greene and Pauline McNeill for, and congratulate them on, their contributions and the tone that they have set at the start of the debate, which is the last in a week of debates on the rights, achievements and needs of women and girls. I also warmly welcome the consultation that was announced by the First Minister and launched by the cabinet secretary yesterday. Scottish Liberal Democrats strongly support the objectives underlying the proposals that are set out in the consultation, and I, like other members, strongly encourage anyone who has an interest in these issues to contribute their views, their experience and their asks to inform the process of legislative reform.

I particularly welcome the announcement in relation to fully funded legal representation for sexual offence complainers where applications are made to lead evidence on sexual history. A number of us have had concerns about that issue for some time, so I was delighted to see that move.

At the risk of turning this into an Oscars acceptance speech, I also put on record again my thanks to Dame Helena Kennedy and her group for the contribution that they have made, and specifically my thanks to the late and much-missed Emma Ritch from Engender, who informed this policy debate and so much more in this area. The depth and breadth of the analysis and insight that the group brought to bear are very evident and will be invaluable.

As a member of the Justice Committee that scrutinised the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill in the previous session of Parliament, I am painfully conscious of not only the complexity of the task that we set Dame Helena and her colleagues, but the timeframe that we placed on them, which could charitably be described as challenging. However, that was not without good reason.

Concerns were raised at stage 3 of the bill, both by stakeholders and forcefully in the chamber by MSP colleagues—foremost among them was my friend Johann Lamont, who expressed entirely reasonable disquiet—about the lack of a sex aggravator in that bill. Although the committee had, I think understandably, accepted the arguments of Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and others that a broader approach to misogyny was required, I vividly recall how uncomfortable it felt to pass legislation that effectively parked that protection, albeit with a promise of something better and more comprehensive to come.

Jamie Greene

One thing that struck me during the passage of that bill was that there was clearly a parallel debate, which was the build-up to the debate that we had last year about gender reform. How do we ensure that, as we conspire, if you like, to work with the Government as productively and constructively as we can, we do not allow those other, parallel debates to happen this time, in relation to this bill?

Liam McArthur

Jamie Greene makes a very valid point. If I had the answer to that, I would have deployed it well before now. I hope that we can avoid retreating and retrenching into that debate, because there is a lot of common ground and valuable work that we can do here.

It is probably with some relief that I note the progress that has been made towards finally addressing that substantive and substantial anomaly.

As the matter appears to have been raised in recent debates in the House of Commons, I note that I do not believe that including misogyny as a hate crime is simply virtue signalling. However, I think that Jamie Greene and Pauline McNeill were absolutely right to point to the risks that are involved in putting effective legislation in place. It will be interesting to hear in evidence from Police Scotland, the Crown Office and the legal profession, in particular, how they see new offences extending the tools that are available for responding to and discouraging such behaviours.

I believe that the proposals provide a solid basis for improving protections, helping to change culture and attitudes, and moving us closer to eradicating misogyny.

When the working group published its findings, Scottish Liberal Democrats called it a watershed moment. The group’s report laid bare the extent of the deeply ingrained misogynistic behaviour and the subordination of women across Scottish society—the cabinet secretary rightly highlighted some graphic examples of that at the start of the debate—while also setting out how we might legislate to challenge such attitudes in order to improve women’s freedom and safety.

The Government’s draft proposals build on principles that are set out in existing discrimination law while putting the specific and distinct issue of misogyny front and centre. That reflects the fact that misogyny—upholding the primary status of men over women—is so deeply rooted in our society that it needs a distinct set of responses.

As the report and the consultation make clear, a number of the acts that could become offences under the proposals might already be deemed criminal under existing law. However, the normalisation of male abuse of women and girls is so profound that it risks creating blind spots when it comes to our police and courts identifying and prosecuting such behaviours. If we fail to reflect that gender reality more explicitly in law, we risk undermining efforts to challenge those behaviours.

Although I support Dame Helena’s recommendations and the proposals that are set out in the consultation, I wonder whether there is perhaps more that the Government could be doing. As the cabinet secretary will be aware from previous exchanges on the issue, Scottish Liberal Democrats have been calling for the establishment of a broader commission on misogyny, notwithstanding the moves that were announced this week. There is still an opportunity—and perhaps a need—to look at what more we could be doing to prevent violence against women and girls in all its forms. As Pauline McNeill reminded us, this is not simply about legislation, important though that is, so I would welcome a commitment from the cabinet secretary or the minister that the Government will consider such a commission.

Of course, there is no silver bullet or legislative change that will bring about an end to misogyny in this or, indeed, any other society. These problems are rooted in deeply held and even formative societal attitudes, and it will need determined and sustained effort to root them out. Critically, as we heard repeatedly this week, it will require men and boys taking an active role and challenging our own attitudes and behaviours and those of others to not be that guy and to be an active ally. Nevertheless, the discussions taking place around reform in Scotland are a significant and welcome step in the right direction.

I support the motion and both of the amendments, and I look forward to playing a personal role, as well as to my party playing a role, in pursuing our shared objective on the issue.

Before we move to the open debate, I advise members that we have some time in hand should members wish to take or seek to make interventions.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Throughout this week, we have acknowledged international women’s day with debates, events and discussions, which is testament to our commitment to make life better for women and girls in Scotland and, indeed, across the globe.

In the debate on safety on public transport, colleagues articulated their experiences of travelling on public transport and going about their daily lives while all the time making adjustments and self-safeguarding, with some being confronted by men who felt validated in displaying inappropriate, disinhibited behaviour.

Today’s motion focuses on misogynistic behaviour and the proposal to establish a new misogyny and criminal justice act that would create an aggravation of misogyny and three offences relating to stirring up hatred against women and girls, public misogynistic harassment and issuing threats of, or invoking, rape or sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls online or offline. That proposal emanates from the work of the independent working group on misogyny, chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy, and it is set out in its report, “Misogyny—A Human Rights Issue”. Like other members, I would very much like to thank Baroness Kennedy and other working group members for producing a really comprehensive report.

In the report’s introduction, Baroness Kennedy acknowledges that debates about the failure of the system to deliver justice for women have now moved to centre stage in a climate of increasing polarisation and divisiveness where vicious conduct seems to have exploded, turbocharged by online disinhibition and social media invasiveness. Things must change.

What is misogyny? How do we know when behaviour has crossed the line from something well meaning to something else? The working group describes misogyny as

“a way of thinking that upholds the primary status of men and a sense of male entitlement, while subordinating women and limiting their power and freedom. Conduct based on this thinking can include a range of abusive and controlling behaviours including rape, sexual offences, harassment and bullying, and domestic abuse.”

In its briefing, Scottish Women’s Aid goes further, adding that misogyny can be conscious or unconscious and that men and women can be socialised to accept it.

In its report, the working group sets out examples of the testimony that it heard about how misogyny is perpetrated, including pervasive sexualised abuse and online and offline threats of harm, including rape, sexual assault and disfigurement, and the emerging threat that is posed by a growing incel culture. The working group also sets out that being on the receiving end of those behaviours is routine for women and girls in Scotland and places them at greater risk of poverty, ill health, isolation, exclusion and other forms of inequality.

It is important to recognise the positive work that is under way in Scotland to tackle misogyny. Indeed, the motion acknowledges that creating new law will not in and of itself

“eradicate the centuries-old cultural attitudes that drive”


I thank my colleague Paul McLennan for hosting an event in the Parliament yesterday evening on behalf of the make public sexual harassment illegal campaign. I know that he will talk about that further, so I will not steal his thunder. However, I want to refer specifically to the contribution by Graham Goulden of the world-renowned Scottish Violence Reduction Unit. He encouraged all of us to become active bystanders and moral rebels, tapping into our own values and creating a positive culture in Scotland.

Last year, Baroness Kennedy gave evidence to the Criminal Justice Committee on the work of the working group and the rationale for creating a statutory aggravation of misogyny and other new offences. Members probed the need for new law when, it could be argued, there is already a legislative provision in Scotland. In her response, Baroness Kennedy spoke about the need to address

“the normalising of behaviours”

towards women and girls

“that lead to the more grievous kinds of behaviour”

that are

“the seedbed of ... worse stuff.”—[Official Report, Criminal Justice Committee, 27 April 2022; c 16-17.]

She said that, taking into account all the evidence that was heard, the working group concluded that new legislation was required.

Liam McArthur

I am interested in the evidence that the Criminal Justice Committee took from Baroness Kennedy. In particular, I am interested in whether there was reflection on the views in policing or in the Crown Office and among legal representatives about the potential for confusion and the feeling that legislation was already in place in addressing the point that was clearly pursued with Baroness Kennedy.

Audrey Nicoll

My impression from the report is that much of the evidence came from lived experience and the voices of women and girls who had been impacted by misogynistic behaviour. I know that international evidence was considered and reviewed, and I expect that Baroness Helena Kennedy also consulted and took into the account the views of the judiciary.

Although I understand the explanation that Baroness Kennedy gave, I agreed with colleagues who sought clarity on the wording and detail. The importance of creating workable legislation that police officers will be confident in using as a positive tool for tackling gender-based abuse and, within that, misogyny cannot be overstated.

I note the Scottish Government’s comprehensive response to the working group’s report—in particular, its response to the issues raised around the aggravation and the new offences. The Scottish Parliament will, of course, have an important, if not challenging, role in that regard, as other members have articulated.

That leads me nicely to my final point, which echoes what the cabinet secretary said. I encourage women in Scotland to contribute to the consultation on developing the new legislation, to think about what is proposed, and to help to develop potentially groundbreaking new law that will put Scotland at the forefront of eradicating misogyny once and for all.


Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

This week, Wayne Couzens was sentenced to a further 19 months in prison for three offences of indecent exposure. That is on top of a whole-life sentence for the horrendous murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in March 2021. Sarah Everard was simply walking home from a friend’s house when she was kidnapped, raped and murdered.

I begin with Wayne Couzens’s latest sentencing because Baroness Kennedy, who chaired the independent working group on misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland, said in relation to that horrendous case:

“This police officer was known to be peculiar in relation to women but also had recently been exposing himself and nothing had been done about it.”

She continued:

“If you don’t act on the lower level stuff, then it creates a subsoil from which much more serious crime like rape and homicide takes place.”

So many women and girls—too many—have experienced the so-called “lower level” stuff. Some might know that they have experienced misogynistic conduct and behaviour at the hands of men, in person or online, but others do not. It has become normalised rather than criminalised. Misogyny needs to be better defined so that people understand what it is and what it looks like. They need to have the right language.

There are laws that address threatening and abusive behaviour, stalking and breach of the peace, which are often seen as less-serious crimes. However, those laws do not capture the sex-specific experience of misogynistic behaviour. They do not capture the fear and the humiliation that are experienced by women and girls.

We know that sexual crimes in Scotland are at their highest level on record. In Aberdeenshire, in my region, the number of rapes and attempted rapes soared by 104 per cent in one year. Police Scotland responds to a domestic abuse call every nine minutes and officers attend around 60,000 incidents every single year.

One such example involved Erland Borwick, a fisherman from Inverbervie, who was jailed for 16 months earlier this week after witnesses said that he threw his girlfriend around like a rag doll. It is reported that Borwick described his actions to the police as “a massive domestic”. That incident was not an argument; it was cruel and it was a violent assault that resulted in serious injury and permanent disfigurement.

If we do not challenge misogyny—if perpetrators can get away with misogynistic harassment and abuse—we will never change from the status quo and women and girls will never feel equally safe; they will never see justice.

The reality is that when it comes to violence against women and girls, the criminal justice system in Scotland needs significant reform—not only in how the law captures misogynistic crimes but in the way that victims are treated. To that end, the recommendations from the independent working group on misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland, which was chaired by Baroness Kennedy, seek to address gaps in the law relating to misogyny. Lady Dorrian’s reforms, meanwhile, seek to improve the experiences of women and children in the criminal justice system.

The consultation on reforming the criminal law to address criminal misogyny that the cabinet secretary has outlined today feels long overdue. Many women were frustrated that sex was not included as a protected characteristic in the hate crime framework two years ago, and this latest consultation process is only just getting under way, with no legislative deadline in sight. We will, of course, closely scrutinise the draft legislation when it is introduced in the Scottish Parliament. In the meantime, I urge the Scottish Government to consult women and women’s groups as widely as possible on the proposals.

A question that parliamentarians and policy makers often reflect on is the extent to which changes in the law can change behaviour at societal level. When it comes to misogynistic crimes, my feeling is that any changes in the law must be accompanied by sufficient resources to make perpetrators truly and meaningfully accountable for their actions. That means having enough police and court capacity to ensure that changes are deliverable on the ground as well as in statute. It means that the punishment should match the crime and it means that the victim should be prioritised over the offender.

For too long, women have had to change their behaviour to protect themselves. It is time for the system to change to protect us and, as we have heard today, boys and men need to call one another out.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

This is the third and final debate to mark international women’s day this week and we have heard some excellent and moving speeches in each of the debates from members across the chamber. Misogyny is endemic in our culture and it is only by tackling it through legislation, discussion and education that we have a hope of eradicating it for future generations of women and girls.

I come from a generation of women who grew up with rampant misogyny in the workplace. In truth, like many working women in the 70s and through the following decades, I just thought, “Oh, well. I guess that’s how men behave.” If people have not already seen it, I recommend that they watch the BBC’s excellent three-part series, “The Women Who Changed Modern Scotland” for typical examples of what things were like at that time. Misogyny was normalised, so we must do everything that we can to call it out today.

It is depressing that, half a century on, women and girls are still subjected to that denigration. The barriers for countless women to their progressing or flourishing in horrible restrictive workplace environments, and as they went about their daily lives, can never be underestimated. Shockingly, women and girls are still harassed, humiliated, groped, undermined, trolled online and offline and subjected to comments and abuse about their looks. That absolutely beggars belief.

Misogyny is a global curse. We know that women and girls throughout the world, including in Afghanistan, Iran and many other countries, are being denied education, exploited and trafficked. It is heartbreaking and is a complete abuse of their human rights.

Anyone who says that it is not possible to legislate for equality or a better society is wrong. The Scottish Government has enacted groundbreaking legislation, including the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which included coercion for the first time. It has introduced free period products and has extended childcare and many other policies that will help women.

That is why this debate is so important and necessary. As we have heard, the proposals that are out for consultation are based on the recommendations that have been made by the working group on misogyny that was led by Baroness Helena Kennedy, which

“concluded that the harmful effects of misogyny meant that women and girls required new protection through criminal law.”

Under the proposals, the scope of current laws that tackle misogynistic abuse would be expanded to include threatening, abusive or sexual behaviour that is directed towards women and girls because of their gender, and which is likely to cause them to feel degradation, humiliation or distress.

We have heard the five new proposed criminal laws, but they are worth repeating. They are: an offence of misogynistic harassment; an offence of misogynistic behaviour; a statutory aggravation concerning misogyny; an offence of threatening or abusive communication to women or girls that references rape, sexual assault or disfigurement; and an offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls.

As a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, my colleagues and I had the privilege of attending a private briefing with Baroness Kennedy, which was as enlightening as it was shocking. The working group took evidence from large numbers of women who detailed horrific misogynistic incidents—some blatant and some far more insidious, but all of them totally unacceptable. The report reflects the scale of the problem of misogyny and the fact that nearly every woman has, at some time in their lives, if not daily, been subjected to it. I congratulate Baroness Kennedy and all those who worked on producing the excellent report.

As others have said, the law can go only so far to deliver a policy of eradicating misogyny and violence against women and girls. It is only by changing misogynistic attitudes and culture that Scotland can become a place where women and girls can seek to fulfil their full potential. Engender’s chief executive, Emma Ritch, was a titan of the feminist movement in Scotland. Emma was a powerhouse, which is why I was delighted to hear the First Minister announce the forthcoming opening of the Emma Ritch law clinic in Glasgow. What a legacy she has left for future generations.

I will highlight two examples—there are many—of women currently being treated disgracefully. First, the women against state pension inequality—the WASPI women. They are women of my generation who effectively had their pensions stolen without notice by the United Kingdom Government. Those women bear the brunt of disrespect and, I suggest, misogyny by being forced to endure a delay of six years before they could access their pensions. I applaud the campaigners who are still striving to get justice on that issue.

Secondly, there are the refugee women who have already been traumatised and are fleeing domestic abuse in Scotland but have no recourse to public funds. Surely, the UK Government can do better than to consign them, and often their children, to a life of destitution by offering no support. That is inhumane and it must end now.

Women’s and girls’ experience of violence and abuse crosses private and public spaces, and are a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality, which has been recognised by the Scottish Government’s on-going equally safe strategy. I commend Police Scotland’s “Don’t be that guy” campaign, which is headed by Detective Chief Superintendent Sam Faulds and was created to effect a change in men’s misogynistic behaviour. Only if men lead the culture change will women be free from misogynistic behaviour and violence. That must begin early, in schools and in family conversations with our sons, brothers and nephews.

We know that marginalised women are more likely to experience bias, discrimination, harm, continuing prejudice and the structural barriers that cause inequality in society. Lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and girls often experience violence and abuse that targets their sexual orientation, gender identity or both. There is no place in modern Scotland for homophobia, biphobia or transphobia. We must continue working towards equality for all and end misogyny.


Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The report of the working group on misogyny, which was led by Baroness Kennedy, was stark in its assessment of the misogynistic behaviour that exists in Scotland, and of the harassment, abuse and threatening behaviours that impact on women and girls each and every day. Scottish Labour welcomed Baroness Kennedy’s recommendation that there be legislation to tackle those behaviours, and we will work to ensure that the legislation is workable and effective. As Pauline McNeill emphasised, we will take a partnership approach in our work with the Government. Today’s debate is clear in expressing Parliament’s commitment to tackling misogyny, but we recognise the hard work that lies ahead of us to create an effective bill.

The Government motion is right to highlight

“that legislation alone will not eradicate the centuries-old cultural attitudes that drive such behaviour”.

The introduction of new laws can be only part of the work to break down the acceptance of misogyny and to set a clear message about what is, and is not, acceptable.

The spectrum of misogynistic behaviour is wide; it goes from low-level comments and jokes through to violence and the abuse of women, and there is no question that it is also widespread. As the Kennedy report makes very clear, too many men are guilty of such behaviour. We need to see much more and far wider action to change male attitudes and behaviour, including tolerance of misogyny.

It is not difficult for any of us to find examples of attitudes that need to be tackled. We see inequality and sexism in all parts of society. Some are more obvious than others, but all are damaging.

In 2016, I spoke during a members’ business debate on the “Standing safe” campaign—an initiative by the University of the West of Scotland to address sexual violence on university campuses. Research at that time suggested that a third of female students had experienced sexual assault or harassment during their studies. I spoke then about the role of universities and colleges in tackling a culture of sexism and ensuring a safe environment for students.

Unfortunately, that culture continues to be the case today, so we must ask ourselves how much has changed. We have recently seen students being expelled and staff being forced to quit, with many more being required to attend workshops on diversity and consent, following a series of sexual misconduct cases at the University of St Andrews.

Last month, during the debate on women and girls in science, I spoke about the barriers to female progression in education and in employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles. Those barriers include exclusionary behaviour, bullying and harassment and the cultural challenges of male-dominated departments and industries. Those barriers will not be addressed by encouraging more women and girls to study STEM subjects, but by changing that culture and stopping that harassment.

The Economy and Fair Work Committee, which I convene, has consistently heard about the lack of support for women in business, and we too often see a lack of awareness among businesses that do not feel a need to collect data about gender. Ana Stewart’s recent report on women in enterprise highlights unjustifiable inequality, calling it

“a denial of opportunity on, literally, an industrial scale”.

More broadly, women’s role in the economy has been neglected for far too long—something that is underpinned by the misogyny within our culture.

We live in a society that continues to be characterised by inequality and sexism. Although some cultural attitudes may be centuries old, we see such attitudes and behaviours being expressed in new ways, including through use of online spaces that not only allow misogynistic behaviour but are, in some instances, used to encourage it. Technological developments have provided new opportunities and means for perpetrators to contact and to harm women, often anonymously. Women are targets for online abuse merely because of their being present, and those who are not themselves targeted can see that abuse being directed at other women and being normalised every time they go online.

We might talk about differences between online presences and the real world, because anonymity online can empower people to act in ways in which they might not dare to act in face-to-face situations. However, the online world is a part of our lives now, particularly for young people, who cannot look at it separately. It bleeds into our interactions. The way that people are treated online impacts on how they are treated in person. The way that young women and young men see women being treated online is not forgotten when they put down their phones; it informs their experience and behaviour.

Some of the press coverage this morning also flags the pervasiveness of certain attitudes. The proposed legislation to address misogyny covers a range of behaviours, including shouting sexual abuse, showing extreme pornography and sending messages that refer to rape and sexual assault. Does a news story that says that men could go to jail for talking about sex reflect the seriousness of those offences or the degradation, fear, humiliation or distress that we are trying to prevent? Does it really challenge those behaviours?

I will close by returning to criminal justice. I have previously raised issues to do with violence in sexual relationships, including the use of the so-called “rough sex” defence in criminal cases, consent in cases of sexual offences, and highlighting work by the campaign “We Can’t Consent to This”. A key concern of that campaign is the normalisation of violence against women in sex, alongside the way that those cases are reported and, subsequently, defended in courts.

In the most recent parliamentary session, I asked the Scottish Government about data collection on violence within what begins as consensual sexual activity, and the impacts for women of such behaviours becoming normalised. A report from BBC Radio 5 Live suggested that more than a third of UK women under the age of 40 had experienced unwanted slapping, choking, gagging or spitting during consensual sex and, of those women, 42 per cent felt pressured, coerced or forced into it.

The then Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, indicated that there was potential for the Scottish Government to look at research into the apparent normalisation of violence in sexual activity—potentially via the Scottish crime and justice survey—so I would welcome an update from the cabinet secretary on whether work in that area has been taken forward. If it is not possible to provide that update during the debate, I would appreciate correspondence outside the debate.


Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

Last night, along with Strut Safe, I was proud to host a parliamentary reception calling for sexual harassment in public places to be made illegal in Scotland. The announcement on the consultation yesterday was very much welcomed by all the people who were at the event.

At the event, we heard accounts from a number of women who had suffered from men making sexually inappropriate remarks. Women know those instances so well. Last night, one woman commented:

“It’s just that feeling where you want to cry.”

We have all seen it. Women feel so humiliated but, at the same time, think, “Did that really happen?”

Sally Donald and Alice Jackson, who is a co-founder of Strut Safe, launched the campaign to make public sexual harassment illegal last night and I am proud to work with them. Last year, I met Alice and Sally at the vigil for Sarah Everard. At the time, Alice said:

“So many women have so many stories, a whole backlog of stories of their experiences of being publicly sexually harassed.”

Last night, what was humbling was the number of women who had come along to the event just to see what was happening but who then shared their experiences in front of a number of people.

One of the key aims of the campaign is that, alongside the proposed legislation, there should be a strong education-based approach. Sally, Alice and I had a very productive meeting with Scottish Government officials to discuss the campaign, and we will meet them again soon and work closely with them.

According to a United Nations Women report in 2021, 97 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 reported experiences of sexual harassment. That means that every year thousands of women in Scotland, the UK, Europe and across the world are suffering abuse, which includes catcalling, wolf-whistling, unsolicited sexual comments and advances, abusive remarks, unwanted deliberate touching, flashing, and following a person in public. Women also reported feeling constantly scared, powerless and humiliated by the experiences of being harassed in public spaces.

As Jamie Greene touched on earlier, as guys, we can go out and meet friends without thinking about what we do. If a woman goes out and has to come back in a taxi, she has to phone her friends or send them a message to say where she is going. That is in women’s minds every time they go out, but we men do not have to suffer that.

We need to challenge behaviours and cultures all over our society—in schools, universities and workplaces. Many members will know the story of the organisation EmilyTest. A young girl up in Aberdeen had been sexually harassed at university. She spoke to the university, but nothing was done, and she ended up committing suicide. Her mum now goes out and speaks to others about that particular issue. If members have not had the chance to look up that campaign, I ask them please to do so, because it is incredibly humbling.

As men, we need to double our efforts in tackling misogyny.

On international women’s day last year, Baroness Helena Kennedy recommended that public harassment be made a criminal offence. In countries such as Belgium, France and Portugal, public sexual harassment is already an offence for which perpetrators can be prosecuted.

Under the proposals, the scope of how current laws tackle misogynistic abuse would be expanded to include threatening, abusive or sexual behaviour directed towards women or girls because of their gender that is likely to cause them to feel degradation, humiliation or distress.

Earlier, the cabinet secretary touched on the proposed new criminal laws. They are an offence of misogynistic harassment or behaviour; a statutory aggravation concerning misogyny; an offence of threatening or abusive communications to women or girls that reference rape, sexual assault or disfigurement; and an offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls.

For too long, the law has not been drawn from the experience of women. It is time to hear from girls and women about what they think should be included in law so that they can be treated as equals.

At this stage, it is worth reminding ourselves of the four main priorities of equally safe. Those priorities should be part of our society; we should not have to talk about them all the time, but we are in a situation in which we must. Priority 1 is that

“Scottish society embraces equality and mutual respect, and rejects all forms of violence against women and girls”.

Priority 2 is that

“Women and girls thrive as equal citizens—socially, culturally, economically, and politically”.

Priority 3 is that

“Interventions are early and effective, preventing violence and maximising the safety and wellbeing of women, children, and young people”.

Priority 4 is that

“Men desist from all forms of violence against women and girls, and perpetrators of such violence receive a robust and effective response”.

We have heard discussion around the education aspect of the issue. Equally safe at school—ESAS—has been developed by Rape Crisis Scotland in partnership with the University of Glasgow. It was designed and piloted in several schools in Scotland with support from Zero Tolerance and a wide range of other voluntary and statutory partners and stakeholders.

It is designed for secondary schools to take a holistic approach to preventing gender-based violence, consistent with the Scottish Government’s and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities’ equally safe strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. ESAS is also designed to meet the health and wellbeing outcomes of curriculum for excellence and other key frameworks, such as getting it right for every child.

ESAS takes a whole-school approach, working with staff and students to prevent gender-based violence and to increase confidence and skills in responding to incidents and disclosures of such violence. It aims to positively influence the school culture by fostering a shared, consistent approach to gender-based violence. ESAS is underpinned by principles of equality, safety and accessibility, with student voices at the forefront.

With regard to the “Don’t be that guy” campaign, Graham Goulden could not make the meeting last night, but he sent us a video. The campaign has been a major success. It aims to reduce rape, serious sexual assault and harassment by having frank conversations with men about male sexual entitlement. It is only by prioritising prevention that there can be an end to violence against women and girls.

We cannot repeat enough that gender-based violence is a manifestation of toxic masculinity, the commodification of women, porn culture, and an immoral set of attitudes, including a sense of sexual entitlement, that are still held by too many men in our society and around the world. It must end. We are making progress—the proposed legislation is a major step forward—but more needs to be done, especially by men.


Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for the conversations that we have had about the work of the misogyny working group and the consultation on the proposed legislation that was launched yesterday. I am grateful to him for his openness in those discussions, and I appreciate his approach to and desire for unity in this debate the afternoon. I thank others who have engaged in similar tones.

I am immensely grateful to Helena Kennedy and all those who were involved in the detailed, difficult yet important work that the working group undertook that allows us to be here today, discussing the different ways in which we could and should tackle what is a stain on our society.

That society—the society in which we live—is structurally misogynistic. Women have experienced that throughout our lives, in ways that might seem trivial and ways that are clearly, revoltingly, intolerable. However, as every woman in this chamber knows, all those ways—all those experiences—leave scars; perhaps scars that, after decades, we are still not ready fully to face.

As Scottish Women’s Aid said,

“Women’s and girls’ experiences of violence and abuse cross private and public spaces and are a cause and consequence of women’s inequality”.

Just this week, in Tuesday’s debate on the safety of women and girls on public transport, we heard about what happens in some of those public spaces. Story after story came in bitter testimony of the everyday misogyny that is intended to keep us—sometimes literally—in our place.

Our mothers might have hoped that it would be better by now, and in some ways it is. There is a greater understanding—among women and men, girls and boys—of gender work, pay and representation issues; of the realities of the patriarchy; and of the potential for liberation in diversity and identity beyond the binary.

At the same time, as the First Minister highlighted yesterday in her speech for international women’s day, new technologies and communication platforms open up new spaces and channels for misogynistic abuse, especially of young women and girls. There are chilling counter-movements preying on the vulnerable. They are movements of hard reaction that do not simply employ misogyny, but centre it as the very core of their ideology.

We do not pretend that we will change that overnight, but change and active resistance are essential. Helena Kennedy has written of this problem as one of “social proof”—conduct that is increasingly mimicked until it becomes a widespread norm. We cannot and must not wait until that norm is ubiquitous. We must look not only at where we are, but at where, without a change in direction, our society is heading.

We will do that not only for women and girls; misogyny is not good for men, either. It is no liberation to be forced into navigating constant pressures to express or condone attitudes of hate. For men who, for whatever reason, do not visibly comply with macho stereotypes, it can be especially painful and dangerous. Misogyny is deeply intertwined not with healthy and confident identity, but with other defensive and fearful forms of discrimination, oppression and hate, including racism, homophobia and transphobia. That is why the attempt to co-opt the concept of misogyny as an insult against trans-inclusive feminists is both pathetically misguided and ludicrously ironic.

Misogyny is foundationally connected to other patriarchal systems of violent and coercive control. Those include not only sexual violence and domestic abuse, but conservative strategies of denial of education and healthcare, not least reproductive rights. It is important to be conscious of that wider picture as we face—as I am sure we will—some quite virulent opposition to the report’s recommendations.

Just as we are mindfully conscious of that wider context of the patriarchy and the myriad inequalities that it entrenches in every structure of our society, so we must be mindful, as others have noted this afternoon, that legislation is not the only part of the solution. Structural change requires proactive and determined approaches across our social and cultural lives. Education and awareness raising are crucial, as are building collective and solidaristic behaviours and cultures that recognise intersections with other structures of power inequality. As Helena Kennedy’s report highlights over and over, women have said that something has to be done.

This debate is an important milestone in this work, on a journey that I hope and trust will result in real and significant change in our law. Such change needs to happen, and it needs to happen now. It will resonate not just through Scotland, but far beyond, showing what is possible for a Parliament that takes equality seriously. I look forward to working with my fellow MSPs and our wider civil society to make that legislation the best that it can possibly be, so that it normalises a culture of respect and dignity; protects the rights and enhances the wellbeing of all women, both cis and trans; gains widespread support among all genders; and is communicated and understood as a symbol of, and a tool for, a healthier, safer and happier Scotland.


Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

I am honoured to contribute to this extremely important debate on reforming the criminal law to address misogyny.

All too often, women are the target of criminal behaviour that is motivated by misogyny. Sexual crimes in Scotland are at the highest level on record and instances of domestic abuse are at their second-highest level. Parliament has failed to keep with regard to legislating on crimes against women and girls and eradicating misogyny. The failure to tackle institutional and systematic misogyny is evident in Police Scotland having to respond to more than 60,000 domestic abuse calls each year. Misogynistic attitudes allow abuse and violence against women and girls to flourish, and that is made yet more accessible by growing online incel culture spread by influencers.

I therefore welcome the majority of the recommendations that are outlined in Baroness Kennedy’s report. However, there are several aspects that I would like to raise in the debate to constructively add to the conversation.

First, I think that any legislation on misogyny should be clearly defined. Sex, as a protected characteristic, is missing from hate crime legislation. If the bill is to address that effectively, the definition must be clear. The Scottish Conservatives supported that when the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill was debated in Parliament, and many organisations have raised that issue with me. However, I remain open to proposals, and I look forward to seeing responses to the consultation.

The Scottish National Party Government has committed to a criminal justice reform bill to improve the experience of women in the justice system. Again, that is something that I welcome, as well as the granting of anonymity to victims of sexual crimes, but how can we begin to tackle misogyny through criminal law when misogyny remains rife within the criminal justice system itself? The research project on domestic abuse court experiences suggests that there are shortfalls between the aspirations of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 and its operation in practice. For example, many people felt that the justice system struggled to deal with the prosecution of psychological abuse. The survivors felt that they were marginalised in and by justice processes and were often uninformed about what was happening and why.

Misogyny can also be seen in other parts of the justice system, such as in the courtroom. Ellie Wilson, whom I have spoken about frequently in the chamber, has bravely spoken about her ordeal with the criminal justice system as a rape survivor. In court, rape complainers are not supposed to be asked for irrelevant information about their history unless an exemption is made. In her experience, and in that of many others going through the court systems, that has not happened in practice. Her experience is evidence of misogyny in action.

After Ellie’s horrific ordeal, financial barriers stood in the way of her accessing the court transcript that she needed to corroborate her complaints against the defence. She resorted to crowdfunding to raise the financial means to pay the fees. Financial circumstances should play no role in a victim’s means of accessing justice, so an improved system for handling sexual offences in the courts is long overdue, as are tougher punishments for those who are convicted of violent and sexual offences.

As things stand, most people convicted of domestic abuse crimes do not go to prison. Between 2010 and 2020, the highest percentage of offenders who went to prison convicted of crime with a domestic abuse aggravation was 16 per cent. Similarly, misogyny can have an impact on the police’s handling of inquiries. My colleague Russell Findlay and I were involved in a case in which the woman was treated differently from her husband by the police force.

Today’s debate on reforming criminal law to address misogyny comes at a pivotal time. All too often, women are the targets of criminal behaviour that is motivated by deep-rooted misogyny, and violent and sexual crimes are on the rise across Scotland. As an advocate of women and girls, I look positively on any proposals to eradicate growing misogynistic attitudes, but I think that the debate also gives us an opportunity to discuss the urgent changes that must be made to the wider justice system to ensure that female victims who report a crime are not subjected to further misogyny throughout the justice system. Any crimes against women should be severely punished, and any laws to address misogyny should be clear, targeted and proportionate.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I, too, welcome the consultation. When the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill went through Parliament, we were promised urgent action, but two years later and a year after Helena Kennedy’s report, the Government is only now going out to consultation on the proposed changes to the law. I hope that the cabinet secretary will commit to legislating to introduce those changes during the current session of Parliament, because women should not have to wait any longer.

Helena Kennedy KC proposed an act to create a statutory misogyny aggravation; an offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls; an offence of public misogynistic harassment; and an offence of issuing threats of, or invoking, rape or sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls, online and offline. Those principles must be adhered to. We must remember that the law is the servant of the people, and we must find ways of enshrining those principles in legislation.

I was heartened to see that the Scottish Government is building its approach on the stalking section of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. When I lodged my amendment on that issue, I was told that it was not competent because the definition of stalking could not be enshrined in law, and I remember having to answer very tough questions. Had it not been for Ann Moulds’s dogged persistence in insisting that stalking should be an offence, I think that we would have failed.

This is my case: the law is our servant and it must enshrine the protection that we require, and those who implement it must be trained to do so. However, as others have said, simply changing the law is only part of the solution. Education is central to this. We must, of course, educate children. That education needs to provide them with the information that they need and the capacity to think critically about what they see, hear and experience. It is sad that children are viewing extreme porn in an attempt to inform themselves on relationships and sex. It is little wonder that their views are skewed and unhealthy, especially regarding respect for women and girls.

However, we must go further and educate all our citizens on what is acceptable and what is reasonable behaviour. As Pauline McNeill said, too often, those who are charged with upholding the law demonstrate views that are absolutely unacceptable. Too often, those who give effect to the law do not hold with it and obviously have no understanding of it. How do we change the way in which women are viewed by them and those like them?

The Scottish Government has also pledged to legislate to change the way in which the law views prostitution. Why is it looking at the issues of misogyny and prostitution separately? They are fundamentally linked. How can we deal with misogyny in Scotland if women are still looked on as commodities and our law endorses the buying of consent? How can we deal with misogyny when the poverty of women and the inequality that they face lead to their exploitation, and we allow that to happen?

We need to ensure that women are not poorer than men and that caring responsibilities do not leave women prey to exploitative men. To tackle misogyny, we need to look at the whole role of women in society. Women must be respected as equals in our society.

Alongside legislation, support needs to be provided for women. Like Liam McArthur, Rona Mackay and other members, I was really heartened to hear of the opening of the Emma Ritch law clinic in Glasgow, which will provide support to women who have been raped and need support while the trial of the perpetrator goes through court. It is a fitting tribute to Emma and something that I know that she would have approved of.

The Scottish Labour Party has been asking for such clinics for many years; support needs to be made available to all women in that situation. To achieve that, we must ensure that solicitors are available to carry out that work and that legal aid is available at an adequate level for everyone in that situation.

I agree with the cabinet secretary: the misogyny problem will not be eradicated solely by bringing in punishment for those who commit it or by the threat of a criminal offence; it needs education, opportunity and equality. We have to create a society in which there are opportunities for jobs, equal pay and true social justice for women. We have to ensure that our educators and education system support our children as they grow up, giving them access to services when and where they are needed. Finally, we must ensure that those who are exposed to disgusting, sexist and hate-fuelled materials online and in real life are equipped with the capacity to question those behaviours and to stand up to them.


Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

After international women’s day yesterday, which was a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, it is right that we reflect on the barriers that hold women back. I welcome this afternoon’s Government debate on reforming the criminal law to address misogyny, because, fuelled by centuries-old cultural attitudes, misogyny is a continuing stain on society.

Like all members taking part in the debate, I want to mention the important work that has been done by Baroness Helena Kennedy and everyone involved in the working group on misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland. Their findings have led to the proposal of new criminal laws, which include an offence of misogynistic harassment, a statutory misogyny aggravator and an offence of threatening or abusive communications that reference rape or sexual assault. The laws would provide police and prosecutors with new powers to tackle the corrosive effects of misogyny. I was pleased to hear the justice secretary’s announcement of a consultation on that, and I encourage every woman and girl to have their say.

It is important that we make clear what we are talking about when we discuss misogyny. I thank Scottish Women’s Aid for its briefing for today’s debate. Its suggested definition of misogyny is

“a way of thinking that upholds the primary status of men and a sense of male entitlement, while subordinating women and limiting their power and freedom. Conduct based on this thinking can include a range of abusive and controlling behaviours including domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of violence against women and girls as well as harassment and bullying. Misogyny can be conscious or unconscious, and men and women both can be socialised to accept it. Misogyny influences institutional and structural arrangements in society as well as individual behaviours.”

That is powerful and shows the wide-ranging nature of the problem that we need to eradicate.

In recent years, there have been solid reforms to the criminal law in Scotland, including the “gold standard”, as Women’s Aid put it, Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. At yesterday’s Criminal Justice Committee meeting, we carried out post-legislative scrutiny of the 2018 act. Despite there being a lack of data, due in part to Covid, it has been groundbreaking.

“The Vision for Justice in Scotland”, which was published last year, set out that urgent action is required to ensure that women and girls are better served by Scotland’s justice system, and the Scottish Government has already taken steps to meet the challenges. A victim-centred approach fund has been established, awarding £48 million to provide practical and emotional support to victims, including £18.5 million for specialist advocacy support for survivors of gender-based violence. There is support for courts, including through the justice recovery fund, to reduce the case backlog that was caused by Covid. Other steps include funding the Caledonian system, which is a programme that seeks to change the behaviour of domestically abusive men, and increasing the use of Police Scotland’s disclosure scheme for domestic abuse, which will help to safeguard more people who have been harmed or who are at risk.

Those measures are helping women who have experienced domestic abuse and violence but, as Scottish Women’s Aid highlighted, there are gaps in the criminal law, including provision for the protection of women and girls from online and street harassment. I welcome the Scottish Government’s proposals on that, and I hope that those gaps will be plugged. That is essential.

Last night, I was pleased to attend in the Parliament the event with Strut Safe, which was sponsored by Paul McLennan, and to learn more about its work to make public sexual harassment illegal in Scotland. How do we develop that right culture—develop “moral rebels”? Those words were spoken by Graham Goulden, who is campaigning on this front. He urged everyone to be an “active bystander”.

For too long, the law has not been drawn from the experience of women. It is time to hear from girls and women about what they think should be included in law, so that we can be treated as equals. Wide-ranging actions are needed to tackle and eradicate misogyny. Much of that is cultural, but there is also a role for the criminal justice system. Harassment, abuse and violence have no place in modern Scotland. Again, I encourage women and girls to have their say on the Scottish Government’s proposed reforms to the criminal law.

Many underlying prejudices, sexism and misogynistic societal attitudes are still far too prevalent in our society, and deep inequalities still exist. Only by working together across every area of Scottish life will we successfully end the discrimination that women and girls face. We must recommit ourselves to doing that, until we eradicate it.

We move to the winding-up speeches.


Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to close the debate on behalf of Scottish Labour and to put on record again our support for legislation on misogyny.

We appreciate the points made by the cabinet secretary about the number of new offences that are proposed; how unusual such legislation is; the range of behaviours that could be captured by it; and the fact that it came from the debate around the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill. Pauline McNeill outlined our approach to that legislation, and Liam McArthur outlined the concern about the lack of sex as an aggravator in it. Clearly, fundamental change is needed, and legislation is only a small part of that change.

Jamie Greene said that such legislation could be controversial and spoke about the need for it to be workable—a point that was echoed by Audrey Nicoll. He also spoke about the number of new offences that are being created. As Collette Stevenson said, yesterday we carried out post-legislative scrutiny of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018.

Although I appreciate the point made by the Conservatives, we have to accept, as Collette Stevenson said, that the legal system has failed women. Indeed, the law has been written by men.

Audrey Nicoll also spoke about the work of the working group on misogyny, and gave examples of the types of unacceptable behaviour towards women and girls that could potentially be addressed by the current law. She outlined how she believed that the legislation that was coming forward is based on lived experience.

We know that the current law does not address the challenges that women and girls face and that, to have any legitimacy, the justice system needs to deliver for women and girls. We therefore welcome the specific provisions included in the report that led to the document published by the Scottish Government yesterday and, indeed, the specific proposals made by the Scottish Government yesterday.

We have obviously just seen the proposed wording of the various provisions, and so we are not able to comment on it in detail. However, we welcome that the wording is being shared and that there is a consultation process, because it is vital that we get the legislation right. Scottish Labour assures the Scottish Government that it will have our full support in ensuring that the legislation is workable.

It is important that the Scottish Parliament effectively scrutinises the proposals and that they are rooted in evidence such that they will actually work in the courts.

We particularly welcome that the proposals relate to both online and offline behaviour. Claire Baker spoke of the damage caused by online behaviour. We have to say to the Conservatives that we are very disappointed that the UK-wide Online Safety Bill has still not been enacted.

As Rona Mackay said, misogyny is rampant in society, and is normalised. She spoke of the experience of women in older generations. Rhoda Grant spoke of the experiences of girls and young women now. We need to ensure that the very specific forms of misogyny being faced by girls and young women, in particular in our schools, is dealt with in the legislation, as we know that it is a very real and growing challenge.

We welcome the proposals put forward by the Scottish Government to split misogynistic behaviour and misogynistic harassment, to create a new offence of issuing threats invoking rape and sexual violence or disfigurement, and to develop a statutory misogyny aggravation and the stirring up of hatred offence.

We also welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is out consulting and trying to involve women and girls. We very much hope that parliamentarians are involved in the process, as it is vital that we get the detail of the legislation right and that there is cross-party support for the proposals.

We note that the hate crime bill has still not been enacted. We hope that this new legislation will not have to wait for the enactment of that legislation and will not be conditional upon any issues in relation to that bill.

We believe that it is vital that we go forward with legislation that has the support of the people of Scotland, and we look forward to actively participating to ensure that we get the detail of it right.


Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

I begin by noting that, just 10 minutes before this debate began, another man was found guilty of killing his female partner in Scotland. Dr Brenda Page was murdered almost 45 years ago, and today’s verdict illustrates the determination of police and prosecutors to achieve justice, no matter how long that might take.

It is a privilege to close for my party in the third consecutive debate to mark yesterday’s international women’s day. I was also fortunate to speak in Tuesday’s debate about antisocial and criminal behaviour on public transport. We have heard many powerful and insightful contributions from across the chamber today.

The cabinet secretary’s opening examples of women’s first-hand accounts of abuse were unsettling but hardly surprising, or sadly unsurprising. Both Tess White and Pauline McNeill spoke of the murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer and wider policing issues. I fully agree with Audrey Nicoll and Claire Baker about the explosion of online abuse and their fear that it is likely to get even worse. Rona Mackay reminded us about the medieval horror that is being inflicted on women and girls in other countries. There were many other considered contributions today—too many for me to address them all.

Today’s Government motion refers to the need

“to reform criminal law to address misogyny”.

I agree with the intent to find the most effective way to do that, and I await the details with interest. However, I agree with my colleagues Jamie Greene and Pam Gosal, and with the cabinet secretary, that new laws alone are not always the answer. I will use today’s time to talk about an area that is not often discussed: the fact that women can suffer additional harassment, trauma and stress as a result of Scotland’s legal system—a system that is supposed to protect them.

At yesterday’s Criminal Justice Committee meeting, we heard from Dr Claire Houghton of the University of Edinburgh. She and her team spoke with domestic violence victims for a study that was published in January. It lays bare the difficulties that many face in the justice journey—a journey which is beset by fear, vulnerability, delays, secrecy, exclusion and often bitter disappointment at whatever sentence is imposed.

Yesterday, Dr Houghton told me that her report’s findings were “unremittingly grim”. It is a harsh take; I would rather say that the report is sobering and striking, and I encourage all members to read it. It contains 10 key points, one of which in particular encapsulates so much in just a few words. It says:

“Participants had significant concerns that the investigation, prosecution and sentencing for domestic abuse offences did not adequately reflect the sustained level, severity or impact of abuse experienced.”

Yesterday in committee, I also asked about another rarely discussed issue: the ways in which some male criminals further their coercive control and abuse by manipulating both criminal and civil law. Victims who are already struggling with the daunting criminal justice process tell of becoming ensnared in the quicksand of parallel civil cases relating to financial matters or children. Those two systems do not effectively communicate with each other. Dr Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid told us that her organisation had tasked a US supreme court judge with looking at that in Scotland, but the recommendations went nowhere.

Also at yesterday’s committee, Professor Michele Burman of the University of Glasgow acknowledged that cases of

“legal system abuse ... are prevalent”.

However, she also told me that there has been “no research” about that—none—conducted in Scotland. Abusers are also sometimes able to access public money to pursue their victims.

Weeks ago, I wrote to the Scottish Legal Aid Board on behalf of a woman and her daughter, whom I will refer to as Amy and Laura. Amy’s former partner, whom I will call John, is the father of Laura. When Laura recently became a teenager, her father tried to ban her from the sport that she loves, ordered her to pray daily and wear a hijab and issued threats of violence. He is now seeking legal aid to increase his access to Laura, contrary to her wishes. John has been convicted of stalking Amy and, as is so often the case, the full extent of his alleged criminality was much greater and more prolonged.

There is also intelligence to suggest that John is connected to organised crime. Assets that were in his name have now been transferred to relatives. There have been other police investigations in connection with a child to another ex-partner, and in that case access is prohibited. I told the Scottish Legal Aid Board all about that on 6 February. On 6 March, it wrote back to say that—apparently—no decision had been reached about the legal aid application, yet on 28 February, one week earlier, the board had told Amy that legal aid had indeed been granted. I assume that there is an explanation for that apparent anomaly.

Amy and her daughter are at their wits’ end. While we are in the chamber talking about international women’s day, this is consuming their lives. Amy tells me:

“John knows that going to court will cause me financial difficulty. I am NOT entitled to legal aid. I’m so scared the courts won’t recognise the risk of Laura being abused. I feel totally let down by the services that claim to be there to protect us. He is using public funds to continue his control and abuse.”

At yesterday’s Criminal Justice Committee, I raised that case with a senior Police Scotland officer. I asked whether there was any mechanism by which the police could give relevant information to the Scottish Legal Aid Board. She said that there is not. Legal system abuse is real, and it must be exposed and tackled. The state cannot strive and legislate to protect Scotland’s women and children while simultaneously facilitating further abuse of them.

I am delighted that there is cross-party consensus today. Thank you.


The Minister for Equalities and Older People (Christina McKelvie)

This afternoon’s debate has been very useful and interesting and I thank all colleagues for their consensus on the principles. We will get into the detail as we publish the consultation. The debate has highlighted the importance of our coming together as a Parliament to consider carefully how we can best take real action to address misogyny.

At the top of my contribution, I add my voice to the voices of others in welcoming the Emma Ritch law clinic at the University of Glasgow. Emma was a dear friend of mine and of many people in the chamber and more widely in Scotland. I am sure that her family and her husband, Kenny, will rightly be proud to have Emma remembered in such a way, given the many areas that the law clinic will work on. I was very touched to hear about it. Emma was one of the original members of the misogyny working group. She contributed to it with all her great ideas and influence, and she is threaded through all the recommendations.

During the debate, we heard some horrifying examples of the misogynistic behaviour that women and girls are faced with every single day. Jamie Greene mentioned the figure that 46 per cent of women MSPs in this place have received death threats, myself included.

Picking up on a point that Claire Baker made, I note that the independent Scottish Law Commission is looking at how homicide law operates, including in relation to the so-called rough sex defence. When the commission publishes its final report with its recommendations, we will consider that fully, and we will come back to Claire Baker at that point, if that is helpful.

It is important that we all ask ourselves what we can do now to ensure that, as a Parliament, we are not still here in 20 or 30 years’ time debating what can be done to address the problem. As Jamie Greene said, we have power in this place and we should use it appropriately.

I welcome the work of Paul McLennan and Strut Safe. I hope that the consultation on the proposals will bring welcome progress to the work that they have been doing.

In response to some questions that were asked, I confirm to Parliament that we will legislate on the matter in the current session of Parliament and that it will not be subject to the implementation of other pieces of legislation.

Reform of the criminal law is important. It will ensure that the police, prosecutors and the courts have the appropriate tools to take action to deal with misogynistic behaviour that is serious enough that it is properly the business of the police and the courts. I hear the challenges from members across the chamber about how we are working to implement Lady Dorrian’s recommendations, which will be pivotal in ensuring that our system works appropriately. Reform will also help to send a clear signal—and a real signal—that such behaviour is unacceptable, which can in itself help to change ingrained cultural attitudes and behaviour.

As we have heard, however, that reform cannot be the whole answer. We cannot arrest our way to equality. Not all misogynistic behaviour can or should be dealt with by our criminal courts. The patriarchy is deeply established in our society—in our structures and, yes, in our organisations. We cannot use the threat of prosecution to change the behaviour of men who talk over women in meetings or boys who mock the girl who speaks up in class. The insidious, low-level, systemic misogyny, as articulated by Rona Mackay, stops a girl’s life all the way through her life.

When the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls published its first annual report, in 2019, it set out 11 recommendations for change under the themes of attitudes and culture change. Those words are key, because it is through changing attitudes and culture that we can hope to bring about real change over the longer term. We know that violence against women—let us be in no doubt that the misogynistic harassment and abuse that we have heard described today is violence against women—both is caused by and further exacerbates gender inequality.

Claire Baker gave us many examples of how and when that happens throughout a woman’s life, including threats online. We, alongside other members and our Scottish Labour colleagues, urge the UK Government to ensure that the Online Safety Bill is as strong as it can be.

A culture that does not consider women to be truly equal to men will find it easier to excuse misogynistic behaviour and attitudes, and a culture where misogynistic behaviour and attitudes are normalised is not one in which women have equal rights and freedom of action. Pauline McNeill spoke about the endemic violence and hatred that women and girls face in all settings, and Maggie Chapman said that some men do not only perpetrate misogyny but centre it in their work to attack women.

That is why we will continue to focus on tackling wider gender inequalities, including economic inequalities, for women in all their diversities and intersecting characteristics. We have continued to prioritise policies such as the expansion of free childcare and the closing of the gender pay gap, and, crucially, we have focused on prevention and the role that men can play.

We know that the early years are important, which is why we continue to take forward a range of actions in schools to address gender-based violence and sexual harassment. I echo Paul McLennan’s praise for Fiona Drouet of EmilyTest and the work that she is doing in higher and further education.

Education plays a significant role in supporting our children and young people to learn about safe and healthy relationships, high-quality relationships, sexual health and parenthood. An important part of the health and wellbeing curriculum aims to help children and young people to build positive relationships as they grow older, and seek help when they need it. Content is delivered in an age and stage-appropriate and non-judgmental manner within a framework of sound values and with an awareness of the law, including on sexual behaviour. We will strengthen that work with a national framework that supports schools to tackle sexual harassment and gender-based violence.

Our mentors in violence prevention in Scotland programme is working to tackle gender stereotyping and attitudes that condone violence against women and girls. We also fund the equally safe at school programme, which we developed in partnership with Zero Tolerance, Rape Crisis Scotland and others. It raises awareness among staff and pupils of the reality and causes of gender-based violence.

Jamie Greene

Education at an early stage in life is useful and important, but many adult males who come across the horrific situations that we have heard about today do not know what to do. The problem is that they do not know how to intervene. They want to intervene in a situation, but they do not know how to do it safely and in a way that does not put themselves or the women concerned at risk. Will the Government consider targeting a programme of awareness and education at adult males on how to deal with and de-escalate such situations? Many men would find that incredibly helpful.

Christina McKelvie

I certainly will consider that request. We are undergoing a refresh of our equally safe strategy, and I will give thought to that suggestion and the Lib Dem ask on a commission.

I mention the work that Pauline McNeill and her colleagues are taking forward in the Labour Party, and I thank her for inviting my officials along, which was incredibly helpful. All those things will ensure that the new equally safe strategy is as informed and effective as it possible can be.

In response to one of the recommendations that were made by the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls, we have established the gender equality task force in education and learning. That also targets young men in school.

It is not only in education where it is important that we drive that change. Last month, Ana Stewart and Mark Logan published their report, “Pathways: A New Approach for Women in Entrepreneurship”, after they were commissioned by the Scottish Government to consider how we can address the underparticipation of women in entrepreneurship and move our society away from its current extreme gender imbalance in that field of endeavour.

Up to now I have focused on what is being done to support women and girls, but this is not a problem that women and girls can or should have to solve on their own. Collette Stevenson and Audrey Nicoll spoke about being an active bystander, and we also heard about the impact of the “Don’t be that guy” campaign. Those are important interventions, and we should try to raise their profile.

When men remain silent, they can be perceived as supporting, or at least condoning, the harassment and abuse that women and girls experience. It is vital that men speak out and take responsibility for challenging sexist and misogynistic attitudes that are unfortunately still too common. Tess White’s use of Baroness Kennedy’s words about Wayne Couzens illustrated perfectly what can happen when men remain silent.

When Baroness Kennedy gave evidence to the Criminal Justice Committee last year on the findings of the working group that she chaired, she said:


the expert panel—

“were shocked ... I say that as somebody who is a pretty dyed-in-the-wool criminal lawyer who thought that she had heard it all ... The report comes at a particular period of time. We cannot deny that something is happening at the moment that meant that every single woman or group that appeared in front of us said that something has to be done ... It is affecting girls and women in their lives, and it really does, in a very serious way, undermine their sense of self-confidence and self-worth, the ways in which they conduct their lives and their aspirations.”—[Official Report, Criminal Justice Committee, 27 April 2022; c 1-2.]

She was absolutely spot on.

Yesterday, Myra Ross, who is a training officer at the Highland violence against women partnership, sent me a poem that she wrote to mark international women’s day. That was perfectly timed. It is called “Rights?”:

“Do they see me as an object
To use to buy or sell
Do they see me as a target
For any passing male

Do they just see a commodity
Perhaps to pass around
Do they think I might be flattered
By a leer a taunt a sound

Do they understand I wonder
How imposing was that stare
When I first became a woman
When he tried to touch me ... there

Do they understand the terror
That took root within my heart
Do they know that one in three
Bear a wound that had a start

A start with little subtle things
We didn’t understand
A start in breaching boundaries
With looks then words then hands

Perhaps we tell the good men
They might lend us a voice
We are not a commodity
We are people with a choice

Perhaps we ask the women
The other two in three
Don’t say how you don’t mind
Stand in solidarity

Perhaps we say our women
Our schoolchildren our girls
Deserve safety and dignity
Rights both written and upheld”

I agree with Pauline McNeill that, in working through the challenges of the new legislation as a Parliament, that will be an achievement for the Parliament and not just the Scottish Government. It has been clear from the debate that the Scottish Government is committed to working with Parliament and external stakeholders to ensure that the new laws to address misogynistic behaviour, as recommended by Baroness Kennedy’s working group, are as effective as they can be.

My last plea in closing is this: please encourage every woman, girl and organisation you know to take part in the consultation. We need to hear their voices.