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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 07 March 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Information-sharing Provisions), International Women’s Day, Point of Order, Decision Time, Local Government Finance (Debt Amnesty)


International Women’s Day

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-04440, in the name of Angela Constance, on international women’s day.


It is a stark fact that, in 2017, women nowhere in the world can claim to have the same rights and opportunities as men. No country has eradicated violence against women and girls, eliminated pay inequality or erased discrimination and prejudice.

According to the World Economic Forum, the gender gap will not close until 2186, which is 169 years from now. That is a deeply pessimistic forecast but we should not allow it to become a foregone conclusion. The theme for this year’s international women’s day is “Women in the Changing World of Work: planet 50/50 by 2030”. We will, of course, celebrate success and progress, but we will also look ahead with steely determination to the journey that we have yet to travel. Given that women have waited long enough for true equality, I am sure that members will agree that 2030 is somewhat more palatable than 2186.

Today, Parliament has the opportunity to unite to reaffirm our collective commitment to protecting, upholding and advancing the rights of women, and to say, as Hillary Clinton did,

“Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights”.

Today, we will acknowledge and appraise progress made in Scotland, and we will reflect on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead; most of all, I hope that we will all increase our resolve to act on advancing women’s equality both at home and abroad. It is in that vein that I lead this debate and speak to the motion in my name.

Given the theme of women in the changing world of work, it is apt to reflect that international women’s day has its origins in one of the first organised actions by working women anywhere in the world. On 8 March 1857, hundreds of women workers in garment and textile factories in New York staged a strike against low wages, long working hours and inhumane working conditions. Their struggle has been replicated across the years and around the globe.

Fast forward to 8 March 2017, and tomorrow—in New York and Washington DC, and in 35 countries in total—will see the “day without a woman” marches, with some women withdrawing their paid and unpaid labour. I am reminded of a quotation by Gloria Steinem:

“No man can call himself liberal, or radical, or even a conservative advocate of fair play, if his work depends in any way on the unpaid or underpaid labor of women at home, or in the office.”

At the roots of that mobilisation is the international movement of women’s marches, combining struggles against male violence, opposition to the casualisation of the labour market and wage inequality, and campaigning against homophobia, transphobia and xenophobic immigration policies. As well as looking at paid and unpaid work by women, we must not consider women’s economic disadvantage in isolation from the broader social injustice that can be associated with class, race, disability, sexuality and gender-based violence.

Our work to support women to take their rightful place in the economy co-exists with the “Fairer Scotland Action Plan”, the disability delivery plan, the race equality framework, and “Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls”, as well as three-year funding for voluntary organisations, supported through the £20 million equality budget.

We need to ensure that our work is informed by the best expertise available and tackles the systemic issues that women and girls face, such as gender stereotyping, violence against women and occupational segregation. That is why the First Minister is establishing an advisory council on women and girls, with Louise Macdonald of Young Scot as its chair. The advisory council will bring together champions for the rights and advancement of women and girls. I know that Louise Macdonald and other council members will be fantastic advocates for women, and I look forward to working with them.

I want to reflect on women’s experience in the workplace and in the labour market. The gap between male and female employment rates in Scotland is 5.5 percentage points, whereas across the United Kingdom as a whole it is 9.3 percentage points. In comparison with the UK, Scotland has a higher female employment rate but, more interestingly, Scotland has the sixth-highest female employment rate across the 28 European Union countries. If we cast our eyes across the EU, we see that Scotland has the second-lowest female unemployment rate, at 4.7 per cent, behind Germany at 3.7 per cent.

Of course, it is not just the number of women in work that is important. We must always be prepared to look beneath the headline figures to see and understand the true picture. That is particularly pertinent when it comes to the pay gap. The long-term trends in relation to the gender pay gap are positive. The full-time pay gap has fallen from 16.7 per cent in 1999 to 6.2 per cent in 2015, and the overall pay gap, which includes part-time as well as full-time work, has fallen from 24.6 per cent in 1999 to 15.6 per cent in 2016. However, the fact that we still have a pay gap is utterly unacceptable.

Members will be aware that the Scottish Government has lowered the threshold for listed public authorities to publish their gender pay gap and equal pay statements, from those with more than 150 employees to those with more than 20 employees. The pay gap is driven in part by occupational segregation and gender stereotyping. That underlines the importance of the consultation on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and training strategy, which is led by the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science.

As a Government, we are committed to continuing to challenge the drivers of the gender pay gap. We recognise that the gap widens with age and that it is felt most by women over 40. The number of older people who choose to work continues to increase. Last year, we conducted research on pensioner employment, and we are currently completing a second stage of research with over-50s on a range of employment concerns. That research will be published in May this year.

Policies and actions that support women who are over 40 in the workplace include our commitment to deliver returner to work programmes, support for the real living wage, and the promotion of flexible working. We also support family-friendly working Scotland, which is a partnership between the Scottish Government and various third sector organisations. A key principle of all that work is the recognition of the importance of enabling women to play a full part in the economy, as addressing the gender pay gap is about both equality and economic necessity.

As we know, the gender pay gap is especially prevalent after pregnancy, and discrimination is still experienced too often by new and expectant mothers. In 2015, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reported that 54,000 women across the UK had been dismissed or made compulsorily redundant or felt that they had to leave their jobs when they were pregnant or on maternity leave. Again, that is utterly unacceptable. The Minister for Employability and Training responded by establishing the pregnancy and maternity working group, which he chairs. The group, whose second meeting took place earlier today, has been tasked with improving access to advice for both employees and employers and creating new guidelines for employers.

The next hurdle that new mothers often face is accessing high-quality and affordable childcare. Our plan to nearly double free early learning and childcare entitlement for all three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds by 2020 remains our single most transformative infrastructure project.

Both the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the EU have stressed the importance of childcare in removing barriers for women who wish to work. We know that women typically spend disproportionately more time on unpaid care work. Society still tends to view caring for children or elderly relatives as women’s work—that cuts across all countries, classes and cultures. Fifty-nine per cent of carers are women, and women of working age are far more likely to be carers than men. That creates a double burden of work for women.

Later this year, we will publish the gender index. As part of that work, we will begin to bring together evidence on the significant economic contribution that women make to the economy as a result of unpaid caring work.

We want to do more to support carers at home and at work. The Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 will come into force on 1 April 2018, and we will increase the use of the carer positive scheme, with the aim of signing up at least 30 per cent of employers. Employers need to be aware of the growing numbers of carers and, crucially, the business case for supporting those who juggle paid work with unpaid caring.

Does the minister agree that, given that there are women carers in the Parliament, it is important that extending the working day at very short notice should not become a matter of course?

That, of course, would be a matter for the Parliamentary authorities and the Parliamentary Bureau. As a minister, I do not—for good reason—set the parliamentary timetable.

Historically, this Parliament has had different working practices from those that take place in Westminster, although we will all have to accept that, from time to time, particularly as we broach the unknown of Brexit, we may well see extended business hours. We will have to consider those with caring responsibilities, but I suppose that my responsibility is not necessarily to reflect the caring responsibilities of women in the chamber but to represent the hundreds of thousands and millions of women in Scotland—who are far less privileged than the women who sit in the chamber—who carry day-to-day caring and employment struggles.

Ban Ki-moon said:

“Countries with higher levels of gender equality have higher economic growth. Companies with more women on their boards have higher returns. Peace agreements that include women are more successful. Parliaments with more women take up a wider range of issues—including health, education, anti-discrimination, and child support.”

We cannot escape the importance of women’s representation in public life.

Will the minister take an intervention?

No. I am about to run out of time; perhaps I will be able to do so when I am summing up.

This week, Engender published “Sex & Power in Scotland 2017”. The report shows that we still have a long way to go. It highlights that, in 2017, women still have unequal access to power, decision making and participation throughout all areas of public life, with men holding 73 per cent of the estimated 3,029 positions of power and authority identified. We are doing all that we can to change those figures.

Members will be aware that the Government launched 50:50 by 2020, a voluntary campaign to encourage gender balance in boardrooms across the public, private and third sectors. New figures on appointments to public boards in 2016 show that the proportion and numbers of women continue to increase: 43 per cent of applicants and 59 per cent of those appointed were women, and the overall percentage of women on those boards is 45 per cent. Of course, 45 per cent is not 51 per cent, so there is still more to do. The draft Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill will help to build on and cement those gains. We are consulting on the bill, which is due to be introduced to Parliament before the summer recess.

Today, I have mentioned some of the achievements of Scotland’s women and some of the work that is in hand, but we also need to be vigilant so that the gains that we have made are not rolled back. We must protect the rights that women have fought for and gained. As the writer Zadie Smith said:

“progress is never permanent, will always be threatened, must be redoubled, restated, and reimagined if it is to survive.”

That is the challenge for us all as we approach international women’s day.

I move,

That the Parliament unites, ahead of UN International Women’s Day on 8 March 2017, to reaffirm its commitment to upholding and protecting the rights of women, which are fundamental human rights; welcomes this year’s theme, Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030, which seeks to ensure that women are empowered to take up the opportunities of work and ensure that the barriers to women entering and progressing in the workplace at all levels and in all sectors are addressed; notes the work of the Scottish Government to ensure and increase equality in the workplace, and welcomes research that shows that increasing female leadership and gender equality in the workforce can benefit the workplace, society and the economy.


I am extremely pleased to have the opportunity to speak today ahead of tomorrow’s international women’s day, and I am grateful to Angela Constance for securing the debate. However, my voice might not last long, as I have a bit of a sore throat.

I will first speak a little about women’s economic empowerment around the world. United Nations statistics show that, globally, just 50 per cent of women are represented in the labour market, compared with three quarters of men. Not only are women less likely to be able to support themselves financially through work outside the domestic setting, but when they work, it is more likely to be in lower-paid, lower-skilled occupations that are devoid of workers’ rights.

I have spoken before in the chamber about the UK Government’s investment in preventing violence against women and girls globally. The Department for International Development has allocated £184 million to a number of programmes to tackle gender violence issues such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage and female infanticide. In recognition of the fact that education is key to economic equality, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, announced last month a renewed drive to ensure that the 61 million girls who are deprived of an education around the world get a chance to go to school.

Those are just some of the initiatives that are going on. I am also pleased that Dr Whiteford’s private member’s bill, the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill, has passed to the House of Lords for consideration. In the UK, we have a lot to celebrate. In the past few years, there has been a lot of progress for women as the UK has led the way in pushing for equality for women in the workplace.

Although disparities are less extreme in the UK than they are globally, we still need to make progress. Many members will have seen in the newspapers over the weekend reports that Scotland’s women are being denied top jobs. It is right to highlight a tendency on the part of some men—and women—to downplay what needs to be done because of the relatively good position of UK women in the global context. Only 27 per cent of the top 3,000 or so leadership positions across the spectrum of industries and job sectors are filled by women. None of Scotland’s FTSE 100 companies has a female chief executive officer, and none of the big newspapers is edited by a woman—I am sure that many members will mention that.

My amendment mentions the UK Government’s work to increase equality in the workplace, which should be commended.

I acknowledge the points that Annie Wells makes. She praised the UK Government, but how does she respond to the recent analysis by the independent women’s budget group, which shows that the tax and benefit changes that the UK Government has made since 2010 will have hit women’s incomes twice as hard as men’s by 2020?

We are all here today to ensure that we get equality for everyone. We might want to get there in different ways, but we all want equality—I certainly do.

The percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards has doubled from more than 12.5 per cent to nearly 27 per cent. In response to improvements, the UK Government commissioned a report from Lord Davies in 2015. He recommended a new target of 33 per cent, which is to be extended to FTSE 300 companies by 2020. I am pleased that the UK Government supports that recommendation.

Another measure, which will come into force next month, means that larger employers will have to publish information about the gender pay gap and the bonus gap. In the UK, the gender pay gap is at its lowest-ever level; it is currently 17 per cent, which is down from more than 19 per cent in 2015. That represents the biggest year-on-year drop since 2010.

According to statistics, there is a 2 per cent gap between the gender pay gap in Scotland and that in the rest of the UK. When it comes to top jobs and senior positions, Scotland is lagging behind. Although 25 per cent of boardroom seats in Scotland’s listed companies are taken by women, the proportion in Scotland is lower than that in the UK as a whole. According to a study by the Chartered Management Institute, the gender pay gap in Scotland for managerial positions is the highest in the UK, at nearly £10,900, whereas the UK average is just under £9,000.

As we know, the Scottish Government plans to introduce its gender representation on public boards bill this year. However, it is still not clear how organisations that fail to comply with the proposed new law will be sanctioned, and nor is it clear how the Scottish Government will provide measures to encourage equal board membership in private companies. So far, only a limited number of Scotland’s 360,000-plus private firms have signed the Scottish Government’s pledge to make boards 50:50 by 2020. I am concerned that, if we do not have measures that properly address underlying structural issues, we will not make progress.

Yesterday, I visited the Glasgow-based professional technical services provider FDM Group. It was enlightening to learn more about the initiatives that FDM has introduced and is introducing to encourage more women and ex-military personnel into its employment ranks. It is interesting that that private company, which has won a raft of awards for its progress on employment diversity, does not use gender quotas, although it boasts a management board that is 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women. FDM does that off its own back, without mandatory Government legislation, because it recognises that encouraging equality in its workforce creates energy and enthusiasm, which, in turn, benefit business.

In the political world, my party’s record on leadership is something of which I never get tired. We are the only party in UK history to have returned two female Prime Ministers, and we are the only party to have female leaders at Westminster and in the Scottish Parliament.

I know that there is more work to be done—I absolutely do. I also know that, in the Scottish Parliament, women are only a fifth of my party’s members. Despite that, I still believe firmly that gender quotas are not the best way of empowering women in the long term.

I have spoken a lot on the issue before. I do not seek to belittle the achievements of those here today who benefited from all-women shortlists and quotas, but I should be allowed to voice my belief that, in an ideal world, if we are to see long-term, meaningful changes that get more women into politics, change should be organic.

That is why I am delighted to say that last week I launched Women2Win Scotland alongside the Prime Minister, Theresa May. That organisation endeavours to inspire and support more women into our party by addressing underlying structural issues in the long term. By providing mentoring, training and networking opportunities, we want to encourage and support the brightest and best women in our party to come forward and make a difference. Far from burying our heads in the sand, as other parties would like to portray us, we are working to improve women’s representation in the Scottish Conservatives.

I am running out of time, so to close, I reiterate my support for international women’s day and express my commitment to improving women’s equality in the workplace as well as reducing the gender pay gap. We all want women to play their fair part in Britain’s top jobs, and we all want women to have access to the same economic opportunities as men. However, as we shall all agree on today, we should never be complacent about picking up the pace on the issue. There is a lot more to do, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to make that happen.

I move amendment S5M-04440.1, to insert at end:

“, and recognises the work of the UK Government in reducing the gender pay gap and increasing equality in the workplace.”


It is an honour to open on behalf of Scottish Labour and to speak to the amendment in my name. We welcome the Government’s motion and the opportunity for the Parliament to mark international women’s day 2017. Scottish Labour will vote for the Government motion, but we will set out why we believe that our amendment is necessary.

International women’s day is not a day for blandness and nor is it a day for faux consensus. Women’s rights are political. That is why we cannot support the Tory amendment, which would have us believe that the UK Government is improving women’s lives, when in fact it is doing the exact opposite. International women’s day enables feminists around the world to unite and to celebrate the progress that has already been made but, more important, to voice our concerns about the work that is still left to do and to organise for the future.

Harmful gender stereotypes limit women’s potential, so I am pleased that the focus of this year’s international women’s day is on women in the changing world of work. In this country, we are almost half a century on from the passage of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975—legislation that has been refreshed over the years. However, despite the legal strides that have been made for women’s rights at work, including maternity leave rights, protection from sexual harassment and the right to equal pay for work of equal value—rights that were hard fought for and won by the trade union and labour movement over the past few decades—we are still a far cry from achieving equality.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am pressed for time because the debate has been cut short, but I will take an intervention.

As a councillor on Labour-controlled South Lanarkshire Council, will Monica Lennon tell us whether it was appropriate for £200,000 of taxpayers’ money to be used to fight a legal challenge that aimed to ensure that 3,000 women who were employed by that council—for which Monica Lennon has a responsibility—got the equal pay that they deserved?

I want all women to get their equal pay claims settled, and I do not think that any local authority that has outstanding equal pay claims is covered in any glory. Christina McKelvie knows my position on that.

As we have just heard, legal equality does not always mean substantive change throughout our society. Women continue to do the majority of caring for dependants and household work, and they earn on average £175 less per week than men. That unequal division of labour means that the majority of women’s work can be invisible and that its worth to the economy is not captured. It means reduced opportunity for women and girls to succeed—fewer educational opportunities, less leisure time and, at the most basic level, less economic power.

We must challenge such stereotypes from the ground up and ensure that harmful ideas about differences between boys and girls are challenged at the earliest stages. That is how change will be achieved in the long term.

Last year, the Educational Institute of Scotland launched “Get it Right for Girls”. If it is acted on, that guidance will be an important step forward in how we as a nation start to tackle misogynistic attitudes among children and young people. Misogyny and outdated ideas about what a woman’s role should be have no place in 21st century Scotland, and work to tackle them must begin in childhood, because the prevalence of those misogynistic ideas throughout our society means that women are, for the most part, locked out of leadership.

The “Sex and Power in Scotland 2017” report by Engender, which made the front page of the Sunday Herald at the weekend, revealed that non-disabled white men hold the majority of power in Scotland—they take up 73 per cent of the leadership roles across politics, the media, sport and business. For those of us in the chamber who are well versed in the unfairness of gender representation, those figures will come as no surprise, but they should make us more determined than ever to make a meaningful change. The overrepresentation of white men in Scotland’s positions of power is completely unacceptable, and those who perpetuate the myth that they all got there on merit need to give themselves a shake.

Since 2003, women’s representation in the Scottish Parliament has regressed. Although the three main parties have female leaders, female MSPs make up only 35 per cent of members in this place. It is unacceptable that, in the history of the Scottish Parliament since 1999, there has never been a single black or minority ethnic woman MSP. It is also ridiculous that women make up less than a quarter of councillors in local authorities, which control billions of pounds of public money. That might go some way towards explaining the problems that we have had with equal pay in councils.

Women are underrepresented at almost every level of power in Scotland. In locking out the experience and talent of 52 per cent of the population, we are putting limits on Scotland’s potential, and I do not believe that we should ever accept a situation that would see progress towards gender equality continue to move at glacial pace.

Labour members passionately support the women 50:50 campaign and its evidence-based calls for legislative gender quotas, because quotas work. Quotas are not about promoting people who are not qualified—far from it. They are about ensuring that those who deserve to be there have an equal chance to take their rightful place.

Women’s representation matters because, when women are left out of the decision-making process, our needs are too easily ignored. That is why 86 per cent of the cuts to social security between 2010 and 2020 that the Conservative Government has proposed will have come from women’s incomes. It is why £1.5 million has been cut from maternity benefits, and it is why persistent issues about women’s health, such as period poverty, continue to be left off the agenda.

When I first raised the issue of period poverty with the Scottish Government last year, I was taken aback to discover that tampons had only ever been mentioned once before in the history of the Parliament’s Official Report—during a 2004 debate on Scotland’s beaches. As a proudly feminist MSP, I am glad to have had the chance to raise women’s issues in Parliament and highlight gender inequality at every opportunity.

That is why I am pleased to announce today that I intend to lodge a proposal for a member’s bill in the coming months that will directly address access to sanitary products for women and girls across the country. For too long in politics, issues that affect women have not been high on the agenda. Too often, women have been told, “Not just yet,” “Now’s not the time,” or, “There are other issues that we need to deal with first, but don’t worry—we’ll get to that next.”

This year’s international women’s day should be the Parliament’s opportunity to state that we will no longer accept the status of women and girls as second class. The campaign theme of international women’s day 2017 is “Be Bold for Change”. We may be few in number, but I know that there are bold feminists in the Parliament and many more across our country. To the women and girls of Scotland, I say stop being patient—we cannot wait. Recognise your power and demand your rights. I wish all women and girls around the world, but particularly here in Scotland, a happy and powerful international women’s day.

I move amendment S5M-04440.2, after second “workplace” to insert:

“; regrets that the gender pay gap means that women earn significantly less than men, which over the course of a working life is likely to represent hundreds of thousands of pounds of lost income, impacting pension contributions and the ability to save; acknowledges that women remain under-represented in senior roles across politics, business, the public sector, the media, culture and sport, with 73% of leadership roles in Scotland held by men; recognises the Engender report, Sex and Power in Scotland 2017, which lays bare these statistics; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to a bill on gender representation on public boards; agrees that the lack of progress towards gender equality in the Parliament, councils and public boards is unacceptable; commends the Women 50:50 campaign and its evidenced-based call for legislative gender quotas.”

We move to the open debate, with speeches of up to six minutes, please.


It is a privilege to celebrate international women’s day 2017 by joining colleagues across the chamber in this debate. This can be a time to reflect on the many great achievements that have already been made across many continents, centuries and cultures by so many inspirational women—everyday heroines and national figureheads alike. However, it also a time to reflect on how much there remains to achieve. Although here in Scotland women undoubtedly have it better than in some other places around the world, we still have a long way to go.

I am reminded of the procession for women’s suffrage that took place here in Edinburgh in 1909. Known as the “Great Procession and Women’s Demonstration”, its theme was “What women have done and can and will do”—a theme that I am sure we can all agree is just as pertinent today as it was in 1909. The procession was organised by the suffragette Flora Drummond, who grew up on the Isle of Arran in Ayrshire. Flora was dubbed the General, in part for her efficiency as an organiser but perhaps more for her striking habit of leading women’s rights marches in full military-style uniform atop a large horse. Flora, like many suffragettes, was arrested and imprisoned many times for her campaigning. If the theme of this year’s international women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change”, I can think of few better examples of that than Flora Drummond’s.

Women such as Flora dedicated their lives—putting themselves at great personal risk—to arguing for what to us today is self-evident: that women are equal as citizens to men and should thus have the same right to vote. Those women who campaigned for our right to vote also paved the way for women to sit in this chamber and lead our country today. I feel proud that here in Scotland our Parliament has a female First Minister and a gender-balanced Cabinet, and that the three main political parties have women leading them. In that sense, we might say that the glass ceiling has been smashed, but with women making up 52 per cent of the population but only 35 per cent of MSPs, 25 per cent of local councillors and 16 per cent of council leaders, it is fair to say that there are simply not enough of us in the room.

Although women’s right to participate is no longer questioned, there is no doubt that women in the political workplace have distinct and serious issues to contend with, whether it is the media focusing more on their outfits than the content of their speeches or the more overt and demeaning sexism that is still far too common.

Does the member agree that one of those issues is women’s caring responsibilities, and that it is not true to say that that is not an issue in the Parliament, which does nothing to encourage carers into the Parliament?

My colleague Elaine Smith persistently makes her point well in debates such as this one.

In the case of women’s right to vote, the reality matches the legislation, but when it comes to women’s rights to equal pay and freedom from discrimination, although the legislation is there, the reality for women in their day-to-day lives does not always accord with it. For now, the legislation is more aspiration than reality. Legislation is one thing, but changing attitudes is quite another. Legislation can only ever be a step—albeit a very important step—on the road to fundamentally changing attitudes and culture.

Further, there remain crucial areas in which we do not yet have legislation in place to underpin the cultural shift that we must ensure follows. The Scottish National Party Government is taking positive steps to rectify that, with a key example being the domestic abuse bill that will come before Parliament this term. As well as ensuring that coercive and controlling behaviour can be dealt with more effectively, the proposed bill will also help to shape public attitudes by explicitly acknowledging that psychological abuse is unacceptable and criminal. That is important, because preventing and addressing violence against women demands that fundamental change in societal attitudes.

The Scottish Government’s current definition of prostitution is also important in sending a strong message—the “Equally Safe” strategy describes it unambiguously as a form of violence against women. However, under the current law in Scotland, the buying and selling of sexual access to women’s bodies for profit remains legal. I have to question what sort of message that sends today, as we all celebrate our campaign for gender equality.

I want to see more women in positions of power in our political institutions, in our public sector, media and cultural bodies and in our businesses. I commend all the work that goes into achieving that. However, on this international women’s day, when we are being asked to “Be Bold for Change”, I say that, as long as women and girls can be bought and sold like objects, there can be no equality and no social justice. Equality must be about all women, not just privileged and powerful ones. I look forward to working with colleagues across the chamber who are bold enough to make our shared aspiration of a fair and equal Scotland a reality.


I welcome this debate ahead of international women’s day and I am pleased to share a platform today with both male and female colleagues.

Last week, I helped to launch Women2Win Scotland with my friends and fellow MSPs Annie Wells and Alison Harris. At the event, both Ruth Davidson and Theresa May spoke passionately about empowering women into politics. Those women have much in common—both are role models, both help to lead the Conservative Party north and south of the border and both make a positive contribution to public life. They come from diverse backgrounds and trod different paths to the door of politics, but both got to where they are today on merit—by being the best at what they do.

It is important that women are empowered, not only here in the UK but further afield, both nationally and internationally.

I am in this Parliament as a result of an all-female shortlist. Would the member say that I do not have a right to be here and that I am not here on merit?

I think that we need to address the underlying issues within business and organisations that drive this kind of behaviour. I am glad that Gillian Martin is here on that basis. I am different because we did not have a gender selection process. I am here on my own merit, too.

The United Nations’ theme for international women’s day, which is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”, addresses the implications of the changing world of work for women, which include issues such as globalisation and technology as well as the growing informality of labour and the environmental impact of fiscal and trade policy.

Globally, as members will know, only 50 per cent of working-age women are represented in the labour force, compared with 76 per cent of men. Most women work part time or are the designated carer. What is more, an overwhelming majority of women are in the informal economy. Some 61.5 per cent of women are in services, while only 23 per cent of seats in Parliament are taken up by women and only 4 per cent of chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies are women. Internationally, there is much more work to do to provide opportunities for women and to break down barriers constructed by gender.

Will the member give way?

I would like to make some progress.

Last year, I welcomed a parliamentary delegation from Kenya with David Stewart MSP. I will read part of a letter that I received from one of the women representatives, which gives an insight into the difficulties that women face in emerging economies.

“I was delighted to hear that you are well represented by females in the Scottish Parliament. Here in Kenya, we hope that the same will become a reality one day. In our country, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. Most women in universities and colleges here tend to shy away from taking up courses that will open their way to achieving gender equality. We as women parliamentarians try our best to reach to those still in learning institutions to get them to take up courses leading to leadership roles.”

Conservative peer Baroness Jenkin—alongside Prime Minister Theresa May—has worked tirelessly to improve the number of women in the UK Parliament, and that has been a success. We have seen a doubling of female Conservative MPs since 2005, the latest recruit being Trudy Harrison MP, who achieved an historic victory in the Copeland by-election. She decided to stand after being inspired by the PM’s conference speech.

We still fight inequality at home in Scotland. Annie Wells touched on the recent study that found that women fill only 812, or 27 per cent, of the 3,029 top leadership positions in Scotland across politics, business, the public sector, the media, culture and sport. In Scotland, women are at the forefront of party leadership in politics, but in business, women continue to be underrepresented in senior management roles. Businesses need to encourage more women at the grass roots by creating more modern apprenticeships, work experience and sponsorships, so that women are nurtured and supported through their careers. A good example is Paula Nickolds, who joined John Lewis as a graduate trainee in 1994 and is now its first female managing director.

Of course, we do not see inequality only in the workplace. Fewer women work in high-paid sectors such as engineering, information technology and technology. A key element that we must strive for is a reduction in the gender pay gap, which many members have spoken about today. Unfortunately, in that regard, Scotland is falling behind the rest of the UK. The gender pay gap in Scotland for managerial positions is the highest in the UK, at £10,862, compared with the UK average of £8,964, according to the Chartered Management Institute. Also, in Scotland, the median gross pay for female workers has grown at the lowest rate of any UK nation, rising by only 1.5 per cent, compared with a UK average of 3.1 per cent.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am in my last minute—I am sorry.

Ending the gender pay gap is so important—not just for equality reasons, but also for economic ones. Ending the gap would add £17 billion to the economy—proving that equality makes economic sense. The UK Government recognises that, and so does the Scottish Government. We are working hard on all fronts to tackle gender inequality. That is why we have seen the gender pay gap fall to 18.1 per cent this year, and the UK has experienced its biggest year-on-year drop since 2010.

Presiding Officer, there is more to do—nobody says that there is not. We need to work together in this chamber to see women get to 50:50 in politics, in business and in every walk of life. I am confident that, with women at the wheel, helping to drive that message forward, working for gender equality will eventually become obsolete.


I am fed up with the type of things that we still have to do on international women’s day. I cannot be the only one who wants to see it change.

I cannot wait for the day when women do not have to use this day—or tomorrow—to draw attention to things that should have stopped decades ago. That will be the day when we do not have to rage against a world where FGM exists; or where girls are captured from a village and taken away to be sex slaves for Boko Haram and never heard of again; or where women still earn less than men over their lifetime; or where benefit sanctions are put in place that adversely affect women significantly more than men; or where women are still victims of domestic abuse, both mental and physical; or where universal credit is paid to only one person in a partnership, in a household, which means that women in abusive relationships have no financial independence.

I cannot wait for the time when, if a woman is attacked on a night out, people do not still think it important to know what she was wearing, how much alcohol she had had to drink and what her sexual history is—as if that were a factor in determining whether she really was a victim or just a daft lassie who had it coming.

I do not want the women against state pension inequality, or WASPI women, to have to take to the streets to get the pension that they are entitled to and for which they have worked all their lives.

I would like not to have to join my Catalan sisters—as I did two years ago, in Barcelona, on international women’s day—to protest about the constant threat of abortion being made illegal by right-leaning Governments. I would like to stop holding placards proclaiming that making abortion illegal only makes abortion deadly; it does not stop abortion. I would like to stop having conversations with women who are genuinely frightened that such a law could be brought back in at any time, putting the health and rights of women back decades in that country.

I would like to stop pressing for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee to take evidence on the gender pay gap, as we started to do this very morning, and then to hear—as we did—that, in the financial services industry, men earn 83 per cent more in bonuses than their female counterparts do.

I would really like to stop having to explain on Twitter to people from all over the country that pay inequality did not end with the Equal Pay Act in 1970, so that everything is all right now and I can stop bleating on about it. While I am on the subject of Twitter, I would like to see my female political friends and colleagues being challenged on their political ideas, rather than being subjected to misogynist abuse because someone disagrees with them. I would also like to see First Ministers or Prime Ministers not reduced by the media to shoes—or to Miley Cyrus impersonators or Dalmatian-loving Disney cartoon characters, for that matter.

I would like to say—with utter conviction—to my daughter that if she studies and works hard, she will not have to worry about reaching the very top of her profession, even if she falls in love with someone and has kids with them, because caring will be everyone’s responsibility and no one will ever assume that it is just her job. I would like to tell her that no boss will ever say to her that it is a shame that she is going off to have a baby, because he was under the impression that she was interested in her career—just like my former boss said to me when I had my daughter’s older brother 18 years ago.

I would also like to see an end to the UK Government rape clause, which penalises a woman financially if she has more than two children unless she can prove that she has been raped.

Let us get rid of the marches happening all over the world in March this year that will be full of pussy-hatted women waving placards condemning pussy-grabbing presidents. One of my favourite placards is the one that says “I can’t believe we still have to protest this”—or swearier variations of that. That is how I feel.

Let us replace those marches with a carnival celebrating the fact that we have educated people that it is not okay to force yourself on a woman, no matter who you are, and that no one who ever suggests that it is okay will ever get within an inch of power. Let us turn international women’s day into a celebration of the achievements of women, as my friend and colleague Ruth Maguire advocated so eloquently in her speech. Let us study those achievements in our history classes in schools. Let us have lessons that have as much Winnie Ewing in them as they do Winston Churchill, that have Elsie Inglis being celebrated as a war hero alongside Field Marshall Montgomery, and that rightly paint Flora MacDonald as the type of strong woman who a prince in distress needs to get him out of Dodge when the going gets too tough for the lad, rather than as any kind of silly love interest. Let us get to the position where we do not ever answer “Watson and Crick” to a pub quiz question about who discovered DNA, but answer “Watson, Crick and Rosalind Franklin”. If I ever run a quiz and members give the former answer to that question, they will get only half a point.

Let us look forward to an international women’s day that is wholly about celebration, and does not have to be about all the things that we thought we would be done with banging on about long before now.


I will be very pleased to support the Labour amendment. I cannot support the Conservative amendment, as I believe that Conservative austerity perpetuates gender inequality.

The eve of international women’s day 2017 is a good day to talk about sex and power. As we have heard, women make up 52 per cent of the Scottish population, but we do not see that reflected in our Parliament and we see it even less so in council chambers across the country. Yes, three of our major parties are led by women, and they are fantastic role models for young and old alike. Yes, we have a First Minister who helped deliver Scotland’s first gender-balanced Cabinet. Yes, many parties, including my own, operate a gender-balancing system to select candidates, and the SNP used all-women shortlists for the first time in the 2016 Holyrood elections. When people suggest that women should be elected on merit, they are asserting that women are less able than men and that that is why fewer of them are elected.

Yet women make up just 35 per cent of members of the Scottish Parliament, 25 per cent of local councillors and 17 per cent of members of the European Parliament. That is why I, along with Kezia Dugdale, founded women 50:50, which is the campaign for at least 50 per cent representation of women in our Parliament, in our councils and on public boards.

It is not just that we have a long way to go to be a diverse and inclusive Parliament—it is that we are going backwards. At the time of the Parliament’s inception in 1999, 37 per cent of MSPs were women. That number has now dropped—although not by a lot—to 35 per cent. It is no coincidence: across the world, voluntary approaches have seen progress stall or regress at a saturation point of around 35 per cent in recent years. That means that the time for voluntary approaches is over. Women 50:50 wants legislation that would mean that at least 50 per cent of candidates that parties put forward in the Scottish Parliament and council elections must be women. We want similar legislation for public boards.

As members know, the theme of this year’s international women’s day is, “Be bold for change”. On Saturday, when I sat in the public gallery, there were women on every seat in this chamber. I heard from Linda from Ghana, who spoke about the impact that fair trade had made on her life. I heard a heartfelt emotional plea from African women who asked the Scottish Parliament to do all that we can to end female genital mutilation.

We need to take bold, decisive action now to secure proper representation in our workforce for women, those who are disabled and the BME community.

Women should be equally represented in civil and political life and it is not just the Scottish Parliament that is lagging behind. Members will be aware of these figures, but they bear repetition. Women make up 28 per cent of public body chief executives, 26 per cent of university principals and 7 per cent of senior police officers. Women are 63 per cent of secondary school teachers, but only 41 per cent of headteachers. Women are 19 per cent of major museum and art gallery directors and just 14 per cent of national sport body chief executives. Most shockingly of all, women are 0 per cent of CEOs of top businesses and—as Annie Wells suggested—no women are major newspaper editors so it is no wonder that, when reading the papers, one would think that women in Scotland do not play sport. Laura Muir, for example, had to break a European record and win two gold medals to gain coverage, but it is quite normal for newspapers to report, at length, a lower-league football match that men happen to have taken part in.

White, non-disabled men hold the most power in Scotland and they will continue to do so unless we take deliberate action to change our attitudes and cultural expectations about leadership and authority, and to break down the barriers that women face. Those include structural issues such as a lack of flexible work, unlawful harassment and discrimination, through to the insidious assumption that women do not belong around tables where decisions are made.

One of the biggest barriers to gender equality is the economic inequality between women and men in Scotland. If someone is struggling to buy their tea or pay their bus fare, they are less likely to become involved in politics. Inequality exists in the formal economy where the gender pay gap and lack of access to sustainable jobs means that women earn less and have less influence than men. However, to understand the full story of women in work—Elaine Smith focused on this issue—we need to look beyond paid work and consider the invisible work that is carried out by women, largely.

We know that women devote twice as much time to household work as men and that at least 62 per cent of unpaid carers are women. Unpaid work props up our economy, but it is not included in the calculations of Governments and international financial institutions. All the unpaid caring that women—and some men—do for children, sick and disabled people, and older people goes uncounted, despite its enormous contribution to our economy and social wellbeing. I am pleased to support Engender’s call to make such work visible by gathering women’s accounts of days in which they work in the formal labour market, but also plan meals, buy groceries, do laundry, collect medicines for family members, provide personal care for children and older people, cook, clean and manage their households. I acknowledge that there are exceptions, but how many men in the chamber can say the same?

The World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap will not close entirely until 2186, which is too long to wait. We need to be bold for change. Until women make up at least 50 per cent of Parliament and 50 per cent at every level of Government and until there is a complete reduction in violence against women, we will not have had the change that we need.

International women’s day was called international working women’s day and I believe that that was a more appropriate name for this celebration.


March 8 is an important date for women around the world each year, whether in the first or third world, or in developed or developing countries, or rich or poor countries. It is a day on which we remind ourselves of the struggle to achieve equality that so many women have fought and died for over the decades and centuries. It is also a stark reminder of how far we have still to go. No matter the issue—equal pay, employment opportunities, gender-based violence or respect and recognition for achievements and roles in society—women are still fighting for equality and parity.

That is why we must be bold for change: the hashtag #BeBoldForChange is the defining theme of international women’s day in 2017. To be bold, women must be seen and heard, we must act on our beliefs and promises, and we must lead. Improving female representation in the workplace is a challenge for any Government, unless it is bold. The Scottish Government’s initiative, “Partnership for change 50:50 by 2020”, is a step in the right direction, but when we see the statistics on female representation on boards of public and private organisations, we can see that it is not enough. There is no female chief executive officer in any of Scotland’s top companies and only one in four company directors is female. In the public sector, only 28 per cent of chief executives are women. When we compare those figures to the fact that women make up 52 per cent of Scotland’s population, we should be embarrassed as a nation that women are not offered the same opportunities as men. The reasons for that are social and economic, and they go back decades, if not centuries.

It is less than 100 years since women won the right to vote, and we are still underrepresented in public and political life. The Engender briefing for today’s debate shows that although there has been an increase in the proportion of female Government ministers, members of Parliament, and local authority chief executives, the total of each is no more than 25 per cent. We know there is still a lot of work ahead, so regardless of party affiliation and political or religious beliefs, we should all work together as one to overcome the social and economic problems that leave many women behind.

As we have heard, the global gender pay gap is not expected to close until 2186—in 169 years—and means that our daughters, their daughters, their daughters and possibly even their daughters will still be paid less than men for the same work. Research tells us that the UK gender pay gap will close by 2069.

The gender pay gap does not reveal the many other ways in which women lose out in the work place. Women are more likely than men to be employed in part-time roles and tend to be socialised into taking on unpaid roles such as caring for children and elderly relatives. It is estimated that globally women spend an average of 4.5 hours per day on unpaid work. The difference is even greater in the developing world. It is thought that in India, for example, women undertake 6 hours of unpaid work each day, with men carrying out less than 1 hour. Where women do participate in the world of work, they tend to be concentrated in the low-paid and lower-skilled roles that are often referred to as the five Cs—cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering and caring work. Research also shows that only one in five people working in science, technology, engineering and maths jobs is a woman.

Occupational segregation is unfair not only to women who find that opportunities are closed to them, but to all. It is damaging to our cultures and societies that women cannot express themselves whole-heartedly or aim to achieve better for themselves or their children.

I take this opportunity to highlight some fantastic female role models in my home area of Renfrewshire. We have women running our airport, our college and our council, and taking on the most daring of challenges to raise money for charity. So, in closing, I praise Amanda McMillan of Glasgow airport, Audrey Cumberford of West College Scotland, and Renfrewshire Council’s Sandra Black and Provost Anne Hall.


I am delighted to participate in today’s debate ahead of international women’s day. International women’s day is an opportunity to celebrate women’s economic, social, cultural and political achievements. It is worth celebrating our progress, but let us not for a moment imagine that the job is done.

One of the themes of this year’s international women’s day is the hashtag #BeBoldForChange. We have made some bold changes already, but we should not be complacent or take progress for granted. We need concerted and deliberate action if we are to achieve gender equality.

One obvious thing that we should celebrate is that 60 per cent of our leaders of political parties that are represented in the chamber are women: our First Minister and the leaders of the two largest Opposition parties are women. They may well have different beliefs, but each one of those leaders is a fantastic role model and their success should be celebrated.

That is great progress, but members should not let such headline figures mislead them: many women are still not making it to the top. Women make up 52 per cent of the population, but anyone would be forgiven for thinking that we are a minority group, considering how poorly women are represented in political life. As others have said, only 35 per cent of MSPs are women, 25 per cent of local councillors are women, 16 per cent of council leaders are women and 17 per cent of MEPs are women. We know that women face persistent barriers to achieving leadership roles throughout their lives. Some of those are structural barriers, such as the lack of flexible work. Local authorities are the training ground for politicians. In the Highland Council area, where I come from, the huge distances and overnight stays that are needed make it difficult for young parents of either gender to get involved.

The most insidious barrier is the cultural assumption that women just do not belong in certain roles. Engender talk about the insidious cultural assumption that women do not belong around decision-making tables. Since I have become a politician, there have been many occasions on which I have been the only woman at the table. On one memorable occasion, I was the only woman at a table of 20—about which the organisers could not apologise to me enough. It is absolutely clear that there are not enough women in politics.

I was a leader in the brownies for many years, and Girlguiding UK is a fantastic organisation that definitely puts girls in the lead. A couple of years ago, I was helping the local guide unit with a politics badge—or “Go for its!”, as we call them. This one was called “Be the change”. I asked the girls to name powerful women. They were unusually quiet; they were unusually quiet for a long time. Then a young girl, who I think was about 10 years old, piped up: “This would be much easier if it was men you asked us to think of.”

If I achieve nothing else in my time as a politician, I hope that perhaps just seeing me here might inspire and empower other young girls who are growing up in the Highlands to think, “I can do that”.

We have talked about STEM subjects. When I was a teenager, I was a serious science geek and got good highers in mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. When it came to choosing my university course however, I chose to study pharmacy and became a health professional, not an engineer. I have reflected a lot on that choice. Do not get me wrong—I have no regrets. Nobody told me that I could not be an engineer; nonetheless, it never crossed my mind that I could.

The final point that I want to make is about the gender pay gap. Progress on the issue is painfully slow. Women working full-time in Scotland still earn on average 6.2 per cent less than men. Equalising women’s productivity could add almost £600 billion to the economy. It makes great business sense to close the gap.

The legislation on women’s equal pay was introduced before I was born, but I will, at the rate it is going, be nearly 100 years old by the time the gap closes. Even with legislation, that is the slow pace of organic change as advocated by my Conservative colleagues. Women should not have to wait that long for equality. We deserve it now.

One of the themes for this year’s international women’s day is the hashtag #BeBoldForChange. We should be bold: we should put ourselves forward, because when we get involved in men’s jobs, we do them well. I want all of us in this chamber to encourage young girls to realise that there are no limits to what we can achieve. So, sisters—I say this to all women in Scotland—be bold, be the change that you want to see in society, speak up, move out of your comfort zone, ask for a pay rise and ask for promotion. As we say in the girl guides, “Go for it!”

Alex Cole-Hamilton is next—you cannot be a sister but I am sure that you support those comments.


Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I rise to add my voice to those of the many members who have made excellent speeches this afternoon. I congratulate the Government on the consensual motion and the Labour Party on its excellent amendment. I will support both.

On the night of Tuesday 8 November, speaking from a hotel in San Francisco, newly elected Democratic senator Kamala Harris invoked the memory of a great champion for equality when, in a victory speech that was tinged with grief at the dawning realisation of a Trump presidency, she said:

“It is important to remember what Coretta Scott King taught us: that the fight for civil rights—the fight for justice and equality—must be fought and won with each generation. It is the very nature of this fight that whatever gains we make, they will not be permanent.”

The intervening weeks have shown, in stark relief, the measure of the challenge that befalls our generation in the struggle that we now face for equality in general and women’s rights in particular. International women’s day this year carries an import far deeper than in previous years because a cold, patriarchal misogyny has swept the democratic institutions of the United States. It is in policies that are defined by an Administration that passes off things such as sexual molestation as “locker-room talk”, with a commander-in-chief who is on public record stating his belief that women who seek to terminate their pregnancies, for whatever reason, should face some sort of sanction or punishment for that intensely private decision. If only we were all now witnessing a woman in that particular workplace.

However, as we unite in justified condemnation of the emergence of that misogyny overseas, we do well to remember the journey that our own nation is still on in terms of realising women’s rights, delivering equality and tackling violence against women, everyday sexism and body shaming here at home. However, as we have heard so many times this afternoon, nowhere are the frontiers more evident than in the workplace.

It is not fair to pick favourites among your constituents but I am sure that members will indulge me as I do just that. Her name is Darcy, she is two years old, and she runs my family. She is every bit as switched on and determined as her older brothers. She has a keen sense of justice—oh boy, does she have a keen sense of justice. I am quite determined that, as she progresses through education and into the workplace of her choosing, she will do so with the same opportunities and expectation of fair treatment as her brothers.

In 2030—the year that, for this international women’s day, we have identified as the year for 50:50 parity in the workplace—Darcy will turn 16. Like her peers, she will be sitting life-defining exams and looking with bright optimism towards a career. We will have failed her and the millions of little girls like her if she takes on the same job as her brothers but is valued less or is expected to bring home a smaller pay packet. We will have failed her if we do not ensure that the governance of the company or organisation that she seeks to join is made up of a balance of men and women. We will have failed her if her employer insists that, because of her gender, she must wear a certain type of heel or length of dress, on pain of dismissal.

It is astonishing that, in our enlightened times, we in this Parliament should still number off the battle lines where prejudice, underrepresentation and underemployment still hold sway in respect of women in the workplace.

It is on the issue of maternity discrimination that I want to focus. Towards the end of last year, I was visited by a constituent who, until the birth of her first child, had been the chief executive officer of a major national organisation. Overnight, her board seemed to turn against her; it managed her out very swiftly. She fought for justice for three years and, in many ways, she is still fighting today. She opened my eyes to an astonishing reality—in our country, 77 per cent of mothers in paid work still face, at some point, some kind of discrimination as a result of their motherhood, while only 3 per cent ever challenge that discrimination through internal procedures. Many lack the energy for the fight; many are not aware of their rights; and many simply no longer have faith in the system that did that to them. My own party took steps at the UK level to bring shared parental leave into the consideration of maternity leave in order to begin a turn in cultural expectations around parenthood, but we still have far to travel.

Delivering gender equality is not always straightforward and it is not always comfortable. It may often jar with long-held views of fairness and what is right. In what was an excellent speech—indeed, one of the finest that I have heard her deliver in her career—Monica Lennon explained the difficulties that we face in delivering gender equality in politics. My party grappled with the issue for many years, hoping that it would happen organically. However, it took the strength of our party leader, Willie Rennie, to deliver a change at our party conference that led to our first-ever all-women shortlists. I am proud that, as a result, our next Westminster candidate for Edinburgh West will be a woman.

Whether we are talking about the regressive assault on reproductive rights in America or the arcane structures and expectations of the workplace in this country, it is on these frontiers that a theme emerges: the way in which the decisions of men in positions of power shape the lives of women. That point was brought home to me with clarity when, in 2000, I spent the afternoon with Dr Carl Djerassi, an American scientist who invented the contraceptive pill. He was a passionate feminist, and he described to me the pressure that he came under in 1950s America to focus his research on a contraceptive pill for men. His response to that pressure was as elegant as it was brave. He explained to me that developing a pill for men would have done nothing about the nature of male control over the female reproductive system. In the early days of his research, he saw the liberation that that reversal of control could bring. He died last year, but I will seek to carry that spirit and to emulate his commitment in all that I do in the time that is afforded to me as a legislator. In that spirit, I will seek to build a better society for my daughter.


When are we going to live in a world that does not need to have an international women’s day? Why, in this futuristic 21st century, do we still need to fight for equality, parity and recognition? The reason why we need to stand together is because, for many women, there is no equality, parity or recognition. We live in a world in which a girl with a book who seeks an education gets a bullet in the head because men are afraid of her femininity. The power of an educated woman terrifies the patriarchy. Malala Yousafzai tells us that

“we cannot all succeed if half of us are held back.”

She is correct. We live in a world that still thinks that it is okay to use physical punishment and coercive control on wives and partners and which allows not-so-honourable honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

Today, in this modern world, 63 million girls of school age do not get an education. Not very modern, is it? The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund says:

“Girls’ education is both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”

Again I ask, why, in this digital and futuristic world, do we still have gender imbalance and inequality? Why, in this modern UK, do we have welfare reforms that have had a catastrophic detrimental effect on 86 per cent of all female claimants? Why do we have a Labour-controlled council in South Lanarkshire and many more councils spending—to their shame—millions of pounds fighting against giving women equal pay? Why do we have those things? Because, for some—not all—of the politicians in the Parliament, this is all just talk. That needs to change. I did not hear any of them speak up when Philip Davies MP attempted to filibuster during the debate on Eilidh Whiteford’s bill on domestic violence or when he described women as militant feminists—how very dare we seek equality? I heard no voices against him, so, please, spare me the fake indignation.

Why is it important to make a stand, raise our voices, become activists, march and campaign? I agree with Martina Navratilova when she says that

“the key for women is not to set any limits.”

I add that we should not let others set limits for us. That is why it is important. It is important that those of us who have some success have a duty to not pull up the ladder but to give a hand up to other women. Madeleine Albright also reminds us that

“there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help”

other women.

International women’s day is important because we have such a long way to go. In some senses, it feels like we are going backwards, especially when male MPs bark at female MPs in the so-called mother of all Parliaments and when the leader of the free world freely admits to physical sexual assault of women and passes it off as just locker-room banter. Trump’s actions and frankly misogynistic talk have given permission to many in the patriarchy to hark back to what we thought was a bygone age when assaulting, insulting and body shaming women was considered just a bit of fun or some “locker-room talk”. Well, it is not: it is not acceptable, it is not tolerable and we will not put up with it.

To highlight Trump’s disgusting remarks, women around the world are taking part in the pussy hat global project. They want to share, declare and wear their feminism, and why should they not? They intend to show that feminism and solidarity across the globe by wearing pink knitted hats. Only with solidarity, resilience, commitment and passion will we make this nation, the UK and the world a better place for women and girls—a place in which they feel safe, educated, valued and, most important of all, equal.

That is why we need the annual UN international women’s day. That is why we must continue to fight. That is why we should never stand down, shut up or not take the positions that we take. We need to raise our voices. That is why, with your indulgence, Presiding Officer, I stand here today with my many sisters around the world, wearing my pussy hat and declaring my oath that I will always stand for the equality, parity and recognition that we all deserve. Presiding Officer, indulge me to be bold for change.

I do, but can I ask you—

I will share, declare and wear my feminism with pride.

No, no, Ms McKelvie.

Who is with me?

Ms McKelvie—

I am done.

Naughty, naughty. Props are not allowed in the chamber. I will let this occasion pass by, but I do not encourage any props in the chamber from anyone.


I am delighted to speak in this debate on international women’s day, which is not of recent origin, as so many people assume, but has marked the progress of the rights of women for more than 100 years. I will talk for a few moments on the origins of the day.

The start of the 20th century was a time of agitation for women’s rights in a number of European countries, as well as in North America. In the UK, suffragettes such as Mrs Pankhurst and Emily Davidson were campaigning for the right to vote. That right would come in 1918, but only after women had shown through their work in the munitions factories and on the farms that they could take up roles that had traditionally been held by men. Even so, it was not until 1928 that women had the vote on equal terms.

In 1911, the first international women’s day was celebrated in a small number of countries, and in 1913 the day was fixed on 8 March. In 1975, the United Nations celebrated the event for the first time, which gave the day an immediate boost in status and recognition. In 1996, the UN gave further support by adopting an annual theme to focus on a particular aspect to advance the role of women.

In the 106 years since we first celebrated international women’s day, much has been done to progress the rights and standing of women, but as we have heard from previous speakers, much remains to be done. There has been a huge shift for the better in attitudes to women. In the vast majority of countries, including our own, women’s property rights, voting rights, and access to university, jobs, childcare and healthcare are all far better than they were in 1911.

In the Scottish Parliament, all three of the main parties’ leaders are women. However, we still have too few female MSPs. We have heard from Annie Wells what my party is doing to address that. In many areas, glass ceilings have been broken and talented women have won through on merit. For instance, 20 years ago, women sports presenters were unheard of.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not, at the moment. Please allow me to continue.

I am just old enough to remember when a woman would take passengers’ bus fares but was never the bus driver, or when a woman airline pilot would cause more than a few comments. Let us not forget the progress that women here in the UK have made, but we should also not forget what still needs to be done to create equality for women. As well as the lack of women making the laws, we should also be concerned about the lack of women employed in upholding the law. Only 7 per cent of senior police officers, 13 per cent of Queen’s counsels and 23 per cent of sheriffs are women. I do not believe that we need quotas or all-women shortlists, but we need to do far more to encourage women to apply for senior posts, whether in law—

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

No—I am going to continue.

We need to encourage women to apply for senior posts in law, business, science, technology and academia. The Conservative UK Government will continue to seek to eradicate anything that causes anyone to feel that the work of a woman doing the same job as a man is less worthy of reward and respect. I am proud that my party, as we have heard, has given our country two female Prime Ministers, and that the current and immediate past leaders of the Scottish Conservatives have been women. I also want to highlight another reason why I am proud—

Will the member give way?

No. I would like to continue. I am sorry.

I want to mention another reason why I am so proud of my party. I have talked of the advances that have been made by women in the UK, while acknowledging—

Will the member take an intervention on that point?


Will you take any interventions, Ms Harris?

No, I will not, thank you. I need to continue.

I have talked about the advances that have been made by women in the UK, while acknowledging that there is still a lot more that needs to be done if we are to continue to make progress.

I turn now to the improvements in the lives of women in the poorest countries on earth that result from UK aid. As a nation, we meet our target of devoting 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product to overseas aid. It is not always popular with voters, but it is the right thing to do. It is used to ensure that children—girls as well as boys—in poor countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe get a chance to make more of their lives through better health and education.

It provides money for training women like Fatima in Ghana, who wanted to earn money to support her children by sewing clothes. She now has a start-up loan which has enabled her to buy a sewing machine. Rima from Bangladesh faced disaster when she fell pregnant and her employer refused to give her maternity pay. UK aid provided the funds for a local agency to go to court to force the employer to pay up, thereby winning not only for Rima, but for a number of other employees. Those are just two stories, but there are millions of other women in the third world whose lives have been changed for the better by UK aid.

A hundred years on, I do not know whether Mrs Pankhurst and Emily Davison would be surprised by the extent of the progress that women have made, or disheartened by the lack of it. Perhaps, as Miss Davison was a schoolteacher, the report card might say, “Good progress, but must try harder.” I look forward to celebrating international women’s day tomorrow.


I have spoken at many debates on international women’s day over the years. I have tended to focus on my background in science and technology, and today is no different. As many contributors this afternoon have done, I would like to highlight some of my heroes from that world.

If we think of astronomy and the stars and mention the name Cox, many people will think of Brian Cox, but I immediately think of Nagin Cox—a United States Air Force pilot who went on to join the jet propulsion laboratory at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, who has worked on both the Mars Rover and the Galileo missions, and who is now one of the senior managers in the Curiosity Rover projects at NASA. She is an absolutely inspiring woman.

We can also look to the past at NASA. Valerie Thomas was a NASA inventor who was inspired as a young woman by picking up in her local library “The Boys’ First Book of Radio and Electronics”. Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember those boys’ books—and the girls’ books, which tended to be about such things as flower pressing. It is worth reflecting on how we discriminated at such an early age as to what young people’s ambitions and prospects could be. Thankfully, Valerie Thomas did not heed her teachers or her parents, who tried to dissuade her from a career in physics. Her inventions include the illusion transmitter, which is currently being used in three-dimensional television technology.

Although the rights of women merit attention in Holyrood today, Hollywood has also turned to the issue with the recent blockbuster movie “Hidden Figures”, which is a biopic that tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, who were collectively known as “computers in skirts”. They worked in the Redstone, Mercury and Apollo space programmes for NASA. Although their contribution has been widely unknown in the larger world until now, NASA has been very good at celebrating its women scientists. The movie is based on the book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race”. If I had a magic wand, I would change the name of that book. That is because I vividly remember Maya Angelou taking to task James Naughtie on “Bookclub” on Radio 4 for describing her as one of “America’s greatest black authors”. I wish that I had her voice, but I do not. She replied:

“I am one of America’s greatest authors, James. I just happen to be black.”

Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan were mathematicians who helped to win the space race. They just happened to be women and black.

Today of all days, it is incumbent on us to reflect on our use of language. On international women’s day, we reflect on whether our language seeks to pigeonhole, diminish, contain or categorise the achievements of women. If that is so, we are all complicit in unconscious bias. Research into unconscious bias is one of the new research areas that help us to understand why it is so difficult for women to achieve their full potential. Such bias is implicit and unconscious, and it happens in our brains incredibly quickly. We can make quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, and we do not even realise that we are doing it. It is influenced by our background, culture, experiences, education and the people with whom we mix and make contact.

The Equality Challenge Unit, which works to further and support equality and diversity among staff and students across the UK in our higher education institutions, has done recent evidence-based research on that. Research was used to identify and change practices that unfairly exclude, marginalise or disadvantage people. The evidence supports the idea that removing barriers to progression will bring greater success for all students—women and men.

The research also found that unconscious bias heavily influences recruitment and selection decisions. Several experiments using CV shortlisting exercises showed that male candidates were rated as better qualified than female candidates, that people wanted to hire males more often, that male candidates were given a higher starting salary, and that people were willing to invest more in male candidates in the selection process. We need to change that, understand unconscious bias, recognise it in every single one of us, and look to have screenings that make people anonymous.

I will finish with a quote from Maya Angelou, who said:

“It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it.”


As has been mentioned, the international women’s day campaign theme this year is “Be Bold For Change”, and there is the specific UN theme of women in the changing world of work. The World Economic Forum has predicted that the global gender gap will not close entirely until 2186, so being bold and taking action are undoubtedly needed.

International women’s day provides the opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women past and present in helping to progress the gender agenda, to tackle inequality and to fight back against poverty. If we look at the landscape around us, although we see a great many statues and memorials, few celebrate women. The majority of statues are of slave-owning men, wealthy landowners and military figures, which reminds us of our cruel imperialist capitalist history.

Many famous working-class women in the past, such as Janet Hamilton, Jennie Lee and Mary Barbour, challenged poverty, injustice and inequality. They epitomised the idea of being bold for change. Ruth Maguire and Gillian Martin made that point well. I want to see more statues and memorials of women in this country.

International working women’s day was first declared by the German socialist Clara Zetkin in 1910, and 8 March was subsequently chosen in tribute to Manhattan’s women textile workers, who went on strike for decent working conditions. If we go back further, the early struggles for women’s rights were entwined with workers’ rights. The mill girls’ strikes of the 1840s and the match girls’ strikes of 1888 are examples of heroic struggles against barbaric working conditions, low pay and long hours. The action of women in trade unions led the then Labour Government to introduce the bill that led to the Equal Pay Act 1970 but, as we know, the equal pay battles are still being fought.

To look specifically at the UN theme of women in the changing world of work, I will consider some of the barriers to work for women in 21st century Scotland. In addition to the gender pay gap, we know that women are underrepresented in senior roles and that that must be addressed, but there are other barriers to women entering and progressing in the workplace, of which the most obvious is education. Only 18 per cent of computing students and 16 per cent of engineering students are women, although those subjects are identified as being key to our economic future. Mary Fee and Maree Todd made that point.

The affordability of childcare is another barrier that remains. Many women are trying to fit part-time hours around their partners’ work, as they simply cannot afford nursery fees—the free hours do not cover a working day—or they are relying on their mothers. Women parliamentarians work long hours. They might be privileged, as the cabinet secretary said, but they still have caring responsibilities, and non-family-friendly practices will not encourage other women to join us in this place.

There are specific health issues that are barriers to women being economically active, and I will mention some modern-day women campaigners on that. Mesh implants have left many women with appalling injuries and unable to work. We in Scotland could have led the way on protecting women from that health scandal but, instead, the campaigners Elaine Holmes and Olive McIlroy have resigned from the inquiry and said that they have been betrayed. They believe that the report is a whitewash, that it ignores the evidence and that it focuses on an agenda that is led by pro-mesh surgeons, most of whom are probably men. I hope that the Government will look seriously at the issue.

Another women’s health scandal—the vast majority who are affected are female—concerns how thyroid sufferers are treated. Until the 1970s, desiccated thyroid hormone was used to treat women with an underactive thyroid. The hormone contains everything that is needed, including T4 and T3. However, synthetic thyroxine, which includes T4 only, was invented and big pharma could make money out of it. Putting aside the women who are not diagnosed or—this is shocking—who are told that they are borderline cases by general practitioners, we know that at least 10 per cent of patients do not do well on T4 alone. Symptoms include severe fatigue, fibromyalgia and depression, which can all impact on women’s ability to work.

Lorraine Cleaver has been taking forward the issue by petitioning the Parliament—for more than four years—for proper diagnosis and treatment. Currently, women are suffering on T4; those who are lucky enough to be on T3 are fighting, because of the rocketing costs, to keep it, or they are buying desiccated thyroid hormone on the internet. I make a plea to the Scottish Government to take that women’s issue seriously, to commission proper research and to support an inquiry. The issue also has serious economic impacts for the affected women and the national health service.

A related issue is that of pain sufferers, many of whom are women. It has taken Dorothy-Grace Elder to uncover the scandal of waiting-time failures for chronic pain sufferers, as outlined in yesterday’s Herald.

Many women in Lanarkshire are waiting up to 24 weeks for initial appointments for joint replacements. That is unacceptable. Many of them are older women who care for husbands or grandchildren. The pain that they are in is shocking. Even a purely economic perspective suggests that such waits cannot continue.

All those cases need bold action. They all impact on women in the workplace and on the invisible work that women do to support our society, which Alison Johnstone outlined extremely well in her excellent speech.

There are many women in Scotland who are campaigning for women’s rights and improved conditions. I mentioned some of them; many others, including many young women, are fighting through their trade unions and through campaigns such as better than zero.

Members of the Scottish Parliament are in a position—and have a duty—to take action and demand that the Scottish Government delivers for women. Let us be bold and fight for change that builds on the achievements of all the brave women who went before. Let us stop the discrimination and remove the barriers in the workplace that hold women back, so that we deliver a fairer, more equal and prosperous 21st century Scotland.


I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to celebrate international women’s day, and I support the amendment in Annie Wells’s name.

It is vital to consider how to empower women in Scotland and it is important to reflect on where the celebration started. International women’s day originated with sporadic celebrations as early as 1909, and the Soviet Union played a major role. I lived for nine years in Azerbaijan, which is one of only 30 countries that recognise international women’s day with a non-labour holiday, so I have had the fortune of celebrating the day here and abroad.

Created out of the fall of the Russian empire in May 1918, Azerbaijan was arguably the first successful attempt to establish a democratic state in the Muslim world. We often find ourselves looking towards the middle east, Russia and the far east and criticising countries—rightly so, in many cases—for their lack of progress on equalities. However, we should not just criticise; we should celebrate countries’ achievements and encourage them to go further in the universal quest for equality.

As we know, women in the UK did not gain equal voting rights until 1930. Azerbaijan, however, granted women equal political rights in 1919, which made it the first Muslim-majority country to enfranchise women. In 1934, Azerbaijan had its first female Cabinet minister—she was appointed just five years after our own Margaret Bondfield was appointed Minister of Labour. The situation was reversed when, in 2009, Azerbaijan appointed its first female major-general, a full six years before the UK promoted Susan Ridge. In Mehriban Aliyeva, the current vice-president, Azerbaijan has a candidate to emulate our own proud record of female leaders.

A matriarch of my family—my late grandmother, Gina Philips—was chief president in the St John Ambulance brigade, in a role that took her around the world championing not just health but women. Through her, I was lucky enough to meet an icon for women not just in Russia but around the world: Valentina Tereshkova, who holds the momentous title of the first woman to go into space. She was an amazing person and I was honoured to spend a day with her at Star City, outside Moscow, to see the difficult circumstances in which she showed women that they could literally reach the stars.

Let us look closer to home and consider what we are doing to help women in our communities. Just last week at First Minister’s question time, I asked the First Minister whether she was as disappointed as I was to hear that a nursery in my constituency will be hit with a business rate hike of 65 per cent. That means inevitable cost increases for parents, which will prevent parents—predominantly mothers—from returning to work.

I get that there are issues for businesses that face increased business rates and I am pleased that the member is so concerned about the issue. Does that mean that Conservative members of Aberdeenshire Council will vote alongside my colleagues in the SNP on 9 March on the proposed local government rates relief scheme that is to be put in place?

I think that my Conservative colleagues in Aberdeenshire Council, like councillors throughout Scotland, will have to vote for rates relief, given the limited funds that they have because of the Scottish Government’s cutbacks.

The First Minister’s response to my question at FMQs was to attack my colleagues. What relief does the hike in business rates give to the mothers who cannot go back to work? What relief does it give to parents who are trying to give their children early education? The answer is simple: it gives them no relief. Given that international women’s day this year is focusing on increasing women’s participation in the workplace, I hope that the First Minister will reconsider her response.

We have heard many times from the SNP that we should introduce gender quotas. I am pleased that my fellow Scottish Conservative colleagues and I are arguing against quotas, which do not help to address the root cause of the issue to do with getting women into work.

Many Scottish Conservative speakers have acknowledged that we all—although it applies to some of us more than others—have a problem with female representation in the Parliament. How long are the Conservatives prepared to wait to have equal representation? How long is it acceptable to wait?

I think that all women would want to be here because of ability. If someone enters a race and 50 per cent of the opposition are removed from that race, that can only diminish their achievements. [Interruption.]

You have stirred things up a bit, Mr Burnett.

Is the member suggesting that there are far more able men than able women in the Conservative Party? Is he asserting that women are less able than men?

Mr Burnett, be brief.

Absolutely not. The point of my speech, and what many other people have been saying, is that the issue is not about ability but about how we get people to that point. It is the factors in people’s lives—mainly in women’s lives—before they get to the point of competing to be a candidate for this place that are holding them back. That is not about ability and is not about people in the chamber. It is a question of how we help women to have the opportunity to put themselves in a position to make such a step.

Helping women into work and into positions of power, which is exactly the point, is done by making the playing field as level as possible. It can be as simple as keeping nursery fees down, so that it pays for a mother to return to work. Who knows what women could achieve if they were not being trapped by policy?

The women in Azerbaijan, Russia and the UK who achieved equal political rights did not need a gender quota. Nobody wants to get a job just because they tick a box.

I call Stewart Stevenson as the last speaker in the open debate.


It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk about international women’s day. I will say a few words about legislative issues.

We currently have the Great Reform Bill before the Parliament at Westminster. We might remind ourselves that the previous Great Reform Bill, in 1832, removed the right of women to vote. The electorate in those days was very small and there was a property qualification, but women who met that qualification and who were not married or were head of household could vote. That danger exists with the Great Reform Bill today, as it potentially takes away rights and equalities for a wide range of people.

The year 1893 was important in legislative terms. New Zealand, which was the first jurisdiction in the world to allow equal voting for men and women, led the way. In the UK, some progress, but not very much, was made with the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act 1893—the fifth such act since 1870—which, for the first time, allowed women to own property in their own right, rather than it being the property of their husbands.

In 1917—in particular, 100 years ago tomorrow—there was a strike and a protest by the women of Russia. The bread and peace strike and protest led, only four days later, to the fall of the czar and then the white Russian revolution, which later in the year led to the red Russian revolution. Women have influenced politics for a long time.

The cabinet secretary referred to Ban Ki-moon. The United Nations Charter, which was adopted in 1945, was the first international agreement that included within it the fundamental principle of equality between men and women. The United Nations is to be commended for its early action on the subject.

On 1 January 1975, the Equal Pay Act came into operation. My wife rejoiced, because that was the first time in her career that she had been able to enter her company’s pension plan. She was in the plan right to the point of her retirement, but the problem of her entering it late affected her pension; it is some 20 per cent lower than it might have been. Even something that happened in 1975 continues to have effects to this day.

My wife, who worked in the finance industry, was pretty much on her own, because there was only one other woman at senior level. She specialised in investment trusts and used to go to the Association of Investment Companies annual dinners, where she was one of only two women among the 300 or 400 people there. She was fortunate that Joe Gormley, then the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, who was one of the biggest investors as the chair of the miners’ pension fund, insisted that my wife always sat next to him—and he always bought the drink. He was a sexist, but that sometimes worked in some people’s favour.

I am slightly surprised that members are saying that there are no serious businesspeople, because my wife was a mentor to Audrey Baxter, who is the executive chairman of Baxters Food Group. There are, exceptionally, some women at senior levels in some businesses in Scotland.

On a personal level, I point to my Aunt Daisy, who worked in a munitions factory in the first world war, where she lost one of her fingers in an industrial accident—she was one of very many who did so. Curiously enough, when my mother first voted, she had two votes because she was a university graduate and they got an additional vote.

There are some female heroes whom it is worth having a wee think about. My professional career, which started in the 1960s, was in computers. Ada Lovelace, who was Charles Babbage’s programmer in the 1860s and 1870s, was the person who invented—look it up—the algorithmic approach to programming, which underpins the way in which we do things today. However, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, who programmed the Harvard mark 1 computer in the United States in 1944, was the real founder of the way in which we do programming today. It was because of the bug—that is the American word for a moth—that she found in the computer that, to this day, we use that word for an error in a computer programme.

Tomorrow is daffodil day, and the Marie Curie nurses will have a stand in the Parliament. Marie Curie was the first and only person to win two Nobel prizes in two different scientific disciplines. Is she not a hero to aspire to?

An example of how things were not so good is Steve Shirley, the founder and chief executive of a consultancy company called FI Group in the 1970s. We might think that Steve is a man’s name, and she intended that we think it so, although she is actually called Stephanie. She used the name Steve so that, until she eventually appeared before her clients, they did not know that she was a woman, and she was very successful indeed.

Today, on climate justice—which is a real women’s issue—Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, is leading the way in ensuring that we do the right things.

Fairness for women in no way diminishes men; rather, it rewards all of us in society, because equality for all is a necessary prerequisite of fairness for all.

We move to the closing speeches.


It has been a pleasure to take part in the debate on international women’s day and to have a debate conducted mainly by the women in this Parliament, although I thank the men who have joined us on this important day.

We are 52 per cent of the population, and that is a majority—probably the only majority that we will hear about in the debate. As other members have said, Engender has calculated that, at the current rate, it will take 169 years to close the gender gap—that is six or seven generations, depending on how we count it.

No major newspaper editors are women, there are no women chief executive officers in the FTSE 100 companies and, as other members have said, there are pitiful numbers of women in senior positions in our police force. As Monica Lennon said, no black or ethnic minority women have been members of this Parliament and, as I said in a previous debate, lesbian women were not even acknowledged by the law until recent times, when the UK Parliament legislated to equalise the age of consent at 16.

It is a wee bit alarming that some of our sisters across the chamber—for today’s purposes, I will call them that—such as Annie Wells are proud of the two women Prime Ministers that we have had. That is fair enough, but they have not attempted to answer Tom Arthur’s question about the impact on women of benefit cuts. It will probably be women who will fare worst under Brexit and continuing benefit cuts.

Another point that has been on my mind is that the Tories talked about Margaret Thatcher in a proud way as an example of women’s achievements, but she promoted only one female MP to her Cabinet in her entire time as Prime Minister.

I know very few feminists who would agree that the fact that a woman is at the top means that we have become emancipated, so I agree with the member’s point.

Women have faced prejudice through the ages and, as other members have said, women have paid with their lives when campaigning for the right to vote. It is staggering that women in France did not receive a vote until 1944; and those of us who have watched the movie will know that Saudi Arabia did not have women voting until 2011. We know that internationally, as many members have said, women and girls have faced abhorrent discrimination.

We cannot always legislate such attitudes away and we know that sexism is inherent in societies. I want to address the question of quotas for that reason. Quotas and positive action can enforce important changes that can skip generations. The Scottish Parliament would be poorer if we did not have members such as Gillian Martin and Rachael Hamilton, but Alison Johnstone is right to say that if the quota of female members in the Parliament is left to voluntary action and accident, we will never get there. Only 19 per cent of MSPs in the party in this chamber that is opposed to 50:50 women’s representation are women.

Like Gillian Martin in her party, I arrived in this Parliament because the Labour Party had 50:50 representation for women. I was selected, along with Donald Dewar, in 1999. If I had not had the chance to fight for selection for Glasgow Kelvin against seven other women, I would not be here today. It is up to the sisters who believe in the feminist movement to champion change. If the Tory women MSPs think that quotas have no role, are they prepared to wait 169 years for 50:50 representation?

Does the member acknowledge that, in the previous session of Parliament, 40 per cent of the Scottish Conservatives’ parliamentary party were women?

What has happened since then? I would like to know. Scotland was third in the world for women’s political representation. Is it good enough that we are into double figures in that regard? I do not think so.

I will address a point that was made very ably by Ruth Maguire earlier in the debate. She said that there are not enough women in the room. We know that, but most women will say that in every meeting that they go to, they are pretty much always in the minority. There should be no woman or, indeed, man who does not realise that it is men who put up the barriers for women—I am sorry, but that has to be said. That is often why women lose their confidence and think that maybe there is no future for them in their field. I therefore believe that quotas have their place.

We had an interesting history lesson from Stewart Stevenson, and another such lesson is that in 1819 Mary Anne Evans wrote as George Eliot. However, we have learned only recently that publishers advised our contemporary J K Rowling that young male readers might be deterred by a female author, which is why she adopted the initials that she did.

There have been many firsts for women in history, but I will mention only one. I played football when I was 11 and I also wanted to be a referee, but my father said, “There will never be a woman referee at Celtic park.” I believe that there will be, and I praise Kylie McMullan, who made history in 2014 as the first Scottish woman referee—and, yes, any man can challenge me on the offside rule and I will show that I know what it is.

The minister referred in her opening remarks to discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy. That is the area that we must tackle the most. I know of a woman who had a high-risk pregnancy and suffered pregnancy discrimination but could not apply to a tribunal in time to meet the three months’ deadline for applications because she had to leave her job before the three months was up. We must recognise that employment law must be appropriate for women in such circumstances. I wonder whether the minister would support having an extension of the three months’ application period to six months. The issue is reserved, but the Scottish Parliament could certainly comment on it.


I reaffirm our strong commitment to and support for international women’s day, which takes place tomorrow, and I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for bringing the debate to the chamber this afternoon.

Gillian Martin and Clare Adamson gave us a lot of important information on what we should do to celebrate women who have made their way in the world, and I am grateful to them for that. Stewart Stevenson did likewise, raising some very important points in one of the history lessons that we traditionally get from him. Alison Johnstone also raised important points. She spoke about the tremendous feats of Laura Muir, and I hope that she, along with other members, will sign the motion that I have lodged to support the remarkable attributes of Laura Muir, who is one of our best female athletes.

As Stewart Stevenson rightly said, we should be celebrating the visitors to the Parliament this week, who have been showcasing the work of Marie Curie. Stewart Stevenson explained exactly why we should do that. She is a prime example of an inspirational woman on whom we can base our approach to the future. However, whether we think of Marie Curie, Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc, Emmeline Pankhurst or Eleanor Roosevelt, we must recognise that they were all instrumental in standing up against the orthodoxy of their time and that they all made untold sacrifices in their efforts to change the world for the better. They had that special mix of courage, bravery and a determination to prove that women had a key role to play despite their being in a male-dominated world where they found themselves confronted with so many barriers. In Emmeline Pankhurst’s words,

“We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.”

Those are wise words indeed if we consider carefully exactly what she meant.

Of course, in those days, the discrimination that women faced was painfully obvious. In today’s world, we would have no second thoughts about righting the wrongs. We have come a long way since those days, but that does not mean that we have solved the problem—far from it. Our biggest challenge is to deal with the hidden discrimination that goes unnoticed.

The Scottish Government’s motion references research that shows that increasing female leadership and gender equality in the workforce can benefit the workplace, society and the economy. On that note, I am sure that members noticed in yesterday’s Herald the very interesting interview with Tricia Nelson. Ms Nelson is an equity partner in professional services firm EY’s Glasgow office and heads up the transport section alongside her role as the head of talent for the UK advisory division. She is a keen advocate of driving equality and diversity in the workplace, and she believes that addressing issues of gender parity is critical for Scottish businesses, pointing to the empirical evidence on improved financial performance and increased share price in a stronger economy. She noted in the interview that

“the more diverse the team, the better the business outcome”,

and I strongly agree with her on that. However, she went on to develop an analysis of the barriers that stand in the way, including what she describes as unconscious bias, which makes the solution all the harder to achieve.

Several members highlighted the gloomy research that the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee has cited during its inquiry into the gender pay gap. As Mary Fee rightly pointed out, we might get somewhere if we wait until 2069. That is an appalling state of affairs, and we must all be concerned about it.

The member has talked about how long things might take to change, and about unconscious bias. However, the research on unconscious bias tells us that there are things that we can do. We can increase the diversity of presenters, invite different people along to speak to us and anonymise recruitment processes. Does she agree that there are things that we can do to tackle that bias?

Yes—absolutely. Some good suggestions are coming from down south, where the gap, albeit that it still exists, has been reduced over the past few years. The gap has reduced more quickly there than it has in Scotland partially because of some of those groundbreaking new initiatives. The member is absolutely right to highlight them.

I come to the point about gender equality and the 50:50 situation. I hear what members say about that, but I cannot support it—although not because I have any prejudices about special targets and so on. I cannot support it because if we adopt those targets, we will actually prevent some very strong people from coming in on either an all-female list or an all-male list. I worry about that greatly. I understand where members are coming from, but I certainly want a situation in which there is extensive merit. By definition, we will not, through targets—

Will the member take an intervention?

Yes, of course.

I represent Central Scotland for the Conservative Party. I have two colleagues—Alison Harris and Margaret Mitchell—so the region is represented by two females and one male. Does Liz Smith agree that those two very talented females got there entirely on merit and had no requirement at all for any artificial system?

Yes, absolutely. I agree—and I am sure that Graham Simpson was part of the group who got here on the basis of talent.

If we go for very strict target-based applications, by definition, we will miss out on some people who might have got in because they have the talent to—

Will the member take an intervention?

No. I am in my last minute, am I not, Presiding Officer?


I will finish, because I am in my last minute and the cabinet secretary wants to speak. I know that some members want the cabinet secretary to deal with specific issues.

When we make those calls, we have to be very clear in our own minds about exactly what the implications are. That is something that I think has tremendous resonance. It applies to job applications, too. If we are going to be politically correct the whole time, we should be aware of some of the consequences.

I am very happy to support the amendment in the name of Annie Wells.

I call Angela Constance to wind up the debate.


We have had many varied and interesting speeches this afternoon, ranging from the historical to the more contemporary, and from those that took a very domestic focus to those that had a more international outlook. There have been some personal reflections on our hopes and dreams for our sons and daughters of the future.

I am perhaps the wrong person to agree with Gillian Martin, so I say this with my tongue somewhat in my cheek, but I agree when she says that women politicians should not be reduced to the shoes that they wear.

To Alexander Burnett, all I can say is, “Aye, you are a brave, if perhaps somewhat unwise, man”. It is interesting that no one ever asks whether the men are here on merit.

I agree with Pauline McNeill’s very specific point about employment tribunals and employment law. I would like to do more than express an opinion, and I regret that we do not have free rein over both employment and equality legislation. However, I am pleased that the Government has said that it will not introduce fees for employment tribunals, because what we have seen with such fees is a 75 per cent reduction specifically in pregnancy and maternity cases brought to tribunals—

Will the cabinet secretary give way?


The cabinet secretary will know that the fees for employment tribunals to which she refers are £250 to make an application, but £900 for a hearing. Obviously, that is an issue that affects men and women, but the fees are absolutely prohibitive.

Yes, they are. I thank Ms McNeill for that factual point.

Annie Wells said that she has the right to have her voice heard—and she absolutely does. She also said that she and her party have the right to express their opposition to what they call quotas—again, she is right. However, I also have the right—and, I contend, the responsibility—to point to the rights of the women who are missing from positions of power and influence, as aptly identified in the report “Sex and Power in Scotland in 2017”, which Engender published a few days ago.

I give the example of public sector boards. The decisions that the 74 public boards in Scotland make will affect every aspect of our lives. Women’s voices should be heard, and we should be active participants. We know that the evidence on gender balance demonstrates that boards that are balanced or which have more women on them perform better and make better decisions. There is overwhelming international evidence that increasing the participation of women at senior levels on public sector boards, or on private sector boards, is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.

In a nutshell, the draft Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill is about positive action to redress a current imbalance—the underrepresentation of women. I want to be clear about a few points. Positive action and appointment on merit are not mutually exclusive—let us dispel that myth. According to EU law, positive action can be used only where one gender—in this case, women—is underrepresented, and women can be appointed only on merit. The other myth that we need to dispel is that the situation is somehow one of positive action versus earlier action, systemic action or voluntary action. In fact, we have to take all those actions.

The bill, which we will debate at length in the weeks and months ahead, will do two things. It will set a duty in relation to the objective of achieving 50:50 gender balance, and it will require public sector boards to take action to encourage the underrepresented gender—in this case, women—to apply. There will be no folding of arms or saying, “Ach well, no women applied.” As for Annie Wells’s interests in sanctions, I do not know of any legislation that the Scottish Parliament has passed that has built into it a system of sanctions, but I look forward to any amendments to the bill that she wishes to lodge.

We have to learn from the voluntary approach that has resulted in 45 per cent of public sector non-executive board members now being women. The number is at a record high, and it has been achieved by doing things differently in recruitment and assessment. However, appointments have always been made on merit. Although 45 per cent of public sector non-executive board members are now women, there is more to do. We need the bill to build on and lock in those gains for the future. Surely the history of Parliament tells us that. We are 18 years into the life of this Parliament, and we are barely climbing back to where we were. Representation of women in the chamber is now at 35 per cent, but it was 37 per cent in 1999 and 40 per cent in 2003. Alison Johnstone made that point well.

Members on the Government benches and I will support the Labour amendment. If Labour does not mind my saying so, it is an excellent amendment that focuses primarily on the gender pay gap. I say to Rachael Hamilton that Scotland outperforms the UK on any measurement of the pay gap, whether of the full-time pay gap, the overall pay gap or the public sector pay gap. We can agree that, no matter what size it is, it is entirely unacceptable that the pay gap exists at all. It a matter of great sadness to me that the Equal Pay Act 1970 is as old as I am.

We know that the pay gap is driven by the lack of affordable childcare, the experience in the workplace of women aged over 40, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and occupational segregation. As I hope that I and other members have demonstrated this afternoon, the Scottish Government is taking action on all those areas.

I do not suppose that it will surprise many to hear that members on the Government benches will not support the Tory amendment. It talks about the UK Government’s endeavours to increase women’s equality. With respect, I urge the UK Government to tell the WASPI women who will be demonstrating in Westminster tomorrow about those endeavours. Those women have had to live with shifting goalposts, their retirement plans have been shattered and they have been forced to return to or remain in the workplace.

The second reason why I will not support the Conservative amendment is that the UK Government has ignored key recommendations, made by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee following its inquiry into the gender pay gap, on flexible working, the sharing of unpaid caring responsibilities and supporting women over 40 back into the workplace.

The third and probably main reason why I and other members will not support the Tory amendment relates to the impact on women of austerity and social security cuts. Women are twice as dependent on social security as men and, from work that was done by the UK Women’s Budget Group, we know that the cumulative spending cuts and tax increases from 2010 amount to £16 billion and that £12 billion of the total—75 per cent—has come directly from the pockets of women.

Will the member take an intervention?

No, because the member didnae oblige me.

The Child Poverty Action Group has highlighted that the cuts to the working allowance for universal credit will mean that a single parent who is already working full time and who is paid the national living wage will have to work 46 extra days each year, and we all know that 92 per cent of lone parents are women.

Ruth Maguire and Pauline McNeill, among others, made the point that having a woman Prime Minister, a woman First Minister and a gender-balanced Cabinet does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that the glass ceiling has been shattered. However, I am confident about one thing: Scotland’s first woman First Minister will do far more to advance the equality of women and girls in this country than the UK’s first woman Prime Minister.