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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 06 June 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Citizen Girl Initiative


Contents


Citizen Girl Initiative

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-12252, in the name of Ruth Maguire, on the citizen girl initiative. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch by Girlguiding Scotland and Women 50:50 of the female empowerment campaign, Citizen Girl, which aims to help empower girls to use their voices and become the next generation of leaders in politics and beyond; notes that it coincides with the celebrations to mark 2018 as Scotland’s Year of Young People and the 100th anniversary of the first women gaining the right to vote; believes that, despite much progress, gender stereotypes still exist and that these negatively impact on the life experience of young girls, including by affecting their ability to both speak out and participate in class discussions; notes that it will see Girlguiding Scotland’s 50,000 members learning about equality, representation and how powerful their voices can be; understands that it will do this through a range of fun, hands-on activities, including creating their own edible parliament and holding Citizen Girl summits; notes the initiative's call for political parties to commit to gender equality by ensuring that at least 50% of their candidates in local, Scottish and UK elections are women, for politicians at all levels to consult with young people on decisions that impact on their lives and for businesses, public bodies, and voluntary organisations to commit to increasing female representation in management, including through creating opportunities for the next generation of girls to take the lead; notes the calls for Members to support the campaign by sharing a #CitizenGirl selfie on social media and visiting a local Girlguiding Scotland group, and acknowledges Citizen Girl’s efforts to create a more equal society for women and girls in the Cunninghame South area and across Scotland.

17:03  

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

It is a pleasure to have time in the chamber this evening to debate Girlguiding Scotland and Women 50:50’s citizen girl campaign. I thank all the members who signed the motion to make that possible and look forward to hearing contributions from across the chamber.

I would like to acknowledge some of the visitors in the public gallery. We have Carolyn and Talat from the 50:50 campaign. Along with Mairi, we have Girlguiding representatives from Edinburgh and Stirling, and from Graeme Dey’s constituency in Angus. We have Girlguiding representatives from Queensferry and Girlguiding young spokeswomen.

I would like to say this to our visitors and all girls and young women like them: this is your Parliament and politics is for you. You are powerful and important, and your voices, ideas and opinions matter.

Citizen girl is a campaign that is led by two fantastic partners and champions of girls and women—Girlguiding Scotland and the Women 50:50 campaign. In the year of young people and the 100th year since the first women in the United Kingdom got the vote, citizen girl is about ensuring that the 50,000 girl guides in Scotland know that their voices matter and know how they can speak up, campaign and take action on things that are important to them. Citizen girl is also about calling for meaningful change to ensure that today’s girls and women can look forward to a more equal future.

Research from Girlguiding’s girls’ attitudes survey 2018 backs up why the campaign is important by highlighting the impact of a lack of female representation on the views and experiences of girls and young women. For example, 57 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 think that politicians do not understand the issues that girls face today, and 53 per cent think that political parties should make sure that half their politicians are women.

To tackle underrepresentation in politics, at the same time as we dismantle the structural barriers in girls’ way, we need girls to see that politics is for them. We have a female First Minister and Prime Minister, but there is no getting away from the fact that women remain stubbornly underrepresented in politics and public life. Women make 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, so it is fair to say that there are still not enough of us in the room.

It is hard for girls to be what they cannot see, so those of us who are here have to do everything in our power to remedy that. It is not enough just to get here ourselves; we have to take the lead and be powerful, persuasive, tenacious and strong advocates for change in the Scottish Parliament, in our political parties and in our communities.

Women—in particular, young women—and girls face sexism and objectification at frankly horrific levels these days, and even our First Minister and Prime Minister do not escape that. When they met to negotiate significant and important business for our countries, a newspaper thought that it was okay to run a front-page splash that focused on their legs. It focused not on their views or their political positions but on a part of their bodies. That sends a very poor message to young women and girls.

The situation is worse, not better, than when I was a young women, and it is completely unacceptable in 2018, when we are making such strides towards equality. The online abuse that any woman who puts her head above the parapet faces can seem terrifying, and I understand why that would be off-putting for many. The abuse is designed to keep women down, and to make us feel unimportant and feel that we have no business in politics. I know first hand that it is not always easy but, girls, we cannot let them win. We must not accept it. We have to block, mute, unfollow and unfriend, as our voices are too important to be silenced.

Here is the good news: if girls surround themselves with brilliant friends, supporters, allies and people who value them even if they disagree with them, and if they find a mentor to learn from and to teach, they will do it. Each time they speak out, it will get a little less scary and the voices of folk who would do them down will feel a little less important. If girls stick together, they will be unstoppable.

I remind colleagues that, whether or not they contribute to the debate tonight, there are a couple of ways in which they can get involved. Parliamentarians and councillors can show their support by doing something that we all love doing: taking a photo of themselves. They can take a selfie with the citizen girl sign and endorse the campaign online through their social media channels.

Also, I know that Girlguiding Scotland members in colleagues’ constituencies would be delighted to meet them and show them some of the great work that is going on. I understand that Daniel Johnson experienced that and received the gift of a pink cape, which I was intrigued to learn about—I have not seen him wear it yet. That is the sort of thing that members might experience.

On the centenary of some women getting the vote and in the year of young people, it seems just about perfect that 50,000 girls and young women are growing in confidence, reaching for the stars, having fun and being a powerful force for good. To them, I say again: politics is for you—your voices are important. Go for it, girls—you’ll be awesome! [Applause.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I gently say to the people in the gallery that applause by those in the public area is not permitted, although I understand why you do it.

17:10  

Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

I thank Ruth Maguire for securing time to debate the important citizen girl initiative.

Full disclosure: I was never a girl guide. I was a brownie, but not a girl guide. It was quite a long time ago and I do not remember much about it, but I remember sewing my new badge on to my uniform whenever I achieved one—I always found that very exciting—and I remember going away to camp. Whether through the brownies or guiding, girls are enabled in learning and working together to develop skills and grow their independence, which is always a good thing.

The story of the girl guides illustrates that very well. Girl scouts gatecrashed the first rally of the boy scouts and demanded “something for the girls”, refusing to believe that scouting was just for boys. Out of that direct and collective action the girl guides were established.

We can also look close to here. In the 1870s, the Edinburgh seven were trailblazers for the right of women to practise medicine, and their campaign resulted in legislation that allowed women to qualify as doctors in the United Kingdom and Ireland. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first women gaining the right to vote, we can see how far we have come in that time but recognise how much we still have to do.

A more recent example of things that the girl guides have been doing is the support that they gave to the campaign to end page 3, which finally—through pressure—came to an end in 2015. That is why I am delighted to see the citizen girl initiative, which encourages girls and young women to use their voices to enact change in Scotland, to become directly involved in changing the world around them and to know their place, which is in the science lab, the editorial office, the boardroom or—perhaps especially—this chamber. Nevertheless, telling girls and young women that their place is wherever they want it to be can sometimes ring a little hollow when, in 2018, only 35 per cent of members of the Scottish Parliament are female. That is why it is crucial that all political parties commit to a 50:50 split among the candidates that they put up for elections.

As some members will know, the Scottish National Party brought in gender-balancing mechanisms for candidates for the 2016 elections. That was certainly not universally accepted—there were many people in the party who did not think that it was a good idea—but the results speak for themselves. The SNP group in the Parliament went from being 27 per cent female to being 42 per cent female. That was a huge step forward and shows that such measures really work. I encourage any parties in the Parliament that do not currently have any gender-balancing mechanisms to consider that approach as a matter of urgency.

One of the aims of the girl guides is to build confidence in girls and to raise expectations. As someone who lacked confidence at times as a girl and as a young woman, I have learned—I share this in case it is helpful to anyone else—that confidence comes through doing. I therefore say to young women: join that club or that political party; say yes to giving that speech; run for election in student politics. It is true that giving that first speech is really scary, but the next time it gets a little bit easier, and so on. In that way, confidence builds up.

I congratulate the girl guides and the Women 50:50 campaign on the citizen girl initiative, and I look forward very much to seeing what they will achieve together.

17:14  

Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

It is my pleasure to speak in this evening’s debate. One hundred years after some women were first given the right to vote and stand for election, we are still underrepresented in many areas of our political and business life. The number of women who serve on our councils and in our two Parliaments is still far below the equal balance to which we should all aspire. I join other members in welcoming any initiative that highlights that politics needs more women, especially young women.

It is particularly good that we are celebrating the citizen girl initiative. It is good and very appropriate that, in this year of young people, one of our largest and most respected young persons organisations, Girlguiding Scotland, is highlighting the empowerment of women to show that the voice of a young woman matters and to encourage them to use that voice in all walks of life.

Young people are the future of our country and we need to encourage every person to play a part in civic life. However, we must acknowledge that there are unnecessary hurdles—real and perceived—that are still waiting to be removed for women and for young women, in particular. The citizen girl initiative will play a part in removing such hurdles.

Despite the fact that we have had two female Prime Ministers and the fact that two women are currently serving in this Parliament as First Minister and leader of the Opposition, it is obvious that work still needs to be done to bring more women into public life. Political parties might have different approaches on the best way to achieve that, and we might disagree in some areas, but we are united in the belief that a Parliament needs to look like the country that it represents. Therefore, we need to strive for a balance of genders in both our Parliaments.

My party welcomes the launch of the women2win initiative. It is leading the campaign to elect more Conservative women to Parliament and it aims to increase the number of Conservative women in Parliament and in public life. It is committed to identifying, training and mentoring female candidates for office. As MSPs, we regularly go into schools and discuss politics. We tell pupils what it is like to be an MSP and we answer questions, but those questions often reveal the perception and stereotyping that the women2win initiative sets out to challenge.

Although we can all play our part in convincing others to follow in our tracks, it is great to have an organisation such as Girlguiding trumpeting the same message that opportunities are there for women to play an important role and make their mark, not only in politics but in business and the media, too. We need to encourage more young women to realise their potential.

Women remain woefully underrepresented in senior management roles and on the boards of public companies. Only 28 per cent of the board positions of the FTSE 100 companies are held by women. Although there has been an improvement over the years, much more still needs to be done.

Though I am never complacent, I want to finish on a positive note. In 1998, Mary Pitcaithly became the first woman to hold the post of chief executive of a Scottish local authority, and that local authority was Falkirk Council, which is in my region. This month, more than two decades after she blazed the trail for women at the top level of local government, Mary will retire from that post. However, she leaves knowing that there is now almost an equal gender split among the ranks of the chief executives of Scotland’s councils.

I congratulate Girlguiding Scotland on its campaign and my colleague Ruth Maguire on securing the debate.

17:18  

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I congratulate Ruth Maguire on securing the debate, and I pay tribute to Girlguiding Scotland and Women 50:50 for starting the citizen girl campaign.

It is very important that we encourage girls to put themselves forward to become future leaders. Although our society instinctively does that with boys, girls are often left behind. We legislate for equality, but we also need to understand that societal norms still promote inequality and that they are deeply ingrained.

From a young age, girls are given messages about being homemakers, mothers and carers. We need only look at children’s toys. The next time we are in a shop, we should look at the toys that are meant for boys, which will be blue, and the toys that are meant for girls, which will be pink, to see how we brainwash children into taking those roles. I have struggled to buy toys that do not gender stereotype children. Surely that cannot be right. It needs to stop.

How can we say to girls that they can be leaders when everything else that they see and hear tells them that they cannot? To counteract that, we need to empower girls, so that is what the campaign is doing. It has its work cut out, however, given the societal stereotyping that tells girls that leadership roles are not from them, but the citizen girl initiative activities will help to build leaders for the future. Girls will learn about politics and how they can become legislators and politicians, and they will meet councillors, MSPs and MPs.

The campaign is working to empower girls, but it also calls for change from today’s leaders, and it calls on political parties to put forward gender-balanced lists of candidates. I am proud that the Scottish Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament is gender balanced, but it has taken positive action on our part to achieve that.

The campaign calls on politicians to ensure that young people are consulted on decisions that impact on them. I argue that young people should be consulted more widely than that, because they will inherit what we put in place. Although they may lack life experience, they should have a say on the direction of travel. That lack of life experience can often make young people idealistic, which we sometimes lack in modern-day politics. We need to aspire as much as we need to manage.

The campaign also calls for increased female representation in all walks of life. If female representation is increased, that will give girls role models not just in politics, but in every career choice. There should be no barriers to what a girl or a woman can aspire to. Girls need those role models in order to be able to see their own roles as leaders in the future. If all that they see is men in suits, they immediately discount such roles for themselves; they do not identify with such people.

What struck me as the most devastating thing in the Girlguiding Scotland briefing for the debate was the information that, between the ages of seven and 10, 86 per cent of girls think that they could be successful in their chosen career, but the figure falls to 35 per cent between the ages of 17 and 21. That group believes that employers prefer to hire men. What on earth happens to girls as they grow up? Why do young girls have an ambitious outlook, and how is it destroyed? Is that the reality that they face?

Our aim must be to ensure that there are opportunities for girls to be what they want to be. They should be encouraged and not discouraged as they get older, and that is a task for all of us.

I am glad that Girlguiding Scotland and Women 50:50 have taken on the campaign, and I hope that they will continue to work with young girls and today’s leaders to ensure that we really do change the world for girls and the next generation of women.

17:23  

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I, too, thank Ruth Maguire for securing the debate.

For full disclosure, I say that I was a brownie and a girl guide—but it was only yesterday, so I remember it very well. I am also a proud co-founder of Women 50:50 and am involved in the campaign to increase representation of women in political life.

I have said before, and will say it again, that as a councillor in Edinburgh and as an MSP who represents Lothian, I have found it notable that when schools, nurseries and hospitals have been under threat and there are big issues to be debated, my surgeries and meetings have been absolutely full of women; indeed, often the majority of people there have been women. However, where are the women when it comes to voting? The numbers of women who should be there are absent from the chamber and from our town halls, so we must take action.

I am proud that Women 50:50 has linked up with Girlguiding Scotland. I wish that the initiative had been available when I was a girl guide; I did not get involved in politics until I was in my 30s. The initiative will help young women to engage and it will give them the courage and confidence to do so. I will always remember that, in my first-ever council meeting, a senior male councillor referred to a senior woman councillor across the chamber as “a fishwife”. That would be absolutely unacceptable today, so change is under way, but we should be in no doubt that that change is due to recent campaigning. The initiative is an important step in the right direction.

The Girlguiding Scotland girls’ attitudes survey shows us exactly why the citizen girl initiative matters. It shows that more than half of girls and young women feel that gender stereotypes have a limiting effect on the activities that they can do now, and on how they can express themselves, and it shows that they feel the influence of those stereotypes in most areas of their lives, from teachers’ beliefs and expectations to messages in the media.

I should say that one of the least pleasant experiences that I have had on social media was when I dared to speak in the “No more page 3” debate. It is therefore important that we continue to challenge those who would like us to be quiet and that we speak up loudly.

The survey also showed that 57 per cent of girls and young women aged 11 to 21 do not think that politicians understand the issues that face them today. It is clear that we have to get better at listening and that we ensure that we are engaging fully.

The citizen girl initiative helps girls and young women to learn about the political process, to amplify their voices and to realise how they can make changes happen. As part of that, one of the outcomes that citizen girl is calling for is for politicians at all levels to consult young people on all the decisions that impact on their lives. It is fair to say that we do not do that well enough. The year of young people in Scotland should be a real impetus to change that and to ensure that we incorporate the perspectives of young people from all backgrounds in the decisions that we make.

The resources that have been developed for the citizen girl initiative give young people a great starting point for understanding the responsibilities of councillors, MSPs and MPs and the kinds of issues that they can help with. They also provide a great starting point for understanding actions that young people can take—from sending an email, to starting a petition, to organising events, to raising funds for a cause that they believe in. There is no substitute for political engagement, so I am delighted to support the campaign, which encourages young women and girls to become directly involved in politics.

To change the conversations that we have about representation of women in society, we have to think about what opportunities women have to develop careers in the media or even to be represented in the media as experts, because the media influence the debate. Last year, the BBC launched its expert women initiative, looking for women who would like to contribute to news content as experts. That initiative acknowledged that the vast majority of voices that we hear on the radio and television are male, so in some ways it is a welcome step towards redressing that imbalance. However, the initiative was criticised—rightly, in my view—because it required interested women to submit a CV and a short film showing them presenting on their area of expertise, and then to pitch an idea for a story that the general public would find interesting. Why should women but not men be required to prove their expertise in that way? Why is women’s specialist knowledge in doubt until proven? Why should interested women have to do so much unpaid labour to generate contacts for media organisations?

A real bugbear of mine is the absolute lack of visibility of women in sport. Anyone who looks at the back pages of their newspaper today will be hard pressed to find a woman on them. They might, however, if the woman is some sportsman’s girlfriend. However, we must do better. I met a newspaper to discuss that lack of coverage of women as sports role models and was asked to do that very same thing: could I contact them when I had details of a successful woman or could pitch a story to the paper? Do members think that that happens with male sports events and efforts? In many cases, the achievements of women are at a higher level.

I know that the Presiding Officer would like me to close; I am pleased to do so. I very much hope that the citizen girl initiative and initiatives like it fill young women with the confidence to act on the issues that they care about, and to play an ever fuller part in public life as they grow older.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

If I had more time, you could have gone on for 10 minutes, but I do not. I call Gillian Martin, to be followed by Rachael Hamilton, who will be the last speaker in the open debate.

17:28  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I thank Ruth Maguire for getting this debate into the chamber.

The girl guides certainly have come a long way. Last night, as I was thinking about this debate, I had a wee smile to myself as I thought about the badges that were sewn on to my guide uniform and remembered one with a picture of an iron on it: the laundress badge. I was a girl guide not in the Victorian era, but in the 1980s, and I was taught how to wash and iron clothes. Do not get me wrong, because I have used those skills and I know how to get chewing gum off a jumper. Having had a wry smile thinking about my quite old-fashioned girl guide achievement, I gave myself a bit of a telling off, because I also remember how empowering the guides have always been and that being a girl guide for seven years empowered me.

It is obvious that Girlguiding Scotland should join Women 50:50 in leading the charge for the empowerment of the next generation of female representatives.

The girl guides taught me how to be independent and how to lead a group of other girls and take responsibility for them. Most memorably, they taught this formerly quiet and shy girl—yes, that was me—to use her voice without fear. That voice was always there. It just needed the right conditions to come out.

My parents still tell the story of how open-mouthed they were to turn up at the 1st Newburgh guide concert to find their awkward, shy girl not at the back dressed as a tree or something, but as an exuberant, confident master of ceremonies for the evening, like a 12-year-old Doric Liza Minnelli. My former guide leader, Pat Begg, had not told them beforehand because she wanted to see their faces, and I thank her for that. The guides gave me the space to find out that I could stand up in front of a crowded hall, and they are largely to be either thanked or blamed, depending on one’s perspective, for me standing up in this room now.

I have spoken many times on the empowering nature of women-only spaces, and the girl guides have been that for decades. I am 100 per cent behind the three asks of the citizen girl campaign. On the ask for 50 per cent of election candidates to be female, I say yes, yes and yes again. However, as the campaign recognises, we will never get to that stage without early work with girls to ready their aspirations and confidence to look on candidacy as an option. I say that as someone who spent a great deal of last winter cajoling excellent but reluctant women into going forward for council candidacy—women who are now elected, are making a difference in their local communities and are refreshing a rather stale council group. I am sorry if anyone takes offence at that, but it is true.

Those who know me will know that I have been a strong advocate for the increase of female representation in management and on boards, both as a member of the Scottish Parliament and in my working life before election. This week, I am writing to every girl guide group in my constituency and offering to come and meet them to discuss their work on the issues. That will not be easy, as most girl guide sessions are held midweek, when I am 160 miles away in Edinburgh, but we will work something out. Perhaps I will be able to work out how to get some of Aberdeenshire East’s guides into the gallery, where so many of their fellow guides are today.

As for girl guides’ voices, they are stronger than ever. The closed focus group discussion on sexual harassment and bullying that I joined courtesy of an invitation from the convener of the Equality and Human Rights Committee, Christina McKelvie, featured some of the most engaging, persuasive and assertive voices that I have heard in this place, and they were the voices of girl guides.

The girl guides’ work alongside those of us who are campaigning—quite successfully, I might add—to take down the barriers to period products is absolutely inspiring. I saw their new end period poverty badge online this week, and I wish that I had been able to sew that on instead of the laundress one all those years ago. It shows how far we have come in overturning stigma and recognising the powerful voices of girls and young women, and what a force to be reckoned with the girl guides continue to be.

That badge and the citizen girl campaign are proof that the girl guides are not just moving with the times, but leading change. I cannot wait to watch a debate in this chamber and see a new female MSP stand up and say that it was the citizen girl campaign that inspired them to go for election.

17:33  

Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I will try to do a Minister Michael Curry and use my tablet, like he did for the sermon at the royal wedding. I am going to try to be modern.

I apologise to Rhoda Grant for wearing pink, but I love pink.

I really welcome the debate and I congratulate my colleague Ruth Maguire on securing it. As a former girl guide, I am proud to be associated with the citizen girl campaign, which aims to bring girls’ voices together and empower them to become the next generation of leaders in politics. Together, our voices are louder and stronger. By bringing debates such as this to Parliament, we can knock down the barriers that women and young girls face.

One hundred years ago, not all but some women got the right to vote for the first time. The anniversary is fitting because 2018 is also the year of young people. Women have come so far, but are we truly equal? Is it not staggering that, in 2018, women still battle against inequality and sexism and the gender pay gap still exists?

The Fawcett Society, a group that campaigns for equality, says that caring responsibilities can play a big part. Women often care for young children or elderly relatives, which sometimes holds them back. That also means that women are likely to work in part-time roles that are often lower paid or present fewer opportunities for progression.

I am proud that, under a Conservative Government, a requirement has been introduced for UK companies that employ more than 250 people to publish their gender pay gap. When it comes to equality in politics, the Conservative Party has an outstanding leadership record. However, we acknowledge that we have a steep hill to climb and our party is ready to work towards greater diversity and gender equality.

As my colleague Alison Harris said, we in Scotland have set up a group of women to win, with the objective of attracting more female candidates to step forward, coining the phrase on social media “#askhertostand”. Through engagement with women’s groups, we want to identify, recruit, train, mentor, support and advance women into elected positions at all levels of Parliament and local government.

Minority groups and women will experience different journeys into politics; there is not really a standard approach. However, we aim to give individuals confidence by mentoring, training and supporting them.

Baroness Nosheena Mobarik is heading up a commission to ensure greater gender and ethnic diversity in the party’s ranks at the next Holyrood election. If we want to be the next Government, we need to demonstrate greater diversity.

I represent a Borders constituency and was recently invited to join a women in leadership event organised by the principal of Borders College, who is of course a woman. Every woman was asked to bring a young person to the event. We were asked to join together to agree common goals and make commitments such as pledging to mentor a young woman. The involvement of young girls is crucial. Girlguiding Scotland plays an important role in encouraging young females to speak up, speak out and be heard. That means that politicians have to listen to those young female voices.

The girls attitude survey revealed that 55 per cent of girls aged seven to 21 said that gender stereotypes affect their ability to say what they think and 57 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 do not think that politicians understand the issues that girls and young women face today. It is vital that politicians engage with those young voices, take note of what they have to say and take action. Those voices are threatened by online trolls, who are often male, chauvinistic, misogynistic, sexist and aggressive. Set to defeat those trolls, who target female politicians and candidates, I am working with other MSPs to create a platform to combat those instances of abuse and work with social media platforms to make sure that such voices do not drown out our own.

I and all my colleagues continue to do all that we can to support and encourage young women both inside and outside politics. It is important to keep promoting female and young female voices. We need to give young women the confidence and means to achieve success in any role and in anything that they want to do. I thank all those involved in the citizen girl campaign and, as a former girl guide, I pledge my support to it.

17:38  

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

I add my thanks to Ruth Maguire for securing this very important members’ business debate. I also thank all members for their speeches. Alison Johnstone gave a complete and utter rant, which I enjoyed every minute of, and it was interesting to hear the reflections of Rachael Hamilton, Ash Denham and Gillian Martin on their time as girl guides.

I will completely gloss over my very brief career in the girl guides, the brownies and the Girls Brigade. I am afraid that I was not involved in any of those organisations for long enough—for reasons that I will not go into—to sew a badge on to any uniform.

It is remarkable how Girlguiding Scotland has changed over the years. Nevertheless, Gillian Martin was able to speak powerfully about how her time as a girl guide helped her to blossom into a confident young girl and a confident young woman.

On that note, I am really pleased to add my congratulations, on behalf of the Scottish Government, to Girlguiding Scotland and Women 50:50 on the launch of their citizen girl campaign, and I extend a warm welcome to our visitors in the public gallery. This is, of course, their Parliament as much as anybody else’s.

I also thank everyone who volunteers with Girlguiding Scotland. This week is volunteers week, and volunteers ensure that girls and young women can take part in the guiding movement and participate in activities such as the citizen girl challenge. I understand that more than 2,000 girls have achieved or are working on their citizen girl challenge badge, which is a remarkable achievement.

As many members have said, this is absolutely the right moment for the citizen girl initiative. It is 100 years since some women won the right to vote and to stand for election, and it is Scotland’s year of young people—a year in which we celebrate young people’s achievements and tell them that their voices are not just important but central to the future of this country.

I absolutely agree with the motion that, although women’s rights have advanced considerably over the past 100 years and there is a lot to celebrate and be proud of, we must acknowledge that inequality still exists. Ruth Maguire was right to say that we must be in the business of meaningful and lasting change. When she said that, although many things are much better for women and girls today, some things are worse, she struck a chord. Like her, I fear that that is the case. The objectification of women and online abuse are pertinent in that regard.

Like Rhoda Grant, I was deeply struck to learn that, although girls between the ages of seven and 10 are hopeful and confident that they have the same chance of success as their male peers—some 86 per cent of girls in that age group think they can be up and at it at the same level—when the same questions are put to young girls and women aged between 17 and 21, the proportion is reduced to 35 per cent. As Rhoda Grant said, that leads us to ask why. What knocks are happening in life? What is putting our girls and young women down? What is still oppressing them today?

It is clear that women’s representation in Parliament, in local government and in other senior positions is not where it should be. It is not enough to say, “We’re here; we’re okay”; we must think about the women who are absent and the future generations of women who should step into our shoes—and into shoes that are currently occupied by men.

We must take action to address the issue, as it requires action and not just words. At the end of last month, the BBC ran a story online in which it highlighted the worst excuses that FTSE 350 companies had given for not appointing women executives. It made for depressing reading. We saw a whole list of the same old excuses and mythologies, one after another. For example, people said:

“I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment,”

and,

“There aren’t that many women with the right credentials and depth of experience to sit on the board—the issues covered are extremely complex”.

Someone even said:

“We have one woman already on the board, so we are done—it is someone else’s turn.”

Reading that makes one think that it is 1918, not 2018. I am proud that, last year, I worked with other members in this Parliament to take through the bill that became the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018.

It is important to acknowledge that, for some groups of women, progress is seriously slow or lacking. We must improve our understanding of the particular experiences of women who live with a disability and women from ethnic minority communities, so that we can challenge the specific issues that they face. On a very basic level, Parliaments are meant to serve the people, and, if the parliamentarians who serve the people look and sound pretty different from the people, something is quite clearly not right.

A positive development of the past few years is the extension of the franchise in Scotland to 16 and 17-year-olds, which has shown young people’s interest in and energy for political engagement. Giving young people the vote piques their interest and can keep people engaged in politics throughout their lives. By empowering girls to use their voices and to see and feel the impact that that can have, citizen girl taps into that energy. It does so in a way that is fun and accessible for young women and girls, and it also does so by what Ash Denham described as growing confidence through doing, thereby giving young women the confidence to challenge and change the community around them.

I know that many girl guide units have visited the Parliament. I understand that the average is currently one unit visit per week. That is wonderful, and I commend Girlguiding Scotland, its local leaders and volunteers for engaging with the Parliament in that way. I am particularly intrigued by the concept of an edible Parliament, and I hope that members might get a chance to sample a bit of Parliament as we have never seen it before. If there is a competition to judge the edible Parliaments, I would certainly be happy to oblige.

I thank Ruth Maguire again for bringing the debate to Parliament. It is a great message to send to young women and girls that their voices can and will make a difference and that politics is something that they can get involved in. They can be members of Parliament, members of the Scottish Parliament, local councillors or even a future Prime Minister or First Minister, but they can also use their voices in lots of different ways to make a difference. On international women’s day this year, we held a debate in which the focus was very much on young women and girls, and we highlighted a number of examples of young women making a huge difference in their communities—the Glasgow girls being one such example.

Bessie Watson is another example. Often considered to be the youngest suffragette, Bessie was also known for playing the bagpipes. She grew up in Edinburgh and she played her bagpipes at suffragette marches and rallies. Her parents were big supporters of the suffrage movement, and she even played outside the old Calton Hill jail to keep up the spirits of the women who were being held there. Of course, we will see the procession in Edinburgh on Sunday, which will be another aspect of the celebration of 100 years since some women got the vote.

Presiding Officer, I thank once again Girlguiding Scotland, Women 50:50, Ruth Maguire and other colleagues who have contributed to the debate this evening.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

As one of the female Deputy Presiding Officers of the Parliament, I have pleasure in saying that that concludes the debate, and I close this meeting of Parliament.

Meeting closed at 17:47.