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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 8, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 08 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Green-belt Land (Woodhall and Faskine Estates), Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, International Women’s Day, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


International Women’s Day

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

Is everyone sitting comfortably? Then we will begin. [Laughter.]

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-10851, in the name of Angela Constance, on international women’s day.


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

Today is international women’s day: a global day to celebrate women’s achievements and to call for accelerated action towards gender parity. This year’s theme is press for progress.

Presiding Officer, 2018 is historically significant. A hundred years ago, some women got the right to vote and the right to stand for election to Parliament. It is also Scotland’s year of young people: a year when we celebrate young people’s achievements and contributions and create new opportunities for them to shine locally, nationally and globally.

On international women’s day in this, Scotland’s year of young people, I want to talk about equality from the perspective of young women and girls. What does it feel like, a century since some women got the vote, to be a girl growing up in Scotland today?

I also want to pay tribute to the young women activists who are taking change into their own hands. They are speaking out against sexual harassment, fighting for equal rights and opportunities, challenging societal norms and saying unequivocally that they want equality for women and girls, and that they want it not in another 100 years’ time, but now.

On Tuesday, alongside the First Minister, the Minister for Childcare and Early Years and the rest of the Cabinet, I was really delighted to meet 14 children and young people from the Children’s Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament, who ranged in age from nine to their early 20s. The second such Cabinet meeting, it was an opportunity for our children and young people to raise directly with the Scottish Government issues that matter to them and a chance for us to really listen, discuss and collectively agree what we can do about them. Equality was right up there as one of the topics that children wanted to raise.

We know that some aspects of the women’s inequality that we talk about, such as the gender pay gap, have their roots in the early years. The types of toys and clothes that are marketed at girls and boys—when something as a simple as a colour becomes identified with a gender—the fact that children’s clothes aisles are divided into princesses and heroes, and the character traits that are considered appropriate for each gender can carry through to subject choice at school and to career choices.

Every year, the charity Girlguiding UK does a survey of girls’ attitudes, which is a snapshot of what girls and young women think on a wide range of issues and an insight into the pressures that young women and girls today face. The impact of gender stereotypes is clear. Fifty-six per cent of 7 to 10-year-old girls who were surveyed thought that boys were better at understanding difficult things, and 52 per cent thought that girls were better at doing their chores at home. In the week that the survey was carried out, 47 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 had seen stereotypical images of men and women in the media that made them feel less confident. Thirty-seven per cent of girls saw gender stereotypes used on social media every day. However, 84 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 said that they expected equal opportunities with men in the future and thought that childcare should be shared equally between parents, so there is a strong sense that young women and girls will not accept gender inequality as inevitable.

Last year, the #MeToo movement erupted in the aftermath of allegations about the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The hashtag has been used literally millions of times on Twitter by women of all ages, and by men, to share their own experiences of sexual harassment.

The origins of the #MeToo movement go back to 1996 when activist Tarana Burke, who is now a director of the Brooklyn-based organisation Girls for Gender Equity, was a youth camp director. A young girl confided in her about the sexual abuse that she was experiencing and Tarana said that, at that time, she did not feel equipped to help. Describing the experience of her interaction with the young woman, she said:

“I couldn’t help her release her shame, or impress upon her that nothing that happened to her was her fault. I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured. I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper, ‘Me, too’.”

As a result of the young girl’s story, Tarana went on to start the #MeToo movement and to help young women of colour who had survived sexual abuse, assault and exploitation. It is an emotive and powerful story—that is how change is made. It brings to mind the well-known quotation by the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said:

“A small group of thoughtful ... people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In 2005, seven young friends from Drumchapel high school in Glasgow started another movement, of which you will be well aware, Presiding Officer. One of their number, 15-year-old Agnesa Murselaj, was dawn raided and detained with her family by United Kingdom immigration authorities. Agnesa and her family had been settled in Scotland for five years; they were seeking asylum, having fled from Kosovo where their Roma ethnicity put their lives in danger.

Agnesa’s friends, some of whom were also seeking asylum, were concerned by her sudden disappearance and decided to do something. They set up the Glasgow girls group and started campaigning against Agnesa’s deportation and for an end to dawn raids on families with children. They started a petition, held candlelit vigils to prevent other families from being raided and secured cross-party support from this Parliament. With the support of charities and community groups, they kept the issue firmly on the political agenda until, ultimately, the UK Government announced an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes in 2010.

In September 2008, the Murselaj family were granted indefinite leave to remain, and the story of the Glasgow girls—Amal Azzudin, Roza Salih, Agnesa Murselaj, Ewelina Siwak, Toni-Lee Henderson, Jennifer McCarron and Emma Clifford—has inspired TV documentaries, dramas and even a musical.

There are many more such stories, testimonies and experiences. In 2015, the girls against campaign was founded by a group of teenage girls in Scotland who were just fed up at being sexually harassed and assaulted at gigs and live music venues. They now have thousands of supporters and work with bands, festivals and venues across the country.

In Kenya, five teenage girls from Kisumu girls high school have created an app that connects girls affected by female genital mutilation to legal and medical assistance. It also has a panic button for girls to alert the authorities.

Malala Yousafzai needs no introduction: she is a young woman from Pakistan who campaigns for girls’ right to an education and is, of course, the youngest Nobel prize laureate.

In England, Amika George, an A-level student, has started the #FreePeriods campaign for every student receiving free school meals to receive free sanitary products. More than 80,000 people have added their name to Amika’s petition. I am pleased that, in Scotland, we have already committed to fighting period poverty by providing access to sanitary products for students in schools, colleges and universities, and we have recently decided to continue to provide sanitary products to more than 1,000 women who participated in our Aberdeen pilot project while we evaluate the project’s outcomes.

I could go on, but the point is that young women and girls in Scotland, across the UK and around the world are speaking out against social injustice and inequality, just like the suffragettes 100 years before them.

I also note that today, another Scottish woman—Mary Barbour—is being honoured for, among other things, her pivotal role in leading the revolt against rent increases in Glasgow during the first world war. In 1915, with men at the front line, an influx of workers to Glasgow’s shipyards and munitions factories resulted in overcrowded tenements, and landlords, taking advantage of the situation, hiked rents up by as much as 23 per cent. By November that year, as many as 20,000 tenants were on rent strike. In his 1936 book, “Revolt on the Clyde”, the socialist leader Willie Gallacher remembers them as “Mrs Barbour’s Army”. He wrote:

“In Govan, Mrs Barbour, a typical working-class housewife, became the leader of a movement such as had never been seen before, or since for that matter. Street meetings, back-court meetings, drums, bells, trumpets—every method was used to bring the women out.”

Within a month, the Minister for Munitions, David Lloyd George, changed the law to reduce rents to pre-war levels across the country. Today, a bronze statue of Mary and her army, by sculptor Andrew Brown, is being unveiled at Govan Cross in Glasgow.

The methods may have changed, with social media perhaps replacing back-court meetings, but just like Mary Barbour, young women are standing up for what they believe is right, and we need to support, encourage and, above all, listen to what they are telling us. One of the findings from the Girlguiding survey that I mentioned was that 57 per cent of the 11 to 21-year-old girls surveyed did not think that politicians understood the issues that they face today. That is simply not good enough, and we should all respond to that loudly and clearly.

Indeed, that is why, among other things, meetings such as the one that the Cabinet had on Tuesday with children and young people are so important. The First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls deliberately has three young women members—15-year-old Amina Ahmed, 17-year-old Katie Horsburgh and 21-year-old Suki Wan. The council’s second meeting also took place on Tuesday and focused on attitudes and culture change.

It is in all our interests to keep pressing for progress towards gender parity, because equality for women and girls is good for all of us, good for our economy and good for our society That does not mean that achieving gender equality is easy; it is not, but every step forward and every step that takes us closer to that goal is a step worth taking.

I am proud of the steps that the Scottish Government is taking. Already this year, we have passed legislation on domestic abuse and women’s representation on public boards. Our science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM—strategy is prioritising challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging girls to get excited about STEM and the rewards of a career in STEM sectors.

On Tuesday, Skills Development Scotland organised an event in Glasgow that was targeted at young people from underrepresented groups who are interested in finding out more about modern apprenticeships, including young women considering STEM careers, and care-experienced, black and minority ethnic and disabled young people.

The equally safe strategy—our strategy to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls—sets out our commitment to piloting a whole-school approach to tackling gender-based violence, in partnership with Zero Tolerance, Rape Crisis Scotland and Education Scotland. The school years are formative ones for young people, and we want to ensure that we are helping them to develop a good understanding of what healthy relationships are and of consent. However, we can—and must—always do more.

Today, the First Minister announced that she will once again run the first mentor initiative, offering another young woman the chance to be mentored by her for a year. She has called on other women to join her, by offering a little bit of their time to and sharing their experience with another woman or girl to help them reach their goals and fulfil their potential. Later this year, in recognition of the centenary of women’s suffrage, the Scottish Government will hold an event with young women to talk about what we can do to get more women into political office.

Much has changed over the course of a century—much of it for the better in terms of women’s rights and equality. However, we need to be vigilant in terms of the good progress that has been made, and we need to keep taking those steps forward. We can and we should all play a part in pressing for progress, and we must never for a minute take our foot off the pedal.

I move,

That the Parliament unites on International Women’s Day to reaffirm its commitment to upholding and protecting the rights of women and girls, which are fundamental human rights; welcomes Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018, which aims to inspire Scotland through its young people, celebrating their achievements, valuing their contribution to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine locally, nationally and globally; further welcomes the opportunity to reflect on young women and girls’ experience of gender inequality and what they would like to see change in the future; notes the Scottish Government’s commitment and ongoing activity to tackle gender inequality; pays tribute to the many and valued contributions of young women and girls, in Scotland, across the UK and around the world, who are advocating for, and in some cases making, change towards gender parity in their communities, and acknowledges organisations, such as Girl guiding Scotland, Young Scot and YWCA Scotland – the Young Women’s Movement, which play a vital role in ensuring that the voices of young women and girls are heard and acted on.


Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

I am grateful to Angela Constance for leading this debate, which is being held on international women’s day—a worldwide event that is aimed at celebrating women’s achievements and inspiring people across the world to continue the fight for gender equality. The campaign, which began with a women’s march in New York in 1909, is an opportunity for Governments and women’s organisations to come together and to reaffirm our priorities with regard to achieving true gender parity.

Following the events of the past year, in which women’s rights have dominated the news in the wake of a global reckoning on sexual misconduct, it is more important than ever that we avoid complacency and, in the spirit of this year’s theme, continue to press for progress. That is why I will support the Scottish Government’s motion today as we seek to protect and promote the rights of women and girls across the world.

Tying in with last month’s centenary of women’s right to vote, we have much to celebrate in the way of progress. I look at the women and girls of today and see that the choices that are open to them are far greater than the ones that I had. I remember having my careers talk at school and saying that I wanted to join the army or the police. Although the reason that I was steered away from that idea was more my height than my gender, the alternatives that were presented to me at that time were either administrative or secretarial roles. When I was at secondary school, I attended a night class in computer programming—something that was new and exciting to me—but at no point did any of my teachers suggest that that might be a route into a career.

Fast forward 20 years and I am greatly pleased to see the emphasis that is now placed on improving female uptake of STEM subjects. In my region, Glasgow, we are lucky enough to have a number of initiatives that seek to promote gender equality in that area. For example, Glasgow Caledonian University has worked with SmartSTEMs to host workshops for school pupils in areas such as coding, aviation and digital modelling. Nationally, we have seen the likes of tech she can—that charter, led by PWC, is a national commitment by organisations to work together to increase the number of women in technology roles in the United Kingdom through shared best practice.

At the moment, just 5 per cent of STEM apprenticeship starts in Scotland are women. In the UK as a whole, the percentage of women studying a STEM degree makes up just 25 per cent of the total; that figure has been stagnant for the past two years. I welcome the effort by the Scottish Government to improve girls’ uptake of STEM subjects, but if we are to have a serious impact on those figures we have to ask ourselves as individuals how we are encouraging the young women and girls in our lives to consider a career in STEM. In Scotland’s year of young people, it is more important than ever that we look at how education and decisions that are made early in life impact on young women for the rest of their lives.

On women in the workplace more generally, figures relating to the gender pay gap make truly uncomfortable reading. Four decades on since the Equal Pay Act was passed, the UK gender pay gap remains remarkably high. According to the Office for National Statistics, when all workers are included, the pay gap is 18.4 per cent. That means that, in effect, women work for free for 67 days of the year.

I am pleased to see that, in recent months, that has been spoken about more in the media and that women are becoming increasingly aware and confident in challenging the gulf that exists between male and female pay. As we saw recently with BBC presenters, it is absolutely right to challenge the status quo. After figures came to light that showed that most of the top earners were men, the gender pay gap became an embarrassing shadow that the BBC could no longer ignore.

Transparency is key. There has been a snowball effect as a result of just a few figures being made public, and pressure is now being laid on the BBC to publish data on the individual salaries of all its staff. I sincerely hope that the UK Government’s wider policy on mandatory gender pay gap reporting will have a similar effect and will create a culture in which companies simply cannot afford to tarnish their image in that way.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

Will the member take an intervention?

Annie Wells

I would like to carry on, thank you.

In addressing why the gender pay gap exists, we must, of course, look at why women are not better represented in the high-level executive jobs that we associate with high pay and big bonuses. Although we may differ on solutions at times, I am sure that we can all agree that it is clear that there are deep-rooted cultural and societal barriers that hold women back from taking top jobs. I strongly believe that, culturally, we are still peddling the same gender stereotypes of what we expect from girls and boys as they grow up. Women are also still faced with the overwhelming societal expectation that they should lead on childcare.

Companies desperately need to incorporate organisational designs that recognise those pressures and bring talented women up through the pipeline. As I have said many times, those companies exist. There is the example of the FDM Group, which is based in Glasgow. As politicians, we must seek out exemplary businesses and champion them in a way that encourages others.

International women’s day is not just about the UK, of course. The World Economic Forum’s publication “The Global Gender Gap Report 2017” told us that gender parity is over 200 years away. The wellbeing and status of women across the world is therefore central to our fight.

To put things into context, globally, one in three women has experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse; it is believed that one in five girls is married before the age of 18; around two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women; and, in developing countries and rural areas, agriculture remains the most important employment sector for women. That sector largely falls within the informal economy, and it has little or no social protection or labour rights. I am pleased that UK aid-funded programmes are working with organisations across the world to end violence against women and girls and to challenge the discriminatory practices that hold women back in family life, education and their working lives.

We must always strive to do more. Creating a life for millions of women in which they do not feel discriminated against, or in danger or still miss out on their desired opportunities, should be an aim that transcends this chamber and beyond.

It would not be right for me not to wish everyone a happy international women’s day. I wish my mum the same. She is an inspiration to me—and I would have got it in the neck if I had not mentioned her.

As elected representatives, we all have a duty to work together as a Parliament and, indeed, in countries across the world to do more to achieve full equality for women. We sense that the tide is turning, but we should never be complacent. We are 200 years away from achieving gender equality, and that is 200 years too long.

I move amendment S5M-10851.1, to insert after “globally;”:

“notes that more girls are studying STEM subjects and law but more must be done to retain and promote women, as men still dominate these fields at senior levels; welcomes the work of the UK Government to address issues such as the gender pay gap;”.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I wish that my role as women and equality spokesperson did not need to exist. I wish that international women’s day did not need to exist. However, 100 years after the first women in this country were allowed to vote, and 109 years since the first international women’s day, there are still many battles that need to be won.

The theme of this year’s international women’s day is press for progress, and that is the reasoning behind our amendment. The Government’s motion talks about progress made, and our amendment keeps pressing for progress. That creates the right balance.

My colleague Monica Lennon will talk about her campaign to stop period poverty when she winds up the debate. That issue, which has been long overlooked, has become a real difficulty in these times of austerity. Low pay and poor access to benefits make sanitary products unaffordable, which keeps women and girls out of education and the workplace. The issue has gained support throughout the chamber, so we need to continue to press for progress. The support is there: we need to make the progress.

Every year, on international women’s day, there are celebrations and events all over the country and all over the world. It is great to see many male feminists acknowledging and thanking women for their contribution to society, but the fact remains that the best way really to thank women is to treat them with respect and to treat them as fellow human beings who deserve equality.

Many inherent issues are holding women back from fulfilling their potential. Violence, abuse and sexual harassment are seen as women’s issues, even though the perpetrators are usually men, therefore it is a man’s problem.

Inequality of pay and representation prevents women from reaching their economic potential, as well as from having the political power to change the system, which is already stacked against them. When we add to that any of the protected characteristics, women fare even worse. Women with disabilities, black and ethnic minority women and lesbians all face greater challenges and greater inequalities.

We need to press for progress against violence against women. This Parliament passed legislation that criminalised psychological gender-based violence; some of our early members could only have dreamed of that, but we have now achieved it. The offence will be difficult to prosecute, but we must keep evaluating the impact, and ensuring that the police and prosecution services have the knowledge and training to do that. If the training is not adequate, perpetrators will get away and victims will not get justice. We have seen that happen in the case of revenge porn. Just this week, it was revealed that more than 60 per cent of cases reported to the police under a new law on revenge porn have not been passed to prosecutors. We need better justice for victims.

Even with some successes, which we all celebrate, there is still much more to do. Women are suffering violence and we need to strengthen the support services that help them to rebuild their lives. We have a huge gap between the criminal law and family law. The criminal court convicts someone of domestic abuse, yet the civil court often grants that same person access to their children and thereby to the abused partner. The abuser has access to all his victims to continue the abuse. How can the courts be so ignorant of the damage that that does to a child and an abused partner? A child is damaged by the abuse, their self-esteem is affected and their sense of safety and resilience is undermined. That damage can last a lifetime and have a serious impact on their future, yet we have courts that facilitate that abuse on behalf of the state. How wrong is that?

As a matter of urgency, we need to introduce legislation that protects children. We need domestic abuse courts throughout the country, staffed by suitably trained staff. The fiscals and sheriffs need to know what they are dealing with and to have a true understanding of the crime. Those same domestic abuse courts also need to deal with the family law issues that arise out of these cases, such as custody, access and divorce. That highlights the need for split payments; Richard Leonard raised that issue today at First Minister’s question time. Domestic abuse starts with financial abuse. Women need to be able to have financial independence; the Government must consider that and change its stance on split payments at stage 3 of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill in order to give women the protection that they need.

We need to press for progress on sexual exploitation, to free women from that damaging practice, which is increasing in our society rather than decreasing. If we want true equality, women cannot and should not be commodities to be bought and sold in Scotland, because that demeans all women. Sexual exploitation creates an atmosphere of entitlement in men and therefore encourages sexual violence.

Respect within relationships is not taught to young people at home or in school. They get much of their sex education from extreme pornography, which also leads to an increase in sexual violence. How can someone be equal if they do not command the same respect as someone of the opposite sex?

Recently, the High Court of Justice ruled that women who had been forced into prostitution and criminalised as a result should not have to reveal those convictions. Although that ruling is a step in the right direction, it seems odd to me that women can still be convicted when it is against their human rights to be forced to reveal those convictions. I ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking with regard to that ruling and whether it will lead to changes in our legislation.

It is simply wrong that women are criminalised when the men who have abused them get off scot free. Fiona Broadfoot, one of the women who took that case, said:

“Not one of those men who bought and used and abused me—even the ones who knew fine well I was a child when first put on the streets—has ever had to face the consequences of his actions.”

It is time for change, and we need to press for progress.

Although we take pride in all the advances that have been made, we recognise that we are still a long way off from true equality. On international women’s day, we need to redouble our efforts. We need to press for progress and we need to make progress. I hope that, in my lifetime, debates such as this will no longer exist and that women will truly be equal.

I move amendment S5M-10851.2, to insert at end:

“, and notes that the theme of this International Women’s Day is Press for Progress and, in this vein, presses for progress on the elimination of violence against women, closing the gender pay gap, ending period poverty and, for once and for all, smashing the glass ceiling that prevents women achieving their full potential.”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to the open debate. Speeches will be of six minutes, although I have quite a bit of time in hand, so there is room to be flexible and to give time back for interventions.


Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

Today is international women’s day. Someone, who will remain nameless, asked me earlier, “When is international men’s day?” That reminded me of when I was younger, and on mothers’ day rather petulantly asking my mum, “When’s daughters’ day?” Her response was this: “Every day is daughters’ day.”

International women’s day is a celebration that is held across the world to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through the streets of New York demanding better pay and working hours and the right to vote. In 1910, at the international conference of working women in Copenhagen, a proposal was voted on and passed, that in every country, on the same day, a national day of women would be held to highlight inequality wherever it could be found, whether in the home or at work, and to press for change.

In 1911, the day was held in a number of European countries on 19 March, but it was not until 1913 that a date of 8 March was agreed internationally. By that time, millions of women around the globe had become aware of the need to highlight terrible working conditions, of the complete absence of any legislative employment protections and of the need to provide a platform for social justice. In 1975, the United Nations announced an international women’s year. Before 1975, most married women could get financial credit only if a man guaranteed their loan, girls were not allowed to play rugby or football at school, and many schools taught boys and girls different subjects. That was only two years before I was born.

In 1999, the Scottish Trades Union Congress put forward a women’s agenda for the Scottish Parliament. It included championing of family-friendly policies and equal pay; tackling bullying and harassment; extending the provision of flexible, accessible and affordable childcare; embracing the principles of lifelong learning; and ensuring that women are properly represented in Parliament at all levels in policy and decision making.

How far we have come. We have already passed in this parliamentary session ground-breaking legislation that will undoubtedly help women. However, it is not only the legislation that we pass in this Parliament that has an effect on how women are seen and treated. Although we have come far, we still have much to do.

Some of the attitudes that still exist in society today find an outlet in the remarks, insults and sometimes even threats that are aimed at female politicians. Everyday correspondence to my office can and does include language and comments that would never be included in correspondence to a man. I know that, because I used to work for a male MSP. We see much worse online, with comments on everything from appearance to sexuality, and people typing whatever comes into their head, without consideration of the consequences. It is not true that once we become elected we become political robots—we are still human beings with feelings and with families. Moreover, we cannot pretend that the results from the recent sexual harassment survey that was conducted here in Parliament are anything but highly alarming.

It is international women’s day, however, so I will take a minute to talk about one inspirational woman from international politics. Any female politician or, to be honest, any woman who has not read Hillary Clinton’s book “What Happened” should do so immediately. Whether we agree with her politics or not, she gives a great insight into the way she was treated during the presidential election campaign. I was struck by a paragraph in which she talks about some advice that she received about being a female politician:

“Women are seen favourably when they advocate for others, but unfavourably when they advocate for themselves. For example, there’s virtually no downside to asking for a raise if you’re a man. You’ll either get it or you won’t but you won’t be penalized for trying. A woman who does the same is more likely to pay a price. Even if she gets a salary bump, she’ll lose a measure of goodwill. The exception is when a woman asks for a raise on someone else’s behalf. Then she’s seen as generous and a team player. You have a steep mountain to climb. They will have no empathy for you.”

Moving on to science, we all know the name Marie Curie—the first person to win two Nobel prizes—but how many people know that she was prevented from joining France’s Academy of sciences because she was a woman? Rosalind Franklin played a huge part in decoding the structure of DNA, but three men claimed the Nobel prize for the discovery. Astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars, but her male supervisor claimed the Nobel prize. Lise Meitner was pivotal in the discovery of nuclear fission, but not only did she not get the Nobel prize, she was not even allowed on the floors where the male scientists worked. Again, we have come so far, but we still have more to do.

We see so much lip service being paid to women’s rights, including warm words on social media and good intentions being outlined in press releases, but words are no substitute for deeds. Action is required—not just a crowd-pleasing, box-ticking exercise. We need to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and abuse, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, belittling sexist and misogynist language, judging women on their appearance, and saying that 50:50 quotas prevent women from taking positions on merit. Women have the merit; quotas merely give them the opportunities. We need a zero-tolerance approach to being treated like second-class citizens and as if we should still be chained to the sink, barefoot and pregnant.

This year will prove to be pivotal in the fight for women’s rights, equality and respect. We will not settle for being paid less than men or for being asked in an interview whether we plan to start a family. We are here to contribute, challenge and compete. So, let us celebrate women—all women. I will celebrate my mum, my sisters, my aunties, my nieces, my cousins, my friends and my sisters in this chamber and around the world, and I will bring up my son to celebrate and respect women. Women are looking for us here to set not just laws but an example. Let us make sure, first and foremost, that this Parliament can be held up as a place where women feel safe, valued and appreciated. Let us make sure that every day is women’s day.


Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this international women’s day debate. There are many topics that could be covered: the gender pay gap, childcare provision, sexual harassment, violence and abuse against women domestically and in war zones, and equal representation, to name but a few.

However, I want to focus on the legal profession and to look at the number of young girls who choose to study law and the opportunities that women have in the profession, assessing in particular the progress that has been made by women in that currently male-dominated profession.

Interestingly, according to the latest statistics that are available from the Scottish Parliament information centre, in 2015-16, of the students who graduated with a law degree in Scotland, 63.5 per cent were female and 36.5 per cent were male. In the same year, of those who completed the diploma in professional legal practice that is required to be taken after the LLB degree in order to become a solicitor, 66.1 per cent were female and 33.9 per cent were male. According to the Law Society of Scotland, since 2012 more women have completed legal traineeships than men. In 2016-17, the figures were 322 women and 173 men.

Thereafter, as the next career stages progress, it becomes evident that the higher percentage of women than men starts to decline. In 2015, marginally more fully qualified female lawyers held practising certificates than men.

However, in terms of women reaching the top of the legal profession, Scotland can be proud of some exceptional women who have, during the past decade, provided hugely encouraging examples of how women can lead the way for the younger intake of female lawyers. Scotland’s first female Lord Advocate—the head of criminal prosecution in Scotland—Dame Elish Angiolini, was appointed in 2006 and held the post until 2011. Although the head of the judiciary in Scotland, the Lord President of the Court of Session and Lord Justice General, has never been a woman, the Lord Justice Clerk, Scotland’s second most senior judge is, for the very first time, a woman—Lady Dorrian.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I am fascinated by Margaret Mitchell’s progress, although I am not sure where she is going. The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee looked at the gender pay gap. Does she think that it is just a matter of time until women take up more senior positions, or do we need to do something positive in order to move forward?

Margaret Mitchell

I hope to develop that theme, but my point is that many more young girls are now qualifying in law. I therefore expect to see a corresponding increase in women filling senior places. As I go on, I hope to tell Parliament what I think needs to happen to encourage that.

Of the 35 senators of the College of Justice in Scotland who sit in the Court of Session and the High Court, 10 are women. At sheriff court level, however, the numbers are less encouraging. Of the 142 permanent or resident sheriffs sitting in our 39 sheriff courts, only 27 are women.

At UK level, the Supreme Court is led by Baroness Hale of Richmond, who is the first female head of the judiciary in the United Kingdom. She was also the first woman law lord in 2004, and then the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court in 2009. However, of the other 11 members of the Supreme Court, only one justice—Lady Black of Derwent—is a woman.

At Europe level, the European Parliament conducted a study of the legal profession across EU countries in August 2017. It revealed that women predominate in practice areas such as family and child law, and that their presence in commercial law practice areas is increasing. The trend has been reflected in an increase in the number of female partners in large pan-European law firms. Significantly, the reason that is given for that change is that because commercial practice is becoming more about negotiation and client care than about contentious litigation, it has seen an increased requirement for skills that are “stereotypically possessed by women”.

The European study also found that, although there is an increase in the number of women who are entering the legal profession and becoming partners, the number of women progressing to partnership or elite levels in the advocacy profession is still very small.

Scotland has much to be proud of. There has undoubtedly been a significant increase in the number of women entering the legal profession but, equally, with some notable exceptions, there is still a steep hill to climb before that trend is reflected at the top of the profession in years to come.

I hope that, by raising awareness about stereotypes and addressing the wider societal issues—including adequate childcare provision and presumption about who bears the burden of caring for children or other dependants—a level playing field can be achieved that will provide all women with the opportunities to reach the top of the legal profession. In the meantime, we recognise and pay tribute to trailblazers such as Baroness Hale and Dame Elish Angiolini for the breakthroughs that they have made, which will pave the way for future generations of women.


Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)

Where Margaret Mitchell finished off is a good place to start, because gender parity is at least 200 years away, according to the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report 2017”. Even slaves did not wait that long to have their freedom respected. Although we know that gender parity will not happen overnight—or maybe not even in three centuries—the good news is that, across the world, women are making positive gains day by day. Plus, there is a strong and growing global movement of advocacy, activism and support.

We in Scotland will not let up. Now, more than ever, there is a strong call to action to push forward and progress gender parity. It is a strong call to press for progress and motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. The press for progress campaign has five asks: maintain a gender parity mindset, challenge stereotypes and bias, forge positive visibility of women—we are doing well today, girls—influence others’ beliefs and actions, and celebrate women’s achievements. My, we have a lot to celebrate.

Every member in the chamber has a responsibility, regardless of gender, to actively support equality and fairness in all its facets. I have said before in the chamber that men of quality should never fear equality. That is a good statement for today.

We have legislation, commissions, equal rights and legal protection provided by the European convention on human rights and European law, reinforced by our own laws around fairness and equality for all people. We have had some major, hard-fought and well-won victories against employers who have underpaid their female staff for decades. That is why today is a great day for saying that, no, we will not sit quietly and accept the status quo. We will fight it all the time and we will fight it hard until the need for fighting has gone because inequality has gone.

We need to press still harder for progress, risk irritating some of the angry men and, perhaps most important of all, stop seeing ourselves as the second-rate humans that some members of society seem to feel it is appropriate to call us. Women of every age, background, ethnicity and religion—prosperous or not—are already engaged in that process. What we all want, and what Scotland is determined to win, is simple: we want to be treated equally. It is not difficult.

Let us look at some international examples of that. Take the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operative Union, for instance, which grows and trades in coffee beans in Malawi. The original beans were transported via Zanzibar from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, so we have a link to that coffee that is grown in Malawi. The other night, I met Bernard Kaunda, who is the general manager of the Mzuzu Coffee Planters Co-operative Union, at the Hamilton fair trade group meeting. He informed me of the great success of a gendered aspect of the work that the co-operative does with women, which includes coffee beans that are produced by women being sold with a 20 cents premium added. That 20 cents is saved and distributed to women in a microfinancing model to build businesses and grow local economies. It has been incredibly successful and has resulted in many new women entrepreneurs and businesses developing in Malawi. That is all from a coffee bean from Edinburgh.

Let us take this to a more local level. Jigsaw Travel on Wellhall Road in Hamilton was founded in 1998 by Lesley Millar. The business is a corporate bespoke travel company specialising in complex, personalised travel bookings. It was the winner in 2016 and 2017 of the Scottish Passenger Agents Association best small business (travel agent) award and has been nominated for several Glasgow and Lanarkshire business awards. The company has clients from all over the UK, so what was a local business has grown—like that coffee bean—to have a strong national base. The Federation of Small Businesses has nominated Lesley Millar as one of the top 100 businesswomen in the UK—a super accolade for Lesley and her team. The business has grown to employ seven members of staff, all of whom are women. I am sure that you will agree, Presiding Officer, that, today of all days, it is incredibly appropriate to highlight such a thriving business in my constituency.

Those are all great successes, but we have so much more to do. Even in our Government structures, we have work to do. In Yarl’s Wood detention centre, 120 women are on hunger strike. The centre has been described by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons as

“a place of national concern”.

The organisers of a protest that is being held today in Glasgow tell us that the strike

“is a refusal to submit to institutionally racist detention conditions which are an integral part of the ‘hostile environment’ policy currently being enforced by the UK Government.”

It is a sad indictment of that policy. The Home Office wrote to the 120 hunger strikers on Saturday threatening to expedite their extradition and refusing to listen to their demands. Some of those women are experiencing horrific conditions in Yarl’s Wood, including in some cases sexual assault. I stand with those women today, and I ask my colleagues in the chamber to do the same and send a message of solidarity.

Last year, the pussy hat revolution resulted in me getting a row from the Presiding Officer for donning my fetching pink hat. I will not be doing that this year, but the message is still absolutely clear. The Presiding Officer has got her evil eye on. It is, maybe, a small push against the establishment, but every act of pressing for progress takes us closer to the more equal world that we all wish to live in.

Just like those suffragists 100 years ago with their good cause, we have many good causes, and we have heard about them today. One is press for progress, another is #MeToo and another is time’s up—a campaign that tells the misogynists that the clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. Time’s up for misogyny, harassment, unequal pay and inequality. Time’s up is not a slogan—it is a directive, so I ask my colleagues here today, “What will you do to press for progress?”

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind everyone that we still have a bit of time in hand, if people feel the urge to make interventions.


Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

Today, on international women’s day, it is great to see a woman presiding over us.

History is written by the winners and, for as long as we have been living in a patriarchal society, the winners have been men. In “A Room of One’s Own”, Virginia Woolf wrote:

“the majority of women are neither harlots nor courtesans”—

I heartily agree—

“nor do they sit clasping pug dogs to dusty velvet all through the summer afternoon. But what do they do then?”

She continues:

“For all the dinners are cooked; the plates and cups are washed; the children sent to school and gone out into the world … No biography or history has a word to say about it.”

When Oscar winner Frances McDormand invited women to stand up and be visible because their stories should be told, it made me think of my countless sisters who have been invisible, in Scotland and across the world. International women’s day is here to celebrate and create a space for women, where our stories should be told.

Today, to misquote RuPaul, we celebrate herstory. The fight for women’s equality is intertwined with the history of the labour movement. A working class woman, Selina Cooper, a suffragist and mill worker from the north of England, put it best when she said that women did not want the vote “as a mere plaything”. Instead,

“Every woman … is longing for her political freedom in order to make the lot of the worker pleasanter and to bring about reforms”.

Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the founding members of the Labour Party, and the Labour movement agreed with her when she said that she hoped that our movement might be the means of

“righting every political and social wrong.”

Of course, it is not the only means of doing that—people across all parties, and those of no party, do it—but I am proud of the Labour movement’s history.

As the cabinet secretary said, today some MSPs are going to commemorate Mary Barbour with the unveiling of her statue in Glasgow. She was Glasgow’s first Scottish female councillor and led the South Govan Women’s Housing Association during the Glasgow rent strikes of 1915, actively organising tenant committees and eviction resistance, which cannot have been easy.

Women here in Scotland and across the world have always stood up for the rights of others, writing themselves into history in the process. Ida B Wells, one of my mother’s countrywomen, was one of the first ever investigative journalists in the USA. She wrote about and led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s, travelling, as a black woman, to the southern states—a hugely dangerous undertaking while the Jim Crow laws were in full force.

With works from Austen to Brontë, to Eliot, to Angelou and Sarah Waters, women’s writing is seen as the very best in our literary history. Why, then, after 100 years, are women journalists like Ida B Wells still in the minority? She broke new ground and her voice and work have echoes in today’s Zero Tolerance write to end violence against women awards, which take place every year here in our Parliament and drive up standards in journalism by awarding those committed to furthering the cause of gender equality through their work.

Yesterday, Zero Tolerance, the 25th anniversary of which we celebrate this year, reminded us that the portrayal of women and girls in the media has a direct influence on people’s attitudes and behaviour. Although we all know that, media monitoring by the charity shows that the skewed and dangerous perspective of nine major newspapers exposes people to the wrong sort of language—and language matters. It is distressing that this year major newspapers are still reporting such grievous crimes as rape and sexual assault as “sex”, failing to set the story in the context of violence against women and giving sensationalised and graphic descriptions.

Part of the solution is the employment of more women journalists. However, whatever our gender, we have a collective responsibility to use the right language. I am pleased that, at the most recent awards, which many of us here today attended, the National Union of Journalists Scotland highlighted the importance of that and supported the awards.

I spoke about Virginia Woolf at the beginning of this short speech. She discussed what it would take to have more female writers and identified

“A room of one’s own”

and £500 a year—perhaps that has gone up a bit now. In doing so, she summed up the fact that women will achieve equality only through economic independence. It was a Labour Government that put her words into law through the Equal Pay Act 1970, but as others have highlighted, we are still nowhere near where we should be with that. The fight has not ended by any means.

As Richard Leonard and my friend and colleague Rhoda Grant highlighted today, we as a Parliament have the power to help some of the most marginalised women in Scotland through economic agency—it requires ministers to bring forward regulations that will ensure that the payments of universal credit are automatically split between both members of a couple. That would be particularly helpful to women in an abusive relationship and it would give them financial empowerment.

Angela Constance

I am very grateful to Ms Beamish for giving way on what is a hugely important and sensitive matter. I think that we are at one on this. The point that the First Minister made this afternoon was that, although we are supportive of split payments, we rely on getting the agreement of the Department for Work and Pensions to do it—then we would have to make them. I hope that members across the parties will encourage their colleagues in the House of Commons to support Philippa Whitford’s private member’s bill, through which we could deal with this very issue at source for all women across the UK.

Claudia Beamish

I welcome that intervention, because part of the issue is that good women and good men work need to work together in this chamber and globally on those issues. I am sure that we will reach a resolution on the matter, and we must.

As Virginia Woolf said,

“the experience of the mass is behind the single voice.”

It might not seem like a great act of history to make that change to universal credit. However, year after year, our fine words on international women’s day have been turned into tangible actions by many such small changes that were made by women to ensure our safety and economic security. Let us do that, and so much more, together.


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

My speech today should have been the easiest that I have had to write. My speech last year was one of the easiest that I have ever written, but my speech this year, in this week, was not. I was going to use my whole six minutes to talk about my project to map a tourist trail around Scotland that recognises the women who have shaped Scotland—and I will get on to that—but I just could not stand up today and not talk about the continued and distressingly all-too-close-to-home subject of the sexual harassment of women.

I am all for free speech, but I find myself wanting to erase phrases from our discourse around the rights that women should have to feel safe, unimpeded and respected in the workplace in particular. One such phrase is “It’s only banter”. Maybe to the person who is delivering it, who thinks that he is being the most hilarious man on the planet, it is “only banter”. However, to the woman on the receiving end, who is too polite to say what she really thinks, or who feels that to speak vociferously would put her at risk, it is not “only banter”. They are words that diminish, control, objectify, insult, embarrass and distress.

Outright abuse and obvious unwanted physical contact are horrific, but they are not the only type of abuse. Insidious, sustained and thinly veiled sexual comments are not to be ignored, as they have a pernicious and cumulative effect. Women worry that they will not be believed. Women know that they will be told that they are overreacting. Women know that people will question their complaint’s validity. Women find it hard to put across the effect that the abuse has had on them. Women will also lie awake at night, wondering how they can escape the abuse—whether that is by leaving their job, by making arrangements never to be in that person’s company or by voicing their complaints in a way that they know might reap the whirlwind.

On this day, I wear purple, the colour of feminism, and stand with all women who have ever felt abused, diminished and controlled by persistent, insidious workplace harassment—because I was one of those women. Even 25 years on from my harassment, I still think about what I could have done to stop it, and how hard it was to take any action. I salute those who, in the past year, were braver than me and who have taken action.

I can now talk about my project. Claudia Beamish has already said that history is written by the winners. I think that it is more accurate to say that history is written by the patriarchy. Some of the proof of that is on our high streets. If we look up, we see a statue of a general, a king, a male writer or a male poet. A Glasgow traffic cone does not sit upon the head of the bronzed hair bun of a suffragette; it sits upon the short back and sides of a military man.

There are simply not enough landmarks to represent the women who made Scotland, and those that there are should be given more importance. That is why I am pleased to say that I am playing a small part in helping the many people who have dedicated their lives to giving Scotland’s women the recognition that they deserve, by working with VisitScotland and others to generate a tourist map of the existing landmarks of influential Scottish women. I am also asking the public, including everyone in the chamber, to get in touch with me so that I can get more information on the women in Scotland’s history who they would like to be recognised who are not already. I thank Glasgow Women’s Library, which has already been in touch to help me with the project.

I am sad to say that there is not one statue of a woman in my constituency. However, in the neighbouring constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, there is Fisher Jessie, the beautiful statue of a Peterhead fish seller and her child. To me, she is a symbol of the juggling act—caring for a child by her side as she works, humphing her basket of fish with her shawl across her shoulders, and representing the ordinary north-east women who were the engine of a country.

I was delighted to see that a statue of the hero of the Glasgow rent strikes, Mary Barbour, and the others whom she led was unveiled today in Govan. However, in our capital city, there are more statues of animals than of women, despite the existence of great Edinburgh women such as Muriel Spark and Elsie Inglis.

Of course, my colleague Fiona Hyslop was instrumental in getting a plaque put up for Sophia Jex Blake, the leader of the Edinburgh seven who, along with Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson, and Emily Bovell, was among the first women to be admitted to a university in the UK. They were stalked and harassed by male students, and a mob of 200 rioted outside Surgeons’ Hall when the women arrived for an exam. The university ultimately refused to grant them degrees, but in 1899, following the efforts of the Edinburgh seven, an act of Parliament sanctioned degrees for women.

I put on record my support for the campaign in Ayrshire, with which my colleague Ruth Maguire is involved, to put up a monument to recognise the many women who were victimised by the Scottish witch trials. That is a part of women’s history in Scotland that is seriously overlooked.

In my constituency, which I always mention, we could do with more recognition of Strichen’s Lorna Moon, who was a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter in the cinema industry’s infancy. I would like to think that Lorna Moon was the sort of person who was behind the speech Frances McDormand made at the Oscars, which was mentioned earlier. I would also be delighted to see the suffragette Caroline Phillips recognised. Those women did not do things in order to be commemorated with plaques and statues, but they changed our world and should be recognised.

Dr Alison McCall, the convener of women’s history Scotland, says that women’s underrepresentation in the civic landscape has been partly due to the way that those women viewed themselves. She says that a lot of the women we would want to honour are women who saw a problem and set about solving it. They did not donate their diaries to an archive because they were never thinking of their own personal glorification, but glorify them we must, because they inspire others. Evening out the representation of women is another part of the jigsaw that will address women’s inequality.


Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

So here we are, on international women’s day 2018 and, as Christina McKelvie and others have noted, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 global gender gap report tells us that gender parity is still more than 200 years away. It is absolutely right, therefore, that this year’s theme is #PressForProgress, as women have waited far too long already—haven’t we just?

On this international women’s day, we are asked to

“concentrate on 5 specific actions to press for progress for gender parity”

in our own sphere of influence. In that sphere of influence, I am proud to be involved in women 50:50. I believe that that is a good example of using the reach that we as parliamentarians have to demonstrate our commitment to gender parity. To all who are listening to this debate I say, if you have not yet joined us, please do.

Let me say more on those “specific actions”. On this international women’s day, we are called to maintain a “gender parity mindset”. If such a mindset was adopted, welfare reform would not be aimed almost exclusively at women, as if they were a target for cuts. On a more positive note, I believe that the Scottish women’s budget group is that “gender parity mindset” in action.

We are called on to challenge stereotypes and bias and I welcome the light that is being shone on some of the darkest corners of that bias through campaigns such as #MeToo.

We are also called on to influence other people’s beliefs and actions. Women 50:50 is working hard to explain why the lack of women in representative politics, our boardrooms and our public bodies matters. I want people to ask, when they are watching First Minister’s questions or following proceedings in our town halls, “Why are there so few women in here? Where are they?” I say to anyone sitting in the gallery that the chamber does not normally have the gender balance that it has at the moment. We know that girls are doing well in school, and young women are excelling in our universities, so why are they not here in greater numbers, helping to shape the laws that shape our country?

We are asked, too, to forge positive visibility of women. That is something that we can and do, do; thank you colleagues.

Finally, we are asked to celebrate women’s achievements, and I believe that we need to get much better at doing that. Celebrating those achievements will help us to achieve those other four asks.

On this international women’s day, I am delighted to celebrate, first, some very recent achievements. At last week’s world indoor championships, the British athletics team won medals in seven events. The team won 10 medals in all, because the women’s 4x400 team won bronze, and women won nine of the 10 medals. Four of those medals were hard won by the incredible efforts of Scotland’s Laura Muir, who won silver and bronze over two events, Eilidh Doyle, who won her first global individual medal, with bronze in the 400 metres, and Zoey Clark in that 4x400 team.

Those women are incredible role models. Laura Muir will not be competing in the Commonwealth games, which we will be watching soon, because she is completing her veterinary medicine degree. Eilidh Doyle, who recently spoke at the Scottish Athletics event in this Parliament, is a qualified physical education teacher, and her positive influence has been recognised; she is included in the Young Women’s Movement Scotland list of 30 inspiring women who are under 30.

I am proud to report that that inspirational list includes the first Green councillor in the east end of Glasgow, Councillor Kim Long. Kim, like all the other women whom we celebrate today, rises to a challenge. She says:

“as a teenager I really hated PE, but I went on to play hockey for Scotland.”

She was also the moderator of the national youth assembly, where she pushed for young people’s voices to be embedded in decision-making processes. She became the first young person ever to be on a special commission: the special commission on same-sex relationships and the ministry. Members can read about her many achievements on the 30 under 30 website, where Kim says:

“My personal highlight was when I got a bunch of men in Barlinnie to sing in three-part harmony”.

She regards that as one of her stand-out achievements. Kim goes on to say:

“I want to see girls and young women taking up space, whether that is physically or vocally, in boardrooms, sports pitches, stages and classrooms—really wherever they want to be, but taking up space.”

As members said, we need collective empowerment. We also need to realise that some people face even greater challenges because of the structures in which we live.

As Claudia Beamish said, history is written by the winners. Kim Long was at the unveiling of the statue of Mary Barbour in Glasgow today. The statue is long overdue. If the gender gap is bad, the gender statue gap highlights how poor we have been—we have not been good, to put it mildly—at celebrating women’s achievements. Now, I am the deputy convener of the cross-party group on animal welfare. I am passionate about animals and I am very pleased that we have statues of a bear and a dog in this wonderful city, but we can do much better when it comes to gender representation, if we want to continue to mark people and their achievements in that way.

Another young woman on the 30 under 30 list is the writer Kirsty Strickland, who has won awards for her writing on violence against women. She has been a judge on awards on the subject, too. She, too, talks about the need for women to be confident enough to take up space. She says:

“I’ve struggled with ‘imposter-syndrome’ in the past, and wasted far too much time worrying that I’m not good enough, or clever enough, or brave enough to do the things I want to in life. For young women, your time is precious. Please don’t waste a second of it worrying that you aren’t good enough; you ARE. So take up space, make yourself heard, know your worth and go out and achieve your potential. And know that while you are doing that, other women are rooting you on and delighted to see you succeeding.”

There are only 30 women on the list, but we know that there are tens of thousands of young women who should be celebrated. One who is not on the list but who deserves a special mention is Catherine Gemmell, of the Marine Conservation Society, who has done fabulous work on the reduction of plastics in Scotland, through her enthusiasm and passion—many people in this building have met her.

Finally, given that this is international women’s day, I draw attention to the work of Kenyan activist, and a personal heroine of mine, Wangari Maathai. She died in 2011, and I did not know much about her until members of the Kenyan-Scottish community in Edinburgh invited me to plant trees with them in Figgate park, just a couple of miles from here. Wangari Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 51 million trees across Kenya, conserving the environment, providing employment for women and reducing poverty. She said:

“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.”

Let our little thing be a refusal to accept the status quo and a determination to challenge it in all that we do, working together until women in Scotland and across the globe have our long-overdue equality.


Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I say to Alison Johnstone that this little thing will certainly not let certain aspects rest. [Laughter.] Having been born and brought up in Govan and listened to my granny and my aunties and others, I am incredibly proud that we have the statue of Mary Barbour at last. As has been said before, there are so many fantastic women, and we should be honouring them.

I congratulate everyone who has spoken so far. Like so many women past and present, they have done a fantastic job.

I want to quote an important part of the motion. It says:

“the Parliament unites on International Women’s Day to reaffirm its commitment to upholding and protecting the rights of women and girls, which are fundamental human rights”.

We should repeat that constantly—“fundamental human rights”—because it affects women and girls. Imagine having to say that.

I could talk about many women from my past, from Margaret Ewing to various other political figures, but I want to talk about the fantastic work that is going on in a number of areas in my constituency.

A young girl who came to see me when she was a student and who has gone from success to success founded FemEng, which is a network that aims to link females in the school of engineering at the University of Glasgow. The group has a number of focuses including outreach work with schools, networking events with industry professionals, social activities and international collaborations.

FemEng was started as a sub-group within the Glasgow university engineering society by a young girl, or a young lady, called Ellen Simmons. She came into my constituency office in Argyle Street in Glasgow to tell me about that fantastic project. She was so enthused about her ideas, and I just took it from there and met the other students. The network has gone from strength to strength since 2015, when it was first announced. In 2016, FemEng became formally affiliated with the Women’s Engineering Society, and they have established a fantastic collaborative relationship.

Since the group’s early days, one of its aims has been to take its message into the wider community around Glasgow and beyond. It has found that pupils are often unaware of the vast range of disciplines that can be studied in higher education and sometimes struggle to see how their skills could be applied to the engineering industry. That is where FemEng is very successful. It offers informative presentations about the different engineering disciplines and what life is like as a student and advice for pupils about applying to university. It also has strong links with colleges and it delivers campus tours and presentations for visiting groups. It does not necessarily mentor, but it certainly supports women—and young women in particular—who want to go into engineering.

FemEng believes that one of the main deterrents for females who are studying or considering studying engineering is that there is a lack of positive role models in the industry. That is where Ellen and her friends and fellow students come into it. FemEng aims to bridge the gap between the university student and the industry professional and to give students an idea of where their degree could take them. One of the ways in which they do that is by hosting informal networking events, which they call FutureYou. At those events, they invite successful female industry professionals and alumni to give a brief presentation answering the question, “How did you get to where you are now?” That helps to build up the confidence of the young engineering students.

In 2016—this was a fantastic idea, and it has been very successful—the group successfully pioneered FemEng in Rwanda, which was the university’s first student-led learning project in collaboration with the University of Rwanda. Lots of men were killed in the genocide in Rwanda, so there were many women and not as many men. The initiative brought together female engineering students from the two universities with the common goal of encouraging more high school girls in Rwanda to pursue further education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The project has gone from strength to strength, and I wish it all success for the future.

Like Alison Johnstone, I want to mention Laura Muir, who is studying at the University of Glasgow. To date, she has won seven medals, including two gold medals. Her most recent victories were at the world indoor championships in Birmingham, where she won silver and bronze medals. Laura also won the sport award in the inspiring city awards last year, which is a collaborative project of Glasgow Life, The Herald and the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. She is a fantastic role model for young people.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is ample time if you feel obliged to take Mr Doris’s intervention.

Bob Doris

I am delighted that Sandra White has taken my intervention, because I would like to mention another remarkable lady, who I had the opportunity to meet the other day. Sylvia Douglas runs the social enterprise Ms Miss Mrs, which is based on Benview Street just between my and Sandra White’s constituencies. The organisation works to build capacity and to empower women in my constituency and across north Glasgow, with a particular focus on deprived communities. This is a good opportunity to put on record the great work that the organisation does. I hope that there are organisations around the country that can do similar work, particularly in deprived communities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I will make up your time for the intervention, Ms White.

Sandra White

I thank Bob Doris for that and perhaps look forward to making a joint visit to the group, which would be fantastic.

I cannot finish without mentioning the Glasgow girls, who were already mentioned by the cabinet secretary. From the very beginning of their campaign, Christina McKelvie and I were involved. We must pay tribute to Euan Girvan, who was the headteacher at Drumchapel high school and who got those girls together. It took a huge amount of courage to go forward, but we know the story of what happened with the dawn raids and the fantastic work that the group did, particularly the seven young women, in highlighting the poor treatment of asylum seekers.

I will continue a wee bit longer to talk about what happened to some of the Glasgow girls. I still meet Amal and Roza socially and go on demos with them, as they are very much involved in social justice. Roza went on to study law and politics at the University of Strathclyde; she stood as a Scottish National Party candidate in the most recent local council elections and came very close to winning. That just shows the courage that those young girls had.

Basically, women should support women. The Glasgow girls, Amal and Roza in particular, are a beacon for what women can do when they get encouragement.


Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (LD)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate and for the consensus on the Government’s motion. My life has been filled by the impact of extraordinary women and their impression on my world has been profound. I want to focus on one woman in particular in my remarks today.

In April 1940, my great-aunt Joan worked in Foreign Office intelligence as part of the British legation to Oslo. She stood side by side with the celebrated spy chief Frank Foley, burning intercepts and manifests as Wehrmacht divisions overran the city. As a key member of the Foley group, she helped to rescue the Norwegian Government and King, escaping overland by car and foot through the snow, through Lillehammer and on to the coast. From there, after providing vital communications support to the Norwegian resistance, she was evacuated by submarine back to Britain and was awarded an MBE in the 1941 new year’s honours list for her service. She was only 23 years old.

I wish that I had known her. In her short career, she was present at some of the most defining moments of global history. She was part of the delegation to Yalta, and I can only imagine the diplomat that she would have become if she had not been sadly lost to us when her plane disappeared over the Atlantic on her return journey from the San Francisco conference that established the United Nations at the end of the war.

When I think about aunt Joan, I am reminded of the frontiers that she had to push back as a young woman in a man’s world. That she was decorated and mentioned in dispatches several times in the male-dominated landscape of military intelligence is testimony to the strength of her character and her resilience. I see that strength in the women in my life today and I honour them for it.

In the year that has passed since we last marked this occasion, it has been my great privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Scottish Government and with members of all parties in support of the changes that we have delivered in advancing women’s rights and gender equality, in landmark domestic violence legislation, in the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill and in the widespread condemnation of the rape clause.

However, we still have frontiers to push back. I hope that, in the year to come, we can do more to challenge employers who still engage in maternity discrimination, make clothing demands in the workplace or ensure a gender pay gap of nearly 7 per cent across this country. Indeed, on that last issue, I was very glad to be involved in the University and College Union protest outside the Parliament at lunch time, in which people were talking, among other things, about pay disparity in the university and college sectors.

I want to see the advances that we are making in gender representation on public boards mirrored in the boardrooms of private companies, and I want a shift in the imbalance in which 50 per cent of graduates are female but only one fifth of UK companies are led or owned by women. Let this also be the year in which we finally see a modicum of justice for those women born in the 1950s who are victims of state pension inequality.

I am a feminist but, if I am honest, I do not think that that has always been true. My mother had been in the vanguard of the North American feminist movement of the 1960s and always brought me up with an understanding of respect and equality. However, when I think back on it, I spent so many of my formative years blissfully unaware of the privilege that I enjoyed as a boy and a young man. In the stereotypes that I conformed to and in the advantage that I accepted without question, I was often a happy beneficiary of the patriarchy.

To my shame, I was, at times, a passive witness to everyday sexism, systemic injustice and even the harassment that Gillian Martin so eloquently described a few moments ago. I am not sure when I woke up to all this, but wake up I did, and over the past 20 years, I have striven to be both a better man and a better feminist to live up to the example set for me by my mother, my aunt, my sisters and all the female role models in my life. I have mentored female candidates in my party; I have helped steward all-women shortlists through its structures; and I have worked for gender balance in my party to the point where, as director of our national campaign in the snap general election, I helped reverse an imbalance that has existed since the inception of my party when we returned to Westminster a group of Scottish MPs half of whom were female.

However, it does not stop there. In every debate such as this, I rise with a not insignificant degree of embarrassment that I speak for a group of parliamentarians who are exclusively male. As a result, I offer this commitment: I will do everything in my power to ensure that the next group of Liberal Democrat parliamentarians that we return to this place, be it big or small, will look more like the society that we seek to represent and less like the Liberal front bench of 1916.

International women's day affords us the opportunity to reaffirm our shared commitment to gender equality, to take stock of the mountains that we still have to climb in pursuit of that aim and to recognise that attitudes and complicity such as those of my younger self can be turned around.

We will hear the words of many great women in today’s debate, but I want to leave the chamber with those of a man, Indian movie star Amitabh Bachchan. Like me, he woke up to iniquities of the patriarchy that had benefited him so richly. He said:

“Because you are women, people will force their thinking on you, their boundaries on you. They will tell you how to dress, how to behave, who you can meet and where you can go. Don’t live in the shadows of people’s judgment. Make your own choices in the light of your own wisdom.”

I see in those words the spirit and strength of my aunt Joan and the many great women with whom I am proud to share this chamber.

With that, I commend the motion to the chamber.


Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

International women’s day is just as important now as ever, and I am sure that this year’s awareness day will help to progress the cause of true gender equality.

When I look around this chamber, I am proud to see many strong women beside me. Each and every day, my female colleagues across the political divide show that politics is now very much the business of women. However, when I look back at political representation in the UK throughout history, I find it staggering that, since 1918, only 489 women have been elected as members of the House of Commons. Let me put that into context: until December 2016, there had been fewer women MPs ever than there had been men elected to the House of Commons at any one time.

We sit in a Parliament whose composition is now 35 per cent female. Although that demonstrates that things are moving in the right direction, we are still far from achieving gender parity. People look to our Parliament as an example. Therefore, I look forward to a future in which it better reflects Scotland’s wider society.

Women of my age and younger have been afforded greater opportunities in their lives than our predecessors were, be that in education, in the workplace or elsewhere. That is thanks to the generations of women and men before us who advocated and fought for gender equality and parity of opportunity. In his message marking international women’s day two years ago, the former secretary general to the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said that, as a society,

“We have shattered so many glass ceilings we created a carpet of shards.”

He continued:

“Now we are sweeping away the assumptions and bias of the past, so women can advance across new frontiers.”

As an MSP, I see it as my role—indeed, my duty—to continue fighting the fight of our mothers and grandmothers before us and to address current inequalities for the benefit of women and girls in the future. Society might now be fairer and more equal than ever before, but the progress has not moved swiftly enough, and women still face a number of injustices. As my colleague Gillian Martin noted, movingly, we continue to be subjected to sexism and sexual harassment; as Alison Johnstone mentioned, we are adversely affected by welfare reforms; and we continue to face massive barriers at work.

Notwithstanding pregnancy and maternity discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace and the fact that women are more than three times as likely as men to be working part time, women who work are often paid less than men. Last year was the year of the BBC gender pay gap controversy, which revealed stark differences in the salaries of public figures. However, that issue is not unique to the media or the celebrity world, as the gender pay gap impacts on almost every workforce across the UK. More women than ever before are working in professional, high-ranking jobs, but what use is that when their pay is often less than that of their equivalent male counterparts?

According to research by the opportunity now campaign, in the UK, for every £1 that a man earns, a woman takes home 81p. As I am a committed trade unionist—I duly refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I am a member of Unison—it continues to be a real source of personal frustration to me that women continue to lose out in the workplace. Since 1997, the gender pay gap in Scotland has narrowed considerably, from 26.5 per cent in 1997 to 16.1 per cent in 2017. However, 16.1 per cent is 16.1 per cent too much.

An Ipsos MORI poll that was conducted recently asked respondents when they thought that pay and economic equality would be achieved. The average of the participants’ answers was 2035. Nevertheless, members will not be surprised to hear that 2035 is a bit on the optimistic side, with the World Economic Forum suggesting that, at the current rate, women are not likely to reach economic parity with men until 2234. I doubt very much that I will be here to see that.

There are many drivers of the gender pay gap but, sadly, there is no one solution to the challenge of closing it. As with many of the injustices that women face, some barriers are systematic and cultural and will take generations to unravel. Nonetheless, many of the proactive measures that have been taken by the Scottish Government will go some way towards making Scotland more equal for our young women. For example, as a result of recent changes to the Equality Act 2010, public authorities are now forced to report their gender pay gap and publish equal pay statements if they employ more than 20 people—the figure is down from 150 employees previously. Furthermore, through the implementation of the developing the young workforce strategy, which is Scotland’s youth employment strategy, we will address gender imbalances in young people’s career choices and opportunities.

The Scottish Government is continuing to push employers to become living wage accredited. It is not right that more than 100,000 more women than men earn less than the living wage in Scotland, although the Government has ensured that Scotland has the highest proportion of employees who are paid the living wage of any country in the UK. International women’s day should give us all a renewed impetus. We must continue to work together to close the gender pay gap not only for ourselves but for the generations to follow.

Today, just over 100 years on from women getting the right to vote, women not having the right to vote is viewed as a ludicrous idea. It is viewed as old fashioned and belonging to history. I look forward to the day when gender inequality is seen as something that happened “in the olden days”, as my kids would say—an outdated concept that is consigned to the history books.

The motion alludes to the fact that this is Scotland’s year of young people, and we owe it to Scotland’s young people to do all that we can to create a fairer and more equal society. As has been evidenced in other speeches, through the #MeToo campaign and the time’s up movement we are witnessing profound changes in our world, and, for the most part, women are leading the way.


Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I fully agree with Clare Haughey that we are surrounded by strong women today. I am lucky enough to have the same at home, with my wife and three daughters.

I welcome the opportunity to speak as we celebrate women and girls around the world on international women’s day. Although it is a day for celebrating accomplishments and the progress that has been made, it is also a day for recognising the progress that is still left to be made.

Globally, the female population continues to face inequality and injustices in nearly all aspects of life, from health and education to career opportunities and domestic abuse. Inequality issues in the workplace, lack of political representation, gender biases and sexual harassment continue to persist in society.

Over the past 40 years, we have come a long way from when I worked in the cotton mills in Paisley, where women mill workers were not allowed to wear trousers. If they became engaged to be married, they had to leave the company. Gosh! What an improvement there is today.

Campaigns such as the #MeToo and time’s up campaigns, which have been mentioned, have added momentum to the push for equality, which women deserve. Women now feel more empowered to speak about their experiences of inequality. We must take the opportunity to listen to women and girls in order to understand the injustices that they face and find solutions to achieve equality.

We all know that there are areas of Scottish society in which we must improve. In education and training, there has been a 47 per cent decline in the number of women enrolled in colleges. Over the same period, the fall in the number of men enrolled in colleges has been only 25 per cent. In addition, only 5 per cent of those who started STEM apprenticeships in 2016-17 were female.

Women make up 50 per cent of the population but, in the political world, they make up only 35 per cent of MSPs and 24 per cent of local councillors. The Scottish Conservatives have recognised that we need to improve in that area, which is why my colleague Annie Wells launched the Women2Win Scotland campaign last year. She did so in order that women in the Conservative Party can receive the campaign training, networking and financial support that they need to run a successful campaign. In the past week, we have also launched a new diversity commission under the direction of Baroness Mobarik MEP to increase the number of women and minority candidates running under the Conservative banner for seats in the next Parliament.

Over the past 10 years or more, more women have taken up front-line operational roles in the armed forces on land and sea and in the air. Furthermore, they are achieving more senior command roles, which is only to be commended.

Let me move on to the slightly different topic of the Commonwealth women parliamentarians group, which was set up in the late 1980s. The CWP is a network of women members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Parliaments and legislatures. As an integral part of the CPA, the CWP works for better representation of women in legislatures and the furtherance of gender equality across the Commonwealth. The CWP network provides a means of building the capacity of women who have been elected to Parliament to be effective in their roles; improving the awareness and ability of all parliamentarians—male and female—and encouraging them to include a gender perspective in all aspects of their role in legislation, oversight and representation; and helping overseas and Commonwealth Governments to become gender-sensitive institutions.

The Scotland branch of the CPA chaired the first meeting of the British islands and Mediterranean region CWP steering committee, in September 2013, and held the first regional CWP conference, in March 2014. My colleague Margaret Mitchell is the CPA Scotland branch representative on the CWP regional steering committee.

The CWP has recognised that, traditionally, women have been the main drivers of change on gender equality. However, although women are by far the strongest advocates for gender equality, all parliamentarians and Parliaments, as institutions, have a role, and the CWP has appealed to branches in the CPA to appoint male champions. The CWP requested that CPA branches nominate a male parliamentarian to act as CWP male champion, and I recently volunteered for that role—to be truthful, it was with the strong encouragement of my wife and my daughters.

That initiative is in its infancy. However, I am looking forward to developing the role in the future for this Parliament and working in that role with other members from all sides of the chamber and with other CWP male champions within the region and elsewhere. As I was coming to the debate this afternoon, I was told that this Parliament is the first in the European Union to appoint a CWP male champion.

This year’s theme for international women’s day is press for progress, and I urge everyone to do just that: to press for progress in education, encouraging women to go to college and pursue careers in STEM, and to press for progress in the workplace, to close the wage gap and to end stigmas that suggest that women cannot hold executive positions.

We also need to press for progress in government, empower women to run for office and listen to their ideas and experiences, which will bring about real, productive change in creating equality for women. The experiences of women must be at the forefront of this equality movement; therefore, they need to be present and active in the forums in which change will be enacted.

Although international women’s day is only a single day in the year, the sentiment lasts all year round and we must continue to make progress in achieving equality for all. I wish you all a happy international women’s day.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I am delighted to speak in this debate on international women’s day and to talk about the inspirational and amazing women who have shaped our society and contributed so much. As we have heard from all sides of the chamber, we have come a long way since the days when the suffragettes and suffragists fought hard and sacrificed so much to win the right to vote—something that we all now take for granted. Even my generation cannot believe that the vote was once denied to us.

In addition to giving credit to those talented and world-renowned women, I give credit to the inspirational women who do not make a name for themselves with their inventions or their heroic deeds. We have heard a lot about those women from other members. Inspirational women are all around us in our everyday lives. For me, my gran and my mother were amazing influences on how I grew up, which I know is not unusual. Their values and unconditional love gave me the security and values from which I benefit to this day.

As we know, not all children have the good fortune to grow up with inspirational role models in their lives, which is why, the more we learn about ACEs—adverse childhood experiences—the more we can help people to live happier lives. For several years, I wrote a feature called “Forgotten Heroes” for a magazine, highlighting the amazing contributions that largely overlooked Scots had made to the world throughout the centuries. However, I had to dig long and hard to find profiles of Scottish heroines, of which I knew there were many.

That has, sadly, been the case until recently. Women were virtually airbrushed from history—women like Elsie Inglis, the founder of the Scottish women’s hospitals; Ayr’s Marion Gray, a mathematician who influenced the telecom giants of today; geologist Maria Gordon from Aberdeen; and zoologist Muriel Robertson. I could go on, but time will not allow—my colleagues Gail Ross and Gillian Martin mentioned a lot more. It is great to hear about Gillian Martin’s excellent project.

Thankfully, the situation is changing. A few weeks ago, I visited a school to record a video with pupils aged 12 to 14 and to talk about inspirational women. The school is also holding an event tomorrow to celebrate international women’s day, which I will be attending. One boy asked me who my inspirational women are. After I had mentioned family and certain politicians, I mentioned Rosa Parks, the first lady of civil rights, who refused to give up her seat for a white passenger on a bus in Alabama in 1955. I honestly did not think that the pupils would have heard of her, but, to my delight, they all nodded and said they were doing a project on her at that time.

The next question that I was asked was: if I could bring back either suffragette Emily Davison or Jane Haining, who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, who would it be? It was an impossible question. I told the pupils that I honestly could not choose, because each had contributed so much, but it was fabulous that they knew about those wonderful women.

So, where are we today? We are getting there, but there is still long way to go in our fight for equality. It is, therefore, entirely fitting that a statue of Mary Barbour is being unveiled today in Glasgow. As we have heard, she led thousands of women through the streets of Govan to fight for fair rents during the 1915 rent strike and campaigned for women’s access to reproductive and sexual health services. She was a social pioneer and an inspirational woman in the true sense.

The Scottish Government has a proud record of promoting women’s equality, including measures such as ensuring greater pay transparency, increasing early learning and childcare provision to record levels and working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to challenge pregnancy and maternity discrimination. We are also setting ambitious targets to increase the minority gender share in the most imbalanced college subject groups and modern apprentice frameworks, and we are improving women’s representation on boards through the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill as well as through the women 50:50 campaign and other initiatives.

Today, we fight on to banish the gender pay gap, to gain equal access to the board room and to finalise equal pay claims. We fight on for an end to sexual harassment and bullying at work and for an end to violence against women. We fight on for rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender women, for free sanitary products and for much more. Those things should not have to be fought for, because they are our rights. In 2018, gender equality and respect should be givens, and we will not give up until that is achieved.

I would like us to celebrate all women—mums, grans, aunts, sisters and carers—who are an inspiration to someone somewhere. I would also like us to celebrate the many amazing women who work in the third sector, such as Dr Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid and Karyn McCluskey, the chief executive of Community Justice Scotland, who have done and continue to do crucial work in protecting women and improving their lives. There are many more women in the third sector who deserve a shout out.

We should celebrate how far we have come, but we should know that there is much more to do, so that our daughters and granddaughters are shown the respect that they deserve and have the best possible future. Only then will our work and that of our pioneering sisters be done.


Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

Throughout my life, I have been inspired by a number of influential women, who have each helped to change the world in their own way. As I looked back at some of those women in the run-up to today’s debate, it became clear that women have been defying the odds successfully and unapologetically for centuries. Today in Scotland, we women no longer face the barriers that women faced even 50 years ago, and undoubtedly the odds are not so much stacked against us. Of course, there are still challenges and barriers here and around the world, and there are ways in which women are objectified, abused or oppressed, some of which members have highlighted. However, in this country, we now have a generation of young girls who can see strong, independent and successful women as normal.

The Pulitzer prize-winning author, poet and teacher Gwendolyn Brooks taught me that we sometimes have to tell people things that they do not want to hear. As she put it,

“Truth tellers are not always palatable.”

We have spent the last century successfully working to redress the gender balance in this country, which I welcome, but we must be careful that we do not press too far. An article in The Times this week raised a very pertinent issue that resonated strongly with me: it asked whether we should really be worried that more boys go into engineering and more girls become nurses. I believe that the answer is yes only if there are barriers that are preventing them from doing something different. It is the barriers that we must address.

I have a son who is a tree surgeon, a son who is a soldier, a son who is an engineer and a son who is an economist. I have a daughter who is a primary school teacher and a young daughter who tells me that she wants to get married and have children. Did I fail as a parent for not pushing them to break gender stereotypes? I do not believe so. Eleanor Roosevelt declared:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

By all means, we should encourage young girls to find their passion, and we should ensure that whatever the girl’s ambition may be, she can achieve it. However, we must be careful not to push too far. If a young girl wants to keep house and be a mum, we should respect and applaud that choice, too.

Girls in Scotland are now 56 per cent more likely to apply for university than their male counterparts. Perhaps the cabinet secretary will join me in congratulating the University of Glasgow’s school of medicine, which tweeted today that 16 per cent of its graduates in 1933 were female and that, in 2017, 71 per cent of its graduates were female. That, by any standards, is a phenomenal change and phenomenal progress for women.

I welcome, of course, the drive for girls to achieve academically, but I worry sometimes that we are no longer pursuing gender parity in this country and promotion of women’s rights is in danger of coming to mean demotion of men. We have a responsibility to all our children and young people to be strong role models, male or female, and to encourage them to strive to achieve all that they can, irrespective of their gender. Women in Scotland have more freedom than ever to determine their own futures, and we should celebrate that.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

Does Michelle Ballantyne agree that the launch of the women in agriculture task force, headed by Joyce Campbell and Fergus Ewing, at the Royal Highland Show last June is a great way to highlight the important contribution that women make in agriculture?

Michelle Ballantyne

Absolutely. When women went to work on farms as the land girls during the war, they proved that they could do the job as well as men. That was the beginning of an enormous change for women. As I said, I want to see women being able to do whatever they want to do. It is about the barriers that we take down; all the actions that we take should be about removing barriers and allowing girls and boys to compete equally for whatever jobs they wish to do.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Will the member take an intervention?

Michelle Ballantyne

I want to continue for a bit, but Monica Lennon can come back to me later.

On international women’s day, we must turn our focus to the women who remain second-class citizens. The theme this year is to press for progress for them. Horrific cases of violence against women and abuse and persecution based on gender are still too common all around the world. Often, the women who are most at risk are also those who are already marginalised, so we should also be addressing issues beyond gender. In a number of cultures, the education and health of women are deemed to be inconsequential. For example, when I first trained in London, the husbands of many of our patients spoke for the women: they were not allowed to have a voice or to speak in our language about their issues. Women in some cultures are often further degraded by the violence and abuse that they receive.

It seemed radical when, in the 1960s, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia introduced public education for girls, but in just a few years even the most traditional Saudis were sending their daughters to school. New norms can and must be established. Religion and culture are often major factors preventing the establishment of women’s rights. However, in an age of interconnectivity, where the majority of the population has immediate access to international events and ideas, it will be more and more difficult to stand in the way of a global shift towards equality.

Just last year in Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman changed several laws to grant women more freedoms—freedoms that would in most countries be taken for granted. However, that change was acknowledgement that holding on to the ultratraditionalist culture was, in his words, “not normal”. It was a small step, but it is evidence of a large-scale systemic shift that is occurring globally.

The press for progress campaign will not topple the kingdoms or countries that reject equality for women, but it can help to add pressure and help the move to establish a global norm of gender parity. With each country that acknowledges gender equality, we get a step closer to a global community in which men and women are equal. There will come a time when it is no longer in the interests of a leader to deny gender equality, especially as men and women come to stand together on the issue. In her New Hampshire speech, which resonated around the globe, Michelle Obama made a point that Alex Cole-Hamilton also made strongly in his speech earlier:

“Strong men—men who are truly role models—don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful.”

The more the idea of equality spreads, the more difficult it will become to refute. Movements such as the time’s up campaign have helped to fuel an international conversation.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I have to stop you there, because your time is up.

Michelle Ballantyne

Okay. Thank you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was enjoying the speech, but I am sorry: you have had seven minutes and 40 seconds.


Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)

Of course it is right to celebrate the milestones of the past, but I will use my speech to talk about the continuing violence against women around the world. Also, I will host an event on gender justice this evening.

In the first two months of 2018 alone, I have heard story after story of sexual harassment, domestic abuse, trafficking and prostitution. All those are just symptoms of the same problem: the objectifying and demeaning of women to facilitate violence, abuse and harassment.

The stories are deeply unsettling, as are the statistics. Globally, almost 40 per cent of all murders of women are committed by their male partners. In Scotland, just over half of female victims of homicides were killed by their partner or ex-partner. Telling such stories on a day like today is so important because until there is widespread acceptance of the problem nothing will change, and there will never be an anniversary commemorating the change. We do not want to be advocates forever; we want to celebrate change.

The same is true of trafficking of girls and women within and to Scotland. Many, although not all, are trafficked to work as prostitutes, and do not have the power to walk away and are at the mercy of people who will use and abuse them as commercial property.

They are unsettling, but the stories are painfully true and are not just restricted to the big cities. A few days ago, it was reported that figures of suspected human trafficking in Scotland had shown a marked increase in 2017. Trafficking does not affect people only from other countries: it can take place in any community, which includes all our communities, no matter how rural or how far off the beaten track.

One of the busiest slave trafficking routes anywhere in the world is the trafficking of girls from Nepal to India for forced prostitution. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 trafficked Nepali people are in India. Each of them has a face, a name and a home. Every year, about 10,000 Nepali women and girls are trafficked to India and attempts are made to traffic many more. However, only 350 cases of trafficking were actually registered with the police. I will say those figures again. Every year, about 10,000 Nepali women are trafficked and only 350 cases are reported.

A few weeks ago, I visited Nepal to see some of the anti-trafficking work that is being done through Children at Risk Network Nepal—CarNetNepal—which raises awareness among communities, empowers women and girls with skills and opportunities, and tries to improve the economic status of households that could otherwise be vulnerable to offers of trafficking. In a rural village, I met high school girls, all of whom were attending computing and tailoring classes so that they could earn a living and contribute to their household’s income. They were bright girls, as earnest and giggly as teenage girls in Scotland, but they and their peers face grave risks of trafficking and have no choice in the matter.

After the earthquake in 2015, the numbers of trafficked women rose significantly because of the increase in poverty. In communities in Nepal, selling a woman is, today, a means of feeding a family. They are being sold by brothers, fathers and husbands. Some are saved. Deepika is a 17-year-old girl who was taken by her “brother” to the passport office to apply for a passport. The authorities had a few doubts about her reasons for applying, because when she was asked where she was going and why, she did not know. After a number of questions, the authorities discovered that the man with her was not her brother—he was there to send her abroad. He swiftly disappeared and Deepika was supported to go home after being counselled on the risks of trafficking and sexual exploitation. She had been under the impression that she was to be given a job in India that would contribute to the household income.

Not everybody is saved before it is too late. Last week, the International Justice Mission, which has been the subject of a members’ debate that was led by Gillian Martin, helped police to bust a trafficking network in India. It was based in a hotel, where girls and young women were being sold for sex through a secretive trafficking network of people who were making thousands from their abuse. Of the six victims, two were children. Almost 20 per cent of victims in private trafficking networks are children—young girls. Last year, four women were rescued in the same city. The youngest was 13 years old. They had been moved around constantly, and were being sold for sex in homes and apartments.

As we hold the debate, thousands more women are still in grotty hellholes, being bought and sold by anybody who has the cash to do so. They are particularly vulnerable because they are women and are at the mercy of the men in their lives, who will buy and sell them to feed other family members. Those women need our voices to shame inaction by the authorities, support the efforts of charities such as IJM and Tearfund and pray and hope for the day when women throughout the world are free from such abuse.

As a woman, it is my right not to be subjected to violence, domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, commercial sexual exploitation or honour-based violence. Until all women can claim that right, not just in Scotland but in every community of every country, there is a lot of work to do.


Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I am proud to stand in solidarity with all the sisters on international women’s day and to call myself a feminist. I say directly to men that it makes them no less a man to be a feminist, to recognise that gender inequality exists, to recognise and celebrate international women’s day and to accept that everyday sexism is real and impacts on women in workplaces, campuses, playgrounds and elsewhere not only in Scotland but around the world. We have a duty to all sisters—all women throughout the world—to accept that fact, recognise it and campaign side by side with them on that important agenda.

We cannot leave any community to fight its battles on its own, because for every one of us who believes in equality in all its forms, it is a shared fight. We cannot leave women to be the voices fighting for gender equality, just as we cannot leave LGBT communities to be the ones to fight for LGBT rights and we cannot ask ethnic minority communities to be the ones to fight against racism. We cannot leave Jewish communities to fight anti-Semitism alone or leave Muslim communities to fight Islamophobia alone. Instead, all of us together, shoulder to shoulder, must take on those shared challenges so that we can defeat prejudice, hate and inequality in all their forms and root them out of our society.

Other members have mentioned the historical context of the day. I am proud that, in Glasgow today, we unveiled the Mary Barbour statue. She was the first woman to be elected in the city and did much to help many people across her community—not just women—who were fighting for rent controls.

I am often asked, as I am sure every politician is, who inspired me to come into politics and who my role models are. People are often surprised when I say that my role model is my mother. People naturally expect me to say that it is my father and that I get my politics from him. In fact, I get my politics and my values from my mother. That is because, although she has never sought or stood for political office, she has faced up to racism and fascism throughout her life since arriving here as a four-year-old and then as the wife of someone who was trying to be elected as Britain’s first Muslim MP. She has done it with a solidity and bravery that has been inspiring not only to me but to countless other people.

However, she has not stopped there. My mum now lives in Pakistan with my father. She is not there just being the wife of a politician somewhere else. She leads on an international project for women’s empowerment through social enterprise. She runs 42 social enterprise units that help to create employment for young women, particularly from the most deprived communities. She helps to operate two hospitals that give free treatment to the poorest and most vulnerable women. One of those hospitals specialises in maternity care so that it can reduce the number of stillbirths and give support to women. She also helps to run a school, to guarantee education for local girls. She is an inspiration to me. I know that she is not watching today, because she is in Pakistan, but I send her a message of love and solidarity on international women’s day, and I will make sure that I remember to send her a mother’s day message on Sunday, too.

I have touched on the global challenges. The reality is that we fail to recognise that far too many women, in many parts of the world, still have no access to democracy. Too many girls still do not have access to basic education. Around the world, the right to go to school is a fight that we have still not won. Some still believe that education is for boys and not for girls. We still need to fight for that right.

There is also the right to access basic healthcare. We have talked, rightly, about ending period poverty in Scotland, but many women around the world do not have access even to basic healthcare. There are still employment barriers around the world, such as access to employment—only in the past year have some countries begun to allow women to drive. There is the issue of the distribution of wealth among people, not just in this country but around the world. Another issue is the percentage of women who own property or land, or who own businesses that can help to grow their country’s economy.

When I was a shadow international development minister in a different Parliament, among the most successful projects that I saw were microfinance projects led by women in some of the world’s poorest countries. I asked some of those women and their families why they thought that microfinance was going into the hands of women rather than men in their society and I received two answers. First, they said that it was because it had been recognised that women have a voice and a role to play. Secondly, they said that if an investment is made in a woman, they make sure that the community benefits; there is no guarantee that that will happen if an investment is made in a man. That is very true. They did not say that as a joke, and I did not take it as joke. Women have a sense of responsibility not just to themselves but to the wider society.

That reflects something that my grandfather always used to say. He was never particularly concerned where his sons went to university or what they studied. In fact, one of his sons dropped out of university, although he did not make a bad career for himself. Instead, my grandfather put most of his focus on ensuring that my aunt—his daughter—went to university, where she studied to be a doctor. She now serves our national health service here in Scotland as a general practitioner. I asked him once why he was so focused on his daughter’s education and did not care about his sons’ education. He said that the reason is that if we educate a man, we benefit one person, but if we educate a woman, we benefit a family. That is a fundamental principle that needs to be shared around the world.

The everyday sexism and sexual harassment campaign that has gripped the media in the past six months or more has, I hope, woken people up to the realities that women face every day. I would challenge any man, in this country or around the world, to reflect on those issues, and to think about their behaviour in everyday situations and the impact that it might have had on the women around them. I have reflected on my behaviour and I hope that every man does the same, so that we can ensure fairness, equality and justice for every woman. We have made progress, but my God we have got a lot more progress to make. I stand shoulder to shoulder with sisters in that project.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was hesitant to interrupt you when you were doing so well. We have a few minutes in hand, so I can give Ms Lennon a generous six minutes to sum up for Labour.


Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I welcome the chance to close on behalf of Scottish Labour and to speak in support of my colleague Rhoda Grant’s amendment.

There is indeed much that we can celebrate about on-going work to address women’s inequality in Scotland. However, as well as being an opportunity for celebration, international women’s day is an opportunity for women to organise and to highlight the work that still needs to be done.

The Government’s motion acknowledges its on-going commitment and activity to tackle women’s inequality. I commend Angela Constance for the leadership that she shows as cabinet secretary with responsibility for equalities.

I have been trying to think of a word to describe the debate, and maybe the word is magical. Sandra White’s eyesight improved in the middle of her speech, so something special has happened here today. I think that there has been an emotional connection across the chamber. Although we are in different parties and have different views on some issues, a lot of the issues that we have discussed today really resonate with us and either affect us directly or affect people who we care about. I am really grateful to everyone for their contributions so far.

We have reflected on the achievements that we have seen here over the past few years, such as the passing of historic legislation in the form of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill and the criminalisation of revenge porn. Those are significant legislative leaps forward that will strengthen women’s rights in Scotland. I commend the activists and parliamentarians alike who have been responsible for achieving those significant wins for women’s equality.

Those victories are evidence of what can be achieved when women—and, more important, feminists and feminist women—are elected to positions of power. They are evidence of why I, like many others in the chamber, remain restless and impatient for further and faster progress on women’s political representation. We know that the key to achieving change on many of those issues lies in ensuring that decision-making bodies are reflective of the society that they seek to represent. I am grateful to Alison Johnstone and others who are part of the women 50:50 campaign, which has really made a difference.

In reflecting on the debate, the progress that we have made so far and the progress that we have yet to make, it struck me that there are only so many times that we can repeat the same arguments and the same statistics and have the same debates over and over again. The statistics around women’s representation have been rehashed many times in the chamber; they have been repeated by me on more than one occasion—and I have not been here that long. It is an unacceptable truth that women, especially women of colour, are underrepresented in our national Parliament—in fact, there has never been a woman of colour in this Parliament—our media, our public boards and our councils.

Why does that matter? It matters because we are still living in a society where violence against women is all too common and where one in three women who work in this building can say that they have experienced sexist behaviour and sexual harassment, as we read in the survey results that were published just last week. Most of us are not surprised at all by those findings. It matters because we still live in a society in which only a fraction of reported rapes are even prosecuted and an even smaller fraction of those result in a conviction. Claudia Beamish, who has had to leave the chamber, was right to highlight how the media reports such crimes, which are about not sex but violence against women and the abuse of power.

There have been some great speeches. I cannot mention them all, but I have already tweeted that Gail Ross’s speech was outstanding. Gillian Martin made me cry, because the issues that she highlighted are very real. I do not want any woman to come into this workplace and feel unsafe—I do not want that for any woman in any part of Scotland or indeed beyond.

The spirit of Labour’s amendment is to highlight the theme of this year’s international women’s day, which is to press for progress. To me, it feels like this year, on the back of the momentum from the me too campaign and the time’s up movement, maybe people will wake up and we will see some real change.

Just last night, a well-known woman in politics, Mhairi Black, was telling it as it is—and good on her. She read out the violent, offensive and frightening abuse that is sent to her in a public forum—so why should she not repeat it in a public place, particularly our Parliament? Why should women in politics keep quiet about that?

On Twitter, I discovered that I had been described as the human equivalent of an anthrax-soaked razor wire tampon. How dare we as women fight to combat period poverty? I have been undeterred and I have worked with women across this chamber, including Gillian Martin, and with Victoria Heaney from Women for Independence. We will not be silent on this issue. I am pleased to mark international women’s day by saying that I have lodged a final proposal for a member’s bill to establish legal rights that would give everyone who menstruates in Scotland the right to access free sanitary products. We have heard a lot today about injustices against women globally, but if we can get that right in Scotland we can help effect change across the world.

My time is almost up. Yes, there is a lot that we can celebrate on international women’s day, but there is still so much more that we have to do. It feels like the spirit of Mary Barbour and her army is with us in the chamber today. Rhoda Grant said that we want to be respected. Gail Ross said that lip service will not do. Rona Mackay said that we will not give up. Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole-Hamilton are a couple of the men who have committed to our cause, too.

That just leaves me to say happy international women’s day to everyone.


Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

I am delighted to continue the consensus that has been the hallmark of the debate. As we celebrate more than 100 years of international women’s day, I feel a deep sense of pride in looking around the chamber and taking in the success of so many women, as was also noted by Clare Haughey.

Although today is, of course, a day for celebrating our achievements, it is our obligation to ensure that we do not become complacent and, instead, push ahead to make even greater strides in the next 100 years to guarantee the true equality and empowerment of women.

We have heard excellent contributions from across the chamber. In her opening speech, Angela Constance spoke about equality for women and girls, and what matters to our children today. I feel that that cause is one with which surely few people could disagree. Parliament is united in support of protecting and upholding the rights of women and girls in Scotland’s year of young people.

We have acknowledged the role that is played by organisations such as Girlguiding Scotland, Young Scot and YWCA Scotland, to name but a few. Those voluntary groups play their part in helping girls to realise their potential and build their confidence to prove that not only are they every bit as good as men, but that they can strive to surpass them and become leaders in their field, whether that is business, science, the arts or, of course, politics.

In 2018, it is unbelievable that there is an on-going need for women to push every day on causes such as closing the gender pay gap, encouraging more women into public life and standing up for women who suffer from harassment and abuse and continue to call out everyday sexism. A few months ago, all eyes were on the red carpet at the Golden Globes, as actors wore all black in a show of solidarity with victims of sexual harassment.

Rhoda Grant spoke passionately this afternoon about the devastating effects of domestic abuse.

There are obviously still barriers to overcome—and yes, glass ceilings still need to be broken. However, from those on the red carpet down to each and every female, we all want progress to be made, and it is becoming more apparent that women are definitely uniting and becoming active in women’s equality. That work is aided by social media campaigns such as #MeToo and time’s up.

I would like to honour the press for progress campaign, which Christina McKelvie and others mentioned earlier. The campaign is uniting women all over the world in the pursuit of gender equality. The movement aims to challenge stereotypes, celebrate women’s achievements and lobby for greater gender parity. If no immediate action is taken and concerted effort is not made to include women at all levels of the economy, gender pay parity will not be achieved for another 200 years, as we have heard from Alison Johnstone and others. That is quite incredible.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum found that there is a direct link between gender parity and the success of an economy. That illustrates that closing the gender pay gap is not only good for women but good for society as a whole. We need to promote that message in the chamber and in our communities, because women’s rights matter to all of us.

On a positive and indeed pertinent note, the WEF data also shows that, when women are more present and participate in leadership roles, more women are hired at all levels, right across the board. That detail holds true even when we take into consideration the disparities in the size of female talent pools across various industry sectors.

Different political parties might have different ideas on how to close the gap in representation, but we all acknowledge that elected office is an area in which women continue to be underrepresented. We can differ on how we get there, but not on the need for more women to stand for elected roles, whether in councils or in the Scottish and UK Parliaments.

Last year, my party launched Women2Win, which aims to promote the brightest and best in the party. I would like to acknowledge the role that Annie Wells and others have played in pushing forward the agenda for Women2Win Scotland. We heard earlier from Maurice Corry about the launch of the new commission within my party.

As part of the Scottish Government’s programme of themed years, 2018 is the year of young people. It is good that young people are being celebrated. This year of young people gives young girls the opportunity to celebrate their achievements and contribution to communities, and the opportunity

“to shine locally, nationally and globally”,

as is recognised in the motion today.

We heard from my colleague Margaret Mitchell about women’s attainment in the legal profession, and others spoke about STEM subjects. I agree that much progress has been made, but there is still much work to done. It is true that, over the past few years, the number of passes by girls in STEM subjects at school has increased not only in higher qualifications in maths and computing but in chemistry and physics. Nevertheless, I believe that all of us in the chamber recognise that gender stereotyping is still discouraging girls from taking STEM subjects at school and aspiring to STEM careers. I strongly believe that our recognition of that fact is the first step towards correcting that and seeing the numbers of girls in STEM subjects steadily increase, not only at school but at college and university.

Presiding Officer—sorry, Deputy Presiding Officer; that was a promotion—many good points have been made from across the chamber this afternoon, and I recognise that all the speakers in this debate have made very valid and useful contributions. As a mother, I found it very touching to hear Anas Sarwar talk about his mum and how inspirational she was. I hope that my son will in future speak of me in terms that are even slightly glowing.

I am excited to work with everyone in this chamber to advance real gender equality, respect for women and the uplifting of women in politics. I appreciate the opportunity that international women’s day has provided for discussing these important issues on this public platform, and I welcome all input into solving them. Working together we can realise the potential of women in Scotland and improve the lives of all.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was just thinking that Mr Sarwar has caused a lot of problems for my sons as well.

I ask Maree Todd to close for the Government. Minister, you have until 5 o’clock.


The Minister for Childcare and Early Years (Maree Todd)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am delighted to have gained a bit of extra time for my closing remarks, because, as you can imagine, I have plenty to say on the topic.

Given the focus this year on young women and girls, I am absolutely delighted to be closing today’s international women’s day debate. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be able to do this job and to have the opportunity, almost every day, to say to young women, “If I can do it, you can do it. You can dream big, aim high and go for it.”

I thank all the members who have contributed to the debate. It is clear that across the chamber we are united in wanting to achieve gender parity. We want to see action taken, both here and abroad, to ensure that women are treated equally and fairly in the workplace, in the home and in society—it is clear that that is what we all want for future generations.

As we have heard, 2018 is Scotland’s year of young people. I highlight the uniqueness of this themed year: it is the first to recognise people as one of Scotland’s greatest assets, and Scotland is the first country in the world that we know of to dedicate a full year to celebrating young people. It is a unique opportunity to show our young people how valued they are and how proud Scotland is of all that they do and all that they can achieve in the future.

The year takes an innovative approach, and it is only right to welcome its entire ethos, in that it has been developed by young people, for young people. Activities throughout the year will focus on celebrating the achievements of our young people and recognising the contribution that they make to communities all across Scotland. In return, we need to ensure that we are creating opportunities for their voices to be heard and, most important, listened to. Children and young people should be at the heart of decisions that affect them. That is their right, as set out in article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. It is also central to the ethos of the year of young people.

To ensure continuity throughout the year, a group of young people—communic18—has been recruited. The group is supported by Young Scot and its role is to champion the values of co-design and ensure that young people’s voices are heard and acted on across the activities for the year.

We want to ensure that all our young people feel and believe that they are valued, wanted and vital to our country’s future. This Government is committed to giving young people a stronger voice in policy making and co-designing improvements to services that affect their lives. In doing so, and by changing perceptions of young people and changing the country’s relationship with our young people, it is our aspiration to create a lasting legacy, beyond 2018.

I will respond to some of the points that have been raised during the debate. To Annie Wells, I say that there is definitely no room for complacency about the gender pay gap, but the gap is narrower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK and we are taking decisive action where we have the powers to do so.

We also have a slightly higher female employment rate in Scotland than the rest of the UK, and I hardly need to mention the transformative potential of our expansion of early learning and childcare, which will undoubtedly enable many more mothers to work. Because of our commitment to the living wage, the largely female workforce will get a well-deserved pay rise, too.

To Rhoda Grant, I say that my colleague Angela Constance intervened earlier to highlight the issues to do with universal credit. I have spoken passionately about the issue, because, like Rhoda Grant, I represent an area where universal credit was trialled and has operated in practice for many years. I would welcome all parties’ support in tackling that devastating policy at source—at Westminster.

On domestic abuse, the Scottish Government has committed to providing additional funding to train 14,000 officers and staff. That dedicated funding will enable Police Scotland to train officers to identify the new offence. Scottish Women’s Aid will also receive funding to develop training to help communities to understand the legislation.

Let me respond to Alex Cole-Hamilton in a slightly teasing fashion. I am not sure that I understood him correctly, but I do not want him to mansplain. Did I hear him offer to stand down at the next election to ensure that a woman can have his seat? Perhaps his words were intended for some of his colleagues, but not for himself.

Let me respond to Michelle Ballantyne by quoting Christina McKelvie’s words—right back at you, as they say on social media. She said that men of quality should not fear equality. I would love to see the day when there is no such thing as a boy’s job or a girl’s job. I am keen to attract young—and older—men into early years careers. We do not want to undervalue the work that women traditionally do, and we do not want to corral anyone into any job. Of course people should be able to freely choose their path in life.

However, Michelle Ballantyne will have heard the murmurings around the chamber, including from members who tried to intervened during her speech. I think that she underacknowledged the barriers that we face, not least the lack of role models and the cultural conditioning, which led me, a person who was an absolute science geek as a youngster and who has highers in physics, maths, biology and chemistry, never once to consider a career in engineering but to train as a health professional, albeit that I absolutely loved my career.

Michelle Ballantyne

The point that I made strongly was that it is the barriers that we need to address. It is not about gender; it is about the barriers. I do not know what the barriers were in the minister’s case—her teachers, her parents or whatever—but there were barriers, because she had the capability to do it, and that is what is important. It is the barriers that we need to address.

Maree Todd

Again, I ask Michelle Ballantyne to reflect on the murmurings that her comments are causing around the chamber. There is clearly something in what she is saying that is out of step with many other women in the chamber.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing many women and men in the chamber talking about some of the strong and powerful women in Scotland’s history, including Mary Barbour, whose statue was unveiled today. Both Gillian Martin and Rona Mackay talked about those historical women being written out of history. I make a wee plea for the rioting women from all over the Highlands who were absolutely integral in resisting landowners’ moves to clear them off the land. I learned when I was growing up that the women of Coigach, just north of where I grew up, not only stripped the sheriff officer who came to clear them off the land of the summonses that he had brought with him, but stripped him of his clothes and sent him packing in the boat that he arrived in. I look forward to seeing that commemorated as part of the herstory project that was mentioned.

A number of members spoke about sexual harassment. Sexual harassment or abuse in any form, whether in the workplace, in the home or in society, is completely reprehensible and must stop. Everyone has the right to live their life free from abuse, harassment and intimidation, and I encourage anyone who has experienced those things to report it. We must tackle the underlying attitudes and inequalities as well as the culture that perpetuates that behaviour. Every workplace, whether it is a political party or a Parliament, must have robust processes for reporting and dealing with harassment and bullying, and should be fair, sensitive and supportive to all parties involved. The problem of harassment is not specific to any one institution, and it is the responsibility of all of us in society and all of us as individuals to take action.

This could be a watershed moment when we see real societal change in the treatment of women, but we need to seize that opportunity for change. We heard an incredibly powerful contribution from Gillian Martin, who talked about the insidious, sustained, thinly veiled sexual comments that women suffer. Like her, I salute the women who were brave enough in the past year to speak up and make a difference for all of us. I commend to the Parliament the poem “Spartaca” by Pippa Little, which I tweeted today. I am going to quote directly from it: I am proud to stand together with all the other “humourless bitches” who do not tolerate banter either.

I move on to sport. The Girlguiding survey that a number of members talked about and which the cabinet secretary referred to highlights the positive impact of sport, with girls saying that it helps them to be healthier and to feel more confident and positive. The Scottish Government is encouraging more women and girls to take up sport through our £300,000 sporting equality fund, and we have established a women and girls in sport advisory group to shape future action.

It was great to hear Alison Johnstone talk about some of her sporting heroines, and I am delighted that the advisory group includes one of my sporting heroines, Dee Bradbury, who came from Alison Johnstone’s sport of athletics into my sport of rugby and is still forging a pioneering path. She will become the first female president of the Scottish Rugby Union and the first female tier 1 nation president later this year.

Our plan to nearly double funded early learning and childcare entitlement for all three and four-year olds and some two-year-olds will make a vital contribution to our priorities to grow our economy, tackle inequality and close the attainment gap.

Before I move on to my concluding remarks, I thank all the organisations that do a fantastic job supporting children and young people in Scotland in one way or another—YWCA Scotland, Girlguiding Scotland, Young Scot, Children in Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Children’s Parliament to name but a few. I also thank our delivery partners for the year of young people, which include, in addition to those already mentioned, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, sportscotland, Creative Scotland and Visit Scotland. I give a special mention and thanks to communicat18, the group of young people who are co-designing year of young people activity.

One of my favourite writers is the Nigerian author of “Half of a Yellow Sun” and “Americanah”, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She said:

“Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. I am angry. We should all be angry. Anger has a long history of bringing about positive change. But I am also hopeful, because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to remake themselves for the better.”

One hundred years after some women got the right to vote, we have acknowledged this afternoon that, although there have been considerable advances in women’s rights, gender equality still eludes us. However, we have also reaffirmed our commitment to remaking our society for the better, and to creating a fairer and more equal Scotland in which young women and girls do not anticipate, as inevitable, sexual harassment or being paid less than their male counterparts. I believe that we will get there. There is an energy at the moment, and I have met and spoken to too many of Scotland’s young women and girls to think otherwise. Their message is clear: enough is enough. The time is now.

I finish with a quote by Barack Obama, a proud feminist. He said:

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”