Only a few weeks ago, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon publicly backed the 50:50 campaign. Supporting the introduction of legislative quotas which ensure 50% representation for women on public boards, councils and in Scottish Parliament by 2020, this campaign is a huge, meaningful step towards closing the startling gender gap in Scottish politics.
In a letter to women 50:50, Sturgeon wrote that “If you are good enough and if you work hard enough, the sky is the limit. I am happy to work with all organizations and individuals who share this aspiration and I am therefore pleased to give my support”. The First Minister’s comments show that gender equality with regard to political representation is finally being taken seriously by those at the very top of Scottish politics. Looking at the statistics, it’s about time too.
Only 30% of all Scottish parliamentarians – MPs, MSPs and MEPs – are female. That’s 59 of 193. As the media turns to talk of May the 7th, the BBC recently reported the “heavy under-representation” of Scottish women in the run up to the general election, with females making up only 28% of candidates. These numbers have to change, and legally binding gender quotas are the way to fundamentally alter how Scotland does politics. 50:50 is a cross party campaign, an apolitical aspiration, and most importantly, a very much reachable dream. About 70 countries have proportionally more women in their Parliaments than the UK.
Admittedly, there is a pressing need for a cultural change in how we view women at every level of society. However, having more women leading Scotland is a way to set those changes in attitudes in motion. The quotas 50:50 support are key to altering the power balance at the very top of the political system, with Carolyn Leckie from Women for Independence stating that the success of the campaign would “demonstrate that male domination is not the natural order of things”, meaning “women can become participants and influencers in the world – representative of our number”. Leckie reiterates the idea supporters of 50:50 focus on, that structural changes at the top are badly needed alongside an alteration to practice and attitudes towards women in power. If women cannot overcome inequalities in gaining leadership positions, how can they expect to gain equality within the workplace and at home? Demand a better gender balance in Parliament, and the effects will ripple across society.
Fiona Mackay, Head of Edinburgh University’s School of Social and Political Science, and a member of the steering group behind the campaign, was recently quoted in The Guardian for claiming that quotas enshrined in electoral law are a well-know “fast-track to equality”. Mackay stated “without system-wide statutory quotas, it remains the case that gains in women’s representation are contingent upon party will or individual champions”.
Alongside kick-starting a change in attitudes towards women in leadership roles, 50:50’s role in increasing representation is key, as representation influences the shaping of policies, the majority of which affect women. It is long overdue that Scottish parliament and Council Chambers reflect the society they are meant to represent, and that policies are forged and decisions taken with men and women stood side by side as equals.