This week, the Scottish Parliament will unite for International Women’s Day. This day, which is celebrated all over the world, is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to upholding and protecting the rights of women and girls, which are of course fundamental human rights.
I enjoyed donning my Dragons top and picking out my own inspirational sporting heroines for a wee project they are doing to mark IWD. I chose Jade Konkell and Dee Bradbury. My claim to fame is I played rugby with Jades mum! Dee will become the SRU president this year – a world first – after excelling in both athletics and rugby in her own sporting career.
This year, I’m sure many of us will reflect on that fact that it has been 100 years since some women won the vote. While we have made some bold changes already, let’s not for a moment be complacent, or take progress for granted.
As well as looking back, in this year of young people particularly, we need to look forward and focus our attention on young women and girls’ experience of gender equality, and what changes they would like to see in the future.
We know that women are still not making it to the top, in both the public and private sector. Although women make up 52% of the population, you’d be forgiven for thinking we are a minority group, considering how poorly women are represented in civil and political life.
There is also a well-established gender pay gap. I think there is an insidious barrier to achieving gender equality in this regard; and that is the cultural assumption that women just don’t belong in certain roles.
When I look back at some of my own choices, I have to say that this does resonate.
When I was younger I knew I was geeky and into science. But I became a health professional not an engineer. Looking back at this choice I realise that part of this was down to cultural conditioning, which guides us to make certain choices. I didn’t consciously think about it.Undoubtedly, part of the reason why I didn’t become an engineer – not only because no-one ever suggested I should – was because of a lack of role models. I didn’t see any women like me becoming researchers or scientists.
For our girls growing up today, it is important that we give them good role models – not only in STEM subjects, but in politics too.
A couple of years ago, when I was a girl guides leader, I was helping a group work towards their politics badge, “be the change”. They were asked to think about women in positions of power that would make good role models. This was the first time they went quiet. Then a girl piped up – she must have only been 10 years old. She said “this would be much easier if it was men you asked us to think of”.
Clearly we still have a long way to go!
This is a fortnightly column by Maree Todd MSP. The Orkney News invited Labour, Conservatives and Greens to also have a regular 500 word column.