The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Yesterday, the Herald Society Insight article posed the question, What kind of democracy overlooks what women have to say? No one, it would appear, has any answers. Yet, 52% of the population continues to be denied access to platforms and panels and more importantly, is not being allowed a voice, a say on a wide range of topical issues.
Some of us got fed up with broadcast media fielding all-male panels on current affairs programmes, particularly on the forthcoming independence referendum. So we made a noise. The answers were illuminating. There aren’t enough women willing or capable, said some. So, Lesley Riddoch published a list of names of women who might be willing to come on to programmes with a wide range of knowledge and experience to offer. For a time, it was clear that efforts were being made.
But just as soon as we all shut up – off doing some dusting I shouldn’t wonder – the old ways crept back. Men, men and more men. No media outlet can claim anything like moral high ground here, though our two quality newspapers do better at including a range of women columnists week in, week out. And very good they are too. For the likes of me, they are a must read: they cover different topics and they often take a different perspective on hot topics. They add something to the mix – who knew?
Women, in informal and immediate ways, are fed up and beginning to take a stand. Yesterday’s Herald article highlighted that a number of women who are fed up with institutions and agencies which organise conferences, seminars and events doing so with nary a glance towards gender balance, beginning to call them out. Hurrah!
And the current focus is on CoSLA’s new commission established to “renew local democracy”. Announced with some fanfare last week, look at its membership and weep. Four women out of twenty men. No one from a black and ethnic minority background. One person with a disability (or at least, prepared to identify themselves as such). No one under 21. No one over 65. Indeed, all the people and groups largely excluded from local government representation posted missing. And given that one of the issues hampering local democracy is its tendency to be “male, pale and stale” what better way to examine how to fix it by creating a panel that is largely “male, pale and stale”.
It’s also incredibly politically unbalanced, with Labour hogging more of the places than any other party, both in terms of actual elected representatives and the backgrounds of some of the non-elected participants. It might as well exist in a parallel universe, one where STV doesn’t exist – and if some of the Labour members have their way, that might be one recommendation for the future. A return to first past the post voting so that normal service of Labour dominance can be resumed. Why the SNP is legitimising this by taking up a token place is beyond me.
Apparently, the original proposed panel had only one woman on it, until folk made noises off. Now there are four. This, it would appear, is progress to some.
Everywhere you look and listen in Scottish public life, women are as rare as pregnant pandas. Except one.
Having set itself the goal of increasing the number of women selected for public appointments, the Scottish Government has made progress, real progress. Last year, nearly 31% of women applied for a public appointment and 39% were appointed. It’s still nothing like 50 – 50 but it’s better, because they are focusing on fixing it. Not just with a token, temporary filip but with systemic measures designed to attract more women applicants and to ensure that as many women who are “best candidates” succeed as men. The outcome is that now, 35% of all appointments to public bodies are women. One hurrah then for the Scottish Government. And an approach others can learn from.
Less helpful is the evidence that equal pay is still something of a goal rather than an achievement in NDPBs and indeed, within Scottish Government. Unsurprisingly, the gap widens at the top. Why and how it is acceptable for civil servants on the same grade, doing the same job to be paid differently in this day and age is a mystery – and in some cases, men are being paid less than women. Why no harmonisation? Why no equal pay claims supported by unions?
And kudos to all the political parties which selected a woman candidate to stand in the Dunfermline by-election. Dunfermline’s next MSP is likely to be a woman, helping to improve the gender balance of our Parliament. Two hurrahs. By small steps, gains are made. Though what we need are strategic approaches and indeed, positive action, to ensure that more women stand in elections at all levels. It’s not women’s job to do this, but political parties. Just as it is for media and public bodies and government at all levels to pay more than lip service to equality duties (in law for some) and moral responsibilities.
Because wherever we look in Scottish life, women are being discriminated against. In public life, in allowing their voice and experience to be heard in the debates of the day, in pay and in representation. This is Scotland in the 21st Century, a country which prides itself in its egalitarian outlook, where the reality is somewhat divorced from the spin. It’s shameful.