It’s encouraging that as Nicola Sturgeon gets her feet under the table as the leader of the SNP and Scotland’s first ever female First Minister that the response to her accession is almost entirely positive and that one of her first acts has been to reshuffle the Scottish cabinet to reflect a 50/50 gender balance, even including Roseanna Cunningham with whom she has had a stormy relationship in the past.
Perhaps you could say that it is not the most progressive selection she could have made, but then the SNP isn’t the most progressive party on the block, so we have to take the new gender balance in the cabinet is a step in the right direction.
However, even if we are only looking at gender equality, it’s only a small step. The UK parliament has around one in five of it’s members being women, which places the UK fifteenth from the 28 EU member states in terms of gender equality in parliamentary representation, while the Scottish parliament boasts a more impressive, yet still insufficient third of MSP’s being female.
Both legislatures fall well short of a representative selection of 50/50, which will always be hard to hit exactly given the vagaries of elections but the proportion could be significantly closer, or even result in a majority of female MPs if steps such as those proposed by the Women 50:50 campaign were initiated.
But why does this matter anyway?
Simply put, equal gender representation in our governing bodies is an important step to reducing the inequality between men and women in everyday life.
It is a fact that women on average earn less than men for the same work (and the social pressures which compel women to seek different career paths from men only exacerbates this inequality), women are more likely to suffer mental, physical and sexual assault than a man (although I would say that female on male abuse is a much overlooked subject, but that is another discussion) and women are socially bullied into certain behaviors and roles which demean their ability to shape their lives and those around them.
It has also been shown that the most effective way to combat inequality and poverty is to empower women through education, control of their own finances and equal access to positions of power.
Simply put, gender equality is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue. I am a man, but I am also a son, husband and maybe one day, father to a female. I cannot abide the notion that my female friends or relatives should be constrained or victimised in ways which I am not, purely because of the chance arrangement of their chromosomes.
Government (and indeed any field or aspect of human existence) should not be a male dominated environment.
Scotland has a tremendous chance at this time with a new female First Minister, a relatively high proportion of female MSPs and a large number of charismatic women in the political sphere, if not (yet) in Holyrood themselves, combined with our partially proportionate electoral system and the notion of sweeping , progressive constitutional change still alive and well in the nation’s consciousness.
It would be a shame if such a hopeful time did not lead us to a more gender balanced parliament and thence to a fairer, more socially responsible country.