Everything you need to know about Scotland’s new proposals for tackling gender inequality.
Since taking office as First Minister of Scotland in 2014, Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that she cares about addressing gender inequality. In 2015, she launched a campaign to ensure that women will make up 50% of board members in Scotland by 2020. In 2017, her government ruled that women in Scotland were allowed to take abortion pills at home, allowing them to avoid unnecessary expense and trauma. And last summer, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free sanitary products in all schools, colleges and universities – expanding on an earlier initiative that provided tampons and pads to low-income women and girls.
Now, Scotland’s National Advisory Council for Women and Girls (NACWG) has published plans for how it will make the country a global leader in gender equality – and the proposals are refreshingly radical.
“We know from the growth of global movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp that there is a real appetite for radical change for equality for women and girls,” said Louise Macdonald OBE, the council’s chair and a former Stylist Woman of the Week.
“We all have a part to play in creating a more inclusive society and in these recommendations we have focused on tackling changes in the systems that too often perpetuate inequality.”
The recommendations, which are laid out in the council’s first annual report, include introducing quotas to ensure that more women enter Scottish politics. As in the rest of the UK, Scotland’s parliament is heavily male-dominated: there are currently 46 female and 83 male MSPs in Holyrood.
The council’s report suggests that Sturgeon’s government implement local and national candidate quotas ahead of the 2021 elections in Scotland, to ensure that politicians in Scotland reflect the country they serve.
The council calls on the government to establish a world-leading process for complaints of sexual violence, criminalise misogynistic harassment, and to create a system to ensure that women experiencing domestic violence have sufficient access to expert legal advice and legal aid.
The report also states that 50 hours of free childcare a week should be made available for all children aged between six months and five years old, and that all fathers should be offered two months paid paternity leave.
These measures are expected to help women return to work after having children by mitigating the often prohibitively expensive cost of childcare in the UK – as well as allowing men to take on more of an active role in caring for their babies.
It’s not yet certain which of the proposals laid out by the National Advisory Council for Women and Girls will be implemented by Sturgeon. Scotland’s First Minister will give her initial response to the report on 30 January, when she will likely indicate which of the plans she’s most keen to introduce.
But in a world where women’s needs are rarely prioritised so explicitly in policy proposals, it’s cheering to see a government being presented with such a radical – but sensible – blueprint for increasing gender equality. The idea of gender quotas in politics has always been rejected by Theresa May’s government, and cuts to legal aid mean that domestic violence victims in England and Wales often end up navigating the courts system alone.
The government in Westminster has made efforts to address the expense of childcare in England and Wales, launching a scheme in 2017 that means some parents are entitled to up to 30 hours of free childcare for three- and four-year-olds. However, the recommendations have been criticised for failing to target the most disadvantaged families.
Louise Macdonald, the chair of Scotland’s National Advisory Council for Women and Girls, told Stylist last year that she’s not afraid to be brave when it comes to pushing for gender equality.
“Ultimately, we want Scotland to be a place where gender inequality is seen as a historical curiosity,” she said. “It’s a big ambition, and we’re not underestimating the scale of it – but we want to be really bold, and we want to move fast.
“Women won’t wait another 50 years for full equality. We should have had it yesterday.”
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