We must weave gender equality into the fabric of our government

george ecktonFollowing up his article last week, George Eckton marks International Women’s Day by calling for substantial action from the Scottish Government on gender equality, and also suggests what Scottish Labour can do to help deliver it.


It’s International Women’s Day today. A chance for us all to reaffirm our commitment to full and effective implementation of a range of international, national and local resolutions to empower women across the globe.

  • Access to education for all women;
  • the elimination of violence (of all forms) against women;
  • full and effective integration of women into the formal economy and decision-making;
  • an end to gender-based discrimination and stereotyping at work and at home.

It’s also a time to recognise the major contributions made by women’s and community based organisations and feminist groups in placing the interests, needs and visions of women on the agenda, locally, nationally and internationally.

Early in the next Scottish Parliamentary term I think we have a opportunity to challenge the national government in Holyrood to place Scotland and gender equality on the international agenda. The next Scottish Government will publish and consult on a range of national outcomes to guide the delivery of a national agenda for what one would hope would be an inclusive and growing Scotland over the next 10 years. Currently the Scottish Government describes what they want to achieve over the next decade or so by outlining fifteen national outcomes, which, in their words, articulate more fully the Government’s purpose, help to sharpen the focus of government, enable our priorities to be clearly understood and provide a clear delivery structure to make Scotland a better place to live. I would hope as part of the consultative process for the next set of outcomes, the next Scottish Government sets out a clear desire for a gender equality national outcome and further specific national legislation on gender equality.

This could be our approach to implementing “the Istanbul Convention” (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) until such time as the UK Government ratifies the document it’s been promising to for a number of years! The text of the convention outlines a series of actions ranging from violence prevention to delivering victim protection and ending the impunity of perpetrators. Countries which sign up to the convention introduce national laws when they ratify it.

The Scottish legislation could be within a legislative context that places the rights of the victim at the centre of all measures. It could introduce statutory public duties to co-ordinate policies encompassing all relevant measures to prevent and combat all forms of violence. This could build upon the public duties outlined in the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 passed by the Welsh Assembly. It could also go further and make statutory the existing advisory educational messages on sexual, relationship and public health as well as continuing with awareness raising to prevention gender violence and abuse.

We could also ensure where possible the embedding of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women within Scottish law, until such time as a future UK Government incorporates the Convention into legislation.

In the last decade it was suggested to the last UK Labour Government, that the Equality Act was the opportunity to recognise and incorporate “socio-economic” rights into law. In the next Scottish Parliament Labour should be pushing for this recognition in the context of the legislative implementation of Part 1 of the Equality Act’s “socio-economic duty” when it is devolved to Holyrood following Royal Assent of the Scotland Act.

There are other potential actions for the next Scottish Government to take to help tackle gender equality. In 2010 the independent review called ‘Let Children Be Children’ looked at the sexualisation and commercialisation of children in society. It was conducted by Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of Mothers’ Union, and has become known as ‘The Bailey Review’. The review addressed the concerns that children are exposed to a tide of sexual imagery in public places and recommended a number of actions to address this. It has been suggested that any future recasting of the provisions of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 would provide an opportunity for the addition of further provisions regarding the display of indecent material previously covered by the Indecent Displays (Control) Act 1981, helping to reduce children’s exposure to “sexualised wallpaper”, as Reg Bailey called it.

There was unanimous recognition of the need for further legislation on the issue of gender-based violence expressed by the cross-party motion at the end of this year’s annual Scottish Parliament Violence against Women debate on 24 November 2015. My plea is that the results of any further legislation should be measured in more than financial assessments; they should be measured as human rights.

The current Scottish Government has committed to implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. These SDGs are commonly referred to as #GlobalGoals and in August last year, governments around the world, united behind an ambitious agenda that aims to end poverty, combat inequalities, promote prosperity and protect the environment. This political agenda featured 17 new SDGs and 169 associated targets. The agenda also included a stand-alone goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls:

SDG5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, with key outcomes to include:

adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels,

end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere,

and eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

I hope Scottish Labour and other parties will pledge that this goal will be implemented via a national outcome for gender equality.

As Engender Scotland have previously suggested, we need more gendered analysis of economic policy; but I think we also need more gendered focus on all the outcomes we want for society, starting in the next Parliament with a clear national outcome for gender equality. And while gender equality has a price, money shouldn’t be, for Scotland, the measure of success in achieving it.

My starting point as an ordinary dad would simply be that all my children should have an equal chance of success in a future Scotland, not an immediate disadvantage because of what gender they were born with. That’s surely a universal human right?

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