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05/03/16 14:45

Scottish Women's Convention

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Scottish Parliament
5 March, 2016

Since it was established, the Scottish Women’s Convention has played a hugely valuable role in ensuring that women’s voices can be heard on key policy issues. The election hustings that you’re hosting in two weeks’ time is just one example of that. This annual convention is another.

Since it’s just three days before we mark International Women’s Day it is highly appropriate that there’s an international dimension to the programme.

The theme for international Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. The slogan which is frequently used is “pledge for parity”.

That slogan has been motivated in part by a recent report from the World Economic Forum. It looked at women’s progress around the world towards health, educational, economic and political equality. It found that at the current rate of progress, women will achieve full equality – not in 2030, but in 2133.

It’s a stark reminder of the fact that although progress is continually being made– the rate of change is often far too slow.

It’s unacceptable to think that women in 3 or 4 generations’ time could still be living in a world of gender inequality. All of us – women and men – need to ensure that doesn’t happen.

We must work to achieve change much more quickly.

I’ve been determined to see rapid, significant and lasting progress towards gender equality during my time as first minister.

In the course of my remarks today, I’ll speak about the national and international elements of that. I’ll talk first about how we are tackling domestic abuse and promoting economic opportunities within Scotland. And at the end I’ll also speak about some of our international development work – what we are doing to advance gender equality across the globe.

But since we’re in the Chamber of the Scottish Parliament, and since we’re just two months from the next Scottish elections, I’ll start by talking about women’s representation in politics.

The creation of this parliament was in itself a step forward for women’s representation in Scotland. When 48 women were elected to this parliament in the first election of 1999 – that was more than had ever been elected to Scottish constituencies in all previous Westminster elections put together.

The very existence of this convention is one indication of way in which the creation of the Parliament has enabled women to play a more prominent role in public life.

And we now of course have the situation where there is a gender balanced Cabinet, and where the three largest parties are all led by women.

But even so, we can’t ignore the fact that only 36% of MSPs are women. That’s a bit better than Westminster – where 30% of MPs are women – but it’s not nearly good enough. I’m acutely aware that as a party leader I have to play my part in achieving change.

And all parties are looking at local government, as well as this parliament. In just over a week organisations promoting more diversity in politics - whether on gender, race or disability - will be gathering in this parliament with all political parties to discuss how we improve the proportion of councillors who are women. I look forward to the outcome of those discussions.

And I hope and expect that we will see more women MSPs – across the chamber as a whole – sitting in this Parliament after May. But all parties need to keep making progress after that. Half of this chamber should be women. The Parliament which represents Scotland, should be representative of Scotland.

But it’s even more important that the Parliament as a whole pursues policies which promote gender equality. They can improve the lives of women across the country.

A good example of an area which we have prioritised in recent years has been addressing violence against women. As all of us know, that’s both a symptom and a cause of gender inequality. We can’t have true equality in Scotland while it remains so widespread in our society.

So we are providing record levels of funding to tackle it – over £20 million in this year alone. That funding has helped the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Crown Office to ensure domestic abuse cases are heard in court more quickly. It has allowed us to invest in specialist advocacy services for victims of abuse.

It’s also allowing us to support prevention.

And alongside additional funding, we’re taking legislative action. The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill was introduced into parliament in October. It includes provisions to ensure that courts take domestic abuse into account as an aggravating factor when sentencing.

It also creates a new offence for sharing private intimate images without consent – helping to address cases where an ex-partner seeks revenge, by sharing images which were never intended to be seen more widely.

And we are in the final month of a consultation on the exact wording of a new specific offence - dealing with people who subject their partner to coercive and controlling behaviour. Something that has been difficult for the current law to deal with.

Our aim in all of this is clear. We are determined to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women. And so to achieve that we are taking action at all levels – legislation, prevention, better support for victims, and more effective prosecution of those who abuse.

I said that tackling domestic abuse is a symptom and a cause of inequality. We need to address domestic violence to live in an equal society. But those actions are part of a much wider set of policies to promote true equality.

Gender equality is – first and foremost – an overwhelming moral imperative. But it’s increasingly recognised as a significant economic opportunity.

The IMF has conducted studies on some major Western economies. They have estimated that increasing female participation in the labour market to the same level as men’s, would increase the size of the economy by 5% in the USA and by 9% in Japan.

Now, in Scotland we’ve made good progress in recent years in promoting female participation. The gender gap between male and female employment rates has reduced by almost a third in the last three years. It’s now 6 percentage points. Across the UK as a whole, it’s 10 percentage points.

The gender pay gap has also decreased in Scotland in recent years. In 2014 it was 9%, whereas last year it was 7%. And there are other encouraging signs – for example women made up 1 in 4 modern apprenticeship starts in 2008-09. That figure is now 4 in 10.

But all of us know there is still much more to do to create true equality of opportunity.

Our work to promote childcare is an essential part of that. We have promised to almost double the level of free childcare available for three and four year olds, and some two year olds – from 600 hours a year now to 1140 hours by the end of the next parliament.

We intend to ensure that this care is delivered flexibly, in a way which meets parents’ needs, but also to ensure that it is of a high quality so that it meets the needs of children.

It’s an investment which gives children the best possible start in life and helps parents – especially mothers - into work. By doing so, it will help to make Scotland a wealthier and fairer country.

We’re taking action on other issues, too. For example on low pay, I mentioned earlier that we had made progress. But of course any pay gap is still too big.

That’s why we’re increasing transparency about pay rates. Two months ago we laid regulations to ensure that all public authorities with more than 20 employees need to publish information about their pay.

It means we know whether there is a gender pay gap in those organisations, and how big that gap is. It’s an important step in ensuring that the public sector leads by example.

We’re also promoting the living wage. Because women are disproportionately likely to be in low-paid jobs, getting more employers to sign up to the living wage isn’t just a good thing in itself – although it is – it also promotes equality.

And we’re tackling gender segregation in careers – for example we’re helping employers to address this issue in modern apprenticeships. We’re also funding work experience programmes for female undergraduates in subjects such as science and engineering. We want to ensure that more girls and young women study those subjects, and also that they then take up careers in those areas.

There’s an important point about that in terms of our economic future. Women are currently under-represented in sectors which represent major growth opportunities for Scotland– for example digital technology, engineering, renewable energy and life sciences. We know that those areas will need highly skilled new workers in the years and decades ahead.

And so it’s simply not economically sustainable for us to underuse the talent and potential of half of our population. It’s not affordable for our economy and it’s not acceptable for our society.

All of this action will help to ensure that women are better represented across all sectors of our economy. However we also need to ensure that women are represented at all levels of the economy.

Women currently only account for a quarter of private sector board members, among the UK’s largest companies. It’s why the Scottish Government has established our 50/50 by 2020 pledge- to speed up the process at which we achieve equality.

In total more than 170 organisations are signatories. They range from third sector groups, to major firms such as Virgin Money and Alliance Trust.

And the public sector is leading by example. Last year, 54% of regulated public sector board appointees were women. It’s the first time ever that women have made up more than half of the new members of regulated public sector boards. There is a huge amount more to do in both public and private sectors – but we can make rapid progress towards equal representation. Progress has been made but we have to keep moving forward.

I’ve concentrated so far on Scotland. But of course there’s also an international dimension to this.

All over the world, women still suffer systematic discrimination in relation to healthcare, educational opportunity, and employment rights.

According to some estimates, women represent 70% of the world's poor. The unequal status of women is shaped by the inter-locking factors of general poverty,

discriminatory treatment in the family and public life and a vulnerability to HIV.

For those reasons, gender equality is a vital element of our international development and climate justice work.

The Scottish government’s Climate Justice Fund includes help for projects which prepare women to speak out and take a leading role in their communities. That’s a recognition of the fact that women are often the main victims of the negative impact of climate change; empowering them has to be part of the solution.

And for the last three years the Scottish government has been supporting women’s education in Pakistan. Our Scottish scholarships scheme has already enabled more than 200 young women from disadvantaged backgrounds to study Masters courses in Pakistani universities. I can confirm today that we have allocated a further £150,000 for the programme, which means that 200 more students will start their studies later this year.

It’s a programme which is already making a huge difference. One of last year’s graduates, for example, had been unable to find employment after being forced to move from her home town to Lahore. She is now working as a primary teacher – helping other young boys and girls to achieve their dreams.

It’s a good example of how the programme is transforming the lives and futures of individual women. By doing so it can play some part - not a major one, but still an important one - in making Pakistan a more equal, peaceful and prosperous nation.

Last summer, Scotland became one of the first countries to pledge to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

And in doing that, we made a dual commitment. We pledged to tackle poverty and inequality in Scotland, and we also promised to help developing countries to grow in a fair and sustainable manner.

Gender equality is fundamental to that.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said, “Removing the barriers that keep women and girls on the margins of economic, social, cultural and political life must be a top priority for us all – businesses, Governments, the United Nations and civil society.”

I believe we can and must make rapid progress towards that goal in Scotland. And we can also – by our example in Scotland and through our international development work – be a positive influence for change across the world.

We can help to ensure that gender equality isn’t something that has to wait until 2133; and work instead to achieve planet 5050 by 2030. We can secure lasting change, for the benefit of those who are girls and young women today.

The contribution to that cause of organisations such as the Scottish Women’s Convention is invaluable. That’s why I’m delighted to be part of today’s event. I wish all of you, all the best, for a highly successful day.