Report and photos from Engender’s Who Runs the World conference. All photographs by Jannica Honey.

Last week was Women 5050’s first national event. We packed the conference programme full of inspiration for what we hoped would be a phenomenal event, but even we were amazed at the response. Five days on, and the Women 5050 Twitter account is still getting tweets of support and thanks for the day. The Women 5050 campaign is fighting for a simple change – we want legislated quotas that would mean women make up at least 50% of the candidates in Scottish Parliament elected and local elections, and that women make up at least 50% of the board appointments. To some this is a step too far in the fight for women’s social justice, for us, it is astounding that it still needs to be fought for.

Women make up almost 52% of the population and yet only make up 35% of MSPs, 36% board members and a woeful 24% of councillors. What’s worse, is that the MSPs percentage is down from the 2007 high of 40%. We may have three women leading political parties, but look behind them and the chamber is filled with an over representation of men. Women 5050 believes that quotas help to eradicate the barriers women face in becoming leaders and force political parties to take women’s representation seriously. Quotas promote women with the merit and ambition to be leaders. We wanted to organise a conference to get those women with the merit and ambition together, to bring together those who disagree with us and hopefully help us change their minds and crucially, to bring together representatives from across the political spectrum and encourage them to work together for a fairer parliament.

The conference included an expert academic from Stockholm University, Professor Drude Dahlerup, who reminded us of a very simple fact – there can be no true democracy without parity. With the world average of women’s participation at a mere 22%, Scotland is further than most, but we are coming behind many leading countries; the top five being Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Seychelles and Sweden. We can, and must, do better.We had journalists tell us about the sexism they faced being women in the field and the sexism they challenge on behalf of women leaders (see The Sun’s depiction of the First Minister on a wrecking ball or Kezia Dugdale, Leader of the Scottish Labour party, being described as an accessory). We heard from policy influencers about the impact of poor policy making for women and why decisions made with a fair number of women in the decision-making seats, creates a better outcome for Scotland as a whole.

One of the most striking parts of the day was the women MSPs panel, with Angela Constance, Alison Johnstone, Kezia Dugdale and Mary Scanlon. Whilst in the debate chamber it may seem like the women on our panel would not agree on much, it was wonderful to see cross-party solidarity on seeking ways to improve women’s representation and fighting women’s inequality.Kezia Dugdale MSP, who co-launched the campaign over a year ago, stated that we need to challenge what leadership means. She went on to say, that too many people think leadership means a man in a suit or that you must have a particular personality. In reality, we need a range of personalities and leadership skills in our parliament and councils to truly represent Scotland. Alison Johnstone MSP who also co-launched the Women 5050 campaign stated that we need more women in parliament but that we must also fight for better representation of the BME, LGBT and Disabled communities. With such a switched on approach to democracy, you can see why these two MSPs were the leading names of the campaign launch. Our audience (and indeed Twitter) was, unsurprisingly, most excitable about the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s keynotes address. The campaign was proud to introduce her onto the stage and in particular grateful for her describing the Women 5050 as “one of the most significant campaigns in Scotland”. So much so, that we are thinking of getting that on our next batch of badges.

Reflecting on the conference, one of the things I am proudest of is the diversity in the programme and in the audience. We had women of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and opinions in the room. All with one key thing in common: the aspiration to change the face of politics for women and create a fairer Scotland.Women are not a homogenous group. We are BME, we are disabled, we are LGBT, we are from different socio-economic backgrounds, with different skills, different views and different personalities. Opening the door to leadership for more of us, will mean a more representative and more inclusive Scotland.

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