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.

Comments (10)

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  1. raddledoldtart says:

    Am I the only one who notices that Bella Caledonia articles written by women or about women’s issues attract significantly less comments than those written by men or on ungendered subjects?

    1. Kieron Conlan says:

      Probably. 8 hours later, I’m the only other commenter.

      Reading this, and refIecting on my partners experience with similar events in Scotland I think that this 50/50 movement is a brilliant forum to push/pull/attract more women into political positions of power, without having any political agenda per se.

      A refreshing change to the men in suits. If our business ‘leaders’ could see the the same benefits, maybe society could change for the better.

      1. It’s a good question. I think the report on this event was less contentious than other articles. So there’s less to argue about. I think there’s widespread support for what’s being advocated. More contentious issues by and for woman have received loads of comments. It would be good to see more mass participation in general rather than a binary segregation, in my view. We are actively commissioning more women writers and exploring our editorial plans to represent a genuine alternative. Suggestions and views (and submissions) are welcome.

    2. Lenny says:

      Perhaps the Bella editors could limit articles written by men to having only a few comments each to level things up.

  2. Frank says:

    I agree that we need more women in politics, but sometimes it can just be women in suits as opposed to men and suits. What I’m getting at is that we need to change the political and managerial culture. As someone who previously worked at senior level in the public sector women can be as ruthless to men. The lure of power is gender blind and my experience of horrendous senior managers (both male and female) was one of the reasons I was glad to get out.

    I can recall some feminists in senior management always proclaiming equality for men and women at Chief Exec or director level, but saying nothing when cleaning staff, care staff, dinner ladies were all contracted out to the private sector.

    We may also learn something from women who choose not to be political. And we forget that people, or in this instance women, make an informed choice not to get involved.

  3. C Rober says:

    Where and when does the battle for equality then become further inequality?

    I am for women on the same pay as men for the same job , but not for either men or women being picked for a job because they have x genitals.

    But you have to also argue that there already is inequality in the workforce , men rarely have time off when kids are sick , somehow its always mom with the doctor and medicine.

    When you hire a woman with kids that are still growing there’s a liability there , inbuilt time off , thus less productivity per pound for the employer vs the hiring of a man , unless they are such well paid that they can have a nany.

    We should be concentrating on this as a barrier for increasing employment for women , which has a direct effect on GDP through SSP etc and doesn’t affect the rich politicians all too happy to avert gaze elsewhere – to gender inequality , without redressing the reason why employers will to easily choose a male over a female for that one driving reason.

    Speaking of medicine , correct me if I am wrong but the doctor training rate is long past being mostly men , and is now mostly women. Why?

    A field where success in qualification , therefore employment , is regardless of gender , to a point , but is there is the neurological aspect , differences in the brains of men and women to consider.

    So if there is a case found by eminent medical scientists , be they male or female , for the differences in the way a female and male brain work , which leads to a natural ability , therefore a lead , then are we to suggest that the best person for a job is indeed a man , or a woman due to a proven medical fact?

    This is why we have interviews , appraisals and qualifications , to weed out the best for the job , theoretically.

    Then of course we have the physical aspect , in that in general most women as lesser powered physically than most men for a specific task , Australian and East German women exempted , and of course for men during flu season vs women , which are all deviations from the norm.

    A case in point , typical sized Firemen vs typical sized women. 4 percent only of the service are women , but a sizable increase of 33 percent since the decade before.

    Its kind of hard to expect a little woman , or little man , to dead lift someone out of a burning building , or down the ladder , which is part of the training , and why we have training.

    Physical ability is a requisite , not being able to pass this part of the training is regardless of sex , but unfortunately used as an excuse that tries to blur the inequality lines by the pro equality movements.

    But to hire women anyway simply to meet a quota would mean two sets of rules , one for men and one for women , where inequality instead of being redressed becomes a liability to the other firefighters as well as for the client , rendering the need for training all but redundant.

    Please note there is some women that are slight of build but can do the 55k lift aspects of the FF training , but one has to ask about long term damage and injury compensation , time off work etc. Thus your pound spend for the same service as an employer suffers.

    The same goes for Teachers , the male teacher is a rare thing these days , and when I think back 40 or so years even then it was already a majority female profession. Are the sexes divided again through nature , where one has a lead , so is a proven case for a positive inequality?

    Then we have cost effective to argue , whether one sex is more cost effective than the other , no not by lowering wages because of the sex of the employee , but whether you get more workload from one sex vs the other in the same job for the same pound spent.


    A man physically moves x weight at x speed from point a to point b , defines costing to employer and therefore customer.

    A woman replaces man , moves x weight the same rate , same workload , but different pay , thats inequality in action. Increased profit for employer due to lower wage , and if passed on to customer lower prices.

    Another woman gets the same job just purely because she is a woman , does less workload for the same pay as everyone else , that’s inequality to all workers , not just a specific sex , and an increase in costing to both employer and customer.

    Robot eventually replaces human element , does better job for no pay at all , no sick pay , no biased inequality legislation , no little robots to look after when they break down , no union problems , equals increased profit for employer , lower prices for unemployed customer.

    So in summary , if you want a tool to do the job then you select the right tool for the job , but eventually the robot will get the fucking job , but who cares as long as it doesn’t have nuts.

  4. duncan says:

    this should also do a lot for gender equality in alimony payments? just pushing it but in all seriousness, I don’t think quotas help, what does though is fairness and transparency and these are rules which apply to everyone. I think woman are excelling without the quotas, anyway. As to the lack of comments I think a lot of people feel a bit nervous about having an opinion on things related to gender, race or immigration from the quickness people are ready to make accusations. I mentioned academic rigour was a good traditional value on another post the other day and quickly vilified as a nazi. I think it’s an interesting discussion but from discussions in the street and at work,Quotas are controversial. I know a lot of people too scared to speak out about them in other institutions. And the idea of parity seems a little bit too ideological. What happens when there are 82 per cent woman in parliament, is there another quota drive?

    1. duncan says:

      excuse spelling

  5. Frank says:

    Good points Duncan. There exists on the left, particularly in relation to Marxism and Radical Feminism – two discourses based on group conflict, an ideological thought police which has always sought to ban arguments they disagree with.

    Many radical feminists have given mainstream feminism a bad name, which may shed some light on the curious fact that a majority of women no longer think of themselves as feminist even though they agree with most feminist positions.

    1. C Rober says:

      HAHA , Hardcore feminist , you mean man hating dungaree wearing and doc martin booted?

      I see where the likes of the old guard like Greer is coming from these days , a woman long described as the above in the media and in private , and the other long term battlers for equality and the disdain that the older generation now has for modern feminism that it spawned , ie that it has now been hijacked by the real above , without the stereotype , but for lesbianism agenda ….. not instead for all women.

      When they were fighting for rights , like the pill – not for Saturday night whoring but to stop their bodies being factories and learn to enjoy sex , equal wages – for the same workload , standing against the church and institutionalized society treating women as second class , it wasn’t for women to be men including the flaws wearing a short skirt , it was for the rights to the benefits of being paid and treated the same as men. Job done(ish) , now retired.

      They succeeded though , there is legislation for equal pay and rights , but for the hardcore that’s not enough , it has mutated into the sexual preference based equality quagmire instead , whom already have rights to equality through legislation regarding sexuality …. but now want more than equality – at the expense of others , therefore inequality once again.

      Example , just recently Westminster has made legal the 2 same sex embryo fertilization process , and of course the 2 women and one man fertilization 3 person DNA based embryo.Yes you read that right.

      Say you have two gay women , they can use own egg and “fertilise” with the dna of the other , effectively making a fatherless child – in more than just an errant father , one night stand , or sperm donor kind of way.

      This costs , and I do mean costs , its not cheap , even with unused donated eggs from fertility clinics , whom can and do sell them off after someones treatment to the highest bidder , then just remove the original dna.

      Gay men can also do the same , but lack the actual ability to carry said fertilized embryo , so there is already a few test cases going through ECHR and Uk courts regarding the forced payment of surrogacy abroad , all to be paid for by the NHS , because payment is still illegal in the UK.

      As i said , feminism and the rights movement itself has mutated , where one is expecting more than equality. But should the result in the above case be deemed the norm , ie childless hetro couple can do the same , therefore equality , then the NHS would be bankrupt in a year at 50-1ook a pop , for what two fingers up at mother nature?

      Ah for the good old days of one night hetro lesbians stalking men in nightclubs , or friendly gay men with chicken basters helping out their comrades in arms – pre hiv education.

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