Grasping the Thistle – Women, Rights and the proof of progress
Who knew that writing about gender could strike quite so many nerves? I did! It is largely what motivated me to write my piece, Of Mice and Men – leadership, women and independence. I rightly believed that one of the main components in moving forward towards a second referendum is that the independence movement should confront the misogyny within it. The reaction confirmed that confronting misogyny in Scotland is something many are loathed to do.
Some were put out that I did not mention the fact that we have Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP, Kezia Dugdale leading Scottish Labour and Ruth Davidson leading the Tories. Apparently, merely having women in leadership positions is why we should shut up and stop asking for ‘special treatment’.
I find myself thinking how many women in leadership positions would be enough? I cannot help but concur with Ruth Bader Ginsberg, “People ask me sometimes, when — when do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the [Supreme] court? And my answer is when there are nine.” Alas, such a dream is a long way off and, sadly, women as leaders does not mean everything is a-okay for women. After all, Theresa May was Home Secretary and it was on her watch as Home Secretary that women were abused at Yarl’s Wood.
“When it comes to abortion the best person to make the decision is the woman concerned, her body, her choice.”
Many also ask why we should focus on misogyny and women’s rights here in Scotland when women are suffering far worse conditions elsewhere across the globe? Mona Eltahawy in conversation for Slate said, “Every community has misogyny that it must fight. And when we become complacent about feminism and women’s rights anywhere, it effects and hurts women everywhere.”
So what issues do we in Scotland have to grapple with? Why just this week we heard that a woman was jailed for fourteen days because she refused to swear under oath that her husband abused her. Questions must be asked as to whether this was a proportionate response. After all, domestic abuse is a crime that is underreported and, on average, it takes a survivor seven attempts to leave their abuser.
As Claire Baker MSP said, we need to do everything we can to help those suffering domestic abuse come forward. Sheriff Elizabeth McFarlane’s decision was defended by an anonymous solicitor, who has not even once acknowledged that domestic abuse is serious problem.
Mona Eltahawy in conversation for Slate said, “Every community has misogyny that it must fight. And when we become complacent about feminism and women’s rights anywhere, it effects and hurts women everywhere.”
Whilst attitudes are changing as both sentencing and the anonymous solicitors defence of the Sheriff were met with condemnation from men and women alike, violence against women and girls is still a huge problem that we as society need to confront. The most recent domestic abuse statistics from Rape Crisis Scotland has seen a rise from 53,439 incidents in 2013-15, to 59,882 incidents in 2014-15 – an increase of 2.5%.
This is when we see a fall in overall crime rates – however, it is entirely probable that this increase is due to more survivors coming forward who might otherwise have remained quiet. It is important that we support men who have suffered from domestic abuse and help them in coming forward, as according to the Scottish government there has been a rise from 12% in 2005-06 to 20% in 2014-15. The harmful patriarchal notions around masculinity harm men and the feminist struggle to dismantle the patriarchy will only uplift us all.
Another litmus test for Scottish politics is abortion law – Scotland has the chance to be a progressive beacon on abortion rights for the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, many do not know that an abortion currently requires the signature of two doctors before a termination can proceed. Should a woman require a later termination, NHS Scotland cannot provide the necessary services needed in most cases so women in Scotland must travel to England, like her Irish sisters, at cost to herself.
“Scotland has the chance to be a progressive beacon on abortion rights for the rest of the United Kingdom.”
When it comes to abortion the best person to make the decision is the woman concerned, her body, her choice. This is why we must stand vigilant and be aware of the anti-choice movements attempts to import American-style tactics to Scotland – we have already seen an attempt at a 40 Days For Life vigil outside a hospital. 40 Days of Life are the same organisation that directs women to crisis pregnancy centres and is against the use of all contraceptives.
We have the chance to grasp the thistle and prove ourselves to be a truly progressive nation, I believe that this is something we can and must achieve.