Equality between the genders is far from being won
Celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the first women in this country getting the vote were fantastic to see, especially as a female MSP, as well as being the Scottish Labour Shadow Spokesperson on Women and Equalities. Yet the fact that, 100 years later, we still need a spokesperson especially for “women’s issues” already shows how far we have yet to go.
Women are, on average, still earning less than a man doing the same job, as well as what is seen traditionally as “women’s work” being undervalued and paid less than male- dominated work, women are less likely to be in full time work, more likely to have to carry out unpaid work like caring responsibilities or housework, less likely to be on decision-making boards and more likely to be in poverty in old age.
Equality between the genders is far from being won. Several generations after the suffragettes first began the fight for equality in voting, women still represent a huge untapped potential in the economy and society as a whole.
Economics aside, women are also far more likely to suffer forms of violence and abuse. The nation is currently in uproar about the stories coming out about Oxfam workers taking advantage of women living in disaster strewn areas, and forcing them to prostitute themselves in exchange for money. And rightly so - it is a shocking revelation about the very people who are there to help to that are taking advantage, and making the situation so much worse for these women.
But why is society so ready to say that using prostitutes is terrible for aid workers in Haiti, but fine if they are in Edinburgh? An earthquake might not be the reason women in Scotland have been forced into selling their bodies, but poverty, trafficking, abusive partners, or trauma in childhood are prevalent the world over.
Just as we are condemning the male Oxfam workers for bartering for sex in Haiti, we should be condemning the men who buy sex in Scotland.
Full legalisation criminalising the purchase of sex would not only tell men and boys across this country that it is not ok to buy a woman’s body, but it would say that consent cannot be commodified. Otherwise prostitution could be seen as something a careers advisor could suggest, that a woman could get her unemployment benefit stopped because she turned down a “job” as a prostitute.
These women need protection, both the women in Haiti and the many other countries Oxfam and charities like them work in, but also the women in Scotland. The record levels of violence against women and girls who are forced to sell their bodies for sex shows how much these women should be protected, not punished.
Gender equality won’t happen automatically. It happens because of leadership, because of political decisions, because of much needed resources being invested. But mostly it happens because people like us are prepared to fight for it.