Gender inequality remains rife - Lesley Laird

Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Lesley Laird writes exclusively for the Red Robin. 

This year the usual blaze of colour at the BAFTA film awards was replaced by a parade of black-clad film stars posing amid the flashing light bulbs on a red carpet. It was a dramatic and sobering statement; of glamour heavily cloaked with political intent. The winning speech of actor Frances McDormand even more so, as she took to the stage to pledge solidarity ‘with her sisters’ while praising movies which not only entertain but spark activism and positive social discourse. 

The recent Harvey Weinstein and Presidents Club scandals and the strength of support for the Time’s Up and the Me Too campaigns make you wonder what level of activism it will take to finally achieve equality and fair treatment for women. Nearly 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was brought into statute by a strong Labour woman, Barbara Castle, women in jobs across the public and private sector, and at all levels of these organisations, are still fighting to be paid the rate for the job. 

Gender inequality remains rife - only 45 of our 129 MSPs are women, 208 of 650 MPs, for example – but it’s those who earning least who suffer most. The reality today is women are twice as likely to be paid below the Scottish Living Wage and twice as likely to rely on benefits and tax credits.

The ineffectiveness of Equal Pay legislation as it is currently written, is something, I think, that can simply no longer be allowed to continue. The sitting quietly, waiting for "our turn" to come around has long since passed - and not just on equal pay.  

Like our sisters before us - it's now up to each and every one of us to continue that fight today - not only to keep what past generations won but to ensure that new victories are achieved for our sisters who will follow.  

But what about our brothers in arms? 

Our case is made all the stronger when good men lend their voices and support to our cause.  I used to have a poster in my office – which showed a picture of a girl and a boy with the caption – “Prepare your daughter for working life. Give her less pocket money than your son.” Of course, dads would not do that to their daughter. But the irony of all this is that when dads go to work they are working alongside women colleagues doing the same job but being paid less than them. 

When they are sitting in managerial roles how many of them are asking for an equalities review of salaries to ensure that the women in their organisation are not being discriminated against? For equality to happen the current decision makers need to make it happen. And this is my plea to our “brothers in arms” – come and lend your support and change the culture. Your colleagues expect it and would most definitely appreciate it - and so too would your daughter. You’re helping her to fight the battle that’s not yet been won.

So what’s my advice to any woman? Don’t be silent. Don’t wait. If something bugs you, do something about it. If you want to see things change then be part of it. Because if not you - then who? Be a collaborator – find like-minded people to come with you on the journey. Make goals – have a plan. Challenge yourself every day to say ‘what did I accomplish today’ and ‘what will I do tomorrow?’  

For the generation of today - and those yet to come - we owe it to ourselves to get out there and give it our best. As our sisters of past generations showed - waiting for someone else to decide what's best for us is never a good idea.  

And even when legislation is on our side – the battle is yet to be won. Our case has a strong moral and just argument and down the years has always been strengthened by supportive male voices - and they are needed more than ever right now.  

Let me end with the words of Aretha Franklin: "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves" - and sister, that means you!


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