Women's Lives Matter

Posted on March 04, 2015 at 10:18 PM

Eileen Dinning, STUC
Eileen Dinning, STUC

Eileen Dinning*

If we are over 50% of the population, where are we in the power game ?

Well, not that prominent, if truth be told.

Media wise we see increasingly more women in positions of power. From senior politicians, NHS Chief Executives and Chief Constables, women’s profile is higher than it has ever been.

And yet, there is no significant improvement in women’s lives. If anything the trend is backwards.

Low pay persists and there is no sign of the gender pay gap closing.Women are paying out more on private childcare than on their mortgage payments, while the care system is creaking due to lack of funding and an increase in violence against women and children.

So what’s happening ? Are we ticking boxes and have we become too complacent?

Putting the spotlight on women’s representation in public life demonstrates that progress has halted and in some cases has gone into reverse.

In the context of the trade union movement in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the picture shows a decline in female membership, under representation in the key positions such as shop stewards, branch officers, and conference delegates and no real progress with regard to senior full time positions.

If there is an answer to this depressing picture then it needs to manifest itself in a campaign that the people in power make good on their promises on equality and fairness.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the Scottish Trades Union Congress Women’s Committee launched a campaign that brought trade union women to centre stage.

The 50/50 campaign principally focused on the need for equal representation in the new Scottish Parliament. Linking up with other civic groups and with cross party support the new Parliament convened in 1999 with over 37% of the 129 MSP’s being female.

It’s worth remembering that some political parties were better tha others when it came to the selection of female candidates in safe seats.

In 2003 this rose to 39 percent. While subsequent parliaments have seen a drop in those numbers, women recognise that we need to continue to organise, support each other and encourage others and argue for the introduction of special measures when necessary, with the goal of 50/50 still central.

That demand of 50/50 representation includes recognition of women’s lives in all our diversity, and therefore must also include steps to better represent women from all communities.

We recognise, however, that public life is not restricted to elected positions. Our campaign is looking at how we can encourage women in communities to come together and make their voices heard, how we can increase the current – and poor – representation of women on public boards and how we can improve the position of women in the trade union movement.

Nevertheless, what is clearly missing from this debate is not just the numbers game but how we achieve representation of women from all walks of life and the experience they bring.

Many women in politics have used their position to actively improve the lives of women. Many others have not. So what is the point of appointing/electing/increasing women into positions of power if they choose not to use for the benefit of others.

I don’t know of a single cleaner, cook, admin assistant, shop or childcare worker who currently sits on a public board in Scotland. Why is that?

They have as much to offer as have the high flying professionals.

Women’s lives matter. Our society would be a poorer place without their contribution. Not just in the workplace but in recognition of the unpaid caring work they do.

That their position in our society is considerably less than it should be is not acceptable in 2015. Must do better.


*Eileen is a UNISON official and a former member of the Women's Committee of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC). She is a speaker and contributor at the Congress Women's Seminar in Belfast, from March 5-6. 


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