This week a government memo detailing plans for women-friendly policies was leaked to the media. This document considered plans to make changes to benefits so that women would be the sole receiver in a household of universal credit payments and front-loaded child benefit so that more money is given when children are younger. Other suggestions included banning advertising to children; introducing personal budgets to enable women to choose their own maternity services; criminalising forced marriage and holding a summit for women in business. While some of these suggestions reek of tokenism and others have a disagreeable ideology behind them (shopping around for health services?), the emphasis on women tailored policy is welcome, or at least would be welcome if it wasn’t so blatantly a cynical exercise in vote-chasing.
This memo follows the realisation by the government that recent cutbacks had hit women disproportionately hard as well as a previously leaked memo from the government which called for abolishing maternity payments on the basis that it hindered economic recovery. These have conspired to hit the government where it hurts the most: right in the votes. Recent polls have put support amongst young women for the Conservatives falling from 30% to 18% over the last year.
Although some of these suggested polices are objectively pro-women, the vote-grabbing impetus for them makes me slightly uneasy. I seriously doubt these are well thought out ideas that act against entrenched gender equality but are instead big on rhetoric and short on impact.
Improving the position of women involves a lot more than dis-jointed policies about school holidays and child benefit. Empowering women and making our country a more equal place is an incremental process that involves fundamental changes about who we are as a society.
So, in the spirit of JFK’s “think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” shtick I have graciously offered my services by devising my own list of women-focused polices. In post-devolution Scotland this wish list is better directed at our very own SNP majority government. Please join me in writing an open letter to the Scottish government as to what changes we would like to see change in our country. Answers on a postcard so far:
- Safety: last year a deplorable number of sexual assaults took place in Glasgow city centre. Action is needed to make all city centres safer for everyone. More police, better transport links and lighting could also contribute to this.
- Rape conviction rate: is still lingering around the 3% mark. A lack of reporting, difficulty in prosecution, persistent rape myths affecting perceptions on what rape actually is all contribute to this. Scotland’s record on rape conviction is worse than the UK’s and any other crime which had this low a conviction rape would be an outrage. Changes to the law can move the burden of proof from the victim and an information campaign should challenge rape myths and perceptions which could encourage more reporting.
- Domestic Abuse: one in five women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse. During old firm matches the number of domestic violence incidences can go up by as much as 138%. The Scottish Government should fund women’s refuges and promote the message that domestic abuse is always inexcusable.
- Pay Inequality: Women are paid, on average, 12% less than men. Action could be taken by implementing transparent pay structures, increasing women’s representation in company top management, increasing affordable child care and give families the ability to share maternity leave.
- No recourse to public funds: Women coming to Scotland as asylum seekers, refugees, on student and spousal visas often fall prey to this rule which would deny them support and the ability to escape an abusive relationship. This rule should be overturned or there at least should be a fund of money available to help women in these circumstances.
- Limit lap dancing clubs: Lap dancing clubs contribute to the commercialisation of sex, the perception of women as sexual objects, creates ‘no go’ areas for women in city centres and financially exploit women who work in these clubs. Local councils should be given more powers to reject applications from lap dancing clubs.
- Resist cuts to services, especially for vulnerable groups: Women’s Aid reported in April that 60% of refuges and 72% of out-reach services had no agreed funding. The Women’s Support Project in Glasgow will receive no funding from Glasgow City Council. More women work in the increasingly underfunded public sector. Funding cuts are having a disproportionate effect on women and the Scottish Government should ensure that any cuts to funding do not have a discriminating effect on women.