Recent campaigns like #MeToo have exposed the reality of just how many women experience day-to-day violations of their rights to safety, security and justice. At the same time, women continue to be underrepresented in public life, and bear the brunt of austerity policies, with women from black and minority ethnic communities, disabled women and women on low incomes often experiencing a double or triple whammy of disadvantage.
Here in Scotland, the Government is to be commended for its efforts to advance gender equality. But it must go further, faster, to ensure that all women in Scotland are able to enjoy all their rights – economic, social, civil and political – on the same terms as their male counterparts.
On 23 July, the Scottish Human Rights Commission presented our latest report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva. Our report makes 27 recommendations for greater Government action on women’s rights including measures to ensure Brexit has no negative impact; action to mitigate the impact of austerity on women’s economic and social rights; and improvements to law and policy to tackle the high prevalence of violence against women.
Welfare reforms in the UK have had a disproportionately negative impact on women in Scotland. The Commission is therefore calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that the new social security system being developed in Scotland addresses the specific problems experienced by women and continues to mitigate the impacts of welfare reform, particularly on disabled women, black and minority ethnic women and lone mothers who are disproportionately affected. We want the Government to go further still and incorporate the right to social security in relevant legislation to increase accountability.
The Commission is also highlighting the need for adequate funding for social care in Scotland, largely due to long-term underinvestment in the sector. Almost 90% of the social care workforce is comprised of women, frequently in lower paid jobs and they are often undervalued by society. We would like to see the Scottish government establish a national independent Commission on social care funding to help address this.
Women’s employment in Scotland is concentrated in the public sector but only 26% of public bodies are headed by women. Although 81% of the NHS workforce is comprised of women, 80% of the NHS Board chairs are men. We want to see the Government strengthening measures to increase representation of women in all aspects of public life and collecting sufficient data so we can better understand the issue and measure progress.
In Scotland, the gender pay gap sits at nearly 15% when comparing men’s and women’s overall hourly wages, placing Scotland second from the bottom of the 45 EU member states. The Commission believes we need a national strategy to address the causes of the gender pay gap, and to mainstream gender when it comes to developing new legislation and policies.
Our report also cites problems with women and girls accessing mental healthcare in Scotland. Young women are more than twice as likely to be depressed as men, a problem which particularly affects women on low incomes, who are also more likely to be disabled or from black and minority ethnic communities. The Commission recommends that the Scottish Government ensures the NHS mental health strategy gives equal access to services for diverse groups of women.
Significant progress has been made in Scotland regarding violence against women, an example being the Domestic Abuse Act. But the Commission’s report draws attention to the need for concerted and continued action to protect women’s rights to be free from violence and harm, particularly in relation to misogynistic bullying and sexual harassment.
Women in Scotland should be able to enjoy all of their rights on the same terms as men. While it is disappointing that this is still not the case, strong leadership and focused action from Government can – and must – do much more to improve the laws and policies needed to protect and fulfil women’s rights.