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Can Scotland Become the Most Gender Equal Country in the World?

Voting a Women's Equality Party MSP into Holyrood this week would ensure that Scotland can make real progress towards being the most gender equal country in the world.

This week's Scottish Parliamentary election sees more parties than ever field candidates. One new entry is the Women's Equality Party, founded just one year ago by comedienne Sandi Toksvig and Time journalist Catherine Mayer. It has since gathered over 47,000 members and has new branches across the UK.

The Women's Equality Party are standing candidates in Lothian and Glasgow regional lists and the candidates, members and supporters all have a connection in common - they want to see the issues that affect them and 52% of the population tackled in parliament.

Other parties such as Scottish Labour and the SNP have put women at the forefront of their election PR, even going as far as to draft Women's Manifestos, which are in fact just edits of their party manifestos featuring and drawing attention to the policies that benefit women. None of these policies go as far or are as ambitious and action-focussed as the Women's Equality Party manifesto pledges. As we saw in the last BBC Scotland leaders debate, there was not a single mention of women, and it doesn't inspire confidence that serious gender inequality issues will be their priority in Holyrood.

What our candidates want to do is be a strong, non-partisan voice for women's equality in Holyrood, to hold the parties to account over their promises and work with them to achieve real improvements for women. For too long the political agenda has primarily been set by people who don't think gender inequality matters

Here four of the Lothian list candidates explain why they are standing.

Kate MacDonald: My experience of Edinburgh, as a student, was marred by harassment. During my first week, a man grabbed my butt at a pedestrian crossing after I ignored several comments about my skirt. I got such a fright that I hit him with my textbook.

A recent survey at my former university found two thirds of female respondents had experienced some kind of sexual assault or harassment. This wasn't news to me, or to any of my friends; all of us had a hundred stories about being leered at, groped, intimidated or followed while out in Edinburgh - especially at night. It was horrible to realise that men believed they had unfettered access to us and our bodies whenever we stepped out the front door.

And when I reflected on it, I started to get angry. Why was this not a priority, to seriously tackle this toxic culture, that we know feeds into abuse and violence against women? We live in a country where there are three reported rapes a day, and where one in five women will experience some form of sexual violence in her lifetime.

I joined the Women's Equality Party because I want to challenge the cultural attitudes that allow this to be the case. I am standing as a candidate so that I can fight for more support for victims in the justice system, proper consent and relationships education for young people, and secure funding for vital frontline services for victims. Violence against women remains one of the most pervasive barriers to gender equality, and none of us are truly free until we can end it.

Dr Abi Herrmann: When I was 6 I had my first swimming lesson at school. I was anxious - not about the water or about drowning - but about having to wear a swimming costume in front of the other kids. I cried in the changing room.

A few years later, the disgust of my body growing, I took a pair of kitchen scissors up to my bedroom and tried to cut off my young tadpole tummy. An action my older scientific self now sees was very unlikely work.

I have since cried in many changing rooms - hating my body despite all the brilliant things it can do. I thought this experience was unique to me - that I was the only one that felt ashamed of what is under my clothes. But I think many of us feel the same. And I think the media portrayal of unrealistic body image has a massive hand in making us feel like this. I think this is wrong and we should try to fix it.

Beyond body image, the media under-represents women and their achievements, values women's outfits rather than their thoughts and ideas, and online public forums such as Twitter and Reddit are too often places of dis-regulated vitriol.

I am proud to be standing as a candidate for the Women's Equality Party. A party that has Equal Treatment of Women in the Media as one of its core aims.

Jen Royston: I am born and bred in Scotland although I have worked in countries including Sierra Leone, Iraq, Nigeria and Uganda and seen the destructive effect of entrenched inequalities within communities.

Women are suffering from the same issues in Scotland namely, violence and lack of access to justice. There are three reported rapes per day and one in five women will suffer domestic abuse in her lifetime. I want to draw upon my experience in the field of sexual violence against women and my background as a lawyer and use my passion and skills to tackle these issues and strive for gender parity.

I believe the only way to achieve this is by standing with the Women's Equality Party, who will ensure that a system of legal support for victims of gender-based violence is created by providing free legal help for victims of domestic abuse in Scotland and providing training for Scottish public service staff to recognise the warning signs of domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women.

I want to ensure that women are represented, and therefore empowered, across all areas of our society - these issues can't be left to be dealt with later, they are ruining lives now and they need a strong voice in Holyrood to ensure they are at the top of the political agenda.

Lee Chalmers: I'm standing for election for The Women's Equality Party because women get paid less than men and I want to close that gap. I thought I'd made it when I got a job as a senior consultant in a firm in London. They prided themselves on being a workplace which valued women and diversity. So I was outraged when I found out that in my pay band the gap between the lowest paid man and the highest paid women was a whopping £10K a year!

Anyone who wants to delude themselves that the pay gap is not real just needs to speak to me and the numerous other women who have had the nasty surprise that their employer has been paying them less to do the same job as a male direct counterpart. The recent legal cases against councils in Scotland are proof that it is happening at all levels, right under our noses. We need pay transparency now and government action on this to show that Scotland is serious about paying women the same wage for the same work.

It's not just the pay gap, it's the struggle to be taken seriously. Arriving at a meeting with fellow professionals at a large corporation, a senior male employee at the firm turned to me and said "Why are you here? I know, you are the intelligent totty. When do we get to see your legs?" Three degrees, a decent job and I'm still seen primarily as titillation for men. What do you have to do to be taken seriously?

I am tired of waiting for gender equality. I see how women are treated and don't want my niece and nephew to grow up in the same world. I want children to be able thrive because of who they are, not be stuck inside narrow gender stereotypes. I want equal pay for equal work. I believe that the Women's Equality Party are the only party in Scotland who can commit to keeping gender equality at the front of their minds.

Voting a Women's Equality Party MSP into Holyrood this week would ensure that Scotland can make real progress towards being the most gender equal country in the world.

Connect with the candidates on Facebook or Twitter.

Photos Duncan Reddish.