This temporary change last took place 21 years ago when we believed we were seeing substantial improvements in equality between the sexes. In fact, progress has been grindingly slow.
To the casual observer, Scotland might appear a beacon of gender equality. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is a fine role model and her fellow political leaders, Kezia Dugdale of Labour and Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives, also play significant roles in demonstrating to girls that they can grow up to take on roles which are more commonly associated with men.
But it would be wrong to think the personal achievements of Sturgeon, Dugdale and Davidson mean Scotland has succeeded in creating a truly equal society. Yes, this trio are inspiring and dynamic, but they have, we fear, succeeded despite the barriers that still exist for women.
In today’s Scotland on Sunday, we report on the Glasgow Women’s Library, a truly groundbreaking modern institution which this year celebrates the 25th anniversary of its establishment. The Library is important not just for what it does but as a symbol of the ongoing fight for gender equality. A separate report in today’s newspaper highlights how far there is yet to go before women are treated as men are.
New figures released by the Scottish Government show that female workers are still, in many cases, being paid less than their male colleagues. As if this were not enough to cause concern, statistics show that the pay-gap is growing.
Once women reach the age of 50, they can expect to be paid £1.74 an hour less than men in the same jobs. For younger women, between the ages of 35-49, the pay gap is a smaller – though still completely unacceptable – at £1.24-an-hour.
Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender, which campaigns for equality in Scotland, is correct to call on political parties to commit to taking decisive action. With May’s Holyrood election only weeks away, Engender has prepared a “Gender Matters” manifesto which sets out specific measures to change pay rates.
We hope politicians and business leaders will examine the proposals – from the establishment of an accredited scheme to enable businesses to take positive action, to the creation of a fund to support women starting their own businesses or struggling to get into work – and act upon them.
Anna Ritchie Allan, project manager at the Close the Gap campaigning organisation, points out that while the figures on pay inequality make for grim reading, they don’t tell the whole story. Part-time workers are not included in the statistics released by the Scottish Government; the pay gap is significantly larger when part-time work is accounted for.
The Scottish Government says female employment in Scotland is among the best in the EU and the gender pay gap is still the lowest in the UK. This may well be so, but cabinet secretary for fair work, Roseanna Cunningham, is right to acknowledge there is still much to be done. Cunningham says that tackling low pay and the gender pay gap are “key priorities” for the Scottish Government. This being so, we would expect to see real progress.
We support the introduction of stricter measures to ensure employers pay men and women the same rate for the same jobs. Employers may resent government intervention but they have only themselves to blame if it comes.
As International Women’s Day approaches, we should be ashamed of the pay inequality that still exists in Scotland. We might tell ourselves we live in a progressive and fair nation, but while women continue to earn less than their male colleagues, we will be telling ourselves a lie.