Leaders: Gender inequality still a blight on modern society

Nicola Sturgeon's cabinet is a 50-50 gender split'. Picture: Neil Hanna
Nicola Sturgeon's cabinet is a 50-50 gender split'. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THE Scottish Government is tackling a historic injustice, but much still needs to be done if true equality is to be achieved

The journey to equality is a long and laboured one, but whenever complacency risks rearing its head, we should be thankful for damning research which reveals just how much further Scotland has to go. In what is the biggest study of its kind in Scotland, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has warned that women are continuing to suffer from inequality in the workplace.

The statistics outlined in the commission’s report, Is Scotland Fairer?, make for dispiritingly familiar reading for anyone who might have optimistically presumed this issue was becoming a thing of the past in 2016.

Although women are now more likely to have a degree than men, there remains little prospect of parity in the workplace. The EHRC research found that, as of 2013, men were still significantly more likely to be employed in a managerial, directorial or senior role than their female counterparts, with 10.4 per cent of men in such positions compared to just 5.9 per cent of women.

Although the gap in employment rates narrowed between 2008 and 2013, the report also shows that just 72.1 per cent of women are likely to be in work, compared to 74.3 per cent of men. Closing the gap is encouraging, but the fact it is still exists at all is a blight on our society.

Social justice secretary Alex Neil said the study would make a valuable contribution to the discussion over how Scotland can become a fairer and more equal place. “Promoting equality and tackling inequality runs through our programme for government,” he said.

Mr Neil, of course, is one of five men in the Scottish cabinet, a complement that is matched by five women. The reshuffle that led to the 50/50 split was a declaration of intent on the part of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

It was, she said, “a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality and it sends out a strong message that the business of redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government”.

Today’s report is a stark reminder that the business continues. The Scottish Government has led by example on the issue and it is to be congratulated for much of its work, but when such concerning figures continue to emerge, the jury must remain out.

These pernicious statistics are not unique to Scotland. Countries around the developed world must wrestle with the myriad injustices of gender inequality. It is a battle that has been waged for years now and although progress has been made, much remains to be done.

Eradicating this historic imbalance cannot be done overnight, nor is it a fight the SNP administration can win without the help of others. But given the party counts fairness as one of its six key visions towards making Scotland a more equal and prosperous society, it has set itself a bold challenge.

Mantras are inspiring and motivating, but the talk must be backed up by action and demonstrable results. The government must continue to make headway on this area. It is a mission that must not end in failure.

Bridge monitoring may be prudent

After weeks of angry claim and counter-claim over the faults which led to the closure of the Forth Road Bridge for much of December, the first day of a Holyrood inquiry into the incident proved refreshingly lucid.

Richard Hornby, an independent engineering consultant, told MSPs that a seized pin had caused the crack which led to the shutdown of the crossing. The pin allowed free movement of the truss – the girder framework – which supports the carriageways. “The seizure of the pin could have happened over years,” he told the infrastructure committee. “There was no mechanism to check the pin was moving.”

Mr Hornby explained the problem could not have been flagged up by the inspection regime that was in place. In layman’s terms, no-one knew there was an issue. The only way it could have been identified, he said, was through structural health monitoring, an embryonic technique which allows engineers to improve the safety and maintainability of structures.

It is a view that was echoed by John Russell, operations manager for Amey, the bridge operator. “If we had had that, it perhaps may have been picked up,” he said. “Perhaps.”

The committee heard the latest monitoring system will be used on the new Queens­ferry Crossing. While it is now in place on some sections of the Forth Road Bridge, installing it across the entire structure would cost up to £10 million.

At a time when public infrastructure budgets are tight, that is a considerable sum. But in light of the cost to the Scottish economy from last month’s closure, it is an investment which would appear to warrant further consideration. Such an innovation would surely bring some peace of mind.