The fight for women’s equality needs “feminists in positions of power” and not just female politicians in high office, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale will say.
Ms Dugdale will make a veiled attack on Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first female first minister, as she insists it is Labour that has achieved most to help transform the lives of women across the country.
The new Scottish Labour leader will point to her party’s record in introducing the minimum wage, passing the Equality Act, improving maternity and paternity leave and expanding childcare.
She will insist: “We don’t just need women in positions of influence, but feminists in positions of power.”
Ms Dugdale will make the comments in what will be her first major speech to a UK audience as she addresses the Labour annual women’s conference in Brighton.
Holyrood has three female party leaders, with SNP leader Ms Sturgeon and Ms Dugdale joined by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
Ms Dugdale will say: “Much has been made of the fact that in Scotland we have all three main parties led by women.
“But, as we struggle for equality, we should remember that while we want equal representation for its own sake, it is also a means to an end. It must be used to deliver equality for all women, not just politicians.
“I get frustrated when I hear people say that having a woman in power is an inspiration, as if that by itself is enough to transform the lives of young women in Scotland.
“Young women are told ‘if you are good enough and work hard enough, you can achieve anything’.
“We hear it each time a woman is elected to high office and we hear it again in Scotland today. It just isn’t true.”
Females still face barriers that men do not, Ms Dugdale will argue, saying: “There are young women who, no matter how hard they work, will never achieve what they want because of the institutional discrimination they will come up against.
“Whether it is access to science and technology skills, tackling the gendered violence that one in four women will face, the culture of low-paid, low-skilled, part-time work, or the motherhood penalty, where women lose positions or promotions for going on maternity leave.
“Having female leaders talking about these issues is a start, but it is only a start.”
Ms Dugdale will demand Labour leaders “at every level show a commitment to feminism” as she highlights her party’s record in tackling inequality.
“Every great leap forward for women in our country has been delivered by a united, radical Labour movement,” she will say.
“We have transformed the political culture of our country and we have transformed the lives of countless women across the UK.
“Introducing the minimum wage, creating tax credits, increased maternity and paternity leave and pay, pension credit, expanded childcare, the Equality Act.
“These things have all made a massive difference to women in this country and it was a Labour government that achieved them. It wasn’t the Tories and it certainly wasn’t the SNP.”
An SNP spokeswoman said: “On becoming Scotland’s first female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon sent out a strong signal of her determination to achieve true gender equality by appointing the UK’s first gender-balanced cabinet - and one of very few gender-balanced cabinets anywhere in the world.
“Under the SNP, more women are in work than in any other UK nation, the number of women studying full-time at college is up 15% and we are taking action to achieve gender balance on public and private boards.
“We know that there is much more to do if we are to achieve true gender equality but we need the powers to do so.
“Kezia Dugdale should encourage her colleagues at Westminster to back the devolution of employment and equalities policy so that these powers rest with the Scottish Parliament and not Tories in Whitehall.”