Vow to improve gender balance at Holyrood hearings

Scottish Parliament building. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Scottish Parliament building. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Holyrood committee conveners have pledged to do more to encourage female witnesses after a report revealed women make up just 37 per cent of those giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament.

Research into those giving evidence to MSPs found the proportion of female contributors rose from 25 per cent in 1999-2000 to 37 per cent in the first ten months of 2016-17.

But when examined in detail, disparities were revealed. Female participants made up just 11.3 per cent of witnesses at the finance and constitution committee in 2016-17, while just 14.1 per cent of those who came before the rural economy and connectivity committee were women. In comparison, the equalities and human rights committee had more than 60 per cent female witnesses. Subject areas such as health, social care and education provided more female witnesses, while the opposite was true for the Scottish Government, trade unions, councils, private companies and Police Scotland.

The report noted there were likely to be both supply and demand factors at play in determining which witnesses appear before MSPs.

Holyrood’s conveners group has considered the report and agreed to develop an action plan to help achieve more balance, including better data collection plus extra guidance and training for committees and external organisations.

Chairwoman and deputy presiding officer Christine Grahame MSP said: “As a convener for many years myself, I know the significant effort committees put into ensuring they hear from a broad range of voices and opinions as they scrutinise legislation and government policy.

“That effort has led to substantial progress since 1999, including in relation to improving gender diversity of witnesses. That is why the conveners group has agreed a series of measures which are designed to make further improvements during the course of this session.”

Christina McKelvie, convener of the equalities committee, said: “All committees should be striving for more diverse witness panels. While it’s good to see that committees such as my own have strong female representation, there’s no excuse not to do more.”

And social security committee convener Clare Adamson said more had to be done to hear from a “diverse range of voices”.