Scotland Leads The World On Gender Equality

 

Scotland seems to become more and more like an independent nation every day. It may still be part of Great Britain, but that could change after Britain leaves the European Union later this year. The people within Scotland’s borders voted heavily in favour of staying in the EU, with a decisive margin of 62% in wanting to remain, and 38% wanting to leave. That’s a stark contrast to the mood in the rest of the United Kingdom, where the overall vote to leave was 52% to 48%. With Scotland now effectively being dragged out of Europe by decisions taken in London, by a Conservative Government that Scotland didn’t vote for, there’s support growing for a second referendum on Scottish independence.

The last time the Scots tried to make a break away from the UK was in 2014, and it didn’t end well for those who wanted sovereignty. Although almost half of the Scots wanted to leave, ‘almost’ isn’t enough, and the feeling was that they’d committed themselves to staying in the EU for another generation. However, those who campaigned for Scotland to remain within the UK had sold the benefits of EU membership as a significant reason for doing so. There had been a feeling that Scotland alone may not be accepted as an EU member state. Now, with their membership disappearing anyway, there are those who say that another referendum would achieve a different result. Ironically, there are many south of the Scottish border who say the same thing about the EU referendum as a whole.

Any such talk of Scottish independence is something for a future date, though; right now the Scots are busy passing laws that mark them out as being different – and separate- from the rest of the UK. Some of the proposals currently on the table would make them arguably the world leader when it comes to gender equality in the eyes of the law.

Radical change

The proposals come from Scotland’s National Advisory Council for Women and Girls; a dedicated think-tank that considers all aspects of current law and considers where inequality exists.

In among the most striking of their proposals is a fundamental change to the way that so-called ‘maternity leave’ currently works. As things stand, the focus of maternity leave is, as the name suggests, on the mother. To all intents and purposes, the law assumes that it’s the mother who will stay at home and look after the baby, and the father who will return to work as quickly as possible to make money for the family.

The laws that govern such matters are well-meaning, but outdated. As a society, we have moved on from gender roles that seemed set in stone a mere twenty years ago. Women’s sport, for example, is more professional at all levels. The public and the national press had little interest in women’s football twenty years ago. Now, attendances are increasing year on year, and the women’s game receives more television coverage than it ever has in the past.

What women do socially has changed, too. The pubs of a town centre used to be smoky rooms full of men playing dominoes and darts. Now they’re more likely to be vibrant bars serving as many wines and cocktails as they do beers, with equal numbers of male and female patrons. Gambling, once seen as a purely male preserve, has opened its doors to women, too. Whereas advertising for online casinos used to take place at half-time in football matches because that’s where betting companies believed the audience was, now we’re seeing female-oriented slot game websites appearing. Roseslots.com was created precisely to cater to female slot players, but does so without patronising them. The site isn’t built around bingo, or crude stereotypes; it contains slots of the same level of complexity and features you’d find on a general gaming website, but tweaked to appeal more to the female eye. At the same time, Victoria Coren-Mitchell is one of the greatest poker players the UK has to offer. Right across society, women have moved into areas that have historically been the purview of men, and they’re now comfortable in those roles.

Accordingly, it no longer makes sense to expect women to make all the career sacrifices when it comes to maternity leave. If they have a job they love, and wish to go back to it, a route should exist that allows fathers to share the expectations of childcare. As such, the proposals suggest that not only do all men receive a full two months of paid paternity leave, but that all families receive fifty hours of childcare per week, free of charge, for all children between six months old and five years old.

Such a move would obviously involve a cost, but with both men and women free to go back into work earlier, the increased tax revenue from having both parents working should cover that cost. While women would be free to choose to stay at home if they wanted to, this change, if enacted, would give them the freedom to make that choice. It would also represent the most generous package of maternity and paternity rights anywhere in the developed world.

Increasing representation

The less headline-grabbing aspects of the proposals include the enforcement of a gender equality quota, applicable to all political parties at both regional and national level, to ensure that women are adequately represented on councils and within the Scottish Parliament. Enacting such a quota wouldn’t be possible within the framework of current law, and so would require the further devolution of power from Westminster to Holyrood, where the Scottish Parliament sits. Such a request for additional powers may set alarm bells ringing within the British Government, at a time when they can scarcely afford to pay attention to them.

The chairwoman of the National Advisory Council is Louise McDonald, who has spoken of wanting to ‘bring a revolutionary lens’ to the future of gender relations within Scotland. She references the global profile of the #MeToo movement and similar campaigns as evidence that there’s a huge appetite for female empowerment in the current climate, and feels that there may never be a better time to push for it.

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