The Scottish Labour party launched Together We Can at its conference in Perth last weekend. The document sets out its case for a ‘no vote’ in the referendum and the bones of its manifesto for the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2016.
References to gender touch on a range of issues: fair procurement, the care sector, childcare, equal access to sport in education, political representation and international development. In the main these are made in passing and are not linked to barriers to women’s equality or proposed solutions, however there are a number of noteworthy inclusions. Full extracts are pulled out in our 'gender edit' of the paper.
The exception to the rule is the paragraph on gender equality and political representation. It is sandwiched somewhat oddly between policing of sectarianism and terrorism, but highlights a number of crucial issues. It links gender inequality with women’s under-representation in politics and recognises the importance of gender balance at local level and on public boards. It commits Scottish Labour to running on a 50:50 ticket in 2016, it pledges to extend the party’s approach beyond parliamentary candidacy and it rightfully nods to their leading role in progress made on equal representation in past sessions of the Scottish Parliament.
The call for Scottish Parliament to enforce equality legislation across devolved areas of policy is welcome. As users of key services at the local level, women could also benefit from plans to strengthen the role of local authorities and devolve power to communities, although only if made an explicit aim within those plans.
Disappointingly, passages on employment, social security, poverty, violence and unpaid care are conspicuously ungendered. This is mainly consistent with the current mainstream policy landscape across these areas, particularly with regard to anti-poverty and the welfare reform agenda. However, the thrust of this manifesto is woven around social justice, a moral economy and tackling inequality. Without a gendered approach to economic inequality, none of this can be achieved.
The passage on care recognises that the professional care sector is underpaid and undervalued, and that the majority of these workers are women. However, this is not reflected in the section on apprenticeships, training and education, which does not refer to gender or occupational segregation. ‘Equality at work’ for women is raised only under a vision of procurement policy driving a positive employment agenda. Meanwhile, the estimated 650,000 unpaid carers in Scotland, also predominantly women, are unlikely to be reassured by the ‘debt of gratitude’ we owe to them as a society for their ‘great personal and financial cost’.
Since the SNP published its white paper last November, there has been a very welcome media spotlight on childcare provision in Scotland. Pro-union parties and the Better Together campaign have been vocal in criticising the SNP’s proposal, which has been branded as a ‘bribe’ for women’s votes. Whilst their recent focus on childcare is a manifesto pledge clearly bound up with political thinking, there is a danger that these dynamics stifle potential for progress. Regardless of the political context, Engender is delighted that childcare is now at the heart of the referendum debate.
In Together We Can itself, the need for affordable childcare is raised with reference to several key issues. Flexibility, to accommodate parents with non-conventional working patterns, the increasing role of grandparents in plugging the gap, and the economic benefits of investment in the sector must indeed all be at the forefront as we develop our childcare model in Scotland. However, increased public provision is not tabled, without which is difficult to see how affordability will be improved.
More broadly within Scottish Labour, however, work to develop and advocate for improved childcare is underway. The Every Step campaign is focussed on flexibility for women and families, outcomes for children and links with poverty in Scotland. Your views are sought to shape their thinking with this public survey.
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