GUEST POST: Who are the conversation starters in the Scottish Parliament when it comes to marginalised women?

Teal graphic that reads: It is clear that women are the main drivers of discussions about women facing multiple discriminations, and therefore their representation in  Parliament is crucial.

Today we're publishing the next blog in a series from the current student placements Engender is hosting from the University of Strathclyde Applied Gender Studies and Research Methods course.

In Mary Galloway's second post, she builds on her research into how often multiply marginalised women are mentioned in the Scottish Parliament. Here, she looks more closely at who is starting these conversations and why this further calls for more diverse representation in Parliament. You can read Mary's first post here and third post here.

My first blog provided a snapshot of how often multiply marginalised women come up in discussions in the Scottish Parliament. I will now follow up with a closer look at who is starting these conversations. This is an important line of inquiry as it tells us whose inclusion results in the representation of women facing multiple discriminations. During my research, a number of characteristics related to the person who had mentioned women with multiple protected characteristics were recorded, including their gender, role in Parliament and party. Each of these indicates a different element of Parliament and its proceedings in relation to the representation of multiply marginalised women.

I firstly looked at the gender of who was talking about women facing multiple discriminations. The Good Parliament Report by Dr Sarah Childs (who is on the board for the Scottish Parliament’s upcoming audit) makes the argument that women representatives are more likely to raise the issues and concerns of women, making their equal representation democratically vital. The results produced by my research (see Figure 1) clearly corroborate such a claim. It shows that women Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) outperform their representation in Parliament for Session 5 (of one-third of MSPs) in all three areas of parliamentary business in terms of how often they mention women with multiple protected characteristics. It should be noted that the Official Report includes contributions from both witnesses and MSPs, explaining the difference seen between the three areas of parliamentary business.

Nevertheless, women MSPs accounted for 72% of mentions in the Official Report, which were by MSPs (as opposed to witnesses), illustrating that they still massively outperformed their representation. Figure 1 also shows that in Meetings of the Parliament and committee meetings, i.e., the Official Report, women accounted for 85% of instances where women with multiple protected characteristics were discussed. Consequently, it is clear that women are the main drivers of discussions about women facing multiple discriminations, and therefore their representation in Parliament is crucial. Similarly, it shows that men in the Scottish Parliament should be allocating more attention to the needs of vulnerable women so that reliance is not solely on women, as it has here.

The second aspect of the ‘conversation starters’ identity that I looked at was their role in Parliament as either a witness or an MSP. As shown in Figure 2, representatives external to the Scottish Parliament, as opposed to MSPs internal to it, were more likely to mention women with multiple protected characteristics; they accounted for 25 of the 46 instances found. Nearly half of the instances where an MSP mentioned women with multiple protected characteristics were references to witness evidence or work done for such women by the non-governmental organisations of which witnesses were a part. This illustrates that without the contribution of witnesses, the recognition of women facing multiple discriminations would be even more limited. This is, of course, part of the purpose of witnesses giving evidence; however, the low frequency with which marginalised women are mentioned, once instances by witnesses are taken out, indicates that their contributions are not proportionately translating into work by MSPs. Furthermore, 24 out of the 25 mentions of women with multiple protected characteristics by witnesses were by a woman, illustrating that diversity in the witnesses called is just as crucial as the diversity of MSPs in Parliament.

MSPs were the subject of the third point of examination of who mentioned women facing multiple discriminations, as the party balance of these instances was compared. Figure 3 displays the party share of Written questions and answers (WQAs) about women with multiple protected characteristics. It shows that Scottish Labour representatives accounted for three-quarters of these, compared to SNP, who accounted for a small fraction. This is despite the SNP’s 49% share of seats in the Scottish Parliament versus Labour’s 19%. In contrast, Figure 4 shows that the SNP accounted for 45% of motions in which women with multiple protected characteristics were mentioned, while Scottish Labour accounted for 27%. This illustrates that the SNP’s responsibility for such motions far better matches their representation in Parliament than it does in their WQAs. It equally illustrates that Labour outperforms them in both, relative to their share of seats, however. There subsequently appears to be, as well as a lack of intersectional discussions of gender across the Scottish Parliament, a lack of such discussions specifically within the Scottish Government. This is important as it is likely to have had significant implications for Scottish government policy.


Evidently, numerous divisions alter the likelihood of a person in Parliament discussing women with multiple protected characteristics. This makes a strong case for the increased diversification of Parliament and the greater integration of intersectionality into the mainstream Scottish Parliament’s (and Scottish Government’s) approach to gender.

Engender occasionally works with students as part of their placement requirements for university or college courses - this allows students to work with Engender on specific areas of our work for women's equality. Student blogs form part of their course assessment, and they do not receive payment from Engender.

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