Scottish Green Party Elections - Female Co-Convener Q&A
On the eve of the close-of-poll for the Scottish Green Party internal elections, Engender put some questions around women's equality to the two contenders for the post of Female Co-Convener.
Rather than electing one leader, as many other political parties do, the Scottish Green Party has one male and one female co-convener. Up for the female co-convener position are incumbent Maggie Chapman (MC), former Edinburgh City Councillor and top list candidate in the North-East region for Holyrood 2016, and Zara Kitson (ZK), co-convener of the Glasgow and West of Scotland branch, and former co-convener of the Scottish Young Greens.
Question 1: What issues would you prioritise to advance gender equality in Scotland?
ZK: Gender is relevant to every aspect of our lives and society – and must be valued as such. Action to tackle gender inequality must be tackled on all fronts: our economy; social security; education; housing; criminal justice; culture and media; and other policy areas.
All are important, but for me the most important underlying foundation issue that if changed would lead to the greatest impact in other areas, is a fairer economy. Greens are active and vocal in working for a fairer economy – to narrow the ever growing gap between rich and poor - but also bold in our assertions that our current economic system is failing us all – and needs urgent action. I am ever inspired by the work of the late (and wickedly awesome) academic Ailsa McKay.
Ailsa’s work, and that of other feminist economist’s shows us an economy that does what all good economies should: serves to take care of people, and our environment. It makes perfect sense that we measure our economy on indicators of wellbeing and happiness of the people in our society, rather than GDP which tells us nothing other than how much money is sloshing about. It is right that our economy values the important jobs of rearing children, care of the elderly, and education (traditionally, and often still ‘womens work’ - underpaid or unpaid); above investment in dirty energy, weapons, and unstable financial industries.
The most important asset in any economy (even more so now in our technology and creatively driven era) is our people – an economy that values and recognises that is the one we must work towards. Citizens Income policy is a key Green policy that is core to facilitating a fairer and more gender equal economy. When economies are fairer and more equal, we see a positive knock on effect in other areas of gender inequality, such as violence against women.
MC: Gender equality is something that must be realised in a number of important ways. The Women 50:50 Campaign has highlighted how poor the representation of women is, and how much we should be working to ensure equal representation. For me, though, the most important issues are those of economic equality. It is 45 years since the equal pay act and yet we still have a serious gender pay gap, and that’s something we need to address. We also need to address low pay – those earning the lowest salaries are predominantly women. That’s why I demanded Edinburgh Council pay the Living Wage in 2009. I’m pleased that argument has been accepted across the public sector, and I’m keen to have it accepted across the economy.
As rents spiral out of control and home-ownership becomes an unattainable option, it is vital we work with social movement, such as the Living Rent Campaign that are arguing for more equality. At its heart economic inequality is a gender issue, and reducing inequality will benefit women hugely.
This week marks the start of the 16 days of action for the elimination of violence against women, and it’s important to recognise how far we still have to go to tackle all forms of violence against women. Scotland is lucky to have so many fantastic organisations working for women’s equality, but despite their best efforts, violence against women remains a problem we are far from solving. We desperately need more action to tackle violence against women as both a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality.
Question 2: What action would you take to improve female participation and representation within your party?
MC: The main issue we have is a party is not that of getting women selected to winnable seats. It is that our public presence is overwhelmingly male. Far too often the party defaults to having men as spokespeople, despite the many very able women in the party. I hope that in the Holyrood campaign our excellent women candidates will begin to get the coverage that they deserve – which I think will position us much better as a party.
The Women’s Network in our party has a crucial role to play in supporting women as candidates, in party roles and as ordinary members. I’m very keen to get more support for the Women’s Network and other representative groups. We also need to do more to recognise the multiple discrimination that many women face which prevent them from engaging as fully as they might like, and find new ways to ensure we are as inclusive as possible. As part of a review of the party I’ll be working to ensure that the Women’s Network get the support they need and that women in the party need.
On selection of candidates I’m pleased that the Scottish Greens have led the way on putting women at the heart of our party and the top of our lists. While this started with a structural change, requiring that women be placed in at least 50% of winnable seats, it has become a cultural change. In fact the main problem we have with our structures now is that the main impact has been to move women down lists (in the European selection women finished first, second and third, but were placed first, third and fifth through a zipping mechanism – and the same thing happened in a number of Holyrood list selections). I sought to have that changed ahead of Holyrood and will be redoubling efforts to make sure that mechanisms to overcome the historic underrepresentation of women within politics don’t harm the chances of getting more women into Parliament.
ZK: I personally have found Women Network and Young Greens representative networks invaluable in helping find my way around the party, and supporting me to stand in elections and for party positions. Women make up half of our membership, yet are still not equally represented within our internal structures, and we still have less female candidates standing for election at all levels than men.
From experience and listening to experiences of other women, women tend to need to be asked rather than put themselves forward. And we rarely ask each other. Women lack confidence, where men often have inbuilt privilege.
A mantra I now carry with me and practice is to 'always take another woman with you'. This is a culture we need to be creating and supporting within the party, fostering skill sharing and support. People of all genders should foster a mandate of taking others with them; women; young people, ethnic minorities; those from less privileged backgrounds.
Men are good at 'old boys networks' - they're everywhere and they facilitate men running our organisations, and being better represented in public life. Women’s Network is an ideal mechanism and space for women to connect with each other, and generate energy and support to drive forward improved representation and participation of women within our party. I will take action to ensure everyone in our party sees value and takes action to invest time and resource in our female membership through Women’s Network.
Question 3. How do you plan to engage women during your campaign to be elected to the Scottish Parliament next year?
ZK: I am a committee member of Women for Independence, and draw great inspiration and lessons from Women for Indy’s approach to engaging with women during the referendum campaign. As we did during the referendum campaign, WFI are carrying out a listening exercise in the led up to Holyrood. The listening exercise is a way to engage with women on their terms, in non-confrontational safe spaces, that enables women to discuss and explore issues important to them, and feed in to wider local and national dialogue.
I will take this same approach to connecting with women in the lead up to Holyrood – pro-actively engaging with women where they are; listening to their needs; and taking action – as steered by women. As a member of Engender; and Women for Independence, I am already plugged firmly into women issues and the women’s movement in Scotland – this is a start, but what’s needed to connect with women who may vote Green next year, is connecting our message to their lives, and taking it to where they are. In the lead up to Westminster I connected with Amina Muslim Women’s centre in Glasgow, and women feedback that they would like to hear more from the Greens – as they connected with our message but hadn’t really heard from us before. I will take this same pro-active approach to engaging with communities and women across Glasgow and Scotland in the lead up to Holyrood.
MC: I think it’s really important that the Greens focus on communicating our principles. Greens are a party of peace, equality, social justice and radical democracy as well as one of the environment. While in the past we’ve had a bit of a single-issue focus, we need to put the broad and popular core of Green politics at the heart of our campaigning. These are issues for women, and very often it is women leading the way on these issues, through things like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, indigenous climate movements and the feminist economics that so enlivened the referendum debate. Unfortunately all-too-often men end up being the people talking about these things.
I’ll be making sure that we have more women speaking on more issues than ever before. I’ll work to make sure that we’ve got the policies about equality that matter: Citizen's Income, childcare and ending low pay. And I’ll make sure that we work harder than ever to get our message out – so that people hear the important messages we have for the electorate as a whole and women in particular.
Voting closes at 12 noon on Thursday 26th November. Good luck to both candidates!
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