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Guest Post: To succeed we must achieve equality

Guest post by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, SNP candidate for Ochil and South Perthshire.

We need to do all we can to encourage more women to get involved in politics. Although we now have a respectable number of globally important political leaders who are women – I’d strongly argue we need more. And, in particular, women remain woefully underrepresented in the House of Commons.

It is hard enough raising your head above the parapet into politics as a woman, but as an Asian woman I feel it’s even more of a challenge. If privileged enough to be elected, I could be the first Scottish black and minority ethnic woman parliamentarian. It is quite incredible that this be the case in 2015.

Of course, we saw three fantastic female party leaders participating in the recent UK leader’s debates and I was delighted, though not surprised, to see Nicola Sturgeon out in front. But as her UK-wide profile has risen, so too has the sexism directed towards her.

Undoubtedly, Nicola's role as Scotland’s first female First Minister, and her new gender-balanced Cabinet, sends a strong and poignant message to girls and women across Scotland: if you are good enough and work hard enough, you can achieve anything. But at the same time we should also consider what sort of message we’re sending to children when they can open a newspaper and see sexist imagery used to portray the First Minister.

Social media is changing the way we all communicate. That is a good thing. It can be informative, lively, noisy and very funny, often overtaking conventional journalism in breaking opinions and stories. All this is engaging and hugely positive.

But there is a point where it crosses a line into highly personal venom. It’s when the barbs are sharpened into vindictive personal attacks that the line is surely crossed. Often, it’s women who get it worst. I’m not sure if some people have a particular contempt for the involvement of females in politics, or if we are seen as more sensitive and so likelier to respond.

This isn’t something which is party political. Unfortunately, across the spectrum, women can find themselves facing these sorts of sexist attacks. It’s easy to say that we should just be able to ignore it - but wouldn’t it be better if it wasn’t happening in the first place?

It’s up to us all, men, women, politician or not to call out sexism and teach our children that it’s not acceptable. We need to take action to increase female representation in Parliament and on the boards of public bodies and businesses. And we need to ensure that equal pay legislation – passed over 40 years ago – is finally turned into reality.

The Scottish Government is already leading on these issues. But for as long as equalities law remains reserved to Westminster we need to ensure the UK Government takes action now.

I want to see us in a position where equality - whether it be race, gender or sexuality - is the rule, not the exception. It should be built into the fabric of society, at all times in all places. When we have achieved that, we will have succeeded.

This blog is part of a series that Engender have commissioned looking at sexism in the run up to the general election - we have approached all political parties in Scotland to contribute as well as other relevant groups.

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