Personally, I always secretly enjoyed the start of a new school year – with the new stationery, bigger shoes and fresh start that came with it. And now as a grown-up working in Scottish policy, I can never quite shake the same feelings that the end of the long recess brings in September.
It probably helps that at the first meeting of parliament the Scottish Government announces its Programme for Government (PfG), with a list of legislative and policy commitments that sets the direction and tone for the year ahead; its own fresh start each autumn.
This year’s programme Delivering for Today, Investing for Tomorrow is introduced as “bold and ambitious plans to tackle some of the big challenges of our time – getting our economy fit for the future, preparing for demographic change and tackling inequality.” However we were interested to see just how many of the bold and ambitious plans have directly considered gender equality and the specific implications for women.
To that end, Engender has produced a Gender Edit of the Programme for Government 2018-19 – a document which comprises all mentions of women, gender or other passages relevant for gender equality. Basically, this is what the Scottish Government’s legislative programme would look like if it was just the bits expressly focused on gender equality, shrinking the document from 50,000 plus words to around 4,000.
Focusing on the numbers for just a few moments longer, it’s interesting that this year’s Programme actually increased the amount of clear references to ‘women’ and to ‘gender (equality)’:
In 2016 – 24 mentions of ‘women’
In 2017 – 19 mentions of ‘women’
In 2018 – 49 mentions of ‘women’
In 2016 – 17 mentions of ‘gender’
In 2017 – 13 mentions of ‘gender’
In 2018 – 38 mentions of ‘gender’
So on a blunt measure of mentions, it might be possible to conclude that 2018-19 provides an auspicious environment for gender equality policies campaigns and issues to be listened to.
However, when we look at the actual commitments that the Government has made in terms of upcoming legislation, women and gender are only mentioned in one Bill summary – the Female Genital Mutilation Bill. For comparison, the 2017-18 PfG announced last year included the Domestic Abuse Bill and Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill, gender-focused proposals which were both passed last year.
The Scottish Government will continue its work on three issues especially of note for equalities – including both Gender Recognition and Forensic Medical Examinations - with the expectation of announcing Bills in next year’s programme. Additionally the PfG references implementation of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018. Engender has previously supported policy development around the Gender Recognition Act, and women on public boards, and will continue to engage with the processes for each. We’ll also support Rape Crisis Scotland’s advocacy for adequate forensic medical examination.
The Programme also makes a number of policy commitments which affect women and girls in diverse policy areas. For example:
So what are the overriding conclusions? Firstly, the Scottish Government has made significantly more commitments on women’s equality and taking inequalities generally than the previous few Programmes. Each of these specific commitment and more can be found in our Gender Edit. Some are very clearly welcomed for their consideration of women’s equality, particularly around labour market participation, such as those to tackle the gender pay gap, raise family incomes, and support women who have taken a break from paid work.
However, mentioning ‘women’ or ‘gender’ more often is not the same as a meaningful effort to gender policy across the board. The fact that whole sections around the environment and health (beyond maternity and perinatal care) barely mention women or gender is concerning.
Another area where Engender will be advocating strongly is the commitment to consult on Lord Bracadale’s recommendations around hate crime, including the proposal that hate crime laws should be consolidated into a single piece of legislation. We are unconvinced that the review adequately considers the impacts of gender-based hate crime and will be making the case to Scottish Government that when it translates the independent recommendations into legislation that it takes a gendered approach.
Of course, the programme is an overview which cannot incorporate the detail of a considered and rounded gender equality impact assessment for every area, but it does demonstrate just how much real action will be needed to bring about real change. We’ll be calling on Scottish Government to integrate a gendered approach as they take forward their programme, both to advance equality between women and men and also to deliver better bills, regulation, and outcomes.
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