Facing barriers as a young woman in politics

by Siobhan McMahon MSP

A member of the Scottish Parliament

I am very privileged to be a Member of the Scottish Parliament; it is something I am extremely proud of. But it wasn’t an easy road to walk along in order to get where I am today.

Standing for election

Standing for election is a hard and difficult process for anyone to go through however I found that being a young woman brings its own unique challenges to the process.  I remember having a discussion with Johann Lamont around the time I was thinking of putting my name forward to be considered for the list in Central Scotland.  I was telling her that I wasn’t sure I should apply for the process as I didn’t feel at the age of 25 that I was old enough to be considered.  The response Johann gave me has always stuck with me; she said “Do you think a man your age would think the same thing?” At that time I thought well it would depend on the situation they find themselves in. How wrong was I!

Having made the decision to stand and then put everything I had into my campaign to get the party members to support me I was shocked to find myself get to number 3 on the list. However that wasn’t the end of the story.  The party had decided to ‘zip’ the female or ethnic minority candidate with the highest number of votes to the top of the list meaning that in the end I was number 1 for Central Scotland.  The truth is I’m not entirely comfortable with zipping and I’m not sure if I would have taken my seat in Parliament had we not got 3 candidates elected from the list. But that was the process my Party had agreed so that’s the process I had to live with.

Facing barriers as a young woman in politics

It won’t surprise many of you reading this to know that the decision to zip a woman to number 1 didn’t go down too well with a number of male (and female) members in my area. One man in particular went so far as to say that I should be ashamed of myself and that I should resign my position as it was ridiculous that a woman could get to the dizzy heights of number 1 in our area.

I was shocked that such an attitude would not only exist in 2010 but that it was shared and in such an aggressive manner. Had I thought about resigning my position, given my own thoughts about the zipping process, this made my mind up that I wouldn’t be going anywhere!

Supporting young women in politics

A number of colleagues supported me throughout this process but a few did not.  This was my first real experience of sexism and it is one that I will never forget.  It’s hard enough being judged as a female politician by how you look, what you wear, how you do your hair. But to have the very people who should be backing you throughout that process undermining you and your confidence is something I never want another woman to experience.

I’m glad I went through the process and I was delighted to be elected.  I never tire of going to events in my local area as an MSP for Central Scotland and seeing that same man there. I hope I act as a reminder to him of what his actions spurred me on to do!

My message to other women who have to go through similar experiences is never doubt your own ability and let those who try to put you off spur you on to do great things.

Advertisements

Being a woman in the Police, Melanie’s story

by Melanie Dawson, Police Scotland, Scottish Women’s Development Forum

I have been in the Police for 6 years. I started my career in sunny Leith where I was a response officer for 3 years. I then worked in the community team (SNT) for just over a year.  Following this, I went onto Command Support to see a different side of policing and I was there for 18 months.  I am now at Portobello Community Team and really enjoying it.  I joined this team at 26 and I’m now 30 years old.

Why I applied is a mixture of a lot of different reasons, both my parents were in the Police so in a way it seemed a natural choice.  I studied Sport at university and wanted to do a job I could be active in and have a different challenge every day.  The application process for me wasn’t easy. Failing once at the maths test and having to wait a year before I could apply again – it was tough.  But I took advantage of the time and went back to get 99% in the test I had originally failed.

Getting into the police was one of the best moments of my life, it was a lot of hard work to achieve it and get through the college.  I remember my first shift at Leith as being very exciting and like nothing I had ever experienced before.  I think up until this point I had a much romanticized view of what being a police officer was.  I absolutely love my job but nothing can prepare you for the culture shock.

I love that I get time to see things through from start to finish and get to see the impact of the work I do. When you are a response officer the frequency of jobs you are expected to go to is very high and its often hard to see the positive impact you have had on people’s lives.   I really enjoy the team cohesion I get working within the police. There is no other job like it for feeling part of a larger family.  There are so many personalities which is a good thing, and it doesn’t matter how different we are when we need to work together and get the job done and stay safe.

 

We need to put an end to zero hour contacts

by Elaine Dougall, Unite Scotland Regional Women and Equalities Officer 

zerohours

These type of contracts mean:

Zero hours

Zero holidays

Zero sick pay

The use of zero hour contracts in workplaces across the UK exploits workers rights and dignity. Zero hours contacts give employers the right to not pay you when you’re on holiday or sick. These contracts mean that workers have no guaranteed weekly hours or income, only being paid for the work they do. Therefore from week to week you don’t know the wage you are going to get.

A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development highlighted that over 1 million workers are on these types of contracts. Moreover, the survey found that the majority of workers who are on zero hours contracts are 18 – 24 years old.

Young people still need to pay to live just like everyone else. The worry is, for many young women and men who are trying to earn enough just to live – what will they turn to get a living wage?

Zero hours contracts are beneficial for employers as it gives a high degree of flexibility. For example, during a busy period in a particular industry the employer can give you hours. But, when they are quiet they will let you go and have little regard for your bills, rent or life.

Unite are trying to eradicate these contracts. Unite has called on the Scottish Government to reform its public procurement agenda in order to tackle the rise of employment rights abuses across our economy. Unite have also set up a survey which you can fill in here.

The exploitation of workers needs to stop.