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.

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.

 

Healthy Relationships and Dating Abuse

by Ellie Hutchinson, Scottish Women’s Aid

Healthy Relationships and Dating Abuse

I’m the prevention worker at Scottish Women’s Aid, and this means I spend pretty much all my time thinking about violence against women. But I don’t just think about the causes, I think about solutions. The bottom line of all my work is everyone deserves to be safe and secure and have healthy relationships.

Healthy Relationships
So what is a healthy relationship?  A good starting point is to think about our relationships with our friends. What values do we look for in a friendship? Do we look for trust, humour, respect, empathy? Or do we look for possession, jealousy and control?

Most of us would look for the first list- but many of us might forget those values when we’re in romantic relationships. Thinking about why that might be leads us to explore how we learn about relationships- both romantic and non-romantic. Programmes or films that talk about friendships show people supporting each other in crisis, having fun and just generally hanging out.  Programmes or films that feature sexual relationships tend to show a very specific way of “doing” a relationship.

Unhealthy Relationships
Next time you see a film or a music video about sexual relationships think about- what do those people look like? What are they doing? What are the things they are valuing in each other? How are they talking about each other? To each other? Quite often it is possessiveness, jealousy, ownership or treating people as sexual objects. If a friend told you what to wear, who to see, how to talk, how to have sex (or not) it wouldn’t feel ok. And it’s not. And it’s not ok for a partner to do those things either. That’s why in one of our projects we asked young people to tell us what a healthy relationship means to them, why they “get it”. To find out more click here.

How to Speak Out
Most of us know what a healthy relationship looks like, but it can feel hard to get that when we’re faced with so many messages to the contrary. It’s also really hard for women and girls to speak out, because if we do so we might be labelled “uptight” or much worse. But dating and domestic abuse isn’t a woman’s issue, it’s a people one; and we need boys and men to help us and speak out too.

Speaking out can be tough, so here are some suggestions on how you might want to get involved:

  1. Challenge sexism in your friends. We run a bystander programme to help people think about how they might do this. Check it out http://togetherwecanstopit.org/get-savi-resources/
  2. If you see something that promotes unhealthy relationships and you’re online, share it  on twitter with the #notbuyingit hashtag, or forward on to @everyday sexism
  3. Think about the media you do read/watch/buy- what is it saying about relationships?
  4. Support folk when they tell you about unhealthy relationships. Find out more http://www.togetherwecanstopit.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2010/11/SWA-Supporting-Someone.pdf
  5. If you’re a man and want to speak out, check out the #notthatlad campaign from us, the NUS and White Ribbon Scotland. http://togetherwecanstopit.org/news/im-not-that-lad-creating-an-alternative-banter/
  6. Read up on the issue. Find out more about dating abuse http://www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk/advice-information/advice-information-young-people/dating-abuse

We believe that by doing one thing, we can stop domestic  and dating abuse.