Last night I attended an incredibly moving and humbling event at the Scottish Parliament run by the Scottish Women’s Convention to mark International Women’s Day
We all know how amazing and resilient our health and care workers have been, nursing and comforting their patients, but hearing them talk about their experiences really brought home the extent of the personal sacrifices they have made and the impact on them.
I was taking part in a panel as Scottish Liberal Democrats Equalities Spokesperson alongside MSPs Margaret Mitchell, Alison Johnstone, Monica Lennon and Cabinet Secretary for Social Security Shirley Anne Somerville. We had to give our thoughts on how Scottish women had responded to the pandemic and the implications for the future.
My thoughts are very much with those who have been pregnant, given birth and dealt with one of the steepest learning curves you could imagine, learning how to cope with being a parent under lockdown conditions.
I spoke to my friend Aude earlier. Her first baby is due in a few weeks. She said how isolated she feels, and how she is really missing her family who live abroad and she has no idea when they will see her baby. She’s also missing the chance to mix with others in the same position - her ante natal classes are module based and online so there is no chance to really mix with other women and share problems and experiences and get that peer support that is so vital.
We need to recognise those who are working to support women during pregnancy and early motherhood - the health visitors and midwives, the volunteer breastfeeding counsellors around the country who are giving phone support or arranging online meetings to help them through those challenges. I used to be a breastfeeding counsellor and know that these in person groups are so valuable. There’s nothing like being in a room with someone who understands what you are going through and can give you some insight in to how to get through it.
The challenges for new mothers and those with older children have been professional as well as personal, with this pandemic highlighting so many structural gender inequalities.
A self employed woman who took maternity leave will get a much reduced payout because that period of leave is not discounted when calculating average earnings.
The Office of National Statistics figures show that women between 25 and 34 are 31% more likely to lose their jobs than men aged 35-49. And if the childcare sector shrinks as predicted, getting those women back into employment is going to be really difficult.
Much retail, hospitality, the arts and tourism have effectively been shut for the better part of a year. These are sectors with high numbers of women, many on low pay, and even if they still have their jobs, they have lost out on income.
Institute of Fiscal Studies and UCL research showed that for every hour of uninterrupted paid work done by women, fathers are doing three. Women always have done the majority of caring work, and now they have had to juggle homeschooling and childcare alongside working from home. That casts a long shadow on their health and wellbeing.
We have all wanted to see more flexible work arrangements for a long time, and one of the opportunities of the pandemic is that it has shown that it is possible to work from home. We need to make sure, though, that when more people start to go back to the workplace, women and others who work more from home because of caring situations or health reasons aren’t cut out of workplace power structures.
The Scottish Parliament can lead the way on this. Beatrice Wishart, the MSP for Shetland called for the hybrid arrangements to continue beyond the pandemic so that women in rural and non-central belt communities can stand for and be elected to Parliament and balance family life at the same time. Otherwise we may see women’s representation fall further.
Coronavirus has made significant gender inequalities even worse. Women have dealt with it with resilience and humour.
UN Women reckons that the pandemic has put us back 25 years in terms of gender equality. We need to work together to make sure that we regain the ground we have lost quickly.
Candidate - Livingston South
Published and promoted by Sally Pattle on behalf of Caron Lindsay (Scottish Liberal Democrats) both at 139 Buchanan Crescent, Livingston EH54 7EF.