Presentation for International Women’s Day 2018

Below is the presentation I gave at the Fife chamber within Fife House in support of my Motion for International Women’s Day:

Convenor, fellow councilors,

I wish I wasn’t standing here proposing this motion. I wish I wasn’t because I shouldn’t be: International Women’s Day shouldn’t exist, or more precisely the need for it shouldn’t exist.

Not in 2018, not 100 years after women in the UK gained the vote, should we females – half the world’s population and 51 per cent of Scots – still need to be condescended to as some sort of patronizingly single interest special needs group.

But you only have to look round this chamber to see why we still need International Women’s Day. Only 25 out of 75 members here are women – in fact Fife beats the Scottish average which stands at a miserable 29%.

But I don’t think the brave and radical suffragettes of a 100 years ago would be impressed by our progress if they could beam down in a time machine. Of course the world does not begin and end with this chamber, whatever certain members might imagine. And International Women’s Day is international because throughout the world women are held back by deep-seated inequalities in terms of pay and representation and the violence and abuse and sexual harassment still perpetuated against them. In fact the World Economic Forum reported earlier this year that gender parity is some 200 years away.

We should also remember that while women in the West have made progress in many areas since 1909, conditions for their counterparts in much of the developing world, particularly those living under religious fundamentalist governments, remain in the dark ages.

But back to this chamber. Why does it matter here that we don’t have more women members? Well, putting aside questions of democracy and fairness, it’s self-evident that excluding full representation of the majority of people who actually supply and use council services at the coal face deprives this chamber of crucial experience and imagination which IF we are to improve these services as best we can and make them better at meeting everybody’s needs.

I passionately believe that this Council and this Chamber would do a better job serving the people of Fife, would make more progress towards our aim of a Fairer Fife, if we had more female members and more females in positions of power.

The Suffragette motto was deeds not words. Over a hundred years ago they knew that in Fife – DEEDS NOT WORDS, the motto identifIED the difference between the Suffragists and the Suffragettes, and reflected the latter’s notorious recourse to direct action as my colleague Jane Ann Liston I hope will tell you about.

And DEEDS – DIRECT ACTION – worked – it was with an eye on the Russian Revolution, and fear of the same in Britain, not just by women but by the working class men who had fought in the First World War, that led the Conservative Government with cross-party unity to pass the Representation of the People Act of 1918. THIS gave the vote to all men over 21 years old, and women over 30 who held £5 of property, or had husbands who did. There is a myth that the 5.6 million men and 8.4 million women were given the vote as a reward for their war effort, but that is no more than patronising spin.

I am not advocating REVOLUTIONARY feminist action in Fife to achieve gender parity – I’m sure you’re relieved to hear – but my motion, and the reason I resisted conjoining it with the first motion we had today, NEVERTHELESS takes its cue from the Suffragette motto deeds not words. The Suffragettes broke with the Suffragists and resorted to direct action because they had had enough of words.

Men of all parties, no doubt sincere, well-meaning men, had promised them the vote for decades and for decades they had failed to deliver. The SUFFRAGETTES were sick fed up of noble-sounding words and promises that turned out to be empty – politicians are rather good at that. The Suffragettes would have had no time for the virtue-signaling and hash-tag politics that passes for political action in so many areas today.

One incidental action by the administration which I want to commend here is the Short-term WORKING Group on Inappropriate Behaviour. There is no doubt that harassment and casual sexism – as well as the ritual VERBAL abuse that we sometimes hear in this chamber – puts many women off from making their voices heard in political fora, and I fervently hope that this Group’s recommendations will improve conditions for women across the Council.

I welcome the First Minister’s announcement marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage of a new £500,000 fund to provide grants for grassroots and local projects to encourage greater representation of women in political roles at all levels of Scottish society – and I am very keen that Fife uses this fund to do its bit.

Other places are stealing a march on us – on Monday afternoon I was at an event for Dundee Women’s Festival, on women councillors as it happens, where I learnt that Dundee has already applied to this fund to bring a series of workshops into schools to show pupils all the different levels and capacities in which women are participating in politics.

In preparation for this motion I wrote to the Executive Directors of Community Services and of Education and Children’s Services as well as the CEO of the Cultural Trust, alerting them to the opportunity presented by the fund and asking if they had any events in the pipeline to mark this year’s centenaries of women’s suffrage.

I was delighted to learn that Fife Council, NHS Fife and FCE have agreed to share a press statement TODAY to mark International Women’s Day and the 100th anniversary of women’s vote in Britain.

The Local Studies team at Fife Cultural Trust are involved in various activities that will commemorate Women’s Suffrage – a display at Cupar Library to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act using photographs and other resources from their collections in late March; a talk about Anti-Asquith demonstrations at Cupar in September; a display incorporating a small number of panels about famous Fife Women in the foyer of Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries to mark International Women’s Day as well as an event there TODAY with the West Fife Waspi group.

The Cultural Trust also supported BBC Scotland to film an interview with Jenny McCallum’s great-niece at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries Reading Room. Dunfermline born McCallum was a Trade Union activist and Suffragette and the Cultural trust holds material about her which the BBC filmed.

I was even more delighted to hear about officers’ enthusiasm for doing more and taking advantage of the First Minister’s Fund. The Executive Director for Education suggested working with a small group to see if we can co- ordinate something across the Council, perhaps a member and officer group could be established as a short life group to take this forward.

I don’t want these good intentions to go up in smoke – which is why my motion asks for a report to be brought to Council by the end of August detailing what wheels have been set in motion to mark these anniversaries, apply to the First Minister’s Fund and promote political participation by women in Fife.

Convenor, fellow councillors, I invite you in the spirit of action exemplified by Fife’s suffragettes, to support the motion.

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