Parliament at night

Has Devolution Delivered for Women?

Has Devolution Delivered for Women? (2010)Significant new measures needed if improvements in women’s representation in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly are to be sustained.

This new report commissioned by the British Council and produced by the Hansard Society, concludes that the battle for fair and equal representation of women is far from won and urgent new action is needed if the progress made in Edinburgh and Cardiff over the last decade is to be sustained in the next one. Has Devolution Delivered for Women?, written by Joyce McMillan and Ruth Fox, explores the progress that has been made in improving the levels of female representation in the devolved legislatures over the last 10 years, analyses how this happened and what obstacles now threaten that progress. It explores the impact that women have had on the culture of politics in Scotland and Wales and the policy commitments that have been secured as a result of their leadership.

The report’s key findings include:

  • Voluntary action by the political parties is not enough. Despite the wishful thinking and warm words of many parties there is no evidence that serious progress towards gender equality can be achieved without positive action. The debate about whether equal representation of women should be guaranteed by constitutional and electoral law needs to be re-opened. An inquiry similar to the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation conducted at Westminster in 2009-10 is needed in Scotland and Wales to look in detail at the issues and make recommendations.
  • A new ‘King Report’ (along the lines of Sir Anthony King’s Report on the BBC’s coverage of the devolved institutions) on gender and the media in politics is needed – to explore how current assumptions about newsworthiness affect perceptions of women politicians and their work.
  • There has been a change in culture towards a ‘new politics’ in Edinburgh and Cardiff in terms of less confrontational and less party-bound ways of working. But there is a growing perception that Holyrood is reverting back to an increasingly Westminster style of confrontational politics and the debate about how to redress this needs to be reopened.
  • The dramatic increase in women’s representation at the dawn of devolution was achieved through strong, well-organised campaigning across a range of parties and organisations. The time has come to start rebuilding these alliances within Scotland and Wales, across the UK and internationally. To support a new campaign there is a need for structures and institutions which enable dialogue among women across the generations – for example, the idea of a Women’s Centre close to the Scottish Parliament was proposed in 1999 but did not come to fruition and should be revisited.

Dr Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government Programme and joint author of Has Devolution Delivered for Women?, commented: ‘Scotland and Wales have rightly been hailed as beacons of international progress on women’s representation in the last decade. But the 2007 results showed that progress has stalled and there are real fears that the 2011 election results will be markedly worse. It’s therefore vital that we start raising urgent questions about how and why this is happening and begin to map out what measures are needed to address it. It is a challenge that is too important to be left to the political parties alone.’

Paul Docherty, Director British Council Scotland said: ‘As an organisation that builds cultural links for Scotland internationally via 110 offices overseas we believe deeply in the importance of intercultural dialogue and diverse representation. That Scotland’s position as a leading nation in the parliamentary representation of women has slipped means that we must start considering what action can be taken to redress the balance.’

Download Has Devolution Delivered for Women? for free here.



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