by Susanne Ross, WiSE Research Centre
Last week the WiSE team participated, and attended, a 2 day event on gender equality and the Scottish economy, the 2nd within a seminar series on Scotland’s constitutional future. I listened with great interest to some really insightful presentations from Diane Elson (UK WBG), Ann Henderson (STUC), Stephen Boyd (STUC) and Ailsa McKay (WiSE), to name a few, about the Scottish experience of gender equality in the economy.
Having been immersed in labour market stats for the majority of my PhD life, what really struck a chord was hearing Ann Henderson recount some of the harrowing tales of her trade union members’ experiences within the paid labour market. Latest stats, released on Wednesday, show that the gloomy picture for women in Scottish labour market continues: economic inactivity is rising whilst employment is falling. Scottish women are being driven out, and falling out, of the labour market in their thousands every month due to a lack of availability of good jobs. For those women ‘fortunate’ enough to hold onto some form of paid employment, experiences as reported by Ann, show that working women, particularly those within the public sector, are facing a marked increase in their workload, detrimental impacts to pay and conditions at work and are completely ‘stressed out their tights’. Hearing first hand experiences of women struggling to juggle paid work, with an ever increasing share of unpaid work, highlighted the fact that gender equality really has some way to go within Scotland, particularly in the face of a prolonged period of austerity.
Some really interesting discussions came from the workshop, and feedback session, about the kind of work that we should be valuing as a society and how to capture the value attached to work, both paid and unpaid.
There was a feeling of frustration amongst the audience that things had not progressed as much as had been anticipated since devolution. However being a ‘glass half full’ kind of woman, rather than being down-trodden, I went away from the event feeling hopeful that the next 14 months could provide us with an opportunity to become more visible within the constitutional debate. ‘We are at the table’, as Ailsa McKay said, in terms of discussions with Scottish Government, so the eternal optimist within me hopes that we can utilise the debates to shout even louder about the kind of Scotland we would like to live in and what we value as important to our society.
After all if organisations such as IMF, OECD and even Joseph Stiglitz, one of the members of the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisors are all saying that inequality is bad for economic growth and a drag on recovery, surely the Scottish Government will sit up and listen?
Given the theme for the final seminar in the series around women’s representation in a new Scotland, I look forward to hearing some of the lessons we can learn from our Nordic sisters who seemed to have got equality right early on.