Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is a global occasion which gives us the opportunity to highlight progress towards gender equality – but it also helps us shine a light on the areas where progress is still too slow and gives us a platform to support continued action where inequality remains.
Here in Glasgow women have had a huge impact down the generations. Whether it’s women like Mary Barbour who led the rent strikes that led to improve living conditions for working families, or women like Margo MacDonald who first represented Govan for the SNP in the 1970s, or young women like the Glasgow Girls who showed the rest of the world that, no matter where you come from, Glasgow is a city with a big heart and a warm welcome for those who need it, women have always been a powerful force in this city.
And that’s exactly as it should be.
On the day I became First Minister, I said I wanted to send a strong message to all girls and young women in Scotland – if you work hard, the sky should be the limit. Absolutely nothing should hold you back from fulfilling your potential and accomplishing your dreams.
And after my first year in the job I’m even more determined than ever that we must remove the remaining obstacles to true gender equality.
For me, a key part of encouraging gender equality is about making sure my actions live up to my words. All young women need role models, just as young men do, to show them they can achieve anything they want to.
That’s why I was honoured, just last week, to be asked to become patron of the Scottish Women’s Football Team. They are a formidable group of women performing at the top of their game who deserve our support.
It’s also why my government is encouraging more young women to think of themselves in different careers, whether that’s as a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a mechanic.
And it’s also why I appointed a gender-balanced Cabinet, at the time one of only three in the developed world, to ensure the Scottish government leads by example. Since then, through initiatives such as 50/50 by 2020, over 170 organisations have pledged to achieve gender equality on their boards, and this year, for the first time ever, over half of public sector board appointees are women.
It is not right and it is not good for society as a whole to underuse the talent of over 50 per cent of our population. Women have the right to pursue jobs and careers that they have the skills and talent to do.
Under the SNP, female employment in Scotland is higher than any other UK nation, we have increased the number of female modern apprenticeships and we have nearly doubled the number of women in training since 2008.
However there are still barriers in the workplace which have a huge effect on female participation, such as the cost of childcare. This is why the SNP government has undertaken to transform childcare in Scotland, delivering 600 hours of free childcare with a commitment to nearly doubling this if re-elected.
We should not underestimate what we have achieved, but we also need to recognise that it’s not nearly enough. The World Economic Forum recently estimated that if we don’t speed up the pace of progress, we won’t achieve gender parity worldwide until 2133. That’s simply not good enough and I am determined to do all I can to ensure we get there quicker. I’m not prepared to wait until 2133. I don’t want young girls growing up today, never mind in 2133, to still be fighting these battles.
When I first became active in politics 30 years ago, I was surrounded by men. Now at Holyrood every week I stand in the chamber for First Minister’s Questions to debate with two other female leaders, in front of a female Presiding Officer keeping us in order!
It is my responsibility as First Minister to look at how we as a government can accelerate progress, and think about creating greater opportunities for women every single day – not just on International Women’s Day.
But given that today is International Women’s Day I am asking you to consider what you can do. Speak up, challenge attitudes and discrimination, celebrate achievements, inspire those around you, and together we will breakdown the barriers that women face in everyday life.