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Today provides an opportunity for all of us to reflect on what has been achieved, recognise what still has to be done, and stop and think about all those women in the UK and across the world suffering today, as a result of men’s violence against women.

Jillian MerchantAs Scotland’s trades union law firm, naturally, part of this reflection is the contribution made by trade union women in the fight for equality, and in particular the fight to make the workplace free of pay inequality, discrimination and sexual harassment.

The STUC women’s committee have released, as part of their International Women’s Day Campaign, a series of pictures depicting women’s struggles in the workplace. These include women workers at the Singer strike over pay in 1911, the women workers at Rolls Royce winning their battle for equal pay in 1943, the role played by Miners Strike Women’s Support Groups in the 1984-5 Miners Strike and women at the Caterpillar factory occupation in 1987. It is upon the shoulders of these women which our movement now stands.

In 2017 the fight may be different, but it definitely continues. Over the last year our Employment Team has consistently raised cases in the Employment Tribunal for women workers including: maternity and pregnancy discrimination, part-time worker discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual harassment, victimisation and unfair dismissal. At Thompsons we believe that it is only by fighting these cases, and winning, that employers will sit up and take notice to what is happening in their workplaces. It is also hoped that challenging discriminatory behaviour through a legal process will make it easier for the next women experiencing similar conduct; leave a lasting impression with the employer; and make the workplace a more equal place for those women who come behind us.

But fighting employers in Court is not enough. Culture and attitudinal change in workplaces and amongst employers and managers are just as important. Around this time last year I blogged on the importance of maternity and paternity rights, and properly funded child care. It remains my view that a revolution in these rights would make the most difference, in my lifetime, to help achieve gender equality.

Over the last year we have also supported the high profile Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign, who are today taking their fight to the House of Commons.

On Sunday, the Sunday Herald’s headline read: “Revealed Scandal of women denied Scotland’s top jobs”. This was in reference to a report produced by Scotland Feminist Organisation, Engender, “Sex and Power in Scotland 2017”.  The report found that despite women making up 52% of the Scottish population gender parity in public spheres is far from becoming reality. In Scotland, women are currently:

• 35% of MSPs, 25% of local councillors, 16% of council leaders, 17% of MEPs
• 28% of public body chief executives, 26% of university principals, 23% of sheriffs, 7% of senior police officers
• 0% of major newspaper editors, 19% of major museums and art galleries directors, 14% of national sports bodies chief executives
• 0% of CEOs of ‘top’ businesses

The paper also carried a piece from Vicky Allan about why gender quotas are needed and why “training women” simply isn’t going to cut it anymore.  The arguments made here are strong and the case for positive action was the focus of our blog only a few weeks ago.  

Court cases, campaigns, influencing, lobbying and creating a positive case for change are all required to secure true gender equality and ensure that the next generation of women do not have continue to fight the same battles that are currently being fought. This is an aim that we all, men and women, should be committed to and working towards.

Blog by Jillian Merchant, Employment Lawyer Glasgow

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