Carlaw’s male-dominated cabinet reshuffle ‘disappointing’, says feminist organisation

By Leigh Taylor

Equality advocates and political figures are hitting out at Jackson Carlaw’s reshuffled Shadow Cabinet. This comes after the revelation that the group would be made up of ten men and just three women. 

Carlaw’s move has been with criticism from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who described the opposition leader’s decision as ‘shockingly poor’ on Twitter. Comparisons have been drawn between Carlaw and Sturgeon’s respective cabinets, with the latter made up of five women out of eleven members overall. 

Now, a feminist policy and advocacy organisation are speaking out on the reshuffle and wider issue it implies. Engender works to challenge inequality through policy, research and legislation which recognises the diverse needs and experiences of women. Alys Mumford, Communications and Engagement Manager for Engender, said: 

“It’s disappointing that the Scottish Conservatives failed to take the opportunity of their cabinet reshuffle to challenge the overrepresentation of men in top positions. The second biggest party in Scotland has a core leadership team where women are outnumbered three to one, and people of colour are missing entirely”.

Carlaw has hit back at claims his appointments were discriminatory. The newly appointed Scottish Tory leader said: 

“I’ve only got seven women MSPs, two of whom are not standing again. 

I think the important thing from my perspective is what is the shape of this party after 2021 and you can rest assured it will be more representative of Scotland”. 

Despite this reassurance from Carlaw, Engender sees his comments as reflective of a much more systemic issue. Alys said: 

“Jackson Carlaw’s defence that there are only 7 female MSPs in his party in total only serves to highlight the gender inequality which is pervasive in Scottish politics – without 50% women at all levels of politics, we will struggle to achieve women’s equality at top levels of the Scottish Parliament”. 

The debate has also been unravelling on Twitter, with the Stirling Tories account weighing in on the issue, posting:

“Is anyone else really, really bored with this never-ending obsession with forced 50/50 gender equality? Pick the best people for the jobs”. 

For Engender, the issue is simply not as black and white as this as they believe diversity is key for Scotland to thrive. Alys said: 

“Diverse voices, background and experiences are vital in creating political decisions and discourse which are truly representative of everyone in Scotland. We see a politics that is dominated by white men because we have not yet removed the structural barriers which face women, people of colour, and other groups who experience persistent discrimination in Scotland”.

Echoing these sentiments is Glasgow City Councillor Christina Cannon, also a keen advocate for women’s rights. On Carlaw’s appointments, she said:

“In times where we often consider how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality, Jackson Carlaw’s new Shadow Cabinet shows how far we still have to go. The experiences of women should not be omitted from policy development as they are often the key of creating a more equal society.

The argument that those who are best placed for the job should get it has some merit. But this has been used to suggest that men are inherently better suited to promoted jobs than women, and that their experience and knowledge should be prioritised”.

Engender has produced a report entitled Sex and Power 2020 which has found that in Scotland, 68% of top positions in politics, the judiciary, the public sector, and business are held by men. On these figures and their implications, Alys said: 

“While progress is happening in areas where there has been concerted effort and leadership – as shown by women occupying over 50% of Cabinet positions in the Scottish Government for the first time – much more is needed to achieve equality”.

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