The SNP take the issues of gender equality, equal opportunities for women and girls, and women and girl's physical autonomy and safety incredibly seriously. We are committed to ensuring these rights are fully enshrined at both home in Scotland and abroad.
Despite huge strides of progress in recent decades, the world still has a long way to go before full gender equality can be realised. No country in the world is free from sexism and gender discrimination - we cannot and will not stop in our efforts to empower women and girls until equal rights are guaranteed for all.
The fight for full inclusion and equality for women and girls is in full swing both at home and abroad. For years, SNP MPs in Westminster have addressed these international and domestic challenges.
In 2017 SNP MP Hannah Bardell raised the difficulties of women accessing political office and representation here in the UK: "It is much better to have people of different religions, sexualities, genders and abilities around the decision-making table, because that makes for better decision-making processes... We should stand proud as women, and men who are supporting women to stand for election, but we must not pull up that ladder behind us; we must extend it out for the next generation."
However, it is also on the international level that the UK Government is lagging far behind on gender equality efforts.
Women and girls face countless barriers in participating in decision-making globally, including (but not limited to): poverty, exclusion from education, gender-based violence, lack of good physical infrastructure and sanitation, lack of access to healthcare, and poor reproductive and childcare services.
Instead of helping tackle these challenges - which would allow more women and girls to take their seats at the tables of political power - the UK Government is effectively turning its back.
The UK Government’s shameful cut to overseas aid is undoubtedly worsening the lives of millions of women and girls around the world. In 2021, the Tory Government cut its international aid budget from 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income (GNI) to 0.5% of GNI – worth between £4 billion and £5 billion, and a direct violation of their 2019 Party Manifesto. These cuts have hit gender equality aid projects. For example, in her former position as Foreign Secretary and Women & Equalities Minister, Liz Truss signed off on £183 million in cuts to education, gender, and equality spending in September 2021. Additionally, in May 2021, the UK Government cut funding to UN Women — the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women — by around 60%, from £12.5 million to £5 million.
Furthermore, data publish on 6th May 2022 by the ONE Campaign showed that UK aid cuts had caused: 7.1 million children lost their education, of which 3.7 million were girls; 5.3 million women and girls lost access to modern family planning methods; and 11.6 million children, girls, and women lost out on nutrition support.
Even more concerning is that the UK Government's International Development Strategy - published after the Tories' sweeping aid cuts - woefully underdelivers for women and girls around the world. On 16th May 2022, the UK Government published its first International Development Strategy since 2015. The Strategy failed to make any explicit funding references to health, education, food, or women and girls’ programmes. What's more, the Strategy gave no timeline and presented no concrete roadmap to reinstating the 0.7% aid budget.
On women and girls, the Strategy stated that the UK Government's "new approach is framed around Three Es – education, empowerment and ending violence and will be set out in full in the UK’s 2022 Women and Girls Strategy." We are now into 2023 and this Women and Girls Strategy has still not been published.
Responding to the UK Government's poor track record on aid for women and girls, Chris Law MP, former SNP International Development Spokesperson in Westminster, told the House of Commons in July 2022: "The strategy is rhetoric-heavy and spending-light and fails to make any explicit funding references to health, education, food, or women and girls’ programmes... The Foreign Secretary has also said that she would restore the budget for women and girls to £745 million...but CARE International estimates that the FCDO would have to provide £1.9 billion to restore spending levels for gender equality to 2020 levels, so that money is a fraction, and what is being claimed is not true."
If the UK really wants to play its part in supporting communities and protecting lives, they must rule out any cut to the aid budget and reinstate it to 0.7% of GNI. The SNP are unequivocally clear on this.
However, we also believe that Scotland can and will do better than the UK. Only by Scotland becoming an independent country - and fully devolving foreign policy to Holyrood - will Scotland be able to fully act as the Good Global Citizen it strives to be.
In his 2022 report ‘Aid Cuts One Year On: How an Independent Scotland Could Approach Aid Spending Differently,” Chris Law MP detailed ideas on how an Independent Scotland’s aid approach could differ from the UK’s, such as making ‘helping the furthest behind first’ the basis for all International Development policy in an Independent Scotland; by 2035, having no less than 95% of an Independent Scotland's bilateral international development assistance initiatives targeting or integrating gender equality, or focusing on the empowerment of women and girls; doubling the aid spend commitment for projects covering sexual and reproductive health and rights, family planning and the provision of free, sustainable period products over 5 years following Scottish Independence; committing to funding programmes in fragile states that improve women survivor's access to justice and psychological support; prioritising and strengthening the criminal prosecution of gender-based violence internationally through sponsorship of resolutions at multinational levels such as the UN.
Additionally, the SNP has committed to adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy. This will ensure that our policy asks on the global stage are in line with the global push for gender equality. This would allow Scotland to push for gender equality not just at home, but also abroad. It would include measures such as appointing a dedicated Ambassador for Women, Peace, and Security; establishing a specific Office for Gender Analysis that is answerable to the First Minister; and guaranteeing that all foreign policy, trade, and development decisions are subject to full gender impact assessments.
At the domestic level, the Scottish Government are already undertaking vital work to ensure that women and girls are empowered to take their rightful seat at the political table.
The Scottish Government believes that no-one deserves to be discriminated against because of their gender. As such, Scottish Government Ministers are ensuring fairer workplaces for women; providing funding to gender equality organisations; xpanding early learning and childcare provision; working to prevent Violence against women and girls (VAWG); considering the recommendations from the Women in Agriculture Taskforce which was set up to tackle inequality in Scottish agriculture; established the Gender Equality in Education and Learning Taskforce to identify measures to address gender inequality.
Please rest assured that the SNP take the issue of gender equality - and women and girls' representation - incredibly seriously. My colleagues and I are committed to continuing our efforts to secure equal rights for all, both at home in Scotland and abroad.