Why are the issues facing women missing from this election?
The Scottish Parliament has received praise for adopting progressive and feminist policies, including the Free Period Products Bill, introduced by Labor MSP Monica Lennon.
In 2014, Nicola Sturgeon became the first female prime minister and announced a gender balanced Cabinet, one of the few in the world. Since 2020, the Cabinet has had more women than men.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming elections provide an opportunity for the five major parties to continue this progress.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not gender neutral. Women make up 77% of frontline health workers in Scotland and women shoulder the majority of unpaid care responsibilities.
Women are the backbone of COVID-19 resilience and are essential for recovery. But are the main parties making explicit and visible the key role of women in their plans for Scotland’s future?
To find out, we analyzed the 2021 Scottish election manifestos of the five biggest parties: the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Labor and the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (Conservatives).
In their manifestos, parties choose which issues to highlight and which to keep invisible, and they set out each party’s vision for the next five years of Scottish politics.
Using Atlas.ti (computer-aided qualitative data analysis software) and concept-driven deductive coding, we identified all references to women and gender, to the COVID-19 pandemic. and the recovery policies in the five manifests.
Here, we focus on four key themes: the impact of COVID-19, violence against women, unpaid care and future recovery plans.
The disproportionate economic impact of COVID-19 on women
Occupational segregation in Scotland has produced a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women.
The Green Party recognizes this directly at the start of its manifesto, stating that women’s economic contributions and labor market participation have been severely disrupted by COVID-19, due to economic segregation and the burden of unpaid care.
Labor, Liberal Democrats and the SNP also recognize this disproportionate economic burden. The Liberal Democrats say that “the hardest hit economic sectors were often those where the majority of employees are women and young people.”
The Labor manifesto states that women have been “disproportionately affected by work disruptions following COVID-19 and are also more likely to lose their jobs in the predicted employment recession.”
The SNP recognizes the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women in their Jobs for the Future section, saying fair work must fight occupational segregation.
Nowhere is the disproportionate economic impact on women mentioned in the Conservative Party’s manifesto.
Violence against women
All parties are directing attention to the increase in violence against women and girls in Scotland during COVID lockdowns.
The sharp rise in domestic violence globally is a ‘shadow pandemic’, with UK-based organization Refuge noting 700% increase in visits to their national helpline website against domestic abuse in the first weeks of the pandemic lockdown.
Conservatives, Labor and Greens pledge additional funding to domestic violence charities.
The SNP is promising a new multi-year funding stream to support frontline services, while the Liberal Democrats advocate for a multi-party commission to tackle violence against women and girls in all its forms.
The Labor Party manifesto is unique in that it recognizes that the violence faced by women and girls in Scotland is a men’s issue; male violence is the problem. The theme of violence is one of the few explicitly gendered issues in any manifesto.
Care is gender neutral, although not all recovery plans recognize this
Unpaid care is a major feminist concern, brought to the fore by the pandemic.
According to Engender: âBetween 59% and 70% of unpaid care is provided by women in Scotland, which adds up to around Â£ 10.8 billion a year for the economy, and women are twice as likely to give up their job for unpaid care. “
All parties recognize that unpaid care is a problem, but the gender reality of care is invisible in some of the party manifestos. The Conservatives’ manifesto does not mention the gendered nature of care at all. The Liberal Democrats only note that the provision of childcare services in Sweden has led to more equal participation of women in the labor market.
The SNP recognizes the disproportionate share of women in unpaid care, advocating for more gender-equitable child care. But their discussion of the importance of caregivers to Scottish society is neutral, obscuring the reality of who cares for them.
While a brief link is made between wellness-based recovery and the burden of unpaid care for women, an opportunity is missed to link gender equality to care-based recovery from COVID.
The gendered nature of care and the unequal burden of care are central and explicit in the Green and Labor manifestos. The Greens present a way to address these issues, linking gender equality and the recovery of COVID into their green economic recovery. This makes women visible in politics and presents a way to cope with the disproportionate burden that women will face.
The work recognizes that the burden of caring for women has been âundervalued, underpaid and underprotectedâ. They call for a redistribution of responsibility for care between women, men and the state, drawing attention to the under-participation of men in care. Labor say Scotland’s recovery must be carefully gender-sensitive as a vital infrastructure “to ensure the economic well-being of all”.
Who are the pioneers in making women visible?
Of the five parties, the Labor Party and the Greens are clearly the first to make women visible in their election platforms.
They recognize that the many burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic were linked to sex and gender featured prominently in the party’s plans for Scotland’s future.
The SNP and the Liberal Democrats highlight many relevant issues concerning women. Liberal Democrats fail to explicitly call attention to the gendered nature of unpaid care. The SNP draws attention to the need for a care economy, but could go further, recognizing that this is necessary to achieve gender equality in Scotland.
The Conservatives are lagging behind on all fronts. They directly draw attention to the violence suffered by women and girls in Scotland during COVID lockdowns, but do not mention the gendered nature of unpaid care or the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women.
If Scotland is to become a care-centered feminist society, the reality of all aspects of women’s lives during COVID-19 must be made visible.
If women remain invisible in politics and politics, the cycle of inequality will continue.
Catherine Robertson is a research intern and Jennifer A. Holland is an assistant professor of social science research methods at Erasmus University Rotterdam.