CONVINCING women to run in the upcoming local elections has been “really difficult”, SNP MSP Karen Adam has said, as she urged women and minorities to take up more leadership roles.

Ahead of International Women’s Day on Tuesday, the Sunday National sat down with the Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP to discuss the barriers facing women going into politics, and what the Scottish Parliament is doing to try to make Scotland a fairer and more equal country.

There is a clear gender imbalance among councillors in Scotland – with a report from local government organisation Improvement Service stating that 65.7% of councillors are male, compared to 32.6% who are female, with around 1% describing themselves in “another way”.

There have been campaigns from parties trying to encourage more women into politics, and with an almost gender-balanced parliament, the focus has turned to replicating this at a lower level.

READ MORE: Karen Adam on turning her negative life experiences to positive action

A former councillor in Aberdeenshire, Adam faced hurdles juggling the workload as a single mother with children with additional support needs, but ultimately says it was “worth it”.

We spoke in her parliamentary office, an LGBT rainbow flag draped across a table behind us and the Proud Scotland award Adam recently won for political leadership sitting on a shelf to the left. She wears a rainbow lanyard too, and says that she believes the plight of women and the LGBT community come hand in hand.

“Throughout history, gay men have been allies to the feminist movement, for decades it’s been a classic combination of women, women’s rights and gay rights,” she said.

“I think there is an effort at the moment to try and put some kind of division in that, which is really concerning, because when we’re facing a battle, we’re often facing the same things, and it’s facing toxic masculinity and patriarchal structures.

“Those are the things that are barriers to us progressing, so we’re all facing the same fight.

“I often think this division is an effort to divide and conquer really.

“So it’s more important now that women and all minority groups stick together.”

The council elections on May 5 are fast approaching, and candidate lists are generally filled to the brim by older white men, something Adam thinks desperately needs to change. But convincing women to put themselves in the public eye has proven a difficult task.

Adam said: “I just recently tried to get one of my friends to stand, but it took a while to convince her to do that.

“Often the conversations I have with women when we talk about it, they ask the practicalities of it, ‘where will the meetings be, what times will the meetings be, because I have school pick-up and I have childcare to worry about’, and it’s ‘how will I manage the home and that job’.”

The potential abuse they face on social media and online is another barrier holding many women and minority groups back.

Adam explained: “The second issue they’re fearful for is the toxic environment that they might be coming in to, and being in the public eye.

“The women that I’ve spoken to just want to get on, they want to help in the community and be part of that, the job is appealing to them, but it’s things like being in local newspapers – they really just don’t want to be exposed that way.”

And it isn’t for fear of scrutiny, but that they will be judged on their appearance or not be taken as seriously as their male counterparts.

“They’re also fearful of how they can get their opinions across in meetings and chambers,” Adam added.

“It can be really intimidating when you’re facing like 70% old men, and you often feel like, okay, this isn’t an area where I should be.

“It’s a catch-22 because you need more young people, more women, more progressive people in those positions so more people want to be there, so it’s hard.”

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It is something Adam has felt herself, as a councillor and as an MSP – being “infantilised” and treated as lesser, facing misogyny and disproportionately having what she says fact-checked.

She said: “I’m a grandmother, you know, I’m not just fresh out of school or whatever, but I often feel like I’m treated like that. There’s certainly still in society this view that women aren’t as credible as men – that toxicity still exists there.”

Adam had to be convinced over months to stand for election as a councillor. Her main concerns were the practicalities of looking after her children, being a single parent, and coping with a workload on top of that.

She said: “These opportunities to have our voices at decision-making tables don’t come up that often, and I would say to any women considering it – your voice deserves to be there and we need your voice there, so go for it, take the opportunity.”

Her youngest child went into primary one the year she was elected, which gave her breathing space, although she admitted it was “really difficult juggling quite a bit of it”.

“But it was really worth it,” she added.

Misogyny and male violence are the two biggest issues facing women, she said, and Adam would welcome some form of misogyny laws to tackle this. Baroness Helena Kennedy’s working group on misogyny is due to report back soon to MSPs, and has support in principle from Justice Secretary Keith Brown (below).

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Adam gets “frustrated” by the argument that trans people are a threat to women and women’s rights, when it is mostly men who commit violence against women – a sentiment echoed by Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison as she introduced the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Holyrood last week.

Adam said: “The arguments that are presented just don’t make sense to me in terms of most women are harmed or abused by men in their own homes.

“So you could correlate that with marriage – the arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny because you could say, well, women are more likely to be abused in a marriage, so what do we do – ban marriage? It’s ridiculous.

“We just can’t be doing those things, so it’s trying to look at it from the angle, what is the real threat to women at this time? As always it comes down to, it’s not trans people, it’s not a marginalised group of people, it is generally cisgendered toxic straight men, and we really need to pin down on that.”