WALKING through the corridors of the Scottish Parliament, I think of it being a place that embodies our nation’s values. But, even here, there’s room for change and growth.

What I love about our Parliament is that we are an institution which allows space for those possibilities of change, growth, and progress. I recently had experience of that while being a part of the Gender Sensitive Audit board, chaired by the Presiding Officer.

I have written about this before but like the nature of the audit itself and the Parliament, it’s a living and continually evolving piece of work.

Last week we reached another milestone in the implementation of the recommendations when the standards, procedures and public appointments committee had its scheduled evidence session on the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Sensitive Audit Report.

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I was there as a representative of the equalities, human rights and civil justice committee rather than a member of the board, which offered another perspective for me.

Sitting in the committee listening to the evidence, there were moments of strong resonance for me. I was a member of the Gender Sensitive Audit board, a member of the equalities committee – but at my core I felt I was listening in firstly as a woman, a carer and a single parent. My mind raced through my journey to the political positions I hold, every obstacle and hurdle remembered, but also the encouragement and doors opened was literally flashing past my eyes.

I couldn’t help but take as personal some questions, as I sat with my heart pounding and my tongue being chewed for fear of the feminine rage escaping out my mouth in a “socially unacceptable” way, shall I say.

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It’s vital to have the work scrutinised and for questions to be asked, but that doesn’t make the experience of seeing women having to ask for permissions for progress in society any less palatable.

Particularly when asked: “Why?”

Three female witnesses to present it and a committee of one woman and three men were going to scrutinise this work.

The irony wasn’t lost.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that change, especially institutional change, is a marathon, not a sprint. This report, though comprehensive, marks the beginning. The recommendations might be specific to Holyrood, but their spirit is universal.

As part of the Gender Sensitive Audit board, my colleagues and I delved deep into the workings of Holyrood. We weren’t merely interested in numbers, though they are revealing.

Our mission was more profound: to understand how gender dynamics play out in this institution, and to unravel the subtle ways in which disparities emerge. It delves into the nuances, ensuring women aren’t just present but truly empowered within these walls.

The National: The Holyrood chamber at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

The Parliament has resonated with speeches, debates and decisions that have shaped our nation. But if these walls could talk, they’d whisper tales of the voices not heard, voices too often silenced.

Historically, from the witch hunts of the 16th century, where women were oppressed for simply being knowledgeable, to the suffragettes’ brave fight for a vote in the early 20th century, and the countless struggles in between, women have consistently faced barriers in their quest for equality.

Even today, the echoes of these struggles persist. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that political arenas truly began opening doors to women, and even then, it was a tentative invitation, fraught with challenges.

This isn’t about numbers alone, though they matter. It’s about confronting the latent biases, the subtle misogynies that still permeate the hallways of power. Why is it that women are still less likely to intervene in debates or participate as vocally in First Minister’s Question Time?

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We laud the victories of women in politics but what about the spaces they occupy? Why are certain committees, such as finance and audit, predominantly male? Why is there a tendency for women to be sidelined in fields perceived as “masculine”? It’s time we confronted these questions.

But here’s the truth: the journey towards a gender-sensitive parliament isn’t just about fairness, it’s about enriching our decisions with diverse perspectives. It’s about understanding that a room where only half the population is genuinely represented is a room half-filled with potential.

A 2018 study found that despite women making up roughly half of the workforce, they still shoulder the majority of unpaid caring responsibilities at home. This not only affects their professional opportunities but also shapes societal expectations.

It’s no surprise that as a carer and a single parent, I’ve navigated myriad challenges, most of which have been entrenched in societal norms for generations. I’m not alone, as countless women find themselves juggling professional ambitions with traditional caregiving roles, often feeling torn between the two.

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Take a closer look at our modern institutions, and you’ll discover a range of biases, sometimes so subtle they’re almost invisible. There’s an unconscious belief that politics and leadership are naturally male domains.

Despite the vast progress we’ve made, women in leadership roles often find themselves being the exception rather than the rule.

That’s why the Gender Sensitive Audit’s recommendations aren’t just pieces of advice on a paper, they are the much-needed corrections to our trajectory, they can help to reroute. By ensuring women’s representation on significant bodies and proposing rule changes, we aren’t just making up for lost time – we’re creating a fairer, more inclusive future.

The overall goal is to ensure that women don’t just participate but actually thrive in all spheres, uninhibited by outdated norms or unfounded biases. It’s achieving a future where caring duties are shared, leadership is diverse, and a woman’s potential isn’t limited by preconceived notions.

For every young girl with ambitions of shaping her nation, for every single mother balancing work with care, for every woman pushing boundaries in her field – our fight for a gender-sensitive parliament is a promise of recognition, representation, and respect.