Guest blogger Carolyn Leckie reflects on the issues raised at the recent Women and Constitutional Futures seminar held on 14/15 February , 2013 at Royal Society of Edinburgh.
She argues: “I want independence but whatever the constitutional future, it has to be one that is better for women. Let’s seize the day.”
At the end of the Women and Constitutional Futures event my head was buzzing with a heady mix of intellectual stimulation, optimism of ideas and a visceral sense of the power of women to change the world when they put their minds to it. It was also full of contradictions. But, reflecting on my past political experiences, these contradictions are the very stuff of creativity and progress. I’ve been liberated from the sometimes stultifying environment of the ‘left’ by embracing them. Ironically, a marxist contradiction!
Well, the dancing for #onebillionrising was fantastic (and not a drop of booze). Professor James Mitchell’s absence of rhythm was made up for by his assiduous trawling of the papers of the constitutional convention to remind us of just what was achieved by women. The fundamental links between constitutions and progress for peoples was personified by speakers from The Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Catalonia. Not forgetting Scotland’s own tribunes who charted Scotland’s course to devolution, a new way of doing things and the ‘rainbow parliament’. Whilst it hasn’t grown up as well as its conception, it was a timely reminder for me that much can be and was achieved.
Over the two days of the forum, much was said about the gap between achievements for women at national governmental and supranational level in theory and practice on the ground. How do women facing the bedroom tax, universal credit and impossible fuel bills get their hands on CEDAW? Where’s the shop you go to for your human rights? It made me think of my privilege in being able to attend such an event. That’s hard for me. I remember, not long after I was elected as an MSP, I attended a public meeting about NHS reorganisation in Glasgow. I was brought up in the Gorbals, was a divorced mother of two, had become a Midwife and trade union activist. I firmly identified as working class. When I tried to come in on the debate, Penny Taylor, the Chair, brought me up sharp – you’ve got a platform she said. I wasn’t happy but she was right. On the other hand, no matter how privileged women are, they’re always oppressed as women. We self censor enough and its time to proudly bring out our lights from under the bushel. So, how do we ensure the voices of all women can explode on to this constitutional discussion? It’s the women we’re not hearing from who have the most to lose and gain.
Conditions are ripe for change
In the backdrop of prolonged recession and stagnation and unprecedented attacks on women and children (who are being disproportionately affected by current ConDem government policies), the appetite for change should be voracious. But decades of retrenchment of ‘left’consciousness, as mainstream parties coalesce around the centre ground has left the potential source of resistance fragmented, disorientated and disempowered. Successes of feminism, e.g.s in campaigning against violence against women and increased representation of women in the Scottish Parliament, have been tempered by the apparent professionalisation of feminism and regression in achieving the goal of 50/50. The debate over Scotland’s constitutional future has opened the gates again. The Yes and No camps, and pundit analysis, are dominated by men in grey suits. Whether you support independence or not, it’s not good enough. Women are 52% of the population. By current polling, many more women than men are undecided. Women will determine the outcome of the referendum. Both camps ignore this at their peril. Fiona Mackay (University of Edinburgh) explains the gender gap rationally: women want information. They want clear ideas and choices. They want honesty, not pugilistic exchange of emotional assertions. Feminists have the chance here to set out what sort of country we want to live in and what sort of constitution we want to build our society on. There is consensus around issues such as women’s representation, fertility rights and the right of women and children to be financially independent and live in a decent house, in decent circumstances. Women of all political persuasions and none have the chance to advance our cause, by coalescing beyond established boundaries. It’s brilliant that Engender has offered to get the ball rolling.
I want independence but whatever the constitutional future, it has to be one that is better for women. Let’s seize the day.
Carolyn Leckie participated keenly in the People’s Gathering. She works for a Women’s Aid Collective and is a part time law student. She was previously an SSP MSP, Midwife & Trade Union Branch Secretary. She campaigned for 50/50 representation in the SSP – both internally and for political representatives. She has a keen interest in constitutional questions, democratic revival and how women’s liberation can be advanced by these means. She helped to form and launch Women For Independence.