Faster progress towards true gender equality in society is a “moral, social and economic necessity”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister pointed to “compelling” economic arguments behind the drive for equality, telling an audience: “Inequality impoverishes us all.”
Ms Sturgeon spoke out against the “glacial” pace of progress towards full equality between the sexes in Europe and the rest of the world and spoke of her determination for Scotland to lead progress in that area.
Speaking in Edinburgh, the SNP leader referred to an audit carried out last year by the World Economic Forum which found that – at the current rate of progress – economic gender equality was 217 years away.
We won’t have true equality while sexual harassment, sexual abuse and violence against women are all so prevalentNicola Sturgeon
“The overall picture is clear – in the 100 years since women got the vote, the pace of progress to full equality has been glacial,” she said.
“And that’s despite the fact that there is a clear consensus on the benefits that equality can bring – for men as well as women.
“The same World Economic Forum report cites evidence that full equality could boost the UK’s GDP by £180 billion. That’s almost £3,000 for every person in the country.
“Gender equality will always be first and foremost a moral issue. But the economic arguments behind it are also now compelling. Inequality impoverishes us all.”
She added: “Quicker progress towards true gender equality is a moral, social and economic necessity.”
Ms Sturgeon was addressing a gathering of the Scottish Women’s Convention in a packed debating chamber at the Scottish Parliament on Saturday.
She reflected on the recent 100th anniversary of some women gaining the right to vote.
The First Minister told the audience it was a “genuinely special and deeply emotional moment” when she arrived at the Scottish Government’s offices in Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s House that day to see the suffragette flag flying, before chairing a meeting of a gender-balanced cabinet.
She spoke of recent actions by the Scottish Government and Parliament to boost gender equality, including the passing of the Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill, which requires public sector bodies to ensure that at least half of non-executive board members are female, and the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill, described as setting a new gold standard in protecting women from controlling behaviour.
But she said there remains more to be done by Parliament, political parties and wider society.
An anonymous survey recently revealed a fifth of Holyrood staff have experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The report published last week into sexual harassment within the parliament provided an important, if deeply shocking, reminder that this institution – and all of the political parties within it – needs to do much more to provide a truly safe and equal working environment for women.
“And of course, when you look beyond this chamber, it becomes even clearer that we still have a huge amount to do.
“We will simply not have true gender equality while women are regularly paid less than men for the same work.
“We won’t have true equality while women face barriers to promotions, and while gender stereotyping still constrains their career choices.
“We won’t have true equality while sexual harassment, sexual abuse and violence against women are all so prevalent.”