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David Cameron's apology for sexism underlines importance of women

His jibes towards MPs Angela Eagle and Nadine Dorries might have provoked male guffaws in the Commons, but now David Cameron has apologised for his part in a sexism row and insisted: "I'm not one of the lads."

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In a bid, perhaps, not to alienate female voters, the Prime Minister admitted he made a "terrible mistake" for making the ill-judged jeers at the expense of the two women.

I am an advocate of female leadership and the first to speak out against unbalanced gender issues, but I must admit I wasn’t necessarily taken aback by the PM’s original comments. Over the years, it’s always been quite obvious to me that the House of Commons is the ultimate boys' club.

That doesn’t mean I accept Mr Cameron’s comments, but I do agree that he has reignited one of the greatest ever gender debates.

In a survey by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 60% of the 1,059 respondents (91% of them women) said that the recession would make it more difficult for women to get ahead.

Reports that women were losing their jobs twice as fast as men led to speculation that they were being targeted by employers attempting to avoid the costs of maternity leave or flexible working.

Yet women are choosing to leave lucrative careers by taking voluntary redundancy and using the recession as an opportunity to make a new start. Anecdotal evidence has shown that the recession has caused a shift of women away from corporate careers into smaller companies and social enterprise.

So what does parliament, government and society need to do to ensure that wasting so much talent is not an option for this country?

It’s frustrating to see that politicians reach out to women -- and in all fairness the wider electorate -- just when polls are not in their favour, when they should be ensuring that throughout their  term they are actively supporting and looking for creative ways to empower women.

We need to promote the opportunities to meet like-minded people and make new business contacts and encourage women to utilise such notable contacts.We need to increase women’s roles as leaders and advocates of change to ensure that society represents the people it’s meant to serve.

Government must integrate gender equality priorities across national planning and demonstrate how much of a contribution women make to development, not just for themselves, but also for their societies at large.

There is growing evidence of this.The most recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index Report, for example, shows that out of 114 countries, it is those with greater gender equality that are more competitive and grow faster.

This is because women have taken leadership roles as advocates for gender equality at many levels, whether in communities or as heads of state. Women leaders have made sure that a growing number of people understand that we must bring women fully into our economies, we must tap into women’s capacities as agents for changes that benefit everyone.

And in Scotland, we must bring resources and take the actions necessary to achieve these goals.

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