Cultural, historical and in many areas practical reasons provide an explanation for the fact that 70% of people living in extreme poverty are female -- although it is in no way a justification. The fact that women constitute a significant proportion of those living in poverty in Scotland is absolutely unacceptable.
According to figures researched by the Equal Opportunities Commission, women are 14% more likely than men to live in households below the poverty line. Government statistics also show that almost half of all women have a total individual income of less than £100 per week.
For men, the figure is 20%. We cannot let this go on.
One of the problems with the official figures is that they generally calculate income for an overall household rather than individuals. The wider problem with this is that it is symptomatic of a society that doesn’t treat women’s poverty seriously enough because of the underlying assumption that, if they have a male partner, then the man can look after her.
These antediluvian attitudes need to be challenged. One of the most impressive organisations doing so are Oxfam who have done an enormous amount of research and campaigning on this issue.
Oxfam address inequality by integrating gender issues into all aspects of their work; through programmes aimed at reducing gender-based violence, and by promoting women's rights. Men and women experience aspects of poverty differently and ignoring these differences risks further entrenching poverty and the subordination of women.
However, while charities have a huge role to play in highlighting the issues of poverty, we also need to accept that Government has a role to play as well.
Women are tragically under-represented in our democratic society at every level. Local politics is often seen as a first step to national politics, but women account for less than 1% of all local councillors in Scotland.
Women should have greater involvement in running the services that affect them. More women are urgently required on many decision-making bodies, particularly at higher levels.
Scotland's public services must work for women, be accountable to them, and listen to what women have to say. Control of services must be devolved to the most appropriate level, where services can be strategically planned but also where women can have a real, practical input.
Democracy is most effective when its representation reflects the community it serves. Women are clearly under-represented in all forms of public life. The first step towards addressing this is to engage and interest more women in running for these roles.
New research claims that men and women working in Scotland’s top jobs will not be paid the same salaries for another 75 years. The pay gap between male and female executives is now £10,314, according to the Chartered Management Institute, but while wage rises for women have risen slightly above those afforded to their male colleagues, it will take three generations for high-powered workers to be on an even footing if the pace of improvements stays the same.
Our communities, our institutions and wider society would greatly benefit from utilising women’s skill sets. And I think that it is good that women actually try and succeed as women, rather than try and succeed as men.
Most of all we need to change attitudes. I want people to recognise that wasting so much talent is a serious issue and not an option for this country.
It’s an issue that we are not doing enough about. We need more flexible models of employment and leave, and we need to do more to close the gender pay gap. Only then can we start to seriously deal with the problem of women’s poverty.