HUMZA Yousaf has committed to ensuring his Cabinet has an equal balance of men and women as he underlined his record to date on reforms affecting women and set out a range of new commitments to mark International Women’s Day today, if he becomes First Minister.

Mr Yousaf pointed to his support for the appointment of a Women’s Health Champion and his work to improve the treatment of women’s health issues such as endometriosis and the menopause, as well as delivering payments for women affected by mesh operations. And he promised to bring in a raft of changes to help women if he succeeds Nicola Sturgeon to become SNP leader and First Minister.

Ms Sturgeon broke new ground in her commitments to equality at the top of government when she became the first First Minister in 2014 to ensure her Cabinet was gender balanced.

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Ms Yousaf’s commitments include:

l The introduction of the Criminal Justice Reform Bill to better

support and protect those who experience sexual offences.

l Taking forward recommendations to treat misogyny as an offence.

The Herald:

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's first Cabinet pictured in November 2014.   Photograph Gordon Terris, The Herald.

l Fast-tracking the delivery of free early learning and childcare for one and two-year- olds to help parents, particularly women, back into work.

l Supporting legislation on buffer zones and taking steps to embed a woman’s right to choose healthcare – rather than part of the criminal law.

Mr Yousaf said: “I believe in equality and I know that while women’s rights, and women’s equality, have made significant strides forward, there is still a long way to go. Our progress cannot be taken for granted.

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“I have championed women’s rights throughout my time in politics, and as your SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, I give you an unshakable commitment that women’s rights will be a priority for my government.

“Today I am offering women across Scotland a cast-iron guarantee that under my leadership there will be no rowing back in support for women’s rights or in women’s representation.”

He added: “That commitment to representation starts in the highest political office – that’s why as First Minister, I would maintain a gender- balanced Cabinet. And any SNP government I lead will also continue to support women around the world.

“It was a privilege to lead Scotland’s international development programme and I would ensure that Scotland’s investment in climate justice and peace-building work continues to prioritise women and girls.”

Mr Yousaf faces Kate Forbes, the Finance Secretary, and Ash Regan, a community safety minister, in his bid to become SNP leader.

Ms Sturgeon announced her first Cabinet in November 2014 underlining its 50/50 gender balance after she pledged to put equality at the heart of government.

Announcing the full lineup at Bute House in Edinburgh on Ms Sturgeon said her cabinet was “a clear demonstration that this government will work hard in all areas to promote women, to create gender equality and it sends out a strong message that the business of redressing the gender balance in public life starts right here in government”.

Of Ms Sturgeon’s cabinet of nine secretaries as well as herself, five are women.