International Women’s Day is always a moment to reflect and celebrate the progress that women around the globe have made. This year though seemed more bittersweet.
Even before we get into the events of last week, we have seen how women over the last year have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, sandwiched between caring responsibilities of the old and young, while supporting school learning at home and juggling work commitments.
The events preceding last Monday showed just how much more work is needed. We saw women let down by the Scottish Government over their handling of complaints. We saw a woman being called a liar for talking about her mental health. We then saw a woman horrifically murdered when she should have been safe while walking home. And finally, we saw women being violently dispersed for holding a vigil and protesting their right to be heard.
The image of Patsy Stevenson, the red-headed women being cuffed by the police at Clapham Common, is one that will go down as a point in history that showed us that much more progress is needed and how progress can be undone in a singular action. And the idea that women can be better protected by putting plain clothed police officers into nightclubs would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
While it can feel Shetland is a long way away from the events of last week, we are not in reality. It is good to see Shetland Islands Council’s commitment to the Equally Safe at Work programme, but I know from my involvement with Shetland Women’s Aid how women and children affected by domestic abuse and gender-based violence regularly face inequalities in accessing services.
The tag line for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChoosetoChallenge. The challenge I think Shetland should make is on all of us. We need to do much more to ensure that when speaking about women and the reasons that have been brought to the fore that we involve the whole community and not just expect someone else to deal with it. It is up to all of us to challenge ourselves so the events of last week do not happen again.
Last week my petition to halt the current centralisation plans of air traffic control of Sumburgh hit and exceeded 1,000 signatures. The response from people in Shetland on this issue has been astounding. It is clear that the Scottish Government proposals are not welcome in Shetland and as we continue to make the case, I hope more of you will join me in that campaign. Last week I put the case to the First Minister after we saw the much-awaited publication of HIAL’s impact assessment report. While I agree with her that modernisation is needed, we differ on one vital aspect. I believe that modernisation doesn’t start with stripping jobs away from Shetland and it is a shame the First Minister did not recognise this.