In political games, women are always the losers

Cllr Kayleigh O’Neill examines why International Women’s Day is needed now more than ever.

International Women’s Day began as a protest. Since then it has evolved into something more like a celebration – a chance to uplift women changemakers, recognise women’s history, even in some cases a shameless hook for corporate promotions. This year, however, it feels more urgent than ever that we reclaim that original spark of righteous anger; to demand equality and rights for all women.

From looking at the SNP leadership contest you could be forgiven for thinking that – whether it is our ability to live as our true gender, our right to marry another woman, or our access to reproductive rights – issues of women’s equality are the country’s number one priority. Of course this isn’t actually the case, and until it becomes convenient to weaponise them for a soundbite, a headline, or to support a bigoted view, women’s rights are still seen largely as a fringe issue.

But the attacks we see on trans women, the harassment of inclusive women’s spaces, the massive increase in hate crime, and the spite-filled displays we see outside abortion clinics are all part of the same fight. And it is a fight. We are facing a concerted campaign to limit our freedoms, restrict our rights, and turn different marginalised groups against each other.

It is deeply depressing that it takes the broadcasting of regressive views on these issues to make people pay attention to the precarious nature of some of our hard-won rights. The possibility of Scotland’s next First Minister being an advocate for anti-choice, anti-LGBT, anti-women views has at last made people sit up and take notice to the reactionary dangers constantly lurking under the surface. As well as exposing the sinister undercurrent of right-wing fundamentalism in our politics, the leadership contest has also highlighted a potentially more dangerous threat – those who claim progressive allyship until it comes up against an issue they think is more important.

This isn’t just a national problem. Last month in Edinburgh we saw the Labour party try to turn a motion about trans rights into a debate about “single-sex spaces” to placate some of their members. In the same meeting, we saw the Conservative party try to vote down a motion which asked for… wait for it… a reminder email about how to report incidences of sexual harassment. On budget day, our Green-SNP proposal was the only one to include an equality impact assessment showing how our spending plans would benefit different groups. In fact, in over 94 pages of budget motions, ours was the only one to even mention the word women.

Throughout all of this it is women who lose out. Trans women threatened by the violence being wrought against them in the media, online and, increasingly, in the streets. Women facing down anti-choice protestors in order to access safe, legal reproductive healthcare. Women needing access to counselling services, who have lost out on increased funding in Edinburgh’s budget due to Labour’s political games. Women who want to change the world but see the misogyny rife throughout politics and know it is safer to keep their heads down.

On Wednesday, celebrate International Women’s Day however you choose. But whatever that looks like, take notice of the real fight for our rights happening all around us, and make sure you know which side you’re on.

Kayleigh O’Neill is the Green councillor for Forth ward and Edinburgh Greens spokesperson on equalities.