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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 30, 2022


Violence Against Women and Girls (Men’s Role in Eradication)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-07002, in the name of Christina McKelvie, on recognising the vital role that men must play in challenging and eradicating violence against women and girls. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons or type RTS in the chat function.


The Minister for Equalities and Older People (Christina McKelvie)

It is, of course, right that this Parliament collectively recognises the global campaign—the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence—that highlights the brutality that women across the world still face. However, it is with a sense of regret that we have to do so at all. That, in itself, ensures that the spotlight is on what remains one of the most difficult challenges our society faces here, in Scotland, and throughout the world: violence perpetrated against women by men.

Of course, it is not all men, by any means, but we need to examine the underlying causes of such violence so that we can prevent it. We must change the everyday sexism and misogyny in society, here and elsewhere, that can help to perpetuate violence or support people to look away when they should speak up. That is where we are seeing a shift in society now. Men are recognising that they have a role in standing against violence against women and girls by changing the way that they behave and calling out behaviour among other men.

Men’s silence can feel supportive or even condoning of the violence that women and girls experience. As the philosopher Paulo Friere said,

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

It is vital that men speak out. We need men to lead by example to their friends, family and children.

I say to men that we need you to reflect on your past experiences and on the times that you may have inadvertently been permissive about misogynistic values because it was framed as a joke or maybe just banter. We need you to look critically at how the power imbalance has impacted those whom you know and love, and we need you to carry those messages proactively to the men around you.

Men must take the lead on this challenge. They hold a unique place in challenging their peers, even when it might be uncomfortable—believe me, that discomfort is less damaging than being a victim of violence. That is what is refreshing about Police Scotland’s “That guy” campaign. The campaign, which is an excellent example of men standing up to be counted, challenges casual sexism and encourages self-reflection. It urges men to take responsibility for their actions and those of their peers in order to help to effect a culture change to tackle sexual crime against women. The current phase asks men to challenge their friends’ behaviour and to talk openly to male friends about behaviour that is damaging to women. First launched in October 2021, the online campaign has been viewed more than 6 million times globally and has been adapted for use in countries worldwide.

The campaign puts the onus on men, and not women, to change their behaviour. As women, we already modify our behaviour every single day, but we should not have to and we certainly do not want to. We should not have to stop our evening run in the park because it gets dark early. We should not have to walk from the bus stop with our keys rammed in our hands in case somebody jumps us. We should not have to take a different route home to avoid a group of men, and we certainly should not be telling our daughters to cross the road if a man is walking behind them. None of us should have to put up with sexism and misogyny or be subject to abuse and violence, yet that is still happening the world over.

Although I recognise that change is happening, it is not taking place at the pace that we would expect or can accept. Collectively, we need to do more. That is why men must speak up and act.

Last Friday—the first day of the 16 days of activism—I spoke at the north-east violence against women forum. Other speakers included Ryan Hart, whose coercively controlling father murdered his mother and sister in 2016, and Kirsty Spencer, who spoke eloquently and powerfully about her sister, Dawn Rhodes, whose husband killed her in their family home. They provided a stark message about the harm that is caused by such violence to individuals, their families and their friends, and to society. They also spoke about the necessity of professionals understanding the issues and responding in a risk and trauma-informed way.

We also heard from people on the front line who provide essential support to victims and survivors about the necessity of continuing to focus on this issue and of building the capacity and confidence to deal with it.

I fully endorse the clear messages that emerged from the forum on the need to maintain momentum not just today but throughout the year. Addressing violence against women is a task not just for these 16 days, but for 365 days a year—each and every year. That is how we can make a difference not just today, through this debate, but every day in how we speak, work and act.

That is why the work of the equally safe strategy, which is co-authored and co-owned by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, is vital. The strategy, along with the accompanying delivery plan, has been a key driver in many of the improvements that have been made. Those include changes to legislation, increases in funding, work to drive forward prevention approaches, and capacity building for the workforce. I will continue to work with partners to continue that momentum, to ensure that the equally safe strategic approach continues to deliver the galvanising focus that it has done to date.

We are investing record levels of funding in front-line support services, capacity-building projects and prevention. Our delivering equally safe fund provides £19 million per year to support 121 projects that focus on early intervention, prevention and support services. The Scottish Government is committed to providing funding that works most effectively to improve outcomes for those who use the services. As such, an independent strategic review of funding to tackle violence against women and girls is under way, and I look forward to seeing the report’s recommendations in the summer of 2023.

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Minister, you have talked about the risks, the momentum and the funding that is required, and I whole-heartedly support you in that regard. However, there is still a massive issue with capacity. Given that the number of domestic abuse incidents continues to rise, we are still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ensuring that momentum is maintained.

I remind members that they need to speak through the chair.

Christina McKelvie

Mr Stewart has pre-empted the next part of my speech, so I thank him for that intervention.

Earlier this month, I met members of the equally safe joint strategic board to discuss our next steps. We recognise that it is only through all our collective endeavours, and by working together across the system, that violence against women can be eradicated. We discussed a range of issues relating to the aims and delivery of the strategy, and we talked about the importance of taking an intersectional approach that recognises that many women, including disabled women and minority ethnic women, face intersecting marginalisation. Although there has been real progress, we acknowledge that there is still much work to do and that we need to be transparent and inclusive in relation to that work.

Our equally safe strategy has a focus on prevention. We continue to take forward a range of actions in schools to address gender-based violence and sexual harassment, and Rape Crisis Scotland provides a national sexual violence prevention programme for local authority secondary schools across Scotland. Through our delivering equally safe fund, Engender has been funded to explore primary prevention policy approaches and to create a toolkit that enables policy makers to embed primary prevention in policy making. We will continue to work with those stakeholders to further develop our approach in that area through the next phase of the equally safe strategy. If Mr Stewart is keen to hear more about that work, I would be happy to discuss it with him, because I think that that will address what he said in his intervention.

Our mentors in violence prevention programme is working to tackle gender stereotypes and attitudes that condone violence against women and girls. Although educating children and young people by challenging outdated stereotypes is important, perhaps the even bigger challenge is delivering a societal shift towards women being truly equal, because we recognise that violence against women and girls is both a cause and a consequence of systemic and deep-rooted gender inequality. We need to make progress in advancing women’s equality.

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

The minister talked about ethnic minorities and BAME communities. What work is the Scottish Government doing to reach out to the men of those communities? We know that the culture is different for females, and it is different from that of western men. How are we reaching out to men in those communities to ensure they are supporting women and girls?

Christina McKelvie

That is exactly what the debate is about. Across the equally safe joint strategic board, we have been doing that work and talking to all our diverse communities. Our work is about challenging men, so we need to challenge male perspectives in those communities as well. I will pick up on that in my closing comments.

We need to make progress on advancing women’s equality in a range of spaces: economic, civic, social and cultural. The work of the First Minister’s national advisory council on women and girls has made a vital contribution, and a key priority for us is to continue to engage with and respond to its recommendations.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice will say more on this, but I will touch on the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, our new legislation that better reflects the experiences of survivors by criminalising coercive control. If anybody has heard Ryan Hart speak about the situation that he was in, they will completely understand why we had to do what we did to criminalise coercive control. The 2018 act, which has been acknowledged as a gold standard, recognises the experience of children as victims and shows that the Government is taking action.

I turn now to our engagement—and this may answer the point that Pam Gosal raised in her intervention. Those who have experienced an issue understand it the most deeply. We recognise that, which is why victim survivors of violence against women are, and must remain, at the heart of everything that we do, and we must be held to account by them. I also recognise that those who work in specialist support organisations have amassed a wealth of experience in supporting victim survivors over many years. We value their insights and wisdom, and we will continue to work with those stakeholders as we develop our policy responses.

For example, I know that, just last week, officials who are working on equally safe met with specialists who work with minority ethnic women. I would be happy to share information about that with Pam Gosal if she is interested. The purpose of that was to ensure that there is regular engagement, so that we build our capacity to take an intersectional approach to our work. Expertise from those who deliver services is also central to the newly formed domestic homicide task force.

I pay tribute to all those organisations and workers. I know that their work, and the support that they offer, is truly transformative. I also recognise the need for greater focus on how we engage with young people. We must never presume that we know how best to involve our young people. Similarly, it would be wrong to make ill-informed judgments around how they communicate and engage with each other and with those of us from older generations. We must ask them, and involve them, which is why the Government has been working with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament to ensure and improve our engagement with younger people. I believe that we must seek their guidance on how we address the societal drivers that, so disappointingly in Scotland in 2022, mean that some men and boys still see violence against women and girls as acceptable. That must be challenged.

This year’s 16 days of activism global theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”, which focuses on galvanising efforts, sharing knowledge and working together. As that theme recognises, it is only by uniting and taking action that we can tackle, prevent and ultimately end violence against women and girls.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises that violence against women and girls is abhorrent and has both a devastating impact on those affected and a destructive impact on the wellbeing of society; acknowledges that the global theme of 2022’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”; recognises that the eradication of violence against women and girls cannot be achieved without men recognising the vital role they must play on a daily basis in tackling deep-rooted sexism and misogyny that is inherent in the perpetrating of such violence; welcomes Police Scotland’s Don’t be that Guy campaign as a positive contribution in promoting a wider cultural shift to encourage men to take responsibility for stopping violence and discrimination against women and girls across all settings, and challenging the idea that it is the responsibility of women and girls to protect themselves from male violence, and is united in wanting a strong and flourishing Scotland, where all individuals are equally safe and respected.


Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the minister for bringing such an important debate to the chamber, and I am honoured to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. This is my second debate this month to mark the international day for the elimination of violence against women.

It is disappointing that, in 2022, women are still suffering so many acts of violence every single day. That feeling of disappointment is no doubt shared by every member in the chamber. It is truly promising to see so many men in the chamber, advocating for the elimination of violence against women and girls. In last year’s debate, as I recall, members expressed disappointment that there were not more men in the chamber. They were right to do so because, as the motion points out, the eradication of violence against women and girls cannot be achieved unless men recognise the role that they must play in that. As the minister said, it is vital that men speak out.

Today, I am thankful that there are many examples of men who recognise that responsibility and can act as role models to young men around the world. I would like to give a special mention to some of my colleagues. Week in and week out, Russell Findlay is a voice for many victims of violence and abuse. My colleague Brian Whittle proudly champions the empowerment of women and girls, particularly through sport. Alexander Stewart has always supported our debates on ending violence against women and girls, and he has spoken from the heart about his own experience of the issue. My colleague Jamie Greene’s victims law would put victims, not perpetrators, at the centre of our justice system.

Those are all examples of the steps that men can take to promote a culture in which tackling the causes of violence against women and girls is the norm, and I am proud to have those individuals as colleagues.

However, as is often said in such debates, there is still more to be done. Yesterday, the updated domestic abuse statistics for 2021-22 were released, and I was sad to see that so little has changed. The tiny decrease in the number of domestic abuse incidents recorded by Police Scotland shows how little progress has been made. There has been a drop of less than 1 per cent from the record high in 2020-21, when more than 65,000 incidents were recorded. Even more shockingly, 64 per cent of those incidents were repeat offences. Those statistics are a sign that something is still not working in Scotland’s justice system and that we must continue to push for further reform.

This year, I have spoken to many fantastic domestic abuse organisations that are doing amazing work out there in the community to support victims of domestic abuse. However, there is only so much that they can do when they are swimming against such a strong tide of domestic abuse incidents.

That is why I am pleased that my proposed domestic abuse (prevention) (Scotland) bill has received such strong support. More than 20 organisations have supported my proposals, and more than 90 per cent of those who responded to my consultation were supportive.

My proposed bill would aim to tackle the problem of domestic abuse from every angle. It would provide additional checks on abusers to prevent them from moving from place to place and from victim to victim. It would also introduce mandatory rehabilitation for people who are guilty of domestic abuse. As I said earlier, repeat offences make up the majority of domestic abuse incidents. We must stop the cycle in which abusers simply move on to their next victim.

Domestic abuse can affect all of us. It is an issue that is above party politics. I therefore hope that members on all sides of the chamber will consider supporting my proposals.

I am, of course, happy to support the Government’s motion, but there have been developments in the past week that need to be addressed. It is important that Parliament is given the opportunity to address the elephant in the room.

The amendment in my name seeks to draw attention to last week’s comments by the United Nations expert on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, which we cannot ignore. Speaking about the Scottish National Party’s proposed gender recognition reforms, she stated—

Will Pam Gosal take an intervention?


Karen Adam

Predatory men do exist. They do not need to dress as a woman or to sign a statutory declaration for a gender recognition certificate in order to attack women. Does Pam Gosal think that it is important that we do not conflate trans people with predatory men?

Pam Gosal

The member is absolutely right, but there has to be a balance. I have said that in all the committees that I have made representations to. The balance must be equal. I am doing that so that trans people do not in any way get pointed at to say that this is wrong or right. There has to be a balance—absolutely. We do not want to harm anybody, but we want to make the legislation right for everybody: for women, girls and trans people. That is what I would like to say to the member.

Speaking about the SNP’s gender recognition reforms, Reem Alsalem stated that they would

“potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process of acquiring a GRC and the rights associated with it”.

She has also highlighted the importance of ensuring that all voices are heard on the issue. That is very important, and that is why we have a Parliament. We always say, “It’s your Parliament,” so we want to make sure that those voices are heard in here.

My amendment merely asks Parliament to note those comments. Members should be clear that it is vital that every possible threat to the safety of women and girls is acknowledged.

Until the attitudes of society as a whole change, and until every man accepts their responsibility to prevent violence against women, we will not see real progress towards eradicating violence against women. In order to bring real change, we must, first, continue to back the amazing efforts of domestic abuse organisations, which carry out such important work in all our communities. Secondly, we must acknowledge the importance of having strong male role models in the area, so that young boys can grow up aspiring to carry on their work. Last but not least, we must work together to ensure that violence against women and girls, no matter where it comes from, is condemned wherever we encounter it.

I move amendment S6M-07002.2, to insert at end:

“, and notes the comments made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, Reem Alsalem, regarding the possible safety risks to women and girls of the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.”


Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of Scottish Labour in the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. We welcome that the subject of the debate is men’s role in and responsibility for violence against women and girls. As Christina McKelvie rightly said, that is the key to reversing the horrendous picture of violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls, and sexual harassment of them.

In my speech, I want to address in detail Labour’s amendment on the inclusion of cybercrime and the role of social media. In closing, Pam Duncan-Glancy will address some of the wider points. I hope that ministers will understand that we were keen to support the Government’s position, but we lodged our amendment so that cybercrime could be debated specifically.

We are committed to working with the Scottish Government. Last week, we launched our own consultation paper called “How to change the future for women & girls”. We want to be part of the conversation.

In 2020, 31 years after inventing the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee declared:

“The web is not working for girls and women.”

By “not working”, he really means that wider smart technology is part of the problem. That is because gender-based cyberviolence—in the form of sexual harassment, trolling, messages threatening rape and murder, or the leaking of private pictures and videos without consent—has become rampant in our society. Arguably, digital technology has changed the shape and nature of violence against women and girls in the 21st century.

As many members have said in previous debates in this Parliament, there is a burgeoning rape culture in schools across the UK. Teenagers are experiencing sexual harassment on a huge scale. The Sunday Post found that three out of five girls have endured some form of sexual harassment. I am sure that we agree that boys need to be taught not to put pressure on girls and girls need to be empowered to say no.

I feel that, far from making progress, in some ways we might actually be losing the battle.

Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank my front bencher for giving way.

Do you agree with me that, because of that prevalence in our education system, some responsibility needs to be taken by schools and education institutions in relation to the vehicle—that is, the wi-fi—over which some of the pornography and abuse is transmitted?

I remind members to speak through the chair.

Pauline McNeill

I recognise the issue, and I agree that we should investigate it in a deeper way and think about how we can restrict such activity.

In the social media age, the use of Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok can cause serious harm in many ways, as we have seen. We must seek to understand exactly what is going on and the origin of the problem of male violence against girls, and we must support young men in our schools to change their behaviour—if not, nothing will change.

In a report last year, academics from several universities highlighted that the sending and receiving of unsolicited—I emphasise “unsolicited”—sexual images is becoming “dangerously normalised”. The team found that more than half the boys and girls who received unwanted sexual content online or had their image shared without their consent did nothing about it.

Girls are pressured to trade intimate images with boys who send unsolicited pictures. Inevitably, they are mocked or bullied when their photographs are shared among classmates.

We know that children and young people are more susceptible to peer pressure, cyberbullying and sexting, all of which are activities that involve digital communication. That makes navigating the online social world treacherous at times.

Teachers have warned of a self-styled wealth guru who is accused of spreading misogyny on social media. I will not name the person, but members who have been following the issue will know who I am talking about. He is promoting seriously harmful content online. In one video, he describes how he would punish a woman who accused him of being unfaithful:

“bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck.”

I apologise for the shocking language, but that is out there on social media.

The man is followed by literally millions of, I presume, boys and girls—certainly males. He is not a fringe personality lurking in an obscure corner of the dark web; the videos that he has put out have had 11.6 billion views.

As Christina McKelvie rightly said, most men do not hold violent, misogynistic views about women. We need more men to speak up. If they do not do so, we will not reverse the problem.

We commend Police Scotland’s “Don’t be that guy” campaign, which encourages men to call out the sexist and misogynistic behaviour of their male peers, friends, family members and work colleagues. That is the only way to change things.

We want to build on that important work by tackling sexism and misogyny in schools. As I have said many times, I support the equally safe programme—I would like to know a wee bit more about it—and I would like it to be rolled out in more schools.

We need to realise that boys and men who need to change their behaviour might not seek out that kind of information. We might need to seek them out, if we are to get them to change their views.

Women and girls in Scotland cannot face the problem alone. Scottish Labour says that it is down to men to change their behaviour and down to policy makers to lead the way in changing our society, online and offline.

Now is the time to put in place long-overdue protections for women and girls from cyberviolence. Now is the time to educate boys and men on the seriousness of perpetuating violence against women and girls online. Everyday sexism is part of the problem and we need to tackle it at every level. It is about not just tackling domestic abuse, rape, street harassment and all crimes against women and girls across the world but developing a radical strategy to tackle sexism and misogynistic attitudes. I look forward to reform of the justice system that makes a difference by creating new crimes to do with misogyny, as part of this Parliament’s work on the matter.

I move amendment S6M-07002.1, to insert, after “such violence”:

“understands that concerted efforts are required to enhance the criminal justice response to cybercrimes that specifically target women and girls, and to ensure that women can access justice when they do become victims of cyberviolence, such as ‘cyberflashing’, revenge porn and threats of rape, as well as encourage the collection of data on cyberviolence;”.


Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Violence against women and girls is underpinned by a culture of sexism and misogyny. Sexism and sexual harassment are normalised in our society. Daily occurrences are not called out and are not recognised as violence against women.

The Compass Centre, which is also known as Shetland Rape Crisis, ran an awareness-raising project: towards a safer Shetland. The project received almost 200 submissions, which make for sobering reading.

Anonymous contributors described experiences of sexual violence that occurred in Shetland, including harassment, assault, abuse and rape. One wrote that

“an old man made comments about my appearance that made me feel really uncomfortable. I was only 16 and the adults standing next to me didn’t do anything to help.”

Another wrote that when they speak up about men leering,

“people tell me to dress more appropriately even though it has nothing to do with what I wear.”

A third contributor wrote:

“One day on a bus, when I was 16, a much older man sexually harassed me ... everyone sitting near us on the bus could hear, but didn’t tell him to stop.”

A common thread is clear: bystanders and witnesses to sexual harassment ignore the problem, blame the victim or pretend that they cannot hear—or perhaps all three. It is everyone’s responsibility to call out sexual harassment and sexist behaviour whenever and wherever it occurs, but men have a particular role to play. Police Scotland’s “that guy” campaign made a positive contribution, urging men to take responsibility for ending sexual violence by changing their own behaviours and challenging those of their peers. It is only with the active participation of men that harmful norms can be fully challenged.

For many women, going to work involves facing sexual and sexist harassment day after day. In one survey, half of women responded that on starting a new job, they were warned to expect inappropriate behaviour from particular colleagues. Workplaces need clear anti-harassment policies and anti-sexism education for all employees. For women from oppressed and minoritised groups, sexual and sexist harassment interacts with other forms of discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice, all of which must be addressed to end violence against women and girls.

Key work to prevent violence against women starts in schools. Boys and young men need positive male role models who stand up to violence against women. Rape Crisis Scotland runs prevention workshops covering gender, consent and the impacts of sexual violence. Shetland Women’s Aid works to prevent domestic abuse; I had the privilege of being a trustee of the organisation, and I commend the important work that it does to support women and families who are impacted by domestic abuse. As part of the 16 days of activism, Shetland Women’s Aid and the Compass Centre have staged a play with creative input from survivors about the impacts of coercive control—shining a light on those stories is important. To end violence against women and girls, we must be able to have those uncomfortable conversations to understand the extent of the problem, and men in particular must confront each other’s behaviour.

The Scottish Government must make every possible endeavour to end men’s violence against women and girls. Practical help is needed for organisations that work to end gender-based violence. Limited access to legal aid continues to be a barrier to women seeking justice. Scotland needs accessible and specific legal aid services for women who are affected by domestic abuse. I have repeatedly called on the Scottish Government to establish a national commission to end violence against women and girls that brings together charities and experts on gender-based violence. Such a commission could inform policy and practice in Scotland. I repeat the call for a commission today—we owe it to all women who are affected by men’s violence to act now.

We move to the open debate.


Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I have been speaking in debates on the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence since 2016—that is six years of highlighting with other members the destructive and vile impact that gender-based violence has in society not only here, in Scotland, but globally.

This year, the theme calls for us to recognise the role that men must play in challenging and eradicating this scourge—and I could not agree more. Tackling gender-based violence should not be left to women, because we are not the problem. Men must call out vile behaviour at every level, whenever and wherever it happens. They must not turn a blind eye to their peers, family or friends when misogyny and discrimination are perpetrated, because those things violate women, diminish society and demean men. I know that not all men participate in them, but, sadly, a significant number do.

That is why Police Scotland’s “That guy” campaign is a positive move to shift the wider cultural problem and is a huge move in the right direction. Campaigns and debates like this one will not change things overnight. Generations of women suffering misogyny, discrimination and violence is like a stubborn stain that requires constant reworking and a massive amount of effort to remove—but that is possible.

As the co-convener of the cross-party group on violence against women and children, I recognise that gender inequality cannot be separated from other forms of inequality. Primary prevention should address all forms of inequality, and that prevention must start with educating and engaging with boys and young men. That engagement can be difficult, but it can be done.

As Rape Crisis said:

“Children and young people cannot be expected to change cultural norms by themselves”.

So, we need to see robust and bold leadership from adult men from all walks of society. Men must be the adults in the room and speak out against sexual violence and misogyny. I wish that we did not have to have this debate every year, because every year we highlight terrible statistics on murders, stalking, domestic abuse and disfigurement. Afghan girls are being sold to pay for food to fight famine, and sexual war crimes are currently being committed in Ukraine. All of that is beyond sickening, but everyday disrespect, name calling discrimination and unconscious bias are all sickening examples, too.

Baroness Helena Kennedy KC’s excellent report “Misogyny—A Human Rights Issue” lays it bare. When Baroness Kennedy gave evidence to the Criminal Justice Committee earlier this year, she said:

“We were shocked ... I say that as somebody who is a pretty dyed-in-the-wool criminal lawyer who thought that she had heard it all ... every single woman or group that appeared in front of us said that something has to be done.”—[Official Report, Criminal Justice Committee, 27 April 2022; c 1-2.]

Something is being done. The Scottish Government has committed to acting on the working group’s recommendations by creating a new offence of misogyny. In fact, Scotland punches above its weight with its excellent third sector organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis, Engender, Zero Tolerance, Close the Gap, White Ribbon—which engages with men and boys—and many more, which protect and support women every day. We led the way in creating a zero-tolerance position to domestic abuse by creating the world’s first domestic abuse offence that explicitly recognises coercive and controlling behaviours, which are as abusive as physical violence. We also continue to implement and fund the delivering equally safe strategy to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, but there is always a need to do more, and we will continue to expand our efforts to combat this scourge.

There is one area in which neither the Scottish Government nor the excellent organisations that I have just named can help, and that relates to migrant women in the country. United Kingdom immigration law dictates that migrant women fleeing abuse who are destitute or on very low incomes are not entitled to Government benefits. How mentally damaging is it to migrant women, who are often with their children, to be trapped with an abuser? The UK law on that must change or immigration powers must be devolved to Scotland, so that we can change that obscene system and help every woman in the country.

The theme of Scottish Women’s Aid’s 16 days campaign this year is around the desperate impact that the cost of living crisis is having on women who are trapped by abuse. The cost of leaving can be fatal, and Scottish Women’s Aid is holding an online vigil tomorrow to remember all women and children who have died because of domestic abuse. Further details about that are on its website.

We must all make a conscious and collective effort to challenge racism, homophobia, transphobia and classism, and we must strive to promote social and economic justice. That can start in our own constituencies and regions. We are privileged to have a public platform on which to do that, and we must promote and normalise gender equality in everything that we do.

We must stand together—men and women—for all the women and girls throughout the world who have lost their lives through gender-based violence or who have been abused, degraded and traumatised. It is time to turn the tide on violence against women here and now.


Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I am privileged to be able to contribute to this important debate, and I thank the Scottish Government for lodging it. According to Engender, the root cause of violence against women is gender inequality, which continues to impact all aspects of women’s lives in Scotland.

I think that we would all agree that we have come some way, at least in my lifetime, in recognising the inequalities that exist in our society and we have begun to take the positive steps that we need to take to tackle them. Even in my background of sport—I have to get sport in here, Deputy Presiding Officer—women have closed the gap significantly considering the inequalities that existed. It was only in 1984 that women contested the Olympic marathon for the first time. They could not run further than 3,000m on the track, and they did not do the steeplechase, the hammer throw, the triple jump or the pole vault. Now, women have equality in the events that they can compete in.

However, let us not kid ourselves on here that we are anywhere near the journey’s end when it comes to inequality. So—what can men do? We can listen. We can start these conversations, we can take part in these conversations and, most importantly, we can speak out.

It is important that we recognise that violence is not only physical; it is actions or words that cause harm. We need to get to the root of violence and assess it throughout our society. It is key that we address the myths around violence against women head on. Violence is not a one-off, isolated incident but a structural problem that is built into our society, so I will talk about structural violence—the anthropological term used to describe violence committed by structures in our society. It is the violence that is inherent in unjust social, political and economic systems. That violence cannot be traced back to or blamed on one individual; rather, it is represented by a complex web of interdependent relationships. These are the laws that we make and the belief systems that our society operates under.

Women make up just over 45 per cent of this Parliament, with men in the majority, so we need to listen when we make laws, and I have to mention here—as my colleague Pam Gosal did—the gender recognition bill. I believe that, as it is currently structured, it continues a cycle of inequality and opens up the opportunity for physical and structural violence.

Karen Adam

Presiding Officer, I am concerned that we are conflating the gender recognition bill with men’s responsibility for gender-based violence. We should not be standing here, passing the blame on to rights for other people. It lies solely at the feet of men—predatory men.

Brian Whittle

I absolutely agree with the member on that point, but the trouble is that, as the UN special rapporteur Reem Alsalem said, the proposals

“do not sufficiently take into consideration the specific needs of women and girls in all their diversity”.

It is key to note that Police Scotland has received 521 notifications of sex offenders—I repeat: sex offenders—changing their names in the past three years, according to a freedom of information request by The Herald. It is those predators who are a danger to women, and it is those predators who are actually a danger to trans women as well, yet the SNP and Scottish Greens struck down Russell Findlay’s amendment to make it harder for those sexual predators to change gender.

That is where we are just now, and that is what I would like to say to the member. This is not about anti-trans sentiment at all. It is about ensuring that we write good legislation to prevent that structural violence. We must ensure that women and trans women feel safe in accessing help, or we risk moving backwards.

I will move on to Michelle’s law. Michelle Stewart was murdered at the age of 17 by John Wilson in Ayr. I met Michelle’s mother several times in my constituency surgeries. John Wilson was given a sentence of 12 years and was approved for unescorted access back into the community for eight days at a time in 2018, after serving just nine years. Michelle’s family has launched a campaign, saying that it is unbelievably painful to see her killer on the street, on the bus or in the shops. Michelle’s mother told me how fearful she was when she was doing simple things such as going to the shops to do the family shopping because she was terrified that she would bump into that man. Even when he was in prison, she was terrified of bumping into that man’s father, who also intimidated her. Michelle’s father said that zero action has been taken by the Government. He said that, in the past two years, there have been no changes, and he added:

“I thought it was becoming law but it has disappeared.”

It is time that we started taking action against that type of injustice.

I will talk briefly about social and economic systems. At the weekend, I was in London and my ex-business partner, who is raising capital there, said that he did not realise how hard it is for a business that is run by women to raise capital. He also said that pregnancy can be used in calculations of affordability for mortgages, causing applications to be rejected and a reduction in the amount that is offered for loan. Pregnancy is protected under the Equality Act 2010. In the example that I just gave, I was talking about Santander. In its terms and conditions, it states that it does not discriminate against pregnant women—yes, it does. Women also experience medical and health inequalities in treatment and research. Studies by the University of Chicago and the University of California suggest that women are being widely overmedicated and are suffering excess side effects because drug doses are currently based on studies that are overwhelmingly done on male subjects.

We must make sure that women and girls experience equality throughout all our socially created systems, whether those be medical systems, financial systems or the workplace. Not least, they should experience equality in the laws and systems of Governments. We have travelled far, but we have a long way to go. Men—especially men—need to be prepared to step forward and challenge the behaviour of those around them.


Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I thank the Minister for Equalities and Older People, Christina McKelvie, who has brought the issue of pervasive violence against women and girls to the attention of the Scottish Parliament in response to the UN’s 16 days of activism campaign. As the motion for debate sets out, we must uproot the cultural acceptance of the various forms of misogyny that permeate Scottish society. Misogyny is hatred of, contempt for or prejudice against women. That is what it means in real life for many.

As deputy convener of the cross-party group on human trafficking, I have been privileged to work with organisations that are tackling one of the worst forms of exploitation of women and girls—commercial sexual exploitation. We often think that that is an issue that is far away from Scotland, but that is not the case. In 2020, the largest group of identified trafficking and modern slavery victims in the UK were British. The Salvation Army recorded an increase of 79 per cent in the number of domestically trafficked people in the UK, and 39 per cent of people who were supported were victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Globally, 99 per cent of victims of sex trafficking are women and girls, so it is a highly gendered issue. We can anticipate that women and girls of any nationality who are trafficked and exploited in the UK are most likely victims of commercial sexual exploitation, whether in prostitution, stripping or live streamed abuse pornography.

UN House Scotland, which provides the secretariat of the cross-party group on human trafficking, highlighted in its recent “Connecting Women’s Voices” podcast series how closely femicide is linked to sexual exploitation. Retired US attorney Linda Abraham and advocacy consultant for Soroptimist International spoke about violence against women. She told listeners:

“Since the inception of the UN we have been discussing this injustice, but here we are in 2022. In many cases issues have got worse, like domestic violence increasing during the pandemic. A lot of serial killers are targeting sex workers ... girls have to be included too: girls are some of the most vulnerable victims around.”

That is something that we need to listen to today—girls are extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse, especially those who are care experienced. In the Parliament, we took steps to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in order to legally recognise anyone who is under the age of 18 as a child and afford them rights on that basis. However, more needs to be done.

Vice Magazine recently reported on the growing number of British children in poverty who are vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking. The magazine shared the harrowing story of Emily. Emily was coaxed by her friend’s stepfather into moving packets of cocaine for him. He then trafficked her into commercial sexual exploitation. She was 11. When she was 14, she was gang raped by three men in an empty swimming complex. The 14-year-old Emily spiralled into substance abuse, which she said made her even more reliant on a string of sex traffickers. That story shows the complexity of the power that traffickers can hold over their victims through prostitution.

Emily said, “I felt dead”. She went on to say:

“this sounds weird, but it actually felt normal. You start to rationalise everything in your head. It becomes safe in a way ... And you get used to the chaos.”

She said that, if she had to guess a number, she would estimate that more than 1,500 men had raped her as a teenager.

That story of abuse repeats itself again and again. The National Crime Agency estimates that the 1,115 officially confirmed sex-trafficked women in 2017 endured 3.3 million sexual assaults. That means that each of the women and girls was raped almost 3,000 times before managing to find support to exit prostitution and escape their traffickers.

Twenty years after Emily was first trafficked as an 11-year-old, she felt able to report her experience to the national referral mechanism. She is now free from prostitution. She is in her 30s, has a son and is now, incredibly and bravely, working as an advocate in the anti-slavery sector, speaking on behalf of those who are enduring today what she endured as a child.

Women and girls who are subject to abuse and coercion have little power to leave their situation, let alone lobby the Government. We can, however, listen to the survivors who are no longer under coercive-abusive control, such as those involved in the A Model for Scotland campaign.

We must also listen to organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Justice Mission, A21, Hope for Justice, Survivors of Human Trafficking in Scotland, UN House Scotland, CARE for Scotland and Unseen, which are combating narratives that legitimise sex trafficking, prosecuting abusers and delivering support for the women and children who are exploited in this £80 billion-a-year global industry.

In this Parliament, we have the power to ban some of the worst excesses of violence against women. Today, criminality falls on women in prostitution—those who are being systematically raped and are living in situations of horrific abuse. Those women, many of whom have been exploited since childhood, have no legal entitlements to help them exit prostitution. However, those who commit the exploitation—the pimps, who, legally, can call themselves sex workers—are, effectively, unchallenged and continue to profit from that cruelty. Moreover, men who purchase sex—who physically and personally commit the violence—have complete impunity. That is an undeniably misogynist aspect of our legal system.

We must criminalise the men who participate in systematic violence against women and girls in Scotland by banning pornography, strip clubs and the purchase of sex.


Martin Whitfield (South Scotland) (Lab)

It is a pleasure to follow Bill Kidd’s speech, in which he talked of the evils of commercial sexual exploitation.

I start by referring to the members’ business debate that was sponsored by Pam Gosal on 23 November, in which we heard many powerful contributions. In that debate, I was again shocked and saddened by the statistic that one woman in three has experienced violence. As the UN has pointed out, that violence is probably the most pervasive of the human rights violations that occur around the world.

The figure of one in three struck me because 25 November was chosen as the international day for the elimination of violence against women as it is the anniversary of the deaths of the Mirabal sisters—Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa—in the Dominican Republic. Those three sisters stood up against a dictatorship and violence that was being directed specifically at women. They paid the ultimate price through their murder, in 1960, at the hands of men. There was also the added horror of the fact that the dictator and his henchmen tried to cover up their murder by pretending that it had been a car accident.

I recall the powerful words of Minerva, who said:

“If they kill me, I’ll reach my arms out from the tomb and I’ll be stronger.”

She was stronger. Women are stronger since that day, but because of the experiences that they have been forced to live through.

Indeed, as the minister laid out, women have already changed their behaviour, and it is now for men to do the same, because the experiences of violence that women suffer are almost always delivered by men. Women are living in an environment in which men fail to step in, and to call out and prevent such violence.

I welcome the motion, especially the sub-clause that recognises that

“the eradication of violence against women and girls cannot be achieved without men recognising the vital role they must play on a daily basis in tackling deep-rooted sexism and misogyny that is inherent in the perpetrating of such violence”.

I welcome that because it is simply not enough to say to yourself as a man that you will not commit violence against anyone, especially a woman or a girl, and be content with just that. Men, who make up 50.04 per cent of the world’s population, must go further. They must positively act to ensure that the world is a safe place for women and girls, and they must recognise the vital role that men must play in challenging and eradicating violence against women and girls.

The prevalence of violence against women and girls has led to the idea that it is somehow inevitable or that it is impossible to end. That is plainly and simply wrong. Advances were made during the #MeToo era, and promises were made following high-profile cases such as those of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, but the momentum must not be allowed to fizzle out. Talking the talk is one thing, but the Governments, both at the UK level and in Scotland, must continue to work towards equality and an end to gender-based violence in Scotland, the UK and around the world.

That responsibility to maintain the momentum also rests with our communities, and now I wish to talk specifically to the men. Men must take responsibility for violence against women, not just in Scotland, but around the world. It comes in many forms, including sexual harassment, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, child brides, rape and femicide. Sex for rent is advertised online, and revenge pornography and stealthing are growing problems. Most recently, spiking in our clubs and bars has been highlighted.

The number of women murder victims is alarmingly high. Rape prosecutions and convictions are repeatedly low. Countless victims are abandoning their trials due to delays.

In 2021, 16 women were murdered in Scotland, which is a 60 per cent increase on the previous year. However, homicide statistics say that that crime is dropping, so why is that not reflected when the victim is a woman? The justice system needs to acknowledge the dangers that specific groups face.

Let me return to Minerva’s powerful words:

“If they kill me, I’ll reach my arms out from the tomb and I’ll be stronger.”

Yes—but only if men take responsibility to call out the behaviours of and actions by other men, in order to stop the violence and support women and girls. Wherever it happens—in the home, on the street, in the pub with their friends, in their local team’s changing rooms, in the WhatsApp chat or at work—men must call it out and stop it.

There should never be a situation in which a women or girl fears, let alone suffers, violence. It does not matter who she is, what her job is, how she has chosen to dress, how she reacts to a situation or the way she looks—it should not happen. That is the responsibility of all of us, but it is on the men, who have not lived up to that responsibility in the past, and not just on these crucially important 16 days, but on every day of every week of every year.

Let us make Minerva’s message from her tomb be true today and going forward, so that another life is not the price of that message—“I’ll be stronger”—that men need to hear.


Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

The rallying cry of Iran’s protest movement,

“women, life, freedom”,

is simple, yet powerful.

Ignited by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, just days after her arrest for letting too much hair show from under her headscarf, the uprising has been compounded by decades of anger and repression. Even the widespread execution of protesters has failed to diminish the resolve of those who are fighting for justice, and it is not just women who have found themselves on the front line.

Among the protesters this month, journalist Scott Peterson reported on a team of three middle-aged men who embark on night-time missions. One drives, another films and the third sprays anti-regime slogans and the names of those killed on the walls of militia, Government, and religious centres. Wishing to remain anonymous, they said,

“We are all like drops, but we will become rivers and then oceans once we are united.”

Those men have witnessed the state-sanctioned oppression of women for years, and they understand that real change requires everyone to play their part.

In every corner of the world, to varying degrees, women and girls still find themselves at a shamefully high risk of experiencing gender-based violence. I thank the cabinet secretary and the minister for today’s debate—which recognises the crucial role that men must play in its eradication—during this global 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.

The statistics that we have heard from the United Nations are chilling, and they merit repeating: more than one in three women will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime, and more than five are killed every hour by someone in their own family. From the beginning of this debate to the end of this debate, 10 women will have been killed.

As a Pakistani woman, I am not blinkered to issues in my own communities. I take this opportunity to highlight the important work of charities here in Scotland, including in Glasgow, such as Amina, the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre. That award-winning organisation has been recognised by black and minority ethnic and Muslim communities for its pioneering and responsive approach to addressing the issues and needs of BME and Muslim women.

Amina’s focus recently has been on raising awareness around honour-based abuse that is perpetrated against a woman who is perceived—usually by men—to have brought shame on her family. Last year, during the 16 days of activism, Amina held a vigil to commemorate the lives of BME and Muslim women who had lost their lives as a result of such abuse. I attended that vigil and stood alongside men, imams and women as I read out the names of the women who had lost their lives. Change is happening, but not fast enough, as we know.

Anita Gindha from Glasgow was killed in 2003, aged just 22. Anita had refused to follow through with a forced marriage, and fled to London to rebuild her life and marry the man she loved. Thinking that she had escaped, Anita was brutally killed two years later—she was strangled in front of her 18-month-old son while she was eight and a half months pregnant.

Stories like Anita’s are horrific and uncomfortable to listen to, but we must use the momentum that has been built by those global campaigns to push for the required behavioural shift that will end systemic violence against women.

As we have acknowledged, it is the responsibility of men to address and control their behaviour, to be positive role models for younger generations, and to challenge systems and attitudes around masculinity that normalise gender inequality. Nevertheless, we have a collective role to play, and I join the minister and the cabinet secretary in applauding Police Scotland’s “Don’t be that guy” campaign, which brings those issues to the fore and has helped to stimulate important conversations.

I am also pleased that the Scottish Government remains committed to the continued evaluation and development of its equally safe strategy to eradicate violence against women, with £9.5 million being provided to 121 projects in just its first six months.

Early intervention and preventative measures are critical factors in the success of that strategy. As my colleagues have mentioned, the equally safe at school strategy is being developed by a number of organisations, including Rape Crisis Scotland, and the University of Glasgow, which is in my constituency. That encourages secondary schools to take a holistic approach to preventing gender-based violence, with student voices at the forefront. I welcome that preventative approach, and that education on building and maintaining healthy relationships and on the meaning of consent.

It is also important that we MSPs continue to engage with our schools and local authorities to encourage leadership in that area and that we lead by example in the way that we conduct ourselves. We have around 70 men elected to this Parliament. I thank all the men who are currently in the chamber and those who were here previously.

In the words of the former secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon,

“Violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable and never tolerable.”

If we want women and girls in Scotland to grow up with equal opportunities in a truly equal society, nobody can afford to sit on the sidelines, especially not men.


Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

This debate is specifically about the role of men in challenging and eradicating violence against women and girls. I am sorry that some have chosen to weaponise it against already-marginalised groups in society.

The framing of this debate recognises that gender-based violence is primarily a problem of men being violent towards women, including trans women. The behaviour that must change is that of those men, not of the women and girls who endure the consequences.

It is not a problem about how women look, where they go, how they act or dress, or what they say, so why are we here? Why have I not gone home, and why have all the other women MSPs in the chamber not gone home and left the men to it? After all, they are good at challenging and eradicating, as a glance at colonial history shows us. Why not just let them fix it?

That is a tempting thought—that men have some sort of antimisogyny, antipatriarchy toolkit that they can whip out and that lets them say, “Hey presto! There you go ladies—you won’t be having any more problems with that bit of the patriarchy.” The problem, for all of us, is that they do not have one. The worse problem is that some of them think that they do.

There are three things—we might call them tools; we might call them weapons—that men are, within the patriarchy, encouraged to use in what is presented as their fight against gender-based violence.

The first is violence against women. I do not just mean direct acts of individual physical force, because violence is not only those acts; it is the millennia of assumptions, messages and patterns of behaviour that are embedded in the way that we think, feel and act. They manifest in structural violence, economic and emotional abuse and coercive control. They justify a narrow and exclusionary perception of which women are worthy of protection and of pseudo feminisms that keep those gates locked. They also underlie the myth of binary determinism—that men and women are, in some ways that matter, essentially different and that the best that we can hope for is a heavily armed truce.

The second useless tool is violence against other men. The noble knight sees the damsel in distress, slays her vile attacker and takes her home to a high tower. That is because, according to that view, perpetrators are other, alien, monsters and fiends; they are the subjects of fear and the objects of revenge. Just as those knights wore the favours of women to enter the joust, the label “For the victims” is pinned on to policies that are punitive, regressive and tragically counterproductive. Meanwhile, the realities of violence—the ones that do not fit the fairy story—are more and more difficult to identify and address.

The third useless tool is violence against the earth and against the living beings—human and non-human—with whom we share it. A most perilous way to be a woman in the world today is as a protector of nature and of indigenous communities. It is no coincidence that every war is justified by invocation of women and children, and that, in every war, women and children are raped.

It is no accident that every wave of anti-migrant rhetoric speaks of a threat to women, and that the women who are most likely to be attacked include migrants and refugees. It is no accident that the longest-lasting effects of the fossil-fuelled so-called “civilisation”, which was to liberate us all, are the deeply gendered blows of climate injustice.

If we throw away those weapons—those familiar forms of violence—the task ahead perhaps feels like a more daunting one. However, those tools, as Audre Lorde told us, were never going to dismantle the master’s house. We have better ones, and they are not reserved for a single gender. Men do not have to choose between being perpetrators and being protectors, creeping behind us in the shadows or striding ahead with sword bared. You can walk beside us as allies.

There is so much to be done, and we have to do it together. We can recognise that vulnerability is not a characteristic solely of being female, but of being human. We can recognise that gender-based violence is not a matter of misogyny alone, but is powered by multiple forms of oppression and prejudice, including racism, homophobia, transphobia and the unspoken assumptions of privilege. We can remember the origin of the word “intersectionality”—that the intersection is not a good place, a comfortable meadow to share our stories, but a noisy, polluted and perilous urban junction with juggernauts bearing down from every direction. The task is not to have a cosy chat; it is to stop that traffic, and neither men nor women can do that alone.

Together, we can take apart the myths and behaviours of patriarchy, learning not only from our parents and siblings but from our children—paying attention to the language that we use and the myths, histories and misconceptions that so often lie behind it. We can explore ethics of care, remembering that, although fighting fire with fire makes for a good song, a blanket does a better job of putting out the flames. We can model strategies of resistance rather than simple combat, recalling that, although this is an urgent task, it is also a long-term one, which is undertaken not only for women and girls today, but for the future generations whose wellbeing, or trauma, we have the capacity to affect.

Gender-based violence wounds us all, visibly or invisibly, as communities, families and individuals, and whatever our gender identity. However, we can act to make change, with care, determination, vision and solidarity—not because you are men, not because we are women, but because we are all human.

James Dornan joins us remotely.


James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

Presiding Officer, in four months, I will be 70. I tell you that simply to explain the context in which I see this debate. I have lived through the times when hitting your wife was “just one of those things—nobody’s business but theirs”. That was not in my house, to be fair. My dad was a gentle teetotaller, but it was all around us—“She walked intae a cupboard,” et cetera. Women had their roles, knew their place and knew not to question it.

The situation improved some in the 1960s, when more opportunities came about for women. However, equality was not near to being a thing and it was certainly not on the ground.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I managed football teams. On Saturdays, we would stay for a drink and occasionally join the younger guys who were heading out for more drink later on. I am no prude, but I remember being shocked at how, for many of those young guys, girls were solely there for entertainment. The guys verbally abused them if they got a knockback, and literally almost forced themselves on them. I remember wondering whether that was what we were like when we were young. I truly hoped not then, and now I pray that that was never the case.

Turning to now, thankfully all that is behind us. Women feel free to dress as they wish, go where they wish and go with who they wish—I wish.

Things that you hoped to see consigned to the past are more prevalent now. The use and abuse of social media—[Inaudible.]—being peer pressured into acts, insecure young women being dazzled by new surroundings and new types of young men who they socialise with for the first time. We have to remember that monsters too often come with friendly faces.

One of the greatest con tricks of the male of the species has been persuading the female of the species that “it’s all your own fault”—but you know what? It is not. It is my fault. It is the fault of every guy who allows their mates to make fun of women. It is the fault of our media, which are designed by men for men, and which far too often see women strictly as a decoration or plaything. It is the fault of every father who did not explain to their sons that the young girls who they mock will one day hold the same place in the heart of other young men that their mum does for them. It is the fault of every man who believes that women really were put on this earth simply as decoration or their companion and plaything.

I support the motion. Violence against women and girls is utterly abhorrent, and the impact on those who are affected is devastating and destructive across our society. I have seen its impact through the work of the heroes in the Daisy Project and Waves (Women Against Violent Environments), which is a peer support group in Castlemilk. That is a wonderful group of women who have had to persevere through horrors that I cannot imagine and who have then found the strength to protect others.

I welcome initiatives such as the “Don’t be that guy” campaign, which has been mentioned and which Police Scotland launched last year. I echo the comments of Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham when he said:

“It’s time that we men reflected on our own behaviours and attitudes—and those of our friends, family and colleagues—towards women”.

Women are not responsible for the sexual offences that are committed against them. Although I welcome that initiative and other similar ones, I am keen to know what steps the minister has taken to evaluate the impact.

The Scottish Government’s universal periodic review on respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of everyone in Scotland, which was published this October, highlights the positive work of the Government’s equally safe strategy. That strategy has helped tens of thousands of people and will provide invaluable support for more than 100 projects in the period 2021 to 2023.

Talking of that strategy brings me to the one individual case that, as well as breaking my heart, made me see more clearly than at any other time the damage that we men are capable of inflicting through our selfish actions. We all know of the case of Emily Drouet—I will not go over it again—and the incredible courage and determination that her mother, Fiona, has shown to try to ensure that no other young woman is ever bereft of a safe place to go when she is scared, lost or unsure. For that wonderful family to create something that is so durable and important from the tragedy of the loss of their beautiful Emily is an eternal monument to their strength and courage.

This is a good time to give the Scottish Government a well-deserved pat on the back because, ever since I introduced Fiona Drouet to Shirley-Anne Somerville, who was the appropriate minister at the time, the commitment to make something good happen has never wavered. In the current minister, Christina McKelvie, we have another passionate fighter for the cause of women and those who need our support, and I am so pleased to see her leading the debate today.

A lot of positive work is being done, although much of it is focused on being reactive rather than proactive, and rightly so. However, if we are to eradicate violence against women and children, it is important not only to recognise the role that men play but to develop and implement policy that changes perceptions and promotes the wider cultural shift that the motion speaks to. Education is central to that.

Some of equally safe’s work is focused on prevention and awareness raising through targeted sessions in schools, youth groups, universities and colleges. That is encouraging. However, a report on equally safe has highlighted a reluctance to allow visits into schools to deliver awareness-raising sessions. That is extremely worrying.

We need to develop policy that mainstreams such initiatives so that they are sewn into the fabric of our learning from an early age. The Government has an opportunity to make that happen because, as the minister will be aware, a new equally safe delivery plan is set to be drafted in the new year. I hope that the Government takes the opportunity to take on board those comments and explores how we can mainstream tackling the issue in our education system from an early age so that, hopefully, we prevent it from becoming an issue in the first place.

A lot of good work is going on, and it is making a difference and will continue to do so. However, it is now time for the only people who can truly change things for the better to stand up. We men must accept that, for far too long, we have been the problem; now it is time for us to become a major part of the solution.


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

The Government motion is very worthy, and I agree with every word of it. On Monday, I visited Border Women’s Aid, which I commend for supporting hundreds of victims of domestic abuse across the Scottish Borders. I hope that it will continue to receive funding beyond 2024 so that it can continue to provide its essential services. I also hope that the debate encourages more men to prevent abuse and violence against women and girls. Many members have mentioned that issue, especially our male colleagues across the chamber.

Today, I will focus my remarks on Pam Gosal’s amendment because, although the Government’s words are commendable, it is action that is more important, and the actions that the Government has taken so far in relation to the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill are, in my opinion, not good enough.

Will the member take an intervention?

Already? Yes, of course.

The member has talked about the Government’s words. The motion that is before us was agreed with all parties so that we could speak as one.

Rachael Hamilton

I do not quite understand what the cabinet secretary means. I will keep going, because I did not hear what he said. I am sorry about that.

The Government has drafted a bill that is potentially damaging to women’s safety. It has had ample opportunity to change the bill, and it has received warning after warning about the possible consequences of the bill for women, yet it has not fixed the bill.

That is the reason why Pam Gosal’s amendment notes the words of the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem. The amendment is necessary because the Government is not taking those words seriously enough. The Government is not even pausing the bill to consider Ms Alsalem’s words.

I wrote to the First Minister about the matter on Monday. I asked that she suspend the bill until we can hear from the UN expert. Ms Alsalem has offered to provide “expertise” to the First Minister personally. She has said that it would be “more than reasonable” to pause the bill, because active court cases might have implications for the legislation. She is right, and the Government must listen. It is vital that we make good laws, with proper and full consideration of all the consequences. Rushing to pass legislation is rarely a good idea but, in this case, with fundamental rights at stake, it would be completely misguided to push through the new laws in haste.

I struggle to see why the Government seems unwilling to listen to that particular expert. The Government typically puts a lot of faith in evidence from the UN, so we are only asking for consistency. It would be grossly unfair to women and girls with sincere and valid concerns about the bill if the Government were to cherry pick the opinions that it relied on while ignoring a UN adviser who has expertise in this very area.

Christina McKelvie

The member makes an important point about what people such as the UN special rapporteur have said about the bill, but I suggest that today’s debate is not about that. However, she puts great stock in listening to people, so will she listen to women’s organisations such as Engender, JustRight Scotland and the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, the chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, the director of Amnesty International and the chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, who have all written to Ms Alsalem to tell her about the safeguards that are currently in place in the bill to protect women?

I can give you the time back, Ms Hamilton.

Rachael Hamilton

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

That has, of course, just been tweeted, but committee members were told to keep that in confidence until 10 December. Evidence from organisations such as Rape Crisis Scotland has already been considered by the committee, but the evidence from the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls has not been considered. By the Scottish Government’s own admission—

Will the member take an intervention?

Rachael Hamilton

No, I will not just now—I am responding to Christina McKelvie’s intervention.

By the Scottish Government’s own admission, the bill will lead to an expansion in the number of people who can apply for a gender recognition certificate; the proposed self-identification system will make it easier for people to apply for one. Therefore, the argument of the organisations that Christina McKelvie mentioned is flawed, because the legislation has not yet been enacted. They are talking about the past 15 years. How do we know that predatory men will not exploit anything that they can to attack women? As I said, I struggle to see why the Government is taking stock of what one UN adviser says but not taking stock of what is said by another. The First Minister should suspend the passage of the bill for a short time to ensure that all the evidence is fully considered.

Will the member take an intervention?

Will I get my time back, Presiding Officer?

I can give you most of the time back.

Okay. I will take the intervention.

Rona Mackay

I thank the member for taking the intervention. I struggle to see how what you are talking about fits with the topic of this debate on the 16 days of activism? That is a global initiative, but you have chosen to narrow it down to this issue and to politicise it.

Speak through the chair, please, Ms Mackay.

Rachael Hamilton

I am speaking to the amendment from my colleague Pam Gosal.

Yesterday, the First Minister actually said:

“most men who commit violence against women don’t feel the need to change gender to do that.”

My argument is that we should focus on those who do, because they are men who are abusing a system to attack women. The debate is absolutely about that, because even the First Minister agrees now, and is admitting, that her reform risks allowing predatory men to gain access to women’s and girls’ safe spaces.

As I said, the First Minister should suspend the passage of the bill. I await a response to see what the Government will say, but it seems so far that the answer will be no. As it appears that the passage of the bill will not be suspended, I will use my speech to bring the words of Ms Alsalem to the chamber, so that they are at least considered for a short time, if briefly, by the Parliament. She said:

“the ongoing efforts to reform existing legislation by the Scottish Government do not sufficiently take into consideration the specific needs of women and girls in all their diversity, particularly those at risk of male violence and those who have experienced male violence”.

Ms Alsalem adds that she shares the concerns

“that such proposals would potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it. This presents potential risks to the safety of women in all their diversity (including women born female, transwomen, and gender non-conforming women).”

Ms Alsalem also considers the lack of clarity in the Government proposal. She says:

“the Scottish Government does not spell out how the Government will ensure a level of scrutiny for the applications made to acquire a gender recognition certificate under the new proposal. It is not unreasonable to expect the Government to spell out what level of scrutiny will continue in the procedure, or detail important aspects of it—

Will the member take an intervention?

Rachael Hamilton

I will just finish the quote, thank you.

To continue,

“including the specific steps the procedure entails and the conditions for refusing such applications in the law itself or at least in the explanatory notes of the concerned legislation. Other governments that have adopted a self-identification procedure for the legal recognition of a gender identity have done so.”

Those words should cause the Government to at least pause and reconsider the sweeping legislation that it has to pass.

I cannot take Karen Adam’s intervention—I am very sorry. Would you like me to wind up, Presiding Officer?

You can begin winding up, Ms Hamilton.

Rachael Hamilton

In closing, I appeal to the Government to go beyond the comforting phrases that it has used today. It must finally listen to women who are concerned about the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, and the Parliament must hear evidence from experts at the UN about its potential consequences.


Paul O’Kane (West Scotland) (Lab)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this vitally important debate as we mark the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. I intend to focus my comments on the role that men must play in challenging and eradicating violence against women and girls.

I am proud that, today, my colleague Pauline McNeill launched our party’s consultation paper on ending violence against women and girls. I commend that work, and the work of people in our party such as Pauline McNeill over many years on these issues, to ensure that we can tackle such pernicious and serious issues. Indeed, this week, I heard these issues labelled by the Queen Consort, no less, as a “pandemic” of “heinous crimes” that exists not only in our country but around the world. I think that we would all recognise that, in her contribution to the 16 days of activism, she highlights something that we really need to focus on tackling.

Over the years, women have shown bravery, courage and strength in calling out the horrific abuses of power and acts of sexual exploitation and violence that have been carried out by men who believed that their income and status would protect them from being challenged, called out or held accountable for their behaviour. We should take a moment to thank those brave women and to remember all those who have been killed as a result of violence against women and girls, the names of whom we have heard from colleagues on all sides of the chamber today.

I make it clear that the primary burden of challenging dangerous, toxic and violent behaviour by men should be on men. Men have to take responsibility to change their behaviour. We must be part of the solution, because misogynistic attitudes remain deep-rooted in the foundations of our society. Those attitudes reveal themselves in small, subtle actions, or they present in a more overt and aggressive manner, through derogatory comments on women’s appearance and sexist humour, including sickening rape jokes. We know that, in this day and age, that exists online in a way that it never did in generations past. Pauline McNeill’s contribution in that regard, and the amendment that Scottish Labour has lodged, are crucial in enabling us to begin to deal with what happens in those online spaces.

In recent years, there have been particularly disturbing increases in the number of incidents of women having their drinks spiked in our bars and clubs.

Men must challenge their male relatives and male friends and must call out behaviour towards women that is problematic when they see or hear it—for example, when they hear an inappropriate joke about a woman’s appearance.

The role that men play in this space is vitally important, which is why I support White Ribbon Scotland and the fantastic work that it does in getting men to challenge violence against women and, we hope, to begin the process of eradication of violence against women. I first encountered White Ribbon when I was a local councillor, and I pay tribute to local authorities across Scotland, which play a vital role in the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. As other members have said, they play a particularly important role in encouraging our schools, colleges and universities to educate people—especially young men—on the role that they must play.

A variety of activity is taking place across our local authorities in the 16 days. For example, my colleague in Inverclyde, Councillor Francesca Brennan, is running a Reclaim the Streets glow up walk in Greenock on 6 December. She is encouraging younger women and girls, in particular, to take part in that and to stand up against the violence that is too often experienced on our streets.

We need to focus on shifting attitudes and changing cultures. Peer-to-peer action is crucial in shifting the dial and dismantling toxic masculinity. Men must challenge one another to be the best version of themselves by calling out and challenging damaging, dangerous and corrosive attitudes against women.

I want to touch on the specific issue that exists in sport because of the public platform and adulation that accompany success for many men in the sporting arena. Athletes, footballers and ice hockey players can be heralded as idols and viewed by their younger supporters as role models whom they look up to and would seek to emulate. That raises the crucial issue of how sexual misconduct is addressed in sport. It is clearly an important barrier that impedes the participation in sport of many women and girls.

I am glad that the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee is keen to look at that area and, in particular, at the barriers that exist in sport, and I hope that we will be able to take a more focused look at how allegations of sexual misconduct are handled.

This year, there have been high-profile cases involving professional sports clubs in Scotland. In football, Raith Rovers and, in ice hockey, the Glasgow Clan have rightly faced significant criticism for signing men who have been guilty of rape and sexual assault. That led to a backlash against those signings, which forced the clubs to reverse their decisions. In the case of Raith Rovers, club directors and staff resigned and, ultimately, the women’s team cut its ties with Raith Rovers and was established as McDermid Ladies, in homage to the wonderful Val McDermid, who did so much to lead that campaign and to call out the club for its handling of the situation.

We will never achieve a systemic rebalancing of sports participation if we are not all willing to work to challenge the toxic attitudes and atmospheres that persist in our stadiums and clubs across the country. Government and sports regulators need to play a more proactive role in ensuring that sport is a safe environment for women and girls. There are many options that we could explore, such as manager training and education sessions that are focused on identifying misconduct and signposting people to appropriate means to report such misconduct.

I reiterate that the responsibility for tackling violence against women and girls lies with men. It is for men to take responsibility for their own actions and to be better. I urge all men to speak up, to challenge other men to do the same and to be the best version of themselves and a strong ally in tackling violence against women and girls.


Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse, is one of the most devastating and fundamental violations of human rights. The annual 16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign was started more than 30 years ago. We have made a lot of progress since then, but there is still much more to do.

Men have a vital role to play in challenging and eradicating such behaviour because, as the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women acknowledges, it is a product of entrenched inequalities that is and has been, historically, used to force women into subordinate positions.

We should all be doing everything that we can to build a Scotland where women and girls live free of violence and abuse. Whether it is misogyny and sexism, sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence or female genital mutilation, violence against women and girls is deep-rooted and pervasive. A recent UN study found that 97 per cent of women aged between 18 and 24 in the UK have been sexually harassed, while other research has shown that 60 per cent of young women are scared to walk or use public transport.

For too long, the emphasis has been on victim blaming and telling women what they should and should not be doing if they want to avoid being verbally abused or physically attacked. Instead, we must tackle the predominant root cause: the unacceptable behaviour of violent and abusive men.

Police Scotland’s “Don’t be that guy” campaign was really good at focusing the attention on men’s behaviour and stimulating conversations, with the aim of reducing rape, serious sexual assault and sexual harassment. Toxic masculinity, outdated gender stereotypes and male sexual entitlement were challenged by the campaign. If we are to tackle and eradicate gender-based violence, it is clear that we need behavioural, societal, cultural and systematic change.

I welcome the minister’s work on equally safe, Scotland’s strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, which sets out a vision of prevention, improving support services and strengthening the justice response for victims and perpetrators. In recent years, there have been several reforms to the justice system, including the introduction of the world-leading Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which made psychological abuse and controlling behaviour a crime, and the expanded powers that were given to police, prosecutors and the courts to tackle such crimes.

Official statistics for 2021-22, which were released yesterday, show that there has been a 1 per cent decrease in the number of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police, compared to the previous year. However, abusers manipulate and control their victims, so it can be difficult for victims to recognise what is happening and then to seek help, and the most recent Scottish crime and justice survey estimates that only 1 in 5 domestic abuse cases is reported to the police.

I say to anyone who is experiencing violence, including coercive and controlling behaviours: please seek help, advice or support.

On tackling the cultural and social issues, it is only by prioritising prevention that we can end violence against women and girls. Equally safe at school recognises the important role of educational settings in preventing gender-based violence before it occurs, through teaching children and young people about healthy relationships and consent.

I particularly welcome the mentors in violence prevention peer education programme that is being delivered in schools across Scotland. It gives young people the skills to recognise and challenge gender-based violence and sexist language and assumptions. By empowering younger generations with that knowledge, we will be taking great strides towards the goal of eradicating violence against women and girls.

Economic inequality, including the gender pay gap, is a long-standing issue and yet another symptom of the historical discrimination and sexism targeted at women. It can often be helpful to coercive partners who can make women feel dependent financially. We see that continued through the universal credit system, whereby households receive one payment. As Scottish Women’s Aid has set out, that

“weakens women’s access to an independent income and facilitates abusers’ ability to gain financial control”.

More needs to be done to tackle issues in the workplace if we are serious about eradicating violence against women and girls. It is important that employers take their responsibilities seriously, including by implementing equal pay for men and women, ensuring that women have wraparound support in cases of gender-based harassment or abuse and ensuring that there is education for male employees, inspired by equally safe.

We all have a collective duty to unite and do everything that we can to tackle gender-based violence, because it is one of the most devastating and fundamental violations of human rights. Perpetrators must be held to account, and women and children need to have access to suitable front-line services that deal with violence and domestic abuse.

I hope that we can build on the progress that has been made to date, as we work to eradicate violence against women and girls. Let us create a strong and flourishing Scotland, where all individuals are equally safe and respected.

We move to the closing speeches. I call Pam Duncan-Glancy.


Pam Duncan-Glancy (Glasgow) (Lab)

Like my colleague Paul O’Kane, I will spend my time focusing on the problem: men, and structural and systemic inequality.

For too long, violence against women and girls has been viewed as a women’s issue, with some men offering their support. Today’s debate has shown why men must step up—and it has shown that we all agree on that.

We are taught, from an early age, ways to protect ourselves from violent men. We are taught to beware of strangers and always to watch our drink in a pub. We text one another when we get home safely—and there is real fear that we might not get home safely. We change our behaviour, our body language and the ways in which we talk and dress, to protect ourselves.

We do all that from a young age, because it starts at a young age, as Pauline McNeill, Martin Whitfield and Collette Stevenson said when they talked about schools.

As with many harms, we must act early, robustly and comprehensively to end the problem. The burden of violence has lain heavily on women’s shoulders for far too long. That is simply unfair and unacceptable. Men must take responsibility and do better.

The Government and this Parliament must also take responsibility for effecting change in men’s attitudes and behaviours. Scotland’s equally safe strategy recognises that the root cause of violence against women and girls is inequality and highlights many primary prevention measures as being key to tackling the issue, but it is painfully clear that we are not there yet.

A report from the UK Government equalities office revealed that men’s use of pornography, especially violent pornography, results in men viewing women as sex objects, an acceptance of sexual aggression towards women and an increased likelihood of men committing verbal and physical acts of sexual aggression.

The Scottish Government must take steps to challenge the harms of violent pornography, for example through more education—starting at school—on consent and healthy relationships, about which we heard in the debate, and by tackling online and cybercrime, as the Labour amendment that I am proud to support highlights.

According to the Scottish social attitudes survey in 2014, only 58 per cent of people in Scotland believe that a women who wears revealing clothing on a night out is “not at all” to blame if she is raped, and nearly two in five Scots believe that rape

“results from men being unable to control their need for sex”.

Last week, I visited the Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre and met fantastic women who run the projects there as well as the incredible support to report team, which supports women who report gender-based violence as they go through the criminal justice system. We discussed the potential biases that women face as they go through the legal process, such as the rape myths that members of the jury might believe. We heard a bit about such myths today. What the survivor was wearing when the rape took place, her relationship with the accused and the emotion she shows in court can all influence juries, as my colleague Martin Whitfield explained perfectly when he talked about the role of men.

Last year, Lady Dorrian’s review report recommended a series of reforms of the system in the context of violence against women, including a specialist court with trauma-informed practices and a pilot programme that is equivalent to the programme in England and Wales that communicates to juries information about common rape myths. We must consider the recommendations seriously, and we should look at ways of incorporating training about the matter across the criminal justice system.

Measures must go further. There must be preventative action to target gender inequality. Primary prevention strategies are crucial to ending violence against women and girls, as my colleague Kaukab Stewart said.

If measures are to be effective, they must be implemented across all policies and systems—Rona Mackay and other members spoke eloquently about the structural inequality that is in place. Of course, such an approach is a core objective of equally safe, but it is not being adopted consistently in all policy making. Despite domestic abuse being the most common reason for women’s homelessness—it accounts for 26 per cent of homelessness applications and the proportion is rising—work from Crisis Scotland reveals that women who experience domestic abuse are frequently let down by services and that opportunities for early intervention are overlooked. The Government’s 2018 “Ending homelessness and rough sleeping: action plan” did not include a gendered analysis.

Last year, the Parliament unanimously passed the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021, which gives police and courts the power to remove an abuser from the home and gives social landlords greater control when it comes to transferring tenancies. However, 18 months on, we have not implemented the legislation and some women are still forced to present as homeless to escape abuse.

I thank Pam Duncan-Glancy for bringing up that act. I hope that she is happy to hear that we now have an implementation group in place and are working towards implementing that piece of the act.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

I am pleased to hear that; thank you.

A key driving force behind continued gender inequality is poverty, and I was pleased to hear the minister refer to its importance in her opening remarks. Financial insecurity is a major risk factor for women experiencing gender-based violence, and research by organisations such as Engender shows that women are at heightened risk of destitution.

We need primary prevention approaches in social security. The single household payment—universal credit—has been mentioned; it reduces women’s access to an independent income, which makes it hard for women to leave violent abusers. The Scottish Government has previously committed to providing individual payments of universal credit, but that has not yet been delivered. A failure to make good on that commitment will leave women at risk.

The working group on improving housing outcomes for women and children recommended in 2020 that the Government introduce a dedicated fund to support women who are leaving abusive partners, but two years later it is not yet in place. Women who experience gender-based violence cannot afford to wait much longer for that.

I spoke earlier about how the burden of men’s violence is placed on women and the ways in which we change our behaviour to protect ourselves. A prime example of that is avoiding walking home alone or carrying keys in our hands to protect ourselves from a potential attack, and we have heard about that in the debate today. Radio Clyde’s “Light the Way” campaign calls on Glasgow City Council to light parks at night, so that we might not have to do that, and to ensure safety for all. The campaign has been under way for a year, but Glasgow’s parks are still not lit, and it is unlikely that lights will be added for another two years at least. The Scottish Government needs to tell the SNP council in Glasgow to get a grip of the issue and take action soon.

We will vote for the Government motion and the Tory amendment, and let me take a moment to say why. We will support the Government motion, because, as Martin Whitfield pointed out, men have much work to do, and we will support the Tory amendment, because we note that the UN rapporteur has written to the Government. We also note the letter, which I can confirm was published on Amnesty International’s website this afternoon, from women’s organisations including Engender, JustRight Scotland, the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, Scottish Women’s Aid, Amnesty International Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland.

The fight for equality and human rights for all—including women and trans people—is interconnected and interdependent on dismantling structural inequality and discrimination for everyone. That should be our focus, because we cannot and should not pick our equalities.

In conclusion, the behaviours and attitudes of men must change, but so, too, must the entire patriarchal system. We in Parliament must all be laser focused in all that we do on bold, preventative, urgent and long-lasting measures that cut across all policy areas in order to eradicate gender inequality once and for all.


Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

I begin by agreeing with the Scottish Government motion and with Pam Gosal’s amendment, which I am glad to hear Labour supports. Reem Alsalem is not merely, to quote the First Minister,

“the person from the UN”—[Official Report, 24 November 2022; c 20.]—

she is the special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, and when she calls on the SNP Government to listen, Nicola Sturgeon should do so.

Women across Scotland have been frustrated and sometimes furious at the SNP Government’s refusal to hear their concerns, as Rachael Hamilton pointed out. Given that today’s debate is more about what unites us than what divides us, I see no reason why colleagues would not support Pam Gosal’s important amendment.

Brian Whittle’s contribution was typically thoughtful; although Scotland’s business world has changed radically, some strangely old-fashioned views linger. Pauline McNeill made some very important points about the dangerous rise in cybercrime, and Beatrice Wishart spoke of the everyday casual leering and sexual comments that are directed at women.

We can all agree with this year’s 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. As Rona Mackay, Martin Whitfield and Paul O’Kane said, men bear responsibility for their personal and collective behaviour.

Christine McKelvie, Kaukab Stewart and others cite Police Scotland’s “That guy” campaign. No one here could disagree with its sentiment, but some might question Scottish policing’s record of misogyny, sexism and gender-based violence. Take inspector Adam Carruthers, who used his status to commit sex attacks and rape a crime victim in her own home. Investigations by some of his colleagues came to nothing—nothing to see here, apparently.

When he was finally brought to justice, it emerged that he had targeted dozens of women during his 20-year career.

Sergeant Kevin Storey was jailed in 2014 for rapes and sexual assaults. His reign of terror somehow also spanned two decades—nothing to see here. Inspector Keith Farquharson was convicted of breach of the peace when he sent a sleazy message to a young female colleague. He was demoted to constable, but was then quietly reinstated to high rank—again, nothing to see here. Farquharson is now serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife.

It can be tempting to trot out the one bad apple cliché, but bad apples too often get away with their crimes because they are protected; they are protected by a system that always seems to prioritise protecting the organisation, no matter the price. Some also say that those obscene cases could never happen today, but they can and they do.

Last week, I joined a group of women in a meeting with the justice secretary, for which I am grateful to him. The women were former police officers Karen Harper, Gemma MacRae and another who cannot be named. Karen served proudly for 22 years until being bullied out of her job. It is scandalous that she is still trapped in process purgatory after seven costly and damaging years. Gemma was bullied by the boys’ club and sexually assaulted by a colleague. It is scandalous that when she reported what was happening it was covered up. We were also joined by Annie Hirdman, who suffered years of violence at the hands of her police officer partner. It is scandalous that the justice system treated him with kid gloves and her with disrespect. Those women each had painful and lurid stories to tell, not just about the boys’ club culture, but about something much more toxic and insidious: the nothing to see here culture that permeates policing. That culture protects wrongdoers and targets those who bravely speak out—such as those women—and it pressures many good cops to stay silent for fear of repercussions.

Those women do not disagree with the “That guy” message; their problem is with what they see as a gulf between Police Scotland’s public relations rhetoric and the reality of its management culture.

The women handed Keith Brown a letter questioning whether the national force is able to change. It said:

“These are the same people who long presided over and defended the broken, costly and damaging system”

and that

“‘That Guy’ feels like a form of gaslighting—the phenomenon whereby abusers cause victims to doubt what happened to them.”

Christina McKelvie

In the spirit of the “That guy” campaign, will Russell Findlay join me in condemning Jacob Rees-Mogg’s pronouncements that rape victims should not have access to abortion services? In doing that, will he also condemn and call on the UK Government to abolish the two-child cap and the rape clause, because if he does not, he does the noble cause of standing up for rape victims a disservice and perpetuates the systemic violence that Brian Whittle raised in his contribution.

Russell Findlay

I thank the minister for her intervention, and I am happy to condemn any form of male violence or attitudes that are contrary to what we are talking about.

So, what can be done? Those women, and many good cops—and it is important to state clearly that the vast majority of cops are good—believe that police regulation is not fit for purpose, but the Government does not need to take their word for it, because Lady Elish Angiolini’s watershed report into Scottish policing complaints handling, investigation and misconduct said so, too. She made 111 recommendations. We do not know exactly how many have been implemented because successive justice secretaries have refused my party’s request for an online action tracker, but it appears that most have not.

The Angiolini report is now two years old, and many will welcome the Scottish Government’s publication of its public consultation on the report today, but much more importantly, people want to know what happens next. The women who met with the justice secretary are talking to each other. Many more women, men, police officers and members of the public are standing right behind them. Some have suffered long-term and life-changing medical problems, and others have had their careers and faith in policing needlessly destroyed. Some have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements—gagging orders that protect wrongdoers and keep the public in the dark. Some have attempted suicide, and several officers have taken their own lives after being consumed by the complaints process, yet nobody wants to talk about this.

I want to put on record my admiration for those whistleblowers’ bravery, dignity and determination.

These women, and those fighting for women’s rights against fashionable orthodoxy, truly are the suffragettes of the 21st century. They are not going away; they will not be silenced; and they are not interested in warm words.

When Gemma MacRae graduated from police college, her mother gifted her a pocket watch. It was inscribed, “patience and perseverance pays off”. Little could she have known the meaning that that would come to have.


The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans (Keith Brown)

Even if we do not manage to achieve what we sought, which was a singular focus on the behaviour of men and the need for men to change, and to tap into the consensus of motions elsewhere on the issue of violence against women and girls, it has nevertheless, generally, been a good debate.

During last year’s debate on violence against women and girls, I spoke about a different pandemic affecting our society—a shadow pandemic of men’s violence. It was an analogy that I think Paul O’Kane also used. Much like Covid-19, it is extremely stubborn. It is a very difficult culture to address, with wide-ranging societal impacts. As Martin Whitfield said, though, in a very powerful speech, this is about men and the need for men to change. Unlike with Covid-19, the cause of violence against women and girls is clear: it is men who predominantly carry out such violence, and it is negative male attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate it. For that reason, men must take the lead in eradicating it from our lives. Men have to acknowledge the role that we play, as the minister, Christina McKelvie, mentioned, and we must have the courage to speak up when we see negative attitudes and behaviours that ultimately lead to violence against, and the abuse of, women.

Many members have mentioned Police Scotland’s “That guy” campaign as being one that we should pay close attention to. As to how we analyse and review the effectiveness of that campaign, it is still in its early months, but I think that it would repay working out how effective it has been in changing culture. We have to do everything in our power to contribute to and accelerate the societal and attitudinal shift that is required to make women and girls safer.

Before closing the debate, I will mention what were, for me, some of the highlights, as I cannot mention every member. Beatrice Wishart mentioned some horrendous examples from her experience. Rona Mackay talked, in particular, about the situation that migrant women can find themselves in, which is appalling.

Brian Whittle said a lot of things that I did not agree with, but he also mentioned the structural and economic inequalities that exist and the impacts that they can have in terms of misogyny and the fact that those inequalities derive from misogynistic attitudes in the first place.

Bill Kidd talked about sex trafficking and the commercial exploitation of sex. Martin Whitfield made a very powerful speech. I say that because it was very explicitly directed at men, which was the intention of the debate. It is why I am standing here today: to make sure that that message gets across. Women have been saying this for generations—somebody, perhaps Maggie Chapman, talked about millenia—but it is really up to men, and that is why we tried to focus on men in this debate. That will also be the focus of how the Government votes later on.

Kaukab Stewart mentioned—as did Pam Gosal—the particular issues that there may be in black and minority ethnic communities in terms of domestic violence and violence against women.

I thought that Maggie Chapman gave a very good speech, which I will come back to shortly, and I think that James Dornan gave an excellent speech. It was good to see him back in the chamber, albeit on the screen rather than in person.

I would concede, obviously, that the role that the justice system can and does play is vital in this regard. The progress that we have made, in my view, should not be underestimated. We are prioritising domestic abuse cases at court. If we look at the cases that have gone through the courts, notwithstanding the pressures of Covid and the backlogs, the vast preponderance of them are domestic abuse or sex crime-based cases. Also, as has been mentioned, the groundbreaking legislation on domestic abuse reflects a better understanding, which will in time, I am sure, lead to increased confidence in reporting.

I think that Pam Gosal and another member mentioned the domestic abuse figures that came out. I think that everyone would acknowledge that it is quite difficult to work out whether there is an increased confidence in reporting. Somebody mentioned, quite rightly, that four fifths of domestic abuse cases are not reported and do not feature in those figures, and that remains the challenge. However, some of the legislation that has come through the Parliament, especially in relation to coercive control, represents real advances in Scotland.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

It is interesting that football has not been mentioned at any point in the debate, because it has a direct impact on how much domestic violence there is, especially during the world cup, which is on at the moment. What can the Government do to help football teams and clubs to support domestic violence education and prevention going forward?

Keith Brown

Football was mentioned—I think by Martin Whitfield—but Jackie Dunbar has made a very good point. We have to work with football clubs. Some tremendous strides have been made in trying to deal with homophobia and sectarianism, but domestic violence is an issue that has not featured as much as it should have. I am happy to discuss with the member what more could possibly be done.

A direct alternative to custody and a whole-family approach that is designed to challenge and change men’s behaviour are features of the Caledonian system. We have to do more work to collect data more widely for it. However, it is also imperative that we do more to ensure that women do not come into contact with that system in the first place. When women do need recourse to the system, it is important that we respond effectively, competently and with compassion and understanding.

We know that there is more that we can do, which is why the Minister for Community Safety will push on with the work that her predecessor started in her position as chair of the Women’s Justice Leadership Panel. That panel brings together expert women from all aspects of the justice system to discuss the experience and unique needs of women and what they mean for criminal justice processes. The findings of the panel will be published in 2023.

In our programme for government, we announced that we will legislate to progress the ambitions and priorities that have been set out in the vision for justice. Crucially, that involves delivering person-centred, trauma-informed practices. I know that those things can trip off the tongue quite easily, but they are extremely important. We have some big-ticket items that we are looking at in relation to changes in the criminal justice system, which are perhaps the most profound changes that we have considered in some years. However, if we can achieve a trauma-informed, person-centred justice system, that will be the biggest possible change that we could make, not least in relation to the subject of violence against women and girls.

Russell Findlay rightly commended the women whom he met last week. I also commend the women representing the organisation Speak Out Survivors, whom I met yesterday and who are trying to effect changes in the system. Their patience was mentioned—they have been doing that for many years. I admire their tenacity and I am happy to listen to them and speak to them again.

The criminal justice reform bill will abolish the not proven verdict in criminal trials in Scotland and will take forward accompanying reforms. It will also make legislative changes, building on the recommendations of Lady Dorrian’s review on improving the management of sexual offence cases, including, among a range of proposals, statutory anonymity for complainers of sexual crimes.

Earlier this year, Baroness Kennedy published her report on misogyny in the criminal law, which made four specific criminal recommendations to reform criminal law in order to better address misogynistic harassment. Those recommendations were: a statutory sentencing aggravation of misogyny; an offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls; an offence of public misogynistic harassment; and an offence of threatening or invoking rape, sexual assault or disfigurement of women and girls. As stated in the Government’s legislative programme for 2022-23, the First Minister confirmed that we will consult on draft legislative provisions to give effect to the reforms that were proposed by Baroness Kennedy. That is part of what Pauline McNeill called for when she asked for a radical strategy. That will not just be radical; it will be a world first if we can get the reforms that we are seeking to enact passed into law. Those are reforms that society needs, and we are determined to deliver them.

I listened to the contributions in the debate, and there is some consensus that we must strive and work together to end violence against women and girls, and that men must take responsibility for their actions and demonstrate a commitment to change. There is no overnight fix. The point is that it is really a combination of millennia of discrimination, which tells us that it will be a difficult issue to resolve. However, we have to be resolute and challenge violence against women and girls, as well as the underlying inequalities, wherever they are found.

For men in the chamber and those who are listening elsewhere, the message is that we have a responsibility to change and to help others to change. For my part, I am happy to take an intervention from, and only from—sorry to be discriminatory—any man in the chamber who has never heard misogynistic or sexist comments in an all-male environment or from any man who has heard such comments and has challenged them every time. I happen to be standing, but I would not be standing to make an intervention, because I have not done those things. Neither have most men, which is perhaps why no intervention has been made. That underlines the nature of the task that we face.

If we are serious about our vision of a society that is safer and more equal for women and girls, we have to do more. A Scotland where women and men enjoy greater equality is a better Scotland for us all. Maggie Chapman mentioned that women are not looking for some knight with a sword to be a protector of women by wreaking vengeance on men who have behaved badly. What she asked for, rightly, is for men and women to walk together on this journey.

I invite Parliament to restate our collective ambitions in this area, and I invite all the men to make sure that they are not that guy.