Hamilton Advertiser Column: Women’s rights are human rights.

Women’s rights are human rights. A line that is often repeated and sometimes taken for granted.

This week, on Tuesday March 8 we marked International Women’s Day. A day that should give us the opportunity to further reflect on where women are in society and where we are going.

The reason it is an important occasion is down to the persistence of gender inequality throughout to most professions, in women’s pockets and in their personal lives.

The view that men and women are equal is largely shared throughout society. In fact, I think you would struggle to find someone that disagrees with that sentiment.

But the fact is that gender equality isn’t reflected in the labour market.

The pay gap between men and women exists across all of the nations within the UK. On average, a Scottish woman earns £175.30 per week less than a man. This inequality is caused by a number of systemic structural problems that run through society, ultimately leaving women short-changed.

The gender pay gap in Scotland is currently at 7.5 per cent, compared to the UK as a whole at 9.5 per cent. While this move towards parity is welcome, there is so much more we must do to keep pushing this figure down.

Not only is like-for-like pay different for men and women, we also see differences in the hours worked by men and women.

In the UK, 69 per cent of women are employed compared to 78.5 per cent of men. While that difference is not overwhelming, when we consider that 42 per cent of the female workforce are in part-time employment, the disparity is clear.

Women are also far more likely to be employees rather than employers, and are less likely to be self-employed. Of all self-employed people, only 32 per cent are women.

Research carried out by the International Monetary Fund found that when women work, economies grow – and that economic growth is even more dramatic when the gap between women’s and men’s participation in the labour force is reduced.

Given this fact, I would have expected the UK Government to have put far more emphasis on closing the gender pay gap in their efforts to reduce the deficit.

Rather, the focus on austerity – a method that drives down opportunities for women – entrenches not only the existing inequalities, but damages our economy.

My work with the Women and Equalities Committee has been at the forefront of trying to get this message across.

The committee has focused its scrutiny in recent months on reducing the gender pay gap, and the Government should heed our warnings.

So on this International women’s day – the first since my election to Westminster – I set out my stall. I’ve given David Cameron a checklist, urging him to take action on key issues affecting women.

I’ve set out five key areas where the UK government can and should take urgent action to improve the lives of women in the UK.

If David Cameron is to be taken seriously on women’s issues, he must scrap the Rape Clause, close the gender pay gap, protect maternity pay and end maternity discrimination, commit to ending violence against women and scrap the tampon tax.

From taking steps to close the gender pay gap, to ensuring no woman should have to prove she has been raped to claim tax credits, the UK government should take action on these issues as a matter of urgency.

These are all issues I have been campaigning on over the past few months, but as I take stock on International Women’s Day, it’s clear that not enough has been done.  

So, on the week of international women’s day, let’s put deeds over words and put right these wrongs.

Only then can the Government claim to have equality at the heart of its agenda.