After Covid, Scotland should properly celebrate its trailblazing women, old and new – Angus Robertson
Edinburgh is a city full of statues and memorials and almost every single one to a man.
Amongst the few women recognised is Flora Stevenson, a true trailblazer who is now largely forgotten and deserves to be better remembered on International Women’s Day and throughout the year.
Flora Stevenson (1839-1905) was a pioneering Scottish social reformer with a special interest in education for poor or neglected children and, in particular, education for girls.
Young women were taught literacy classes by Stevenson, an active member of the Edinburgh Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor and the United Industrial Schools of Edinburgh for the most deprived children in the city.
One of the first women to be elected to a school board, she campaigned for the opening of university education to women and women’s suffrage. Her achievements were recognised during her own lifetime with an honorary LLD from Edinburgh University, the Freedom of the City and the naming of the Flora Stevenson’s Primary School after her on Comely Bank.
For decades, its pupils, myself included, were taught about the difference that Flora Stevenson made to the education of young girls and boys. Today the primary is also home to the City of Edinburgh Music School, together with my secondary alma mater Broughton High School. It is the only example in Europe of a specialist state music school that caters for children from P1 to S6.
I have no doubt that Flora Stevenson would be delighted with the progress that has been made during the last century for women in education, society and politics.
In Scotland our government has a female majority cabinet with a female First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Cabinet Secretaries for: Health Jeane Freeman; Finance Kate Forbes; Economy Fiona Hyslop; Environment Roseanna Cunningham; Communities Aileen Campbell and Social Security Shirley-Anne Somerville.
In the economy, great progress is being made to improve female participation in the labour market and representation on boards.
Scotland’s Trade Union Congress has its first female leader in Roz Foyle while the Dr Liz Cameron heads the Scottish Chambers of Commerce.
However, we need to face the facts that women have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. The impact on women’s careers and finances has been brutal, with jobs in the top 20 female occupations having fallen by 40 per cent over the past year.
Childcare and housework has fallen disproportionally to women while dangers to mental health and well-being have been more severe for women. Reproductive health has become more challenging for women, often forced to manage on their own, while domestic abuse during lockdown has put vulnerable woman in an even worse position.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, it is female professors Devi Sridhar and Linda Bauld who have been key media communicators together with National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch, deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nicola Steedman, chief nursing officer Professor Amanda Croft and new chief executive of NHS Scotland, Caroline Lamb, who also has responsibility for Covid-19 testing and vaccination.
Having now marked the first International Woman’s Day since the coronavirus lockdown, hopefully things will be much improved by IWD next year.
By then we will all have been vaccinated and the pandemic should be under control around the world. Then we can better celebrate the trailblazers of old and more recent times.