Mother and baby home scandal of sexual inequality- Andy Wightman

From my resignation from the Scottish Green Party through the latest twists and turns in the divisive discourse around the investigation of sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, to the devastating report published last week into the Irish Mother and Baby Homes scandal, sexual politics is never far away.

Over the period from 1922 to 1998, around 56,000 unmarried mothers and about 57,000 children were admitted to and brought up in so-called mother and baby homes in Ireland. Following the investigations of a local historian, Catherine Corless, who secured death certificates for 796 children who died in care and were buried in a septic tank, the Irish Government appointed a Commission of Inquiry. In its 2865 page report published last week, there is much attention paid rightly to the fate of these mothers and their babies. Of the fathers, however, there is little said apart from the fact that they were in large part responsible for the fate of the mother.

Regrettably, despite the major strides in women’s rights achieved over the past 100 years, we still live in a world dominated by men and designed by men. I have been enjoying reading Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women which highlights, for example, how undertaking blind auditions for players in an orchestra increased the number of female players by 50%. We ignore the very real and ongoing differences in between the sexes at our (but mostly at women’s) peril.

Student rents

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Last week I spoke to some students who have started a rent strike at Edinburgh University. The are part of a growing movement of students whose studies and domestic life have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Students are paying full rent for university accommodation despite not being able to participate in person-to-person teaching. Their part-time jobs have dried up and they may have added complications from travel restrictions and self-isolation. Students deserve to have their concerns acknowledged and addressed and I urge the University to engage in meaningful negotiations with students on rent strike.

Scotland’s Citizen’s Assembly published its final report last week. A group of 100 randomly selected people deliberated over months on the priorities for the people of Scotland. Recommendation 34 was that young people should have as of right an entitlement to affordable social housing with rent caps in the private sector. I agree.

Home schooling

I know from correspondence that home-schooling remains problematic for many parents. I agreed with the Government’s decision to keep schools open as a priority. But I also know that the risks posed by this new variant virus are very real and until they are completely understood, it is right that schools are closed. It is remarkable how teachers and staff have risen to the challenge of providing online learning. Through their hard work and dedication, the impact on children’s education should be minimised but there is nothing that can replace the experience of being with friends in the classroom. So to all parents who are struggling with working and home schooling, I know it is tough but it won’t be for a moment longer than it needs to be.

Andy Wightman is Independent MSP for Lothian Region