Mary O'Neill - #ScotWomenStand Role Model & Supporter

Empowered and mobilised by the supportive community created through the 100 for the 100th events of June 2018, Mary O’Neill went on to become a politician, committed to many political activities in her local party's branch, where she was recently elected to take the position of the Branch Equality Officer.

Mary O’Neill - Inspiring Woman of Scottish Politics.

Mary O’Neill - Inspiring Woman of Scottish Politics.

I am passionate about structural issues which inadvertently play a role in making social groups including Black African and Minority Ethnic more marginalized. Accordingly, for a very long time I have been longing to get opportunities to raise awareness among key people of the challenges encountered by those groups in trying to overcome problems relating to unemployment and calling for their intervention.  My intention was to get politicians aware of barriers to opportunities experienced by many people from BME communities and call for their response in addressing the problem. Although I never thought before that my passion about equality issues would produce the idea of me being a politician, this passion is what motivated me to get into politics. 

In June 2018 I joined 100 for 100th event bringing together women from Scotland to celebrate the legacy of the Suffragettes and look forward to a time where there is gender balance in political representation. The event was very inclusive and the atmosphere was very welcoming. All facilitators and speakers were extraordinarily inspiring and they were transparently able to make us aware of the current situation in which women are generally underrepresented in the political arena. They mobilized us by clearly informing us about the goals which were intended to be reached in order to remove the polarization between men and women in taking leadership related roles by 2022. I quickly began to have some feelings of togetherness. I believed that I was in the right place, where I could freely participate in sharing my opinions or thoughts. It was very inspiring to be with individuals with similar mindset and I felt so privileged to be part of the large group of women from such different walks of life.

The June event played the key role in bringing me to the main stream from the marginalized. It encouraged me to believe that I could be among those women who will take office by 2022. For the first time I was acknowledged and affirmed that no matter your background is, you can still participate in politics. The Parliament Project has played a significant role in making me aware that  it is possible to become a politician myself in order to address those social problems as I was given such good cooperation and encouragement by the team.  I never thought that I would be starting a political journey in the near future, but due to The Parliament Project's tireless support, I became a politician, and I am now more committed to many political activities in my local party's branch, where I was recently elected to take the position of the Branch Equality Officer.

#TBTMightyWomen - Katharine Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl

Katharine Marjory Stewart-Murray, Duchess of Atholl - the first woman elected to represent a Scottish seat at Westminster.

The ‘Red Duchess’, Katherine Stewart-Murray MP.

The ‘Red Duchess’, Katherine Stewart-Murray MP.

Yesterday we celebrated centenary of The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act which allowed some women to stand for election to Parliament in the UK. It took five more years for the first Scottish woman to be elected. Katharine “Kitty” Murray, the Duchess of Atholl, joined the House of Commons in 1923 after winning the seat of Kinross and West Perthshire for the Conservatives. Her story is quite extraordinary and what we know of her and her political journey seems so full of contradictions that I would love to have her over for a tea and a natter!

 She maintained that a woman’s place was at home with her family, and she was one of the key speakers at an anti-suffrage meeting in Glasgow arguing that suffrage movement became too militant, and yet she managed to gain a seat at Westminster as one of only eight women there – far away from the comfort of her own home.  She was not afraid to voice her opinions even if they were at odds with her party, and she embraced change too – later in life meeting with prominent suffragettes on a sisterly basis, and even gaining support from Sylvia Pankhurst in her electoral campaign of 1938.  

 She became known for her humanitarian work in 1930s and after a visit to war torn Spain she started her campaign to bring 4,000 children to the safety of Britain. She succeeded, and her efforts were applauded on the international stage, but at home she was accused of being an anarchist and communist and she earned a title she despised – The Red Duchess. Undeterred by all that, a year later she published The Conscription of a People in which she protested the abuse of human rights in the Soviet Union. Her mistrust of Adolf Hitler and his bestselling Mein Kampf led her to commission a more accurate translation of it, which she felt spelled the terrifying message in it more clearly. Not everyone agreed with her.

 Kitty resigned her whip in 1938 as a protest against Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement of Adolf Hitler and prompted a by-election by applying for the Chiltern Hundreds. Her campaign received support from Winston Churchill and Sylvia Pankhurst, but it was dealt a deadly blow by no other than Stalin himself who also publicly endorsed her. Despite Chamberlain’s efforts who mobilised all of the resources of the Conservative Research Department and the Whips office against her she lost by just 1305 votes.

 After losing her seat she still remained an active campaigner for human rights and against totalitarian regimes and as the chairman of the League for European Freedom in Britain she spoke against the Soviet control of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.  She also became one of the first British campaigners against female circumcision in Africa.

 “To Socrates they gave hemlock. Gracoleus they killed with sticks and stones. The greatest and best they crucified. Katherine Atholl can hold up her head in good company. Let the victors when they come, when the forts of folly fall, find the body by the wall.”

- Josiah Wedgwood on the result of the 1938 by-election.

 

#TBTMightyWomen feature, selected and written by YWCA Scotland - The Young Women’s Movement Director, Patrycja Kupiec. Follow Patrycja on Twitter @PMKupiec, and @YoungWomenScot.

 

References: 

 Baxter, Kenneth (2011). "Chapter Nine: Identity, Scottish Women and Parliament 1918-1979". In Campbell, Jodi A.; Ewan, Elizabeth; Parker, Heather. The Shaping of Scottish Identities: Family, Nation and the Worlds Beyond. Guelph, Ontario: Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Guelph. 

Campsie, Alison (20 June 2017). "The "Red Duchess" – Scotland's first female MP"The Scotsman. Retrieved 19 November 2018.

 Quigley, Elizabeth (2 March 2010). “From political maverick to historical footnote”. BBC Scotland.  Retrieved 19 November 2018.

 (No author). Katherine Marjory Murray (Kitty) later Duchess of Atholl ~ Politician and Scotland’s First Woman MP. Made in Perth. Retrieved 19 November 2018.

100 for the 100th: the day in June that sparked the #ScotWomenStand campaign

The #ScotWomenStand campaign builds on the success of the ‘100 for the 100th’ events, jointly organised by YWCA Scotland - The Young Women’s Movement and The Parliament Project. Held in June 2018, these events saw 100 women come together to discuss what was needed for a gender equal politics. Learn more about this fantastic event, and all of the action-focused initiatives that continue to result!

By Hannah, Parliament Project Programme Manager

Inspired and inspiring women at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

Inspired and inspiring women at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

On 30th June 2018, 100 women gathered together at the Grassmarket Community Centre in Edinburgh for a vision-building event to celebrate Scottish Suffragettes.  The room was bustling with a glorious group of women with a rich variety of life experiences and different political perspectives, but the key thing we had in common was that we were all women with a passion for gender equality in politics who wanted to make an audacious plan!

YWCA Scotland - Young Women’s Movement and The Parliament Project organised the day with a grant from the Scottish Government Vote Centenary fund. In my role as Programme Manager for The Parliament Project, one of my jobs was to ensure that we had a wide range of women’s voices in the room contributing to the discussion.  It was important that we made access requirements for any woman that needed it – be that BSL interpretation, financial support for travel or childcare, quiet space, PAs (personal assistants).  By ensuring these needs were met, women who don’t always have the opportunity to attend events such as this were at the heart of the conversation.

Collaborative action planning and Zine-making at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

Collaborative action planning and Zine-making at the 100 for the 100th event in Edinburgh.

Together, those 100 women set about making the first steps of a plan of action to raise the numbers of women of all ages to take their place in our Parliaments and local and community councils across the country, to bring about gender equality in politics in the next 5 years.  This was an ambitiously short period of time (2018-2022) because we don’t want to wait another 100 years to see the reality of gender equality in politics and the difference that will make to our society. 

We heard from a glorious range of females: an artist, a girl, a comedian & a suffragette. We made zines. together, we ate together, we muraled together and we made an audacious plan! It was a hot, hot day and the room was heavy with the heat, but we smiled, sweated and supported our sisters.  During the afternoon 2 women in the room, Kairin & Mary each stated their ambitions to stand for elected office. 

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The optimistic, encouraging and hopeful energy in the room was palpable. We all knew that if different spheres of Government were represented by the gloriously diverse group of women we saw in that room, that our democracy could function effectively.  We can’t wait another 100 years until that happens - we need momentum and action sooner than that.  We hope we can have another day following on from 100th, bringing together more women to join the conversation and engaging senior representatives from relevant public bodies in Scotland to join us. This is a movement and the more people – women and men – who can jump on board, the quicker we’ll reach our goal!


Hannah, Parliament Project Programme Manager