Thank you for your letter asking what I would do to tackle sexism.
Addressing the issue of sexism should not be a party issue but rather one of simple common decency and mutual respect. Some things though have to be carried out by government and sometimes new laws are required. While in government, the Liberal Democrats have been active in tackling gender inequality:
In Government, Lynne Featherstone secured £40 million to support victims of domestic violence and a further £10 million specifically for women’s refuges.
We’ve introduced a new offence of domestic abuse – of coercive and controlling behaviour – because this kind of abuse can do as much harm as physical violence
Forced marriage has been criminalised, new stalking laws introduced and we have introduced a new law to tackle revenge porn.
Lynne has also championed the cause of girls at risk of FGM at home and abroad. Thanks to her efforts the law has been changed to better protect girls at risk and improve awareness among health professionals and reporting among the public. Cultural tradition should never be an excuse for inflicting real and lasting harm upon a young girl.
In addressing stereotypical roles, the Liberal Democrats have also introduced shared parental leave. For too long childcare and upbringing has been seen as purely a woman's role. This should not be. Shared parental leave gives the freedom for families greater opportunity to share childcare equally; enriching the family experience for everybody.
All this is a good start for Liberal Democrats in government but it is just that: there is so much more to be done in tackling inequality in society. For more on this subject, I can do no better than suggest you read (or watch) MP Jo Swinson's excellent speech, made during the Liberal Democrat Spring conference. http://www.libdems.org.uk/jo-swinson-speech-to-spring-conference-2015
I realise though I have not, as yet, answered your question directly: "What would you do to tackle sexism?" In light of the 2012 UN assessment on the progress of women towards top jobs, including that of MPs, I am personally in favour of quota systems, as previously introduced for company boards in Norway. Just this year Germany followed suit and introduced a thirty percent quota for boardrooms. It is sad that it is necessary, but necessary it is. I would back the same measures, for both UK boardrooms and for my own party in terms of MP selection and have already argued for such within the party. I realise that, as I am white, male and middle-aged so it must seem that I am some kind of turkey that looks forward to Christmas. In order to reach gender equality within society more quickly, it is the right thing to do. Thus logic dictates I must back such measures.
Lest we fall into the trap of thinking that sexism is just an issue for Westminster and The City, here in Scotland we have an uphill battle too. In a recent survey of public bodies by the Scottish Review, out of fifty two, twenty nine were identified has have male-weighted boards, and a further eight, including VisitScotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, had boardrooms dominated by men. The worst offender is the Highlands and Islands Enterprise board with a sole female board member. Gender equality is a UK-wide issue and has to be fought for on all fronts.
I wish to convey in this letter how personal the issue of sexism is to me. In life, we all appear to have different roles, depending upon the observer's point of view. Too often, it is the surface view that is given the only consideration and there is the start of sexism. All of us must work to ensure, through education and example, that perception does not stop at the surface. In my life I have people that are important to me and, as a husband, father and simply as a human being, it is inconceivable that I should want less for them than for myself. So if there should be trouble in their lives, following violence or sexual abuse, they should be able to access easily the help that is needed. Thus the same help should be easily accessible to every woman. Likewise should those close to me be valued less because of their gender? Of course not. Therefore no person should be disadvantaged owing to gender.
It is my hope, therefore, that you are now reassured that I take the issue of gender equality seriously and you may rely upon both my own efforts, and those of the Liberal Democrats, in undertaking the work to be done in making Britain a fairer place to live.
Edinburgh North and Leith,