Sunday, 7 December 2014

Women - A personal view

I know some people – particularly men – will think this is not sincere, but it is. As I have got older, my respect for women has continued to grow, and I decided to write this after seeing statistics that shocked me.

I've never understood why some men assault women, particularly women they claim to love. In just 12 months there were 51,926 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by police in Scotland. Of course, some women don't report being physically or psychologically abused by their partner. On average, women are on the receiving end of domestic abuse 35 times before they report it to police or social services.

North Ayrshire has the highest rate of domestic abuse in Scotland: a report by the local council put the annual cost of dealing with the 'problem' at around £2.9million.

Between 2003/04 and 2011/12 the rate of domestic abuse incidents responded to by the police in North Ayrshire increased by 90.5% - from 996 to 1,897. Worryingly, the Council recorded that the high rate of domestic abuse has not translated into increased 'homeless' applications for housing, indicating that, in many cases, women are remaining in the home where abuse has occurred.

North Ayrshire Women's Aid figures for 2012/13 show 95 women and 60 children stayed in local refuges operated by the charity. In addition, 588 women were provided with counselling support.

Alcohol plays a part in men assaulting their partners, but it is no excuse. No-one forces men to get drunk and then take out their frustrations by physically assaulting women. One formidable woman I have worked with in the past, Kay Ullrich, summed-up the paucity of the “But I was drunk” excuse, by asking, “So why did he wait to get home before he decided to punch someone's face in? Why didn't he batter the big guy standing next to him in the pub?”

In my life there have always been strong women. My maternal granny was a socialist activist in the Independent Labour Party in the Saltcoats area. My paternal granny was undoubtedly the boss in a household that included a husband and six sons.

When I was a politician my mother was my staunchest defender and supporter – she could criticise me, but no-one else was allowed to do it. She was physically small, but would have faced a lion to defend her two sons (albeit one needed more defending than the other).

I'm delighted that my daughter is following in the tradition: she is beautiful, intelligent, articulate and funny. She is more than a match for any man.

The human race would have expired centuries ago if child-bearing was not something done by women. Men could never endure the physical pain and stress of giving birth.

Women raise families, run households, have careers and now, in Scotland, run the country. Amazingly, they also find time to 'look good' because men expect that of them, even while our beer-bellies swell and forests of hair emerge from our ears and noses.

In the early days of the Scottish Parliament I was the only male who attended meetings of the SNP Parliamentary Group Management Team. Other attendees were Kay Ullrich, Nicola Sturgeon, Shona Robison and Fiona Hyslop. Incomparable individually and collectively, and more than a match for any man.

During my time as an MSP, the Scottish Socialist Party had six members, including Carolyn Leckie, Rosie Kane and Frances Curran. As with the women in the SNP, they were there entirely on merit and proved themselves to be amongst the best politicians in the country.

Then there was my pal, Margo. Despite suffering from a terrible debilitating illness, Margo MacDonald was the brightest star in the parliament. She was so intelligent, so articulate and so funny.

None of those women needed any form of positive discrimination, they achieved their positions through ability and determination to prove their gender was an asset, not a hindrance.

It is a misconceived belief of superiority that leads some men to think women are less than their equal. From my experience, in work, in politics, in life in general, women constantly prove themselves to be more than equal to men. When a problem arises, men will form a committee to look at setting-up a focus group that could examine possible options for inclusion in a brainstorming session to set-out ideas that might feed into a matrix of potential solutions. Women will identify the problem and sort it out.

There is no doubt in my mind that women are the stronger sex. Of course, physically, men are generally bigger and stronger, which is a major factor in the appalling statistics relating to domestic abuse.

So, to any men who might, in the future, find themselves feeling they want to hurt a woman they claim to love – or any woman – please pause, take a step back and be a real man. Real men don't hit women.

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