‘More difficult’ now for SNP to encourage women to stand, says Sturgeon

The First Minister said women believe politics is not a ‘safe space’ for them.

02 May 2022

The SNP has struggled to encourage women to stand at this year’s council elections, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The culture of politics has come to the fore in recent weeks after a number of incidents at Westminster, including Tory MP Neil Parish being caught watching pornography in the House of Commons.

Scotland’s First Minister said she had experienced a number of comments about her appearance when she started in politics but added that she believes it is “worse today”.

When asked why she thought that, Ms Sturgeon said the reason was the “culture – the very toxic culture – that, frankly, social media plays a big part in creating and sustaining”.

“People who will hurl sexist abuse at women in public life, they’ve always been there, but social media gives them direct access in a way that didn’t exist when I was much younger,” she said on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“I think it has also led to a situation where things that previously people would have thought but never said, there is a sense that they can say them now on social media because they don’t have to come face to face with people.”

The First Minister added: “In this election, my party – and I think it will be the same for other parties – have found it more difficult than at any election I remember to persuade women to come forward because there’s a sense that politics is not a safe space.”

Nicola Sturgeon taking a selfie with a supporter
The First Minister said women believe that politics is not a ‘safe space’ for them (Lesley Martin/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said he agreed politics had become a difficult place for women.

“Across the board, every political party has seen the challenge of encouraging more women to come forward and more people from diverse backgrounds to come forward and stand as candidates,” he said.

“You’ve seen in recent days and weeks the scandal of misogyny, but let’s not pretend that it’s just reserved to Westminster that we have issues with sexism and misogyny across our political establishment, across political institutions, but not just reserved to political institutions.

“It’s an everyday occurrence for far too many women across the country, and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the urgent action to address that.”

When asked if he – the first leader of a major party in the UK from a minority background – found it disheartening that people were opting not to enter politics because of fear of discrimination, Mr Sarwar added: “It’s disheartening, it’s sad, but it’s not a surprise.

“It is the lived reality for far too many people.”

He continued: “It’s one thing looking at elected office, of course we’ve got to make elected office much more accessible for people, but actually people’s lived experience has to change.

“That’s on all of us, as a way to society, but it’s particularly on our governments to make sure we’re changing that culture and delivering that change.”

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