OUR parliaments and institutions need to look like the communities that they represent. Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the International Women’s Day in Uist event. It was an excellent and invigorating meeting that brought together people from across the political spectrum. We may have had disagreements over other issues, but one thing that united us was a desire to take down barriers and see a better and more inclusive politics in the Uists and Benbecula, the Western Isles and beyond.

There has definitely been progress and, increasingly, women are finding their way to the decision-making table – at work and in community settings. But there is still some distance to go. Despite steps in the right direction, women only make up one third of UK MPs, 45% of MSPs and 29% of councillors.

We can’t build communities that represent and work for the people who live in them without having a diversity of perspectives at the table. Women have different lived experiences, disabled people have different lived experiences, and people of colour have different lived experiences – and we will get a better result if these groups are represented by people who share their experiences.

Unfortunately far too many people from underrepresented groups have told me that they don’t think elected politics is for them, and I can understand why.

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All too often, our politics can be toxic and abrasive, particularly online and particularly for people from marginalised communities. The media has a role too. It often only takes a few paragraphs from our best-selling newspapers to see women being written about in ways that would never be applied to men.

No woman ends up in politics by accident. Every single one of us had to get herself there, against the sometimes visible and sometimes invisible barriers that were set against us doing so.

I was elected last May, but I hadn’t always wanted to be a politician. My political career is rooted in community and environmental activism, which took off when I was living in New York. I could see so many things that weren’t working for me or the people who lived in my community. That is why I joined campaigns to fight for affordable housing and to stop the sell-off of community facilities.

It wasn’t until I returned home to Scotland that I contemplated standing as a candidate. There were two conversations that led me to do it. The first was with a man I know who told me that I would make a good councillor or MSP – and the second was a woman who asked if I would consider it. People taking the time to encourage me is what made the difference and gave me the confidence to take the next step.

Encouragement is one thing, but inclusive representation is a two-way street, and our institutions need to change too. Even in Holyrood, where representation is far better than in Westminster, we still have a lot of work to do, particularly when it comes to removing the compounding barriers faced by women of colour, disabled women, trans women and women who work unpredictable shifts.

In 2021, we elected our most diverse parliament to date. However, at the end of the previous term we saw the resignations of several talented and experienced women, all of whom cited the tension they saw between being an MSP and having a young family. One of the MSPs who resigned, Gail Ross, had raised the issue of remote voting and committee attendance. As she said at the time, if we are to encourage more young people with families and people who live far away from Edinburgh to attend, then these are the sorts of changes that we need to consider. Gail had raised these issues time and again, but as she told Holyrood magazine, her attempts were “stonewalled”. Many of these measures were eventually introduced over the course of the pandemic, but it shouldn’t have taken an unprecedented lockdown to do it.

There is an important role for our political parties. My party, the Scottish Greens, has been far from perfect. In 2016 we won six MSPs. Despite having gender-balanced candidate lists, we still ended up with five men and one woman.

After this we conducted a root-and-branch review of the campaign. We acknowledged where women candidates were insufficiently supported and resourced compared to their male counterparts, and that women had not been standing in equally winnable positions.

We went back to the drawing board in terms of how we selected our candidates and other steps we needed to take. In order to balance out our existing parliamentary group, we decided that women would head every regional list that was not being contested by an incumbent.

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In 2021 we secured eight MSPs and, for the first time in our history, the majority of us are women. That’s not to say that we have achieved parity in all aspects of our party and structure – far from it – but we do know that parties taking responsibility and taking action can have positive results.

This isn’t just a problem in Scotland. The United Nations notes that there are 26 women serving as heads of state and/or government in 24 countries. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power won’t be achieved for another 130 years. Poverty and austerity disproportionately hurt women, and so will climate change. This was on my mind during the Uist speech, as it has some of our lowest land and will be one of the worst hit areas by rising seas. If we are not at the top-table of discussions sharing our perspectives and raising our voices, then things won’t change.

This May will see local authority elections taking place. I would also ask you to consider what steps you can take to encourage someone from an underrepresented group to stand and support them as a candidate. I hope that we see a record number of women standing and being elected, and that our councils can better reflect the communities that they represent.