She is stepping down as First Minister in the coming weeks
Future first ministers should seek to ensure that half of their top team in government are women, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
Ms Sturgeon said one of her first acts when she took on the top job in Scottish politics in 2014 had been to appoint a gender-balanced cabinet.
Ms Sturgeon said Scotland’s had been only the third such cabinet in the world – as she recalled how questions had been asked about this
Speaking on International Women’s Day, she said: “I got lots of emails asking how I knew how that all the women in my cabinet were there on merit.
“I was struck by the fact I didn’t get a single email asking me how I knew all the men in my cabinet were there on merit.”
Ms Sturgeon, who is stepping down as First Minister and SNP leader later this month, urged future Scottish Government leaders to follow her example.
“I hope future first ministers will continue that practice,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon added: “Unless we believe women are somehow less qualified than men, it stands to mean that any cabinet not gender balanced is not properly reflective of all the talents at our country’s disposal.”
There are three candidates running to succeed Ms Sturgeon – the current Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and former community safety minister Ash Regan.
Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy said whoever takes on the top job in Scottish politics must “deliver for women” and legislate for split benefits payments
Currently, universal credit payments are made to one person in a couple, something the Labour MSP said left women “trapped and financially powerless”.
Under Scotland’s social security powers, according to equalities charity Engender, payments could instead be made to individuals.
“Too often when it comes to equality, the SNP are all talk and no action – this needs to change,” she said.
“The next first minister must drop the hollow rhetoric and deliver for women.
“A key starting point is to use the powers we have here under Scottish Choices to end the outdated and punitive system of paying universal credit to households, leaving far too many women trapped and financially powerless.
“Every SNP leadership candidate must commit to delivering this long overdue promise on split payments with the urgency needed.”
Mr Yousaf offered a “cast-iron guarantee” there will be “no rowing back in support for women’s rights or in women’s representation” if he gets the keys to Bute House.
Mr Yousaf committed to continuing the practice of forming a gender-balanced cabinet, making misogyny a crime, fast tracking delivery of free childcare for one and two-year-olds and supporting buffer zones near abortion clinics.
“I believe in equality and I know that while women’s rights, and women’s equality, have made significant strides forward – there is still a long way to go,” he said.
“Our progress cannot be taken for granted.
“I have championed women’s rights throughout my time in politics, and as your SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister, I give you an unshakable commitment that women’s rights will be a priority for my government.
“Today I am offering women across Scotland a cast-iron guarantee that under my leadership there will be no rowing back in support for women’s rights or in women’s representation.
“That commitment to representation starts in the highest political office – that’s why as first minister I would maintain a gender-balanced cabinet.”