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MU Member Gives Speech at STUC Women’s Conference

MU Member Katherine Liley gave a speech at this year’s Scottish Trades Union Congress Women’s Conference, citing her own personal experiences and those of women around her, calling for a motion on creating safe workplaces for women to be moved.

Published: 27 October 2021 | 3:03 PM
Silhouette of singer on stage. Dark background, smoke, spotlights
"Workplaces where women must choose between keeping their jobs and keeping quiet about sexual harassment and abuse cannot continue.” Photo credit: Shutterstock

The STUC Women’s Conference ran from Monday 25 October to Tuesday 26 October. A motion was raised by the MU asking the STUC to lobby the Government to:

  • Explicitly protect all freelancers and self-employed workers from sexual harassment in the Equality Act 2010 
  • Increase EHRC’s core funding so it can be more effective in its enforcing activity  #
  • Reintroduce third party harassment provisions, without the three strikes test 
  • Implement Section 14 of the Equality Act and review the limit of two characteristics 
  • Increase the time limit to raise a tribunal claim from three to six months

A picture of misogyny and abuse

MU Member Katherine Liley gave a moving speech in favour of the motion:

I know a 92 year old lady who was a nursing student in the early 50s. She held her hat pin in her hand as she walked home at night. Today we hold our keys.

When I was a 17 year old music student in 1998, I made an older music industry “friend” who I’ll call Ed. He offered me contacts, transport around the city, nights out, and work experience. When I eventually refused his advances, he yelled at me, called me horrible names and took away all the opportunities and contacts. 

This was my introduction to the music industry in Scotland. The boys were fun, and the girls were fresh meat.

In preparing to speak to you today, I asked other women for their stories. 

One was assaulted backstage by the star of the show, and the other women in the cast shrugged and said it was normal. Another has left performing entirely as she had enough assaults and abuse.

Many were offered career opportunities in return for sexual favours. All had far worse stories that they didn’t dare tell.

Ours is a social industry based on friendship networks and ‘craic’. If you rock the boat, or if you’re no fun, then the phone doesn’t ring and you won’t work. Pubs and clubs are where contacts are made, and there are many powerful ‘gate keepers’ who could be described as seeing young enthusiastic musicians as perks of the job. 

The power dynamic is not dissimilar to Harvey Weinstein.

In 2017 we saw the ‘me too’ campaign take off in the film industry, filtering out to wider society. 

We began to share our stories of abuse. That same year Rachel Newton spoke about the abuse and discrimination she had encountered as a musician in Scotland, and started the Bit Collective; a group who aim to change this culture. 

In 2018 the Musicians' Union set up a Safe Space service for musicians to confidentially report incidences of sexual harassment in the music industry. This started to form a picture of how serious a problem we have, and the power imbalance in many working relationships. 

In 2019, they went on to survey our members and produce this excellent report, entitled ‘For the Love of Music: Ending Sexual Harrassment in the Music Industry’

I would urge you to read it. 

In Ireland, Fair Ple and ‘mise fosta’ (gaelic for me too) have uncovered the same picture of misogyny and abuse, and have developed an excellent website of resources to tackle it.

Our museums, our music history books, our music collections and our festival line-ups are full of men – at least 50% of what we should be able to enjoy is missing. This motion gives us an opportunity to make a change. Please support our cause and vote in favour of this motion. 

Thank you for your time.

Safe workplaces for women

The MU’s motion set out the recommendations detailed at the top of this story, backed up by further explanation.

Conference notes that sexual harassment continues to thrive in workplaces. Even during lockdown women were still subjected to new forms of sexual harassment. Proof that Sexual harassment does not need people to be physically in the same place to happen. 

The forced closure of the music industry due to Covid-19 has given new energy to reforming workplaces that work for women, that are safe spaces for women and where women are not subjected to sexual harassment as a normal part of working life.

Workplaces where women must choose between keeping their jobs and keeping quiet about sexual harassment and abuse cannot continue. We have a unique opportunity to create sustainable, deep-rooted cultural change and reform workplaces to prioritise women’s safety. 

Take action now

Find out more about the MU’s campaign to end sexual harassment at work, and how you can help change the law to protect all self-employed musicians.

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