It’s a startling statistic. As things stand, only 35 per cent of MSPs and about 29% of councillors in Scotland are female. Inspiring women to get involved in politics is therefore a major concern for those who want to achieve a balanced democratic representation.

This is why the Parliament Project, a non-partisan initiative that helps women get involved in politics, and YWCA – The Young Women’s Movement, a feminist organisation – are organising Scotland’s Women Stand, an event today aimed at inspiring women to stand for elected office. 

Some 7, 400 women will gather in the Scottish Parliament to listen to speeches and discussions from leading female political figures, and take part in workshops. The event will be live streamed to four regional hubs – in Stornoway, Lerwick, Lochgilphead, and Aberdeen – where women can take part remotely.

Scottish Parliament deputy presiding officer, Linda Fabiani MSP, will be chairing panel discussions.

She said: “Having women in elected politics at all levels matters. The Parliament recognises this, and we are delighted to welcome Scotland’s Women Stand into our chamber. There is just such a buzz to see all these women in the chamber.

“Women, particularly younger women, are much more reticent about coming forward as potential elected members than young men are. And older women too, they think ‘my time has passed for that’.

“I’m hoping the women will see that they can put themselves forward for elected positions. I want them to recognise that their voice is very, very valid, and so useful, because women make a big difference in all these different legislatures and organisations.”

For three years, Lee Chalmers, the founder and director of the Parliament Project, has been running workshops to help women who are interested in getting involved. She believes politics is not easily accessible, and this puts women off.

She said: “It’s not easy to find information about how to join a party, or a what party does, what campaigning means. It’s a bit of a mystery.”

Ms Chalmers also explains that women often think that they are not good enough to enter politics, and that they do not have the skills to do so – a myth that female Scottish parliamentarians are eager to debunk.

Minister for Older People and Equalities, Christina McKelvie MSP, who will be speaking at the event, said: “I want women to realise, that if I can do it, then you can do it too. Women have the skills and talent to do it, they just need the confidence – because they are definitely as good as anybody else.” 

Alison Johnstone MSP, who will be part of the panel, agrees.

She said: “I didn’t study politics, I didn’t have a political background. I got involved when I was in my thirties, so I feel that if I can get involved, and become a member of the Scottish Parliament, then so
can you.”

There are still barriers, however, that make a political career more difficult for women, for example for those with a family. Ms McKelvie said: “It is very difficult for parents – I was supported by members of my family, but going back to work was, like for any parent, very difficult. But it’s worth making it work, if you want to change the world.”

Ms Johnstone believes there is now the support to make things possible for mothers. She said: “The Prime Minister of New Zealand is demonstrating that it is possible for women with young families to play an incredibly important part in their national development. In Scotland, my party is doing a lot to help – we have a co-convener system for example.”

Ms Chalmers believes there is a prejudice in society that needs to be overcome: “The conversation has to move away from from seeing women as mothers first.”

Misogynistic abuse on social media can also be daunting. Ms Johnstone said: “In my experience, where I have had to contact the police, which thankfully has been rare, the abuse I received has been notably gendered abuse. These are comments that would not have been sent to a man.”

Over the years, the share of female MSPs has not improved – it peaked in 2003 at 39.5%, a level not equalled since.

Ms Johnstone said: “There is a long way to go, but I do feel we are talking about these things a lot more than we were twenty years ago. Now, we want the action to follow.”