Emma Ritch

Born: December 8, 1976;

Died: July 9, 2021

Emma Ritch, who has died aged 44, was a feminist leader, a passionate advocate of women’s equality and rights, and executive director of Engender, Scotland’s feminist policy advocacy organisation. She was a renowned figure in Scottish civic society and beyond, and her exceptional work has made Scotland a better place for women.

She was born in Berkshire, the daughter of Valerie and Tom. When she was two, the family relocated to New Zealand, after Tom was appointed a lecturer in computer science at Massey University in Palmerston North. Moving to New Zealand was not an entirely new experience for the family, as Valerie had grown up there.

Emma was the eldest of three children, a sister to Harriet and Thom. Her appetite for reading started early, and her family remembers her as always having her nose in a book. Her intellectual curiosity and prodigious capacity for knowledge were defining features of her personality.

The family returned to the UK when Emma was 12, settling in Buckingham where Emma attended the Royal Latin School. She moved to Glasgow in 1995 to study English language and literature at Glasgow University and it was there that she met her husband Kenny.

On realising there were few appealing opportunities for English literature graduates, Emma returned to Glasgow University to do an MSc in IT and management. Kenny notes that this persuaded her that a career in IT was definitely not something she wished to pursue.

After graduating, Emma spent three years as a case manager at Big Lottery Fund managing grants for a variety of projects, predominantly related to sports.

In 2005, she became manager of Close the Gap, which at that time was a relatively new partnership initiative working to tackle the gender pay gap. It was in this first professional feminist role that Emma’s passion for women’s equality was able to flourish.

Close the Gap had a significant focus on equal pay at the time. Emma’s laser focus, and aptitude for technical detail meant she was very well suited to work on the intricacies of the subject. While at Close the Gap, she influenced a wide variety of key organisations to take action, from large corporates to public bodies and trade unions.

Close the Gap remained close to her heart, and she later became a trustee and played a key role in the board in overseeing its transition to an independent charity.

After nine years at Close the Gap, Emma became the executive director of Engender. She had already been involved with the organisation, having served as vice-convener on the Engender board for five years.

Her eight years at Engender were transformative for the organisation. Most notably, Engender became the authoritative voice on women’s unpaid care work, the devastating effect of austerity and the need for a social security system that meets the needs of women’s lives, hate crime, equal representation in politics, and access to safe, legal abortion healthcare. More recently, highlighting the ways women’s lives have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 was a primary focus for Engender.

Emma also had a particular interest in the relationship between women’s equality and women’s human rights. She led Engender’s engagement with the UN, and gave evidence to the UN on the UK’s progress to the implement human rights treaties, in particular the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Violence Against Women, known as the Women’s Bill of Rights. Emma was instrumental in the successful advocacy that led to Scottish Government’s commitment that the convention would be incorporated into Scots Law.

Emma’s expansive knowledge and expertise on women’s equality in a wide range of policy areas made her an invaluable member of the many national strategic groups in which she participated. Women’s health, the gender pay gap, violence against women and girls, the public sector equality duty, and transport, to name a just a few.

Following Engender’s advocacy around the hate crime bill, and the need for a standalone misogyny offence, she had recently been appointed to the independent working group on misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland.

Emma was a prominent member of the First Minister’s National Advisory Council on Women and Girls. In recognition of her contribution, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said of her: “Emma was such a force for good – a passionate advocate for women’s rights and a champion of justice and equality.”

Passion, wit, kindness and intellect. In the outpouring of tributes paid to Emma, these are the qualities that have been most often mentioned. She made time for people, provided wise counsel, and helped others to solve problems.

She served on a number of boards of women’s organisations. Most recently she was the chair of both Rape Crisis Scotland and Human Rights Consortium Scotland, and she was previously a board member of European Women’s Lobby, Glasgow & Clyde Rape Crisis, YWCA Glasgow, and Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

In 2019 she was inducted into the Saltire Society Outstanding Women of Scotland.

She is survived by her husband, Kenny.

Anna Ritchie Allan