For this piece we spoke to Emma Ritch, director of Engender – who tragically passed away last week.

Her quotes are published here in full, expressing hope for change, and are included in her memory.

There is a perception that everyone in Scotland knows each other. And while it’s true that it is possible (or certainly was before Covid) to bump into Government Ministers on a Scotrail train, or wander into the Scottish Parliament on your lunch break, this perception can lead to further alienation of marginalised communities. 

An ‘old boys club’ scaled up can happen where people who speak different languages, who live outwith the central belt, or who may be, justifiably, suspicious of the state, are excluded from vital conversations. So although it’s undoubtedly more straightforward for women’s rights advocates to speak to key decision-makers in Scotland compared with some other nations, we do need to see fundamental change in the way that power is wielded and decisions made.

The sense that we have already won the argument is one of the greatest challenges faced by advocates for women’s equality. From maternity legislation to women’s equal representation in politics, people think that the job is done. 

READ MORE: Tributes paid to leading Scottish feminist Emma Ritch following her sudden death

This is exemplified in this year’s Holyrood election results being hailed as a ‘diversity parliament’ despite having only two women of colour. It does make a difference to have feminist women in positions of power, but scratching the surface of Scotland reveals male over-representation in our chambers of power, with entrenched influence over the policy and legislation which shapes our lives.

Power relations colour all of our interactions. From ‘special relationships’ between nations, to ‘positive partnerships’ between government and local authorities in Scotland, to a grassroots organisation working with a national institution, we know that these are not equal collaborations. Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, has a history of sexism, white supremacy, and other forms of inequality, which are still present in our structures and culture today, and must be challenged. 

Moves to greater localised democracy, like citizens’ assemblies and participatory budgeting could hold huge potential for challenging these structures, but they must be done with equality in mind or risk simply advancing the interests of those who already hold the most power in society.

READ MORE: Scotland's gender pay gap exposed as women board members paid half a million less

We still have a way to go before companies, political parties and other institutions recognise that diversity is important not just for its own sake, but because it leads to better practices. Even with legislation in place, we can see a tendency for diversity on boards to be undermined by gender segregation in the types of tasks undertaken, or for women to be shut out of key decision-making sub-groups and committees.  

That said, advocates for women’s equality have to be optimists. Complacency is one of the biggest things standing in the way, but we know that there is huge appetite for doing things differently among the women of Scotland. Change takes time, but movements like Me Too, Black Lives Matter, and Say her Name, are chipping away at the pillars propping up our unequal society.