Foreword First Minister
I am pleased to introduce the Scottish Government’s response to the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls’ (NACWG) 2020 Annual Report and Recommendations, which brings to a close its initial three-year strategy.
I am grateful to co-chairs Louise Macdonald and Ima Jackson for their leadership and commitment, and to each and every member of the Council for sharing their time and expertise. Over three-years, 2018 – 2020, the NACWG has produced three end-of-year reports containing a package of recommendations which have the potential to improve the lives of women and girls in Scotland. I asked the NACWG to be bold in telling us what action is needed to end gender inequality, and it has exceeded my expectations.
I also want to thank the NACWG’s network of supporters, which include representatives of public, private and third sector organisations and members of the general public. Their knowledge and lived experience has informed and strengthened the Council’s work. At every NACWG event I have attended, I am reminded of
the dedication and passion that exists in Scotland’s communities and in civil society for challenging discrimination and inequality, and making our society fairer for all.
I have heard the NACWG’s call for greater action to end gender inequality and the Scottish Government is delivering its recommendations across a range of policy areas. We will continue to do so.
The NACWG recommended that we incorporate the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) into Scots Law. In this parliamentary session, we will introduce a new Human Rights Bill, incorporating four international human rights treaties into Scots Law, as far as possible within devolved competence, including CEDAW.
The NACWG recommended that we create a world-leading process for complainers of sexual violence, including trauma-informed forensic medical examination. In 2021, the Scottish Parliament passed the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Act, which puts a duty on health boards to give victims direct access to trauma-informed, person-centred forensic medical examination services without first needing to make a report to the police.
The NACWG recommended that we criminalise serious misogynistic harassment, filling gaps in existing laws. We have established an independent Working Group on Misogyny and Criminal Justice in Scotland, led by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, which will consider gaps in the law that could be addressed by a specific criminal offence.
In response to the NACWG’s recommendation for a standalone Equalities Directorate, we created a new Directorate for Equality, Inclusion and Human Rights, to help ensure that equality and human rights underpin decision-making and delivery across the work of government and the wider public sector in Scotland.
In our 2021-22 Programme for Government, we commit to build a new system of wraparound childcare for school age children, beginning with the provision of funded early years education to all one- and two-year-olds from low-income households, to give their parents more opportunity to work, train or study. This builds on our previous expansion of childcare provision and responds to the clear message from the NACWG about the importance of funded, good-quality childcare to realising women’s equality.
These are just some examples of the work underway to deliver the NACWG’s recommendations. I am clear that realising our shared ambition for gender equality is a long term endeavour, not a quick fix. Welcoming recommendations is easy, putting them into practice in a way that is meaningful and delivers real change, is often not. I am therefore pleased to accept the NACWG’s advice that it continue for a further three-years, with a refreshed membership and a focus on accountability and monitoring implementation of its 2018-2020 recommendations.
I have said before, that gender equality is an unwon cause. That is true here in Scotland and around the world. I say this, not to minimise the positive changes and the progress that we have made, but because complacency can be dangerous when it makes us numb to the status quo. It is why I appointed the NACWG and why I want it to continue.
In conclusion, I want to remember the life of one woman who dedicated a large part of herself to challenging the status quo and speaking out against gender inequality and men’s violence against women and girls. Emma Ritch, NACWG member and Executive Director of feminist organisation Engender, who died on 9 July 2021, was a beacon of the women’s sector in Scotland and a passionate advocate for equality. I hear her voice in the NACWG’s work, forthright about what needs to change to make gender equality real, and unapologetically so. We owe her a debt of gratitude and a promise to keep forging ahead, until in the NACWG’s words, gender inequality is an historical curiosity.