In 2017, the First Minister appointed the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG), to advise the Scottish Government on what action is needed to achieve gender equality in Scotland. It is made up of 17 women and girls aged 17+, from different backgrounds, and is co-chaired by Louise Macdonald, Chief Executive of Young Scot, and Dr Ima Jackson, a Senior Lecturer in the Department for Nursing and Community Health at Glasgow Caledonian University.
The NACWG agreed a three year work plan to 2020, choosing to explore a different topic each year. It published its first report on the topic of Attitudes and Culture Change on 23 January 2019. This report contains 11 recommendations for Scottish Government, in areas from education to justice, women's political representation and childcare.
The Scottish Government published its response on 26 June 2019, welcoming the ambition of the report and describing how it would deliver the NACWG's recommendations. This work continues. An update on the progress the Scottish Government has made to deliver the NACWG's 2018 recommendations is set out at Annex B.
This report is the Scottish Government's response to the NACWG's second report on its work in 2019 on the topic of 'Policy Coherence - how are policies made and do policies work against each other', which was published on 22 January 2020.
In its 2019 report, the NACWG is concerned not with policy choices, but the policy-making system itself: the processes and people which contribute to it, and the environment and culture within which policy-makers operate. At present, the NACWG says that policy-making is not sufficiently transparent, can appear incoherent, and that the use of participatory approaches and engagement with people with lived experience in policy-making is inconsistent. It concludes that significant improvement is needed to ensure that the policy-making system is gender sensitive and capable of realising the best outcomes for women and girls.
"Policy-makers need more curiosity, compassion and humility in their policy-making balanced with technical competence in gendered issues. And they need to move from managing the status quo to managing change".
Louise Macdonald, Co-Chair of the NACWG
To realise the change required, the NACWG makes six recommendations aimed at transforming the mainstreaming of gender equality throughout government policy-making, addressing critical areas such as leadership, resourcing and accountability. A seventh recommendation is directed to Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission. The NACWG describes its 2019 report as a call for the creation of a "Scottish Approach to Gender Coherence across all spheres of government; public services and business". A list of its 2019 recommendations can be found at Annex A.
The NACWG's message is clear. We can and must do better.
The Scottish Government agrees that the benefits of taking action are potentially transformative. We therefore accept all of the NACWG's recommendations, while acknowledging that the task of realising them in practice will require more detailed consideration and a 'whole government' approach to achieve meaningful and long-term system change.
To deliver this ambitious agenda, the Scottish Government committed in its most recent Programme for Scotland 2020-2021 published on 1 September 2020, to "develop an equality and human rights mainstreaming strategy, which is underpinned by a comprehensive approach to improving data collation and analysis, and will ensure that the voices of those impacted shape our approach and policies".
Strengthening the Scottish Government's strategic approach to equality and human rights, as a policy-maker, employer, and legislator, is a long-standing priority for Scottish Ministers, consistent with the Public Sector Equality Duty and the overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations, as set out in the Ministerial Code.
Our strategy will therefore complement a number of existing work streams in this area. This includes our Human Rights Improvement Programme initiated in December 2019, and our ongoing review of the operation of the Public Sector Equality Duty, both in terms of the regulatory framework for mainstreaming equality and the implementation environment.
Our strategy will also be influenced by our experience of responding to the Coronavirus pandemic. The impacts of COVID-19 have been and will continue to be experienced disproportionally by different groups, including women, people from minority ethnic communities, older people and disabled people, and by people who share a number of those characteristics in combination, often with deprivation as an additional aggravating factor. That these groups experience inequality is not new – but the experience of COVID-19 has exacerbated and exposed these pre-existing deep-seated inequalities. COVID-19 has highlighted the fundamental importance of ensuring that equality and human rights are central to our policies and decisions, across all areas of government.
A number of additional mechanisms have been developed in response to the issues emerging from the pandemic which are already strengthening our approach. They include the Social Renewal Advisory Board and supporting Circles, and the Expert Reference Group on Ethnicity and COVID-19  which has published a suite of recommendations to the Scottish Government focusing on both immediate actions to tackle our understanding of health inequality through improved data, as well as longer-term actions focusing on the systemic changes necessary to embed race equality.
We are not starting from scratch. A strong framework to support equality and human rights already exists, including the legislative framework provided by the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty, as well as the Human Rights Act 1998 and international human rights treaties and conventions, including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). There has been more than a decade of equality mainstreaming activity across the public sector in Scotland from which lessons can be, and have been learned. This provides a strong foundation for building a refreshed mainstreaming strategy which has the use of robust evidence and data and the voice of lived experience more clearly at its heart.
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