Publication - Corporate report

Scottish Government's Response to the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls

Published: 26 Jun 2019

The Scottish Government's response to the First Minister's National Advisory Council on Women and Girls who published their report and recommendations in 2018.

Scottish Government's Response to the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls


The first key theme of the NACWG was leadership.

Gender inequality is an enduring issue because structures perpetuate it. The Scottish Government; public and third sectors and business need to lead by example and take steps to restructure Scotland to be gender competent to see the desired changes we seek. This is complex and goes beyond training to ensure a gender competent workforce. As well as changing systems and ensuring gender equality is woven into the fabric of current and new workforces, we need to concentrate on parents and carers, including parents-to-be and the most significant service in a child’s life: the education and learning system. As well as making this long-established system universally gender competent, we need to ensure there are no conflicting messages and the standards are clear. This led to three recommendations. 

The Scottish Government shares the Council’s vision for Scotland to be recognised as a leading nation in the pursuit of gender equality. We recognise that this ambition requires those from across the public, private and third sectors to lead by example in supporting equality and challenging organisations and practice to change. The Scottish Government is pleased, in delivering our response to this report to take a role in leading this change. We would encourage other organisations and individuals from across Scotland to consider how they, through their choices, actions and words, can lead the change to the attitudes and culture within their organisations and communities. To this end, we invite the Scottish Leaders Forum to focus on gender equality, and agree the collective work that will deliver the most significant progress.

Recommendation - Create a ‘What Works?’ Institute

To develop and test robust, evidence-led inclusive and representative approaches to changing public attitudes in Scotland to girls and women’s equality and rights, including dismantling stereotypes about what girls and women should study, work at, and be. The Institute will be the place where “good learning” happens and where specialist gender support can be accessed that will give public bodies; the third sector and business the tools to act to change the culture on women’s equality. 

Scottish Government response - Accept

This recommendation aligns with the Government’s long-term ambitions for Scotland. Our commitment to addressing gender inequality in society has been a priority since coming into power in 2007, and it’s one which we’re working closely with the women’s sector in Scotland to achieve. Our understanding of how best to tackle it, is based on the pioneering campaigns that feminist organisations have developed over the years. We know that there is still a lot that we need to learn in order to understand how we can change attitudes, affect culture change and achieve equality for women and girls. Historically, it has been feminist organisations working to end violence against women who have lead the way in testing how we can achieve this. The worst example of inequalities that women and girls experience are reflected through the violence they are subject to every day. These organisations understand, as we do, that violence against women is both the result of gender inequality and the means by which it is perpetuated.

We can build on this strong foundation and ensure that the What Works? Gender Institute delivers help and support to organisations so that they are equipped with the best help and guidance on how to start or continue to make the system change that will lead to gender equality. It will be key that they can access  information on what evidence tells us about the action to take to tackle basic gender inequality in their organisations and the guidance; toolkits and best practice that will help them to help them do this.

This recommendation follows the direction of our strategic policies such as the Improving Gender Balance project[1] which is working to recognise and address unconscious bias and gender stereotyping in schools. 

Also A Fairer Scotland for Women: a gender action plan[2], proposes actions to ensure gender equality is promoted within early learning, schools, colleges, universities, employability programmes, the labour market, businesses, and social security; and also drive both more immediate and long-term change including addressing gender stereotyping, sexual harassment, and other labour market and care inequalities.

Equally Safe, Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls also makes our position very clear; that the roots of violence against women and girls lie in the attitudes and inequalities that continue to permeate society, and we will only make progress if we tackle outdated gender stereotypes and women’s inequality. In order to do this effectively, we must develop our understanding of what works.

How the Government and other partners will deliver it 

Any attempt to change public attitudes and dismantle stereotypes that also address the intersectional discrimination that women face will not be easy. We agree with the recommendation that developing and testing approaches is critical. The Institute will need to be able to quickly adapt and learn so that practical approaches to change can be put forward and used, for example, by the Gender Beacon Collaborative and media body which is to provide advice on gender equality and holding the media to account.

It cannot be an academic enterprise that moves slowly but surely, but rather one that should keep pace with the world as it is evolving. It needs to work on the basis set out by Louise Macdonald OBE in the 2018 Report and Recommendations that “no-one has the ‘right answer’ - but we will find solutions faster together”.

The Scottish Government will therefore undertake a short development phase, working with prominent feminist expert organisations in Scotland, together with new voices and thinking from academia and the media, to explore what a practical, dynamic, evidence-led, gender-focussed institute would look like and operate. 

This group will develop an agreed framework for how the What Works? Gender Institute would be structured, agreeing what it will test, who it will work with and how it will measure change. This framework will include the co-ordinated action and interventions required to influence the structures, practice, attitudes and power differentials that underpin women’s inequality.

As mentioned previously, the group will also be able to draw on the significant level of activity that is currently underway across Scotland to remove gendered attitudes and create culture change. Much of this work has been driven forward by Equally Safe  and the primary prevention work strand that helped shape the Equally Safe Delivery Plan[3] published in 2017. Ongoing work in this area includes the development of awareness raising campaigns, embedding issues of consent, healthy relationships and tackling gender stereotypes in schools and early years, the Equally Safe in Colleges and Universities work, and tackling sexual harassment. 

Gender Expertise to support the phase one work

Zero Tolerance will support the phase one work, in partnership with the Scottish Government’s Equality Unit and drawing in wider expertise from across Scotland.

Established in 1992, Zero Tolerance has been working to end violence against women through tackling the roots of this violence - gender inequality. They developed the ground-breaking and radical Edinburgh‑based poster campaign[4], which brought the issue of violence against women out from behind closed doors and into public consciousness, and asserted that violence against women was never acceptable.

Their work to address gender inequality covers a broad range of activity including working with the Care Inspectorate to publish a resource that aims to promote gender equal play in early learning. They also recently supported the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to develop their thinking around their new gender stereotyping rule[5] which came into force on 14 June 2019. 

Timing and Resources

Phase one of the work will be completed by Summer 2020. Phase two will use the newly developed framework as a blueprint for creating the What Works? Gender Institute, building on the resources already available as much as possible. 

Recommendation - Legislate for local and national candidate quotas for all parties by the 2021 election

Response - Accept the ambition behind the recommendation

How the Government and other partners will deliver it 

The Scottish Government agrees with this recommendation, but Equal Opportunities is a reserved matter under section L2 of Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998. 

It is therefore outwith the current devolved competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for local and national candidate quotas for political parties. 

The Equality Act 2010

We will continue to challenge the lack of action from the UK Government in relation to the Equality Act 2010[6], by asking them again to either legislate for local and national candidate quotas across the UK, or transfer the power to the Scottish Parliament to legislate for them.

In order to dig deeper into the diversity of candidates and the barriers they face, we will also request that the UK Government either transfers powers to allow the Scottish Parliament to commence section 106 for elections to the Scottish Parliament and potentially elections to Scottish councils, or commence it themselves.

We have seen the success of consistent positive action on the numbers of women on regulated public boards in Scotland, reaching 50% for the first time. We now expect our political representatives to do the same.

We will continue to support initiatives and promote voluntary measures that political parties can take. We will continue insisting on the necessity for this systemic change, in this vitally important area of women’s representation. 

Voluntary measures 

Section 104 of the Equality Act 2010 makes special provision for political parties to be able to use the party’s candidate selection arrangements to reduce inequality in the party’s representation in a particular body, as long as the steps taken are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

Section 105 of the Equality Act 2010 includes a time‑limited provision that allows political parties to use all women shortlists until 2030. Short-listing for other groups who share a protected characteristic as defined under the Equality Act 2010 is not permitted.

Most of the political parties in Scotland have taken some steps regarding their selection arrangements, to improve the representation of women in the Scottish Parliament ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. Mechanisms that have been used to try to improve the number of female candidates elected include:

  • Twinning, whereby neighbouring seats put forward one female and one male candidate at election time;
  • Zipping, which involves alternating men and women on electoral candidate lists.

Women 50:50

Building on this, we will seek the support of all parties signed up to the Women 50:50 campaign[7] to develop voluntary procedures to increase the number of women candidates, in all their diversity, to 50%.

COSLA’s Cross Party Barriers to Elected Office Special Interest Group

The Scottish Government is pleased to support the work of COSLA’s cross party Barriers to Elected Office Special Interest Group by funding a part time post to help deliver its work. This Group is addressing barriers to women and other underrepresented groups to taking up and sustaining elected office. 

Young Women Lead

The Scottish Government funds the Young Women’s Movement’s[8] leadership programme for young women aged 30 and under living in Scotland: Young Women Lead. The programme provides a safe space for up to 100 young women to explore gender equality and develop new and innovative ways to lead change. It gives access to four Young Women Lead model Committee sessions in the Scottish Parliament each year, combining diverse young women’s voices, MSPs, Parliamentary staff and cutting edge social media to increase the visibility of young women’s contribution to Scottish society, politics and policy. Young Women Lead empowers young women to give oral and written evidence in Parliament on issues directly affecting their lives.

Scotland’s Women Stand 

The YWCA Scotland - the Young Women’s Movement and The Parliament Project[9], are funded by the Scottish Government to run a national campaign and event in Parliament to celebrate women in politics and look forward to gender balance in political representation. There are 2 elements to the project:

Nine month digital campaign encouraging women to increase their political engagement and consider standing for elected office (from November 2018 to September 2019);

Women’s takeover of the Scottish Parliament - creating a force for women’s political participation in Scotland with 300 women coming together to celebrate, discuss and learn about standing for political office (7 September 2019).

Recommendation - Carry out a thematic gender review of the new National Performance Framework as a catalyst for system analysis and change

Response - Accept

The aims of the National Performance Framework (NPF) are to:

  • create a more successful country
  • give opportunities to all people living in Scotland
  • increase the wellbeing of people living in Scotland
  • create sustainable and inclusive growth
  • reduce inequalities and give equal importance to economic, environmental and social progress.

Its values guide our approach to:

  • treat all our people with kindness, dignity and compassion
  • respect the rule of law
  • act in an open and transparent way.

And to help achieve its purpose, the framework sets out ‘national outcomes’. These outcomes describe the kind of Scotland it aims to create. The outcomes: 

  • reflect the values and aspirations of the people of Scotland
  • are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; and 
  • help to track progress in reducing inequality.

These national outcomes are that individuals are given the opportunity to:

  • grow up loved, safe and respected so that they realise their full potential
  • live in communities that are inclusive, empowered, resilient and safe
  • be creative and that their vibrant and diverse cultures are expressed and enjoyed widely
  • have a globally competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive and sustainable economy
  • be well educated, skilled and able to contribute to society
  • value, enjoy, protect and enhance their environment
  • have thriving and innovative businesses, with quality jobs and fair work for everyone
  • be healthy and active
  • respect, protect and fulfil human rights and live free from discrimination
  • be open, connected and make a positive contribution internationally
  • tackle poverty by sharing opportunities, wealth and power more equally.
How the Government and other partners will deliver it 

This will be taken forward as part of the next NPF review. Periodic reviews of the framework are mandated by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, and are undertaken to ensure that the framework continues to drive increased wellbeing. 

There is also a range of supporting work to develop further the data and analysis available to help ensure we are making strong policy and tracking progress. 

Caroline Criado Perez’s book ‘Invisible Women’ highlighted issues surrounding the frequency in which data is neither collected nor aggregated in a way that takes account of the differences, including biological and physical differences, between men and women and the impact of these differences on the access to and use of public services including health, transport and social security. This is detailed in the annex to this response but key work the Scottish Government will take forward includes:

  • The establishment of a working group on sex, gender and data. Its membership will comprise of professionals from across statistical services and will be led by and report to the Chief Statistician. The group will consider the guidance that should be offered to public bodies on the collection of data on sex and gender, including what form of data collection and disaggregation is most appropriate in different circumstances.
  • Funding for the 2019 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey to include a full unit (40 questions) on attitudes towards gender based violence, including questions on sexual violence, domestic abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional), sexual harassment, and commercial sexual exploitation. The Scottish Government will also fund a half unit (20 questions) on the distribution of resources within the household, collecting data on women’s access to, and power over, resources in the household. This data will be available in early 2020. 
  • Funding a boost to the Scottish sample size of a UK wide ONS survey on time use later this year. The survey will provide data on proportion of time spent on different activities including caring, raising children and other unpaid work. The survey will provide data on the differences in time use between men and women.
  • The publication of a Scottish Gender Index in 2020 and updated annually. Developed in conjunction with stakeholders the Gender Index with cover 7 domains; work, money, time, knowledge, power, health, justice. Each domain with have 5-7 indicators that will enable tracking across over time and will identify trends in the issues facing women and girls in Scotland.