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 second key theme was on accountability:

Following on from providing leadership, new measures need to be in place to ensure that we develop a gender-competent Scotland, where key services are fit for purpose and delivering equal high-quality provision that realises the potential, regardless of gender, of every citizen. Scotland needs to start with the changes to the infrastructure that are required to raise standards, expectations and behaviour, championing this change and putting in place checks to ensure that these high standards are maintained. This led to three recommendations. 

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of ensuring accountability for the changes required in order to achieve a more equal society. Where good work is ongoing, high standards need to be maintained, and where change is required in standards, expectations or behaviour, new approaches must be implemented without unnecessary delay. This is why the Scottish Government welcomes the Council’s focus on building mechanisms to track progress, including the accountability day in November 2019 where we will, alongside the Council, review progress on implementing these recommendations and achieving change. 

Recommendation - Create a ‘Gender Beacon Collaborative’

Create a ‘Gender Beacon Collaborative’ - made up of Scottish Government, a Local Authority, a public body, a third sector agency and a business to take a holistic and systemic approach to gender equality and work to have it embedded in all of its activities from employment to strategy to delivery. Supported by gender experts (and the What Works? Institute above) the outcome would be the creation of a model which has been proven to be successful; that creates a pathway for others to follow and will then be replicated across all public bodies.

Response - Accept

How the Government and other partners will deliver it 

When the Permanent Secretary met with Louise Macdonald OBE to discuss the recommendations, she suggested that the Scottish Government be a member of the Collaborative. The creation of such a Collaborative matches her ambitions to progress towards gender equality in the government, and that we should lead by example. 

We recognise that embedding equality across all of the Scottish Government will require consistent effort and resource. To support the existing work we have in place through our Equality Unit and Human Resources Diversity and Inclusion team, each area of Government will be participating in the collaborative and taking forward the learning from it to support the organisation to make the necessary systemic change and facilitate the development of the Collaborative.


More and more businesses and organisations are embracing measures to make their workplaces and services more inclusive to women in all of their diversity. Whether it be in addressing their gender pay gap, developing a policy on sexual harassment and bullying or introducing guidance on health issues such as the menopause. 

We will offer the opportunity to public, private and third sector organisations to join us in the Collaborative as partners to work together to shape its objectives and the way in which they will be delivered. 

Development of the Collaborative - role and remit

In considering the areas that the Collaborative will explore, we are clear that there are existing tools and support that we can use to develop our work plan. We will discuss these with our Collaborative partners so that we all understand what we are “signing up to”. We also believe it is essential that the Collaborative is supported with gender equality expertise.

Close the Gap are Scotland’s experts on increasing women’s participation in the labour market; they work with policymakers, employers and employees to influence and enable action to address the causes of women’s inequality at work and have been instrumental in the development of “A Fairer Scotland for Women: a gender pay gap action plan” as well as delivering the Equally Safe at Work employer accreditation pilot programme with local authorities and developing the Think Business, Think Equality[10] online self-assessment tool for small and medium sized employers. 

Close the Gap is therefore fully equipped to work with the collaborative to develop an agreed role and remit with clear outcomes that can be delivered in the short, medium and long term. We think it is crucial that as well as being a learning platform, the Collaborative aims to deliver specific outcomes that can be measured.

It is likely that the different members will have different goals in mind, based on the areas that they wish to prioritise within their organisations. The Collaborative will develop their work plan from the suite of existing resources that Close the Gap have developed as well as drawing on elements from the PSED Scottish Specific duties[11] and the Scottish Business Pledge[12]. Below is further detail on the Close the Gap resources, as well as the Scottish Government’s Fair Work First, which will also be relevant to the Collaborative’ s outcomes: 

  • Fair Work First criteria includes: investment in skills and training; no exploitative zero hours contracts; action on gender pay; genuine workforce engagement and payment of the Real Living Wage;
  • Think Business, Think Equality Close the Gap’s online self-assessment tool for SMEs who want to find out how their business can benefit from improved gender diversity. The tool enables them to assess their current employment practice looking at flexible working; workplace culture; pay and reward; progression and promotion; job segregation and pregnancy and maternity;
  • Equally Safe at Work Close the Gap’s employer accreditation programme to support the implementation of Equally Safe is currently being piloted by 7 Councils - Shetland Islands, Highland, Aberdeen City, Midlothian, Perth and Kinross, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire. They are working towards meeting criteria in six key areas: leadership; data; flexible working; occupational segregation; workplace culture; and violence against women. The pilot also has a shadow group of 18 councils meeting throughout to share learning. 

The Scottish Government is pleased to be taking part in what has the potential to be ground-breaking work, learn from the other Collaborative members, tackle inequalities in our organisations and deliver stronger, more inclusive and effective outcomes and services.

Next Steps

The full membership and ambitions for the collaborative will be announced in the autumn so that it can begin work this year.

Recommendation - Improve access to justice for women and girls experiencing men’s violence

Improve access to justice for women and girls experiencing men’s violence and the culture of violence against women and girls embedded in the fabric of Scottish society by:

  • Creating a world-leading process for complainers of sexual violence, including trauma‑informed forensic medical examination, independent sexual violence advocacy, review of the law on corroboration, and privacy for complainers with regards to the disclosure of their medical records; and
  • Criminalise serious misogynistic harassment, filling gaps in existing laws.
  • Work with Scottish Women’s Aid, Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, Shakti Women’s Aid and the Law Society to create a consistent and inclusive model to ensure that women experiencing domestic abuse have sufficient access to expert legal advice and legal aid.
Response - Accept the ambition behind the recommendation as set out in the delivery actions below How the Government and other partners will deliver it 

We are proud that so much work that contributes to achieving the ambition of this recommendation is already underway. All the elements chime with the aims of Equally Safe, our violence against women and girls strategy and its delivery plan. We are taking forward activity in a number of areas which are directly progressing the different strands of the recommendation: 

Chief Medical Officer for Scotland’s Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce

The recommendation to create a world-leading process for complainers of sexual violence, including Forensic Medical Examination (FME), aligns to the work being undertaken by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce. The Taskforce vision is for consistent, person centred, trauma informed healthcare and forensic medical services and access to recovery, for anyone who has experienced rape or sexual assault in Scotland.

The Taskforce are making good progress towards delivery of the five year work plan published in October 2017. The plan sets out action across a range of issues including workforce, facilities, data, IT, national guidance and legislation. The Taskforce’s priority is to ensure that all examinations take place in person-centred, trauma informed, healthcare surroundings and to improve victim choice about the sex of the healthcare professional involved in their FME. Officials are working with health board nominated leads to embed the Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) Standards published in December 2017 and to develop a robust process for assessing Board performance against the Quality Indicators underpinning the Standards which were published in December 2018. 

The Taskforce are also working closely with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and other key stakeholders to develop a proposal for a Test of Change which would see appropriately qualified nurses undertake a FME and give evidence as a skilled witness in court (as Doctors currently do). Developing a multi-disciplinary workforce is critical to developing a sustainable, agile workforce for the future as well as delivering against the PfG 2018/19 commitment, to ensure that where a victim of sexual crime requests a choice over the sex of their examiner involved in their care, this can be met.

To support the delivery of the Taskforce programme, a funding package of £8.5 million has been committed for the period 2018/19 to 2020/21 to support Health Boards to embed the HIS standards and to ensure that all examinations take place in appropriate healthcare settings. Amongst other things, this funding will be used to improve the physical environment in existing FME services, or to create new services in each Health Board area where these do not currently exist, to purchase essential equipment, to recruit additional posts in some areas and to provide national workforce training. 

The PfG 2018/19 committed the government to consult on proposals to clarify in legislation the responsibility for forensic medical services to ensure that access to healthcare, as well as a forensic medical examination for victims of rape and sexual assault, is an NHS priority and consistently provided for throughout Scotland. A consultation on how legislation could improve forensic medical services for victims of rape and sexual assault closed on 8 May 2019. Non-confidential consultation responses have now been published and consultation analysis is expected to be published in July 2019. Subject to the outcome of this consultation exercise and finalisation of our legislative programme, we intend to legislate in this area in the current parliamentary session.

Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy

On independent sexual violence advocacy, the Scottish Government’s Violence Against Women and Girls Justice Unit’s funding has supported Rape Crisis Scotland to develop a national advocacy project, delivered throughout Scotland with advocacy workers based in each rape crisis centre. 


The corroboration rule is a unique feature of Scots criminal law.

The Scottish Government proposed abolishing this requirement in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill[13] 2013. Part of the intention behind this was to improve access to justice for victims of crimes committed in private. However, there was no legal or parliamentary consensus at that time for the reform and concerns were raised that additional safeguards and changes to law and practice may be needed to the criminal justice system following the planned abolition of the corroboration rule.

The Scottish Government asked Lord Bonomy to conduct a review into what additional safeguards may be required. Lord Bonomy’s Post-corroboration Safeguards Review[14] recommended a wide range of substantive and constructive criminal justice reforms. Some of the reforms have already been taken forward, including requiring that the prosecutorial test be published and abolition of legal aid contributions at police stations. The review also recommended research into jury reasoning and decision making be taken forward so that any changes to the jury system are made on a fully informed basis. This research is underway and expected to complete in autumn 2019. Any future consideration of corroboration reform needs to await the findings of this research.

Disclosure of Medical Records

Medical/clinical records are confidential and are therefore legally protected. However, there are circumstances in which they may be sought for use in criminal court proceedings. The Government recognises that the prospect of sensitive, personal information being obtained, disclosed and aired in the course of a trial is distressing for victims. A number of steps have thus been taken to deal with this issue. 

Scotland’s legal system ensures that any complainer in a criminal case whose sensitive records are being sought has a legal right to be heard as the court considers whether to permit access. In addition, the Scottish Government took steps in 2017 to introduce new rights that ensure complainers whose sensitive records are being sought have access to legal aid to oppose such a request where access is required for the complainer to effectively participate in the hearing. There is no means testing of the request for legal aid in this situation.

A judicially led review was also established earlier this year to further improve how sexual offences cases are conducted through the courts, under the leadership of Lady Dorrian and involving relevant justice and third sector representatives, including the Scottish Government. This will build on the actions already being taken to improve the support available for victims of sexual violence. We will consider any recommendations by the judicially led Review of the Management of Sexual Offences to the Scottish Government alongside the work of the Victims Taskforce.

Misogynistic Harassment

Discussion on whether misogynistic harassment should be criminalised has been ongoing as part of the Scottish Government’s work on hate crime. Within his review of hate crime legislation in Scotland, Lord Bracadale recommended that a new statutory aggravation of gender hostility should be created. He did not think that a new, separate, offence of misogynistic harassment was necessary. His decision was based on the evidence and arguments which he heard. He didn’t feel there was “…any real gap in relation to patterns of conduct against women which ought to be criminal but are not. Any new standalone offence would therefore have a considerable cross‑over with other existing offences, which risks causing confusion and undermining the aim of collecting reliable data”.

In response to Lord Bracadale’s recommendations, we launched a public consultation seeking views on what should be included in a new hate crime bill including how best to tackle gender based prejudice and misogyny. The consultation presented a number of options including: the development of a standalone offence to tackle misogynistic harassment; developing a statutory aggravation for gender within hate crime legislation; building on Equally Safe (a non-legislative approach); or a combination of these options. The response was mixed however a majority of organisations (60%) favoured the development of a statutory aggravation. The consultation closed on 24 February 2019, and received 1,172 responses.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice will be holding a meeting with women’s organisations in summer 2019 in order to discuss the options outlined above. We are committed to working closely with women’s organisation in order to determine the best way forward, which will include giving consideration to establishing a working group to look at how the justice system currently deals with misogynistic harassment and if there are any gaps.

Legal Aid

Legal Aid Reform in Scotland will deliver a legal aid system that will put the user at the centre. The forthcoming consultation will allow us to direct and target legal services in particular areas of law and geographical areas. The consultation document will specifically ask questions around details of groups (including women and girls suffering domestic violence) where there is an identified issue with access to justice and seek views on how this can be addressed.

Access to Justice

Running alongside the legal aid consultation a full review, engaging key stakeholder groups - including those representing women mentioned in the NACWG recommendation - will be undertaken to define what is meant by ‘access to justice’. Only by identifying the actual issues will we be able to tie reform to solutions that work for the user. 

The Scottish Government will not only work on identifying ‘access to justice issues’ for women and girls but also for other groups with protected characteristics. This work on identifying actual issues will be completed during summer 2019 and will tie in to the responses to the legal aid reform consultation. 

The Scottish Womens Rights Centre, which is funded by the Scottish Government Justice Fund and the Scottish Legal Aid Board, provides free legal information and advice to women in Scotland who have or are experiencing gender based violence. It also offers advocacy support to address women survivors needs and facilitate access to justice. 

Services are available through a national helpline and at local legal surgeries in Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh and Dundee offering appointments with a solicitor. Expansion is planned later this year for Inverness, via skype surgeries.

Recommendation - Create a resourced media body in Scotland

Create a resourced media body in Scotland, which will publicly review media which is sexist, misogynistic or bigoted; will provide guidance on what gender equal media can look like and will strengthen the intersectional voices of women in media.

Response - Accept

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of having a diverse and independent media with a free press that is independently regulated. However, we also acknowledge it is critical that women are fairly portrayed across the media, who play a crucial role in shaping attitudes. This is an important step as it will allow future generations to grow up within an inclusive and safe environment that values and promotes diversity and respect.

The “media” is made up of a number of different sectors with different regulatory frameworks. We recognise the positive steps that the media have taken in certain areas. This includes the Advertising Standard Agency’s (ASA) ban on harmful gender stereotyping in advertisements and the Scottish Government will look for opportunities and fora to work collaboratively with the media further to take similar action.

While the Scottish Government has welcomed ASA’s initiative - which came into force on 14 June 2019 - we also believe it is essential to take further and bolder action to ensure we do everything in our power to eradicate gender inequality.

We understand that the intention behind the recommendation is not to create a media body that would look to regulate or censor the media but rather provide guidance, evaluate and promote best practice as well as sharing learning.

This recommendation is in line with the recent recommendation made by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)[15] that the UK and devolved governments should “engage with the media to eliminate stereotypical imaging and the objectification of women in the media, eliminate negative gender stereotypes and to promote positive and diverse portrayals of gender”.

How the Government and other partners will deliver it 

Gender Equal Media Scotland (GEMS), brings together academics, journalists, campaign groups and organisations working for women’s equality in Scottish media. GEMS is an independent group and has an existing framework and expertise suitable for the type of media body envisaged. GEMS’ work is currently unfunded and the group therefore has limited capacity.

Working with their partner organisations, GEMS seeks to undertake activities such as an audit of existing research on gender inequality in the media and identification of where further research is required, development of dissemination and engagement strategies, and development of tools for journalists and editors.

The Scottish Government will fund a post to support GEMS to increase their impact, engagement and visibility amongst industry and other stakeholders.

This is an exciting opportunity to work across a number of sectors to challenge gender stereotypes building on the momentum that is already there and which the other Advisory Council’s recommendations complement.

Next Steps

After the first year of funding, progress will be assessed to establish whether further development would be beneficial to increase the groups’ activities and reach.