Have women won the battle of the sexes?

Top row: Madeleine Evison, Kirsty-Louise Hunt, Kirsty Strachan. Bottom row: Beth Gregor and Terri Smith. Pictures: Contributed
Top row: Madeleine Evison, Kirsty-Louise Hunt, Kirsty Strachan. Bottom row: Beth Gregor and Terri Smith. Pictures: Contributed
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Five 21-year-old Scots born when The Scotswomen was first published give their verdicts

Twenty-one years ago this month a young woman was preparing for her fourth election campaign, and as it transpired, her fourth defeat in a row.

The 25-year-old lawyer was in a two-way battle with another woman for the Glasgow City Council seat of Bridgeton, and despite a vigorous campaign she lost badly, winning only 15.9 per cent of the vote.

Fast forward to March 2016 and that young woman is now Scotland’s First Minister and the most prominent woman politician in the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon didn’t let a string of early electoral defeats stand in the way of her political ambitions.

Only two years after losing Bridgeton she was elected to the new Scottish Parliament - the rest, as they say, is history.

Back in 1995, Ms Sturgeon was battling not only Scottish Labour’s iron grip on Scottish politics, but a stubborn culture that still saw women as second-class citizens, more at home in the kitchen than the debating chamber.

Things look very different now. Scotland’s three main political parties are led by women.

The head of the Scottish civil service is a woman and across the UK there are more female students at university than men.

The battle of the sexes is over, and the women won – or did they?

Not according to five young women who were born in 1995, and are now on the cusp of their professional and adult life.

Kirsty-Louise Hunt, a Strathclyde University student from Cambuslang, says Scotland doesn’t yet have gender equality.

“I do think it is probably easier to be a young woman today than it has ever been, definitely easier than 1995, and I am optimistic for the future.

“But there are still too many issues, and persistent inequalities, - the pay gap for one, and the choice of careers.

Women are still seen as carers, and girls seem reluctant to go into careers such as engineering, or even study maths and physics at school.”

Kirsty-Louise blames “insidious” gender stereotyping for much of today’s inequality. She says: “There don’t appear to be any structural barriers, it seems to be that it is attitudes that need to be updated.

“We even had a teacher who used to joke that physics was not for girls. Even in jest, jokes like that are bound to have an impact.”

The figures bear that out.

Research published last month by Universities Scotland shows that in 2013 the gender imbalance in Higher Physics was 71 per cent male: 29 per cent female, with UCAS acceptances to physics at undergraduate level in Scottish universities were 61 per cent male, 39 per cent female.

And the gender pay gap remains stubbornly in place. The 2015 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings shows the gap between what men and women in Scotland earn working full-time is 7.3 per cent.

Sport is another area where inequality can appear intractable. Kirsty Strachan is a former member of Scotland’s under-21s women cricket team.

“Gender inequality is particularly evident in sport. In cricket there are only a few professional female teams and they are paid substantially lower wages than male players.

“It is all about perception. I know men who were shocked by the high level of skill they saw at their first women’s football match. We need to change attitudes of women’s sport through better promotion if we are to get gender equality.”

Edinburgh woman Terri Smith has already made her mark as a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. She says despite the high profile success of women such as Kezia Dugdale, Ruth Davidson and of course, Nicola Sturgeon, politics is still marred by inequality.

“Local government is terrible,” she says. “As a youth worker for Edinburgh City Council, I have sometimes to attend meetings with councillors, and sometimes there is only one woman there.

“Our parliament, and our councils should reflect society, they should be 50-50.”

The figures bear out Terri’s experience with less than a quarter of Scotland’s councillors women (24.3 per cent).

Terri also wants to see an end to sexual stereotyping, perhaps most notoriously personified by Page 3 models.

“It is appalling,” says Terri, “we are not sex objects.”

This is echoed by Madeleine Evison from Aberdeenshire who says there remains a real problem with how women are treated because of the way they look.

“We are still often seen as sex objects, and some men think it is okay to degrade us, to be offensive.”

Madeleine thinks that some employers also see young women as “potential mothers”.

“There is still discrimination against women, will she take time off to have children? Men don’t suffer from that.”

Edinburgh woman Beth Gregor is perhaps the most optimistic of the five. She says she feels very lucky to have grown up in a home and school environment where men and women were equal.

“And now I work for a company that is predominantly female. But some of my friends are struggling in work, they find it much more unequal than they thought it would be, and are finding it hard to get their voice heard.”

There were 60,447 births registered in Scotland in 1995, which suggests around 30,000 young women are coming of age this year.

It is their voices that will shape the Scotland of the future, and Madeleine perhaps best sums up their hopes.

“I hope that by 2037, we will finally have equal pay. That a woman will not be judged by what she looks like and that she will feel completely free to voice her own opinion.

“Above all, I hope that a woman will not feel restricted by her gender, that she will feel able to reach her full potential, and not be stopped mid-career.”

Beth Gregor

Beth will be 21 on 13 March and plans to celebrate her birthday with a family party.

She grew up in Edinburgh and attended Gracemount High School. She now works in Boots as a skincare consultant, but has not yet decided on her career.

“I think I would like to teach, and I definitely want to live and work abroad for a time. And I do hope to get married and have children at some point.”

She is clear that she would like to see more women in prominent positions, though thinks the values and policies of politicians are more important than their gender when it comes to giving them her vote.

“I would really like to see more women leading the way – in business, in sport, across all walks of life. Role models are really important.

“My personal role model is my own mum, Elaine. I am the youngest of three children, and she has just been the most amazing, supportive mother, and a great example.

“She has always told us to never take no for an answer, to be strong. One day I hope to be a woman, and mother, just like her.”

Madeleine Evison

Madeleine will spend her 21st birthday on 10 March in Northern Italy where she is teaching English for a year.

“I will celebrate with friends and family when I get home to Aberdeenshire,” she says.

She is studying French and Italian at St Andrews University and hopes to be a language teacher after she graduates.

“Things are definitely changing for the better,” she says. “There are a lot more women in the workplace now, life is different.”

“But I think women have to be more supportive of each other. We have to encourage more than criticise.

“I don’t have one hero but I admire the women in my life. I admire my mum for her ambition and dedication. I admire my granny for her confidence and curiosity.

“My friend Kiera for her positivity. I admire caring and generous women who have the confidence to do what they want to and what they think is right. 

“If I had to pick a famous person I’d say Victoria Beckham because she defied the label given to her.

“I think her relationship with David Beckham shows what equality is about, a balance of skills brought together for success and equal admiration and support.”

Kirsty-Louise Hunt

Kirsty turned 21 on 24 February. She lives in Cambuslang and studies politics, journalism and creative writing at Strathclyde University.

“As a young woman, I have never felt there is anything I can’t do because of my gender but I am very much aware of the sexism that stills persist in our society.

“I am the first person in my family to go to university. The joke in our family used to be that a woman should marry a rich man to get ahead. But I am going to be successful in my own right.

“Looking ahead I would like to have children one day, in ten to 15 years’ time, and I am already thinking about how it will affect my career. The dominant attitude is that women are still seen as the primary carer.

“My hero is my gran, Alice. She’s one of the strongest women I know, she’s always encouraged me to do the best I can in anything I do.

“I could list a number of women in the public eye that I admire, but none of them match up to my gran in terms of the influence they’ve had on my attitude to life.”

Kirsty Strachan

Kirsty celebrated her 21st birthday on 3 March. A former Dumfries Academy student, she is studying biomedical engineering at Glasgow University, and has played cricket for Scotland.

She first picked up a cricket bat “because my dad and brother both played” and started playing seriously when she turned 16.

She says: “It is very well known that there is a distinct lack of females in the engineering field.

Unusually, my course is about 40 per cent female, on a small course of about 30 people, but in the other engineering disciplines it’s not surprising to see only four of five girls in a class of over 100 students.

“Personally I don’t agree with gender quotas as I would feel it was very unfair.

“Saying this, I do think there has to be some sort of measures to make sure there are equal opportunities for everyone in the workplace and in their career. 

“It isn’t trying to make men and women the exact same, it’s saying that we should be equal in all aspects of life. 

“I don’t have one particular role model. I look up to, and aspire to be like, many people who have done amazing things, changed the world and helped people.”

Terri Smith

Terri’s 21st birthday was last month, on 3 February. She was a student at Leith Academy and is currently a youth worker for Edinburgh City Council.

She is also the member for Edinburgh Northern and Leith on the Scottish Youth Parliament.

She has a passion for politics, and hopes one day to be an elected representative.

“In 21 years’ time I see myself as an advocate for people, maybe as a politician in the Scottish Parliament.

“I support gender quotas for parliament, and for councils. After all there are more women than men in society and our parliament should reflect that.

“I want to see more women represented not just in politics, but in business, and particularly science and technology.”

The daughter of a single parent, Terri thinks that childcare is a big barrier to true gender equality.

“Work is really difficult for many women. I remember my mother struggling to find work as childcare was very difficult to find, and too expensive. I think it is still the same.

“My heroes are our everyday woman, the ones who are out working, raising a family, the women who survive sexual abuse, the feminists, the defiers, and the game changers - we are all one.”