Today in Scotland there are still far fewer women than there are men in Parliament, senior management positions, and high paid STEM jobs. We must use the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – #BalanceforBetter – to tackle this underrepresentation. Only then can we create a fairer society for everyone.
Research by Girlguiding Scotland shows that girls and young women continue to face sexism in their everyday lives. In their Girls in Scotland 2018 report, 77 per cent of girls aged 12 to 25 said that they were treated differently because they were a girl.
Some went onto say that they felt like they had to play with certain toys or wear certain clothes; would be expected to do more housework; and that the rules were different for boys than girls in their family – all because of their gender.
Gender stereotypes like these hold girls back and even dampen their ambitions. By the time girls are aged between 18 and 25, only 39 per cent strongly believed they could do anything a boy could; this is down from 61 per cent of 7 to 11 year olds. By stamping out gender stereotypes, I believe we can improve the number of women in influential roles.
As I prepare to graduate from university, I’m particularly worried about how being a woman might limit my career prospects. The most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the gender pay gap is still sitting at 8.6 per cent among full-time employees in 2018. What’s more, this gap increases with age and men are also more likely to be employed in senior positions than women. Girls know this simply isn’t on, and nine out of ten girls – quite rightly – expect to have the same career opportunities and salary as men when they grow up.
Several factors lead to such inequalities in the world of work, for example, the division of childcare and other domestic responsibilities, which can affect a woman’s career. The Girls in Scotland survey found that 86 per cent of girls and young women expect to share childcare and housework equally with their partners.
Nevertheless, balancing a career and family life is still a worry for 71 per cent of young women in Scotland.
Despite these obstacles, two in three girls said they would like to become a leader in their careers. Sadly, almost half of girls aged 7 to 25 thought that this would be more difficult because of their gender. For a society that often pats itself on the back for the great strides women have made towards equality, this is unacceptable. To achieve better representation, we must address these barriers.
Girlguiding Scotland wants girls to have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be and is committed to tearing down the obstacles. In 2018, we collaborated with the Women 5050 campaign on our Citizen Girl badge. Together we called for businesses, voluntary organisations and political parties to increase their female representation. It was also an opportunity to teach girls that their voice matters.
As a volunteer, I have had the privilege of being involved with some of the advocacy work the charity does to help make our society more equal.
Over the past few years, I have given evidence on sexual harassment in schools to parliamentary committees, met with MSPs to discuss how we can improve personal and social education and been involved with campaigns to tackle period poverty.
When I was younger, I never would have envisaged my voice having such a positive impact on society. Even just putting my hand up in the classroom was a struggle for me. With Girlguiding Scotland, I have become a confident and passionate young spokeswoman. I have grown so much that I’m now even considering embarking on a career around social action after I leave university this year.
I use this experience to help to empower other members to use their voice to challenge issues that affect them and to seek social change. As a result, I have seen first-hand how girls’ voices have the power to change the world for the better.
We must ensure that girls and women are given a space to speak out and be listened to if we are to create a fairer Scotland. To do this, we need to increase female representation in all areas of our society. We must join together to challenge the gender stereotypes and sexism that create inequalities.
Only by doing this can we make #BalanceforBetter a reality.
Hannah Brisbane, Girlguiding Scotland’s lead volunteer for voice.