Be Bold. Be Kind. Be Feminist: 'Scotland's Feminist Future'
By Melody House
Reflecting on this year’s ‘Scotland’s Feminist Future’ conference
It should come as no surprise that we live in a fundamentally unequal society. Women, people of colour, and other marginalised groups are systematically underrepresented in almost every sphere of public life. Over the years, scholars and activists have drawn attention to the varying degrees of discrimination that many face on a daily basis: from everyday sexism, to homophobic attacks and acts of racism. Yet, one need only glance at the Twitter mentions of female politicians, or the latest article about Meghan Markle, to realise that we still have a long way to go. It is easy to feel disheartened, especially with the current political climate. Yet Engender’s recent conference, Scotland’s Feminist Future, was a breath of fresh air.
While it may not always feel like it, the conference was a reminder that it is an exciting time to be a feminist. More people are identifying as feminist than ever before, and we have finally started to see the benefits of having a feminist First Minister. In the past few years, Scotland has seen the introduction of Equally Safe, the new Domestic Abuse Act, and the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan. In fact, as a member state of the UN, the UK has committed to the (rather ambitious) achievement of gender equality by 2030, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Scotland’s Feminist Future was originally launched in 2017, as a means to celebrate the feminist change Scotland was making and to provide the tools and resources needed to keep the momentum going. One such tool was the ‘Gender Matter’s Roadmap’: a resource that sets out particular measures that can be adopted by the Scottish Government, with the aim of helping women achieve (at least more) equality in Scotland by 2030. This year’s conference followed the same vein: giving us the opportunity to reflect on the progress we’ve made, while discussing the changes that are still necessary.
This conference saw the launch of Engender’s Sex and Power 2020 report, as well as their detailed analysis of the need for a standalone misogyny offence. They offered workshops on challenging white supremacy, on how climate change is a feminist issue, on how to advocate for change, on the importance of media monitoring, and explaining Scotland’s International Obligations – such as ‘CEDAW’ the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Of course, the workshops weren’t only focused on the positive changes Scotland has seen. Islamophobia, antisemitism, and racism are on the rise. Furthermore, the last few years have seen a battle over women’s legal rights with the fight for abortion and the introduction of the ‘family cap’ and ‘rape clause’. Even when progress has been made, it is often glacial. The Sex and Power report, which keeps track of ‘men’s over-representation in positions of authority and influence in Scotland’, saw an incremental increase of only 1 – 6% of women in various positions of power in Scotland, with only MEPs managing to break 50% representation with an increase of 33% since 2017.
These figures can be demoralising, but Scotland’s Feminist Future managed to frame them as a political rallying cry. The conference was inspiring and galvanising. It felt considered, and feminist to its core. I was most impressed by the resources that were handed out (for free!) to all participants, as this information is often hidden behind paywalls or made unavailable to the general public[RA1] . Each conference-goer received a goodie bag with a hard copy for Engender’s Sex and Power report, their analysis of the need for a misogyny offence, and a booklet explaining what CEDAW is and what it does. Furthermore, the workshops gave us the chance to learn from and directly engage with academics, artists, activists, and politicians that many of us would not normally have the opportunity to do. There was a keynote speech and Q&A with SNP MSP Christina McKelvie. We got to hear from Dr Khadijah Elshayyal, Zandra Yeaman, and Natasha Ruwona on the need to confront feminisms racism. Professor Karen Boyle led us in a media monitoring exercise, highlighting the often times subtle sexism found in the news; and Kirtana Chandrasekaran and Kate Whitaker, from Friends of the Earth, spoke to us about how women have been leading the fight against climate change for decades.
Engender’s conference was an exercise in how to host a feminist event: a free conference, with food that catered to all dietary restrictions, and a venue – the incomparable Glasgow Women’s Library – that has been designed to be accessible and welcoming to all. I left each day with a wealth of information, buzzing from all the workshops and insightful conversations. A few weeks on, I still find myself repeating Emma Ritch’s closing words: ‘Be bold. Be kind. Be feminist’.