International Women’s Day 2019

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International Women’s day (IWD) is celebrated on 8 March every year. The Scottish Parliament will be holding a debate focusing on IWD on Thursday 7 March and will host an event on Saturday 9 March.

The campaign theme for 2019 is #BalanceforBetter. It aims to be a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

What is the Scottish Government doing?

The Scottish Government has focused on:

  • Improving women’s representation on public boards in Scotland – the Scottish Parliament passed the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018. The Act introduced the ‘gender representation objective’, a target that women should make up 50% of non-executive board membership.
  • Ensuring fairer workplaces for women – it aims to do this through the Fair Work Convention and the Scottish Business Pledge.
    • The Fair Work Action Plan sets out the actions recommended by the Fair Work Convention and broadly aims to support employers to adopt Fair Work Practices and deliver Fair Work to a diverse and inclusive workforce.
    • The Scottish Business Pledge is a range of pledges that businesses can sign up to, in partnership with the Scottish Government, which includes making progress on diversity and gender balance

How is Scotland measuring up?

Two recent reports, from the Scottish Human Rights Commission and Engender, have highlighted areas where the Scottish Government needs to take action to redress the balance.

These reports were submitted to the United Nations Committee which monitors the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women  (CEDAW). CEDAW is often referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’. It is one of the core international human rights treaties of the United Nations treaty system, which requires Member States to undertake legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.

Scottish Human Rights Commission

The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) report said:

“Women’s employment in Scotland is concentrated in the public sector but only 26% of public bodies are headed by women. Although 81% of the NHS workforce is comprised of women, 80% of the NHS Board chairs are men. In Scotland, the gender pay gap sits at nearly 15% when comparing men’s and women’s overall hourly wages, placing Scotland second from the bottom of the 45 EU member states.”

Its report includes 24 recommendations to the Scottish Government that it says would boost efforts to increase the representation of women in all aspects of political and public life.

The SHRC lists 24 questions that it suggests CEDAW asks the Scottish Government, including:

  • What steps has the Scottish Government taken to develop a national strategy to address the causes of the gender pay gap, including targeted measures to reduce gender segregation?
  • What is the Scottish Government doing to introduce available and accessible free universal childcare in Scotland?
  • What measures are the UK and the Scottish Governments taking to address the financial barriers to shared parental leave?


Engender’s report to CEDAW  said:

“The overall median gender pay gap in Scotland is 15.6%, representing profound gender differences in labour market experience. 63% of workers on poverty wages in Scotland are women, many of whom are clustered in low-skilled, precarious and/or part-time work. Between 2010 and 2015, pregnancy and motherhood discrimination almost doubled across the UK, with up to 54,000 women losing their jobs, and 52% of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. In 2017, only 12% of jobs advertised in Scotland allowed for flexible working patterns”.

The recommendations include that the Scottish Government should:

  • ensure a diversity of women, including BME, disabled and working-class women, are represented on public boards.
  • develop a social care workforce strategy to reposition care as highly-skilled and appropriately remunerated work.
  • ensure that public boards not captured in the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 increase their representation of women.
  • ensure a diversity of women, including BME, disabled and working-class women, are represented on public boards.
  • focus on workforce development and addressing occupational segregation as part of its childcare expansion plans.

Signs of progress?

PwC’s Women in Work Index

On a more positive note, PwC’s Women in Work Index was released in March 2019 – it reported that Scotland had retained its position at the top of an index charting the representation of women in the workplace across the UK.

PwC found that Scotland ranked above the UK average in two of the five indicators used to compile the index and equal in a further two. The only area where Scotland trailed the UK average was in the number of women in full-time employment, with 59% to the UK’s 60%.

“One reason why Scotland performed well is the high proportion of jobs in the hospitality sector and a high concentration of public sector jobs, which tend to have more balanced gender representation….Scotland’s strong performance across all metrics shows our country is making significant progress in addressing gender imbalance. The issue is clearly moving up the political agenda and is something all businesses must address with a sense of urgency.”

Ethical Standards Commissioner

The Ethical Standards Commissioner’s (ESC) Annual Report for 2018 reported improvement in the gender balance on the boards of public bodies:

Target Group
Change in Board Membership Profile
Profile of Board Members at the end of 2017
Profile of Board Members at the end of 2016
Scottish Population (2011 census)
Target Group All Board members (inclusive of chairs) Scottish Population (2011 census)
  2017/18 2016/17 2015/16 2014/15
Female 45.6% 45.1% 42.0% 34.5% 51.5%

Despite recent progress, it is clear that, as highlighted in the theme of International Women’s day, there is still work to be done to “build a gender-balanced world”

Kathryn Appleby-Donald

Collections Manager, SPICe