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News / Gender equality – ‘still a long way to go’

Lerwick Town Hall flying the #suffragette100 flag on Thursday to demonstrate Shetland Islands Council's support of International Women's Day. Photo: SIC

ATTITUDES towards sexual violence appear to be changing in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the very public #metoo and #TimesUp responses.

But the revelations of scandalous gender pay gaps not only at the British Broadcasting Corporation suggest that still a lot needs to be done to overcome deep-rooted gender inequalities.

Earlier this month, a male-dominated Shetland Islands Council appointed Maggie Sandison as its first ever female chief executive – perhaps the most popular appointment the SIC has ever made.

To mark International Women’s Day, Sandison and others share their thoughts on sexism and equal opportunities exactly hundred years after (some) women in Britain gained the right to vote.

She says 8 March is an opportunity to pause and remember the struggles of women before her, without whom she “would not have the freedoms and opportunities” she has today.

“Sadly, it’s also a time to reflect on how much more needs to be done across the world to address inequality, sexism and oppression of women in society,” she adds.

“I am grateful that I grew up hearing that girls could do anything they put their minds to but millions of girls are denied an education because of their gender and sadly many girls make choices today about their future careers for instance in STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) based on the limiting gender biases of society.

“It’s a day for reinforcing that we should respect and value everyone for their uniqueness, for their skills, creativity and thinking styles and that our society is better when everyone has the space and confidence to be their best selves.”

Twenty one year old Katarina Duernberger says Scotland has still a long way to go when it comes to eradicating sexism.

Born and brought up in Shetland, the psychology student currently living in Copenhagen says that when comparing attitudes towards women here and in Denmark, Scotland is sadly lacking far behind.

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“In Edinburgh, I always feel scared walking home alone at night. Every time I go to a club, someone will think it’s acceptable to touch my body without consent,” she gives as an example.

“In Copenhagen, I have not had any unpleasant violating experiences like this. I never even question if it’s safe for me to walk home alone at night.

“I think it speaks for itself that I feel a lot more comfortable as a young woman in a country where I do not even speak the language or have the same secure network of family and friends as I do in Scotland.

“I fully acknowledge and appreciate that as a young women in Scotland I have opportunities in work and education that were not available to me in previous decades.

“But the battle is far from over. Living in Denmark has shown me that it is possible to create a society where women are viewed and respected as equals.”

Sally Huband, a writer who moved to Shetland seven years ago and now lives in Aith, says International Women’s Day offers the chance to focus attention on what still needs to be done both locally, here in Shetland, and globally.

“I feel lucky in my work and in general to be based in Shetland, there are so many women here who inspire me,” she says.

“There is still work to be done of course, an obvious example of which is the exclusion of women and girls from core participation in the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, but I’m really sensing that most folk in Shetland would like to see this change now, that it would be a source of great pride to see girls and women marching with torches through the streets of Lerwick.

“It angers me though that our MSP, Tavish Scott, a Liberal Democrat no less, has publicly stated, on BBC Radio Shetland, that he does not want to see girls and women in the Lerwick UHA squads.

“Not only is he very much out of step with his constituents on this but, as someone in a position of authority, he has a duty to put an end to inequality in all its guises, not to encourage it.”

Linda Gray, who manages Shetland Rape Crisis, based at Market House, has meanwhile detected a new momentum for change.

“Personally International Women’s Day is a celebration of achievements, resilience and activism of women around the world.

“I feel that International Women’s Day is very relevant today, particularly with this being the centenary year for suffrage and feminist movement. However 100 years on we are still actively campaigning for gender parity.

“Locally a new wave feminist movement appears to be on the increase with vibrant and inspirational groups of women advocating for change in a range of areas.

“It’s an exciting time for Shetland’s women not least of which, with the SIC appointing Maggie Sandison as the new chief executive, a first for Shetland!”

Finally, Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd has been chosen to deliver the closing remarks in the Scottish Parliament’s debate on the International Women’s Day, to be held on Thursday afternoon.

The SNP politician will say: “This year, I’m sure many of us will reflect on that fact that it has been 100 years since some women won the vote. While we have made some bold changes already, let’s not for a moment be complacent, or take progress for granted.

“As well as looking back, in this year of young people particularly, we need to look forward and focus our attention on young women and girls’ experience of gender equality, and what changes they would like to see in the future.

“A couple of years ago, when I was a girl guides leader, I was helping a group work towards their politics badge Be the Change.

“They were asked to think about women in positions of power that would make good role models. This was the first time they went quiet.

“Then a girl piped up – she must have only been 10 years old. She said: ‘this would be much easier if it was men you asked us to think of’.

“Clearly we still have a long way to go!”

Meanwhile, a group of local women have organised an event in the Staney Hill hall on Thursday evening to celebrate International Women’s Day.

One of the organisers, Jen McLeaskintosh, said there would be art demonstrations, poetry reading, speeches and dancing. The free event kicks off at 7.30pm, and all are welcome.



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