30 Under 30: Isla Whateley

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Isla Whateley, 21, Edinburgh

Isla is a fourth year student of Social Anthropology at Edinburgh University, a Girlguiding leader, an NUS Scotland Women Campaign’s Committee Member, and Year of the Young People 2018 Ambassador – and that’s not even all!

Isla began volunteering with Girlguiding when she was 16, which she says has influenced her activism and feminism ever since. She was on Girlguiding’s advocate panel from 2013 to 2015, through which she had the opportunity to meet Malala Yousefi, and to speak at the Labour Party conference in 2015.

As a Young Scot 5 Rights Commissioner, Isla has raised awareness about young people’s rights online and formed part of a commission which presented its final report to the Scottish Government in May this year.

She is also on the Disabled Students Committee at University, and has been working on campaigns around hidden illness and invisible disabilities. These are subjects on which Isla blogs regularly, along with mental health and the associated stigma.

Isla has blogged for feminist platforms SPARK Movement, Powered by Girl and the Young Women’s Movement, she contributes to The National Student, and she has even been published in The Scotsman on women’s rights.

She is also a strong advocate of LGBT+ rights, having volunteered for Belfast Pride this summer as part of her undergraduate dissertation on Pride and LGBT+ spaces in Belfast.

Isla perhaps sums it up best herself when she says “I’ve done a lot of things!” and yet, as she tells us, it hasn’t always been an easy road for her.

Speaking to Isla is inspiring, and we’re sure this will just be the beginning of her already impressive journey.


What’s your proudest achievement?

Managing to do everything I do with the adversity that I face, because I’ve had some quite severe mental health issues – last summer I was nearly hospitalised because of depression. So despite that, being able to do everything as well as uni and holding down a job, it’s quite impressive when you put it into perspective. So probably that on a personal level.

What women inspire you?

Malala – that’s quite a standard one. And Talat Yaqoob – she runs the Women 50:50 campaign, and she spoke at this event we had at uni just this week, but I’d seen her speak a few times before, and she’s hilarious, she’s very well-spoken, and she’s very “on it” with everything, feminism-wise. She works for Equate Scotland, so she’s a full-time feminist, as she says, and she goes in and speaks to women about these sorts of things.

I think a lot of the women who inspire me are my female friends, particularly at uni and even the friends I made at school, because we’ve all been through different adversities and we’ve all stayed strong and done huge, different things. It’s amazing to have such a good group of friends, women – obviously I have male friends as well, but it’s nice having a sort of girl gang.

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in next 10 years?

I think Scotland is quite good on equality, for the most part, because I just spent the summer in Belfast, so at the moment I’m kind of like “yay, Scotland!”, but obviously there’s still so much work that can be done.

There needs to be a lot more done with regards to the education system and class issues. I think period poverty is something that needs to be addressed, as well as education inequalities especially with regards to women in STEM and class related issues which affect women more, which obviously relates to government cuts.

I think a lot of that is to do with changes in government, and more funding, and more representation – that’s a big one as well. So in 10 years I’d like to see, if not 50%, much closer to 50% in parliament, on public boards and so on, because that means those other changes can more easily be pushed through.

Generally women’s issues need to be closer to the top of the agenda, because it is 50% of the population.

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

I think it’s a process rather than one thing that will crumble it. I definitely think representation will help but obviously that will be a process of changing attitudes and women being seen on an equal level with men. I don’t know how long that would take, but there definitely needs to be more direct action rather than just waiting for it to happen.

There needs to be more help towards girls in school, tackling things like every day sexism and sexual violence, which obviously are related to the patriarchy as a whole. I think there needs to be more understanding of patriarchy and how it’s bad and how it negatively affects men as well. It’s a combination of the feminist movement moving on and tackling all these things, especially on an intersectional level as well – looking at the issues of the intersections of class, race and disability.

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

I think Michelle Obama would be great. Also Princess Diana – I know she’s been in the news a lot lately, and I was a baby when she died so I don’t know that much about her, so I think that would be interesting, and I know she did a lot of good things.

Probably Jo Cox, the MP who died last year, because not a lot of people knew about her before she died but she did a lot of good things, and where her career path took her is what I, at some point, have been thinking I want to do as well.

What would your message be for girls and young women in Scotland?

I think it’s really important to speak out about the issues that affect you. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in and seize the opportunities that you get.

Find Isla on Twitter @Islarosem.

Pictures courtesy of Isla Whateley

You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature  a different finalist every day throughout November.

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