The Status of Young Women in Scotland 2016 – Launched!

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We are beyond excited to announce the launch of our second annual Status of Young Women in Scotland (SYWS) report. This is an original piece of research, carried out by Edinburgh-based research agency The Lines Between, that explores the realities of life for young women in Scotland today.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first woman First Minister, provided a foreword to the report, stating: ‘I believe that young women in Scotland can and should choose their own futures and pursue their own dreams. They shouldn’t be held back by outdated ideas about what women should or shouldn’t do. Gender equality isn’t just good for women, it’s good for all of us.’

The SYWS 2016 report was researched, written and designed by young women under 35, following a series of 115 interviews with young women between the ages of 16 and 30 in a range of work, school, university and interest group settings. Young women commented on their day-to-day experiences under the theme of ‘hidden conversations’. Young women are often referred to in research and the media as alike and as one group, yet the challenges that young women face are determined and linked to the specific circumstances of their lives. In this report we shine a light on issues experienced by groups of young women in Scotland whose voices are so often unheard.

Hidden Voices

A whole range of young women discussed experiencing intersecting forms of discrimination related to sexual orientation, ethnicity, and learning and physical disabilities. This reinforced a sense of social isolation and exclusion for these young women.

“Even though our generation were born here we still feel like foreigners because sometimes I speak to my friends and say I feel as if I don’t fit in here sometimes in terms of Scotland, I love Scotland but I feel as if culturally sometimes I don’t fit in because I’m brown. And then when I go back home, they treat you different there, as if you’re an outsider as well.”

Young women with learning and physical disabilities not only experience gender based discrimination but also marginalisation and invisibility:

“…we all get treated the same because we are just seen with our disabilities.”

Young women in rural areas expressed mixed views and experiences with some noting that harsh living conditions and small communities require everyone to pull their weight, breaking down gender bias. Others identified specific issues including difficulties in accessing emergency contraception and encountering entrenched views about gender roles.

“There are certain jobs where people think they are girls’ jobs, it may be out on the farm but it’s still given to a girl, like lambing on our farm, the girls do the lambing, the men do the machinery and they will only help if we need them to.”

The ‘Heavy Stuff’

SYWS 2016 specifically examining themes of experiences and fears of violence and sexual harassment, social pressures and continuing inequality within institutions such as schools and the media.

We had that discussion about the catcalling and stuff and I said to my partner I still don’t know how to react because I’ve got pretty bad anxiety so if a guy catcalls at me my reaction is a massive fright and I feel nothing and I get flapped for the moment, for a few hours. I don’t feel degraded I just feel guilt and frightened.”

The ‘Secret Stuff’

The Lines Between spoke to young women in Scotland about relationships, equality and sex. When it comes to sex, there are extensive examples of young women being shamed, lacking knowledge, feeling disempowered, experiencing abuse, confusion and coercion. Many described inequality in relation to sexual pleasure, expectation, expression and choice. The influence of social media on sex and relationships was also a strong theme.

We’ve all gone through an early part of our twenties not [being assertive] growing up and [not] accepting yourself in so many ways, maybe the sexual thing comes into play and [now being older] you’re like now I’m actually able to say exactly what I need. You need to be happy in all the ways including sexual things.

People are too scared to bring it up [conversations about sex and sex education] because they don’t think we’re human [people with learning disabilities], and we are.”

We were excited to soft launch the SYWS 2016 report at an event in Perth on 30 January, in partnership with Perth and Kinross Council. The event brought together individuals from across the third sector and beyond to celebrate and explore what life is like for young women in Scotland and to examine the challenges they face, particularly in relation to gender equality. The launch focused on uncovering the perspectives of ‘hidden voices’ through a mixture of speakers, group discussions, interactive workshops, networking and art. Thank you to these awesome women for speaking and performing at the event: Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh SNP MP, Glasgow Girls campaigner Amal Azzudin, Erin Mcauley MSYP for Cunninghame South, professional football coach Donna Shaw and poet Leyla Josephine.

Here’s what Tasmina said: “It was a great privilege to speak at this morning’s event and I congratulate the Young Women’s Movement on the launch of their report.  This research is hugely important in ensuring that we can further empower women to take their equal place in society and politics.  The room full of inspiring women has set me up for a week at Westminster.

We hope that both the Status of Young Women in Scotland 2015 and 2016 reports will be used by politicians, organisations, and individuals as a tool for change. You can access our report online in PDF format. If you would like a copy of the SYWS 2016 or 2015 reports in a different format, please contact us at hello@ywcascotland.org.

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