How ‘Young Women Lead’ has changed my life – and it might just change the world too By Catriona

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Holyrood is a scary place: the beating heart of Scottish politics, broadcast into your living room every night. Full of faces that you recognise, but you don’t know. Its winding corridors are filled with a sense of understated importance. It’s the place that governs, controls, decides. It is an entity in and of itself, and it is categorically nothing to do with me.

Young Women Lead is a leadership programme to encourage young women in Scotland to become more engaged in politics. Its aim is to give us the skills, knowledge and connections to pursue our own political interests. Run by the lovely ladies of the Young Women’s Movement, it has a particular focus on mental health and inclusive engagement. Every single one of us has a very different voice and story to tell. We are all passionate about a diverse range of topics, but all of us have ardent feminist bones. The feeling of being around a table of women who are all passionate, empowered and articulate is truly one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had.

The aim of Young Women Lead is two fold. It builds us – our skills, experiences, networks, and opportunities, whilst also building a body of research which seeks for progressive political change. As a group, we decided we wanted to investigate sexual harassment in schools. We heard from Zero Tolerance, Scottish Women’s Aid, Girlguiding Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland in our first committee session, and asked various questions which help us identify areas of future research.

We used the information gained here along with the 2017 report from the Scottish Parliament’s equalities and human rights committee to frame our outreach work – surveys, focus groups, and a social media campaign. We then presented this information back to the whole group to formulate the key points we wanted to see taken forward as our next steps. And this week, we are reviewing the report before its launch after First Minister’s Questions on the 31st of May.

I’m a realist, and I know that we are a long way off seeing the fruits of our labour in a Scottish school, but the very fact that we are having these conversations within the Scottish Parliament with MSPs is absolutely huge. It means that people are listening, that our voices are being heard, and that we need to keep going. I’m also an optimist, and I believe we can ride this wave and carry the movement forward. We need to keep rolling this snowball, and make it so big it can’t be ignored, like one of those massive ugly dirty chunks of ice that were kicking around for weeks after Snowmageddon – the difference being that ours are beautiful, covered in glitter and we don’t let them melt.

We are discussing a topic that literally effects every single person in Scotland. There will be no child that leaves education without being impacted in some way by sexual harassment in schools. There will be no adult that has not experienced it first hand, or knows someone who has. I refuse to accept that in today’s seemingly progressive society, there isn’t something that can be done about so fundamental an issue.

It’s not like we are looking for radical change – we are rocking an already troubled boat. We are looking for small changes that can make a big difference, and the best part is, the people who will be delivering this change – teachers – are largely supportive and receptive of this change. Of course there’s legal and logistical red tape to negotiate – bureaucracy exists for a reason, but it’s so important that we don’t lose sight of why we started, and we mustn’t get bogged down in it all. These things are tedious, but it’s a necessary evil. We must keep our eyes fixed on the bigger picture.

If you had told me in May 2017 that in a year’s time I would be sat in a committee room in a meeting getting live streamed on the Scottish Parliament’s official social media channels, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I would have met so many wonderful, kind, inspiring women and have a robust feminist professional network, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me that I would have a platform to share my work and ideas and have these listened to politically, I would have laughed in your face and told you to stop lying to me.

A lot can change in a year. Let’s see what else we can do.

Catriona’s job involves making and breaking dreams, but she’s most at home covered in horse hair and mud somewhere in the countryside, come rain or shine. She is passionate about equal access to education, LGBTI+ issues and mental health awareness. One day, she wants to be able to afford to give herself the care she gives her four legged children. Find her on Twitter @catrionaacarter and Instagram @catrionaacarter.

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