How Scotland’s feminist organisation is fighting for 2019 to be our most equal year yet

engender

In 2018, the idea that anyone should be denied rights or opportunities because of their gender seemed truly ridiculous. 

But, following the #metoo movement which dominated the mass media last year, women across the world are becoming more aware of inequality and how it affects them on a daily basis.  

In Scotland, changes are being made to reduce and remove the social and economic barriers faced by both women and men across the country. The ​Equality Act of 2010​ ​brought together existing equality legislation and paved the way for increased focus on inequality relating to a vast array of categories from age to disability and gender reassignment.

Engender is Scotland’s feminist membership organisation that specifically has a vision for the country to become a society in which men and women have equal opportunities in life, equal access to resources and power, and are equally safe from harm. 

Ayls Mumford, the communications and engagement manager of Engender, explains what actions the organisation is taking to fight inequality in Scotland. 

“Engender works on every issue of women’s equality and tries to make changes to improve the lives of women and girls in Scotland. 

“We’re mainly a policy organisation, so we do research, write briefings, and try to influence parliament and legislation — but we also host events and talks to groups across the country and really try to spread the word of women’s equality,” Alys explains at the start of the interview. 

Engender works on a whole range of issues because — as Alys herself puts it – “once you start looking at the world you realise that every issue is an issue of women’s inequality because we live in a patriarchal society.” 

A few years ago, Engender held a vast consultation process called ‘Gender Matters’ where Alys and her team met with women and girls around Scotland to uncover what prevalent issues were affecting women at the time. 

The organisation then launched its ‘Gender Matters Road Map’ which sets out a series of suggestions for the Scottish Government and other bodies how to move towards greater women’s equality by 2030. 

The plan was developed in collaboration with female activists across Scotland, the women’s sector and wider stakeholders, and is divided up into ten key areas aimed to target all aspects of inequality, of which one key focus is that of social security. 

Since austerity took over in the UK, 86% of cuts come from women’s incomes and, considering women are twice as dependant on social security as men, it’s clearly an issue that disproportionately affects women. 

“One thing we’ve been working really hard on is the idea of offering individual payments in universal credit, and this is a really good example of feminist policy work because it seems like a really tiny thing, but it would have a massive impact,” Alys says. 

Universal credit combines separate social security entitlements into one household payment rather than giving it to individuals in a household. 

“In most households in Scotland that would go to the man which obviously undermines the idea of equality and the idea of social security entitlements which are meant for particular people. But it’s also particularly damaging obviously for women who are in abusive relationships or have controlling partners – it removes all access to independent finances,” she says. 

Thanks to the work of Engender, the Scottish parliament pledged to implement default independent payments for social security: a massive step for women and their ability to participate in public life in Scotland on the same basis as men. 

Simultaneously, Engender works on decriminalising abortion. 

“Abortion still sits within criminal justice rather than health and that’s because the law has carried on from the UK, so the recent devolving of powers has been a great opportunity for Engender to discuss how and why abortion is a fundamental women’s right,” Alys explains. 

It is organisations such as Engender that really bridge the gap between women and issues such as inequality, allowing us to access the right information and begin making the moves that can ultimately abolish inequality in Scotland. 

When asked about the current state of equality in Scotland, and if we have much further to go in achieving an equal society, Ayls has the most realistic of opinions. 

“I think we still have a really long way to go when it comes to equality in Scotland, but what’s really exciting is that there are more and more people getting it and getting involved,” Alys says. 

“There’s still an awful lot of work to be done to deepen our understanding of inequality — in that it’s not just about different genders, but also white women having more privilege than women of colour, than trans women, than disabled women – and realising that if we’re not fighting for equality for all women, we’re not fighting for equality at all.”  

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