Young women still face entry barriers to Scottish politics’ ‘old boys’ club’, new research finds


Research commissioned by the Young Women’s Movement Scotland suggests need for both cultural and institutional change to widen access in Scottish politics

  • New research conducted by Edinburgh agency The Lines Between finds a perception that Scottish politics remains “an old boys’ club”
  • Participants expressed frustration at the lack of engagement opportunities for young women within the UK political system
  • First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calls on all political parties to do more to encourage women’s involvement in politics

YOUNG WOMEN seeking to engage in Scottish politics face underrepresentation and a lack of opportunities for access and involvement in what is still “an old boys’ club”, a new report has found.

The report – based on research commissioned by the YWCA Scotland, the Scottish branch of the international feminist organisation the Young Women’s Movement – identifies a number of common themes regarding the difficulties facing young women who wish to become involved in Scotland’s political sphere, many of them institutional.

The Status of Young Women in Scotland 2018 Report, now in its third edition, set out to explore young women’s political engagement, activism and representation in Scotland, to mark the celebration of 100 years of limited women’s suffrage in the UK, as well as reflecting the political engagement of women worldwide in movements and campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp and #repealthe8th.

The study was conducted by Edinburgh-based research agency The Lines Between, and consisted of a series of focus groups and interviews with young women between the ages of 16 and 30 in a range of locations across Scotland, in addition to an online survey, leading to a total of almost 500 participants. 

READ MORE: Women and power in a new Scottish politics

Many of the participants in the research discussed the need for institutional change within party politics, with some calling for more women-friendly workplaces and more accessible language.

One participant commented: “I think political parties need to be more creative in terms of finding women whose voices need to be heard because all too often those who get involved with schemes that are available are self-selected and well-connected.

“A lot of party politics, and political operations (i.e. the budget) are deliberately represented in vague and unapproachable terms, and then people are excluded for not understanding, so more transparency and accessible language around things like this would be a real help.” 

However, many participants also suggested that a wider cultural shift would be required, even if changes were made within individual political parties or if representation increased, with one participant noting: “We need cultural change; politics, despite progress, is an old boys club.” Others noted the need to clamp down on online abuse, and for more public encouragement for women to get involved in politics.

“It’s infuriating when you’re standing outside polling stations at age 15, 16 and 17 and you aren’t able to vote even though you’ve campaigned every day for three months.” Status of Young Women in Scotland 2018 research participant

The participants’ age also informed some conclusions of the research, with a sense of underrepresentation being particularly acute – a fact which some blamed on the set-up of the current political system. One participant said: “It’s infuriating when you’re standing outside polling stations at age 15, 16 and 17 and you aren’t able to vote even though you’ve campaigned every day for three months.”

Other young women talked of the additional barriers they face when they have another ‘identity’, observing that not only do they face discrimination due to being young women, but because of additional factors including being disabled, from a working class background, or women of colour of minority nationality.

In her forward to the report, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote: “I want to see more women in politics, and particularly a more diverse range of women – from ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled women, women from working class backgrounds and women of all ages. All political parties must play their part if we are to realise that aspiration… The richness of women’s experiences should be heard and when they are the understanding and decisions of our political institutions are all the better for it.”

Picture courtesy of byronv2

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