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How Scotland is fighting gender inequality on International Women’s Day

This feature is about 6 years old

Scottish campaigners and organisations are taking the gender equality fight global

Every 8 March, on International Women’s Day, Francesca Saanvi spends one hour in quiet reflection on her past life, a life she says was unrecognisable from the one she has now.

A victim of domestic abuse, Francesca opened a safe house in the Scottish Borders for others like herself in a bid to fight back against the “growing culture” of male-dominated violence of which she knows only too well.

However the date carries extra significance for Saanvi as it is also the day, 12 years ago, her husband was jailed for violent abuse.

Now working as a social worker who volunteers to take the gender equality message into secondary schools, Francesca says it is every woman’s responsibility to speak out against gender inequality wherever it exists, whether that be phyical, emotional or institutional.

That’s why on today (Thursday, 8 March) Francesca is speaking to assemblies of schoolchildren and taking forward the #MeToo campaign in a bid to raise awareness for the next generation.

“International Women’s Day hasn’t really taken off until now,” she says. “It’s been with us for over 100 years but it has achieved very little. But now I think we can use it as a catalyst on the back of #MeToo to say things are changing and that women will no longer be abused, mistreated and underpaid.”

Schoolchildren are the best possible audience for this message says Francesca because they are as yet not fully submerged in gender inequality.

The idea is that by the time both boys and girls leave school, they will be well versed on the way gender is treated by modern society.

“It is of course not all about physical abuse but as much about the structures that institutionally discriminate against women,” Francesca says.

“We are however definitely on the cusp of change. I think in 10 years’ time women will be treated very differently and for the better. That there is no doubt."

The day itself is being marked with talks, performances, rallies, networking events and marches, and with the recent scandals in Hollywood, and the World Economic Forums' Global Gender Gap Report showing that it will take 217 years to achieve parity, it's more important than ever.

For Francesca and many more IWD is a day when women across the world join in solitary to support those who are isolated in conditions from which they can’t escape.

Globally the scale of inequality is eye watering. For example, an estimated 131 million young and adolescent girls worldwide are out of school. Millions of girls also enter early marriages, and bear children at a very young age. Some have no opportunities for training or a career, and this situation perpetuates poverty, disease, and suffering.

But their plight isn't going unheard. A raft of Scottish charities are providing essential support to isolated women across the world and fighting the gender battle head-on.

Link Community Development (Link) and the Mamie Martin Fund (MMF) provide schools fees and support including uniforms, sanitary pads and notebooks to girls most in need in northern Malawi, where just 34% of classes are female.

Beyond the classroom Scottish charities are also providing vocational training to support careers and livelihoods for women. Starchild works with vulnerable women and children in Uganda providing training in animal husbandry, poultry, horticulture and tailoring. Having a trade means the women can earn an income making school uniforms, bedding and clothes for the community. It also encourages women to save and teaches them life skills, encouraging them to be innovative and develop business ideas.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Renew SCIO supports orphans and widows of park rangers who, due to political instability, economic and social struggle, have lost their lives whilst protecting irreplaceable natural resources and wildlife. These women and children are more likely to be economically and physically exploited.

These are just tasters but it goes to show the impact Scottish organisations are having on women across the world.

“So much progress has been made in the field of women’s rights in recent years, but there is still a very long way to go,” says Fiona Greig, chief executive of Link.

"This International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to highlight the life-changing work Scottish charities are undertaking all over the globe to protect, liberate and nurture women and girls, as we work towards a future where everyone can live with dignity and enjoy equal opportunities.”

Closer to home, four determined women from Fife-based equality organisation Bitch 'n' Stitch are using the day to expose gender pay inequality across Scotland. Using the hashtag #PovertyIsSexist, they are encouraging women to speak out against employers who they believe have discriminated against them because of their gender.

They’ve also croched a 12 foot woollen tapestry depicting women’s struggle since the turn of the 20th century.

Anne McDonald, one of the campaign’s co-ordinators, says naming and shaming is the new way forward for gender equality.

“We won’t win this on a level playing field so let’s publicise bad practice,” she said. “If you won’t pay someone a fair wage because of their gender then you’ll be forced to explain why. Employers will be exposed. They won’t get away with it much longer.”

One of most poignant messages to be heard today comes from eight year old Rosie Tailor from Lanark. She came up with the slogan, Let Me Flourish, as part of a school project to celebrate International Women’s Day. Since then it’s been shared as far as Africa on social media with Rosie giving a live speech on Facebook to mark the day.

“I just want to grow up equal,” she said. “And I hope future generations can do so too.”

Long road ahead for gender equality

How Scotland is fighting gender inequality on International Women’s Day

The original aim of International Women's Day was to achieve gender equality for women - this has not yet been realised.

The Gender Pay Gapstill exists in the UK where women earn up to 14% less than men.

This story is told around the world for a number of reasons, including the lack of women's representation in politics and business.

At the current rate of progress the globalgender gap will take 100 years to close according to the World Economic Forum.

This represents quite the decline over 2016 where it was estimated to be 83 years.

Last year also saw the rise of the #metoo movement where women from all over the world came forward to share their story of sexually harassment.

The women who broke their silence on sexual assault and harassment were named Time's Person ofthe Year - The Silence Breakers.

How the day became a symbol of unity

How Scotland is fighting gender inequality on International Women’s Day

The earliest observance of a Woman's Day was held in New York on February 28, 1909, and was organised by the Socialist Party of America.

A year later, at the International Women's Conference in Copenhagen, socialist representatives proposed that there be an International Women's Day, inspired by the demonstration in New York.

The delegates agreed that an international day should be formed as part of a strategy to promote equal rights for women and women's suffrage.

It was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911.

Two years later, in 1913, it was proposed that the date be moved to March 8 and it has been celebrated on this day ever since.