Women’s rights and fair economy

Women’s equality and rights are enabled by having the right gender architecture. Simply put, this architecture consists of laws, processes, institutions and ways of doing things that create responsibility and accountability for making women’s rights a reality.

Scotland is a small nation, but even small nations are overwhelmingly complex. Every day thousands of decisions are made by Scottish Government, public authorities and private companies that tip the scales towards or away from women’s equality. Our vision is for a Scotland in which all of those institutional actors have a clear legal responsibility to act to advance women’s equality, and that women both participate in that decision-making and can challenge them when they get it wrong. Power, safety and resources in Scotland must be allocated in a way that meet women’s needs.


By 2030 Scottish legislation is a leading international example for the protection and promotion of women’s rights.

Scottish Government should:

Legislate for women’s rights

Protect women’s rights post-Brexit

The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament are bound by the UK’s international human rights obligations, including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is an international bill of rights for women, and the UK Government’s commitments to realising the Beijing Platform for Action. In particular, Scottish Government is accountable for human rights as they relate to devolved policy areas.

The Scottish National Action Plan on Human Rights (SNAP) acts as a focus for human rights delivery by Scottish Government itself, and by public bodies across Scotland. Its thematic action plans link to international instruments, including the European Convention on Human Rights, CEDAW, and other treaties that provide for women’s social, political and economic rights. Progressive realisation of these rights in Scotland’s international obligations could be speeded up if these were incorporated into Scots law, and had better institutional support.

Our anti-discrimination and equality-enabling law and regulation is bound up in our membership of the European Union. Equal pay for equal work was one the founding principles of the European Union (EU), and it was a European Court of Justice decision that forced an unwilling UK Government to extend equal pay for work of equal value. Over the last 50 years, EU laws have been underpinned by the principles of equality and non-discrimination, promoting and protecting women’s rights in several areas. The EU provided part-time workers with the right to challenge unfair dismissal, the right to redundancy pay, the right to paid holiday leave, as well as equal pay and maternity rights. The absence of the EU legal framework, coupled by the unclear direction of the UK on its review of domestic legislation post-Brexit, puts the future rights of women and girls in Scotland in a precarious position.


By 2030 gender analysis is embedded across all policy, legislation and budgeting processes in Scotland.

The Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament should:

Legislate for gender equality

Make PSED drive change

Political commitment and policy focus at every level is needed to make substantive progress against intractable gender gaps. Gender mainstreaming proactively embeds gender analysis in all policy and legislative development and elevates gender concerns within the policy hierarchy. The public sector equality duty (PSED) and its predecessor the gender equality duty were intended to enable mainstreaming in the UK and Scotland, but to date, there is little evidence of it taking root. A lack of policy coherence on gender equality across government departments undermines distinct strategies that address particular aspects of women’s inequality.

The shape of the public sector equality duty itself needs to be revisited. It is now ten years since the gender equality duty was introduced, and indicators that gender mainstreaming has traction are elusive across the Scottish public sector. It was not inevitable that gender (and race and disability) would be diluted by the implementation of the public sector equality duty, but gender advocates see that this has been the outcome.

The duty places two key kinds of obligations on public authorities: a requirement to incorporate equality impact assessment into the policy development process, and a set of publication and process stipulations to drive outcome-setting, data- gathering and action on equal pay and occupational segregation. Neither of these is working well. Equality impact assessment is patchily and weakly implemented by public bodies, and tends to be carried out by individual officers with limited gender competence. The other requirements of the duty have elicited bloated ‘mainstreaming reports’ with limited focus, timid outcome-setting, and a disconnect between data and prioritisation of issues of concern. Gender equality outcomes are being lost in a sludge of performative bureaucracy.

There is insufficient leadership, accountability, capacity and gender competence across the public sector to enable the duty to function as intended. Putting gender at the heart of decision-making requires a long-term commitment to resourcing public bodies’ capacity for action, and retooling the mechanics of the duty to substantively increase its performance and accountability for its impact.


By 2030 Scottish budgeting processes deliver gender equality and the progressive realisation of women’s rights.

Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament should:

Deliver gender budget analysis

Gender budget analysis (GBA) is an approach that systematically takes account of how public budgeting decisions impact on women and men, and on gender equality. Frequently, resource allocation and revenue-raising processes lead to unintended and unjust consequences, which could be identified with integrated consideration of gender perspectives. GBA exposes the gender bias within budgetary processes that are assumed to be gender neutral and aims to strengthen gender equality of outcomes, across all public expenditure and government departments. To achieve this, GBA must be integrated in financial planning throughout the year, with parallel accountability mechanisms and strong monitoring and evaluation methodology.

Scotland has made considerable progress towards gender responsive budgeting since devolution, primarily in the form of the Equality and Budget Advisory Group and Equality Budget Statement (EBS). However, to extend the impact of these structures they must be strategically linked to Scotland’s macro-economic strategy and National Performance Framework, and the EBS must substantively inform development the Scottish Draft Budget. At present, the EBS serves as a standalone document, setting out analysis of spending decisions that have already been made.

For the Scottish budget process to advance gender equality, and therefore succeed in its core function of delivering Scottish Government policy, investment must now be made in building structures and capacity to deliver full Gender Budget Analysis.


By 2030 the National Performance Framework will have been replaced with an Equalities and Wellbeing Framework that balances economic, political and social wellbeing of Scotland’s people.

Scottish Government should:

Reframe the economy

Broaden understanding of economic success

Gender equality and inclusion are undermined by definitions of economic ‘progress’ that do not adequately reflect social policy concerns. Feminist economists have long called for gender inequality at the heart of our national and international economic policies to be addressed. For example, women’s unpaid care work props up the economy and significantly undermines women’s career progression and lifetime earnings, yet measurements of economic growth that rely heavily on GDP do not count women’s unpaid work and do not map onto human wellbeing. Similarly, infrastructure is narrowly conceived as physical structures, like power grids and transport networks, as opposed to equally vital social structures such as care, leading to disproportionate investment in male-dominated industries and spheres.

Economic development holds huge potential to tackle the gendered occupational segregation that characterises the Scottish labour market. However, strategic approaches to develop growth sectors, skills, job creation, enterprise and other elements of Scottish Government economic policy do not substantively engage with gendered approaches, nor recognise the economic benefits of equality. Much broader debate on the value base of our economic strategy and the imbalance between economic and social priorities is urgently needed, and Scotland’s economic development strategies need to recognise gender and other forms of equality as preconditions of sustainable, equitable growth at the economy, sector and enterprise level.

In addition to its economic strategies, the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework (NPF) also values ‘growth’, wealth creation, paid work, profit, ownership and other macroeconomic norms over other conceptions of progress that capture gender equality concerns. Consideration should be given to broadening the definition of growth to include a gendered analysis of growth, and to prioritise equality and wellbeing as the end goals or high level targets, which growth and productivity can contribute to. The NPF’s equalities indicators are overly focused on wealth inequalities and fail to measure gaps in equalities between protected characteristics, and it does not include any measurements on violence against women, societal power gaps, unpaid work or even part-time employment.


See also

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Gender Matters Roadmap - towards women's equality in ScotlandGender Matters Roadmap - towards women's equality in Scotland

Key terms


The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is a global pledge to attain equality, development and peace for women worldwide.

CEDAW (the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women)

CEDAW is an international treaty which defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.


Devolution refers to the transfer of powers and competencies to a lower level of government, for example transferring powers from Westminster to Holyrood. Powers which lie at Westminster are referred to as ‘reserved’.


GDP refers to the total monetary value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.


Gender competence refers to the ability to identify where gender differences have an impact, and act in ways that produce more equitable outcomes for men and women.


Gender mainstreaming is a strategy towards realising gender equality involving the integration of a gender perspective into the preparation, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes.


A gender rapporteur is a member of a parliamentary committee appointed to report on any matters relating to gender within the committee’s remit.


An ombudsperson is an official charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints.


A spending portfolio refers to the budget assigned to a particular policy area (e.g. health) that may include Scottish Government departments or directorates, as well as agencies and funding programmes.


Statutory underpinning means that legislation would be put in place.

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