LEGISLATION and government plans have historically often excluded the perspective of women, but in modern Scotland we have seen numerous world-firsts and great strides made towards equality.

While it is clear there is a lot more to be done to bring true equality to Scotland, from Holyrood to council chambers across Scotland, politicians and activists have been instrumental in pushing the boundaries and making sure women are represented at all levels.

The National has picked out seven key established or incoming policies which have worked to make the country a better place to live for women and girls, to celebrate International Women’s Day.

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Women’s Health Plan

MENOPAUSE, endometriosis and establishing a research fund to close gaps in medical knowledge affecting Scottish women are just some of the aims of the Women’s Health Plan.

In August 2021, public health minister Maree Todd introduced a 68-page plan in a bid to expand the healthcare provisions given to women across the country. Todd says in the foreword: “Women's health is not just a women's issue. When women and girls are supported to lead healthy lives and fulfil their potential, the whole of society benefits.”

Scotland was the first country in the UK to have a Women’s Health Plan, with the UK Government releasing a Women’s Health Strategy a year later in August 2022.

The National: Lennon's private members bill made it a legal right to access free period productsLennon's private members bill made it a legal right to access free period products (Image: PA)

Period products

IT is a legal right in Scotland to have access to period products free of charge, after Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon introduced a private member's bill with Scottish Government support in 2019, becoming law in January 2021.

Scotland became the first country in the world to protect this right, with councils and education providers now legally required to have sanitary towels and tampons available for those who need them.

An evaluation report published in 2022 revealed that for Scottish schools during the 2018-19 academic year, 5,079,118 sanitary towels and 1,666,947 tampons were purchased by local authorities.

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Feminist town planning

GLASGOW became the first local authority in the UK to back a feminist town planning strategy, to ensure the needs of women are at the heart of decision-making around new roads, parks, buildings and other infrastructure products. Scottish Greens councillor Holly Bruce put forward the motion in October 2022, arguing that traditional town planning rules did not cater to the needs of women.

Bruce said at the time: “For too long, our streets, parks and buildings have been designed by men. The apparently ‘gender-neutral’ approach that we’ve used for centuries has meant that the male perspective has become the default.

"These shortcomings have often been unintended, and are an obvious consequence of having too few women in the rooms where decisions are made.”

The National: Women in Scotland are paid closer to their male counterparts but the gap still existsWomen in Scotland are paid closer to their male counterparts but the gap still exists

Gender pay gap

THE gender pay gap action plan – A Fairer Scotland For Women – was published in 2019, and Scotland has consistently reported a smaller pay gap between men and women than in regions south of the Border. However, women in Northern Ireland are paid more than their counterparts here.

With work still undoubtedly to be done, while the pay gap widened for other areas of the UK in 2022, women in Scotland were still earning 3.7% less than men in the same field. In the North East of England this was a 5.8% gap, and in Wales the figure was at 6.1%.

The South East of England sat at the bottom of the list with a 12.5% pay difference between men and women.

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Misogyny laws

ON International Women’s Day last year, Baroness Helena Kennedy launched her report calling for world-leading misogyny laws to be introduced in Scotland to protect women and girls from male violence. Misogyny – A Human Rights Issue argued for the creation of a statutory aggravation of misogyny, which could lead to a harsher sentence, and a new offence of stirring up hatred against women and girls.

It also suggested introducing two further offences of public misogynistic harassment, including street abuse, and issuing threats or invoking rape, sexual assault or disfigurement against women and girls, both online and offline.

Speaking at the launch last year, Kennedy said: “The current system allows abhorrent behaviour to be missed, ignored and normalised. The women we spoke to through this investigation told us: enough is enough; something must be done.”

The Scottish Government is currently reviewing the report.

The National: Kennedy published her report on misogny last yearKennedy published her report on misogny last year

Child-friendly policies

EARLIER this year, the baby box scheme delivered its 250,000th package after it was introduced in August 2017. Every newborn in Scotland is entitled to a package filled with essential items for the first six months of the baby’s life, and the sturdy cardboard box has a mattress and blanket allowing it to be used as a bed.

The Scottish Child Payment, now £25 per week for each eligible child under 16, was introduced in February 2021 and has been hailed as a “gamechanger” for those on low incomes. Alongside the extension of free nursery hours, women and families who are opting to have children now have greater access to support.

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Buffer zones

PROTEST-FREE zones around abortion and women’s healthcare clinics could become law in the next year.

While International Women’s Day is under way, anti-abortion protesters will be continuing their “vigils” outside of clinics during Lent. The presence of these protesters, many of whom are funded by American right-wing Christian organisations, has caused concerns among women accessing these services.

Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay’s member's bill on implementing buffer zones has received cross-party and Scottish Government support in Holyrood, meaning it is likely it will pass easily.

Abortion law was devolved to the Scottish Government in 2016, and campaigners have said they hope that the next discussion will revolve around decriminalising and expanding the provision.