‘YOU’RE as good as any man,” I was once told, after I had acquitted myself well at moving stones.

Successfully ­reversing a boat trailer on tricky terrain last s­ummer gained me a nod of “not bad for a girl”. When things like that happen, the 41-year-old woman in me bristles, along with my right-on, arguably woke approach to gender. Deep down though, I’m always pleased – because it feels like a victory and I like winning!

Living alone in an island context with a croft and a house to maintain has left me with little option but to attempt most things. I’ve got no time for the idea that a woman can’t do something just because she’s a woman. I’m told that my great-aunt Maggie was of a similar mindset.

Last Friday (International Women’s Day), a new book was launched by Gaelic ­publisher Acair. Titled Women Of The ­Hebrides – Ban-eileanaich Innse Gall and compiled by Joni Buchanan, it “tells the story of island women – their quick wit and ­political ­determination, hands that were deft with the loom and with the ­gutting knife, strong backs for croft work, ­endurance through times of tragedy and compassion and fortitude on the ­frontlines of war and disease”.

It’s a long-overdue look at many of the incredible women who have made their mark on the Hebrides over the years and I’m very much looking forward to sitting down with a copy.

One of my personal Hebridean ­heroes is Màiri Mhòr nan Òran. Mary ­MacPherson, known in Gaelic as “Big Mary of the Songs” hailed from Skeabost in Skye. She died in 1898, leaving a ­legacy of songs and poems covering a whole host of topics relating to Gaelic Scotland – from the Clearances to crofters’ rights.

READ MORE: Scottish Gaelic isn’t dying, it’s being slowly killed​ 

Her songs informed the illiterate about the activities of the Land League at a time when information might not have been forthcoming. She stood up for crofters, was an advocate of direct action, and her song Tha Mi Sgìth De Luchd Na Beurla, (I’m tired of the English speakers), is one many Gàidheals might relate to after the goings on of the last few weeks.

As a child, I heard a lot about Màiri Mhòr. My father edited a book about her, including a selection of her songs, and my mother has been wryly heard to ­refer to her as the second woman in their marriage.

It wasn’t until I was a lot older that I began to truly appreciate what an enormous impact she had on the world around her, and how important her ­legacy was. Even now – maybe especially now – her words speak to Gaelic Scotland where she remains much admired.

Over the course of this weekend, ­between International Women’s Day on Friday, and Mothering Sunday ­today, there have been plenty of social media posts and column inches being given over to admiring women and their ­achievements – but how much ­listening is being done?

Were she here, what ­topics would Màiri Mhòr be covering? When a book is written about women of the ­Hebrides from 2024 onwards, what ­stories will they be telling?

Today, they would tell a tale of ­housing shortages, and sing about the lack of childcare; explaining how trying to live in the islands with a young family is ­getting ever harder, how the powers that be seem blind to the struggle they face, and how moving south and abandoning home might be their only option.

Childcare is far less of an interesting topic for the press than say, housing, but it is one deeply relevant to women. When we consulted the community in Tiree about their priorities for our Community Development Plan, housing and childcare were neck and neck.

In our island communities where ­support can be much harder to access, the care burden is often higher than it might be in an urban context – whether that be for children, for elderly relatives or for those with disabilities. But it’s the ­childcare issue which is causing the ­greatest lament.

I don’t have kids, and so I am in daily awe of women who manage houses, jobs, and childcare. They are superheroes. I can barely look after myself some days and yet they do it all – sometimes with the addition of a croft.

Once upon a time, childcare in the ­islands was much less of an issue. ­Grannies and aunties were available because it was possible to survive on a single income. How times have changed – surviving on a single income now is out of reach for most.

If you are an average young island ­couple (no trust fund or recently sold business) wanting to afford a house here, there is no choice but for both partners to work. Even then, house prices can be ­beyond reach.

With no provision for childcare ­ between birth and three years nor ­wraparound care in Tiree, women ­wanting to get back to work have to play ­diary Tetris if they are to have a hope of a ­career. If they don’t have a local family support network to help them, it can be almost impossible to make it work.

Even when the kids reach three, there are only so many jobs being offered which can be done inside nursery hours. I’ve heard of people working through the night, and of grandparents literally flying in to take care of children. The ­thoughtless doubling of airfares for ­non-residents this winter will no doubt have an adverse ­impact on that.

We have an amazing pool of ­talented women living in Tiree who are ­being forced out of work due to a lack of ­childcare. In some islands, childminding has worked, but it tends to be ­challenging to make it succeed – not least because your own children count towards your ­totals and in some cases, your house needs rebuilt to accommodate the ­regulations. Multiple attempts here have not ­succeeded. There are just too many ­barriers in the way.

As a Development Trust, we’re ­working with Argyll and Bute Council to see if we can find a workable solution to our ­childcare challenges – and they are being extremely supportive – but it will never be a quick process and, as always, it comes down to a lack of funding.

The research and consultation we have done – which has been extensive – clearly shows that the cost of running such a ­service is enormous and not ­without risk – not least due to unpredictable birth rates and staffing challenges.

How can you possibly plan a childcare service when a substantial percentage of your population don’t know if they will be here in a few years?

The housing ­situation and the struggle to make jobs fit with care ­responsibilities will undoubtedly result in families ­deciding life would be easier on the ­mainland.

The Scottish Government tells us that they are focused on ­addressing ­depopulation in rural and island ­Scotland. Childcare should be ­absolutely ­central to any plans.

READ MORE: Depopulation plan fails to address the key issues facing the Highlands

If you want ­economic ­resilience, if you want a ­growing ­population and if you want to give people the confidence to commit to and invest in their local ­communities, then you need to start with the women.

A great first step would be to consider both wraparound childcare and ­housing to be the foundation stones of any ­depopulation action plan – and to fund accordingly.

Imagine the power of all our ­incredible island women if they had access to the childcare they needed! That would write a very different song and tell a very ­different tale for future generations in the Highlands and Islands. One of thriving, rather than surviving.