On International Women’s day Sheghley Ogilvie looks at issues around gender equality, from ‘every day sexism’ to the serious social problems that stem from basic inequality.

This week I went for lunch with a friend. We chatted about this and that and as we all do from time-to-time, I complained about my male partner. I heard the usual sympathetic murmurings and then my friend recommended that I not be too hard on him as he is a “great provider”. I didn’t choke on my tea or look at my friend in disbelief, as while I was quietly irritated, every day sexism such as this is common place in our society.

We went on to discuss the Oxfam scandal, where men in positions of power abused vulnerable women with little, if any repercussions (note, I have used the term ‘vulnerable women’ not ‘prostitutes’). In recent months, similar narratives of largely gendered power abuses in a range of environments have dominated the media; the Presidents Club charity dinner, Hollywood, the UK Parliament, and most recently Holyrood.

These issues, perhaps, seem far removed, but are they? Are comments about the male breadwinner irritating but harmless? Or is the myth of a male breadwinner one of the many gendered stereotypes that contributes to the patriarchal norms of our societies that are detrimental to both men and women? Societies in which women tend to be undervalued, underpaid, and underrepresented.

In Scotland, for example:
• 59% of carers are women
• Women working full-time earn 13% less than men while those working part time earn 32% less than men.
• Only 35% of MSPs are women
• A Scottish Woman experiences violence every 13 minutes.

The Oxfam scandal is repulsive to the majority of women and men. Much to my disgust the media frequently used the term ‘sex parties’ to describe the abuse (party for whom?). Oxfam’s failings were covered in great detail, and yes, there were failings, but barely a paragraph was spared to consider that the majority of perpetrators were men and the abused destitute women who the media chose to tell us were ‘prostitutes’ – this is the extreme end of the patriarchal power imbalance. And while there are specific issues to address in this case, these abuses, like other forms of violence against women, are ultimately a cause and consequence of women’s inequality.

So what can those in policy roles do to enable progress towards gender equality? The causes of women’s inequality are complicated and interlinked, but a good start would be to recognise gender inequality and appreciate that gender equality is not a women’s issue. Across the third sector there are many organisations that focus on women’s equality. These organisations do great work but to truly achieve gender equality we must have an awareness of gender across all issues.

Recognising this, SCVO Policy and Public Affairs team and the SCVO Policy Committee are looking forward to training from Dr Angela O’Hagan on the Gendered Analysis of Policy Proposals. Going forward, we will try to consider the gendered impact of policy proposals across all of our policy areas.

Oh, and next time I hear an irritating gender stereotype, I won’t just roll my eyes on the inside, I’ll challenge it.