Influences, pressures and experiences of young women – SWC Conference

by Zero Tolerance Board Member, Lisa Clark

Earlier this month, the Scottish Women’s Convention hosted a conference to hear the views of women under the age of thirty on issues of employment, participation, and discrimination in society. The tagline for the event was ‘Your choice, your future’ and this tone of positivity, self-determination and action really captured the atmosphere on the day. Along with other event speakers, Agnes Tolmie, event host and Chair of the Scottish Women’s Convention, encouraged attendee’s contributions throughout the day and passionately stressed how important it was that we take the opportunity to be future leaders.

Aileen Campbell MSP, Minister for Children and Young People (@ClydesdAileen) started the event with an open and honest speech - placing issues faced by young women in the context of evidence and policy, while also sharing funny and frustrating personal anecdotes. She was most passionate when discussing the lack of media coverage of women in sport, issues around maternity and paternity leave, and the gender pay gap. She also stressed the importance of preventing the continuation of misogynistic attitudes by teaching school children about empathy and respect, body image, bullying and consent.

Jillian Merchant (@JillianMerchant), a Glasgow based solicitor who focuses on employment discrimination and professional disciplinary defence, followed up with a great speech about women’s rights in the workplace. A highlight of Jillian’s speech was when she spoke of the issues faced by young girls who leave school to enter low paid jobs in the care sector.

She argued that a lot of pressure and expectation is placed on these employees, who are unlikely to receive formal training or support to gain qualifications. She noted that young women working in care homes, nurseries and other care sector roles are also less likely to be represented by unions, which is especially worrying for those in small, independent companies where there is a lack of regulation.

Women at the event seemed to relate strongly with these issues, and many shared their experiences of workplace discrimination and poor working conditions. One woman was told she was ‘creating an atmosphere’ by raising concerns about sexual harassment. Another spoke of being dismissed one week after telling her employer she was pregnant. Another was quizzed in an interview about the likelihood of her having a family in the future. Agnes stressed the importance of speaking up to tackle these attitudes, and encouraged us to ‘assert our right to be there’.

Finally, actress Kirstie Steele (@kirsties91) spoke of her experiences of female representation in the media. She acknowledged that for many actresses, roles are limited to playing a wife, girlfriend, or victim of crime. Her own roles in Waterloo Road and BBC Three drama Glasgow Girls were multi-dimensional characters she felt proud to portray, but when publicising the show, she noticed that magazines rarely asked questions about the characters - choosing to focus on romance, hair and beauty instead. She also experienced verbal abuse and personal attacks on social media which far exceeded any comments made about her male counterparts.

The session opened up for comments and questions, and it was acknowledged that ending pervasive sexism and violence against women is by no means a quick win. Encouraging investment in issues which require massive cultural change and a drastic change in public attitudes is a hard sell. As Jillian put it, these are uncomfortable truths for many - they’re not ‘sexy or cool’ issues that people will easily confront.

In the afternoon I attended two workshops. The first was by the Rosey Project, and explored how comics and magazine differ in relation to girls and boys, women and men, and how these can impact on our individual views.

Using media boards created by Wise Women, we discussed how messages of gender socialisation, misogyny and objectification can define printed publications for children as young as 5. As well as feeling the familiar sadness of seeing the sexualisation of young girls, and the infantilisation and objectification of women, we also noticed the negative impact that magazines could have on boys. Boy’s magazines focused on strength, dominance, making important decisions, and winning the prize (by force, if necessary). We questioned what messages these magazines are sending to children and young people about what to expect from their future, and what normal behaviour looks like.

The second workshop was organised by the Glasgow School of Art Institute of Design Innovation, and used a range of creative methods to explore the experiences of receiving abuse through social media. We spoke about how tools of shame can easily be employed to discourage women from participating in social media or sharing their views at all. We noted that in the case of ‘revenge porn’, shame and abuse is largely targeted at the female rather than the person sharing the content, who also engaged in the filming.

The supportive, positive environment at this event along with a great turnout contributed to this conference being a great success. The most important message for attendees was to get involved in issues that you care about to challenge those who discourage you. Please find below all the information I gathered on the day from the various campaigns and resources – hopefully you can use it to start your own campaign or get involved in something exciting.

*Image courtesy of Scottish Women's Convention

For more information

The work of Zero Tolerance addresses many of the important issues raised at this event. We know that that gender inequality is both a cause and consequence of violence against women. Therefore, our work focuses on primary prevention, which means challenging the attitudes and inequality that permit violence to occur. Click the links to find out more about our work and access resources on:

Other online resources

Check out photos and insights from the event on Twitter by searching #ywn15




Violence against women


Scottish Youth Parliament

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