Women and work: what next?

After months of campaigning, discussion and debate, what is arguably the biggest political event of a generation is almost upon us. With just over two weeks to go until the referendum, Close the Gap launched a new working paper Women and work: What comes next in a post-referendum Scotland?at a Constitutional Café event with Engender, Electoral Reform Society Scotland, and Scottish Women’s Aid on Saturday 30 August 2014.The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of the implications for women and work in the context of the independence debate, to describe what needs to happen to effect positive change, and to identify the levers that are available in the event of either outcome.

Whatever the outcome of the referendum on September 18th, it is essential the women’s movement comes together and uses the momentum of the debate to progress work around women’s equality. With a view to this, there are three main areas for intervention around employment issues: education and skills, employability, and economic development strategy.

The status quo

In the event of a No vote, there are many levers available to capitalise on the desire for change which has characterised both sides of the independence debate, and further women’s equality as a result.

On education and skills, we could call on the Scottish Government to increase its action on gender stereotyping in our education system. Currently, there are only two initiatives, Be What You Want and Careerwise, specifically working on the issue of gender stereotyping and occupational segregation in schools in Scotland. More needs to be done to build girls’ and young women’s capacity and resilience to choose to study non-traditional subjects across the education lifespan.

On employability, we could call on the Scottish Government to meet its commitment to produce an action plan on gender. Employability programmes must be cognisant of the specific barriers faced by women; funding structures should provide support for childcare, and employability pathways must seek to tackle, not reinforce, gendered occupational segregation. Women returning to the workforce after taking a break to have children or deliver care would benefit from particular support to help prevent downward occupational mobility and ensure their skills are effectively utilised.

Across the broad area of economic development, we could call on the Scottish Government to fully mainstream gender across all of its functions, ensuring this translates into effective action to tackle occupational segregation and the gender pay gap. This could include building capacity within key agencies to provide a gender analysis of skills, and key sector development policy addressing the gendered nature of skills shortages. The economic framing of childcare as infrastructure must be further developed to ensure provision continues to be extended, and to contribute to the discourse around recognition of the economic value of domestic labour.


The structural change that would take place in an independent Scotland offers the opportunity to see gender equality built in from the outset. Scotland’s Future’s proposal for a written constitution would enshrine state obligations on the advancement of equality and see human rights guaranteed.

The Scottish Independence Bill consultation, which provides the constitutional platform for the government of Scotland following a vote for independence, proposes that a permanent written constitution would be drawn up by an ‘inclusive and participative’ Convention. It is essential the process by which this Constitutional Convention would be established is inclusive and participative in itself, and ensures that gender groups are properly represented within it.

There would also be the possibility to effect structural progress within the new institutions and legislation which would be developed and implemented in an independent Scotland, and to develop a new economic measure which counts the unpaid work that women do.

Post September 19th

There are no guarantees under either outcome. What is guaranteed is that in order for women’s inequality in the labour market to be tackled there needs to be action, not simply a commitment to principles.

Whether in an independent Scotland or as part of the UK, what is needed is major structural reform and widespread cultural change, and this can only be achieved through a root and branch review of systems and policies, the engagement of all stakeholders, and long-term adequately resourced action plans.

Measurable and meaningful targets for tackling gendered occupational segregation, policies which reflect the cross-cutting nature of gender issues, and effective gender mainstreaming, are essential to progress true gender equality within the labour market and the wider economy.

Hard copies of our paper ‘Women and work: What comes next in a post-referendum Scotland?’ are available from

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