IN the year that marks the centenary of Scottish women winning the right to vote, millions of women across the globe are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts, have limited legal and human rights and live in fear of sexual assault and abuse on a daily basis.
Step forward the 109th International Women’s Day, a UN-recognised 24 hours that have been carved out to celebrate women’s social, political and cultural achievements, and to remind women and men to keep on fighting for equality.
Observed since the early 1900s and now recognised every year on March 8, the day brings together charities,
women’s organisations, corporations and governments to reflect on progress made, call for change and raise awareness of the challenges many women still face in their day-to-day lives.
In Edinburgh there are home-grown charities striving to make a real difference to the lives of the women they work with. These grassroots organisations can help women get back into the world of work, build confidence and arm them with skills that can help them navigate modern life.
The Evening News spoke to some of them ahead of today’s celebrations.
Help to navigate the world of work
Interviews are a scary prospect for anyone but if you’ve been out of the job market for some time or if it’s your first foray into the world of work, it can be utterly terrifying. How do you act? What do you say? What on earth do you wear? Smart Works Edinburgh has some of the answers.
A team of dedicated volunteers provide free clothes, interview training and mentoring for women in need who have been referred to their services. If they ace the interview and bag the job, Smart Works invites the women back to pick out some more workwear to set them in good stead for their first few days.
As well as providing the high-end business clothes, the charity will arm the women with handbags, accessories and make-up too.
Since 2014, Smart Works has helped 756 women and have a 67 per cent success rate of getting them back into employment. Successful applicants come back for events and workshops and to help raise money for the self-funding charity.
Chair of the charity Christine Harley said: “Smart Works makes sure that our clients are feeling confident and are not under huge amounts of extra pressure.”
Tonight Smart Works will host an International Women’s Day gathering at the Cannonball Restaurant and Bar to support their work providing clothing, styling and interview advice to women in Edinburgh.
Building confidence - and a girl gang - through music
Determined to provide a safe and supportive space for women over the age of 18 to explore their musical talents, three Edinburgh-based musicians pooled their experience and ideas in 2014 and Girls Rock School Edinburgh was born.
A volunteer-led organisation that aims to encourage more women to take up instruments and start bands, the school operates once a week over six-week terms that culminate in a showcase for friends and family.
Fiona Watt, Caro Kemp and Clare Campbell encourage their students to drop their inhibitions and throw themselves into the music – no matter what their level of skill is.
Fiona said: “We get lots of women who wanted to be in bands when they were younger but were left outside of the more male-led musical networks.
“The sessions give women confidence because we are inviting people to just have a shot. There’s no judgement here. Mistakes are welcome and often turn out better than the original ideas.”
What they did not realise when starting out was that they were creating a community of women who support each other.
Fiona said: “We’re basically a giant girl gang.”
Some women go on to form bands, organise DJ nights, perform at events and organise workshops. One group of graduates even found themselves signing a record deal.
Inclusion is important to the three co-founders so the classes are free but the terms sell out within days every time enrolment is open.
‘River of colour’ to makr victory for Suffragettes
Thousands of women and girls are being urged to take to the streets of Edinburgh to form a “river of colour” through the city this summer to mark the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. Participants will be urged to wear green, white or violet – the colours of the suffrage movement – to help form one of the UK’s biggest ever “mass participation artworks”.
Organisations across Scotland will be helping to create special banners for the event, which is expected to see participants parade past the Scottish Parliament.
The Capital is one of four locations around the UK to take part in the “Processions” event.
The National Theatre of Scotland, Edinburgh College of Art, the Scottish Refugee Council, Glasgow Women’s Library, Eastgate Theatre in Peebles and the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling will all be involved.
Claire Byers, interim director of arts at Creative Scotland, said: “We’re delighted to support the Scottish programme of Processions, a project of great historic significance and social impact.
“In echoing the practices of the suffrage campaign, the collective banner-making workshops and procession have the power to serve as a live portrait of modern women, and a visual expression of equality, diversity, and inclusion in contemporary Scotland. The programme will also provide a long-lasting creative legacy for participants.”
Empowering women in the digital world
Navigating the murky world of online sex, dating and relationships in the digital age can be at best, confusing, and at worst, dangerous.
The Empower Project is a prevention-focused organisation that works with young women to tackle tech abuse such as revenge porn, online stalking, unauthorised document release and harassment.
Co-founders Ellie Hutchinson and Katie Scott, pictured, work with the under-25s to end violence and abuse against women and girls in Scotland by chairing discussion groups where participants are encouraged to share their experiences which is then fed back to policy makers.
Ellie, a manager at Canongate Youth, said: “There’s a generational gap between decision makers and young people who were born with the internet. It’s about making sure adults are aware of what’s going on online and helping them understand that young people are under added pressure and discrimination.”
As well as promoting healthy and positive sex and relationships, online and off, The Empower Project aims to give young women a voice and to ensure their voices are not only heard, but counted.
“It’s about opening these conversations up. What is sexting? What is revenge porn? How does it develop? How does it feel? Education on these topics is massively lacking.”
Topics tackled include intimate relationships, consent, sexuality and understanding how online violence happens.
Ellie, Kate and their board members are trying to peek around the corner at software development and online trends and evaluate their risks. Some things under consideration are developments in sex technology, sex robots, artificial reality and advances in porn.
But Ellie is insistent that digital living is not all doom and gloom. “The internet has enhanced real human connection. Young people are meeting online and instigating real change. The worry isn’t that people are using the digital world to find sex and relationships, what’s worrying is the abuse.”