Women in Participation

Policy Piece

The below content sets out a snapshot of the current position in Scotland on the topic of Women and Girls in participation, and also includes a ‘state of the nation’ prepared by the government’s analytical department.

Political participation

Out of the 129 current Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), 46 are female (36%). Half of the Cabinet are women (6 out of 12 members), and 7 of the 16 other Ministers are women. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, is the first woman to hold this post (elected November 2014). Tricia Marwick was elected as Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament in 2011. So far, she has been the only woman r to hold this post, out of 5 Presiding Officers.

29% of the candidates who stood in the 2017 UK General Election were women. This was the highest proportion on record. At least 3 candidates who stood in 2017 were non-binary or gender neutral.

In local government, 29% of councillors in Scotland are women. This is higher than both Northern Ireland (25%) and Wales (26%) but lower than in England (32%).

Representation in other areas of public life

In November 2015 the proportion of female board members in Scotland broke the symbolic 40% mark and has increased steadily, achieving 47.92% as at 1 November 2018.

This was an increase of 13.4% from 2004/5. The proportion of board members aged 49 and under also increased (from 15.9% to 17.8%), and the proportion of those that are lesbian, gay and bisexual increased very slightly (from 4.0% to 4.1%). However, the percentage of board members that were disabled and those that were black and minority ethnic both fell (from 9.2% to 7.9% and from 3.6% to 3.2% respectively).

25% of the Scottish judiciary were women in 2017. Ten of the 35 Senators of the College of Justice in Scotland are women. The Senators are the judges who sit in the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s highest civil court and its supreme criminal court. The UK Supreme Court has three female Justices out of 12.

Participation in the Labour Market

Occupational segregation remains a persistent issue across many industry sectors and occupational groups in Scotland. Occupational segregation is the unequal concentration of men and women in different kinds of jobs (horizontal segregation); and at different levels (vertical segregation). It is caused by gender stereotyping, inflexible working patterns and undervaluing roles and occupations usually considered ‘women’s work’.

Almost half of employed women over 16 in Scotland (46%) work in the Public admin, education and health sector, compared to just 17% of men (this is not the same as the public sector). In contrast, the percentage of employed men working in some areas is much higher than the percentage of employed women, such as in manufacturing (12% of men and 4% of women) and construction (12% of men and 2% of women).

Moving from industries to occupations, a higher proportion of employed men are managers and senior officials, while a higher proportion of women than men are in personal service occupations.

Participation in Society


Women are more likely than men to say they have a ‘very strong’ feeling of belonging to their community (38% v 31%).

White women are more likely than women of other ethnic minority groups to have a fairly or very strong sense of belonging to their community (77% vs 61%). Women living in the most deprived areas are less likely than women living in the least deprived areas to have a fairly or very strong sense of community belonging (69% vs 83%).

Scottish survey data from 2013 suggest that men are less likely to report high levels of social support or frequent social contact. However, gender patterns vary with age; women’s levels of social support tend to remain relatively stable as they get older while the proportion of men with limited social support increases.


A recent survey found that 26% of female students at secondary school, college or university had experienced difficulty accessing sanitary products in the previous year, mainly either because they didn’t have the products they needed or because they couldn’t afford to buy them. Of this 26% who had experienced difficulty accessing products, 27% said that this had led to them missing school, college or university, while 60% had felt unable to concentrate while they were at their place of education.

Young people’s participation

Girls are less likely than boys to agree that adults are good at taking their views into account when making decisions that affect them. 51% of girls in secondary schools agreed with this statement, compared to 58% of boys. Girls were also more likely than boys to say that they have little or no say over what they learn at school (60% of girls vs 51% of boys).

Impact of disability on day-to-day activities

10.2% of women and girls were limited a lot in their day-to-day activities by a long-term health problem or disability, according to the 2011 Census. A further 10.7% were limited a little. The proportions of women and girls who were limited in their activities increased with age.

The Scottish Government will continue to play its part in addressing the participation gender challenge, working with partners to effect change.

Further reading: Scottish Government Analytical Services – State of the Nation