Today is International Women's Day (IWD) and Scotland, like the rest of the world, is celebrating all the amazing contributions women have made. Equality and diversity are key to Scotland's success, and IWD is a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and social and political activist, once said:

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

These words still hold great relevance today; incredibly, the World Economic Forum predicts that the gender gap won't close entirely until 2186. Therefore, around the world, IWD provides an important opportunity for action to drive greater change for women. The theme of this year's event is 'Be Bold For Change', encouraging bold actions in the journey towards gender equality. The fight is continual, but we wanted to share with you some of the progress Scotland is making on this day of celebration.

Scotland is tackling gender inequality head on, and has made some great strides recently. Many people are familiar with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, but there are women in charge of all three of the largest political parties in Scotland! Kezia Dugdale has led the Labour party since 2015, and Ruth Davidson has been the leader of the Conservatives since 2011. Scotland is committed to improving the representation of women in leadership roles. This includes a making ministerial appointments more diverse and reflective of Scotland's population. Within the ruling Government's cabinet there is currently a 50/50 split between men and women (5 each).

50/50 for 2020: Promoting equality in the workplace

This 50/50 split is part of a wider campaign throughout Scotland to even the balance of male and female leadership roles. Traditionally, women have been under-represented in leadership roles, and as a nation that prides itself on fairness, we want equal opportunities for all regardless of gender. There is compelling evidence that having greater diversity in organisations leads to better performance. Both large and small businesses do significantly better when they have more gender balance in the boardroom and throughout the workforce.

Over 190 companies have already signed up for this scheme across private, public and third-party sectors. Huge companies like Virgin Money, as well as the five national performing companies: Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, National Theatre Scotland, and Royal Scottish National Orchestra are signed up to the partnership. Scotland is aware of the wealth of benefits of having a more diverse workforce, and that is why the 50/50 by 2020 campaign is at the heart of our vision for an equal Scotland.

Work is also being done outside the boardroom to support diversity. Scotland has several initiatives promoting female employment in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) sector, a traditionally under-represented area. These schemes are aimed at female undergraduates, as well as women returning to work after a career break. This is helping bolster the number of females working in an area that has traditionally been dominated by a male workforce.

Great strides are also being made in higher education, with women continuing to form the majority of college student enrolments in Scotland. The number of women on full-time courses is up 12% since 2007! This is helped by the fact that Scotland has record levels of student support, with nearly £110 million this academic year in bursaries, childcare and discretionary funds to help women into further education.

Guiding girls to a more equal future

Scotland is fortunate to have many strong female personalities to help lead the fight for gender equality. One example is the country's leader, Nicola Sturgeon, who is backing a campaign by Scottish Girl Guides to celebrate female role models. The WOW Women initiative encourages and empowers young girls to celebrate their gender and find their own leadership potential. Further to this, Ms Sturgeon also announced that she would mentor a young woman aged 18-23 for a year. The First Minister invited other women leaders to join her, and to inspire and support the next generation of aspiring females.

In a year that has already seen millions of women march in support of women's rights all across the world, it is important to acknowledge International Women's Day. The day allows us a chance not only to look back at how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go. Here in Scotland we are not being complacent. We have taken decisive action to address this issue, but are always looking to see what other steps can be taken to further reduce this gap. So as you celebrate International Women's Day we urge you to #BeBoldForChange. A change that can be realised if we all embrace it together.

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