In this essay, written exclusively for CABLE, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon discusses how her government’s commitment to gender equality has been reflected in Scotland’s recent international activity. She illuminates the work the Scottish government has undertaken with Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, supporting women to be involved in the Syrian peace process, and how this work will be extended to other regions. 


As the First Minister of Scotland, I am committed to leading a country that will drive forward progress in gender equality – both within Scotland and, where possible, helping secure progress beyond our own borders. Scotland may be a small nation yet we have proven ourselves to not only be a good global citizen, but also to be willing to influence and shape international policy.

When I became First Minister in 2014, I appointed a cabinet that was – and remains to this day – gender-balanced. At the time, the UN said we were one of only three gender-balanced cabinets in the developed world. Today, that number has risen to five. Progress like that should of course be celebrated, but there’s no doubt it also shows us how much work we still have to do.

No one should be denied rights or opportunities because of their gender. That is why we continue to work to reduce and remove the social and economic barriers faced by women and men in Scotland. Earlier this year, we committed to new legislation to increase the number of women on public boards. We are introducing a legal requirement in order to drive forward change, while setting an objective for public boards that 50 percent of non-executive members are women by 2022.

Women’s rights have to be the concern of everybody – not just women. But in order to advance women’s rights, we need to make sure women are in leadership roles and key positions of influence. To my mind, there are two ways to do that. First, we must champion the importance of making sure we have role models for girls to look to. Second, we must underline the importance of women in positions of influence who can genuinely lead by example. So I’m determined to do just that – to lead by example and use my time as First Minister to improve opportunities for women.

DOMESTIC VALUES UNDERPIN OUR INTERNATIONAL WORK

Our commitment to gender equality at home is one we seek to extend to Scotland’s work overseas. That brings me to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which reaffirms the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflict, stressing the importance of their equal participation in all efforts for the promotion of peace and security. Conflicts that target civilians, as so many civil wars do, often have a disproportionate effect on women – yet women are too often excluded from having a voice or a say in resolving conflict and progressing peaceful solutions.

That needs to change. Which is why, since August 2015, the Scottish government has worked closely with Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, to fund a project to train women to be involved in the Syrian peace process. This work has led to the Women in Conflict Fellowship being established, a programme that is delivered by the non-profit organisation Beyond Borders.


Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy to Syria, with Scotland’s First Minister. May 2017. Image: First Minister of Scotland Flickr.

Support and compassion for the people of Syria is something that Scotland already has a very positive track record for. To date, Scotland is home to almost a quarter of all of the Syrian refugees that have come to the UK under the resettlement programme.

The Scottish public’s response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria has shown a clear desire for action. Our support for Syrian refugees is centred on extending a hand of friendship and solidarity to those affected. On a human level, it’s about demonstrating understanding, compassion, and acceptance. We are confident that the Syrian families who have made Scotland their home will integrate well into our communities as they make a life here. And not only that, I believe we can benefit and be enriched by their presence and contribution.


We are confident that the Syrian families who have made Scotland their home will integrate well into our communities as they make a life here. And not only that, I believe we can benefit and be enriched by their presence and contribution.

That said, I don’t just want Scotland to merely take steps that react to the consequences of war – important as that is. I want us to take measures that, hopefully one day, can play a part in establishing peace. That is why we are delighted to be working with Staffan de Mistura and Beyond Borders.

The Women in Conflict Fellowship seeks to address the lack of female leaders in conflict-affected regions through training in mediation and conflict resolution, with the aim of encouraging wider participation in peace negotiations. The programme aims to create a sustainable and light-touch network that can cascade learning through each of the women who participates. Each Fellow has a responsibility to share the experiences from the programme with their contacts.

The Fellowship also seeks to enhance and develop Scotland’s role as a peace-making hub, and as a platform that provides a productive space for women to come together for dialogue and engagement. Scotland’s recent peaceful history of political settlement and devolution allows for the inclusion in the programme of Scottish constitutional and political experts who share our experiences and knowledge. Scotland also offers a wealth of educational, research, and cultural institutions, enabling us to include experts in our programme with a diverse variety of backgrounds and expertise.

The first ten participants in that programme were all from the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board. The programme, of course, is helping ensure that the voices of women are heard in the ongoing Syrian peace process. We then took the decision to broaden that programme out. And in total, last year, we trained fifty women – from Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. This summer, eight women from the latest cohort came to Scotland for the Beyond Borders International Festival and participated in a five-day programme. They were selected due to their activities in supporting conflict mediation or addressing gender-based violence issues.

The programme, I believe, is widely regarded as a success. Scotland is able to provide the women who were participating with a safe space – somewhere they can discuss issues freely and securely, away from the peace process itself.


We want to be a model of fair sustainable development at home, while promoting prosperity, equality, and peace overseas.

The determination of these women was incredible – the resolve to make a difference in circumstances that it is often difficult for others to fully comprehend. I am pleased that we have confirmed we will train fifty more Fellows every year, through to the end of the current parliamentary term in 2021. And in giving that commitment, we have also decided to extend the remit of the programme to include South Asia, South and Central America, and sub-Saharan Africa. So far, we have provided £360,000 of funding for the programme. As part of our commitment to extend the Fellowship for another four years, we are making a further £1.2 million available.

Looking ahead, Beyond Borders will run three eight-day Fellowship events each year, with around eighteen women at each event. The residential visits will be complemented by the development of a dedicated Fellowship website, as well as monitoring and evaluation by the UN Mediation Support Unit, providing an independent analysis of the programme and each individual Fellowship.


The First Minister speaking with recipients of the Women in Conflict Fellowship. August 2017. Image: First Minister of Scotland Flickr.

All of this work is in line with the determination we have in Scotland to be a good global citizen. We were one of the first countries to sign up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – in doing so, we want to be a model of fair sustainable development at home, while promoting prosperity, equality, and peace overseas. We want to put rights – economic rights and social rights, as well as human rights – at the heart of our policy-making. And in doing that, of course, we find the framework that the UN provides so very helpful.


I want to explore how the Scottish government can further support the work of the UN, as we continue and increase our cooperation with partners who support our aims to safeguard and promote equality and rights.

We already contribute in a wide range of ways to UN initiatives. Yet I want to explore how the Scottish government can further support the work of the UN, as we continue and increase our cooperation with partners who support our aims to safeguard and promote equality and rights.

Despite our size, Scotland can have a big, positive, and powerful voice on the international stage. Our work on gender equality, and promoting peace and reconciliation, is already helping to amplify our voice around the world. In the face of so many global challenges, I am determined that we will continue to be a vocal instigator for positive and lasting change, promoting the rights of the vulnerable in all corners of the globe.


Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister of Scotland: https://firstminister.gov.scot


Feature Image: Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sits with the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, May 2016. Source: First Minister of Scotland Flickr.