Celebrating Scottish Women

Scottish Women

The fight for women’s sex-based rights has been fiercely reignited in recent years. Our sisters North of the border have been faced with a government that ignores them, and a well-funded system of public and third sector bodies who refuse to listen to them. This blog is a celebration of these Scottish women and their resolute brilliance. Each organisation listed is made up of the collective effort of individual feminists in Scotland. The evidence of feminist activism that follows is a perfect example to politicians and policy makers everywhere – when women are angry, they organise, and a collective of angry women should never be underestimated.

Sole Sisters

When did they set up and why?

Founded in March 2021 after one member sent out a tweet asking their followers if anyone fancied doing some activism regarding the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Scotland. Her idea involved using shoes as a visual display of activism.

19 women replied to her, and they quickly jumped online.  Sole Sisters’ purpose is to protest the GRA reform in Scotland and to fight to uphold sex-based rights as a protected within the Equality Act 2010.

Achievements and notable moments

Within a few weeks Sole Sisters had collected 100+ pairs of shoes. They sat together at tables and crafted messages on postcards and tied green, white and purple ribbons together to decorate the shoes.

Feminist banner with shoes

The idea was to take photos of women at various locations. They met up to do the photo shoots of the shoes and posted them out on twitter.

Sole Sisters funded all their original materials themselves. They did a whip round of a fiver from whoever could afford it (never underestimate the feminist fiver), and their cards are all free to anyone who asks for them.

On one occasion a trans rights activist found one of the sole sisters’ postcards on a train and tweeted a complaint to twitter:

It went crazy. That was about 30p worth of cards, we could never have bought the advertising of our campaign that those initial cards got us. Scotrail essentially called it transphobic and lots of us were subsequently blocked on twitter by Scotrail. The posts got an enormous amount of attention, and you could scan the QR code directly from the photo, so we had emails galore asking for cards. It took 3 of us to keep up with requests. 

(Sole Sisters, 2022)

Sole Sisters campaign “If you don’t respect our sex, don’t expect our X” was very impactful and replicated globally.

Sole sisters have met with a number of MSPs, including Shona Robinson and Fulton MacGregor and despite resistance and a dismissal of their concerns they have campaigned hard and empowered many women to speak up and get active:

Our biggest achievement was demonstrating that we can be out there signalling our disagreement when many were worried about protests. Lots of women are frightened to attend public meetings as they have seen the violence from protestors. We hope our actions have inspired some hope and incentive to keep going even in the face of such misogynistic hate – and that small acts of courage inspire us all.

(Sole Sisters, 2022)

Forth Valley Feminists (FVF)

When did they set up and why?

Founded in July 2021 as part of the Scottish Feminist Network, in response to a call for localised groups to travel together to a demo in Glasgow.

Achievements and notable moments

FVF have hosted stalls in Falkirk and Stirling, speaking to the public and handing out leaflets, as well as travelling to other areas to help with their stalls. Women from FVF have attended demos at Holyrood, Polmont, and Cornton Vale, completed consultations, taken part in the census protest and written to political representatives. They are constantly busy online and offline bringing together women within the Forth Valley area.

FVF have hosted two public meetings the second of which was their Women’s Festival:

This was a day organised by and for women, with amazing speakers and a real sense of empowerment for every woman who joined us. Not to mention providing a launchpad for the wonderful, adorable, Elaine Miller! Next one is Feb 4th, 2023, contact @ForthFeminists for details!”

(FVF, 2022)

The sense of power that comes in just meeting women is tangible for women fighting against what can sometimes feel and insurmountable task:

We meet for coffee and cake on average once a month and we all feel the weight drop from our shoulders at being able to safely talk with likeminded women.” (FVF, 2022)

Murray Blackurn Mackenzie Policy Analysis (MBM)

When did they set up and why?

Dr Kath Murray, Lucy Hunter Blackburn and Lisa Mackenzie set up in November 2018. They wanted to submit evidence on the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Act.

We’re not sure we could have anticipated that we would still be doing this work four years down the line. However, no sooner had our work on the census legislation ended than the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act appeared on the horizon, and soon after that, the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

(MBM, 2022)

Achievements and notable moments

MBM’s contribution to the debate has not just been impactful in Scotland but across the UK. Their efforts include:

  • Almost 200 blogs
  • Submitting evidence to various UK and Scottish parliamentary inquiries/consultations on a range of subjects, mostly focussed on the impact of gender self-identification principles on women’s sex-based rights, but also on democratic accountability and scrutiny, such as freedom of information laws and mechanisms to increase the transparency of lobbying activity on law and policymaking
  • On average MBM’s work has been quoted in the media once every eight days over the last three years.

MBM list their personal achievements as follows:

  1. Women have told us that our work has given them more confidence and the tools to engage with the democratic process.
  2. Building trusting relationships and working with women across the big constitutional divide in Scotland.
  3. Contributing to shifting the focus of political discussion about the sex and gender debate in Scotland onto women and their interests. (MBM, 2022)


Frontline Feminists Scotland

When did they set up and why?

Frontline Feminists Scotland officially launched on International Women’s Day in March 2021. The four founders were current or previous employees within the Violence Against Women sector and were concerned about women’s rights in general.

It was an unexpected launch as we had intended to build the membership…But we felt the need to launch in response to the transfer of funding for Women’s Aid in Lanarkshire to a gender-neutral service provided by SACRO. We believed this was the inevitable outcome of the increasing lack of understanding and recognition of male violence against women and its impact on women. As workers in the MVAWG sector we had watched this demise in understanding, with the sanitisation of language and the move away from feminist-based practice being recognised as the most successful in women, and children, to recover.

(Frontline Feminists Scotland, 2022)

Achievements and notable moments

Setting up in this organisation in the first place is not to be underestimated. The founders of FFS all risked their jobs to do so (trans inclusion is a compulsory policy for the MVAWG sector when applying for funding from the Scottish Government) and only one founding member can really afford to be public on the issue.

FFS have met with Shona Robinson’s team and with Pam Duncan Glancy to share their concerns. They also run regular sessions for their members inviting speakers to discuss issues that are important to them, including women being exploited through prostitution. Members also attend strategic meetings across Scotland.

 Many of their members are involved in the wider movement. The feminist network in Scotland is strong and the connections are unshakeable.

For Women Scotland (FWS)

When did they set up and why?

Founded in 2018 after the close of the first Scottish consultation. The co-founders wanted to continue fighting the proposed legislation.

At the time, being public facing was quite intimidating, but we felt there was a need for an organisation who were prepared to speak openly (FWS, 2022)

Achievements and notable moments

  • Three large rallies held outside the Scottish Parliament, alongside outdoor rallies in Edinburgh and Glasgow
  • Hosted several large meetings, drop-ins and spoken at meetings inside Holyrood
  • Responded to Scottish, UK and UN consultations and given evidence to committees on the Census, Hate Crime Bill and the Gender Recognition Reform Bill
  • Contributed to the six-word amendment in the Forensic Medical Services Bill (Scotland) – meaning that rape victims have the right to a forensic medical examiner based on their biological sex, not their gender

A full list of FWS meetings and submissions can be found here

Winning the first Judicial Review at appeal was a huge achievement for FWS and for women across the UK:

It was a scary David and Goliath fight!

(FWS, 2022)

Although FWS lost the second Judicial Review hearing the reality of their indomitable bravery has shed light onto the reality of the GRR proposals in Scotland. Where previously MSPs have always obfuscated and denied that gender reform will have no impact on the Equality Act 2010, the court ruling confirmed unequivocally that it does.

Although not a member organisation FWS has thousands signed up to their email list and this is ever-expanding. Like all other groups they network with the Scottish Feminist Network, who coordinate the web of women’s collective feminist action in Scotland.

Scottish Feminists Network (SFN)

When did they set up and why?

Founded in April 2021, a Scottish woman was accused two counts of malicious communication after posting images of a ribbon in suffrage colours tied to a fence.

Women wanting to put an end to accusations of “hateful haberdashery”, “seditious stickers” and the creeping adoption of Self-ID. The women were organised into 20 different regional groups across Scotland and the Scottish Feminist Network was born.

Achievements and notable moments

Many women take pleasure in some minor acts of rebellion like stickering and ribboning (to signal to others that women are here and we’re not backing down).

Over 60 different stalls have been arranged to date, solely with SFN or alongside other Scottish women’s organisations like Women Speak Scotland and Sole Sisters, engaging the public in discussions about the implications of self ID and making them aware of the GRR Bill.

Women have faced abuse on the streets from a tiny percentage of the public and they’ve been reported to the Police for allegedly hateful behaviour or speech (no reports have been pursued). However, the reception has been overwhelmingly supportive and productive. Women have also been crafting, with humour and style using slates and wood and inspired by the suffragists and suffragettes to banner-making.

With membership of approaching 1,000 active women within 15 months, SFN have a strong, resilient, well-connected network of women.

Our very engaged and informed women represent the views of the vast majority of women and men in Scotland, and we’ve built quite a force to be reckoned with. John Knox might recognise SFN as his “monstrous regiment of women” and we’re not going to wheesht.

(SFN, 2022)

Women Speak Scotland (WSS)

When did they set up and why?

Women Speak Scotland was set up in June 2020 by a diverse group of women in Scotland in response to the abuse J. K. Rowling was subjected to when she wrote her eloquent essay acknowledging the existence of biological sex, and expressing that this fact forms the basis of many women’s experiences of their lives.

Our immediate reaction to the abuse J. K. Rowling received was to write an open letter of support – we agreed on the name ‘Women Speak Scotland’ – set up our website and published the letter.

(Women Speak Scotland, 2022)

Achievements and notable moments:

In November 2020, WSS helped promote and publicise one woman’s ingenious idea of activism – she would write messages on pieces of slate and leave them around areas in Scotland. WSS shared her pictures and got an article about it published in a local paper. A social media campaign saw other women start doing the same and people began sending picture to WSS, or posting them on Twitter.

It was a wonderful way for women across Scotland to express themselves and protest the erosion of our rights and our words.

(Women Speak Scotland, 2022)

On International Women’s Day in 2021, WSS published a Manifesto for Women’s Rights in Scotland ahead of the Holyrood election in May. It was intended to help women engage in conversation with election candidates by providing a clear, concise list of ‘demands’ and allow them to ask questions based on these areas of concern.

WSS engaged in discourse with the Equality and Human Rights Commission – asking for clarity from EHRC on why organisations such as Edinburgh Rape Crisis were invoking the occupational requirement as defined in the Equality Act which enables certain job roles to be female only, and yet were accepting and employing male applicants for such roles.

The EHRC has since published its guidance on the use of single sex exceptions in the Equality Act 2010.

Women Speak Scotland has been a great way to bring together women from all walks of life. Women who have never been involved in any kind of political activism are able to work alongside seasoned campaigners and build their confidence in participating in various forms of protest and engage with people who have the power to shape policies.

(Women Speak Scotland, 2022)

Women and Girls Scotland (WGS)

When did they set up and why?

Founded in April 2018 with the purpose of fighting for the human rights of women and girls to be upheld in Scotland, particularly in relation to how those rights were, and are, being infringed and eroded in regard to single-sex provision.

WGS work has been produced by a collaborative of over 20 women who face barriers due to class and disability, but they have still managed to meet with:

  • Government Ministers
  • Prison service management
  • Sector leaders and frontline services in the MVAWG movement

WGS 2019 Female Only Provision Report, was based on a survey of 2000 women, it was the first report of its kind and highlighted the reasons why female victims have had to self-exclude, or would self-exclude, from provision that was mixed sex as a result of trans inclusion.

The findings of our report have been subsequently backed up by research carried out by the Women’s Resource Centre and Women’s Aid – all of our research demonstrates that women need single-sex services, and when these are denied it is vulnerable, marginalised and minoritised women who suffer most.

(Women and Girls Scotland, 2022)

Following on from this WGS have engaged in dialogue with the women’s movement in Scotland and have uncovered a culture of fear from frontline organisations who do not want to speak out about single sex spaces due to the backlash they will receive. Undeterred WGS have continued to campaign and are taking what we they have discovered to the UN Special Rapporteur on VAWG:

We were also able to get the Scottish Government to acknowledge that its Equally Safe fund is open to providers of female-only services, and that eligibility is not impacted by offering such a service – something they have tried very hard to avoid saying.

(Women and Girls Scotland, 2022)

WGS Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, also published in 2019, detailed how LGBT Youth Scotland school guidance, endorsed by a number of local authorities and the Scottish Government, infringed children’s human rights under the UNCRC. This resulted in the Scottish Government scrapping the Scottish Schools guidance and replacing it with guidance which does not directly contravene children’s human rights.

Gender Recognition Reform Bill

On 21st December 2022 the Scottish Parliament will vote on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. Despite all the evidence provided to MSPs over the last four years from the women involved in the groups listed above, it looks likely the Bill will pass (although there is still time for MSPs to change their minds and defend women’s hard fought for rights).

Irrespective of what happens of the 21st December – the crescendo of feminist activism from our Scottish sisters is an inspiration to women everywhere, what they have achieved thus far is monumental. The cherry on top of the feminist activists cake arrived on 12th December when JK Rowling launched Beira’s Place.

There has been a serious miscalculation by many politicians and lobbyists over the last few years, and as the daughter of a Scottish mother, I’ve absolutely no idea why anyone would underestimate the strength and passion of an angry Scottish woman – stubborn doesn’t even cover it!

The women of Scotland are furious and organising in their thousands, and they are unequivocally supported by all of us south of the border and beyond. Those that choose to ignore them, do so at their own peril.

If anyone thinks our sisters north of the border are going to pack up their ribbons, put away their slates, stop writing letters, or refrain from resolute activism, I’ve a message for them – I can promise you that these women have only just started, and you would do well to understand that they simply will not wheesht!

Dr Shonagh Dillon

More reading

WPUK statement: For Women Scotland vs the Scottish Ministers

Joint statement on Scottish Government plans to legislate for the self-declaration of sex

Letter to Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary Shona Robison

Joint letter to Reem Alsalem, UN Rapporteur VAWG


Watch the speeches from A Woman’s Place is Working, a discussion of the implications of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill (Scotland).

We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.