Women and Independence: A New Paradigm, at RIC 2012

It’s worrying when patriarchy (or perhaps “kyriarchy”) is expressed as the one-size-fits-all concept which accounts for the world’s injustices – it hints at a concept which can never be properly understood. In the “Women and Independence” session at the Radical Independence Conference, we were urged to understand patriarchal structures as upholding imperialism, exploiting both women and men, feeding racism, worsening class relations, increasing age discrimination, and “leading to toxic masculinities.”

And, though it was half-expected, it was discouraging to see the tired old comparisons being made again and again, Lorna Waite referring to the relationship between Scotland and England as an abusive one (and our material inequalities are “Scotland’s bruises”).

At other points, the discussion focussed disproportionately on issues relating to women’s social reproductive role. Free school meals, the home, electricity, are all things that need to be discussed in relation to independence (though please, as more than stick-on policies to some kind of mystical constitutional change), but they are not the basis for a feminist independence. The focus can too easily shift to women as a voting constituency (what do women care about → how can we convince them these things will get better if Scotland should become independent) rather than on women as citizens.

The most important contributions came from Niki Kandirkirira, Executive Director at Engender. She advocated for a Scotland that recognises the patriarchal structures at the root of gender inequality, and a Scotland that understands care work, paid and unpaid, as part of our economic infrastructure.

These two points are important, but need to be expanded upon. The Scottish government does, on paper, recognise gender inequality as structural, particularly in its reliance on documents such as the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993): “By referring to violence as ‘gender based’ this definition highlights the need to understand violence within the context of women’s and girl’s subordinate status in society.” Similarly, the Scottish Women’s Budget Group is recognised, however tenuously, by the Scottish Parliament.

To implement the points made by Niki Kandirkirira we would need to consider how a good feminist understanding of gender inequality can be embodied in the constitution and actions of a government and a society. This would mean understanding the structures and ideologies in place at the moment, and how they could change, whether that be through the medium of constitutional change, or through a change in society. Similarly, we need to promote feminist economics in persuasive and practical ways. What would be required is a positive vision for women in Scotland, based on a complex theoretical, historical and political understanding.

Feminists in Scotland need to take themselves seriously if they are going to campaign for an independent Scotland under feminist slogans and with stated feminist objectives. A feminist movement for independence requires more than the polling of Scottish women on their opinions, more than a focus on childcare, and more than a stated commitment to feminist policy analysis and feminist economics. We need original analysis, that avoids simplistic links between gender and class (the idea that the rises in gender-based violence in Scotland are wholly due to deindustrialisation), or between gender and race (links between “dominant masculinities”).

We certainly don’t lack capacity. There are many committed feminist organisations operating at national and local levels in Scotland, and recently the number of feminists in university feminist societies has risen sharply. All we need is committed thinking folk who read, discuss, and keep in touch with each other.

At least, that’s my Christmas holiday plan.

Amy Westwell
Feminist Activist


About Amy Westwell

Amy Westwell is from Edinburgh and studies History and Politics at Glasgow Uni. She is involved in feminist activism in Glasgow, running a feminist reading group and volunteering with Rape Crisis Scotland.