September 29 2015
Note: This article was originally published by The Evening Times on March 24th 2015
INSPIRING women and more than 100 schoolgirls joined forces at the Scottish Parliament in a bid to beat sexism.
Evening Times Scotswoman of the Year Cara Henderson joined Tricia Marwick, Scotland’s first female Presiding Officer, and the country’s leading politicians, to explore the themes of confidence, leadership and barriers that stop women achieving their goals.
Ms Marwick said: “I know what it’s like to be 15 and not have the first clue what I wanted to do in life.
“I also know what it’s like to walk into a room full of politicians and be the only woman there. It’s daunting.
“All of the inspiring women here today have excelled in one way or another and hopefully, by sharing their experiences, they will help these young women be the best they can be.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was unable to attend the event at Holyrood, sent a video message, urging young women to stand together to fight sexism.
She said: “I have been the subject of negative comments but I have also been heartened by the number of women and men who have said to me they find it totally unacceptable.
“We don’t need to put up with sexism any more – we should challenge it, safely, and support each other.
“I want to live in a Scotland where girls can grow up free of the issues on the agenda today.”
Cara, who set up anti-sectarian charity Nil by Mouth when she was a teenager, met schoolgirls from across the country in a series of workshops at the event.
The 35-year-old former barrister surprised them by admitting she still felt nervous speaking in public.
“When I was their age I would have loved to come to an event like this – as long as I wasn’t forced to speak and I still find that scary,” she said.
“The workshops were fantastic – I was there as ‘an inspiring woman’ but I was the one who felt inspired at the end. The atmosphere was very like SWOTY – women supporting each other.”
Sixteen-year-olds Chloe O’Hara, Chelsea Adams and Niamh Currie, from Springburn Academy, said they felt inspired by Cara’s story.
Chloe said: “The way she set up the charity and spoke out against something she felt was wrong was very interesting.”
Niamh added: “The event was great. One of the main issues we spoke about was the idea there are jobs for girls and jobs for boys, which is wrong.”
Chelsea agreed: “Barriers do exist for women in employment.
“I want to be a mechanical engineer but I know not many women do it, and I worry it might be difficult because of that. Events like this are great because they help to change things.”
The conference, which also included Glasgow Girls campaigner Amal Azzudin; Khaleda Noon, youth development manager for Sikh Sanjog; Professor Pamela Gillies, principal of Glasgow Caledonian University; and Louise Macdonald chief executive of Young Scot, culminated in a question-and-answer session in the Debating Chamber.
Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson, Scottish Labour leader in the Scottish Parliament Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Lib Dem MSP Alison McInnes and Scottish Greens’ MSP Alison Johnstone gave frank and informative answers to an assortment of questions on gender inequality, confidence and leadership.
Cara Henderson said it had been a fantastic event.
She said: “One of the key themes was self-confidence, and finding ways to overcome nerves to be able to challenge things you feel strongly about, which is something I have experience of.
“Often, women can be too critical of themselves and each other but this event was like the antidote to that. I’m honoured to have been a part of it.”
Reported by Ann Fotheringham, Senior Features Writer The Evening Times