IF there’s one thing that’s certain about the future of women’s rights on International Women’s Day 2020, it’s that we have more to gain by standing together than falling divided, and more to achieve by appreciating difference than assuming a one-size-fits-all approach.

Nowhere could this have been clearer than at the Scottish Parliament yesterday, where the Scottish Women’s Convention held its annual event to mark the day. More than 400 women of all ages, races and backgrounds came together to talk, listen and learn from each other – one of the oldest and most valuable feminist traditions.

This year, the theme was Women and Democracy, offering a chance to reflect on the achievements of women in politics and on the battles that lie ahead if we are to equalise a political system where only 36% of MSPs, 34% of MPs and 29% of councillors are women. This is easy to forget when we look only to the top of our political structures in Scotland – as more than one speaker pointed out, our First Minister is a woman and more than half of the cabinet are women, both rarities internationally – but the barriers to women’s participation in politics are still many.

READ MORE: Scottish study reveals women have less trust in politicians

Introducing the event, Scottish Parliament deputy presiding officer Linda Fabiani MSP stressed the importance of ensuring that more women can be engaged in the political process, particularly ethnic minority women, women with disabilities, young women, and all those whose voices are less often heard.

Indeed, while celebrating the Scottish Parliament’s progress in a number of areas, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon echoed this message in her address to attendees, stating: “It should be a source of shame to all of us that in 21 years of devolution no black or ethnic minority woman has been elected to the Scottish Parliament. That’s not good enough.”

This, she said, underlines the “importance of intersectionality” – of recognising the multiple, overlapping inequalities facing women in Scotland today. And despite the fact that in 2003, Scotland celebrated its status as the second most gender-equal parliament in the world with 40% of MSPs, she pointed out that “17 years later we have gone backwards”.

The First Minister argued that this is an issue which “justifies legislative action” in the form of quotas, and that the Scottish Government is calling for the devolution of the relevant powers as a result. That being said, she added that “this is an area where all parties need to take action” and spoke of a “collective responsibility to ensure our parliament reflects the population it represents”.

The lack of diversity in democracy was a recurring theme on the day. Founder and director of Sikh Sanjog Trishna Singh, for example, referred to a recent Sikh women’s conference held by the organisation and criticised the absence of Sikh women in the Scottish political system or even in the democratic structures of universities.

While there is, evidently, a long way to go in creating a truly representative democracy, there are important steps being taken towards this, some of which were celebrated at the event. Fabiani highlighted the award-winning Young Women Lead programme, a partnership between the Young Women’s Movement and the Scottish Parliament aimed at increasing young women’s political participation in politics. This year, the programme is made up almost entirely of women from ethnic minorities.

READ MORE: Aileen Campbell is seventh SNP MSP stepping down from Holyrood

Another aspect of “intersectionality” which emerged at the event was the inclusion of trans women and the increasingly hostile debates which have emerged around the topic. One audience member said the group she works with has received complaints for its commitment to including trans women in its project and that she is concerned by how to “manage the debate without it being toxic”.

Two of the speakers, regional secretary of Unison in Ireland Patricia McKeown and Rector of Edinburgh University Ann Henderson also made reference to these debates. Henderson emphasised the importance of scrutiny and asking questions of any piece of legislation “without fear”. She added: “We need to talk in words that we understand, we need to talk about women.”

McKeown said that “as feminists we are inclusive” and stressed that her union has introduced a programme on the inclusion of trans women and trans men. However, she added: “What we won’t do is subordinate our rights to anyone else’s and we’re not going to be redefined. We are women.”

This has been a difficult debate among feminists across the political spectrum, and the discussions inside parliament yesterday coincided with a demonstration outside on this very topic.

Women and men gathered to protest reforms to the Gender Recognition Act being considered by the Scottish Government, which would remove the requirement for a psychiatric assessment before a person can change the sex on their birth certificate and lower the age limit from 18 to 16. Victoria, a member of ForWomen.Scot, which formed in opposition to the reforms told the Sunday National: “We think it’s very well-meaning legislation but it’s rushing through some ill-thought-out ideas. We think this is creating a legal loophole by which anybody who, for whatever reason finds it advantages to change sex, could do so.”

Proponents of the changes have said that that access to single-sex spaces is not contingent on birth certificates. Yesterday, trans-inclusive feminist campaign group Sisters Scotland – led by a committee of five non-trans women – organised their own event at nearby pub Sofi’s in response. The group said they chose not to organise a counter-protest because they preferred to offer an “alternative” which was “positive and peaceful”.

A spokesperson said: “International Women’s Day should be a celebration of women in all their forms, shapes and sizes, of upholding every woman. What are we going to do about male violence, about teaching boys about toxic masculinity, about women’s services that are underfunded? That’s where the time and investment needs to be going.”

While it is clear that there are fault lines within Scotland’s feminist movement which need to be repaired, and much work is still to be done to build systems of representation which properly reflect the diversity of our society, the overarching message of yesterday’s event was that this can only be achieved by working together.

As Minister for Older People and Equalities – or as she was referred to on the day, the elderly minister – Christina McKelvie MSP said at the conclusion of the proceedings: “Unless all of our rights are realised as individuals, wherever you lie on all those intersections, none of our rights are realised.”