YOUNG women in Scotland are seeking radical change in schools, healthcare and culture at large, but face a litany of barriers and a rise in misogynistic culture.

The Young Women’s Movement (YWM) is a feminist organisation looking to put the experiences and needs of young women and girls at the forefront of policy and society.

At the beginning of April, the group rebranded with a new strategy, logo and website, later launching a campaign addressing peer sexual abuse, followed by a report setting out how young women feel “patronised and minimised” trying to access basic healthcare.

“We really wanted to be able to tell the world that we welcome and celebrate all self-identifying young women and girls from all, and or and no faiths, and that every young woman and girl regardless of their situation and their circumstances has a place within our movement,” CEO Jenny Snell said.

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Looking forward

Snell, and Rhianna Mallia, YWM’s research and policy lead, have both been involved with the organisation in various roles before taking on their current roles.

Snell became involved in 2018 through the Young Women Lead Programme, while employed as a youth worker at Aberdeen City Council.

“I just had such a positive experience and felt so connected to the organisation that I didn't want to move on,” she said. “I wanted to stay involved.”

Mallia volunteered as a researcher in 2016 on the first Status of Young Women in Scotland Report, before going on to volunteer on various different projects before taking on her current paid role.

“It’s definitely one of those organisations that once you’re in and you make that connection, we foster that and it feels really inclusive,” she said.

The National: The Young Women's Movement had an in-person rebrand launch in Glasgow last monthThe Young Women's Movement had an in-person rebrand launch in Glasgow last month (Image: Young Women's Movement)

Originally the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), then YWCA - Young Women’s Movement, the organisation has been on an “evolutionary journey over the last 10 years”, Snell said, eventually dropping the acronym.

“It was an intentional shift. It was a bit outdated and it needed to be re-contemporized in a current Scottish context.

“We needed something that young women and girls today would recognise and feel connected to rather than what young women and girls 10 years ago would have connected to, so just reaching that new generation of young women.”

Working with an outside company the rebrand put inclusivity at the centre, the colour scheme based on the pride flag, and a font designed by an independent female type designer. The logo incorporates the shape of an arrow and signals a forward motion but also has a nod to its YWCA roots.

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“It gives us that real sense of forward direction of travel and where we're going next,” Snell added.

The rise of misogyny

There are a host of issues young women face in modern Scotland, but the creeping increase of sexism in society sits at the top of Snell’s list.

“One of the key things for me that's increasingly alarming is the increase of misogynistic rhetoric on social media,” Snell said.

“Especially the way it is seeping into the lives of young men and boys at quite an alarming rate and largely under the radar of parents, educators and carers.”

The 30-year-old fears that issues around misogynistic control, unhealthy gender stereotypes and misogynistic rhetoric are “becoming more normalised again”, threatening the progress made in recent years to tackle gender inequality and violence.

The National: Jenni Snell is the CEO of the Young Women's Movement in ScotlandJenni Snell is the CEO of the Young Women's Movement in Scotland (Image: YWM)

YWM have heard young women voice experiences of unsafe and unhealthy relationships, with many facing a higher risk of sexual harassment, assault and violence.

In 2022, in partnership with Scottish Women’s Aid, YWM published The Rise Report, which found over a third (36%) of young women in Scotland had experienced physical or emotional abuse from an intimate partner.

“There's definitely for me a real concern around that increase in misogynistic culture and how that will then perpetuate that increased messages of control and unhealthy gender stereotypes into problematic and potentially terrible consequences for young women and girls going forward in terms of gender-based violence,” Snell added.

Mallia adds that young women have to deal with the “constant issue” of systemic inequality. “It's that consistent barrier to progression in every element of life because of the system that we live in,” the 29-year-old said.

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“Whether that's career progression, access to health care, access to education “Whether that's the cost of living crisis it consistently affects young women and then young women of marginalised or more oppressed identities more.”

A young, black disabled woman will have more barriers to access and progression, Mallia adds.

Tackling peer sex abuse and misogyny

Young women in schools face particular problems, with sex education patchy and a desire for better resources one of the main demands of those the organisation has engaged with.

Oor Fierce Girls, a campaign created by female pupils from schools in Dundee, launched in June 2021 with “tool-kits” to tackle sexual abuse and harassment, as well as promote healthy relationships.

The girls worked with Dundee Council, NSPCC and YWM, as well as Women’s Aid, NHS Tayside and other organisations to create the campaign. It led to a “suite of resources” being created to tackle the problem, Snell said.

“The intention is that that will get rolled out further and more nationally to be used across Scotland,” she added.

The National: Rhianna Mallia is YWM's research and policy leadRhianna Mallia is YWM's research and policy lead (Image: YWM)

In Perth, young women there launched a campaign Bold Girls Ken, again aiming to tackle peer sexual abuse and issues around consent and relationships.

At a launch event with police, local politicians and other stakeholders involved, the young women presented their projects on consent and secured commitments from those in local government to do more work on the issue, Mallia said.

“One of the young women’s biggest asks was that there were standard approaches to teaching consent across the schools in Perth because they haven’t worked together before, and through the programme that we have, they realise that actually your consent was different, what you got taught in your SE [Sex Education] class was different from mine.

“And these are young women who are aged 16, so it's recent.”

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Tiktok and Instagram, not Twitter

One key aspect of YWM's approach is only using Twitter in certain circumstances, with both Snell and Mallia citing safeguarding concerns for staff, and fears that young women may be targetted for holding intersectional views.

"There's no room for dialogue on Twitter," Snell said.

While accepting that it is an important space to lobby politicians, Snell said it's not where young women are spending their time. 

"It's sad that Twitter has become that space, but we will continue working with the young women and girls who we are trying to reach across Scotland and use Instagram, Tik Tok and other platforms in order to do that."