IT will be “no easy task” to tackle the structural inequalities in Scotland’s justice system and improve women’s experiences, a human rights lawyer has said.

Earlier this week, an independent report called for an intersectional and gendered approach to be implemented across Scotland’s justice system, reflecting the various identities that many women and others have while accessing justice.

The 72-page report set out the ‘hidden sentences’ many women suffer when their partners are imprisoned, having to take on caring responsibilities alone, the lack of data collected on women’s experiences, and the gap between policy and what’s put into practice.

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The research also highlighted how women entering the justice system are much more likely to be victims of abuse, as well as suffer sexism, and not be believed by those in positions of power.

Women, it said, have a “very different” experience of the justice system than men in Scotland.

It comes after the draft publication of the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill published earlier this year, which will embed trauma-informed practices across the justice system, crafted with input from victim's charities and support services.

Jen Ang (below), co-founding director of JustRight Scotland, and one of eight authors behind the report, said that the paper was a “high-level ask” of those in the Scottish Government.

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“It's no easy task structural inequalities, the inequality is embedded in the institutions at every stage of what we do, from our law at the top level, to how the organizations that enforce the law are organized to the guidance that they follow, to the training that the people who execute the work receive, “This is a huge task, but there is only one way forward if we want to improve things for people.

“That is to name it, and then to very intentionally set out to change it.”

Ang, who co-authored the report The Case for Gendered and Intersectional Approaches to Justice along with seven other women in the justice sector, said that the asks in the document aligned with the Scottish Government’s current justice strategy.

She added that she hoped the research would have a “meaningful place” as the reforms go ahead and that the report “sets the direction of travel” rather than specific recommendations.

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Ang also pointed to the First Minister’s National Advisory Council for Women and Girls, which has called for a gendered intersectional approach to all policy-making in the Scottish Government.

“Is there a risk that this is not headed, of course there is, but the women who contributed to this report are keen to do everything we can to ask the government to take up this call, to do something, and basically make a change.

“This is in line with what good practice looks like globally, so if Scotland says that it aspires to be a leader in its approach to human rights and social justice, then this is what needs to be done.

“There’s no way back.”

The National: Justice Secretary and FM at launch of the draft justice reformsJustice Secretary and FM at launch of the draft justice reforms (Image: PA)

Intersectionality, that gender, sex, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, should also play a key part, the report argues.

“People are much more than just one identity or one issue,” Ang explained.

“Intersectionality is important because all women are not the same, and the report is rich with examples of how we know that we’re also failing to respond to the experience of racialised women, of LGBT women, and also other categories of women such as single mothers, those living in poverty.

“Intersectional is a word that tries to capture much more than what the law as it stands provides.

READ MORE: Glass ceiling for women and minorities in Scotland revealed in report

“So this is a bigger, more ambitious, but generous ask of government to make the system more equal.”

The comprehensive report argued that women are not only impacted when they are imprisoned themselves but when family members are accused of a crime or imprisoned.

Mothers being sent to prison also affects children disproportionately, with Families Outside reporting that only 5% of children whose mothers are imprisoned stay in the family home, while 9% are cared for by their fathers. Meanwhile, most children with an imprisoned father remain with their mother.

The National: Siobhian Brown

Around 61% of women in prison are mothers to children under 18.

Siobhian Brown (above), minister for victims and community safety, welcomed the report when it was published and said it provided a “clear and unambiguous foundation” to inform those working in the justice sector going forward.

“These findings will help the Scottish Government change and deliver a justice sector which is truly responsive to the needs of women and girls,” she said.