I HAD the privilege of being the SNP MSP representative on a cross-party board set up by the Scottish Parliament to carry out a full audit looking at the barriers women face at Holyrood.

The Gender Sensitive Audit Board looked at the representation, participation, and influence of women. Chaired by Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, we met several times over the last year to create a detailed report with clear actions.

The report has now been published and I encourage everyone to take a look at our findings.

As we approach International Women’s Day tomorrow, it has been a reflective time. I’ve been thinking deeply about what it means to me being a woman in politics, while pondering some observations.

There’s so much I want to say on this, but perhaps I may be shouting “there’s an elephant in the room!”.

I almost feel silenced about it because it means calling people out, and that is certainly something which would cause issues.

I want to let the public in – let them see the challenges, but also the wins from my perspective. This is hard to do fully without opening cans of worms. I will try to tread carefully, and perhaps keep most of the good stuff for when I write my book one day.

It goes without saying that all women are different, but we also have many similar challenges, and these can often cross over into other demographics too.

The patriarchal structure our society is based around was intentionally built to benefit white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied men – this is widely accepted to be true and not disputed.

The family structure of mum, dad and 2.4 children, with women doing the unpaid care, benefits this structure.

Every barrier we face in society can be traced back to the non-conforming to that patriarchal mould – and from every bank account that women were able to open on their own to every disabled access ramp available for wheelchair users, none of it has come easy, without some kind of a battle. Breaking the mould takes energy and resources.

Those who do not conform to that patriarchal mould perhaps don’t even realise that life for them would be easier if they did, and those who do perhaps can’t imagine in what way they have privilege.

Add class into the mix and that adds a whole other layer of complexities. So, to understand any type of disadvantage we first must acknowledge it exists, and unfortunately that is something which is quite often dismissed.

It’s particularly dismissed when the deep-seated internal bias is so deep the bearer can’t even see it in themselves, and especially when the bearer is biased toward their own demographic.

So what does this all mean for women? Well you tell me, as for starters there isn’t a day goes by where I can’t understand why we would try to restrict the right of any woman to have an abortion, or to shame her for doing so, or try to make her feel guilty about having one.

I can’t understand why a women’s right to choose for herself is still up for any kind of debate.

I can’t understand why we have taken so long to get to the point where we can talk about menopause openly, and see clearly the struggles women have faced for decades in a society which isn’t fit for their purpose.

Why wasn’t I taught this when I was taught my womb was for reproduction – are women’s bodies not worth talking about when they don’t produce humans?

The expectations placed on women to mask our displeasure, our pain and our true feelings are still very much here.

If we dare let the mask slip, then what are we but nagging, complaining, whingeing and all in all bad sports.

When I highlight these things, I am often told I “play the victim” – that’s pure misogyny. Sometimes this type of comment comes from other women, which is so disappointing.

The “cheer up love” comments might happen less, but it’s still there, on the tip of the tongue of many people, in the “bearers of bias”.

There’s a saying I loathe, though it’s still quite common and I hear it regularly: “Grow a thick skin.”

No, I will not – we have enough thick-skinned people, thank you very much, and a thick skin prevents us from forging a more empathetic and caring society.

It’s all part of the thought that the world is a rough and tumble place where only men can play. Toxic masculinity not only harms women, it harms us all, including men.

We must have equal representation in terms of legislators, but a crucial aspect of that must include an intersectional approach with men fully participating in ensuring it happens.

Small picture stuff also needs all of us to ensure a cultural shift. Why does the micro-level management of everyday life still mostly fall on us mums?

Men, ask to be the person in group chats organising school trips, and women hand over the task, otherwise we never move on.

When women can turn up to an evening meeting with a full belly of food cooked for them, wearing a blouse ironed for them, with somebody else listing the daily tasks of the household and family, watch the world change.

Can we have it all? “All” being what – burdens of responsibility? I don’t think we want it all; we want others to be able to take their fair share.

I hope we can move on to a place where the expectations we have placed on women fall and the patriarchy with it.

It’s about choice – I loved being a stay-at-home mum, I now love working; what I love most of all is the choice.

We must remove the expectations for women and replace them with the freedom for them to choose, unjudged. That’s the real game changer.