Are we all feminists now? Attitudes to gender equality in Scotland

Rachel Ormston blogs on where the Scottish public stand on gender equality in 2019.

The author(s)

  • Rachel Ormston Ipsos MORI Scotland
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With International Women’s Day just around the corner, global concern about gender equality has arguably never been higher. From the '#MeToo' movement, to workplace discrimination, to fathers’ rights to be more involved in the care of their children, the continuing disparities between men and women are rarely out of the news.

In Scotland, women and girls are far more likely to be victims of domestic abuse (79% of cases reported in 2016-17 had a female victim and male perpetrator) and far more likely to experience sexual assault (20% of women and 4% of men experience sexual assault as adults).  The recent success of the class action brought by female council workers in Glasgow has highlighted ongoing issues of unequal pay. Meanwhile, men in Scotland (as elsewhere) have been slow to take up new flexible working options to enable them to share care for their children more equally.

So where does the Scottish public stand on gender equality in 2019 – are we a nation of feminists, or is public opinion yet another barrier on the road to equality? And how does Scotland compare with the rest of the world? New polling from Ipsos MORI, conducted ahead of International Women’s Day, sheds light on these questions. 

A nation of feminists?

Working-age adults in Scotland are more likely than those in most other countries both to recognise that there is a problem with gender inequality, and to feel that it is important to address this.

  • 58% of people in Scotland say that, in our society today, there are more advantages to being a man, with just 8% saying there are more advantages to being a woman and 28% saying it makes no difference. This is higher both than the global average (52% across 27 countries say there are more advantages to being a man) and the average for Great Britain as a whole (49%).
  • Most of us recognise that there is still work to do to achieve gender equality – 65% of women and 51% of men in Scotland disagree that “When it comes to giving women equal rights with men, things have gone far enough in Scotland”. The overall figure (58%) is higher than the global average (49%) and almost identical to views across Britain as a whole (59%).
  • Meanwhile, an impressive 76% of us say that achieving equality between men and women is important to us personally – again higher than both the global average (65%) and the figure for Britain as a whole (62%).

However, although our views on gender equality paint a picture of a nation of feminists, we are somewhat reticent about embracing that label for ourselves. Just 36% of working-age adults in Scotland agree that “I define myself as a feminist” – in line with the figure for Britain as a whole and not much higher than the global average of 33%.

Men’s role in the fight for equality

Gender equality is no longer seen as a ‘women’s issue’ – both men and women in Scotland think men have an essential role to play. A majority of both men and women:

  • agree that women in Scotland will not achieve equality unless men also take actions to support women’s rights (61% of men and 74% of women agree)
  • think that ‘More men speaking out when women are treated unfairly because of their gender’ would have a positive impact on equality between men and women (69% of men and 79% of women)
  • believe that ‘Men sharing more responsibility for raising children and looking after the home’ will have a positive impact on gender equality (66% of men and 82% of women).

And staying at home to look after the kids is no longer considered potentially ‘emasculating’ – the vast majority of both men (86%) and women (92%) in Scotland disagree that ‘A man who stays home to look after his children is less of a man’. Indeed, Scots are even less likely to hold with this old-fashioned view of men as carers than are people across Britain as a whole or elsewhere in the world (89% of adults in Scotland disagree, compared with 81% across Great Britain and 75% on average across the 27 countries surveyed).

While a majority of men in Scotland appear convinced of the case for gender equality, however, there are still some who need persuading. It remains the case that men are a little less likely than women to feel that gender equality is important or that further action is needed – for example, 33% of men (and 17% of women) agree that ‘Men are being expected to do too much to support women’s equality in Scotland’.

An uphill struggle?

Equal pay tops the list of the most important issues facing women in Scotland (mentioned by 29%), perhaps reflecting an awareness of recent high-profile class actions on this issue. Domestic abuse (25%), sexual harassment (17%) and sexual violence (16%) also feature in the top five issues facing women in Scotland, suggesting public support for the ongoing Scottish policy focus on tackling gender-based violence. And 24% mention balancing work and caring responsibilities – an issue that, as noted, needs to involve both women and men.

However, we are not particularly confident about the chances of achieving equality in the next 20 years, particularly in the domestic sphere. 41% of adults in Scotland were not confident that discrimination against women with respect to looking after children and the home will have ended in the next 20 years (a similar proportion – 40% - were confident, while 12% were unsure). People were similarly divided over whether discrimination against women in Scotland will have ended in the next 20 years:

  • in business (42% were not confident about this, 37% confident)
  • in the media (40% were not confident, 39% confident)
  • in sport (38% were not confident, 40% confident), and
  • in government and politics (36% were not confident, 41% confident).

So while most women and men in Scotland appear supportive of gender equality, we also expect the gender gap to stubbornly persist.


Findings for Scotland are based on 873 online interviews with 16-64 year olds, conducted 20th – 28th February 2019. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.
Global data is based on an international sample of 18,800 adults aged 18-64 in the United States and Canada and 16-64 in all other countries. The survey was conducted in 27 countries around the world, via the Ipsos Online Panel system in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Great Britain, and the USA. Data was collected 21 December 2018 – 4 January 2019. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.


The author(s)

  • Rachel Ormston Ipsos MORI Scotland

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