Introducing genderED: a new hub for gender and sexuality research and teaching at University of Edinburgh

Fiona Mackay, Director genderED and Christina Neuwirth, Co-ordinator genderED

We are delighted to announce the launch of genderED, a new virtual hub for gender and sexuality research and teaching at the University of Edinburgh. It’s the culmination of more than a year of planning with staff and students across the institution. We hope you enjoy exploring it.

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What is genderED?

The idea behind genderED has been to create a virtual space to showcase excellence in teaching, research and KEI in gender and sexuality studies at University of Edinburgh, to promote connectivity and interdisciplinarity, and to build capacity. At its core, genderED is a set of directories and a collection of resources, bringing together information on gender and sexuality courses, researchers, research and KE projects, networks and research groups, blogs and social media, activities and events from across the University. It is designed to be used by prospective and current students, prospective and current researchers, potential collaborators, and the wider community interested in these issues. The project has been led by the School of Social and Political Science (SPS) and the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) on behalf of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CAHSS), and a wider consortium of academics and students. It builds upon a number of earlier initiatives including the Global Justice Academy Gender Justice Listing, the engagement work by the Gender Politics (@genderpol) community, IASH’s Dangerous Women Project, and the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Gender campaign (2014-15). The genderED project is part of the wider and evolving University of Edinburgh- EUSA Gender Initiative.


More than 80 courses - teaching image

We have compiled “living” directories with information about all specialist courses on gender and sexuality, and more generalist courses with substantial gender and sexuality components, running at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in a particular academic year. This will help interested students to navigate “gender and sexuality” pathways through their programmes, equip personal tutors to advise their tutees, as well as identify gaps in provision.

SPS in practice students - Meryl Kenny

SPS in Practice Students – photo by Meryl Kenny on Twitter

The directories includes information about “Understanding Gender in the Contemporary World” – an Ordinary level course co-created with students as part of the University’s evolving Gender Initiative – and open to undergraduates from across the University. Now in its 2nd year of running it has more than 200 students ranging from Fine Art to Cognitive Science, and from Physics to Social Anthropology.  It is led by Dr Meryl Kenny and Dr Pablo Schyfter from the School of Social and Political Science with a teaching team from across the University, supported by a reference group of academics and representatives from the EUSA. (See here for a recent presentation to Senate by Meryl Kenny and students on the co-creation process and the SPS in Practice model).

We will highlight a selection of courses with commentary from course convenors and students, updating periodically.


More than 85 researchers image

We are creating directories of gender and sexuality scholars, including our PhD and early career researchers, giving information about their research interests and projects. They will be regularly updated and will make visible the great breadth and depth of scholarship at University of Edinburgh. We hope these resources will enable researchers to connect with each other (across and beyond the institution), encouraging multidisciplinary collaborations, as well as attracting prospective PhD and Masters students.

We will highlight a selection of researchers and projects, updating periodically.

Making Connections

Making connections image

In this section of the hub we will highlight the myriad ways we connect and engage. This will include networks and groups, knowledge exchange activities, and social media engagement.


As part of genderED we will be working with IASH to create a rolling specialist gender and sexuality events listing.


Gender and sexuality scholars and teachers, students and student leaders, and Heads of Schools, Colleges, and Academies, have all played an important role in the incubation and creation of genderED. There have been countless conversations over the years about how best to connect our work across different Schools and disciplines in a large and decentralised University; how to make research-led teaching options more visible to students; and how to identify gaps and build capacity. This is an important area for support and growth given the University’s commitment to equipping students to become critical citizens at global and local level, and to promoting values of social responsibility and social justice.

As noted above, genderED builds upon work by an ad hoc group of academics and students. But the step change came in 2014-15 with the then- EUSA Vice President of Academic Affairs Dash Sekhar’s gender campaign for more gender courses including the creation of a University-wide introductory course on gender. The Heads of CAHSS and SPS agreed to provide institutional support for this, and for a wider University-EUSA Gender Initiative. The key outcomes to date have been the creation of the Understanding Gender course (see above, 2016) and the launch of genderED (2017).

What Next?

This is the start of the project and our directories and other resources are living works in progress. Please get in touch if you would like to have your course or research profile listed, if you are part of a research project or network, or if you are organising a gender and sexuality studies related event! Christina can be reached at

The image of the embroidered rug is used under a Creative Commons license: CC-BY-NC-2.0. The image was created by Flickr user Mark Heard and can be found here. For genderED, SPS graphic designer Adam Cavill has changed its size, and overlaid it with colour hues.


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Making Gender Equality Happen: review

Congratulations to  Rosalind Cavaghan on the publication of the book of her award-winning University of Edinburgh PhD thesis – out this month as part of Routledge’s new series on Gender and Comparative Politics. Ros is currently Equality and Social Justice post-doctoral fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University, having recently completed a Marie Curie IEF Postdoctoral Fellowship at Radboud University in the Netherlands.


‘Making Gender Equality Happen’ looks at the implementation of Gender Mainstreaming, a policy which has been adopted by over 100 countries since 1996, but which has produced disappointing results.

In the years since its launch, Gender Mainstreaming has been plagued by a knotty problem. Many people outside feminist circles can’t imagine how to ‘mainstream’ gender. Indeed, the book opens with an interview where the author meets a civil servant banging their fist on the table, telling her ‘there is no gender problem!’

Cavaghan argues that the Sociology of Knowledge can tell us much about how to deal with these implementation problems, explaining and applying a new conceptual tool kit, ‘gender knowledge contestation analysis’ to analyse Gender Mainstreaming in the European Commission’s Research policy.

Cavaghan relays stories from her own time in policy consultancy which convinced her that we should understand Gender Mainstreaming as a process of competition between different perspectives, describing how she as a ‘newbie’ came to understand academic gender theories, only with some difficulty.

In this way, the book tries to make the cutting edge of academic gender theory accessible to new comers, describing how it can be difficult to put into practice and how to predict and circumvent problems translating rhetoric into implementation. As such Cavaghan’s book presents a more optimistic assessment of Gender Mainstreaming than many of her peers, though she also argues for continued efforts to theorise ‘resistance’ to gender equality policies, which she argues is currently on the rise.

You can order ‘Making Gender Equality Happen: Knowledge Change and Resistance in EU Gender Mainstreaming’, at a 20% discount direct from Routledge’s site using the code on this thumbnail flyer .

Cavaghan 20 percent Flyer-1

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Here We, Here We, Here We … Go (Again): Women and the 2017 Local Government Elections

By Meryl Kenny, Fiona Mackay and Judith Sijstermans

ballot box

Another year, another missed opportunity to achieve equal representation in Scottish politics.

Not that you would know it from the media coverage and political spin of the 2017 council elections, with pundits and politicians alternatively claiming the results as a win for the SNP – as the largest party in Scottish local government – or the Conservatives – who made significant gains.

But was it a win for women? Here are the headlines figures:

  • Women’s representation in local government has increased, rising from 24% in 2012, to a new high of 29% in 2017.
  • Less than 1:3 Scottish councillors is a woman.
  • The performance of different parties on women’s representation varies dramatically – with the Greens and the SNP topping the ranks with 47% and 39% women respectively in local government, whilst the Conservatives lag behind with only 18% women.
  • No council has achieved equal representation overall. Midlothian council comes out best with 39% women. The wooden spoon goes to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, which has seen the election of a council composed entirely of white men.
  • 103 council wards across Scotland have no women representing them (29% of all council wards).

To be sure, some progress has been made, but the overall face of Scottish local politics remains ‘male, pale and stale.’ Indeed, looking beyond Scotland, we see wider trends of the persistent over-representation of men from majority groups in politics across the UK – evidenced most strikingly in the metro mayoral contests, where more Andys were elected (two) than women (zero).

How did the parties do?

As we reported in our preview of the local government elections, familiar patterns persist: with some parties taking women’s representation seriously, whilst others make little effort to address the issue, thus continuing to lag well behind.

Most noteworthy are the big strides made by the SNP on women’s representation at local government level: rising from 25% women elected in 2012 to 39% in 2017 (see Table 1). The party has the highest actual number of women councillors of any of the parties (169 – higher than all of the other major parties combined). Women made up more than half of the SNP’s new/non-incumbent candidates (53.5%) compared to around 1 in 4 (26.3%) of its sitting candidates. Eight out of 31 SNP council groups are 50% women or more – taken together, these trends suggest a step change for the party at local level.

Table 1: Councillors by Party, 2017

Party Women Total % Women (% 2012)
SNP 169 431 39.2% (24.7%)
Conservatives 50 276 18.1% (24.3%)
Labour 73 262 27.9% (26.1%)
Liberal Democrats 24 67 35.8% (36.6%)
Green 9 19 47.4% (28.6%)
Independent/Other 30 172 17.4% (15.2%)
Total 355 1227 28.9% (24.3%)
*2012 councillor figures are taken from Kenny, M. and F. Mackay (2012) ‘Less male, pale and stale? Women and the 2012 Local Government Elections’, Scottish Affairs, 80 (Summer), 20-32.

Also leading the pack were the Scottish Greens, who again had the highest proportion of women amongst its candidates of all the parties (45%, an increase from 41% in 2012) (see Table 2). 47% of Green councillors are women – an impressive achievement, albeit in the context of small numbers.

Meanwhile, Labour returned 28% women overall, a small improvement on their 2012 record at local government (26%). In the end, though, they were overtaken and outpaced by competitors, including the SNP, and in the context of heavy losses of seats overall. The Liberal Democrats equalled their 2012 performance on women’s representation, with women again making up 37% of the party’s councillors (and 33% of candidates, compared to 28% in 2012).

Bringing up the rear are the Scottish Conservatives, whose performance stands in stark contrast to all of the other major parties. In the end, only 18% of Tory councillors are women (compared to 21% of candidates). Indeed, in four council areas, the Conservatives ran no women amongst their candidates at all (Angus, Dundee, Stirling and the Western Isles).

The Scottish Tories faced criticism in the run-up to the 2017 elections for their poor performance on selecting women. The party’s answer (which we have heard before) cited Ruth Davidson as ‘living proof’ that the party was able to get women to the top, while also highlighting the role of the Women2Win campaign aimed at encouraging more women to stand. But while the Women2Win campaign has had an impact at UK level, in Scotland, the effects have not (as of yet) materialised. Only 22% of new/non-incumbent candidates for the party were women – a figure that was not significantly higher than the 18.3% of incumbent candidates who were women. And while the party saw more women elected to local government in 2017 than 2012, the party’s significant electoral gains this time around meant that the proportion of women returned decreased by six percent overall (from 24.3% to 18.1%).

The percentage of women amongst Independents/Other councillors remains low, at 17% (compared to 18% of candidates). These figures appear to bear out wider research on independent candidacies, which advantage individuals with access to time, money and political networks, most of whom tend to be men.

How do the councils look?

Turning to patterns of representation across local authorities, the picture is one of wide variation (see Table 3). No Scottish council has achieved gender balance overall – or, indeed, broken the 40% threshold. And, as already highlighted, 103 council wards have no women representing them (29%).

In 2012, only 5 of 32 Scottish councils had achieved levels of women’s representation of 30% or more. In 2017, this number has risen to 12 – top performers include (see Table 3):

  • Midlothian (38.9%)
  • Edinburgh (38.1%)
  • East Ayrshire (37.5%)
  • South Lanarkshire (37.5%)
  • Renfrewshire (37.2%)
  • Glasgow (36.5%)

Meanwhile, the laggards on women’s representation are:

  • Perth and Kinross (20%)
  • Dumfries and Galloway (18.6%)
  • Inverclyde (13.6%)
  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (0%)

What matters, of course, is not just how many women are selected by parties overall, but also where they are selected to run. We can see the importance of this in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which were key political battlegrounds, not only for the overall election outcomes but also in terms of women’s representation.

In Edinburgh, 52% of Labour candidates were women, with the Greens close behind at 47.1%, followed by the SNP’s at 37% women and the Conservatives at 23.8%. The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green groups on Edinburgh council are all 50% women; compared to 37% of the SNP group and 22% of the Conservative group.

In Glasgow, 48% of Green candidates and 45% of SNP candidates were women, in contrast with 35% of Labour candidates and 26% of Conservative candidates. The resulting Green council group is now 57% women, followed by the SNP at 44%, and Labour at 33% women. The Tories made significant gains in Glasgow, increasing their tally from one to eight – but all of eight of their elected councillors are men. Newly elected Conservative councillor Ade Aibinu and SNP councillor Graham Campbell are the first ever black representatives elected to Glasgow’s city chambers.

Where does this leave us?

Despite the redrawing of the political landscape of local government in Scotland, and the changing fortunes of different political parties, the story on women’s representation remains much the same. Without commitment for action from parties across-the-board, progress will continue to be glacial.

Indeed, the Conservatives’ laissez-faire approach to women’s representation –in the context of a surge in their electoral fortunes (as in the 2016 elections) – had the effect of depressing the Scottish headline figures, negating much of the improvements made by other parties at individual level.

On the positive side: change is possible, particularly when political parties commit to addressing the ‘male, pale, stale’ composition of local councils. We know that key actors within parties are centrally important in winning internal arguments, as is external pressure in making women’s representation a matter for public scrutiny and party competition. But these windows of opportunity are seldom open for long, and women’s representation can be sidelined or crowded out in wider discussions of Brexit, IndyRef2 and snap General Elections. Indeed, very little of the post-council election coverage has engaged with or even mentioned issues of diversity and representation at local level.

Hence the title of this blog: here we, here we, here we…go again. We are reminded that we have (collectively) been counting women (and men) in Scottish politics for more than 20 years. Women’s representation still has not ‘caught on’. Whilst there have been breakthroughs (most notably in the early elections of devolution, with a high of 39.5% in 2003), for the most part it has been incremental change, stasis, or setbacks. We are still counting (in the absence of reliable gender breakdowns from party or official sources; never mind intersectional data); and we are still making the same arguments.

So here we go (AGAIN) – hopefully for the last time.

  • Our councils and parliaments should look like the people they represent and draw upon all talents.
  • The over-representation of men from majority groups is a significant and persistent political problem.
  • Solutions to that problem are available to us. The international and comparative evidence is clear – quotas work.

It is time.

Meryl Kenny is Lecturer in Gender and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Fiona Mackay is Professor of Politics and Dean and Head of the School of Social and Political Science at Edinburgh. They co-convene the Gender Politics Research Group at the university (on Twitter at @genderpol), and are steering group members of the Women5050 campaign for legal gender quotas in Scotland. Judith Sijstermans is a PhD Candidate in Politics and International Relations at Edinburgh.

Additional Tables and Figures

Additional analysis of candidate and councillors figures can be found in the tables below.

Section 106 of the Equality Act sets out a statutory requirement for political parties to publish candidate diversity data, but this provision has not yet been brought into force. As we have argued elsewhere, there is a need for political parties and political institutions to be held to account and gather and publicly publish intersectional data on candidates and elected representatives.

We have compiled candidate and councillor information through official Notices of Poll published by each local authority, local media reports, party websites, and political parties themselves. We also cross-checked our data against other sources, including the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, which based their figures on the knowledge of Returning Officers.

We see this as the starting point, not the end point, of a more detailed analysis of diversity and representation in Scottish councils – and will be doing further analysis over the coming months. We welcome queries, corrections & further candidate data – to Meryl Kenny ( or Judith Sijstermans (

Table 2: Candidates by Party, 2017

Party Women Total % Women (% 2012)
Conservatives 81 380 21.3% (25.9%)
SNP 261 627 41.6% (23.9%)
Labour 144 453 31.8% (27.4%)
Liberal Democrats 82 247 33.2% (27.9%)
Green 98 218 45.0% (40.7%)
Independent/Other 119 647 18.4% (14.9%)
Total 785 2572 30.5% (23.4%)
*2012 candidate figures are taken from Kenny, M. and F. Mackay (2012) ‘Less male, pale and stale? Women and the 2012 Local Government Elections’, Scottish Affairs, 80 (Summer), 20-32.

Table 3: Councillors by Local Authority, 2017

Local Authority Women Total % Women
Aberdeen City 13 45 28.9%
Aberdeenshire 24 70 34.3%
Angus 6 28 21.4%
Argyll and Bute 11 36 30.6%
City of Edinburgh 24 63 38.1%
Clackmannanshire 4 18 22.2%
Dumfries and Galloway 8 43 18.6%
Dundee City 7 29 24.1%
East Ayrshire 12 32 37.5%
East Dunbartonshire 6 22 27.3%
East Lothian 6 22 27.3%
East Renfrewshire 5 18 27.8%
Falkirk 9 30 30.0%
Fife 25 75 33.3%
Glasgow City 31 85 36.5%
Highland 25 74 33.8%
Inverclyde 3 22 13.6%
Midlothian 7 18 38.9%
Moray 8 26 30.8%
Na h-Eileanan Siar 0 31 0.0%
North Ayrshire 9 33 27.3%
North Lanarkshire 22 77 28.6%
Orkney 3 21 14.3%
Perth and Kinross 8 40 20.0%
Renfrewshire 16 43 37.2%
Scottish Borders 7 34 20.6%
Shetland 5 22 22.7%
South Ayrshire 6 28 21.4%
South Lanarkshire 24 64 37.5%
Stirling 6 23 26.1%
West Dunbartonshire 6 22 27.3%
West Lothian 9 33 27.3%
Total 355 1227 28.9%
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Yes, There’s Still a Local Government Election Going On

By Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay

Since the announcement of an early general election by Theresa May on 18 April, Scottish local government elections have seemingly disappeared from view. Indeed, if one were to read the campaign leaflets piling up over the last few weeks, one would wonder whether there is a local election going on at all, given their scant mention of local issues (as well as sweeping pledges that voting for particular parties and candidates in council elections will singlehandedly stave off indyref2, Brexit, and so on and so forth).

Stepping into the breach, however, was Edinburgh Evening News, who on Monday night organised a live-streamed Council hustings.

Can you spot the common denominator?

Facing criticism for their male and pale line-up, the paper responded with a familiar excuse often heard in Scottish media circles – that parties put forward their own candidates for debate, and the paper was simply working with what was given. Others defended the line-up by arguing that parties needed to elect more female leaders if they wanted women on panels.

(If you listen carefully, you should be able to here the faint sound of ‘Bingo!’ in the distance, as someone fills out their card of excuses for not inviting women speakers).

female conference speaker


Blaming parties, of course, absolves the media of responsibility – for example, when the paper became aware that it had organised an all-white-male panel, it could have gone back to the parties and asked them to put forward more diverse representatives. It could also have selected a woman moderator. As for those who sit on #manels, it’s time for male politicians, pundits and academic commentators to hold themselves to account – it is a very easy thing when accepting a speaking invitation to ask who else is on the panel; recommend diverse speakers; and, if the line-up remains men only, refuse to participate.

Beyond the line-up itself, however, there was no acknowledgement by the paper or the participants during the event that they were sitting on a #manel; no discussion of women’s under-representation (or rather, male over-representation) in the upcoming council elections, or the under-representation of other marginalised groups (and what the speakers’ respective parties were going to do about it); and no discussion of women or women’s policy concerns full stop (despite questions being asked on social media).

Five years ago, we wrote about the ‘male, pale, stale’ face of Scottish local government in the run-up to the 2012 council elections. Looking back, it is depressing to see how little has changed in the interim. Women’s representation has flatlined in Scottish councils for decades; whilst we’ve also seen setbacks in women’s representation at other levels of Scottish politics over time, including Holyrood.

In the 2017 local government elections, we see the same familiar patterns – some parties (the SNP, the Greens) taking women’s representation seriously, whilst others like the Scottish Conservatives – who are expected to make significant gains on Thursday – continue to lag well behind on selecting women council candidates.

Why does it matter? We need local councils that look like their communities and that draw upon ‘all talents’. Whilst the link between women’s political presence and the promotion of women-friendly policies is far from straightforward, nonetheless, there is considerable evidence to suggest that women politicians ‘make a difference’, or, more accurately, that more gender-balanced parliaments and councils do.

What is at stake? In times of austerity and welfare state retrenchment, it is crucial that women’s voices and perspectives (in all their diversity) are included in our political institutions. This is especially the case at the local level, where difficult decisions are made and cuts hit hardest – legislation stands or falls at local level where it is implemented on a daily basis.

As the Women5050 campaign has highlighted, it is clear that on Thursday we will fail to achieve fair representation for women in yet another Scottish election. Five years ago, we suggested that women’s representation was too important to leave up to political parties, and that it was time for Scotland to consider implementing legal gender quotas. Warm words are no longer enough – politicians must follow the evidence and show leadership.

2017 will go down as another missed opportunity for equal representation in Scotland – let’s make it the last one.

Genderpol will be publishing a full analysis of women candidates and councillors immediately following the election. For queries, contact Meryl Kenny ( or Fiona Mackay.


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Reflections on a Year of Dangerous Women: Speaking Out, Listening, Resisting and Persisting!

On March 8 2016, Peta Freestone, Jo Shaw, and colleagues at Edinburgh University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), launched an ambitious collective endeavour using social media to ask the question: ‘What is a dangerous woman?’ The project aimed to post a blog a day from International Women’s Day (IWD) 2016 to IWD 2017 in answer to that question. 365 days and more than 400 posts later the project has succeeded beyond all expectations – and grown a new global online community.

At a celebratory event in Edinburgh on March 8 2017 to mark the end of the project, FIONA MACKAY, a contributor, and a member of the Dangerous Women Project advisory board, shared her reflections on what a year of the Dangerous Women project has meant to her. Here is her talk:

I’m honoured to have been asked to reflect on this year of the Dangerous Women Project and what I have taken from it.

It seems a world ago, doesn’t it? Since this unruly, ambitious, cacophonous, moving, and magnificent project burst onto the scene and we began our collective deliberations on what it means to be a Dangerous Woman.

We set out on this journey before Brexit, before Trump. Before trends in the UK, Europe and the States knocked askew the axes of our worlds – seemingly putting women’s rights as well as our pussies up for grabs again.

Continue reading

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Who’s Afraid of Identity Politics? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

PSA Women and Politics member Jonathan Dean (University of Leeds) assesses the problematic messages behind – and alarming consequences of – recent debates over ‘identity politics’[i] Amidst the recriminations and collective shock in the face of Trump’s victory (and the myriad other reverses suffered by progressives in 2016), a consensus is emerging: the weakness of the left is attributable to […]

via Who’s Afraid of Identity Politics? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

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What now for UK academia? Twelve academics on Brexit

Thoughtful Reflections from a great cast of women academics



Photo: Dave Kellam

by Catherine Connolly, co-founder of Women Are Boring

We put a call out on our Twitter and Facebook accounts on Friday afternoon asking for contributions to this special feature on what the EU has meant to women working in academia in the UK, and their thoughts on the referendum result. We received a huge response. But first, some background – I was in London last week, and woke at 6am the morning after the UK’s EU membership referendum to hear Nigel Farage’s voice coming from my friend’s radio, hailing a ‘historic day’ for the UK. My immediate reaction was one of shock – going to bed the night before, it had seemed to all of us in the house that “Remain” was going to take it, albeit by a slim margin. Following the disbelief came the sadness and worry for the friends I have living…

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