In February 2014, the Saltire Society and the Glasgow Women’s Library launched a Twitter campaign to mark International Women’s Week, engaging with the community by encouraging them to nominate the Outstanding Women of Scotland through social media, ultimately announcing the winners on International Woman’s Day 2014.
In retrospect of the monumental success of this event, this year the inspirational Glasgow Woman’s Library played host to the inaugural Outstanding Women of Scotland award ceremony.
These awards provide a platform for much needed representation of the incredible contribution women have made to Scotland’s culture and society through their influence and leadership.
From politics to engineering, literature to promoting Gaelic culture, these awards focus on all aspects of Scottish life and ensures that these women get the recognition they deserve.
10 women were recipients of the prestigious award this year, including politician Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish writer Jackie Kay, with both women having broken through the proverbial ‘Glass Ceiling’ as it were, influencing their fellow woman and encouraging them to follow their dreams regardless of the social barriers in place.
A touching motif of the ceremony was that each inductee had to name a woman by whom she was most inspired by, bringing heart-warming tales of motherhood, sisterhood and solidarity between women.
The awards were established after observations within the Saltire Society that many exceptional women made a significant impact within the Society itself, and that there was considerable concern regarding the representation of women in civic matters. It was then informally decided that there would be an established event, and this year saw the first physical awards ceremony – with more to come in the following years.
An event decorated with live entertainment, dancing, singing; not to mention plenty of cake and champagne, it was an enlightening communal experience and showed immense promise supporting the expansion of the event in years to come.
The Glasgow Women’s Library was crucial in establishing this event through a yearlong campaign and partnership with the Saltire Society. The building itself is a testament to women in academia, with a vast array of fascinating texts regarding women and feminism, as well as historic Suffragette memorabilia, providing a very appropriate location for the awards. The library itself hopes to be established as Scotland’s Women Library, a vote that will take place next year. The central hub to organise marches, heritage walks and discussions with female writers, the library is an exciting and invaluable venue to engage with women across Scotland, and to get them involved with programmes that reach out to women in Glasgow and beyond.
The winners of the 2015 Outstanding Women of Scotland awards are as follows:
Dame Elish Angiolini: The first woman to hold the position of Lord Advocate of Scotland from 2006-2011, contributing outstanding reviews and changes towards the handling of domestic abuse and rape cases in Scotland and the UK, resulting in the establishment of the specialist National Sexual Crimes Unit, the first of its kind in Europe.
Dame Winifred Ewing: Affectionately known as ‘Madame Ecosse’ due to her relentless advocacy of Scottish interests during her time as an MEP, Dame Winifred’s 38 year long career in representative politics (including roles as an MP, MSP and the SNP President) provided a much needed voice for the women of Scotland, and began a surge of support for the SNP after her historic election win in 1967.
Bashabi Fraser: An Indian-born Scottish writer and poet, Bashabi’s writing brings to attention issues involving transnationalism, culture and identity. Amongst many achievements and awards for her contribution towards arts and culture, she co-founded the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies at Edinburgh Napier University and is on the management committee of the Scottish Writers Association.
Jackie Kay MBE: Renowned Scottish poet and novelist, Jackie’s influential autobiographical Red Dust Road won the Saltire Society Book of the Year in 2010, and she has received a vast amount of awards for her works, including the Guardian Fiction Prize. Her writing focuses on the complexities of identity, heritage and sexuality. She is currently a Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University and Cultural Fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University.
Dr Doris Littlejohn: A volunteer at the Citizens Advice Bureau and previously the UK’s first female Industrial Tribunal Chairman in 1976, Doris continues to support citizens within her community through trying times, and selflessly dedicates her experience and professional skills to helping others, taking her age in her stride featuring as the oldest inductee in this year’s list.
Liz Lochhead: A Scottish poet and dramatist, in 2011 she was named Scots Makar, succeeding the late Edwin Morgan. Her plays include the influential Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off and a Scots adaptation of Moliere’s Tartuffe.
Dr Anne Lorne Gillies: Renowned for her outstanding contribution to promoting Gaelic education, this Gaelic Signer has worked tirelessly as a political activist, public speaker, TV presenter, producer and writer, along with earning her PhD in Gaelic-medium Education of the University of Glasgow. She has received recognition for her abundant contribution to Scottish Culture by many Universities, receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Fellowship from the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Professor Rebecca Lunn: The first female in Civil Engineering to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Professor Lunn is an advocate for gender equality in the field of Engineering and has aimed to achieve a 50% attendance of female students in her Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Strathclyde, where she acts department head, with a 43% female attendance at the time of publication.
Karine Polwart: A multi-award winning folk singer-songwriter, Karine’s music primarily concerns the issues of changing society in multiple aspects, and she has spent years working in the area of Women’s and Children’s rights.
Nicola Sturgeon: As the first woman to hold both the Deputy First Minister and First Minister positions in the Scottish Government, Nicola Sturgeon is a proud self-proclaimed feminist, and has unremittingly worked towards gender equality within politics and the everyday work place.
This award is crucial for raising awareness for the efforts of successful women in Scotland and is a step in the right direction toward fair and equal representation for all achievements in Scotland. With an awards list as decorated and celebrated as this year’s, and a ceremony to match, next year’s event is anticipated with latent excitement: excitement for the women of Scotland, and the efforts that they make every day.
[Chiara Bullen – @bullieob]