Women, Scotland & Inclusion: Barriers to disclosure and support in an island setting

This International Women's Day we're overjoyed to share with you four guest blogs from women across Scotland who are making meaningful steps towards women's equality. The theme of IWD this year is #InspireInclusion, & we asked our bloggers to talk about the communities and campaigns happening across the country.

Graphic with a photo of Zelda Bradley, Service Director at ORSAS against a background of icons incorporating the Engender logo, with text which reads Women, Scotland & Inclusion #IWD2024

Zelda Bradley is the Service Director, Specialist SV Advocacy and Support Practitioner for Orkney Rape and Sexual Assault Service (ORSAS).

Orkney is the complete package, boasting a rich heritage, landscapes, beaches, wildlife, thriving food and drink sector, world leading energy innovation and a lifestyle that is second to none!”

The Orkney “brand” is lucrative, it supports jobs, a rural idyll and an aspirational lifestyle. Alongside the positive statistics, there are challenges facing our remote, rural island communities in relation to housing, hidden poverty, gender-based violence, substance misuse and access to services.

All the things that positively bind our community together also create barriers to disclosure and accessing support. People rely on one another’s goodwill. We are at school, studying, working, and socialising together. There is a transparency to island living that can’t be escaped. Everyone has a lineage through their family, where we live, our role and where we fit into the fabric of island life. This is true if we were born here or arrived on the last ferry.

We are great storytellers still. Every tale starts with a genealogy, a placing of people in context in a web of familiarity. Every woman I spoke to in the early days of developing ORSAS had a story about casual misogyny and sexual violence that was normalised; “Surely you won’t be busy” then “I hope you’re not busy” followed by a disclosure.  

We have a community memory that spans back over a hundred years that preserves women & children’s lives, their triumphs and sorrows. If abusers think that their bad behaviour has been forgotten because it was not prosecuted, they are mistaken.

Revealing that one of us harmed another has serious consequences. It makes survivors visible and vulnerable. It challenges the cohesion of the community and the construct that we are all safe here with the people we know. If the community narrative says her experience is unthinkable, survivors are silenced, they fear they won’t be believed. If those that disclose are shamed by the proximity of those that harmed them, does it hinder anyone else coming forward? If the media reports the graphic detail of charge sheets, which boost circulation, does that foster trust in the court process?  

A photo of the ORSAS equality hub showing flyers in the window.

This is why our centre is visible and accessible, grounded in the community. This is why we campaign, educate, and agitate. Because sexual violence is a cause and consequence of inequality.

Our Equality Hub, with a shop front on the main street hosts displays on equality, feminism, and human rights. Looking through our windows you see our staff at their desks. This is a safe, welcoming space, and we are holding hope for everyone coming through our door.

For Betty Corrigall and my aunt Barbara, missing for 80 years, and many like them. For every farm servant girl scared to work in the byre with the men. For every woman that shared her story and those that could not. For everyone who accepted a lift and whose trust was betrayed. All those “peedie birds” are being remembered and celebrated now, their voices echo through the work of Tak_A_Stand.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. Bloggers may have received some editorial support from Engender, and may have received a fee from our commissioning pot. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and offer a commissioning pot to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free.

Interested in writing for the Engender blog? Find out more here.

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