TODAY MARKS International Women's Day and all of this week, the Scottish Government's rural economy department has been publishing a series of blogs, highlighting the important and diverse role women play in driving and supporting Scotland's rural economy.

Less than a year in to her role as minister for rural affairs and the natural environment, Mairi Gougeon MSP has made a huge impact on Scotland's rural economy.

By Mairi Gougeon

I was fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by strong-minded and politically active women in my family, so discussion (or ever so slightly heated debate!) was common at home. I went through school and university quite confident, not ever considering that my gender was an issue, I suppose that only really hit me when I was elected as a councillor for the first time during my last year of university.

I had left my education feeling like I could do and be anything, but entering such a male dominated working environment was quite a wake up call. I think what added to that was the fact that I was also the youngest councillor elected at that time. Suddenly, for the first time, I had to work twice as hard as anyone else to be listened to and be taken seriously as I was quite often treated like the ‘daft wee lassie’, patronised and dismissed. One councillor even took it upon himself to give me a pat on the head...

My experience in being elected to the Scottish Parliament has thankfully been entirely different, while we don’t have equal representation yet I see more progress being made here than in local government.

As Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment I find myself working again in a more male-dominated working environment and where I occasionally feel the same way I did in my early days as a councillor, but I take heart from the fact that things are gradually starting to change. Last year I attended a meeting with my Ministerial colleagues from Wales and England, it was quite something to look around the table and see that we were all women.

I attended another meeting recently with the National Sheep Association and it was fantastic to be sitting at that table with another three women. We now have a female Chair of Quality Meat Scotland in Kate Rowell, there’s the Women in Agriculture Taskforce which is tackling the inequality that exists within our rural economy head-on. One of the best elements of my role is that it takes me out and about across Scotland where I’ve had the chance to meet some of the most inspirational women working across the sector, all of this is positive and shows we’re starting to head in the right direction.

There is still a lot of work to do and Government has a role to play in leading that, I take that responsibility seriously because I know how hard I had to work to try and prove myself and that’s an experience our girls and young women simply should not have.