Rowing back on women’s independence

On International Women’s Day Kirsty Davies unveils a new Welsh organization that is campaigning for equal opportunities

When the Wales Women’s National Coalition closed its doors in 2010 a small group of us got together to form a new movement, the Women’s Equality Network Wales.  We had become very frustrated at what we perceived to be a lack of route to government and policy making for ordinary women in Wales.

Thanks to the efforts of a small but committed and determined steering group the Women’s Equality Network Wales (WENWales) was launched last November in Llandudno. Thanks also to support from the Welsh Government, we now have the resources we need to be the women’s voice to government in Wales, able to respond in a meaningful way on some key issues.

WEN Wales is a community of organisations that wishes to create a fairer society in which women live free from sexism and gender discrimination and enjoy equality in all aspects of their daily lives. Currently we are working on barriers to single mothers accessing employment, and promoting employment education and training with seldom heard groups such as traveller women.

We are undertaking research into the impact of the current economic climate on women in Wales. We are members of the UK Joint Committee of Women and, at an international level, have links with the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women. We are campaigning for better representation within five key areas:

  • Equal pay in Wales.
  • Women and the economy.
  • Gender equality in the face of spending cuts.
  • Women and public life.
  • Violence against women.

These five priority areas have all been identified by our members. We consulted by email, social networking, by survey and through a Women’s National Commission legacy event in 2010. WENWales works democratically.

Of our priority areas, the one that is of most central concern is women in the economy where, according to the Fawcett Society women face a ‘triple jeopardy ‘ in which they are more likely to:

  • Lose jobs in the public sector with the squeeze of the sector with spending cuts.
  • Be dependant on services provided by the public sector, whether transport, education, or health care.
  • Be unpaid carers.

As Anna Bird, Head of Policy and Campaigns with the Fawcett Society, put it:

“Women already typically earn less, own less, and have less financial independence than men. Government plans to reduce the deficit largely through cuts in public spending look set to worsen an already unjust situation. Reducing women’s economic security in this way risks rolling back on women’s independence in every way.”

The number of women unemployed is now at a 25-year high, with twice as many women as men losing their jobs in last two quarters. Female unemployment is up by 18 per cent since the recession began while male unemployment has only risen by 1 per cent.

Women need to have their voices heard so that they can challenge and influence decisions that unfairly affect them. It is not enough to have women in government as the Economic Renewal Policy shows, with the lion’s share of the investment going towards male dominated industries. Whilst this article focuses on the women in the economy, none of our key areas stand alone. All are interrelated. Equality depends as much on women being safe and secure in their communities and at home as much as women at boardroom level and being the political decision makers.

One of the most powerful tools we have is education. At a recent consultation event on the Single Equality Scheme the discussion was around training women to be able to impress and perform at interview in a male dominated arena. The focus was on training women to behave as men. Yet, while women might feel the need to be assertive in a macho environment, surely its not about training women to be men. Rather, it should be about but empowering women to change the way organisations are run and the way selection processes work. Equally, men should recognise and value diversity and different ways of doing things.

At WENWales all our campaigning is interlinked and interdependent.  Violence against women is linked with economic factors and economic independence for women.  Getting more women into public life depends on women being confident and having the skills and knowledge to take on the challenge.  Equal pay allows equality for women not only in the work place but in society more widely. Economic independence and equality for women means respect and recognition of the unpaid work women do, most often in their caring role.

We need to make sure that the ground that has been gained is not lost, not only for the sake of our daughters but for the sake of our sons. The statistical relationship between equality, poverty, educational attainment and employment chances has been well proven. Supporting women’s economic independence is as crucial to Wales’s economic future as any other piece of the puzzle.

Kirsty Davies is Deputy Director of the IWA and Chair of the Women's Equality Network Wales

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