On Gender Equality, We Need Action Not Words

Catherine Fookes warns the coronavirus outbreak could stall progress on making Wales fairer for women

Last year Oxfam Cymru and the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales published the first Feminist Scorecard, measuring Welsh Government performance in areas of concern to women and girls in Wales.

That scorecard painted a negative picture of issues like jobs and equal pay, ending violence against women and girls and equal representation.

We published this as a call to action urging Welsh Government to go further to create a Wales that supports and protects women and girls.

Twelve months on, we’ve published our second Feminist Scorecard, measuring the progress made in Wales in the last year and assessing the state of play in critical areas of concern for women and girls.

The picture is not a positive one and the coronavirus crisis threatens to exacerbate the issues further. 

We assessed the situation in six major areas of concern to women and girls in Wales: Fair Finance; Caring Responsibilities; Global Women’s Rights; Equal Representation and Leadership; Ending Violence Against Women and Girls; and, for the first time, we included an assessment of Health Inequalities in Wales. 

Positive progress has been made in only two areas, Fair Finance and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, with all other areas remaining the same grade on our traffic light system as in 2019. As a new area, Health has not been compared with the 2019 report. 

That progress on Fair Finance has been due to the Welsh Government piloting a gender budgeting approach, a specific area we and the wider sector have long advocated for. However, more progress needs to be made in implementing gender budgeting, especially in light of the coronavirus crisis, which will put women at a further disadvantage if not directly monitored and tackled by government. 

In a wider context, on Fair Finance the picture for women and equality is showing little change with the gender pay gap having increased by 1% in 2018 to 14.5% in Wales. 

On Caring Responsibilities women continue to carry heavy and unequal responsibilities in caring for family members. While the Welsh Government’s Childcare Offer has benefitted some women in Wales, with 56% of users reporting more opportunities to increase their income, limited progress has been made on our recommendations from last year and the Offer does not serve all women in Wales equally. 

the picture for women and equality is showing little change with the gender pay gap having increased by 1% in 2018 to 14.5% in Wales

Women also continue to bear the brunt of unpaid care, with limited respite to enable carers to take the breaks they need. In terms of the paid care workforce, 80% of those working in the human health and social care sector in Wales are women. The sector continues to be characterised by low wages and insecure hours and people working in it are often chronically undervalued. 

Tackling violence against women and girls is fundamental to tackling gender inequality. In the last 12 months there has been some progress in this area, but more action is needed by Welsh Government to ensure sustainable funding and to make sure the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 is implemented consistently across Wales. Data from Welsh Women’s Aid for 2018/19 shows a 68% increase in survivors supported by specialist services from 2017/18 but  239 survivors ended the period on the waiting list for specialist support in the community and 512 women were turned away from refuge. 

It is vital that the decision makers who sit in Government, Parliament and Local Councils properly reflect the people they represent. While the Senedd made headlines in 2003 when it achieved 50% representation, and the Welsh Government Cabinet is today made up of 57% women, local government continues to fail to offer a diverse membership. Just 28% of councillors in Wales are women. 

Welsh Government action needs to be much stronger in ensuring that the number of women elected at the 2022 council elections represents a major step forward in intersectional diversity. WEN and many other organisations have consistently called for the current Local Government and Elections (Wales) Bill to be much stronger in order to achieve this, with vital measures required on legally binding gender and diversity quotas and an Access to Elected Office fund to support disabled women, those from BAME groups and those with financial constraints. 

Globally, Wales has a role in promoting women’s rights with obligations to international development, the protection of refugees and asylum seekers and the need to play our part in the global effort in tackling climate change. While some progress has been made in these areas – not least with the First Minister confirming last year that the M4 Relief Road would not go ahead – more action must be taken to support women and girls claiming asylum in Wales. For example, the childcare offer should be extended to those seeking asylum and unemployed women. 

This year is the first year that we have included Health as one of the critical areas for the scorecard, which is particularly pertinent in this current time of crisis. Our research found that women, despite typically living longer, face many structural inequalities in accessing healthcare. For example, women’s health issues can often be seen as taboo with many women still being offered antidepressants instead of hormone replacement therapy during the menopause. Furthermore, there is a lack of consistent healthcare across Wales with geography still playing a major factor in the care women receive and those that are disabled or LGBT+ facing additional hurdles in fair access to healthcare.

It will be women, particularly those who are disabled, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) or on low incomes who are likely to be hardest hit by the pandemic

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the fundamental role women play in supporting our society and yet the pandemic poses a significant threat to women across Wales, both in the short term and long term. 

It is women who are at the forefront of responding to the virus as health workers, teachers and carers in the home. It is women who are at risk of being trapped at home with abusive partners. It will be women, particularly those who are disabled, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) or on low incomes who are likely to be hardest hit by the pandemic. 

The issues raised in our Feminist Scorecard 2020 paint a picture of very patchy progress during 2019 to tackle gender inequality and promote women’s rights. 

Be in no doubt that the small steps made could be eroded by the current crisis. We are at great risk of going backwards; however, Welsh Government now has an excellent opportunity to follow the recommendations we make in the Score Card to ensure this does not happen. 

It will take action across all government departments. It will take support and action from our coalition of 34,000 individual and organisational members and supporters. It will take action from all of us working together to ensure women are not doubly disadvantaged by this pandemic.

We must now see timely, concerted action, with sufficient budget in place to make Wales a country free from gender discrimination. 


The full Feminist Scorecard 2020 can be found here.

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Catherine Fookes is Director at WEN Wales. @CatherineFookes @WenWales

Also within Politics and Policy