Gender equality key for future generations

The omission of gender in the Future Generations Act’s national indicators is a significant oversight, says Jemma Bere

Jemma Bere has been working on community and environmental projects for 10 years. A Peace Studies and Development graduate, she began her work in the field of social cohesion and poverty reduction in inner-city regions before returning to Wales to work in the field of sustainable development and place based regeneration. (Twitter: @JemmaBere)

Earlier this year, the Welsh government introduced the ground breaking Wellbeing and Future Generations Act which requires government and all public bodies to consider future generations in every area of policy and decision-making. Wales is the first country in the world to impose such legislation and was ratified ahead of the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals.

Through an extensive consultation process, aptly named the ‘Wales We Want’ and delivered by Wales’ Sustainable Development Organisation, CynnalCymu , a set of 7 wellbeing goals were agreed within the Act; A prosperous Wales, A resilient Wales, a healthier Wales, A more equal Wales, A Wales of cohesive communities, A Wales of vibrant culture and thriving Welsh language and a globally responsible Wales.

The commitment to these goals should be applauded, but the real change will come in a decade or so from now when the cultural shift in the public sector is truly embedded from one which facilitates silo-working, to one which actively requires collaboration and consultation. Progress may be slow, but it is a welcome change of direction.

‘How do you measure a nations progress’ is the headline of the latest consultation on the National indicators for the Act. How indeed. For the development of such an act is complex enough, the agreement of the wellbeing goals and the collective vision of the ‘Wales We Want’ was quite an undertaking. Although no one would disagree that these goals are indeed, the Wales We Want for current and future generations, it is how we get there that is the real tricky part and that is exactly the stage we are at right now.

Last month, the proposed national indicators were released for consultation, these 40 indicators are the proposed methods by which to measure the nation’s progress, the benchmark for Wales to assess their advancement down the roadmap toward sustainable development. The Act is an immense opportunity to get this right, to pave the way for long term thinking, collaboration and communication of issues across Wales for decades to come.

The very term, ‘Sustainable Development’ implies that there is an end point, that meeting these goals is achievable and that the resulting state of achievement is static. The reality is of course that the world does not work like that and our society and our environment are under constant changes in pressures, whether that is economic, environmental, technological or social. Resilience may be a better term for our desired future Wales, one that can adapt to whatever pressures may be imposed on us, internally or externally. For the large part, the goals reflect this, and the national indicators are, on the whole, a good a place as any to start.

There are 40 proposed national indicators, a mixture of subjective, quantities and qualitative measures and range from low birth weight to healthy ecosystems, air quality to education, to productivity to sense of community. There is 1 glaring omission.

Gender equality.

Women’s empowerment is critical to meeting all of the wellbeing goals and this has been recognised globally. In every conversation about sustainable development, economic development and the environment, every report, news item and soundbite, women’s empowerment is synonymous with success.

Goal 5 of the UN SD framework: Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, is just as relevant to the developed world as it is to the global south. Data from the United Nations show that gender disparities in economies are present in both developed and developing nations and that if these inequalities are reduced, other positive factors follow such as economic growth, better health and increased access to education. Global data shows that women are becoming healthier and more educated, but there is little improvement in access to political power or money. Financial inclusion is not only critical to women’s empowerment, it is one of the main benchmarks for sustainable economic growth.

To give credit where it is due, this is a rather curious omission, given the fact that Wales was the first devolved nation to achieve 50/50 gender split in government (although this has since slipped) and the governments stated priority on tackling the issue of violence against women and commitment to greater female representation in public life. We have previously been committed to achieving equality, and have made some signs of progress. Why then not here? In arguably one of the most important bills that has passed since devolution?  Wales is leading the way in implementing national legislation on the issue, why would we omit one of the most important critical success factors to making it work?

Whilst gender inequality continues, we cannot meet any indicator of sustainability or reach any wellbeing goal and sadly, it does continue.

Economic Insecurity and Austerity impacts women significantly more than men

Reports from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Women’s Equality Network repeatedly stated that women are the most adversely affected by austerity measures and economic insecurity. The Impact on Women of the Coalition Spending Review 2010 concluded that the package will ‘impact disproportionately on women’s incomes, jobs and the public services they use. Viewed as a whole, together with the measures announced in the June 2010 Emergency Budget, the cuts represent an immense reduction in the standard of living and financial independence of millions of women, and a reversal in progress made towards gender equality’. We have already seen this impact in some areas but the situation looks set to continue with the proposed plans to cut tax credits, the same review reported that up to 70% of tax credit claimants are women.

Gender disparities in pay still exist

Recent research by WAVE (Women Adding Value to the Economy) showed that persistent occupation segregation means that gender disparities continue in Wales and are exacerbated through unfavourable contract conditions which are largely held by women, needing to work around children and other care commitments. Figures for the UK show that the overall pay gap stands at 19.1 per cent (2014) measured by gross hourly pay. This figure counts the whole workforce, full and part time.

Additionally, data published by WISE for 2015 showed that women make up just 14.4% of all STEM sector jobs. Although there has been slight upward trends, girls uptake of STEM subjects post-GCSE remain significantly lower than boys, the WISE 2015 report seems to suggest that uptake is relatively static. Slight increases have been shown for vocational courses and apprenticeships but this is yet to be reflected in the workplace overall.

Female representation in local government is low

The Bevan Foundation found that female representation in local government in Wales remains low despite continued effort. “It’s common knowledge that we were the first devolved government to achieve a 50/50 gender balance, but we’ve slipped back since 2003. On the UK level many struggle to believe the fact that there have only been 13 Welsh women MPs since 1536.” These figures are in stark contrast to similar size parliaments such as Denmark and New Zealand who rank 7th and 5th respectively on the Global Gender Gap Report (2008).

Violence against women persists

It is estimated that around 3 million women across the UK experience rape, domestic violence, forced marriage, stalking, sexual exploitation, trafficking and other forms of violence every year. This is the equivalent to the population of Wales. (Report of the General Secretary 2006)

According to Welsh Women’s Aid, in a street made up of 100 houses, 20 of the women on that street will have been the victim of a sexual offence.

These figures are just the tip of the iceberg and demonstrate that we still have a long way to go. Whilst these issues persist, even if all other national indicators are met, our future is not one of resilience but of inequality, disparity and disempowerment.

Wales is the first nation to implement statutory legislation for sustainable future development. We can be the first nation to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment too, lest we forget that the two are inextricably synonymous.

The newly appointed FG Commissioner, Sophie Howe, spoke out on this issue earlier this year for International Women’s Day, “Equality and gender equality in particular I think is really just a thin veneer,” she said. “When you scratch beneath the surface of that there are a huge number of inequalities out there.”

Unfortunately, she’s right. Wales can do better and we can’t afford to ignore the issue or shirk our responsibility because some improvements have been made in the recent past, progress can be just as easily undone.  Let’s embed this here and now or our future wives, daughters, sisters and mothers will be asking what it was all for.

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