Gender inequality remains persistent in all areas of life; women are paid less and the gender pay gap is still prevalent, women are underrepresented in senior roles and public life, and gender stereotyping still shapes every aspect of women’s lives. Progress has been made but there is still a long way to go.
A key milestone on this journey is intersectionality – considering factors such as ethnicity, race, religion, disability, age, and more – in our efforts to achieve gender equality. These intersectional factors are often overlooked or not considered in policy-making in the way they should be; women are treated as homogenous, but we are all unique and face different and varied challenges. Without acknowledging the way these factors compound, intersect and affect women, our progress will be limited.
Chwarae Teg wants to explore and understand the experiences of women from all backgrounds to create an inclusive and ambitious movement for gender equality for all women in Wales. Our research, Triple Glazed Ceiling: Barriers to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Women participating in the economy, has been developed as a part of these efforts to amplify the voices of BAME women in Wales.
The inequalities BAME women experience in the UK have historic roots. Recently, the introduction of the ‘Hostile Environment’ in 2012 and then the EU referendum in 2016 changed the experiences of ethnic minority individuals drastically. Hate crime based on racism is increasing, and social and political environments are becoming restless. Alongside visible incidents of discrimination and racism, our research found that ‘subtle discrimination’ persists, affecting individuals’ day-to-day lives.
In such a complex and turbulent political environment, with damaging debates dominating the political sphere, the day-to-day experiences of individuals and the barriers they face are being ignored and overlooked. Despite this, many organisations are making remarkable efforts with limited resources within communities to tackle these barriers. But the onus shouldn’t be on them. More action is needed from those in positions of power to break down barriers; and those who have influence over decision and policy-making should listen carefully to the experiences of ethnic minority women.
Our aim in this research to highlight the experiences of BAME women in Wales and contribute to a wider discussion to achieve gender equality. We believe that the timing of this research is crucial, with Welsh Government committing to becoming a Feminist Government and undertaking the Gender Equality Review.
This research was a journey full of frustrations, but also hope. As a migrant who made Wales my home in the last 10 years, I was aware of some of the barriers that BAME women experience to participating in the economy and public life. The stigma around ‘language proficiency’, the subtle discrimination and bias, obscure recruitment processes, marginalisation of individuals on institutional and public levels, lack of support, the sheer feeling of being lost and a lack of confidence were some of the barriers that I have experienced in my time as a white migrant. But there was so much more I had to learn, which the research has enlightened me to. The first thing that struck me in the research is how varied the experiences are although they go in similar directions. A critical mistake which is still made is the assumption that that BAME communities are a homogeneous group and are treated as such. More often, the differentiated experiences of individuals from different ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds are overlooked.
Every story is different; a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach prepared without considering the diversity of experiences is bound to fail. We need to embrace the diversity, develop empathy and understanding, and work collaboratively to find common ground in individual stories. This research shows us that we should listen carefully to different experiences to find appropriate solutions.
We knew that with our limited time frame, it would not be possible to reach the number of individual women from different backgrounds that we would have needed. To overcome this limitation, we reached out to organisations working with BAME women to listen to the expertise and experience they have accumulated over the years working with BAME communities. These organisations work tirelessly to help and support BAME women in Wales. I witnessed a great amount of frustration about the barriers that BAME women still face; yet, I also witnessed the way that these frustrations are channelled into positive, proactive, constructive action. We have to work together to support these organisations and all the work they do.
This research is a critical contribution to the discussion around improving equality and diversity in Wales. We hope it will be considered carefully by decision-makers, businesses and third sector organisations, and will encourage them to take bold steps to break down the barriers and inequalities by BAME women.