International Women’s Day always provides an opportunity to pause and reflect. To consider how much progress has been made to achieve equality, and to end the oppression of women all around the world. But to also consider how much further we need to go.
The evidence paints a mixed picture. We are making some progress when it comes to women’s representation. The proportion of female Welsh MPs rose from 28% to 35% in the recent general election. The proportion of female AMs remains at 47%. If we were to consider how well ethnic minority women are represented in Welsh politics however, the picture certainly is not as positive.
In the workplace, we see women’s employment rate at an all-time high, and yet the gender pay gap increased this past year in Wales. We’ve done little to shift the dial on women’s over-representation in part-time work or the pressures that care continues to exert on many women’s career choices.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of just thinking about “women like us” when considering how well or poorly things might be going. Do we have a fair chance at progressing in work? Do we see people like us represented in politics, in business or in the media? Can we walk down the street without being cat-called, or enjoy a night out without worrying about wandering hands?
For some of us the answers to these kinds of questions might be positive. For others, the answers to all of these questions and more will demonstrate that there is still a lot of work to be done.
And that’s the key point isn’t it – until gender equality is realised for all women, we have not won the fight.
In recent months the Welsh Government have accepted the recommendations of the Gender Equality Review, which sets out a more radical vision for equality in Wales. One that is based on achieving equality of outcome, not merely opportunity. This doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. It’s about understanding that circumstances, inequalities and experiences can create barriers for some groups and individuals and using this understanding to provide the right support to overcome these barriers and ensure fair outcomes. It is founded on the principle of equity, providing everyone with what they need to be successful. In many ways, gender equity is a precursor to gender equality.
Making this a reality will mean doing things differently. It means listening to and being respectful of different women’s voices to understand their unique background, experiences and challenges. Some of these challenges will be shared, some will not, but we are much more likely to drive change when we stand in solidarity with one another.
We will have to make sure that our decisions as individuals, employers, governments and communities are informed by women’s experiences, and are inclusive of different needs. If we are in a position of power and influence, we must use this to represent the voices of those women who are often overlooked.
And we must take collective action. No single actor can tackle the myriad causes of inequality. We need governments to show leadership, to embed equality into their work and ensure that all policies and programmes actively contribute to making equality a reality. We know that stereotypical ideas about the role of men and women form at a young age, so we must challenge these in our classrooms, our media and our advertising. We need businesses to take steps to remove unconscious bias and discrimination from their processes. It’s simply unacceptable that many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women and men feel the need to change their names on application forms to hide their ethnicity. As individuals it might seem that there is little we can do, but we can use our voices to challenge inequality and be an ambassador for change in our own workplaces and communities.
It can sometimes feel that the fight for equality is getting harder, with increasingly vocal opponents who argue that equality has already been achieved, or express their concern that too much focus on equality is disadvantaging them. But equality is not finite, more rights for some does not mean fewer rights for others. Neither is it static; our understanding of what equality means continues to evolve as the experiences of those whose voices have been absent from debate for far too long, come to the fore.
It is of course important to celebrate successes on International Women’s Day but we should also take the opportunity to re-energise ourselves and others to continue to demand change, not just for ourselves but all women. We must continue to push for progress and shape the kind of society we want to live in, not just on International Women’s Day but every day.