International Women’s Day – we should choose to celebrate but we must also #ChooseTo Challenge, writes Cerys Furlong, Chief Executive, Chwarae Teg

8th March 2021
With International Women’s Day upon us I hope that we can all take the time to be grateful for and celebrate those women around us who improve our lives in so many different ways.

I’m fortunate to meet and hear of so many through my work at Chwarae Teg. Inspirational, hardworking women from all walks of life who keep our homes and workplaces running, and steadfastly holding down the majority of key worker roles in Wales.

Yet, as the year begins to fly by, following a seemingly infinitely long January, we must recognise that these very same women are often at risk – at work, at home and of being underrepresented. Which is why, in line with the theme of International Women’s Day 2021, we must #ChooseToChallenge.

Now more than ever, it’s vital – because as we head towards a recovery from the pandemic, those leading the way are at risk of building back with a lack of consideration for gender equality – at a time when we need it most.

Only last week the Women in Work Index referred to the imminent ‘shecession’. Covid-19 has pushed progress for women at work in the UK to 2017 levels, with double the rate of progress required to recover by 2030.

Quite shocking some might say, but at Chwarae Teg we have been researching and exploring the impact of Covid-19 on women’s lives for months – and consequently been warning against complacency as we emerge from the crisis.

Covid-19 has exposed and exacerbated inequalities in our society. Women are twice as likely as men to be key workers, more likely to have lost their jobs and have borne the brunt of home-schooling and caring responsibilities.

These facts and many other indicators reveal the real risk, that as we move out of the pandemic, women will be last to return to the labour market. The implications for women’s employment and career progression are potentially catastrophic and we’ll be rolling back the years even further instead of accelerating progress.

It therefore stands to reason that a gender equality focus is needed by those leading us on to a better, new normal. It must be fairer than what we’ve had before, where the needs of women and other groups who have been hit hardest – such as BAME people, those with a disability and workers on low incomes – become central to recovery plans.

This is something that those who lead our nation should ignore at their peril. They can’t afford to take their eye off the ball when it comes to gender equality, especially when our research shows it would add almost £14bn to the Welsh economy.

With this evidence and research highlighted, and as we approach Senedd elections we must #ChooseTo Challenge those who are vying to represent us, so that they will lead with fairness and equality of outcomes for all in mind.

This is particularly crucial as research has shown that, disappointingly, the number of women in winnable seats in May’s Senedd election is shockingly low and could result in a Welsh parliament dominated by white men and potentially completely lacking in any BAME women altogether once again.

When launching our ‘Manifesto for a Gender Equal Wales’ at the end of last year, Chwarae Teg called on those in power to harness a vision for a Wales where all women of all backgrounds and experiences can achieve and prosper. And the recommendations and actions set out in the Manifesto are increasingly relevant and necessary.

They include increasing the size of the Senedd to 90 members elected, with a gender quota; more development of initiatives aimed at women; and enabling people to run for election on a job-sharing basis.

We’re calling for a reshaping of our economy to better value the work that women do, end our dependence on unpaid care and invest in vital public services such as childcare and social care.

There must be action to tackle barriers in education which lead to gender segregation in the labour market.

Amongst other crucial elements there should be greater support for female dominated work sectors – not just a ‘build build build’ mentality – we need a strategy that builds back better and fairer.

Having been invited to give evidence at the Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, I last week welcomed many recommendations in its report on the Long Term Recovery of Covid-19. Those included the need for Welsh Government to mainstream equality in its recovery policies and to ensure diversity on bodies making recovery-related decision.

We are making a difference, but the deeds of those who will lead our recovery will speak louder than their words, and we must not allow for complacency. We must today, and in the future always, #ChooseToChallenge.