Securing the reality and benefits of a gender equal Wales

25th November 2020

Opinion piece from Chwarae Teg’s Chief Executive, Cerys Furlong.

2020 has provided many lessons, some positive, many negative. While the Covid-19 crisis has shown some of the very best of human nature, with communities and neighbours coming together to look after one another and a nation-wide recognition of the commitment and sacrifice made by those working on the front line, it has also highlighted how starkly unequal Welsh society still is.

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, we have seen the same groups hit hardest again. Women, people of colour, disabled people and those living on low incomes, have all been disproportionately affected by both the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. This is not inevitable. It is a result of how deeply flawed our current economic approach is, and demonstrates a collective failure to address the root causes of inequality.

With Welsh elections on the horizon, it is therefore imperative that we consider what we can do differently to secure a gender equal Wales. A Wales in which women of all backgrounds and experiences are able to achieve and prosper. A Wales where we work together to dismantle structural barriers, and where we can all benefit from gender equality, which could add £13.6 billion to our economy, as well deliver greater wellbeing.

When we talk about achieving gender equality, we are unequivocal that this means equality for all women in Wales. In order to achieve this, we need to focus on the most marginalised first; the women who face the greatest barriers and disadvantage.

A look behind the headline figures for gender inequality quickly reveals the significant differences in experience and outcomes among different groups of women. While the gender pay gap narrows slowly overall, for women of colour and disabled women, it lags behind not only men but also white, non-disabled women revealing the intersectional barriers many women face.

Embedding a truly intersectional approach into policy-making is therefore imperative. An approach that recognises how characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, faith, disability, age, sexuality and class continue to shape access to power, influence, resources and privilege.

In Chwarae Teg’s Manifesto for a Gender Equal Wales we present our vision for Wales and outline the actions we believe are essential to delivering gender equality. This will require a change not only in what we do but how we do it. The Gender Equality Review, which concluded in 2019, provided a set of actions to embed equality at the heart of government. Whoever forms the next Welsh Government must continue to implement these vital recommendations.

We need to reshape our economy to better value the work women do, end our dependence on unpaid care and invest in vital public services such as childcare and social care. The economy is about a lot more than just the manufacturing of goods for market, our economic approach should focus on what matters to our communities and our survival and should be refocused to pursue equality and well-being as goals in and of themselves. Women’s access to and experiences within work must be improved, with much wider availability of flexible working and vastly improved pay and conditions in female-dominated sectors. And we must properly value care, both paid and unpaid, placing it at the heart of our economy and delivering a new deal for care workers who have been underpaid and undervalued for too long.

We have to improve the diversity of representation across politics and public life to ensure that those in positions of power reflect the communities they serve. Our Senedd should be reformed to be gender equal, diverse and representative and be better resourced to serve the people of Wales.

Our labour market also remains significantly segregated on the basis of gender. While action to make workplaces more inclusive is essential, we must also ensure that our education system actively breaks down barriers and stereotypes. This will require action to improve careers advice, tackle segregation in school and post 16 subject choices, and through apprenticeships as a key pathway into work and ensure that all women are able to access and thrive in education free from fear of harassment and abuse.

And finally we must eradicate the risks women face. Women face greater risk of poverty, social isolation and financial hardship. They also remain at significant risk of violence, abuse and harassment, which is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. 

We need an effective, cross-government strategy that focuses on addressing the root causes of poverty and recognises the different characteristics, circumstances and barriers facing people in poverty. We must prevent sexual harassment by challenging the cultural attitudes that allow it to take place, improving reporting mechanisms to better protect women, and create safer public spaces. And we must invest in lifelong learning making it more accessible and affordable, giving women the opportunity to develop and improve their economic position at any time in their lives.

Recent events have shown us that our current systems and approaches are broken, leaving the same people more vulnerable to hardship and disadvantage time and again. We cannot afford to continue in this way and we must strive to do better.

The incoming Welsh Government in 2021 has an opportunity to turn warm words into action, to make full use of the powers available to tackle structural inequality and ensure that Wales is a nation in which you are able to thrive, regardless of your background.

We know what action is needed, so we are calling on all political parties to show bold leadership and deliver the change that Wales so desperately needs.