State of the Nation – Key issues discussed

8th April 2020

How do we ensure the voices of BAME and disabled women inform policy in Wales? Why don’t we value the unpaid work that women are most likely to be doing? These were the key questions posed by delegates at our State of the Nation event in January.

The annual event brings together colleagues from the public, third and private sectors to discuss Wales’ performance against key gender equality indicators. In January, we were pleased to welcome over fifty delegates to Community House in Newport to consider this year’s State of the Nation report, and to discuss the issue of women’s poverty in Wales.

Our 2020 report paints a mixed picture. There have been some positive changes since 2019 – women’s employment rate has improved, the proportion of women in leadership positions in local councils has improved and the number of women MPs has increased. However, we have also seen the gender pay gap increase, there has been almost no change in the proportion of women working part-time and a large proportion of women remain unable to access employment due to caring responsibilities.

While important, statistical data will only ever tell part of the story, particularly for smaller groups within the population. Therefore, an important part of our State of the Nation event is to hear different women’s voices, and to consider the different challenges and opportunities they face, informed by experts working within different communities. This year we were pleased to be joined by Rocio Cifuentes, Director of EYST, Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales, and Claire Cunliffe, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Oxfam Cymru.

Discussions focused on a number of key issues:
  • The absence of the unique experience of some women, such as BAME and disabled women from discussion of gender equality. While a focus on intersectional approaches is important, this can’t result in the experiences of different groups being overlooked or undermined.
  • The markedly worse outcomes for BAME and disabled women highlighted in the State of the Nation report, not only in terms of a gap with men, but also with white and able-bodied women.
  • The flawed manner in which we measure economic activity. The language of “economic inactivity” fails to recognise the economic value of unpaid work that women are predominantly doing.
  • The need for significant cultural change to eradicate the harassment and abuse that women face. While reporting of rape is increasing, prosecution is at an all-time low. There are also increasing issues of women experiencing non-consensual acts during consensual sexual encounters, and there remains an attitude that harassment of women is just part of a normal night out.

Delegates also provided a number of suggested solutions to these challenges, which we will be reflecting in our own policy and influencing work. Recommendations included; improving the availability of data and evidence that supports intersectional analysis, to make better use of existing levers such as positive action and for employers to collect data to understand where the issues might be within their own workplace. Delegates also called for more co-production of solutions to ensure the voices of those with lived experience of discrimination and inequality are heard, and a Welsh Human Rights Act to further bolster rights and equality in Wales.

Discussions such as these – that cut across sectors and areas of experience – are vital in supporting effective policy-making and scrutiny. By bringing together people with different perspectives different challenges and solutions can be identified to ensure that we make progress towards equality for everyone in Wales.