At the current pace of change, women will wait decades for equality in Wales
Natasha Davies, Policy and Research Lead, Chwarae Teg
Since 2019, Chwarae Teg has produced an annual State of the Nation report, bringing together statistics to measure our progress towards a gender equal Wales.
In Wales we have a long standing commitment to equality from those in positions of power. A very welcome commitment that we hope will continue. Given our ambitions to be a more equal, prosperous and resilient nation, it’s imperative that we take time to reflect on the evidence and ask ourselves whether we are making progress, and whether any progress is happening quickly enough.
As this year marks our fifth State of the Nation report, we thought it was the prime opportunity to reflect on our progress over the past five years.
When we published our first report in January 2019, we could never have predicted the challenges we would face over the coming five years.
A global pandemic, that put unfathomable pressure on our public services, required restrictions on our day-to-day lives few would have thought possible, and that cost far too many lives. We now find ourselves in a cost of living crisis, with the worst inflation for over a decade pushing the cost of basic essentials ever higher, while wages stagnate.
Despite these unprecedented and changeable times, we have had one constant – inequality. Progress towards gender equality has been marginal at best, and significant gender gaps remain. In fact, at the current pace of change women in Wales will have to wait decades for equality. For the most marginalised women – ethnic minority and racialised women, disabled women, LGBTQ+ women and women on low incomes – the wait will be even longer.
While the gender pay gap has closed slightly since 2019, and more women are in employment, women remain less likely to be in work than men, more likely to be out of the labour market due to caring responsibilities and earn less than men. For women with additional protected characteristics, these outcomes are even worse.
We do now have a greater proportion of women MPs and councillors – but this remains far below 50%, and in the Senedd we have gone backwards, with fewer women MSs than in 2019. We have much further to go to ensure that we elect women from diverse backgrounds at all levels of our politics.
Level of risk
Sadly, women’s level of risk seems largely unchanged. Data is a particular challenge in relation to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence. But what we can see is that we are making little to no progress in eradicating violence against women, and that specialist services are under immense pressure in the face of growing demand.
This inequality comes at a cost. Women were left most vulnerable to some of the worst impacts of the pandemic, and find themselves in a similar situation amidst the cost-of-living crisis. This vulnerability is not an inevitability, it is a direct result of the persistent inequality that our State of the Nation reports bring sharply into focus. If we don’t take action to tackle inequality at a far quicker pace, women will be left most vulnerable to the next crisis, and the one after that, and the one after that.
No single actor can address the many complex and interrelated issues that produce this inequality. We need this to be a truly national mission, where government, business and individuals all play an active role in tackling inequality.
We need to make better decisions and better policy, to take proper account of diverse women’s needs. In 2019, we set out detailed recommendations about how this can be achieved in the Gender Equality Review report Deeds not Words. Welsh Government have made a good start on implementing these recommendations, we have new Equality Data Units, pilots of gender budgeting and equality mainstreaming. But we must see implementation of further recommendations happen at pace, to ensure that all parts of Welsh Government are equipped to embed equality into their day-to-day work and that local government and the wider public sector are also supported to make changes.
Government will also need to make different decisions about where to invest money and what areas of public policy to prioritise. From the data, two issues remain critical if we are to make progress towards a gender equal Wales – childcare and unpaid work, and sexual harassment, abuse and violence.
Long-term, we must aim for universal, free childcare. In the short to medium term, we need to make decisions that put us on the path towards this goal. The expansion of childcare support to those in education and training and to some parents of two year olds is very welcome, but we need to go further and faster.
Violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence remain endemic in our society. Women do not feel safe as they go about their day-to-day lives and are being routinely failed by our justice system. We need a new approach to planning our public spaces and built environment, one that centres safety and inclusion. And the UK Government must urgently address the long standing issues in our justice system.
It’s not just government who must take action. There is an important role for businesses, who must consider how they organise and structure work, and the policies and practices that are needed to tackle discrimination and create truly inclusive workplaces. In recent weeks we have seen all too clearly what happens when workplace culture is not taken seriously enough. No woman should feel unsafe or unwelcome in their workplace.
Finally, civil society must look at how we survive, grow and collaborate in an ever changing funding landscape, so we can effectively support marginalised groups, campaign for change and hold those in positions of power accountable. This is no small challenge as capacity is stretched ever further, but it is essential.
Wales faces unique challenges and opportunities. We have strong foundations on which to build, but we must see a genuine change in what we do, and how we do it. We cannot afford to continue as we are, the pace of change is just too slow.
A more equal Wales will benefit everyone. It will contribute to a more prosperous Wales, a more resilient Wales and a healthier Wales. Our call to action remains, for all those in positions of power, to turn warm words into action, and play a role in delivering the gender equal Wales we all deserve.
It’s not the first time that Chwarae Teg has delivered this message. We continue to hope that this will be the last.
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