Does the Welsh government need to focus more attention on gender equality and equality in general? Many may assume that the answer to this question is ‘no’ as we are living in a developed nation where it is generally accepted that all children, girls and boys alike, have access to education and opportunity regardless of gender.
However, the United Nations Association of Wales (UNA) believes that there is significant gender inequality within Wales which urgently needs to be tackled. This is borne out of the support UNA Wales is giving to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the need for a more comprehensive report on Wales as a nation.
The Convention places obligations on states to eliminate discrimination against women and provides a framework for States to take responsibility for tackling discrimination against women and achieving substantive equality for women in both the public and private spheres. It outlines a set of rights for women in all fields (civil, political, economic, social and cultural) and is the only human rights treaty which affirms the reproductive rights of women. By signing-up to the Convention, States commit themselves to undertake a series of measures to:
- End all forms of discrimination against women
- Protect women’s rights
- Promote equality within the legal system, public institutions and other organisations and amongst individuals.
Arguably there is still significant gender inequality in Wales despite successes in some areas. In 2003 the Welsh Assembly achieved a perfect gender balance placing it ahead of other parts of the UK. However since then this figure has been in decline. The single sharpest drop came in 2011 with a decline of 4% with political parties moving away from female shortlists.
In the 2011 report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission ‘Who Runs Wales?’ it was revealed that there were only two female chief executives in the 50 top Welsh companies. Only one in ten assembly government sponsored bodies are run by female executives and as of 2012 only one of Wales’ 22 Council leaders is female.
You may be questioning why the lack of women in leadership positions is a problem as you believe there is equal opportunity for women and that they just do not desire leadership roles. However, the issue is that this lack of female presence affects the representation of women and other groups within these sectors as personal experience is important in understanding the needs of different groups.
The 2012 ‘Who Runs Wales?’ publication by EHRC recognises the significant progress that has been made with regards to women in different sectors, for example Wales now has its first female University Vice Chancellors (they still only account for 20%). Women are in charge at three of the seven local health boards but none of the NHS trusts and women comprise up 75% of teachers and 75% of the NHS workforce. However women remain vastly outnumbered by men in secondary level teaching as they account for just 32% and are also outnumbered in fields such as media and policing. In addition to this we have seen over the last century a marked decrease in the gender pay gap and a rise in female employment, however in the last year we have seen the gender pay gap begin to creep up once again.
It is clear that more investigation needs to be done into the reasons behind this lack of female presence in leadership roles and in other traditionally ‘male’ sectors. There has undoubtedly been a huge change in the last fifty years or so regarding the participation of men and women in different work sectors which has allowed the breaching of gender barriers for both men and women but there is still progress to be made. This is why UNA Wales is supporting a Welsh Minister for Gender Equality as it will allow the necessary level of investigation into this issue. The work of the proposed minister may also have a knock on effect in prompting greater investigation into inequalities experienced by ethnic minorities and those with disabilities so in the long run the creation of this ministerial role would be a benefit to all.
It is not just an idealistic notion that we can improve gender participation in different areas and decrease the gender pay gap, for inspiration we just have to look to Sweden. Sweden is known for its impressive record for gender equality with 36% of companies being headed by women in 2012 and parental leave being allocated per family with the option over how to split it between parents. In terms of the gender pay gap, women’s average monthly salaries are 94% of men’s with the most pronounced differentials being in the private sector. This is a vast improvement on the Welsh pay gap which is approximated at 19%.
Although the UK has acceded to CEDAW it does not have a huge impact on Wales. As a devolved nation, Wales receives little more than a page or two in the periodic report that all nations party to CEDAW must present. Therefore, the intricacies of gender inequality in Wales are overlooked. UNA Wales urges the Welsh Assembly Government, alongside other Welsh organisations, to sign on to CEDAW, and allow the march of women to continue.
Do you still believe that Wales enjoys total gender equality?
To find out more about UNA, our campaigns and to support our petition for the creation of a Welsh Minister for Gender Equality please visit www.wcia.org.uk/una
Who Runs Wales? The journey towards gender equality – The Equality and Human Right Commission (2012)
Submission to the Committee on the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women WEN Wales response (2012)
Welsh Power Report: Women in Public Life, Electoral Reform Society (2013)
For information on Swedish gender equality policy see: http://www.sweden.se/eng/Home/Society/Equality/Facts/Gender-equality-in-Sweden/