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How far we have come on gender equality and what is still left to do?  In Barrow Cadbury Trust’s centenary year for International Women’s Day we asked Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society to reflect on this question.  Barrow Cadbury Trust is committed to equality for women and also recognises the potential benefits that such equality could offer to men too, particularly in family and domestic matters.  At the Trust we ‘gender lens’ everything we do and actively work with others to bring about change.

At Fawcett we have a long history of involvement in the women’s movement, beginning in 1866 with Millicent Fawcett at the age of 19 collecting signatures on a petition for votes for women.  Over the past 150 years women have had to fight for every step of progress that has been made. That progress has been considerable.  Property rights, access to the professions, access to higher education, the right to vote, equal pay, all women shortlists, outlawing rape within marriage, up-skirting legislation … the list goes on.  But despite this progress equality still feels like a distant prospect.  This is because structural barriers to women’s equality remain. The focus on individual rights rather than those all-powerful systems and structures means we have at times sat back and thought, ‘we’ve outlawed that, job done’.  Job only just begun would be more accurate. So we need interventions which remove or overcome those barriers and we need attitudinal change to embed them.

Structural inequality is when discriminatory practices, attitudes and behaviours are baked into an organisation or system.  The way it operates day to day discriminates against women and perpetuates gender inequality.  So in the workplace, how this works in practice is that women are undervalued across the economy. As a result, the jobs they do are valued less and they earn less than men. Women cannot know if they are being paid equally at work because they do not know what their male colleagues are earning.  So we want to see a new, enforceable ‘Right to Know’, so that women can find out about pay discrimination and resolve it with their employer without having to go to court.

Senior roles in particular, but also certain professions, are designed to be long-hours jobs.  But we could design work differently if we chose to.  At Fawcett we have called for all jobs to be flexible by default unless there is a good business reason for them not to be, including opening up senior roles to part-time work.  This would normalise flexible working and move us from it being something a minority of workers have, to something for the majority.

Creating a parental leave and childcare system that presumes equal responsibility in caring for children would represent a big systemic change.  At the moment the system presumes the mother is the main carer and dads have just 2 weeks paid paternity leave plus shared parental leave but only if the woman chooses to give up some of her maternity leave.  We want to see a longer, better paid, period of leave reserved for dads, and a more generous, supportive system for all parents and carers, underpinned by investment in our childcare infrastructure.

Ending violence against women and girls is critical for women to achieve gender equality.  The fear of male violence and its impact distorts our society and is a huge cost to women, children and to the economy. There is still a prevailing blame culture, objectification is rife throughout women’s and girls’ lives, and gender-based violence has become normalised rather than regarded as unacceptable.  The importance of campaigns such as the #MeToo movement to raise consciousness and support survivors of abuse, and challenge and change attitudes, is a hugely important challenge to this cultural norm. It is about individual and organisational accountability. Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty, but so should the film and insurance industries which protected him. This is what systemic change would look like.

Finally, equal power is the key to unlocking the changes we still need.  Evidence shows that where women are in decision-making positions they are more likely to make decisions which have a positive impact on women’s lives, tackling issues such as childcare or domestic abuse.  So we have to get more women into politics at local and national level. Interventions such as ‘all women shortlists’ have been extremely effective in creating a step change in this.  But we also have to address what is still a toxic culture in our politics and wider public debate.  So reforming parliament and local government, online harms regulation, political party accountability and transparency, including collecting and publishing diversity data, are all critical if we are to see lasting societal rather than just personal change.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, the Fawcett Society Twitter: @fawcettsociety


Andrew Bazeley,  Policy and Insight Manager at Fawcett Society, updates us on the progress of the ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’ Commission

This International Women’s Day falls in the centenary year of (some) women first getting the vote in general elections. But for decades before women had been both voting and even standing in local government elections, although sporadically, usually on the basis that they were the heads of wealthier households and as a result council ratepayers. The sister of Fawcett’s founder Millicent, the trailblazing doctor Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was elected Mayor of Aldeburgh ten years before the 1918 law that recognised women’s right to the Parliamentary vote.

Despite that longer history of women’s voting rights, when it comes to women’s representation at local level the pace of change has been inexcusably slow – in fact Parliament has now caught up. We are at just a third women on our councils, and 32% in Westminster.

Supported by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, up to summer 2017, Fawcett and the LGiU ran a year-long commission to ask the question: “Does Local Government Work for Women?” Our answer was often an emphatic “no”. With just 4% of councils having a maternity policy for councillors; with sexist comments directed at 4 in 10 councillors by others within their party, and sexual harassment received by 10%; and with too little done to tackle a male-dominated working culture, it is clear things need to change.

Since the report was launched, we’ve made some steps towards altering this picture, and we’re carrying on our campaigning work on this. The parties are taking heed; councils from Wigan and Stockport to North Buckinghamshire have passed motions about the report and are taking action; and we are in discussions with the Government about what they can do to shift the structures that keep women out. Barrow Cadbury Trust’s support has enabled us to push sexism in our town halls up the agenda.

One of the most shocking findings of the Commission was that 94% of those holding a seat at the table of the new Combined Authorities were men. These are effectively the “cabinet” role for the new city regions across the country, from Greater Manchester to the Tees Valley – and in six of those regions they report to one of the entirely-male “metro mayors”.

These are brand new structures – and so it is shocking that no thought has been given to the gender makeup they would have when introduced. But while we continue to campaign for that to change, we can’t wait. We need women’s voices to be heard in the important policy discussions those Combined Authorities are having right now.

That’s why, supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust and by the Smallwood Trust, we are working with regional partners in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands to campaign for that to happen. We are bringing together diverse women in workshops over the next two months to hear what matters to them, to reflect on our research findings, and to campaign together for policy change. We want to show that there is another way for these new structures to ensure that they hear women’s voices and make decisions that reflect the impact that gender has on their lives. Find out more.

The Women’s Budget Group (WBG) is an independent, not-for-profit think tank that has scrutinised the gender impact of social and economic policy decisions of successive governments for more than two decades.  In response to the 2017 Budget, on Social Care Women’s Budget Group welcomed the announcement of an additional £2bn for social care over three years but said it is not enough, with the funding gap estimated to reach £2.8bn and £3.5bn annually by the end of the Parliament.

“The social care crisis hits women hardest. Not only are the majority of paid and unpaid carers women, but the majority of those with care needs are women too. While Hammond focused on older people blocking beds in the NHS, we know that there are around 1.86 million people over the age of 50 with unmet care needs, the majority of whom are women. 

“Tackling this requires more funding than was announced today and a new approach. We look forward to Government’s Green Paper later in the year for further details on its proposed strategic approach for addressing this crisis.”

According to WBG the announcement of “the additional £20 million for domestic violence services for the next two years, while welcome, is insufficient compared to the scale of the problem. Sexual violence services are excluded from this additional funding, even though we know that these services are severely stretched. It costs £70m annually to run Rape Crisis England and Wales and they currently have a £10m budget shortfall, yet will not see any of this additional money.

“The Chancellor also announced £5m for women returning to work and £5m for celebrations to mark the centenary in 2018 of women gaining the vote. This will make no difference to the daily lives of ordinary women that have lost the most, and gained the least, from changes to taxes and benefits. We know that women in the poorest 20% of households by 2020/21 will be losing £1,600 a year on average as a result of changes to taxes and benefits since 2010.

On the National Insurance rise for self-employment WBG said: “The Chancellor’s announcement on the treatment of employees and the self-employed is welcome. In particular we welcome the move to equalise parental rights for the self-employed.  However, by focusing on the contributions paid by the self-employed, these measures do little to disincentivise employers from pushing individuals into bogus self-employment. We urge the Chancellor and government to look at this as a matter of urgency as it particularly affects women, who are also then denied access to the protections of employees.

And on the failure to carry out a robust Equality Impact analysis: “The Chancellor and Treasury have again failed to undertake a robust equality impact assessment of the Budget, despite their obligations under the Equality Act and calls for the Women and Equalities Select Committee to improve its reporting of equality impact. Without such an assessment, the government cannot fully understand the impact of its decisions on different groups, including impact, or how to minimise unintended negative impacts.

The Women’s Budget Group has published an independent distributional impact assessment by income, gender, and ethnicity in collaboration with Runnymede as well as a report on the gender impact assessment of the Spring Budget 2017.


 Zrinka Bralo, Chief Executive of Migrants Organise, blogs about how the Women on the Move Awards give migrant and refugee women a voice


The Women on the Move Awards, a joint venture between Migrants Organise and UNHCR UK, were presented by broadcaster Samira Ahmed at the Royal Festival Hall during the Women of the World Festival to mark International Women’s Day 2016. More than 500 people came to celebrate and recognise migrant and refugee women who often do incredibly important, and yet largely invisible, work in their communities.


Our winners, Mariam Yusuf and Seada Fekadu, made the 2016 Awards a true celebration of resilience and dignity. Seada came to the UK from Eritrea as a minor, on her own, on the back of a truck via Calais. She is about to pass her exams with distinction and is off to university to become a doctor. Seada is mentoring young refugees at Young Roots and speaking up for their rights. Livia Firth presented the Young Woman award to Seada, a living example of what can be achieved when we give young refugees a helping hand, and when our protection system and public services work well.


Journalist Lindsey Hilsum presented the main Award to Mariam, who escaped Somalia and despite struggling with our adversarial system since 2008, has given her time and energy to other women in need at Women Asylum Seekers Together and many other organisations in Manchester.


What makes the achievements and contributions of these incredible women even more remarkable is the fact that neither of them spoke any English when they first arrived, and they are both now role models and leaders, turning their traumatic experiences into kindness and respect toward others. Mariam, who is still destitute and is still stuck in immigration limbo, said after the Awards Ceremony: “I was most honored and felt that I really mattered in society.”


This year we named the media award the Sue Lloyd-Roberts Media Award after a pioneering journalist, herself one of our award winners in 2014, whose legacy of professionalism and whose passion for fair and true reporting will continue to inspire courageous, thoughtful journalism. This year’s winners are Jackie Long and Lee Sorrell for their Channel 4 news piece Inside Yarl’s Wood, which provided undercover evidence of the UK’s dehumanising detention system and helped shift public debate towards more safeguards in detention, including time limits and alternatives to the detention of women.


The Awards also recognise a champion of refugees and migrants in mainstream society. This year, the winner of the Champion Award was Citizens UK, whose grass roots community organising went above and beyond any other civil society organisation, as they responded to the refugee crisis by organising a powerful Refugees Welcome movement around the country, introducing private sponsorship visas as a way for citizens to help provide protection and save lives, and for winning a groundbreaking legal victory to open up safe and legal routes for family reunion rights for refugee children in Calais.


The Women on the Move Awards are growing and opening up spaces for refugee and migrant women to tell their stories of survival contributing to the Southbank Centre’s WOW Festival’s wider audiences and on a bigger stage at the Festival Hall. For that we are very grateful to Jude Kelly, Southbank’s Artistic Director and the founder of the WOW Festival, whose support has been crucial in the growth and development of the Awards. Jude and WOW helped turn our good idea into reality. We are also grateful to the Barrow Cadbury Trust for recognising the importance of changing the narrative by telling the stories of survival and contribution that refugee and migrant women make, and letting them speak for themselves, for justice and dignity, inspiring us all in the process.