Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and Chief Whip
Today marks International Women’s Day – a day when we celebrate the achievements of women and girls in Wales and around the globe whilst also recognising there is more to do as we work towards gender equality.
This year’s theme is Choose to Challenge. Shining a spotlight on inequality and presenting the stark evidence that exists to show how women are still being treated unfairly. In advancing equality for women and girls we must ensure that the multiple, intersecting forms of disadvantage and discrimination are challenged and called out where we witness them. By standing up and challenging gender bias, discrimination, inequality and harassment, we each have an important part to play in bringing about positive and necessary change.
Last March I launched our Advancing Gender Equality in Wales plan, which is the first phase implementation plan of the Gender Equality Review and set out our priorities for the short and medium term. It was impossible then to predict how different 2020 would be for us all, and the challenges we would face to ensure that the impact of Covid-19 does not roll back the clock on the progress we have made for women and girls in Wales.
Intersectionality is a key part of that Plan and remains central to our work. We know that people are not defined by single issues or barriers and require different things to enable them to participate fully in Welsh life.
We also know the impact of the crisis has not fallen equally. The virus is having the greatest impact on those with least power and has exacerbated entrenched inequalities. Groups particularly affected include women, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people, young people, older workers, disabled people and those with health conditions, as well as those in low skill and low pay occupations.
Women continue to be on the frontline during this pandemic. We know that women have been disproportionately affected as carers, mothers, at home and in the workplace. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the work that we are doing to support women and girls across Wales.
We have all had to spend more time at home. However, not every home is a place of safety. Social distancing restrictions and self-isolation can be frightening for victims of violence and abuse. These restrictions can amplify abusers’ power and control and increase the risk to victims. This year the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (VAWDASV) sector has received over £4 million of additional funding to deal with the impact of COVID-19. This is an extra 67% compared with last year.
We have focused our communication campaigns on helping people to stay safe. Our Live Fear Free helpline is a free, 24/7 service for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence and those close to them, including family, friends and colleagues. It has remained open, offering a full service while Covid-19 restrictions are in place. The helpline can be contacted by phone or silently through text, email or web chat. Information on keeping safe throughout the pandemic is available on our Live Fear free website (https://gov.wales/live-fear-free).
We also want anyone who is in a position to help to be able to recognise the signs of abuse and know how they can help safely, whether that is one of the thousands of volunteers assisting our most vulnerable, an emergency contractor, postal services workforce, local shops, or a supermarket employee. Since providing open access to our VAWDASV E-Learning module to community members at the beginning of April 2020, over 50,000 people have taken the course – being more informed about domestic abuse and sexual violence
Our aim is to create a culture across Wales where people are empowered to actively help prevent violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, a culture where Wales is not a bystander to abuse. Information on how to help safely is also available on the website.
Evidence shows the pandemic is exacerbating the gender gap in work and at home. Overall, women tend to be taking on more childcare responsibilities whether they’re working or not. Evidence also suggests women are spending more time looking after children and doing associated household activities than men.
Our Childcare Offer provides 30 hours of early education and childcare to 3 and 4 year olds whose parents are in work, for 48 weeks per year. The evaluation of the first two years of implementation has showed us that the Offer is having a positive impact on families’ disposable income and employment options for parents, with a greater proportion of women reporting that they are able to work more hours since taking up the Offer and that they have more flexibility in the jobs they can do.
To assist working parents during alert level 4, a parent’s Childcare Offer fees may continue to be paid for a period of time, although the child is not attending. This is to help secure the child’s place and help sustain childcare settings, ensuring long-term availability of childcare for when Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
We are looking at what financial support is available to parents in education and training or on the cusp of work, with their childcare costs. An independent report looking at provision for these parents will be published shortly.
Our support for unpaid carers includes £1.295 million (2020/21) to support specific activity that takes forward our three national priorities for carers: supporting a life alongside caring; identifying and recognising carers; and providing information, advice and assistance. We also fund carers’ organisations via our Third Sector Sustainable Social Services grant. For 2020-23, we have committed up to £2.6 million to four projects led by All Wales Forum for Parents and Carers, Carers Wales, Age Cymru, and Carers Trust Wales.
The Carers Wales ‘Carer Wellbeing and Empowerment project’, is working with Chwarae Teg to deliver joint training, from March 2021, to support female unpaid carers enter employment / return to work.
In the workplace, women often occupy low-paid, part-time and insecure jobs. Whilst the pandemic has brought about some changes, such as more flexible working practices, which have been positive for many women and their families, the workplace remains a place of inequality.
The gender pay gap remains a stubborn and persistent issue. In 2020, there was some improvement and the gender pay gap for full-time employees in Wales narrowed to 4.3%, the lowest value on record and smaller than the gender pay gap for the UK. Nevertheless, it remains unacceptable that it endures.
Our role in supporting women to enter, remain and return to the workplace has never been more important and I have highlighted some of the ways we provide this support below.
The Personal Learning Accounts (PLA) was rolled out last year as a result of the pilot programme’s early positive results, which included gender budgeting. The PLA provides support to employed people, furloughed workers or individuals that have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. It helps people gain higher level skills and qualifications in priority sectors, further opening up the opportunities for people to switch careers or upskill.
Individuals are provided with a workable plan that can be managed around existing family and work commitments to help them achieve their future career goals.
Early indications highlight that the flexibility of the PLA offer appealed to a wider range of people, especially women gaining skills and qualifications in non-traditional sectors such as engineering and construction and men in care-related sectors. The Welsh Government has allocated an additional £5.4m in the 2021-22 Draft Budget to support this.
We continue to support a range of programmes which support women to enter and progress in the workplace. These include:
- the Agile Nation 2 project which promotes gender equality by supporting women to advance in their careers and works with employers to improve their equality and diversity strategies.
- The Limitless programme, which works with women affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence, is aiming to help over 800 employed participants, with 75% gaining a qualification and 30% gaining an improved labour market situation.
- Our Community Employability Programmes which provide tailored support to young people who are not in employment, education or training and unemployed and economically inactive adults who are furthest from the labour market. The Welsh Government has allocated an additional £6m for 2021-22 to enhance support provided through Communities for Work Plus.
Only around a quarter of people working in STEM in the UK are female, according to workforce figures from the WISE female STEM campaign, and just 17% of tech roles are currently filled by women.
I Chair the Women in STEM Board that works to improve gender equality across the Welsh STEM community. Membership is 20 strong and includes the Ministers for Education and the Economy. We recently published independent research on gender equality in STEM in Wales which includes 14 recommendations for accelerating gender parity. Working sub-groups of the Board for Industry and Education are working on a plan to address these.
Young people are considerably more interested in a STEM career since the pandemic. By sharing stories of female role models, we can inspire and motivate more girls and women to study STEM. In December, I highlighted some of these amazing women and I would like to take this opportunity to do so again: https://gov.wales/written-statement-stem-female-role-models-during-covid-19-pandemic.
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women and girls around the globe. There are so many examples of female role models in Wales who have come to prominence during the Covid-19 pandemic and I want to pay tribute to all their amazing work during what has been such a challenging time. These women can and will inspire the current generation and the ones which follow.
Whilst we know there is more to do before we can claim to have created an equal future, the women and girls of Wales – past, present and future - have much to be proud of. We stand committed to supporting them to aspire, achieve and fulfil their potential – whatever that may be.