Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice
Today marks International Women’s Day. It is both a day to celebrate the achievements of women and girls around the globe and to focus on the challenges we still face as we work towards gender equality.
The theme for International Women’s Day this year is Embrace Equity. I believe our focus on intersectionality, equality of outcome and social justice is how we will move towards our vision of a gender equal Wales. No woman or girl can be left behind. Across Wales, we will work with and for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women, disabled women, LGBTQ+ women, women in poverty, older women, girls, and others to deliver equality and social justice.
The work we are doing on gender budgeting and through the creation of our Equality, Race and Disability Evidence Units will drive forward important changes in the way we work.
Gender budgeting is a key tool in ensuring our budget and tax processes fully consider the needs of all genders and address the economic vulnerabilities of women. Embedding this approach is more than considering process changes, it requires a cultural shift in the way all areas of Welsh Government consider the impact of decisions and policies.
We continue to learn from our three existing gender budgeting pilots (Personal Learning Accounts, Young Person’s Guarantee and E-Move), working collaboratively across the areas to share the ongoing learning and inform how this work can be further embedded and expanded.
We have also continued to engage with world leaders in this area including Iceland and Canada. These relationships are proving critical in sharing best practice and learning from each other’s challenges.
We are grateful to have formed such positive, constructive relationships with organisations in Wales leading this area of work, including the Wales Women’s Budget Group. They engage with us throughout the year and provide ongoing challenge and support in how we embed gender budgeting in our budget and tax processes, ensuring we are working across Welsh Government to ensure this long-term culture change.
The Equality, Race and Disabilities Evidence Units have been established to improve the availability, quality, and accessibility of evidence about individuals with protected and associated characteristics. Their work will help us fully understand the level and types of inequalities across Wales. It will enable us to develop better informed policies and to assess and measure their impact.
Just last month, I launched ‘A Period Proud Wales’ which is our plan to achieve period dignity and eradicate period poverty in Wales.
Embedding period dignity was prioritised in our Programme for Government and this plan will deliver on that priority. Here in Wales, since 2018, we have invested around £12 million to ensure children and young people, and those on low incomes, have access to free period products. Eradicating period poverty means ensuring that having a period does not lead to missed education, absences from employment or withdrawal from sport and social activities.
This plan sets out our ambition to go further by setting out our intention for free period products to be available in a wider variety of settings, providing education to all about periods and eliminating stigma related to periods.
The Period Dignity grant was increased by £450,000 in 2022-23 to strengthen local authorities' response to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on period poverty. Our total Period Dignity annual grant now totals over £3.7 million. Period products are in every school and college in Wales as well as being widely available across a range of community venues, including food banks and pantries, libraries, youth centres and community hubs. Every woman’s refuge in Wales has also been offered funding to ensure that they have period products available to support those fleeing domestic abuse.
I look forward to the changes that A Period Proud Wales will help to drive forward to make Wales a truly period proud nation and one that ensures everyone who needs products can access them without embarrassment or shame.
Wales has never been a nation to only look after its own people. I am proud that the plan includes a commitment to extend the Wales and Africa Small Grants Scheme to actively encourage period dignity project proposals in sub-Saharan Africa. Period Dignity is a transnational issue and it is important that we continue to learn from and support one another. As such, we have invited PadMad Kenya to become a member of our Period Dignity Roundtable so that we can continue to find opportunities to do this.
In addition to this, today I will be celebrating the incredible women’s empowerment projects that we have been supporting in Uganda and Lesotho. There has been some truly exciting and progressive activity through the projects which are supporting livelihoods, tackling gender-based violence, promoting gender integration for climate justice and supporting the safe transition of getting girls back into education.
We know that across the globe women are not given the same opportunities as men, they are not granted the same educational access and they are not afforded the same basic rights. The projects we are supporting in Africa are empowering women to change not only their own lives but those of their families and the wider community.
As today is a day for celebrating the achievements of women, I want to highlight Frances Hoggan. Born in Brecon in 1843, Frances faced challenges in pursuing her dreams simply because she was a woman. However, her relentless determination to study and practice medicine at a time when women were not permitted to do so in the United Kingdom should serve as a lesson to us all – to fight for change and follow our dreams. Aged just 26, Frances was only the second woman in Europe to be awarded a Medical Doctorate. I was honoured to unveil a Purple Plaque for her in Brecon town centre last week.
Frances never forgot her roots and campaigned for education for girls in Wales. I am sure she would have approved of the work we are doing to encourage girls and young women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – STEM.
This includes programmes supporting girls to advance in biology, chemistry, physics, engineering and computing, and ‘have a go’ opportunities to try out activities such as virtual welding, programming robots or using a simulated tractor. In a fast-paced world of science and technology development, we must ensure a baseline of science and technology understanding for everyone. We need to equip all learners, no matter whether they take up further STEM-related learning or careers, so they can thrive and survive in a science and technology driven world.
The diverse and rewarding careers offered through STEM are enabling women and girls to aspire, achieve and fulfil their potential here in Wales.
Encouraging women and girls into non-traditional careers is one of the ways we are tackling pay gaps as we move towards a society that enables people to fulfil their potential no matter their gender, background, or circumstances.
Childcare remains at the heart of our work to advance gender equality. Access to affordable and flexible childcare is an important part of supporting parents, particularly mothers, to overcome one of the main barriers that prevents them from working or progressing further in their careers.
We have extended the Childcare Offer to parents in education and training, and in September, we began the expansion of our Flying Start programme for all two year olds in Wales.
We continue to deliver our commitment to the Real Living Wage to social care workers in Wales. While the uplift alone will not address all the challenges within social care, it will contribute to the longer-term ambition to raise the profile of the sector as a professional place to work and enhance opportunities for individuals to progress their careers.
We cannot ignore the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis and I am very mindful that the effects are not being felt equally. As we saw during the pandemic, it will be those who are most vulnerable who will bear the brunt of the crisis. Many women will be in this position, both at home and in the workplace. And women with multiple, intersecting protected characteristics will often fare even less well.
We know that the crisis is exacerbating abuse. Our new Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Strategy includes a focus on violence against women in the street and workplace, as well as the home, to make Wales the safest place in Europe to be a woman.
We fund regional advisers and specialist services to provide invaluable and lifesaving support to all victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. No matter where a victim lives in Wales, there is a strong public and specialist service ready to help.
We have been able to invest in a range of measures to help provide targeted and short-term help to maintain or support income and avoid more people being driven into poverty during the cost-of-living crisis. These include prioritising support for the Discretionary Assistance Fund, Pupil Development Grant and homelessness provision.
Examples of the action we continue to take includes providing support to parents with the costs of the school day, additional funding to tackle food poverty and we have significantly increased eligibility for free school meals.
The continuing challenges we face as a result of the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, and our responses to them, will require new interventions as well as building on what we were already doing. We need to ensure diverse communities are represented in decision-making roles and lived experience is firmly at the heart of the policy making process. At every level, we must represent the communities we serve. Those who put themselves forward as representatives must have a positive experience and a real opportunity to shape our services and communities.
The Equal Power Equal Voice mentoring programme, and the coalition of partners who run it, provides an excellent example of how this can work in practice. It provides opportunities for diverse communities across Wales to explore leadership roles in public life. The scheme has intersectionality at its core and provides a blueprint for how working together can make the changes we want to see.
Welsh Government will be supporting the ‘We Belong Here’ day which will take place in October. The aim of the day will be to bring diverse women from across Wales together in the Senedd, the heart of democracy in Wales, to explore how they might participate in public life and make a difference. I look forward to working with the women that choose to take the next step into public and political life.
We all have a role to play in advancing gender equality in Wales. It is crucial that all players: stakeholders, activists, and politicians, stand ready to work in partnership, to turn the dial and make real, meaningful, and swift progress to achieve the change we all want to see – a gender equal Wales.