Putting Equality at the Heart of Government

I have provided a piece from a necessarily detached perspective this month because of 2 fairly obvious reasons, both of which make it pretty impossible for me to do otherwise!

Firstly, I am not, as you are well aware, a woman, and secondly I am currently not in public office. Whilst this does not in any way mean that I have no opinion on the subject, and this magazine is testament to my personal commitment to helping women in all capacities and roles to develop their own personal work and career life, it does mean that I cannot comment from the perspective of personal experience.

So I provide you with the following comments and statistics for consideration; these were taken predominantly from the Womens National Commission website and the Governments Equalities Office and I recognise and thank them for this information. I also give them absolute credit for the accuracy, or otherwise, of the statistics provided.

On May 12th 2010, the Prime Minister appointed The Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP as Minister for Women and Equalities. Following the General Election in May 2010, 143 women MPs were elected out of a total of 650 MPs (22%).

The 2008 Councillor Census found 30.8% of local councillors were women. In March 2009, 32.6% of public appointments were held by women.

In a recent program funded by the Government Equalities Office in conjunction with Operation Black Vote they created a national mentoring scheme aimed at demystifying the functions of local government. Under this scheme, a total of 60 women were selected nationally as mentors. In the recent 2010 local and national elections, 8 of these women stood as councillor candidates and 1 stood as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. 4 were successfully elected as local councillors (1 Conservative, 1 Labour and 2 Liberal Democrats). They state that it is “vitally important to encouraging women to see themselves as community champions is the promotion of positive role models” and continue with the statement that

“there are now more women working in Britain than in almost any time in our history, and women increasingly hold influential positions. However, our labour market is still failing to make the best use of people’s talents. In particular, pay levels for women while improving still do not reflect their qualification levels.” and

“It is difficult to quantify the resulting loss to the economy of this under-utilisation of women’s skills; however, in 2006 it was estimated that removing barriers to women working in occupations traditionally undertaken by men and increasing women’s participation in the labour market, could be worth between £15 and £23 billion pounds or 1.3 to 2.0 per cent of GDP.”

The work of the National Equality Panel, chaired, perhaps ironically, by Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics and Political Science intends to “analyse the factors that contribute to inequality, as well as the links between them, and will fill the gaps in our understanding of inequality in a changing world”

In 2009 just 32.6% of public appointments were women.

It would seem that creating equality is seen as an issue of some importance to Government, well, the previous one at least. The future of these bodies and their respective impact upon the appropriate representation of women in public office by the new coalition Government is yet to be quantified. For the time being, I present these statistics as provided by the Womens National Commission;

Women’s Representation in politics across the UK – an overview

* 19.7% House of Lords Peers
* 4% Ethnic Minority Women Members of Parliament
* 34% All Ministers
* 26% Cabinet Ministers
* 22% Members of Parliament
* 33% Members of Scottish Parliament
* 15% Northern Ireland Assembly
* 46.7% Welsh Assembly Members
* 26% Members of European Parliament
* 0.9% Ethnic Minority women councillors

Women’s Representation in Other Public Bodies

* 9.26% High Court Judges
* 8% University Vice-Chancellors
* 30% Police Authority board members

The WNC produce a “Women in Public Life Today” publication; a guide that outlines their vision mission, members and values. A Revised Guide has now been published and can be found via their website (indicated above). The following are extracts from this site. I strongly suggest a visit for more detailed information, events and contact details.

They state their values as:
In working towards our vision and aims, we will demonstrate the following values: Accessibility; Equality and Diversity; Respect; Empowerment.

Their Vision
A world where all women can express their needs and priorities and where Government listens and acts so that the needs of all women are at the heart of Government policy; and A world in which every human being is respected and is able to achieve their potential, living free from harm and discrimination.

Their Mission

* Support, advise and encourage the women’s sector to enable all women’s voices to be heard effectively;
* Act as a conduit for all those voices, in order to both advise and to hold Government to account;
* Promote women’s equality;
* Ensure the views and experiences of as many women as possible are represented to Government to promote women’s equality and change;
* Ensure that where possible, women’s opinions are communicated to Government so that they can be taken into account when laws are made and policies decided;
* As far as possible, seek the views of and empower, socially excluded and marginalised women; and
* Disseminate messages from Government across the women’s equality sector.

“Learned men pour scorn on all women but more so on women who would be learned themselves.”

I heard the above in a play by Christine de Pizan called The Book of The City of Ladies (original source unknown but I am guessing that it was a man!) so please no hate mail! I include it within my piece because I believe that many institutions, private and public, operate as if it were true.

I have heard more rhetoric on equality of rights, pay and conditions over the past few years to make me reel. I have heard speeches regarding imbalance in Government and public office and have yet to see the imbalances addressed. I cannot say for certain what the reasons for this are. Are they simply vote-catching sound bites? Is the glorious rhetoric for future autobiography sales? Is it because women themselves do not pursue these roles or because they are genuinely discriminated against so doing?

I leave those questions with you but if your are in any doubt that women CAN make senior positions then read on; we have several wonderful examples this month in the3rdi for your information and inspiration that prove that it is not only possible but actually achievable.

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