In this blog, Francesca Gains, Professor of Public Policy and Co-Director of Policy@Manchester, discusses the importance of including women’s voices and their experiences (in all their diversity) in devolved policymaking.
- As the Greater Manchester Combined Authority refreshes its strategy (Our People, Our Place) and other combined authorities develop their local strategies, it will be crucial to understand the nature of inequalities in their region – to target action and to monitor progress.
- The data available on how gendered inequalities play out in various policy areas is patchy. And interpreting the data requires nuance: women are not a homogenous group, inequalities are intersectional and gendered inequalities are also faced by different groups of men.
- To get gender on the devolution agenda, it is essential for all political leaders to ensure there is a diversity of voices around the decision-making table and establish equality impact assessment and equalities as a component of policy evaluation.
The devolution of powers to local government in England since the first Greater Manchester deal was signed in November 2014 has resulted in further key responsibilities and funding being devolved. Following the Cities and Local Devolution Act 2016 nine areas have agreed devolution deals, eight of them headed by an elected metro mayor. The type of funds devolved and the policy agendas covered vary deal by deal, as does the extent to which combined authority areas use fiscal powers to raise funds through business rate retention, supplements and an additional council tax precept. A devolution framework is awaited and details of many deals are not publically available. However, it is clear that significant decision-making powers and funding have been granted to combined authorities and metro mayors. The ability to set policy agendas and commit resources means devolved powers are increasingly important for the citizens and communities in many densely populated urban areas in England.
For the politicians and metro mayors in these areas, devolution offers opportunities to use their powers to achieve economic and social improvement for their communities. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority home page shares a vision for Greater Manchester to be “one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old”. There is no doubt that the region’s politicians and policymakers have a passionate and long-held aspiration to improve the life chances of all Greater Manchester’s citizens and a commitment to inclusive growth. As the GMCA refreshes its Greater Manchester Strategy (Our People, Our Place), and where other combined authorities develop their local strategies, it will be crucial to understand the nature of inequalities in their region – to target action and to monitor progress. As part of this policymaking process – now devolved from Whitehall – it will be essential to understand the importance of how gender inequalities affect localities and regions, and how the experiences and outcomes of men and women differ in the policy areas where devolved decision-making can make a difference.
Another century of gendered inequality
For 101 years after women first got the franchise and nearly four decades since the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, as the British Council reports, nationally there still remain major gender differences in life chances; for example, in the levels of women’s representation in politics, through to employment opportunities and involvement in caring responsibilities and in significant gender pay gaps. Recent reports from the Office of National Statistics show life expectancy for women in poorer areas is falling, and from the House of Commons Library, that austerity measures have hit women harder due to their greater dependence on welfare and employment in low-paid part-time work, in addition a disproportionate number of women are the victims of domestic violence.
So, as the decision-makers and politicians in localities with devolution deals make plans to address the uneven life chances of their citizens, a focus on gender inequalities and getting women’s voices heard in policymaking is essential. Including women’s voices and their experiences (in all their diversity) is key to addressing inequalities and unlocking talent.
The need for better representation and better data
Having women around the policymaking table helps to bring to the fore issues that need addressing to tackle gendered discrimination. Female police and crime commissioners are twice as likely to make violence against women a priority. Crucially, where commissioners who take their equalities duties seriously – and look at the evidence on gender inequalities and women’s experiences of crime – commissioners both male and female are even more likely to have a priority focus on violence against women. As with the policing agenda, having women involved in decision-making and having a focus on the evidence base is equally important for the other key policy agendas addressed in devolution deals.
But the data available on how gendered inequalities play out in various policy areas is patchy. And interpreting the data requires nuance: women are not a homogenous group, inequalities are intersectional and gendered inequalities are also faced by different groups of men. To address this gap I brought together contributions from academics working at The University of Manchester to provide an evidence base for the Greater Manchester Women’s Voices Task and Finish Group on the representation of women in politics and policymaking in Greater Manchester. This evidence base highlights inequalities across the policy agendas that devolved authorities are working on. It also shows that the gender inequalities faced are not uniformly found. There is diversity in the gender risks identified here arising from ethnicity, from employment sector, from geography – differences that are important to identify if policy action is to be effectively targeted and monitored.
Setting a new agenda
To address the gendered inequalities in devolved policy agendas it is vital to capture the diversity of experience in giving women a voice – through policy dialogue and better representation. Together with a closer examination of the equality and diversity evidence base there are clear policy implications for localities with devolved deals who want to address gendered (and other) inequalities. This might involve strategies and actions in how they set their own policy agendas around education, skills investment, transport, housing, health and crime. And also through encouraging and working with local partners and stakeholders – employers, businesses and the third sector.
Policies which address educational and occupational segregation are needed to support girls to take STEM subjects and move into the higher paid and higher skill occupations and employment in sectors such as construction, engineering and IT. Investment in skills and infrastructural support such as transport and childcare and the adoption of working practices such as flexible working would allow women to maintain their engagement in the labour market and would unlock increased productivity. Increasing the adoption of the voluntary (real) living wage in the health and care sector and foundational economy would support women and low income households. Listening to the experiences of the victims of crime suggests different and innovative ways of partnership working around the needs of women facing domestic abuse. Targeting support to particular communities, and working with marginalised groups is important to address the needs of women who face intersectional inequalities and in particular localities.
Metro Mayors, authority leaders, and police and crime commissioners – like all public officials – have equalities duties, and are charged with ensuring inequalities are considered in the design of policies and the delivery of services. As the first area to enter a devolution deal, the experience of Greater Manchester in addressing equalities duties can help to set the agenda more widely. To get gender on the devolution agenda, it is essential for all political leaders to ensure there is a diversity of voices around the decision-making table and establish equality impact assessment and equalities as a component of policy evaluation.
This article was originally published in On Gender, a collection of essays providing analysis and ideas on taking a gendered lens to policy in Greater Manchester and devolved regions across the UK. You can read the full publication here.