Progress toward achieving equality in life chances, so that all citizens can fulfil their potential, has been slow. Despite women in the UK having the vote for over 100 years and protection from equalities legislation since the 1970s, there are still significant inequalities in the educational, employment, care and retirement choices available to men and women. This national picture is replicated regionally; for example, in Greater Manchester as The University of Manchester’s On Gender publication showed. With a growing devolution agenda in England and Wales, there is an urgent need to consider how devolved combined authorities can address gender, and other, inequalities when developing public policy. The inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and likely gendered impact on jobs and employment make building back a gendered better even more crucial. In this blog, Professor Francesca Gains discusses the importance of including women’s voices and robust evidence in policy planning and implementation.
- Research shows that women police and crime commissioners take violence against women and girls twice as seriously, and police and crime commissioners (men and women) who take their equalities duties seriously are nearly two and a half times more likely to prioritise the problem of violence against women and girls for action.
- Including women’s voices plus using evidence is the ‘equality equation’ that leads to equitable policy action.
- There are two significant gender equality initiatives developing in Greater Manchester right now: the establishment of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Women and Girls’ Equality Panel and the work of the GM4Women2028 Campaign.
- As the Women and Girls’ Equality Panel begins its work, there are two critical actions which need to be on the agenda: engaging with the GM4Women2028 Campaign to include more voices; and fully considering and addressing the gendered impact of policy proposals before implementation.
Of course, there has been gradual progress and improvements both in the diversity of our politicians and policymakers, and in the actions taken to tackle inequality. However, not enough is known about the impact of having more women in policymaking roles, or what policy actions might help to address gender inequalities. Research I conducted (with Vivien Lowndes of the University of Birmingham) examined if gender affected how police and crime commissioners (PCCs) prioritised the problem of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Firstly, we found that women PCCs were twice as likely to make VAWG a priority – showing that having a diversity of policymakers brings different experiences and concerns forward. This is not to argue that only women can speak out for other women; many men PCCs also recognised and prioritised this policy problem for action. However, it shows that increasing the number of women policymakers increases the likelihood of problems predominantly affecting women being recognised and acted on.
The role of equalities duties
But a second factor that made an even bigger difference was when PCCs (both men and women) took their equalities duties seriously, with those who demonstrated a serious commitment being nearly two and a half times more likely to prioritise this issue for action. All public officials have equalities duties since the Public Sector Equality Duty came into force in 2011 and should ‘play their part in making society fairer by tackling discrimination and providing equality of opportunity for all’.
Our research showed that the PCCs who fully exploited the provisions of the duty asked for data about the incidence, the reporting and the prosecutions of different types of crime and looked at the likelihood of victimhood broken down by gender. They sought other forms of evidence by talking to victims and campaign groups around issues such as violent crime. They publicised that evidence and worked with partners, the police and the public to develop policy proposals. Getting women’s voices into policymaking through gathering the evidence base and getting proposals into the policy process were all critical in getting action to improve gender equality.
Challenges and the path to the ‘equality equation’
But getting the ‘equality equation’ underway is not always straightforward. The evidence base isn’t always readily available, and some voices may not be sought out or listened to. There may not be the expertise and familiarity in how to gather the evidence needed and use it to inform action. And even when there is agreement about the need to address inequalities, there are challenges faced in getting change into policy action: the policy and political cycles sometimes work to different timescales and developing policy proposals requires policymakers to build coalitions of support and harness the resources to deliver change. Identifying resources will be challenging, especially in local government at a time when the costs of the pandemic and loss of revenues mean local government faces significant budgetary restraints.
Getting women’s voices into policymaking in Greater Manchester
In Greater Manchester, there are two significant and related developments underway which will significantly help with getting women’s voices into policymaking. Firstly, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has announced the establishment of a Women and Girls’ Equality Panel to accelerate gender equality and ‘help women and girls to live their best life’ in Greater Manchester. The Panel will look at understanding the issues and inequalities in the region, particularly in the issues faced by women and girls during and after the COVID-19 lockdown. The aim is to make sure gender equality is considered in GMCA policymaking around education, employment, skills, safety, health, and in improving representation for women in public life in all their diversity. After an open application process the Panel will meet at the end of September with a membership ensuring wide representation across the region, different sectors and organisations and from women across all the protected characteristics.
Secondly, the coalition campaign group GM4Women2028 led by Helen Pankhurst is growing and is continuing to campaign on inequalities around participation, safety, employment safety and culture, linking campaign organisations and voices across the region. Despite lockdown, Campaign members have continued to meet regularly via zoom. Indeed, attendance at meetings has grown, perhaps because for some, online discussions are more accessible than city centre meetings. The meetings are open and friendly and new members are welcome. The Campaign hopes to feed into the work of the Panel and the GMCA in raising issues, gathering experiences and knowledge from its coalition of members and organisations, and responding to requests for evidence.
Just before lockdown, policymakers from Greater Manchester, campaigners such as from GM4Women2028 and researchers from The University of Manchester held a workshop to share methods and experiences of what works in gathering evidence which can then be used to feed into policymaking. The insights from that day are captured in a publication, Mind the Gap – Getting Women’s Voices into Policymaking, aimed at those campaigning for gender equality in Greater Manchester and elsewhere. As the Women and Girls’ Equality Panel begins its work there are two critical actions which need to be on the agenda to realise the benefit of all of the campaign and policy activity to date in Greater Manchester.
- The first is for the Panel and the GM4Women2028 Campaign to establish a dialogue and working arrangements so the Panel can benefit from the Campaign’s wide reach to feed in issues and experiences to policy development.
- The second is for the Panel to ensure policies being developed in Greater Manchester fully consider and address the gendered impact of policy proposals before implementation.
For, as the example of the police and crime commissioners shows, where the equalities equation of women’s voices plus evidence is used by policymakers, policy action is more likely to result.
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