(English) WEN at Ten: Reflections on WEN’s first decade

Wednesday December 1st, 2021

Mae’n ddrwg gen i, mae’r cofnod hwn dim ond ar gael mewn Saesneg Prydain.

By Adele Baumgardt, WEN Wales co-founder

In 2009 I was serving as the Wales Commissioner for the Women’s National Commission (WNC) when the UK government decided to close the WNC in 2010. In Wales the Wales Women’s National Coalition (WWNC), the key consultative body on gender equality that represented women of all backgrounds and at all levels, lost its funding from the Welsh Government.

This meant that there was no remaining umbrella body for women in Wales. Their voices, which had been represented by these two key longstanding and respected bodies, had been lost. Government policy and spending decisions at both a Welsh and UK level were no longer being scrutinised or influenced systematically from a gender perspective (other than Chwarae Teg’s ongoing role) – a huge loss and indeed a move away from Welsh Government’s aims.

A group of women representing a range of organisations seeking to represent as wide a range of women as possible decided this was too great a gap and to address it. Women’s Equality Network Wales was born! Out of voluntary time and effort WEN was constituted as a membership organisation seeking to represent all women’s views across Wales, to gather members’ views and to represent them at all levels to influence policy, resources, and service delivery from a gender perspective.

Welsh Government engaged with WEN from the outset and continues to do so today.

It seems to me that the need to address gender equality remains as critical now as it did then. Indeed, gender equality gaps have widened in many areas, the pay gap remains persistent and has in some areas widened, COVID has had a disproportionate impact on women, particularly women in poverty. The NHS faces huge challenges, and we know that they are the largest employer of women in Wales and that women rely on their services. The loss of European Social Fund (ESF) funding has had a disproportionate impact on women and children, again particularly the poorest and most marginalised women and children. Child poverty has increased – a huge issue for WEN’s members. Women’s life expectancy has dropped for the first time, public services have been hit, public transport reduced, as inflation rises…I could go on.

The need for WEN is as important now as it was in 2011. WEN faces new challenges as well as historical ones. We need a strong representation of all women, from all backgrounds and experiences, to voice what matters to them and to influence policy and delivery – both now and for their future and that of their families. Policy is at risk of being gender blind if it is not informed.

Our aim was always to set up such an organisation and hand it over to the women of Wales. And how brilliant has it been! WEN has built a coalition of 38,000 supporters to campaign on the issues that matter to women in Wales, produced Wales’ first manifesto on women’s rights, and set up a ground-breaking mentoring scheme supporting diverse women into public and political life that is going from strength to strength. WEN has led the campaign in Wales for CEDAW to be incorporated into Welsh law – this year, Welsh Government pledged to make that happen. Women and allies have been connected by WEN Café virtual events throughout the pandemic, and 96% of attendees said they now felt more empowered to speak out, more able to influence, and more informed on women’s rights as a result. WEN has championed brilliant women with the 100 Welsh Women project, and has started to help tackle sexism and promote gender equality in schools and youth groups across Wales through the International Women’s Day toolkit launched this year.

WEN has led the Diverse5050 campaign for diverse and equal representation in Welsh political institutions, calling for gender and diversity quotas. Just last week, legally binding gender quotas were included in the Labour / Plaid Cymru co-operation agreement – a big step forward for ensuring gender balance in the Senedd.

There is still much work to do, and I know WEN will continue as they have over ten years – where policy and funding creates gaps between women and men and the issues that matter to them, WEN will hear from their members and seek ways to fill those gaps.

Long live WEN and may they flourish forever!

 

Please join us in celebrating our 10th birthday by supporting our challenge to raise vital funds to ensure we can continue to make an impact for the next 10 years. Donate here.