A look back at the Women’s Rights Conference 2019
Written by Charlotte Archibald who is a writer, campaigner and mother of two from Barry. She is currently a mentee on the WEN Wales Mentoring Programme.
“Against the backdrop of increased Brexit uncertainty, I headed to the WEN Wales Women’s Rights Conference in October to hear a variety of speakers discuss how we can safeguard the rights of women in the UK.
The last few years of polarising politics and differences of opinion on the EU has led to an increase in abuse, specifically directed towards females and female MPs. Speaking to other women who had gathered for the conference, we agreed that not only are we concerned for our rights, but our online and offline safety was becoming more precarious too. There was agreement that as suitable reassurances have not been offered by the UK Government in protection of our rights, women’s organisations, along with the United Nations, need to intervene urgently to make sure our voices are heard.
What was awaiting us at the conference did not disappoint. There was an impressive roster of local, national and international speakers and organisations, each with a common goal of protecting and promoting the rights of women across the globe. Virgínia Brás Gomes, a United Nations expert in women’s economic, social and cultural rights used her keynote speech to set the scene for the day.
We heard how Brexit could deal a very real and lasting blow to women’s rights in Wales. Gomes argued that the removal of an agreed framework for tackling discrimination could lead to increased mistreatment of women in the workplace. Given that workplace
discrimination is already widespread, this was a huge cause for concern.
The ambition for the Welsh Government to be a fully ‘feminist government’ was also discussed. Whilst it was acknowledged that this is a very welcome commitment from the First Minister, the need for action over words was reiterated by Gomes.
Following the keynote address, a series of workshops took place in smaller breakout groups. This was our chance to hone in on a specific area of women’s rights and discuss it in more detail. I chose to attend the Chwarae Teg: Triple Glass Ceiling: Barriers to BAME Women workshop.
What followed was a fascinating and eye-opening deep-dive into the barriers to progression at work for women of colour in Wales. 70% of white women in Wales are in employment. The figure is 40% for BAME women in Wales. Childcare is still the number one barrier to employment and a ‘talent drain’ is in part to blame for a lack of progression. A lack of diversity in positions of power means that, consciously or unconsciously, women of colour are given less opportunity to progress and are therefore forced to travel elsewhere to find employment opportunities.
This research is being presented to the Welsh Government in the hopes that it will influence decision-making and resourcing projects to help BAME women achieve the employment progression that they deserve. By this stage of the conference, it was clear that we have a long way to go to shore- up our rights and ensure the prosperity of women from every community and ethnic background in Wales.
The following session on the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was a welcome reminder that the UN is working hard to protect women around the world, and when our rights threatened, they can intervene and place considerable pressure on governments.
It was extremely welcome news to hear Deputy Minister Jane Hutt announce that in the event of the UK leaving the European Union, the Welsh Government is looking at adopting UN Convention to protect women’s rights here in Wales. I look forward to hearing more about this when the Brexit picture becomes clearer.
Discussions around the successful Repeal the 8th Campaign in Ireland and the campaign to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland were also timely reminders that we are achieving some of our goals towards gender equality, and that people- power really does work.
There’s always something so rejuvenating about spending time in a room full of motivated, engaging and inspiring women. I left the conference feeling well-informed and with a renewed focus on where our specific challenges and opportunities lie in our quest to make Wales a truly feminist, gender-equal country!”.