Bristol Women’s Commission – tackling women’s inequality in Bristol

By Penny Gane, Chair of Bristol Women’s Commission

Bristol signed the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life on International Women’s Day 2013 at a noisy and celebratory event. 

Bristol Women’s Commission was subsequently created to bring together partners to identify and address issues that have an impact on women and girls and stand in the way of equality. It is the only commission of its type in the UK.

The  Charter states that:

“Equality of women and men constitutes a fundamental right for all, and an essential value for every democracy. In order to be achieved, this right needs not only to be legally recognised, but to be effectively applied to all aspects of life: political, economic, social and cultural. Despite numerous instances of formal recognition and progress made, equality of women and men in daily life is still not a reality. Women and men do not enjoy the same rights in practice.”

It recognises that local authorities are well placed to action the structural changes and promote the cultural changes needed to achieve equality for women and girls, and Bristol Women’s Commission has a key role to play in embedding this equality into decision making.

The Commission is made up of members who dedicate time to coming together to share experience, evidence and perspectives and explore issues which stand in the way of women’s equality.

Working as part of core task groups – Women and the Economy, Women’s Safety, Women in Business, Women’s Health and Women and Girls’ Education – partner organisations and experts in the field work together to ensure women’s equality is at the heart of decision -making through evidence-based reports, campaigns, workshops and inspirational events. 

Current  Commission members include the NHS, Avon & Somerset Police, University of Bristol, UWE Bristol, City of Bristol College, headteachers, umbrella organisations such as Voscur and Business West, as well as the TUC, Bristol One City and Bristol City councillors.

Over the past decade, we have helped move women’s equality up the agenda through:

  • Successful campaigns, such as a 50:50 campaign to boost the number of female councillors from 1 in 5 to almost half
  • High profile events, such as securing funding from the Government Equalities Office for a year long programme of Centenary celebrations in 2018 to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage including the spectacular march to College Green on February 6th to commemorate the Representation of the People Act. Sixty six thousand women and girls participated in the events which were jointly managed by us and commission members Bristol Women’s Voice and the total reach including print, on-line and broadcast was 23 million!
  • Bringing together council leaders and women experiencing domestic abuse which has enabled more women suffering domestic violence and abuse to access social housing
  • New initiatives such as the Women in Business Charter, established by the Commission in 2019 and now a highly active  Community Interest Company with many business signatories leading the way in women’s leadership in the workplace
  • Evidence-based reports such as ‘Delivering an inclusive Economy Post Covid-19’ which highlights actions to support women’s employment post-covid. 
  • Influencing policy by working with city leaders which has seen a chapter on women’s health included in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment – the only one in the country
  • Influencing national policy through strong evidence based responses, for example the National Women’s Health Strategy which tackles female conditions as well as promoting the need for professionals in the sector to believe women
  • Organising conferences for girls across the city with inspirational role models from different sectors as well as a mentoring scheme for aspiring women leaders in education

Bristol Women’s Commission will continue to  work to redress women’s inequality in all its different forms so that Bristol becomes a more equal city where women thrive in what has been a man’s world for far too long.