West of England Mayor meets with Bristol Women’s Commission

Photos by Tina Gue

West of England Mayor Dan Norris has pledged to work more closely with Bristol Women’s Commission to tackle women’s inequality across the region, following a productive meeting in Bristol.

The Mayor was a guest at Bristol Women’s Commission’s meeting of the full commission at City Hall, Bristol, on 11 January 2023.

The main focus of the meeting was the caring economy following our event at City of Bristol College last year – and how investing in caring infrastructure would not only tackle inequality, but would boost the economy and benefit the whole of society.

“A caring economy is a thriving economy that invests in people of all ages – it benefits all.” explained Commissioner Sue Cohen, “There’s a lot of money being invested in Bristol – housing etc – but we are not seeing the social infrastructure that’s needed within that. We need to adopt the concept of a caring economy here.”

Mayor Dan Norris listened carefully to input from members including Economy Task Group chairs Sue Cohen and Diane Bunyan, Bristol Women in Business Charter Director Sandra Gordon and Bristol Women’s Voice’s Chief Executive and Commissioner Katy Taylor.

He replied: “I can see there are some real challenges coming down the line that we need to plan for, and one of those is an ageing population. The challenge is so big that it needs to be met by everybody, not just women.

“Any professions where women are dominant, those professions are not appreciated. It’s about prejudice. That is what the real issue is. What you’re asking for is attitudinal change. It’s outrageous, and that has got to change.”

In terms of his ability as regional Mayor to deliver tangible change on the ground, Dan explained: “I can’t give you a lot of hope about changing in the short-term because a lot of money comes from central government. But there are quite a lot of opportunities coming up because of the way society has changed because of the pandemic.”

He pledged to work much more closely with the Commission in future to address inequality across the region. “I’m weak without your input and I want to be a lot stronger,” he added.

West of England Mayor Dan Norris also offered to return to City Hall to be on a panel for International Women’s Day celebrations with Bristol Women’s Commission and Bristol Women’s Voice on Saturday 11 March. Details to follow…

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence 2022

Every year, Bristol Women’s Commission launches a local campaign as part of UN Women’s global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The 2022 campaign involved city leaders sharing what they’re doing to tackle male violence.

This year’s campaign featured a range of actions from commissioners, from representatives of local and national government, local charity leaders, the police and those running educational institutions. All shared the many different ways they were playing their part in tackling the issue.

During 16 Days, Bristol South MP and member of our Women’s Health Task Group Karin Smyth led an important parliamentary debate for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Find out what was said here.

Bristol Women’s Commission also contributed a guest blog to the Mayor’s Blog. Claire Bloor, Chair of our Women’s Safety Task Group and CEO of SARSAS wrote passionately about how telling women to adjust their behaviour/actions was never going to be enough – and how we need to address the root causes, including a culture of misogyny we allow to persist in wider society. Read the full blog here.

The campaign ran alongside a Nextlink led candlelit vigil in remembrance of those women and girls who’ve lost their lives to male violence. Next Link are part of the Women’s Safety Task Group and Commission Chair Penny Gane took part in their campaign too.

Previous years 16 Days campaigns by Bristol Women’s Commission include sharing 16 different ways we can all take action to tackle male violence; and videos from city leaders with their suggestions for what you can do to tackle male violence.

A big thank you to everyone who took part in our 16 Days campaign, and for the ongoing work you all do to help tackle gender-based violence. Only by working together can we stop this epidemic of male violence.

Bristol Women’s Commission Annual Report to Full Council

Every year, Bristol Women’s Commission presents a report to full council to give an overview of its work and achievements over the past 12 months.

Chair Penny Gane, in her speech to full council every November, highlights the work of the Commission’s Task Groups and give councillors an overview of the wider situation around issues impacting women and girls’ equality in Bristol.

There have been some changes to the make-up of the Commission this year, with the May local elections resulting in some councillors on the commission losing their seats, and having to leave the commission, and some new councillors joining.

Events

Bristol Women’s Commission has worked with city partners on some key events.

We worked closely with the newly-elected Police Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford, as we did with his predecessor Sue Mountstevens, for the first Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Summit in May – which Avon and Somerset Police’s first female Chief Constable Sarah Crew wrote about in this guest blog for us (hosted on our old web pages).

Our Economy Task Group organised ‘A Caring Economy’ event at City of Bristol College in October which brought together people from across the paid and unpaid care sector to talk about the current crisis in social care and explore potential solutions. Read more in our recent blog from Economy Task Group Chair Diane Bunyan.

Chair Penny Gane spoke at a 50: 50 Parliament event sharing the work the Commission did on its successful 50:50 campaign to boost representation of women councillors on Bristol City Council, seeing the number rise from around 1 in 5 to almost 1 in 2 (more on that later).

We also attended and spoke with women at citywide protests, including the March of the Mummies in which hundreds of women marched on City Hall to urge the government and others to take steps to address the childcare crisis. More on that in this Bristol Cable article, which we are quoted in.

Campaigns

Bristol, the UK and the world remains an unequal place for women and girls.

Our campaign pushing for a nil-cap approach to licensing Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs) in Bristol proved unsuccessful when the Licensing Committee voted against it in July. We co-produced a report with Safe & Equal Bristol which outlined the link between sexual entertainment, objectification and entitlement and male violence and secured support from city leaders and organisations but the pro-sex industry lobby won the support of the media and all bar one councillor in the Licensing Committee. Read our response to the decision here.

Later this month (25 November – 10 December), we will be running an online campaign for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence which we’ll be encouraging commissioners and partners to get involved with to shine a light on the action being taken, and action that could be taken to address male violence against women and girls in Bristol.

The Commission has supported the citywide anti-drink spiking campaign as drink spiking continues to prove a significant issue for women, including students. We were pleased to hear from some University of Bristol students who planned and delivered their own powerful ‘Never Have I Ever…’ campaign in the city centre.

We are also supporting ACORN’s campaign to ensure appropriate public toilet provision – which particularly impacts women and girls, and are urging the council to revisit the community toilet scheme approach which many say is failing them.

Influencing national policy

Bristol Women’s Commission’s Women’s Health Task Group has fed into the new national Women’s Health Strategy – the first of its kind. After contributing to the consultation, we were very pleased to see almost all of our recommendations taken on board by the government. Locally, we are working on a refresh of the Women’s Health Chapter in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) – another first of its kind in the country.

Womens representation

Following the May elections, we’re pleased to see that the make-up of the council remains much more balanced post our 50:50 campaign than before – with around 40% female councillors. We undertook an important survey of outgoing councillors to understand the barriers and issues for women wanting to be councillors. Lack of time and an unwelcoming culture for women was a common theme which needs addressing.

In the business world, almost 40 businesses are now signed up to the Bristol Women in Business Charter, which cover 35,000 employees in the city. It has resulted in more women appointed to boards, coaching programmes established for inspiring female leaders, and more flexible approaches to the working week to accommodate working parents.

Read Bristol Women’s Commission’s 2021/22 full report to council here.

Bristol Women’s Commission event: A Caring Economy – Who Cares Wins!

By Diane Bunyan, Chair of the Economy Task Group

Bristol Women’s Commission’s Economy Task Group‘s successful event – A Caring Economy – Who Cares Wins – took place on 17 October 2022.

It brought together childcare and social care providers paid and unpaid; City of Bristol College delivering care qualifications; policy makers; grassroots groups and women’s organisations; receivers of care; Parenting in the Pandemic community researchers; political representatives; academics and employers – to focus on what would need to be in place for Bristol to invest in the caring economy.

The Commission on a Gender-Equal Economy led by the Women’s Budget Group defines the vision of a caring economy as one that:

  • Has the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the planet at its heart.
  • Values the care that nurtures us all.
  • Ensures that no one faces discrimination, violence or poverty.

Bristol Women’s Commission Economy Task group picked up the mantle along with the event’s sponsors – City Of Bristol College, Fair Play South West, Bristol Women’s Voice, and the University of Bristol, who came together in solidarity with one another for a Caring Economy for Bristol.

We shared experiences and heard from inspirational speakers demonstrating the vision of a thriving economy with care at its heart, investing in childcare social care and in the social infrastructure more generally, so that all may thrive in society. We are all cared for at some point in our lives and many will provide care so why is it ignored and marginalised?

We heard positive examples of employers who attract and retain staff when they invest in childcare and time to care, making it possible for women to combine work with caring responsibilities and so move forward in their careers; how a career in care is fulfilling especially with support for professional development; and how person-centred care, putting the service user at the centre and listening to their expertise, delivers a better service for everyone.

At the same time participants were without doubt – we are in the throes of a care crisis.

Speakers underlined the impact of low wages and poor prospects resulting in many staff leaving employment in both childcare and social care; funding from government both local and national being cut so care employers are not able to offer the wages and conditions they would want. Carers recounted how the needs of those receiving care or providing informal (unpaid) care are not being heard and how they are pushed to the margins especially with the cost of living crisis.

The workshops identified the changes required to make Bristol‘s economy one with caring at its heart – a cultural change that values care; a circular economy keeping investment in the local community through procurement based on social value; any new regeneration developments in the city to have childcare written into them; parity in pay between health and social care workers; overcoming time poverty with paid leave for carers.

These are just some of the demands to go forward into a Caring Manifesto for Bristol that Bristol Women’s Commission’s Economy Task Group will be drawing together with all those who contributed to the day.

Watch this space…

Photos by Tina Gue

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.