AMANDA FERGUSON in Belfast
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Gender equality should be a priority for every single department in Northern Ireland.
This is the view of women’s sector lobbyist Rachel Powell, from the Women’s Resource and Development Agency, expressed following the launch of the Women’s Policy Group NI’s comprehensive report: Covid-19 Feminist Recovery Plan.
Below on my Twitter account is a link to the 126 page report in full, a link so you can dip in to specific chapters of interest to you, and a document summarising the recommendations.
Something for everyone, as they say, so boil the kettle, pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee - or juice/wine etc, and get reading.
Rachel told amanda.ie we simply “can’t go back to the way it was before”.
Covid-19 lockdown exposed what the women’s sector know about inequality and made existing issues worse, she explained.
It is clear that the “old way” was not working, and listening to women’s voices can no longer be a box-ticking exercise for the people in power.
“The issues we have existed before covid, they have just been exacerbated by it, and decades of inaction by the Assembly.
“The pandemic has put a sharp focus on the value and importance of care work, both paid and unpaid, and has highlighted the essential nature of often precarious and almost always low paid retail, hospitality and health and social care work.
“Women undertake the majority of this work and our evidence shows that women are bearing the brunt of this crisis.”
Rachel wants society and government to “value care as a part of our essential infrastructure”.
“Women have suffered enough after a decade of austerity,” she added.
“They cannot continue to suffer in any recession that follows covid 19.
“Gender equality should be a priority for every single department in Northern Ireland.
“The departments keep working in silos and are informed on their economic priorities by business and investors rather than those who have suffered the most economically.
Women who have done low paid work on the frontlines, held up the economy through unpaid care, and been forced out of the workforce due to childcare and discrimination should be listened to, she adds.
“For any recovery, gender equality needs to be at the heart of it,” Rachel said.
“They are issues that are interlinked both in covid recovery and the programme for government.”
Feeling “Zoomed out” happens quite a lot these days but at the online launch of the report I wasn’t distracted for a second and could have stayed on listening to the contributors for another hour.
I caught up with some of them once the launch event ended.
Kellie Turtle, founder of Belfast Feminist Network, says the crisis around childcare is not just because of Covid-19 but the result of “decades of neglect” of a sector which is “underfunded, underdeveloped and without sustainability”.
“The UK government picks up about 20% of the cost of childcare, with families picking up the rest,” she said.
“It is out of step with other places in Europe where it is more like 75%.”
The women’s sector has been battling for years for a proper childcare strategy.
The coronavirus pandemic Has highlighted the importance of childcare to a properly functioning society.
“Covid has taught us that society grinds to a halt if you don’t have childcare,” Kellie said.
“The key thing is a long term vision for transforming childcare.
“In the Childcare For All campaign +we highlighted the benefits to society.
“It needs to be brought back into the public sector before we move too far into privatised transactions.
“It’s an essential service. I want them to invest long term and not just plug gaps.
“The £10m provided so far will only last until the end of August.
“They need to think strategically and develop proper infrastructure. We need to come up with a plan that recognises that.
Kellie also highlighted inequality that exists when it comes to financial support flowing from government.
“Nurseries can claim up to £14,000, where as child minders can claim only £300, which is a complete insult.”
Alexa Moore, director of Transgender NI, wants more meaningful engagement with decision makers.
“Covid has drastically worsened the situation with trans folks not seeing an end in sight for their health care,” she said.
“We are seeing a significant amount of domestic abuse and violence and people living in uncomfortable family situations.”
Alexa says a report - “a blueprint for the Department of Health to follow” - released a year ago, so far “hasn’t been taken into account”. It is available to view here: https://transgenderni.org.uk/
“The crisis is trans health care isn’t just a result of covid,” she added.
“It has been going on for over two years with very little action from the Department of Health.
“There has not been meaningful engagement around the development of new services.”
Alexa also wanted to highlight that the women’s sector and trans communities work closely together, that there are shared issues around marginalised communities and good working relationships are maintained.
Sipho Sibanda, is a migrant rights activist and the co-ordinator of Participation and Practice of Human Rights’s (PPR) ‘End Destitution‘ campaign.
She said the new covid report “puts a spotlight on inequality”.
“It would be good if these issues were address by Stormont,” she said.
“There is no use turning a blind eye and pretending things are ok.
“There is more to it than covid.”
Childcare, trauma of BAME people working on the front line, the impact of domestic abuse, and a range of issues for asylum seeking people “needs to be considered somehow”.
“They need to be part of a strategy because their needs are neglected in every way,” Sipho said.
“People seeking asylum are part of the community. Their needs cannot be ignored.”
“Shout loud” is the advice of Louise Coyle, director of the Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network (NIRWN).
She wants to make sure women are involved in every area of life, that their concerns are acknowledged, and that policy flows from this (which in turn has benefits for all of society).
“We are 50% of the people after all,” she said.
Louise highlighted rural issues that flow from Covid-19 and lockdown included access to broadband and equipment.
“Those who are rurally isolated with no broadband or 4G were doubly impacted,” she said.
“It was very challenging for many people in terms of their isolation and wellness.
“The issues around broadband and childcare and so on existed before the report. It shone a light on those for other people to see.”
Louise is also concerned about the impact leaving the EU will have on rural women and that the rural-needs-act-northern-ireland-2016 hasn’t been tested because of the absence of devolved government for three years from 2017 until January 2020.
“We are exiting the European Union. Our own government has failed to resource rural women, where as the EU has recognised that. We are now exiting the EU without that structural support.
“There is no real plan, no budget and no idea what that is going to look at. “It is a perfect storm.
“Where are the women in these discussions.
Where are the women, we are not hearing their voices, and that needs to change. We are living with a dirth of information.
“Any proposed budget, any programme for government, policy recovery plans needs to take account of women’s needs and rural needs.”