Thousands to celebrate International Women’s Day

Bristol Women’s Voice works to make women’s equality in Bristol a reality. ThinkBusiness talks to its chair Penny Gane about the discrimination facing women, as well as its events for International Women’s Day.

What are the issues facing women in your area?

Women’s safety is a big concern with more than 1,500 women per year suffering violence or abuse and young women afraid to walk home alone and being harassed in the street. There are many children living in poverty, often in lone parent families headed by women.

Our gender pay gap needs to improve along with maternity discrimination. We need more women on boards. Women’s health is an issue, with life expectancy being worse than the national average and increasing rates of smoking, drinking and self-harm amongst young women. There is also discrepancy in numbers of boys and girls taking up STEM subjects. All of these issues need to be addressed.

“Women’s safety is a big concern with more than 1,500 women per year suffering violence or abuse.”

What does Bristol Women’s Voice do to address these issues?

Bristol Women’s Voice runs the citywide Zero Tolerance initiative aimed at preventing gender based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation. Companies and organisations are trained in recognising signs of abuse and how to support those suffering abuse. We run maternity rights sessions throughout the city, sessions on health inequalities, menopause workshops and we are proud to launch our menopause pack at our International Women’s Day celebration on Saturday.

We chair and support the women’s commission and its six task groups. The commission works on strategic change and the development of initiatives. The commission developed Zero Tolerance, 50-50 campaign, and our Women of Lawrence Hill project, based on ensuring that women in more deprived areas are able to benefit from new developments in the city. Our Women in Business group is launching a women’s charter this month for employers to promote better practices in enabling women to attain senior positions.

Women are still hugely under-represented in key decision-making roles, what can be done to challenge this?

There is much more that can be done in terms of positive action: all-women shortlists and quotas are vital. There are too many people who disparage these and the women who enter office via this route, but research has shown that the female MPs selected from all-women shortlists in this country are on average better qualified and more experienced than their male counterparts. All-male shortlists have been in operation – as the only shortlists – for most of history – not only in parliament but in most professions and leadership positions. This is how we tackle unconscious bias: if we can get enough women into positions of power for long enough, we will be able to modify the archetype of power that we all hold in our minds and be able to recognise authority in women.

“Women’s health is an issue, with life expectancy being worse than the national average and increasing rates of smoking, drinking and self-harm amongst young women.”

We need maternity leave fully funded by the state so that employers have no reason to discriminate against women, and equal paternity leave for men so that the woman’s career doesn’t automatically take the hit when a heterosexual couple decides to start a family. We need state-funded childcare, not just in term-time and not excluding the poorest households as under the present system, with fair pay for workers, more than 90% of whom are women (and paid less than male colleagues). We need amazing work-place creches. And we need menopause policies across public and private sectors targeting employment discrimination against another consequence of the female reproductive role.

What changes have you seen due to initiatives and what is still needed?

We buck the national trend with three out of four MPs being women and our male MP doing great work on behalf of women. After our successful 50-50 campaign, we have increased the percentage of female councillors to 43%. We are still aiming for 50%. We have a female deputy mayor and a cabinet member for women. We have a female police and crime commissioner. Bristol has a women’s commission (chaired by chair of BWV) made up of senior women from the key agencies and organisations in the city.

We have some inspiring women CEOs of companies but not enough women on boards. Our women’s charter for business aims to address this. Many young women, however, are put off political representation because of how women are represented in the media and because of abuse on social media.

“We have some inspiring women CEOs of companies but not enough women on boards. Our women’s charter for business aims to address this.”

What events you are most looking forward to for International Women’s Day?

Our event is a free programme of exciting, diverse and informative events celebrating the wonderful women of Bristol. Performances from musicians including all-women brass band Burning Brass and Bristol University’s all female acapella group Pitch Fight will showcase women’s musical talents. One-woman theatre performance Leave Without Rattling will share the inspiring stories of two pioneering women; Windrush icon, Bristolian and nurse Princess Campbell and Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole.

Women and Power, a panel discussion with MP Thangam Debonair, PCC Sue Mount Stevens, Youth Mayor Hannah Heir, Acorn Organiser Anny Cullum and Somali women’s group Tallo’s Founder Hibo, will explore women’s experiences of power and politics and the challenges that face us when we lean in.

Workshops on menopause, maternity rights training and gender-based violence will tackle pressing issues that face Bristol women. A poetry open-mic will encourage women to share their voices and a collaborative wood-cutting workshop will bring women together to create a large-scale print. Feminist Archive South will exhibit dynamic, colourful posters from its collection and photography exhibition This Is Us will explore what it is to be a woman over 40. There is something for absolutely everyone.

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