Date posted: 8 March 12, 16:00
By Sian Norris
The Festival of Ideas asked Sian Norris, Bristol Feminist Network and writer (see her blog here) to write about what she would like to see, as a feminist, a new mayor of Bristol do for gender equality.
To me, it starts before the mayor is even elected. I would like the list of mayoral candidates to be truly representative of our city, with a 50/50 gender split. This would set the tone that the mayor is serious about improving the political representation of women. We are lucky in Bristol that we have a lot of women in senior roles in the city council. However, in the House of Commons women only make up 21% of MPs and there are only five women in the cabinet. Across the UK, only 21% of mayoral candidates are women. Let’s not see this happen in Bristol. Let’s get a shortlist in Bristol that is diverse and representative, leading to a role that is aware of its obligations to ensure gender equality.
This commitment to equality in political representation is key to making sure that gender equality is taken seriously and promoted in our city. This would involve ensuring women are equally represented on committees, such as licensing and planning. In Bristol we have experienced particular issues on licensing sex entertainment venues and sexist establishments such as Hooters. Licenses for bars and restaurants that undermine gender equality have often been granted by all-male committees. I want there to always be a woman’s voice on all committees.
Before the election, I hope that all the mayoral candidates will consult with women’s groups to discover what our issues and priorities are. Gender equality must be an intrinsic part of mayoral policies from the beginning, not as an add on.
The second thing I would want to see is a real commitment to ending violence against women and girls in our city. This would start by securing and guaranteeing funding for Bristol Rape Crisis centre, as well as an increase to their current funding. There are on average 20 reported rapes in Bristol each month. When we include the national average of un-reporting rates, this goes up dramatically to 130. Victims and survivors of this crime need support, and the council should help provide this support. I would like the mayor to promote the consultation on whether gender-based violence should be classified as a hate crime, and build an effective strategy to target misogynistic street harassment, as well as other forms of violence against women and girls. Further to this, I want to see guaranteed funding for local community-based domestic violence support services, support services for women exiting or involved in prostitution and sufficient refuge provision for women leaving violent relationships. This would include refuges and support for teenage girls who are in violent relationships. Funding for the violence against women and girls sector needs to be protected. Secretary of State Theresa May herself says this must not be seen as an ‘easy cut’. Let’s make sure it isn’t.
Bristol’s PCT is doing a great job in raising awareness of, and working with survivors of, female genital mutilation. I would like the mayor to ensure that this doesn’t slip, and that a joined-up strategy is put in place to prevent FGM. This involves bringing together social services, healthcare professionals, education professionals and women working in FGM-practising communities to ensure that girls are no longer cut in our city.
As the coalition’s cuts continue to bite in our city, the Bristol Fawcett ‘Cutting Women Out’ report found that the changes to benefits and tax credits were costing the city’s women £44 million. This is almost exactly double the cost to men. I would ask that the mayor ensures that the impact on gender equality is taken seriously when budget decisions are made. Otherwise the risk is that economic inequality will increase, which in turn will increase child poverty.
There is a fantastic committee in the council focusing on education around violence against women and girls. I would hope that the mayor will listen to the recommendations of this committee, and encourage a curriculum in our school that teaches about healthy relationships, consent and respect. We are lucky enough to have amazing organisations in our city like NHS 4YP and Women’s Aid who have produced comprehensive education packs to do just this. Let’s fund them to be used in all of Bristol’s schools. Prevention of violence against women and girls starts with education.
The mayor would have a role in transport planning. I hope they would use this role to explore how Bristol transport could be made more accessible, and consider transport plans in relation to women’s safety. The lack of night buses is, in particular, a cause for concern.
Free and subsidised childcare is a lynchpin in improving gender equality. The lack of childcare places and the expense of putting children into nurseries have a big impact on women’s role in the workplace. Encouraging free and subsidised childcare would be hugely beneficial to promoting women’s employment and role in public life. This in turn would have a positive impact in Bristol as an enterprising city. I would encourage the mayor to work with the business community to promote gender equality in the workplace, by promoting flexible working patterns, improved parental leave and improved women’s representation in traditionally male-dominated business spheres.
Bristol has some excellent and effective women’s organisations that are dedicated to ending gender inequality in our city. These include Bristol Feminist Network (which I co-ordinate), Bristol Fawcett and the Women’s Voice Group. I hope the mayor talks to us. Get us involved. Consult with us. Together we can create a joined up strategy that ends gender inequality in our city. Let’s work together and make Bristol a better place.
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