On International Women’s Day in 2013 at a colourful and noisy event George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, signed the European Charter for equality of women and men in local life on behalf of the city of Bristol, the first city in the UK to do so. To implement the charter the mayor proposed the establishment of a Women’s Commission to draw up an action plan- the Women’s Strategy for Bristol-to address areas of discrimination and disadvantage which women face.
This ground breaking initiative came about from a meeting between Bristol Women’s Voice and the Mayor soon after his election. We took with us a short piece of research we had conducted about the success rate of our partner organisations in helping women out of poverty through training, placements and employment:- a success rate much higher than the government’s own programmes. Our aim was to influence the Mayor in protecting grants to women’s organisations where possible (not all the organisations were grant aided by the council) and to demonstrate the outstanding work going on in the city. We stressed however that this is only the tip of the iceberg and that women are still facing barriers to equality of opportunity in work, society and public life. We also took with us a copy of the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life, a charter co-authored by Diane Bunyan, a member of BWV management group in 2007. We asked George if he would consider signing this for the city as an indication of his intention to help bring about real change in gender equality in the city. It was at this point that George proposed the setting up of a Women’s Commission to look at key areas where women face disadvantage and draw up an action plan to implement the Charter (which he agreed to sign some weeks later after reading it).
Following the adoption of the Charter the first meeting of the Bristol Women’s Commission was held on May 22nd 2013. 100% of the organisations asked to send a woman representative responded positively and almost all of them attended the first meeting. Organisations include: Bristol Women’s Voice, Bristol Fawcett, VOSCUR, Bristol City Council, Lib Dem, Conservative, Labour and Green parties, University of Bristol, University of West of England, Learning and Enterprise Partnership, First, Clinical Commissioning Group, Avon and Somerset Constabulary, City of Bristol College, Spirit PR and BBC. The aim of bringing women from these organisations together was to encourage change in every sector of the city. The Commission members will be able to hold one another to account and will be accountable to the mayor, Europe and the women of Bristol. The first meeting was to set the scene and establish some priorities. We agreed to keep the same priorities as Bristol Women’s Voice as these had come out of the BWV research into women’s priorities. These are; Women’s Health, Women and the Economy, Safety/Violence, Caring Responsibilities and Transport. We added an issue everyone felt strongly about which is getting more women into public life. We also agreed that part of our role would be to ensure gender mainstreaming in our own organisations and to work together to achieve this. We agreed to share information that we all hold before the next meeting and we agreed to set up task groups at the next meeting to look into the priority issues. Both universities offered research capacity and individual women offered to get started on pieces of work.
The second meeting of Bristol Women’s Commission was held on July 16th 2013. At this meeting we looked in more depth at getting women into public life and heard from Commission members actively involved in this work. We then spent some time setting up task groups to investigate work going on in 3 of our 6 priorities: Transport, Public life and Safety/Violence. Barbara Davies (LEP) and Dr. Jane Harrington (UWE) undertook to lead the transport task group and CI Catherine Johnstone (Constabulary) will lead the Public Life task group. We agreed to look at Safety/Violence as a select committee with Lynn Merilion (CoB) and Alison Comley (BCC) setting up a steering group to organise the process and organisations/individuals to present information and ideas. The task groups will be a mix of women with expertise in the area being looked at and women looking at the issues who are not closely involved to bring a fresh pair of eyes. They are also tasked with engaging women across the city on these issues. At the end of the meeting we agreed that leaders of the three task groups would scope the issue, contact key individuals and bring an outline programme to the next meeting in early September.
To find out about the purpose of the Commission, the Members and the agendas and minutes from the meetings held to date, please click here.
Bristol Women’s Voice
Bristol Women’s Voice chairs the Commission and we have representatives on each task group. We are planning a series of public meetings and small meetings around the city on priority issues and we will be collecting information through a variety of means. We will also feed in the work we are doing on women’s health and public life. We will post updates from the Commission on our website and make sure there are links to all Commission activities. It’s early days but it’s looking very positive indeed.
Chair, Bristol Women’s Voice and Bristol Women’s Commission
Find out about the work of the Commission in our BWC blog or check out each task group page!
- Health Task Group
- Economy Task Group
- Transport Task Group
- Representation Task Group
- Safety Task Group
Details of minutes for each meeting and other useful information gets published on the Council’s website here.