Penny Gane

One year since George Ferguson signed the European Charter for Equality of Women and Men and committed to establishing a Women’s Commission for Bristol and a women’s strategy to implement the charter. BWV brought this about. 

The charter covers a wide range of issues (housing, violence, transport, human trafficking etc) and requires a public commitment to the principle of equality of women and men. We have been reminding them of this ever since.

BWV worked with Gus Hoyt to set up the Commission and invite a number of key agencies across the city to be part of the commission. Every one of them agreed and all have sent senior women representatives to be on the commission. And they keep coming! 

The organisations are: City Council, UWE, UoB, CoB, First, UHB, CCG, LEP (local enterprise partnership) BBC, Inspire PR, Avon and Somerset Constabulary,TUC, Fawcett Society, Voscur, BWV. 

Established 5 priority areas of work: 

  • Women’s Health
  • Women’s Safety
  • The Representation of women in public life
  • Women and the Economy
  • Women and Transport

 We have set up Task Groups for each one; a mix of academics and women working in the field. All at different stages but within 2 years we will develop a Women’s Strategy for the city and we will already be implementing it through our partner organisations. Both universities are closely involved in the work and have put key academics on the task groups to help give direction. They have also offered research capacity which is beginning to take place now.

Women’s Safety 

  • A telephone helpline in Bristol received over 4000 calls last year from women in distress, mostly about domestic violence and abuse
  • 539 were made to Rape Crisis about sexual abuse
  • 1 in 7  female students has experienced a serious sexual assault during their time as a student (students 8% Bristol’s population)
  • 14,000 women and girls victims of domestic abuse in Bristol last year (est Home Office)
  • 2 women per week killed by current or former partner (nationally)

Task Group: 

A very active and dedicated task group looking into women’s safety that hopes to compliment other work that is going on in the City.

  • Working with partners on commission to ensure robust policies and practices on gender based violence. For staff, customers, students and in the workplace.
  • On-line survey developed to audit current practices and policies with a view to providing support and training to individual agencies where appropriate.
  • Will look to market this to other organisations/employers in the city to support their female employees
  • Reviewing the evidence on Sexual Entertainment Venues and looking at good practice across the country. Requesting that BCC reviews its policy of allowing 3 SEVs in city.

Women’s Health

  • Bristol has a men’s health strategy
  • Women live longer in poorer health
  • Depression rates twice that of men
  • More young women smoke and drink heavily
  • More self harm, have eating disorders and are vulnerable to HIV.
  • Many more women experience gender based violence
  • Girls continue to undergo fgm
  • Compounded by economic disadvantage, responsibility of caring for children and older relatives

 Health Task Group 

  • New group using Public Health Compendium of Women’s Health
  • Focus young women 16-24 initially as there is a gap in information about this group when life changes are taking place
  • Initial research into where young women and girls get their health information from
  • What services are available to this age group and how are they delivered in an appropriate way?


Women and Transport 

Transport issues for women include safety travelling at night, accessibility of public transport for women with children in buggies, cost of public transport, not being able to access education and skills because of poor transport etc .

Transport Task Group 

UWE have appointed a researcher to look at;

  • Existing evidence regarding women and transport in Bristol
  • Qualitative evidence on women’s experience of transport, including the BWV transport survey
  • Interviews with stakeholders around current processes and decision making
  • Focus groups with women 1. Employed 2. Job seeking women with/without children 3. Retired women
  • Recommendations
  • Researcher will report to Task Group

Women’s Representation in Public Life 

  • 72% BCC councillors male.= 28.5% female compared to national average of 35%. $ wards had no female candidates in last council elections
  • 13 out of 15 Public Sector boards in Bristol are led by men. (only UWE and Avon &Somerset Police led by women)
  • 79% seats on largest private sector boards taken up by men and 10 are entirely male
  • 14 out of 15 candidates for elected Mayor were men

 Representation Task group 

  • 2 Events in City Hall to actively promote different ways to be involved in public life. Signed up school governors, neighbourhood watch, potential council candidates etc. A woman councillor made a short film of her experience as a councillor
  • Produced a paper on the implications for women on boundary changes etc. Sent to the Mayor and Party Leaders.
  • Carrying out an audit of all Commission organisations, a number of Bristol based private sector companies and community and voluntary organisations. Top 10% earners, make up of board, direction of travel
  • Also what are the mechanisms for recruiting to boards and issues around being on boards
  • Looking at how many boards individuals are on. Who runs Bristol?
  • Contacting Lloyds Bank to find out how they will meet their target of 40% women at senior and board level.


Women and the Economy 

  • Greatest shortage of childcare is in areas with least money
  • The increase in women between 50 and 64 claiming job seekers allowance is five times that of men. And double that for all women.
  • 2/3 children in poverty in Lawrence Hill and Filwood live with lone female parents
  • Women seeking to improve qualifications are facing barriers of childcare costs, (now more than mortgages in many cases), course fees, travel, equipment and lack of part time courses.

 Women and the Economy Task Group 

  • Response to LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan which doesn’t mention women. LEP has identified for investment the following areas: aerospace, high technology engineering, professional and legal services, green technology and creative media. Not currently big employers of women. No recognition of the need for accessible affordable childcare or ESOL training to enable people to access work. At present one woman on the board.

Key issues for the group: 

  • Low pay
  • Insecure working hours-zero hours contracts and short term contracts
  • Discrimination against women returning from maternity leave
  • Lack of affordable, flexible childcare and meeting DWP requirements despite childcare needs or children’s illness


  • Gathering evidence to support practical solutions
  • Procurement to ensure zero hours kept a minimum in public services
  • Fairness commission needs to address women’s poverty

We are covering a lot of ground. The work is underpinned by a solid evidence base and where the evidence doesn’t exist we have commissioned new research and will continue to do so. We feel we have been successful in influencing major policies and decisions such as BCC budget cuts and are confident we can work with the LEP, even at this stage, to get women’s perspective taken into account and acted on. We need both the partnership working which the commission brings and the voice of the women of Bristol which is what Bristol Women’s Voice brings and why we are all here today.