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Covid-19 and women's equality - rolling blog

With the situation around Covid-19 changing every day, one certainty is that it will have an immediate, long-lasting, and disproportionate impact on women. This rolling blog will be kept updated with our work to keep women's equality at the heart of policy-making during the pandemic.

We’ve also created a page on our website which has support numbers, resources, and all of the great writing about women and Covid-19 we’re finding. You can access it here.

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24th March 2021: Our Bodies, Our Rights in Lockdown

Building on our work on our Our Bodies, Our Rights report which examined the barriers to disabled women's reproductive rights in Scotland, this week, we've launched a survey developed with People First Scotland to find out how disabled women in Scotland have been affected by the pandemic. The survey is completely anonymous and asks questions about health and social care support during the pandemic, mental health, parental and caring responsibilities if you have them, and what support and changes you would find helpful, along with some questions about yourself. You do not have to answer any questions you don't feel comfortable with. You can find out more on our blog here and you can take the survey online here.

We'll use the information from the survey and combine it with the research and calls for action we were working on before the pandemic to highlight where changes have created new barriers to disabled women’s health, rights and equality or where we might be able to learn from how services were adapted. Please share the survey with anyone who would like to share their experiences, and if you are not disabled or prefer to share your story in another way you can still send us your experiences of the last year via our Women Covid Scot portal.

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23rd March 2021: Scottish Government Response to Social Renewal Advisory Board 'If not now, when?' report

The Social Renewal Advisory Board, 'If not now, when?' was published in January, and today the Scottish Government has published its initial response to the report. The response from Scottish Government welcomes the ambitious and innovative calls to action set out in the Advisory Board’s report and outlines some of the initial work that is already being taken forward to address a number of the Board’s recommendations.

The response looks briefly at the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the work of the Advisory Board over the last year. The response also recognises that there is insufficient time remaining in this parliamentary term for the current government to give full consideration to the recommended actions and that it is important that the ambition and momentum of the Advisory Board’s work carry on into the next parliament. Immediate commitments in the government's response include: initiating a full review of the Scottish Welfare Fund, increasing work to automate benefit entitlements, and investigating the possibility of a Minimum Income Guarantee, alongside an investment of £25 million including £13.5 million for third sector recovery and transition to support the organisations who have supported our communities throughout the pandemic and £6.7 million to tackle fuel insecurity.

 

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17th March 2021: The impact of Covid-19 on women with childcare responsibilities in Scotland

Today we published a joint briefing paper with Close the Gap using survey data to highlight the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women with childcare responsibilities in Scotland. The data found that women, particularly Black and minority ethnic and disabled women, are experiencing further and deeper poverty as a result of COVID-19 and are experiencing higher levels of anxiety than men. Women’s employment has also been disproportionately impacted by the closure of schools and nurseries, and women reported continuing to do the majority of childcare and unpaid work in the home. You can find out more and read the full briefing here.

The data was collected as part of a UK-wide survey, developed alongside Close the Gap, the UK Women’s Budget Group, Fawcett Society, Women’s Equality Network Wales, and Northern Ireland Women’s Budget Group.

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8th March 2021: #MakingWorkVisible this International Women's Day

Every year on International Women's Day, we ask women to share their days with us, to highlight the invisible work done by women in Scotland. As Covid-19 has seen increasing amounts of work fall on women’s shoulders, we need action on unpaid labour more than ever. We want to use International Women’s Day to highlight the reality of the impact of the pandemic on women in Scotland.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Tweet your day live using the hashtag #MakingWorkVisible or #WomenCovidScot on 8 March
  • Submit a story on our website, letting us know how your life has changed since the pandemic started
  • Send us a WhatsApp voicenote using this link: http://bit.ly/womencovidscot

Thanks in advance for your contributions, and for helping us to make women’s work visible on International Women’s Day!

17th February 2021: Feminist policy work and Covid-19 over the winter break

We're back for a new season of On The Engender, and for the first episode of season 3, Alys Mumford and Amanda Stanley are joined by Engender's Policy and Parliamentary Manager, Eilidh Dickson, to discuss our feminist policy work that took place over the winter break. You can listen to the episode here, and access a transcript here. We look at Covid-19 responses, from the start of the pandemic in 2020 to now, in 2021. We talked about telemedical abortion services, our response to Scottish Government’s Early Medical Abortion at Home Consultation, and the importance of maintaining this beyond the pandemic. We also discussed women at risk in the workplace, where 77% of workers in Covid-19 high-risk roles are women; you can read our response here to Mark Griffin MSP’s consultation on a Proposed Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council Bill.

You can also catch up with our On the Engender 2020 year in review episode here, for a whistle-stop tour of the year that women’s lives were turned upside-down by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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11th February 2021: Impact of Covid-19 on women in the economy

There's been lots going on this week around women's equality in the Covid-19 economic recovery. First, the Women and Equalities Committee of the UK Parliament released the fifth report of their Unequal impact: Coronavirus (Covid-19) and the impact on people with protected characteristics inquiry, this time focused specifically on gendered economic impacts. We responded to this inquiry last year, and you can access our consultation response here. You can see a BBC write up of their report here and you can also see a clip of our very own Communications and Engagement Manager Alys Mumford who appeared on BBC Scotland's The Nine to talk about our work for a gendered economic recovery in Scotland here.

The same topic was up for discussion in the Scottish Parliament as Holyrood discussed the impact of Covid-19 on women in the economy as raised by Gillian Martin MSP. You can watch the session back here, where tributes were payed to the work of Engender, as well as our sector colleagues Close the Gap and Women's Enterprise Scotland, and you can read our briefing ahead of the session here.

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29th January 2021: Women in the workplace in the pandemic and beyond

Our Policy and Parliamentary Manager Eilidh Dickson participated in an online panel organised by GMB Scotland’s Women’s Campaign to discuss the proposed Members’ Bill Scottish Employment Injuries Bill from Mark Griffin MSP. Eilidh spoke to viewers about Engender’s Covid-19 work and the changing nature of workplace risks which affect women. We have been particularly concerned that women, who are a majority of frontline workers in high risk roles in health and social care, essential retail and other sectors face workplace exposure to Covid-19 and new research is starting to show that woman are a high proportion of people reporting ‘long-covid’ symptoms which we still know little about. Other speakers from the GMB Women’s Campaign shared their experiences of encountering risks at work including experiences of providing care without appropriate PPE and how the design of social security for industrial disease and injury is failing to ensure women who cannot work because of an accident at work have access to an independent income.

Our response to Mark Griffin MSP's Proposed Members Bill on the Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council covers four broad themes – the changing nature of workplace risk, the need for and characteristics of a Scottish Employment Injuries Advisory Council (SEIAC), gender and health, and the additional concern that Covid-19 places on women’s health and the nature of work. You can read our full response on our website here.

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21st January 2021: If not now, when? Social Renewal Advisory Board Report released

Yesterday saw the release of the final report from the Social Renewal Advisory Board, which was set up by Scottish Ministers to make proposals that can renew Scotland once we start to emerge from the pandemic, and which our Executive Director Emma Ritch was a member on. The report “If not now, when?”, sets a course towards this future with 20 Calls to Action to tackle poverty and inequality in a post-Covid Scotland. Women are disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, which has seen increasing unpaid work and caring commitments for women alongside significant job losses in sectors dominated by women.

We're delighted to see so many calls for action towards equality in the report, and have outlined some of the key actions and areas for women's equality here. Calls to action around care include: increasing financial support for unpaid carers, driving up pay in childcare and social care, making childcare and social care key sectors in future economic strategies, and expanding good quality, well-paid childcare to 50 hours per week. Calls to action around money and employment include: introducing a minimum income guarantee that works for women, making sure employability programmes work for women (including carers and single parents), and tackling gendered occupational segregation. Calls to action around services and housing include: creating Universal Basic Services, including transport, that meet women’s needs, as well as tackling women’s hidden homelessness, & ensuring women and children have safe, warm homes. Finally, calls to action around rights and equality include: incorporating human rights including women’s rights, disabled people’s rights, and Black and minoritised people’s rights into Scots Law, and refreshing the Public Sector Equality Duty, so that it works to bring women’s needs into the centre of policy. You can see the full 'If not now, when?' report online here.

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18th December: The future of remote abortion care in Scotland

From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Scottish Government enabled women in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to have a telemedical appointment by phone or video call before being sent both pills to take at home along with clear instructions, access to an advice line and pain management. They have opened a consultation about whether these remote services should continue beyond the pandemic, which closes on 5th January 2020.

Telemedicine provides women with safe, effective, and accessible abortion care and increases the choice available for women. Since 2003, the World Health Organisation has been recommending that abortion care be provided at the ‘lowest’ appropriate level of the healthcare system. It is a common and safe procedure that one in three women will utilise in her lifetime. We strongly believe that telemedical abortion services should continue after the pandemic and that we should not roll-back the delivery of abortion care in Scotland by denying women an option that has been proven to meet their needs. You can read our full response to the consultation here. We have also created a guide and template to responding to the consultation, which you can find here.

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4th December 2020: Winter policy submissions round-up

Winter is always a busy time for policy organisations as committees and working groups try to get things tied up before the end of the year, and 2020 is no exception. Ahead of the winter break, our policy team published a number of briefings and submissions including a briefing for MSPs ahead of the Scottish Parliament Equality and Human Rights Committee debate in parliament on Valuing the Third Sector. Our briefing highlighted the need for sustainable ongoing funding for the women's sector in Scotland, and drew attention to the ongoing effects of Covid-19 and responses to the pandemic on women's rights. You can read the briefing online here.

We've also submitted a response to the Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry on welfare policy in Scotland, a Select Committee of the House of Commons. In our response we are clear that the design of Universal Credit is structurally flawed and its impacts highly gendered. The results of the UK Government’s programme of ‘welfare reform’ have combined with the economic and social impacts of the pandemic to embed inequality and poverty for women. You can read our submission online here.

Finally, we submitted our response to the Scottish Government consultation on the Digital Strategy for Scotland, in which we highlighted the increased demand on digital devices and services in households due to ongoing lockdown and distance learning requirements, and how the shift to virtual meetings and working from home for many women has increased women’s exposure to cyber abuse and harassment on professional platforms. You can read our full submission online here.

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23rd October 2020: How can social care reform work for women in Scotland?

We have now published our response to the Commission on Social Justice and Fairness consultation on Discussion Paper 2: Reform of Social Care. We believe that reform to care services must start from understanding the effects of low pay, undervaluation and low investment from a gender perspective before it develops effective solutions. Our response highlights the increased demands on and limited availability of social care during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the need to address the impacts of unpaid care both during and beyond the pandemic.

Engender believes that there is an important conversation to be had about the future and long-term provision of a social care system that is genuinely universal and equitable and meets individual needs. Gender cannot be excluded from this work, and there is a need to consider how revaluation of care work and skills can deliver better conditions for people, mainly women, who provide care, both paid and unpaid. You can read our full response online here.

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16th October 2020: The role of Scottish Social Security in Covid-19 Recovery

Engender has published our response to the Scottish Parliament Social Security Committee inquiry on the role of Scottish Social Security in Covid-19 recovery. In our submission we outline the huge impact that Covid-19 has had on women in Scotland, from incomes to physical and mental wellbeing, safety and the increased amount of care and childcare demanded. We highlight the risks to women’s employment and the increasing numbers of claims for UK benefits which will expose women to the UK ‘welfare system’ and harms such as the single payment of Universal Credit and the two child limit which are an affront to women’s human rights.

In our response to the Committee, we urge the Scottish Government and Parliament to adopt a gendered approach to conversations about recovery and ensure women’s needs are met in measures introduced including in social security. We recommend specific action to meet the needs of unpaid carers, women experiencing domestic abuse and women who provide care for children eligible for the Scottish Child Payment. You can read our full response here.

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9th October: Social Renewal Advisory Board work continues

Covid-19 has exposed faultlines of inequality and injustice that that have long existed in our society and in our homes. The way in which we recover from this public health crisis could either see a rollback of women’s rights or a step towards a world in which women have more equal access to resources, power, and safety.

If Covid-19 has told us anything, it is this: care is as essential to our economy as bricks, steel, and fibre optic cable. Contrary to descriptions of crashing productivity, in lockdown women found themselves busier than ever: supervising home-schooling, squeezing childcare, care, and paid work into a day, and managing their households. Investment in childcare and care for disabled people and older people must be considered as necessary infrastructure for Scotland to have a sustainable wellbeing economy and a good society.

 

The Social Renewal Advisory Board is committed to putting the needs of women, Black and minoritised people, and disabled people at the heart of recovery. Whether we’re talking about housing, income, the wealth of local communities, or social security, we know that Scotland can only truly recover from Covid-19 if it’s a recovery for everyone. Our Executive Director Emma Ritch sits on the Advisory Board, and we look forward to updating you with information on the work of the advisory board as it progresses.

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2nd October 2020: Recognising the Importance of Family Caregivers

This week Parliament debated the support for family care givers affected by the coronavirus and the measures surrounding management of the pandemic to coincide with the international day of older persons. The wide-ranging debate covered issues from care homes to unpaid carers to the workers in social care. As Engender noted in our briefing for the debate, social care in heavily gendered in three ways – women are the majority of users of social care, the majority of staff working in the social care sector and are more likely than me to provide unpaid care for older and disabled people.

We were pleased to see MSPs raising the particular impacts on women from changes to social care over the last six months, with Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone highlighting the additional work picked up by unpaid carers as social care has responded to Covid-19 and their impacts for their equality and wellbeing.

You can listen back to the debate here, and read Engender's briefing here.

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25th September 2020: Pre-Budget Scrutiny - Following the money

Leaves on trees across the nation are starting to turn orange and yellow, which means that it’s almost time for the Scottish Budget. Before the draft Budget lands towards the end of the year, Scottish Parliament committees are carrying out what is called pre-Budget scrutiny. The Budget describes what resources will be allocated to all of the work that Government and public bodies will deliver, and parliamentary committees use this time to consider what they will focus on when they read and review it.

This year, the Equalities and Human Rights Committee is zeroing in on the economic recovery from Covid-19.
Engender’s submission to the Committee’s call for evidence makes three key recommendations for their Budget scrutiny:
1. Think about how planned economic recovery programmes could better meet the needs of all women and girls, who have different experiences of education, skills, furlough, care, and work.
2.Evaluate whether the Budget process enables women’s equality and rights to be considered.
3. Scrutinise Scottish Government’s work to move towards gender budget analysis.

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23rd September 2020: #WomenCovidScot six months on

It feels difficult, and yet all-too-easy, to believe that today marks six months since Scotland entered lockdown. As we experience, or prepare for, further restrictions across the country, we know that things aren’t getting any easier for women in Scotland.

Whether juggling childcare, blended learning, and work, facing unemployment or uncertainty, supporting loved ones from afar, or just trying to keep up a brave face, Covid-19 is having an impact on us all.

This week we're relaunching #WomenCovidScot and encouraging women to share their stories, frustrations, advice and reflections as we mark this inauspicious milestone. We’d love you to submit your contributions at engender.scot/covid, by sending us a direct message on Twitter, or tweeting publicly using #WomenCovidScot.

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2nd September 2020: Protecting Scotland, Renewing Scotland: The Government's Programme for Scotland 2020-2021

Yesterday the First Minister set out the Scottish Government’s legislative and policy plans leading up to the election in May 2021 in the annual Programme for Government. This year’s Programme has clearly been shaped around two external realities – the Holyrood Elections taking place next May and the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As we went into lockdown in the spring, the Scottish Government had already indicated that there would be limited parliamentary time to focus on aspects of its agenda and announced it would drop Bills. As it stands, seven Bills will continue this year, including Hate Crime and Forensic Medical Examination reforms.

The Programme itself therefore focuses heavily on jobs, with commitments to create a £60 million Youth Guarantee to support youth employment and a £100 million Green Jobs fund as part of “a national mission to create new jobs, good jobs and green jobs.” The NHS and healthcare reforms to manage Covid-19 also featured heavily. Four new Bills will be introduced - the Budget Bill, a University of St. Andrews (Degrees in Medicine and Dentistry) Bill, a Domestic Abuse Bill to create emergency protection orders to protect people at risk of domestic abuse and the UNCRC (Incorporation) Bill. The UNCRC Bill will incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scot’s Law and “culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights.” The Government also indicated support for the progress of the Period Products Bill introduced by Labour MSP Monica Lennon.

For women's equality advocates there were some notable commitments on important policy areas, including the Women’s Health Plan, work to progress the incorporation of CEDAW and a review of the recommendations in the Gender Pay Gap Action Plan to ensure their fitness for purpose in protection of women’s jobs in the Covid-19 era. Additional work around women’s and carers mental health is welcome as are commitments to ensure the gender-sensitivity of aspects of housing and education, but these must be underpinned with further ambition. A national campaign on unpaid carer’s rights was also announced, but it is still unclear whether this will be coupled by new and substantive actions to recognise and value the work and wellbeing of unpaid carers.

You can read our gender edit of the Programme for Government 2020-21 here.

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14th August 2020: Making economic recovery work for women

Engender continued our ongoing work in making the economy work for women in Scotland post-Covid, as we published a briefing for MSPs ahead of the Scottish Government debate on an Implementation Plan for Economic Recovery at Holyrood. Our briefing calls on Scottish Government to scale up its ambition and the necessary action to deliver a meaningful economic (and social) recovery for women that not only responds to the threat of deeper inequality as a result of Covid-19 but actively realises women’s economic rights and revalues women’s work. You can read the briefing here.

This briefing is the latest in our recent work on the economy, and we have also released a joint response with pay gap experts Close The Gap to the AGER report, which has seven key recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider, covering infrastructure, the care sector review, training and women in the workplace.

The Scottish Government Social Renewal Advisory board, which is working to lead the development of a programme for social renewal following the Covid-19 pandemic which focuses on focuses on equalities, human rights, and social justice, is engaging with the concept of community wealth building as part of its ongoing work. Our director Emma Ritch is on the advisory board, working to ensure that women are not left behind as Scotland moves forward post-Covid, and we are keen to see how these practices will be gendered in order to advance women's equality in pursuit of an inclusive economy.

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31st July 2020: How has lockdown impacted women's health services in Scotland?

Health and social care services, and decisions over how they are run, have a major impact on women. This is not only as service users with particular needs and experiences, but as the majority of both older people and unpaid carers in Scotland. Women are less likely to receive treatment generally, as women’s pain and diagnosis is treated differently to that of men. Responding to Covid-19 has necessarily resulted in a significant reorganisation of the NHS. Screening, including breast and cervical screening programmes, has been paused indefinitely.

This cancellation and limitation of routine care may have particular consequences for older women and some BME groups who have higher risk of particular cancer diagnosis. Reduced routine appointments due to lower service provision may impact upon rural women who may have considerable distances to travel to access appointments. You can read more about our concerns around women's health and Covid-19 in our submission to the UK Parliament Women and Equalities Committee here.

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24th July 2020: Engender and Close the Gap respond to the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (AGER) report

Despite the advocacy of women's organisations, and widespread media coverage of some of the gendered issues around Covid-19’s economic effects, the report from the Scottish Government Advisory Group on Economic Recovery is not gendered. Despite the profoundly gendered nature of the crisis, which has impacted female-dominated sectors and substantially increased women’s unpaid work, the report barely mentions these as concerns. Its analysis does not integrate these gendered issues and nor is there any evidence of them in the recommendations it has produced. Consequently, Scottish Government will need to pay particular attention to taking a gendered approach within its response if it is to avoid redistribution of jobs from women to men being a feature of ‘recovery’. Without mitigation, actions for recovery based on AGER’s report will worsen women’s economic position, and widen income and wealth gaps.

We do not doubt the creativity and commitment of the individuals who were commissioned to form AGER. However, the fact that its report contains an exhortation that recovery plans be informed by gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data while simultaneously ignoring its own advice is indicative of a profound gap in capacity and focus. The policy areas the report touches on are unquestionably gendered: employment, skills, enterprise and entrepreneurship, education, care, macroeconomics. If women are not to be pushed behind by economic recovery then their different experiences of work, skills acquisition, entrepreneurship, education, and care will need to be part of Scottish Government’s thinking and action.

We have responded to the report with 7 key recommendations for the Scottish Government to consider when responding to the AGER report. They include:

  • Infrastructure spending should include childcare and social care.
  • Regional and place-based models can exclude women and other protected groups.
  • The care sector review should take place and should also include social care for disabled children.

Read the full response here.

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20th July 2020: Gender & Unpaid Work - The impact of Covid-19 on women's caring roles

Today we have launched our new report, 'Gender & Unpaid Work: The impact of Covid-19 on women's caring roles', which highlights the disproportionate amount of unpaid work done by women, which is only increasing during Covid-19, and calls on Scottish Government to do more to measure, value, and reduce women's unpaid work. Women’s unpaid reproductive labour has been ignored and marginalised within our economic and social policy for generations, but Covid-19 has at once made our reliance on care for others obvious and has intensified its demands.

To avoid a rollback of women’s equality and rights as Scotland emerges from lockdown, Scottish Government and other public bodies must consider the role of unpaid care as they plan the ways in which economic recovery and the safe delivery of transport, education, childcare, and other public services will be achieved.

Read the report here.

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10th July 2020: Covid-19 and women's equality - Phase Three update

This week Scotland made tentative steps towards phase three in its plan to ease out of lockdown. From today up to three households will be able to meet indoors and children aged 11 and under no longer need to physically distance from friends and family members outside their own household. However key questions for women’s equality remain, particularly over childcare, with the clarification this week that a planned increase to 1,140 hours of free early years care will not be introduced during the 2020-21 school year.

And while as part of the Phase Three changes childcare providers will be able to open from the 15th July, childcare providers have also warned that the current rules prevent parents using ‘blended’ care from multiple providers, which will make it difficult for parents – highly likely to be mothers – returning to paid work full time when their children go back to school in August. The Scottish Government has published a 'Phase 3 Update' to their 'Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis', which outlines the staged approach to Phase Three and when changes to lockdown rules will occur. You can view the Phase Three route map update here, and a separate route map update for those who are shielding here.

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8th July 2020: UK Government unveils plan to stimulate economy - where are the women?

At Westminster, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a “Plan for Jobs 2020” to stimulate the UK economy. The plan includes no mention of women, women’s jobs, childcare or unpaid care. There was a focus in the document and in the Chancellor’s speech on the need to support jobs in retail and hospitality – sectors dominated by women’s employment (which was noted by Sunak). The central announcements include a Job Retention Bonus, a one-off payment of £1,000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 202, and Eat out to Help Out, a voucher scheme for the hospitality industry.

Finance Ministers from the devolved administrations responded to the statement calling for greater powers and flexibilities to develop their responses to Covid-19. Engender’s principles for a gender-equal recovery show the clear need to put care and solidarity at the heart of economic policy as we move through this crisis. You can read more about the principles here. Back in May, we also submitted a response to the UK Parliament Women and Equalities Committee inquiry on the unequal impact of Covid-19, which documented the highly gendered impacts of both the virus and steps taken to mitigate it. You can read our now published response online here.

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3rd July 2020: Calling on UK Government to #MakeWomenVisible in Covid-19 response

Women and girls are being left behind by the UK Government's approach to easing lockdown restrictions. We've joined with the Fawcett Society and 65+ women's and equalities organisations across the UK to call on the government to #MakeWomenVisible in the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UK Government has focused on reopening the economy while sidelining childcare and social care infrastructure. Beer gardens, shops and self-catering accommodation may be reopening but for many parents, a lack of childcare means they cannot go back to work. Women still do the majority of unpaid care and the situation will be hardest for single parents, 90% of whom are women. We're asking the UK Government to commit to: making women safe from violence and abuse; investment in care & childcare; support for all women regardless of their immigration status; addressing the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and ethnic minority mothers; and more. You can find out more and read the full briefing online here.

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19th June 2020: Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, and Covid-19

There are very few conversations happening in the Scottish Parliament or St. Andrew’s House that don’t relate to Covid-19. Parliamentarians and committee clerks, and Ministers and officials, are all working on policy development and parliamentary scrutiny connected to Scotland’s response to the pandemic.

In the last few weeks Scottish Government staffers have been working to develop the interlocking sets of guidance that will help us navigate and gradually exit lockdown. Engender’s intrepid policy team has been providing briefing and input on topics as diverse as transport, health, education, social recovery, and social security. High on our list of concerns is the way in which equality impact assessments (EQIAs) – which Scottish Government and all of its delivery bodies must do to consider how the policy they are developing can reduce sex discrimination and advance women’s equality – are being done. EQIAs we’ve been brought in on have been sketchy, done too late in the policy development process to make a difference, and not properly used the available data and gender analysis.

Engender director Emma Ritch took part in a meeting on human rights this week with Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People, and brought the bad news that women’s rights have not been part of the conversation when Covid-19 policy has been made.

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12th June 2020: Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on equality and human rights

Engender has submitted written evidence to the Scottish Parliament Equality and Human Rights Committee inquiry on the impact of Covid-19 on equality and human rights. Our submission suggests that there has been a disappointing failure of the gender mainstreaming processes throughout this crisis despite high level commitment on equality. We have identified critical issues around the capacity of government to factor in issues of gender such as unpaid care, childcare and women and men’s differing experiences of the economy and services such as healthcare and housing. You can read our full submission online here

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9th June 2020: Scottish Government Advisory Board on Social Renewal established

Following a roundtable discussion on social renewal at the beginning of the month with the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government and the Cabinet Secretary for Older People and Equalities, this week, the Scottish Government announced the establishment of an Advisory Board on Social Renewal. The advisory board will focus on equalities, human rights, and social justice, and will work to lead the development of a programme for social renewal following the Covid-19 pandemic.

We're delighted to announce that our Executive Director Emma Ritch will be on the advisory board, working to ensure that women are not left behind as Scotland moves forward post-Covid. We look forward to updating you with information on the work of the advisory board as it progresses.

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3rd June 2020: An economic recovery that works for women

Leading women’s organisations have today called for a radical rethink of how Scotland’s economy can recover from the downturn caused by Covid-19. Nine principles for economic recovery, produced by Engender and Close the Gap and endorsed by national women’s and parenting organisations, call for a shift in the way that Scotland’s pursues inclusive growth. Ranging from investment in social care as infrastructure to the use of gendered economic indicators in place of GDP, the paper argues that unless it works for everyone, the economy does not work.

20th May 2020: Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill passed at Holyrood

On the 20th of May the Scottish Parliament voted to pass the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill. This Bill follows the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, with further, largely more technical, changes across the public sector to manage the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland. The new law maintains a duty for the Scottish Government to have due regard to opportunities to advance equality and non-discrimination whenever they exercise functions under the act, which Engender successfully called for during the passing of the first Coronavirus Act. There is also now an additional duty to consider inclusive communications.

We also saw amendments suggested by Labour MSPs which require Ministers to request information from Police Scotland on reports of domestic abuse during the Covid-19 emergency period and to take this information into account when reporting on coronavirus measures. Other key points for gender equality include the additional payment worth £230.10 announced last week for those unpaid carers eligible for Carer’s Allowance and the Scottish Supplement. The Bill was also amended to include a “social care staff support fund”, which allows for emergency payments throughout the crisis to social care staff who experience financial detriment as a result of disruption to normal patterns of work, or limits on their ability to work.

Disappointingly, amendments put forward by the Scottish Green Party which would have enabled oral and emergency contraceptives to be more easily prescribed from community pharmacies did not make it into the Bill. The Government has stated that is agrees with he aim and scoping work to make it easier to access contraception without seeing a GP first is underway. We also regret that consensus on a way forward to further protect renters could not be found, given the high proportion of women who live in rented accommodation.

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15th May 2020: The Briefing Episode 2 - Women, Data and Covid-19

Earlier this month, we shared with you our latest briefing and blog about the importance of gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data in policy making, particularly around the response to Covid-19. Today we’ve launched the second episode of our podcast ‘The Briefing’ which is focused on this issue. Hosts Alys Mumford and Amanda Stanley are joined by our Executive Director Emma Ritch and Lindsey Millen from Close the Gap to talk about data, data, and more data. Covering what we mean by gender-disaggregated data, how good data can inform good policy, and delving into the gendered dimensions of the UK Government’s ‘furlough’ scheme, it should help you get informed, make you (justifiably) frustrated, and encourage you to ask questions of the numbers we see.

You can listen to the podcast here as well as on Spotify or on your regular podcast app if you have one.

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12th May 2020: A feminist recovery from Covid-19 - leaving no one behind

Our UKJCW sister organisation the Northern Ireland Women's European Platform (NIWEP) has launched a webinar series to look at what a feminist approach to the recovery phase and future would look like, and how it could be achieved. The series will share learning and perspectives from across the UK and Ireland and beyond, but will focus on informing and supporting a Northern Ireland response. The crisis has shown new responses are possible, and our voices are more important than ever.

The first session was on 12th May and featured our Executive Director Emma Ritch, as well as contributions from Joanna Maycock, Secretary General of the European Women's Lobby, and Emma Osborne, Membership Services at Women's Aid Federation Northern Ireland. The session explored the current impact of COVID-19 on women and the women’s sector response, and also highlighted emerging responses and priorities for the recovery. The session highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis has emphasised existing inequalities and explored solutions identified at European, Scottish and Northern Ireland level. While significant challenges were identified, the overall message was optimistic: it is time for change and the sector is ready to lead it.

A summary paper is available from the session.

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28th April 2020: Gathering and using data to ensure that the Covid-19 response integrates women's equality and rights

Engender has released a briefing highlighting the importance of gender-sensitive sex-disaggregated data during the Covid-19 pandemic (and all the time).

Read the briefing here: https://www.engender.org.uk/content/publications/Covid-19-Gathering-and-using-data-to-ensure-that-the-response-integrates-womens-equality-and-rights.pdf

And a blog about the importance of data from Engender's Executive Director here: https://www.engender.org.uk/news/blog/data-matters-/

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25th April 2020: Criminal trials during the Covid-19 outbreak

Enabling access to justice for victim-survivors of harassment and abuse is a key part of tackling violence against women in Scotland, and is yet another example of an area of women’s inequality, so often ignored, which has been exacerbated by Covid-19. The outbreak of the pandemic, and the subsequent suspension of all new jury trials, has left many women deeply distressed at not knowing when their case will be heard, and may have long-term impacts on the number of cases going forward once restrictions are lifted.

We have produced a short briefing to raise points specific to the possible continuation of jury trials. We are concerned that many of these options will exclude women from participation in jury trials and undermine women’s access to justice by rendering juries less representative of the experiences of Scotland’s population. Read the briefing here.

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22th April 2020: Collecting women's experiences of Covid-19

We’ve launched a new initiative aimed at capturing how the virus is impacting on women’s lives in Scotland. This isn't just a public health issue for women - it comes with an increase in unpaid care, precarity for those in insecure housing, higher risks for those in low-paid and precarious work, damaging societal expectations of motherhood, new ways of carrying out online harassment, and many other ways in which women are being discriminated against.

We want to collect all of these stories - from domestic microaggressions to exploitative employers – to help inform our policy work going forward. Stories can be submitted anonymously at engender.scot/covid19 or by sending a direct message to @WomenCovidScot on Twitter, or you can tweet your stories using the hashtag #WomenCovidScot.

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17th April 2020: Covid-19 & the Scottish Government

The rapid response to Covid-19 has paused some of Scottish Government’s work, and also called for internal changes in how teams of officials are configured. Scottish Government has created eight hubs that are focused on various dimensions of the Covid-19 crisis and this is their stated priority for action.

Engender has had calls with ministers and officials to urge them to mainstream gender considerations into all aspects of their emergency response, in line with our briefing on taking a gendered approach to Covid-19. We are pleased that Shirley-Anne Somerville, Cabinet Secretary with overall responsibility for equality, has joined with the Permanent Secretary in requiring the Covid-19 hubs to do so.

Of the specific calls made in our briefing, we have seen equality and non-discrimination included in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act, remote prescribing and medical abortion healthcare at home approved, emergency legislation including the release of women in prison who are detained as a result of non-violent offences, and significant additional funding for violence against women services.

Our strategic focus over the coming weeks will be to ensure that we support Scottish Government to assess the gendered impacts of its rapid response; to advocate for approaches that advance women’s equality and rights; and to ensure that we see as much progress as possible on existing commitments. Before Covid-19 we were working on specific policy programmes to improve women’s representation in politics, enhance gender mainstreaming, integrate gender analysis into the ‘Inclusive Growth’ agenda, and tackle misogynistic hate crime. We will encourage Government to press forward with this work. Our goal is to ensure that women’s equality and rights do not become collateral victims of this pandemic.

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10th April 2020: Covid-19 & the Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament is currently in recess, but before this was only sitting one day a week instead of its usual three. Graeme Dey, Minister for Parliamentary Business, informed Parliament that Scottish Government intended to shelve plans to introduce bills in this parliamentary term that would reform the Gender Recognition Act, on foxhunting, establishing Scotland as a ‘good food nation’ and on the circular economy.

Other bills on hate crime and social security, in which Engender has a great deal of interest, were delayed to allow the emergency Coronavirus (Scotland) Act to be introduced, amended, and passed in one day. We hope that these will be introduced soon. Some further legislation, including on forensic medical examination, will continue to move forwards.
Anyone working to track or influence women’s equality in the Scottish Parliament can sign up to receive a weekly briefing on bills, committee enquiries, and motions by contacting our policy and parliamentary manager, Eilidh Dickson, at Eilidh.dickson@engender.org.uk

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1st April 2020: Emergency Legislation at the Scottish Parliament

As MSPs debated the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood, Engender called for equality to be integral to Scotland’s response to this crisis. Ahead of the first stage of the Bill, we issued a briefing to MSPs, urging them to consider women’s specific needs when responding to Covid-19, and the possibility of including a duty to pay due regard to the need to advance equality and eliminate discrimination when exercising powers under the Bill. This duty was then introduced by an amendment laid by Ruth Maguire MSP at Stage 2 of the Bill. This amendment will help to ensure that Scotland’s efforts to eradicate gender inequality do not roll back during this pandemic, and we're delighted that it was passed unanimously by MSPs as part of Stage 2 proceedings on Wednesday evening.

You can read our briefing to MSPs here, along with a supplementary note supporting the amendment.

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24th March 2020: Covid-19 and women's equality briefing

The COVID-19 global pandemic represents an unprecedented situation and the responses and aftereffects will have long-term consequences for everybody in Scotland, notably for women and women’s equality. These include risks to the ongoing work Scotland is doing to realise a more equal Scotland for women and men. It is vital that these programmes and the progress they will realise are not lost. Equally, women’s needs and realities need to be well-integrated in the urgent responses to this crisis.

The evidence from previous pandemics tells us that gender equality measures and action plans are vital components of an effective response. Women’s inequality around the world exacerbates their vulnerability to not only catching the virus, but the social and economic burdens of our collective response. When the safety nets put in place by the state are stretched to breaking point, it is women that are hit the hardest, and this health crisis is highlighting gaps in UK social and economic policy in an unprecedented way. This briefing explores some of the ways in which the differences between men’s and women’s lives play in to COVID-19, and describes critical issues that Scottish Government and parliamentarians should include in their thinking about crisis response, and medium-run mitigation programmes and spend.

The information in this briefing refers to the situation up to 26th March 2020. We are still in the early days of this crisis and the thinking continues to develop at pace, with new Scottish specific and UK-wide measures announced dail

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