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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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Wordcloud of the submissions to #WomenCovidScot

2nd October: 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.

23rd September: #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.

2nd September: 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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24th July: 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: 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: 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: 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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19th June: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 daily. Engender will continue to monitor events and look to supplement this briefing as necessary.

You can read the briefing here, and an accompanying blog here.

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