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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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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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