Women of the North East stand up for their rights

Our Routes to Solidarity programme works with minority ethnic women in the UK affected by poverty, inequality and discrimination. Sara Ganassin explains how women in north-east England are using the international legal framework to advocate for practical changes that will combat gender inequality. 

What will it take to bring about global gender equality? Poverty and violation of women’s rights are still a tangible reality for many women even in a very rich nation like the UK. 

A combination of the recession and political changes has led to a massive reduction of women only services and spacesIn the five years that I have lived in the north-east of England, I have had the privilege to work with many inspirational women. Unfortunately I have also witnessed the drastic impact of economic crisis and austerity measures on women. A combination of the recession and political changes has led to a massive reduction of women only services and spaces.

Poverty is on the rise: the north-east region has the highest levels of unemployment, long-term sickness, and disability and benefit claimants and has some of the poorest, most deprived areas in the country. Some women are more vulnerable to poverty and inequality than others, including single parents, unpaid carers, women with disabilities and ethnic minority women.  

Prior to the start of the economic recession in 2009, women in the North East were already more disproportionately affected by economic inequality compared to women in other regions of England. This has worsened as a result of the government’s austerity measures, introduced in 2010 to reduce the national deficit. According to the Fawcett Society, women now face a “triple jeopardy” arising from job losses, reductions in welfare spending and a ‘looming care gap that women will be expected to plug’.
This picture looks to get worse as further cuts to public spending are planned and over-stretched voluntary groups and services fight to keep their doors open to increasing numbers of vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

Using the UN convention on discrimination against women

The UK Government is committed to fully implement the Convention, to ensure the practical realisation of equality between women and menOxfam works to support women and others to claim their rights and to become aware of the legal frameworks that will help them to do so. This is as true in the UK as it is in the rest of the world.

In January 2014 Routes to Solidarity (part of Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme) launched a project in collaboration with North East Women’s Network, which works to strengthen the women’s sector by encouraging and supporting collaboration and building partnerships across other sectors in the north-east region of England.

The project raised awareness of gender roles, collecting evidence of the impact that welfare reforms are having on women and highlighting the importance of supporting the women’s sector in the North East. 

The project draws on the UN’s Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women or CEDAW as a practical legislative framework to support women and their support groups in the region. As a signatory to CEDAW, the UK Government is committed to fully implement the Convention, to ensure the practical realisation of equality between women and men in this country.

Participants at the CEDAW conference.Credit:Sara Ganassin

As the CEDAW legislation is vast, our project focused upon the conclusions and recommendations of the UK CEDAW committee surrounding women’s education, skills, employment, and economic rights (CEDAW/C/GBR/CO/7, 26th July 2013). The project included two local women-only workshops (in Northumberland and Tees Valley), designed to raise awareness of CEDAW and give guidelines on how it can be used as a framework to influence policy makers and
commissioners. Participants from grassroots women’s groups, voluntary organisations and service providers explored the issues that prevent women from accessing education and employment. A workshop participant wrote in their evaluation:

“I feel absolutely thrilled at the level of energy, enthusiasm and determination shown by those strong women. It felt like the good old campaigning women days. At last, a way to confront welfare reforms etc according to international law.”

Four points emerged consistently from the workshops:

  • Need for affordable childcare
  • Need for free language provisions for non-English speakers and women with literacy issues
  • Micro business and women lead enterprises could offer opportunities for women, especially in rural areas 
  • Structural inequalities and the importance of understanding the convention on women’s rights in order to tackle them

We took forward these points at a final policy event Improving the Economic Position of Women in the north-east of England in March 2014. As a result of the event a group of women from the North East have come together to work on a charter aimed at policy makers, commissioners and providers of education, skills and employment.  

The way to gender equality is long and full of obstacles however we believe that, by coming together, women and organisations supporting them have the powers to raise awareness of gender inequality and take collective proactive measures to inspire and promote change around the word and on our doorstep.

Read more

Read more about our UK poverty programme
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The Tyne Bridge at sunset – Newcastle Gateshead Quayside – Tyne and Wear Credit: Glen Bowman via flickr
Participants at the CEDAW conference. Credit: Sara Ganassin

Author: Sara Ganassin
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.