Woman gives impassioned speech at WEN Wales event, We Belong Here: Women's Takeover of the Senedd

‘Women’s voices have to be heard’

Published: 08/03/24 | Categories: Uncategorised, Author: Victoria Vasey

This International Women’s Day, Victoria Vasey, Director of the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales, reflects on the journey towards women’s equality and the importance of civil society in getting there.

On 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day. Its theme this year is ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress’ and the focus is combatting financial disempowerment of women.

As is the case every March, this is an opportunity for us all to try to find time to recognise and celebrate the achievements of phenomenal women, to consider priorities in the drive towards women’s equality at home and globally, and to boost funding to empower women to drive change.


Across the world we will enjoy stories of extraordinary women, particularly those who have excelled in their professional fields and hear of the investment that has been made in them.

At our IWD 2024 WEN Café, we are proud to be learning from and celebrating the achievements of women across the arts, politics and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

We will also remember the contributions of our 100+ Welsh Women (100 sounded neat when we started this project several years ago, but of course there are far too many wonderful Welsh women to stop there) and the remarkable women who are slowly, but surely, being recognised across Wales through the Purple Plaque initiative (run by remarkable women, no less).


This celebration is important. It really is. These extraordinary women stand as role models to us all. Their achievements are a source of pride, joy and inspiration, demonstrating what women can do in a world in which the odds are stacked against them achieving professional excellence (which still does not, of course, always come with equal pay).

But the stacked odds persist and the indicators of women’s economic disempowerment are stark. In Wales, the 2023 gender pay gap stood at 12.4% (modestly better than the UK average of 14.3%). Not only are women paid less per hour, they are also more likely to be working part-time or to be economically inactive, with 26.1% citing caring responsibilities as the main reason for this, compared to 7.3% of men.

As a result, women in Wales have lower wealth and savings than men, are less likely to own a home and more likely to live in pension poverty. These issues are compounded particularly for single mothers, disabled, and ethnic minority women, who experience additional intersectional discrimination and disadvantage.


Women play professional and financial catch up after giving birth and looking after very young children. They bear the brunt of juggling work and childcare. They suffer harassment and discrimination at work. They suffer pain, embarrassment and lost opportunity through periods, menopause and conditions connected to reproductive health and societal attitudes to and lack of awareness of them. They navigate lives blighted by gender-based violence, and they shoulder a disproportionate burden in unpaid caring responsibilities.

These structural inequalities (which comprise by no means a comprehensive list) are complex, overlapping and sometimes interconnected. No matter how hard it may be, they must be fixed.


Tackling inequalities requires action from government, from the private sector and from civil society. Both the Welsh Government and the private sector are promising and taking some action. This is imperative, of course, but in order for progress to be real and to be effective and to accelerate, we need a healthy and robust civil society.

Women’s voices, in their rich diversity, have to be heard and to be centred in policy-making. Expertise in all of the issues which contribute to women’s economic disempowerment within civil society must be grown. Now, though, it is shrinking.

Funding into all sectors of vibrant Welsh civil society is at crisis point. The situation for the women’s sector is one of the most acute. The September 2023 closure of Chwarae Teg, a national organisation which has been championing women’s equality since 1992, was a huge blow and effectively extinguished considerable funds from the women’s sector, which was already underfunded (as highlighted in a recent Rosa report, which noted that only 1.8% of £4.1 billion in grants awarded to UK charities in 2021 went to women and girls focused activities).


But the sector has lost a lot more than money. We lost an organisation – in a tragic twist on this year’s IWD theme – focused on the economic empowerment of women. Women in Wales will no longer directly benefit from their programmes and initiatives. Their important voice in calling for change has gone. Much of the expertise which their many staff grew over many years in the context of long and meaningful institutional knowledge has gone, from civil society, at least.

All this must be replaced and more. We must see more funding into the women’s sector, but we must also continue and improve our partnership working and better benefit from the vibrant and generous-spirited civil society we have in Wales.

It is clear that the path to women’s economic empowerment and women’s equality is complex and multifaceted and that all of our sectors within civil society are key to finding sustainable and mutually supportive solutions. We must ensure a gendered lens, which tracks across all of civil society’s work, be it immigration, housing, poverty reduction, climate action, criminal justice and more.

Some of that work is already being done and the will to do more is indubitably there. But more resource is needed, both in the women’s sector and in Welsh civil society more generally to ensure we can collaboratively rebuild from this setback towards a Wales free from gender discrimination – for all women and in all aspects of our lives.

Invest in women: we will accelerate progress.

Find our more about WEN Wales at wenwales.org.uk.