Policy Impact Hub case study: Women's Policy Group Feminist Recovery Plan

Following the implementation of Government policies and strategies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, WRDA identified the disproportionate impact on women. 

This case study explains how WRDA and the Women’s Policy Group, a platform for women working in policy and advocacy roles in different organisations, initiated the development of the Feminist Recovery Plan to highlight the discrepancies as well as provide recommendations as to how government policies could aid women.

1. What are your organisation’s aims and how does influencing policy help achieve them? 

Working regionally to advance women’s equality and participation in society, the Women’s Resource and Development Agency envisions a fair and equal society where women are empowered and are a visible force for change and influence in all areas of life.

WRDA conduct research, campaign, engage with women and stakeholders, including the Women’s Policy Group NI, in a wide variety of sectors and lobby both the Northern Ireland and Westminster Government to help influence and develop policy.

2. What was the issue?  Why was there a need for policy change?

As further lockdown and social distancing measures were put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Women’s Policy Group Northern Ireland recognised the disproportionate impact that the pandemic had on women. Further, it became clear that pre-existing inequalities were now being exacerbated by the pandemic, and it was clear that these issues of gender inequality could not be deprioritised in dealing with COVID-19; as they were central to the response. There were heightening concerns around how the Government regulations would impact on maternity pay, childcare, employment and domestic abuse, areas that primarily affected women. In the responses from the Government, it was clear that there was a lack of consideration given to the needs and roles of women in Society.

COVID-19 has put in sharp focus the value and importance of care work, paid and unpaid, and highlighted the essential nature of often precarious and almost always low paid retail work. Women undertake the majority of this work and this crisis has further highlighted the gender-segregated nature of the workforce in Northern Ireland, as women constitute over 70% of health and social care staff, 70% of workers ineligible for Statutory Sick Pay and 85% of part-time workers. Women will unfortunately bear the brunt of this crisis; economically, socially and in terms of health.

Furthermore, not only did the regulations imposed due to the pandemic have a more detrimental effect on women but that impact is exacerbated for women from particular sections of the community i.e. black and racialised women, disabled women, women with caring responsibilities, LGBT+ women, migrant women and those subject to domestic abuse. For example, in England and Scotland, the Government Emergencies Charities Fund provided to the Voluntary and Community Sector had a ringfenced amount that was prioritised and provided to organisations that support women who are victims of domestic abuse, however in Northern Ireland this was not the case.

3. What was the policy solution or approach advocated to policy and decision-makers?

Calling on decision makers, The Women’s Policy Group NI called for immediate action to ensure a gender sensitive crisis response through the recommendations in the Feminist Recovery Plan. Developed by 15+ organisations with specific areas of expertise, the comprehensive 127-page long plan was devised of pillars to depict the wide-reaching economic and societal implications of COVID-19 for women. The pillars included economic justice, additional health impacts, social justice, culture and human rights.

WPG Feminist Recovery Plan can be found here.

4. How was it advocated?

  • Soft Launch
    • Feminist Recovery Plan sent to all Departments, MLAs, Councillors and media outlets in the beginning of July 2020.
  • Hard Launch (Virtual Event)
    • An online virtual event attended by Departmental Officials, MLAs, Councillors, Voluntary and Community Sector organisations and media outlets. Individual women from different marginalised sections of society spoke of their experiences during the pandemic and the impact the regulations were having on them.
    • Having the women as the speakers provided a face, a story and realism to the plan and stats that each organisation had been presented with.
  • Social Media
    • Awareness raising via social media platforms.
    • Directing researchers to this body of research specific to Northern Ireland.
    • Engaging with online and broadcast media outlets to promote the findings of the plan.
  • Strategically engaging with the Assembly and TEO
    • FRP was presented to, and endorsed by, the All-Party Group on UNSCR 1325, Women, Peace and Security
    • The NI Civil Service included responses from each Department in relation to each recommendation made in the plan
    • Ongoing engagement and lobbying plan developed for the next 12 months with specific areas of lobbying at a local (NI Assembly), national (Westminster) and international level (CEDAW).
  • Expansion of the findings and lobbying
    • Launch of the Feminist Recovery Plan Webinar Series – multiple events each month with women speakers exploring various pillars of the plan and gathering additional data from women in NI to track changing priorities for women
    • Recruitment of research contractor to make bespoke reports for each department and level of government whilst tracking all policy developments relative to the plan
    • 12-month lobbying strategy developed to ensure the significant evidence gathered for NI is incorporated into all levels of long-term government response (for example, through consultation processes, committee hearings, social inclusion strategies, programme for government, local council motions etc.)

5. What was the outcome and public benefit provided by the policy change?

The Feminist Recovery Plan is an ongoing campaign that aims to see a variety of changes to current public policy in addition to the introduction of other policies. As the plan references many inequalities that were exacerbated due to COVID-19, it is crucial that the evidence and recommendations are used in the long-term response to the pandemic.

Many of the issues such as inaccessible childcare, workplace discrimination, unequal distribution of care, domestic violence, barriers to healthcare etc. already existed in Northern Ireland. The pandemic exposed the urgent need to reimagine our economy to put care at the core and value the work of those in precarious employment. The plan provides a roadmap to not only mitigate against the pre-existing inequalities, but to eradicate them and build a fairer, more robust economy that supports the realities of people in NI.

The plan has increased awareness of the vital role women play in our society and the economic, and social, impact they have in Northern Ireland. The plan has exposed the wide-reaching inequalities that are prevalent in Northern Ireland, and the means to address these through comprehensive policy recommendations. The plan has also exposed how women were disproportionately impacted by the financial crash and are now set to bear the economic brunt of the pandemic if the Executive does not create a gendered-responsive recovery.

To date, the Executive has responded quickly to certain issues highlighted; for example, through ensuring no women being furloughed lost their statutory maternity pay, or through the expansion of the definition of key workers and support for the childcare sector. However, when we look at decisions such as releasing a 5-stage plan to reopening the economy without any mention of childcare; it is clear that gender is still not adequately considered in recovering from COVID-19.

We need a much more holistic approach to the unsustainability of the underfunded and undervalued aspects of our economy.

The feminist recovery plan calls for the reimagining of our society to put care at the core, to reassess what is considered essential infrastructure, to keep all workers safe, to remove barriers to those wishing to access work, to adequately tackle workplace discrimination, to prevent further austerity and poverty which further harms women, and to fully create a gender-responsive recovery.

In doing this, women need to be a part of the decision-making process.

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