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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Highlighting Some Priorities

Monday, January 15, 2007

At a recent meeting of the northern region of the UK Association of Women Judges, Meg gave the following speech.

 

I have had experience of coming before women judges before. In my previous job as a social work manager I came before them during court cases, usually involving children. As in the rest of life, there were not enough of you then, I hope that’s changing for the better!

 

I am glad to be here and able to talk about my role as Minister for Women and Equality, and to highlight some of my priorities. How women and minorities are viewed and treated in communities helps determine whether these communities are healthy and life affirming or not.

 

For instance, do women have access to different levels of civil life - school governor, local councillor, MP, health board, local housing project etc etc. Are the different voices of women heard and given the same weight as those of men? My role in Government includes a wider equalities focus, for instance on issues of race, religion, groups such as gypsies and travellers.

 

I do have a unique cross-cutting role within Government. For instance, I sit on a number of Cabinet and Ministerial Committees, providing an opportunity to influence policy development across a number of different departments. Examples of this would be policies such as childcare, ageing, public health and immigration.

 

Gender Equality

This Government was the first to introduce targets for gender equality. We signed up to bring about measurable improvements in gender equality as part of the 2002 Spending Review. The Gender Equality Public Service Agreement aimed to bring about measurable improvements in gender equality across a range of indicators, as part of the Government’s over-arching objectives on equality and social inclusion.

 

This Agreement set out the specific goals that were important to delivering improvements. These include areas such as economic participation and advancement, women’s representation through political institutions and local councils, and through tackling fear of crimes against women.

 

As part of this we felt that women in the judiciary should form an important element in this process. We have been working with our colleagues in the Department for Constitutional Affairs to ensure that every effort is made to increase the pipeline of women joining judicial ranks. We are expecting the final figures for judicial appointments for 2005 to 2006 to be available on the DCA website shortly. Figures for the first 6 months of 2005/6 were good, with appointments exceeding 37%.

 

Violence Against Women

The UK has a good model for cross-Government working and my own role on violence against women issues is a good case in point. I sit on three Inter-Departmental Ministerial Groups addressing Domestic Violence, Trafficking of Human Beings and Sexual Offending. My role is specifically to ensure that the needs of women are fully integrated into the development of policies and programmes.

 

Issues around violence against women are an important area for Government. I would like to set out what we have achieved in this field in the last year.

 

  • We have updated and published a cross-Government national domestic violence delivery plan to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence. This will increase the rate that it is reported, and will increase the number of offenders that are brought to justice. It will ensure that the victims of domestic violence are adequately protected.

 

  • We have established a prostitution strategy addressing prevention, tackling demand, developing routes out of and ensuring justice. This is about giving women the protection they need, and also responding to the impact prostitution has on people and their environment.

 

  • This year we held comprehensive consultation exercises on human trafficking, sexual violence and forced marriage. These will result in national action plans in all three areas next year, which will set out what we intend to do across Government departments.

 

  • In October I launched the UK Human Trafficking Centre, the first of its kind in Europe. This is a multi-agency centre which will develop expertise and operational coordination in relation to the trafficking of human beings. The centre will help victims and bring more offenders to justice.

 

  • We provided £2million for specialist advice in courts. This will ensure that our expanded Domestic Violence Court Systems - now including 53 courts - work better. Since their introduction two years ago, the number of recorded cases of domestic violence has increased by 32%. Successful outcomes rose from its lowest recorded point of 46% in 2003 to 59% in 2005. This is a significant change in just two years.

 

  • Over the last three years we have invested more than £30 million in new domestic violence refuge provision and the refurbishment of existing schemes. Each year around £50m of revenue funding goes into housing based support through the Supporting People Fund.

 

  • We are providing £150,000 this year to support UKRefugesonline, as well as £100,000 towards the free domestic violence helpline.

 

When we negotiated the first cross-Government Gender Equality Public Service Agreement in 2003 we were committed to ensuring that a target on domestic violence was included. We are currently looking at how we can make sure that domestic violence is given prominence in the forthcoming 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

 

In April 2007 we will be introducing a new Gender Equality Duty. This will require public authorities to promote gender equality, and actively work to eliminate discrimination. Preventing and responding to violence against women will be just one of the issues that will need to be considered.

 

I have recently been to Madrid, where the Council of Europe launched its Blueprint to tackle violence against women. When I met with other European Ministers with responsibilities in this area, it was clear how far advanced the UK’s policies and programmes are compared with many other Member States. Not just on domestic violence, but on sexual offending, trafficking, prostitution, and forced marriage.

 

Let me move on to other areas of interest in regards to gender equality.  

 

Gender Pay Gap

We have made progress on issues such as inequality in pay between women and men. The gender pay gap, as it is known, has reduced dramatically in the last 30 years.  But there is still a median gap of just under 13%, meaning that for every pound earned by a man, a woman will only earn 87 pence. This is not acceptable; we want to see further and faster progress made on reducing the gap between men and women’s pay.

 

As you may appreciate, the causes of the pay gap are complex and multifaceted - there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem.  Legislation addresses some aspects of inequality, and there is no doubting that the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act have played an important part. 

 

But, legislation alone doesn’t address all of the issues, such as occupational segregation, differences in education and qualifications, differences in length of work experience. It doesn’t tackle the shocking waste of skills and talents that arise from gender inequality.  That’s why Government is balancing the legislative approach with activity in other spheres.

 

Central to this is implementation of the Government’s Action Plan in response to the Women and Work Commission’s report.  In their report, the Women and Work Commission examined all of the causes of the gender pay, and the opportunities gap, and made a set of practical and realistic recommendations to tackling this persistent problem. 

 

Opening up more quality jobs on a part-time basis is one key challenge; the pay gap remains unacceptably high for women working part-time. My department, Communities and Local Government, will run a £500k initiative to support projects that increase the number of senior and quality jobs that are available part time.  An announcement on the criteria for the applications to the fund will be made shortly.

 

Creating a New Framework

Moving forward, the Government is committed to a comprehensive programme of reform that goes beyond tackling individual instances of discrimination. We need to create a new framework to challenge persistent patterns of discrimination and inequality, and promote and protect diversity, good relations and human rights.

 

This programme has three elements:

  • the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights established by the Equality Act,
  • the Equalities Review and
  • the Discrimination Law Review.

 

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights will champion equality, diversity, and human rights as defining values of our society. It will encourage all our institutions to operate for the benefit of every individual. The Commission is currently setting itself up and will open its doors in October this year.

 

I hope I have been able to highlight areas of my job as Minister for Women and Equality that you engage with in your position as judges. I am happy to take questions and comments on them.

 

 


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