"Since the replica watches advent of twenty years ago, Montblanc star series uk replica watches with classic classic design style to become the most popular watch works. We are pleased that this swiss replica watches most popular series once again usher in a variety of new products, heritage replica watches uk Switzerland Advanced tabulation tradition.

Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
Skip over Navigation to the main Page Content (access key is 2)
 

  Back to News Items Index Back to Index of      Items / Entries …

Looking Back, and Forward

Thursday, July 12, 2007

At a meeting of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Gender Network Meg gave the following remarks on her time as Minister for Women and Equality. The group comprises FCO staff from all grades and departments which meets regularly. It is chaired by the board champion, Martin Donnelly. There is also a virtual group for staff overseas, or those who want to keep in touch with the issues.

 

I was appointed ‘Minister for Women and Equality’ in May 2005. For a time I wondered why any other Ministers were required at all given that women comprise 51% of the population, and equality encompasses everyone. A Ministerial title that enabled me to meddle with every Government Department, meddle about anything I fancied - what joy!

 

For the first year I was based at the Department for Trade and Industry, then following a reshuffle in the machinery of Government I moved to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Interestingly, I note that the job and civil servants have now moved to the Department for Work and Pensions - have title will travel.

 

During my first Parliamentary year I guided the Equality Bill through the House of Commons. This Bill created the Commission for Equality and Human Rights - bringing together the existing three commissions of Equal Opportunities, Racial Equality and Disability Rights. The new Commission will also tackle discrimination relating to age, sexual orientation and religion and belief, and will start this October. Its new Chief Executive is former FCO employee, Nicola Brewer.

 

I was also very involved with the Work and Families Bill, working closely with Gerry Sutcliffe, then Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs. This legislation helped to improve maternity and paternity leave and gave people with caring responsibilities for adults the right to request flexible working.

 

I also had responsibility for implementation of the Civil Partnership Act, which came into force in December 2005. I was privileged to be invited to a number of Civil Partnership ceremonies - it was very moving to see people who had been together in loving relationships for 20 or 30 years at long last getting the recognition that they deserved. This is an area where government predictions were way out - to date there have been 18,000 partnerships formed, many more than we expected.  

 

Women and Work

One advantage I found being at the Department for Trade and Industry was that I was able to include in my brief women in the world of work. During 2006 we spent much time working on the Women and Work Commission Report on the gender pay gap, and the Governments response to it. I still find it appalling that more than 30 years after the Equal Pay Act there is still a pay gap of around 13% for full time work and over 40% for part time work.

 

The Women and Work Commission estimated that increasing women’s participation in the labour market, reducing gender segregation, could be worth up to £23 billion to the UK economy. If we had the same rate of female start-ups as in the USA we would have 700,000 more businesses, which would have a big impact on our productivity, prosperity and employment.

 

For our economy to flourish, the workplace has to reflect society as it is today, as it will be in the future, not the society of 30 years ago. It is predicted that 1.3 million jobs will be created over the next decade, and most are likely to be taken up by women. Those employers who refuse to recognise this change will suffer.

 

Women aspire to do well in work, to be successful and climb the career ladder. A difficulty has been the lack of good quality part time jobs - too many find that working fewer hours’ means that they have to take lower paid, lower skilled jobs. Opening up more quality jobs on a part-time basis is important, that’s why Government is funding a £500,000 initiative to support projects designed to help.

 

I’ve been really encouraged by how seriously some of our top UK businesses are taking this issue. BT for example have introduced flexible working for all its employees - it created lots of issues and demands but they found the results in terms of retention and productivity well worth the effort.

 

Other recommendations from the Report included starting from the basic fact that girls are still not being encouraged to try for many jobs. Few girls at school are offered the possibility of becoming an engineer for instance, with the status and pay that goes with it.

 

We need to do more to tackle those sectors of the business world held back by stereotypes of which sex can do the job. Interestingly these sectors often have severe skills shortages. By breaking down stereotypes and improving work place culture, we can draw on a wider pool of skills and talents. In turn this will improve recruitment and retention rates and increase staff morale and productivity.

 

Gender Equality Duty

As part of changing both attitudes and outcomes we introduced in April 2007 a Gender Equality Duty on public authorities. They have to have “due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment, and promote equality of opportunity between men and women in all their public functions.

 

The main strength of this duty is in its ability to ensure that public authorities change outcomes. They have to demonstrate that they deliver high-quality, responsive public services whilst better meeting the individual needs of men and women.

 

They need to take into account a number of factors when drawing up and consulting on their objectives. This includes both their roles as employer and service provider, to positively promote equality of opportunity rather than solely taking steps to prevent discrimination.  The more equality of opportunity there is, the more the scope for discrimination should be reduced and eliminated. 

 

I know that the FCO have published its plan on equality of opportunity - I’ve had a quick look at it and am interested to hear your views.

 

Conclusion

My role as Minister for Women and Equality included many issues in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has an interest, such as forced marriage, human trafficking and the commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade. I know you’ve just had the first ever female Foreign Secretary, and there have been female Ministers from the Lords - I’m not sure you’ve had a female Commons Minister before.

 

So as the world continues to change the Foreign Office will have to continue to change as well. Understanding that equality issues have to be at the heart of what we do today, understanding how to include them as we go about our business, will be vital for future success.

 

I wish you well.


  Back to News Items Index Back to Index of Items / Entries …


^ Top of Page