Bishop of Derby speaks about the Importance of Women’s Economic Empowerment

DerbyOn 5th March 2015 the Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alastair Redfern, spoke in a debate to mark International Women’s Day, entitled ‘this House takes note of women’s economic empowerment and the progress in achieving it that has been made in the United Kingdom and internationally.’

The Bishop spoke about the importance of increasing workplace diversity in the UK, as well as the work of Christian Aid in empowering women overseas, alongside the need to challenge the myth that women taking jobs will displace men.

Baroness Garden responded for the Government and addressed a number of the points raised by the Bishop. Her comments can also be found below.


The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to be the first man to speak in this debate, particularly having been gently chided by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, about wearing a dress. Still, perhaps that is suitable bridging attire at this moment in the debate. I am also very conscious that the church could be seen to be behind the curve on this issue, as has been mentioned, and I hope that noble Lords can see that we are trying very hard to catch up and make proper progress. I want to do three things in this short address. I want to take up the theme that the noble Baronesses have talked about, the international perspective; look at some issues in the UK; and say what we might learn in terms of policy priorities.

A number of speakers, especially the noble Baronesses, Lady Bottomley and Lady Armstrong, have mentioned the importance of an international perspective. I declare an interest as a director and trustee of Christian Aid. It is axiomatic in the developing world, as we have heard, that if you invest in women you invest in an advance for the economy. In western Afghanistan, for example, Christian Aid has been working for over 30 years with partners. There are more and more women-headed households because of all the conflict. We have pioneered a new form of silk production and offer training in technology, with 1,400 women in those businesses. That is producing income that is now being diversified into other sectors such as clothing manufacture, and it is women who have the drive and commitment to make that happen. In Mali, Christian Aid, with partners, has helped 4,000 women to gain access to land. As a result, vegetable production increased by 50%, with women leading and directing the businesses. So it is axiomatic that this is a sensible thing to do.

If noble Lords want more scientific evidence, some might know about Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women initiative. In 2008, Goldman Sachs set up this initiative to provide business education, mentors, networks and links to capital. By 2013, it had enrolled its 10,000 women across the world, and of course it does a scientific analysis of the programme’s effectiveness. It shows very clearly that revenues have been increased, jobs have been created and there has been an expansion of women’s contribution to their communities. There is a very clear message, as we have heard: if you invest in women for development, the whole of society benefits.

I want to remind us of some of the factors in our own context, if we accept the principle of investing in women for economic and social development. The Fawcett Society has done some interesting research to show a number of factors that I invite us to think about and the Minister perhaps to comment on. There has been a very welcome growth in jobs in the private sector since 2010, much trumpeted and very valuable. Some 59% of those jobs have gone to men and 41% to women, so we have to think about how we are proactive in giving women equal opportunities.

Further research shows that many women work well below their qualification level in the labour market. We have heard some speeches about getting behind through taking time out for child-rearing, but another factor that might be important is that the jobseeker’s allowance has a strong emphasis on getting people into work; that is understandable, but it can have the effect of getting people into work so quickly that they have to take work that is below their level of ability and skill and therefore not fulfilling their potential. Those people are mainly women, who end up working below their qualification level. We need to take some kind of look at the jobseeker’s allowance strategy.

A final bit of research about our own context is that 85% of the money saved from tax and benefit changes has come from the pockets of women. I invite the Minister to comment on that. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said that women need to keep more of what they earn, but 85% of the money saved from tax and benefit changes has come from the pockets of women.

I raise the issues, finally, of policy direction and policy priority. Goldman Sachs has done a very interesting study of Japan which I think can put alongside our own context some markers about policy issues. It has shown that the amazing progress of Japanese culture and economics in involving women has been made through a series of targets: targeting female representation in various fields, as we have heard other speakers mention; targeting lifting female labour participation in particular age groups through a reading of the economy and its potential; targeting the boost of the supply of childcare; targeting an increase in the percentage of fathers who take up paternity leave, which is a shift towards equality; and targeting the issue of companies making disclosures about gender policy and gender practice.

From that research, Goldman Sachs highlights three sectors and a number of issues that we might consider for our own policies with our Government and our business practice. On government, the research says that we need to encourage gender diversity target setting, and the Government need to lead the way. We need to boost female representation in government. That is a very important sign. We need to promote, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, said, female entrepreneurship. We need to encourage retraining opportunities, and we need to invest in childcare. They are issues of policy priority for Government.

In the private sector, the research shows that we need to stress the business case for diversity. There are plenty of studies which show that. We need to create a more flexible working environment. In particular, schemes for evaluating performance and ensuring promotion need to be much more targeted towards embracing women, including women coming at different speeds into the labour market.

We need, in the private sector, to set clear diversity targets. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the danger of “all talk”. How are we going to encourage the private sector to set clear diversity targets? How are we going to introduce more flexible employment contracts? What is very interesting in the private sector is the Australian model, which you may know about. In Australia they realise you have got to do what they call “engage the majority” in terms of the workplace and the economy, and therefore you need male diversity champions. In Australia the effect has been very significant of male diversity champions acting in this field, especially in the private sector.

Finally, in society we have to challenge the myth that women taking jobs will displace men. In fact, as we have heard, when women take jobs, the whole economy and culture benefit. In society, we have to tackle the mindset that we have heard about violence against women and girls, which is the substructure of discrimination and not taking rights and opportunities seriously. This is the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, spoke about.

I think there is great encouragement of the general principle of women being at the forefront of economic development and its well-being for society in terms of our experience in an international context. There are serious issues we have to face about women having the right opportunities in the UK. There are some important policy issues for Government, the private sector and society that we may do well to take seriously if we really want to make some progress in this area.


Baroness Garden of Frognal: [extract]  I am delighted to attempt to respond to contributions which have covered a very wide range of topics and themes from both men and women. Any hope of ending gender inequality will be achieved only with the active involvement of men. The noble Baroness, Lady Greenfield, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, my noble friend Lord Storey and others spoke of men as being the agents of change for gender equality. At the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, the UN will mark the HeForShe campaign…..

…. Looking to education, many doors have been opened but there are still barriers to be overcome. I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate and the church for all that it does in education in this country. How exciting it was to have in this House the Bill on women bishops, which is going to fast-track women on to the Bishops’ Benches. I am not sure how far the role brings economic empowerment, but I am sure that spiritual empowerment should be equally valuable…..

…..I will not be lured into pre-empting my noble friend the Minister next week, when the amendment on transparency of pay comes up. Rest assured, however, that the Government have done a great deal and have taken practical measures to ensure equal opportunity, whether it be in Parliament, among judges and editors, or on boards. However, as the right reverend Prelate also said, women very often take jobs below their qualification level, which is another feature of the lower pay that women may receive. Very often it is part-time pay, which is one of the factors that influenced the OECD measurement—it was factoring in part-time pay as if it was full-time pay…..

…..The right reverend Prelate mentioned the work of Christian Aid, which has such importance and has had such an impact on underdeveloped countries. My noble friend Lady Jenkin referred to family planning, proper maternity care and health for women. That, of course, can have an enormous impact on women’s lives in these countries. We have put women and girls at the centre of our development efforts. We should be proud that last week we passed a Bill to put into legislation a target of spending on overseas aid of at least 0.7% of national income. We hope that our efforts will enable women to exercise voice, choice and control, which are critical to ending poverty and building freer and fairer societies.

(Via Parliament.UK)