A woman’s work…


York Big Tent Ideas Festival 6. (ECONOMIC AND PHYSICAL REGENERATION (partnership with Aviva).

View the other York Big Ideas Festival reports HERE.

Chair: Ros Bragg, director, Maternity Action


  • Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, Associate Dean, Crime and Policing, York St John’s University,
  • Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central,
  • Prof Julie Macfarlane, co-founder Can’t Buy My Silence (by video link).

What with paid and unpaid work, women are burdened disproportionately with workload, said Ros Bragg at the start of the meeting in York – ten years after the Equality Act, the protections in place don’t work.

 Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi said that about 52 per cent of the UK workforce are women, and females dominate certain sectors but are in a minority of leadership positions in the UK. There is still a gender pay gap, because more women are in part-time, insecure, and low-paid work.

Parenthood provides a key challenge. It isn’t a bad thing, she said. But adequate support is not provided for women. Women are considered primary care givers for children and elderly parents.

Yes, they get 52 weeks of maternity leave but only first six weeks are on 90 per cent pay and then rest is statutory. Paternity leave is only two weeks, reinforcing the expectation that women are supposed to be at home.

Women are seen as the gatekeepers of maternity policy – if men want to take more leave, they have to get consent from the woman.  “Change needs to be instigated by policy makers. To support women and mothers, the narrative needs to change along with the legal framework,” she said.  

Rachael Maskell MP said that there was an intersection of protected characteristics. “Those that need most protection are furthest from power. Time is a privilege. Power must be taken from institutions to achieve change,” she said.

Challenging the legislation is a start but it won’t gain women equality, said Rachael. Those who experience discrimination will go unnoticed as they will leave the workforce. We need to occupy those difficult spaces. ‘”Rather than putting forward nudges and tweaks lets hold the system to account. Trade uions are the best space for protecting women’s rights in the workplace.“

Julie Macfarlane said we need to “give power through knowledge of law.” Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are a small but critical part of the struggle for equality. The NDS system allows employers to disguise misconduct towards women in the workplace. Threat, intimidation and use of power over women who sign NDAs.

NDAs are often used in sexual harassment or pregnancy and racial discrimination. We need to push back to get a settlement without an NDA. NDAs are one-sided agreements designed to protect the perpetrators not the victim. Legislation needs to be created to stop the use of NDAs to cover up misconduct.

NDAs are now used in 90-95 per cent of civil cases, minimising and undervaluing the responses of women.

“Dependency on the law means we don’t bring the necessary change that is required to tackle issues like the gender pay gap,” said Rachael. “Time is a massive factor, women in care giving roles do not have the capacity to make that a top priority. Injustice and disadvantage run though a woman’s life into pensions.”

The push needs to come from civil society to initiate change but it needs to be sustained. Work is changing massively and there is an opportunity for promotion. But sectors like social care are still very low paid, work being segregated (female dominated sectors).

These issues have gone on for generations, said Ernestine. “The discrimination has always been there but why is it still going on? People are tired of it but it’s not changing. Policy makers and enforcement have not taken ownership of the issue. The people who are supposed to support you are those who blame you. When women complain it is not taken seriously and, until the channels are correct, they will feel silenced.:”

Ros ended the meeting by saying that women needed to organise with determination: “We need to be creative in the action we take to challenge things.”

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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