On Wednesday 7th June, WISERD Co-Director, Professor Paul Chaney gave a keynote address on Women, Civil Society, Politics and Policy-making at the College of Human and Health Sciences (CHHS), Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and University of Wales Press Research conference, ‘Gender in Wales Then and Now’ at Swansea University.
In the presentation, Professor Chaney outlined how, in the 1990s in order to secure a new mode of democracy founded on equality between the sexes, feminist campaigners played a key role in shaping the institutional blueprint of the National Assembly for Wales. He argued that initial aspects of devolved governance appeared to bode well. Most notably the National Assembly claimed an international first with gender parity amongst the Assembly Members elected in 2003.
Drawing on recent work (Chaney, P. in Mannay, 2016) he proceeded to offer a critical assessment of the progress made over the Assembly’s eighteen years. Attention focused on the nature and quality of women’s political representation and participation – as well as the issues and challenges associated with devolved policy work.
Particular attention was given to how women’s organisations in civil society have adapted to devolved governance, and how well the institutional design and implementation of devolution has served the pursuit of equality. He argued that civil society organisations (CSOs) face real challenges in relation to their capacity to engage with politics and policy-making owing to the effects of austerity and staffing cuts.
Other issues outlined included poor media reporting of devolved policy debates (this results in limited awareness of the opportunities available to CSOs to influence government), as well as a wariness and/or reluctance to engage in “political” matters. Professor Chaney argued that these are key issues that need to be addressed in order to secure a vital democracy.
Professor Chaney also asserted that future progress depended on boldness and the seizing of political opportunities. Devolving further aspects of income maintenance aspects of social protection (‘Social Security’ – as has occurred in Scotland and Northern Ireland) – and the use of gender quotas in ‘devolved’ elections were measures that he argued may lead to further progress in advancing gender equality over future years.
 Chaney, P. (2016) ‘Women and Policy-Making: Devolution, Civil Society and Political Representation’, Chapter 11 in Mannay, D. (ed) Our Changing Land: Revisiting Gender, Class and Identity in Contemporary Wales, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, ISBN 978-1-78316-884-2