On Wednesday 27 October Professor Paul Chaney presented findings from “Territoriality & Third Sector Engagement in Policy-Making and Welfare Provision” – a project that is part of the WISERD Civil Society Programme. These have been published in a chapter (‘Women and Policy-Making: Devolution, Civil Society and Political Representation’) – in a new edited collection by Dr Dawn Mannay (Cardiff University School of Social Sciences) entitled: “Our Changing Land: Revisiting Gender, Class and Identity in Contemporary Wales” (2016, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, ISBN 978-1-78316-884-2). The well-attended launch event for ‘Our Changing Land’ was co-hosted by WISERD and University of Wales Press.
In the presentation Professor Chaney outlined how the chapter revisits an earlier piece of work (‘Inclusive Government for Excluded Groups’), which he co- wrote for an earlier book “New Governance: New Democracy? Post-Devolution Wales” (Chaney et al, Cardiff, University of Wales Press). Published in 2001, it was written in the first months of the National Assembly and discussed civil society views on the potential implications of devolution for women’s political representation in Wales.
Launch attendees heard how many of the women interviewed in the original research spoke of their high expectations for the new National Assembly. They expressed excitement and looked forward to significant change. For example, one said, ‘it will be very exciting. I’m sure that because there are so many people, so many women that have been elected, it will reflect a lot of our concerns’. Similar optimism was echoed by another interviewee who spoke of her ‘high expectation that it [the Assembly] could drive the agenda in a very positive way’; and the representative of a prominent voluntary group felt that ‘it is going to give us a much larger voice… I think it’s very positive’.
Almost two decades on, Professor Chaney explained how the new chapter draws on a raft of interviews with members of civil society organisations in Wales. It reflects on developments since the Assembly opened its doors with reference to the nature and quality of women’s political engagement; as well as the issues and challenges associated with representation and devolved policy work. Weighed against these initial hopes, he argued that progress has been disappointing in three key respects – depth, breadth and permanency. ‘Depth’ refers to the fact that whilst the past fifteen years has seen some progress, it has fallen short of achieving gender parity and eliminating inequality. Allied to this, ‘breadth’ refers to variability across policy areas and issues; some have seen greater progress whereas others have registered little change. ‘Permanency’ refers to the fact that, as interviewees alluded to, the gains made to date are vulnerable to reversal, notably in the face of current austerity and spending cuts.
Notwithstanding this, Professor Chaney also detailed positive post-1999 outcomes. Devolution has seen the development of a range of legal instruments, institutional mechanisms and policy-making procedures with the potential to advance the substantive representation of women and promote gender equality. These were largely absent during the Welsh Office era. Compared to the early years of devolution the policy tools available to ministers today are stronger and more sophisticated. Will these will deliver greater progress over the next decade? Paul Chaney argued that this will depend upon effective monitoring and compliance, and a ‘step-change’ in equalities training in government and the public sector. It is also conditional on extending political engagement with civil society. Moreover, it also requires two further, more elusive commodities, determination and imagination.