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Equality and diversity can change governance

4 December 2007

Sabrina Hashem (Cardiff, MEWN Cymru): As Bethan Jenkins writes below, over the last 8 years the gender balance in Welsh politics has been changing. Out of the 60 elected Assembly Members in 1999, 36 were male and 24 female. In 2003, the National Assembly for Wales had the ideal gender balance of 30 male and 30 female AMs, a world first. Also, out of a potential 9 cabinet posts, 5 were appointed to women.

This year the distribution has been changed slightly - to 28 female and 32 male, with 4 female cabinet members. Nonetheless, Wales still has one of the highest representations of women in a regional parliament in Europe. Also the first AM from a Black or Ethnic Minority (BME) community, Mohammad Asghar, was elected.

This change in the balance of the administration has, I believe, been reflected in changes in the way that we are now being governed in Wales. For example, out of the female AMs there is a good proportion of young women, and numerous AMs have had previous experience of working in the voluntary sector. This grass roots level experience seems to be reflected in the amount of positive community engagement both the National Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government have participated in. At MEWN Cymru we have a Partnership Working Agreement where we are looking at addressing this issue of the engagement between the government and BME communities, with a view to increasing both its quantity and quality.

The Welsh Assembly Government's Voluntary sector scheme, and the creation of a specialised 'third sector' unit, is crucial to formalising links and partnerships between the public and private sector, and provides recognition of the work that the third sector does. It will also enable dialogue, where organisations working with women can identify issues from a bottom up approach to a strategic level. The government's Communities First programme, which targets disadvantaged communities in Wales, has identified certain sectors of the community for which projects have been set up (for example BME communities in Cardiff and Newport, and a project aimed at tackling domestic abuse in Neath Port Talbot) - all of which will encompass marginalized women in these communities.

The significant achievement of gender balance in the governance of Wales should therefore be acknowledged not just as an achievement in the field of women's equality, but as something that has produced tangible, on the ground results. However there is still a lot of work to be done to get women into public appointments, and allow them to contribute to the communities they live in strategically. Also, now that a male BME AM has been elected, it will be interesting to see whether a female BME AM will be elected at the next election, and if the National Assembly can continue the progress it has made in providing equal opportunities for representation in the decision making processes of Wales.

It is fair to say that while the National Assembly is making good efforts towards gender balance, there is still some way to go in terms of reflecting the diverse nature of the Welsh community in the Assembly. However we know that the WA is aware of and anxious to address the issue which is why they engage with organisations such as ourselves. We look forward to a continuing positive relationship between the WA and all organisations representing BME women.

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