Mark Gale, our Policy and Campaigns Manager, shares how lockdown has opened up more opportunities for young women to have their voices heard by those who can influence change.
It has been almost a year of lockdowns and adjusting to working from home and there have certainly been some testing moments. Personally, I’ve forgotten to unmute myself about 300 times. Although it has been harder to see people face-to-face, it has been easier to bring people together online. This has given us new opportunities to get young women’s voices heard.
Speaking truth to power
We have been taking advantage of bringing people together online to give young women a platform. In the past 8 months young women have spoken directly with MPs and members of the House of Lords.
- They have told Stephen Timms, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee and Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East about how the benefits system does not give them the right level of support.
- They have shared powerful testimony about the impact of the pandemic with Baroness Berridge, Minister for Women and Charlotte Nichols, Shadow Minister for Women.
- They discussed the effects that poor housing association properties have on working from home, as well as concerns about redundancies in the workplace disproportionately affecting women of colour with Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Fleur Anderson.
- They have highlighted the need for better financial support for disabled women, single parents and those with mental health concerns with Abena Oppong-Asare, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.
The response from these politicians has been incredible. MPs and Peers of the House of Lords have been moved by the powerful stories they have heard. Although change does not happen overnight there is a sense that the issues the young women have raised are moving up the ladder of political priorities.
How the pandemic has affected young women
It has never been important for young women’s voices to be heard. We know from our research that there were already huge challenges for many young women before the pandemic. Including:
- Discrimination at work
- Battling a welfare system that undermines them and fosters uncertainty and anxiety
- Unequal caring responsibilities
- A growing mental health crisis because of the load they carry
The pandemic has only highlighted and deepened these inequalities for young women:
- 1.5 million have lost income, that is 1 in 4 young women
- 1 in 8 have had to claim benefits, the majority doing so for the first time
- There is a huge impact on young women’s mental health, with growing numbers concerned about their ability to cope
Decisions are being made that have a huge impact on young women’s lives without taking their experiences into account. That is why including young women’s voices is so important. They can show those in power the impact of the decisions they make. They bring to life the challenges many are facing and they provide the best ideas of what needs to change.
Ensuring no young woman is left behind
I have been working with young women to develop the next stage of our No Young Woman Left Behind campaign.
On Thursday night, 7 women from our group of young women activists, led an incredible meeting attended by charities, Civil Servants and MPs where they appealed for change that will ensure no young woman is left behind.
Pippa, a member of the young women activist group, commented:
This year has been very isolating, so to be heard by MPs was a validation of my own personal experiences. It was reassuring to know that someone else was listening and that we can all take steps forward to make change. Policy and decision making should always be influenced by real-world stories and not solely based on statistics and cold hard data. This event allowed for a mixture of both and showed how important it is to engage with the people who are suffering as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
This is a process of reaching out, building support and seeking allies. But importantly it is an authentic process that has young women’s voices as the most important in the room.
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