Participation, care and voice – an agenda for action

The GM4Women 2028 Participation Group hosted a workshop focusing on how too often care and caring roles disrupt women’s participation in both formal political roles and informal activism and campaigning. This discussion picked up an important thread from the dialogue we began at our event in February 2020, and a discussion that felt particularly important and essential given the role care has played during the Covid-19 pandemic and the spotlight it has received.

Having shared data, research and personal experiences in the months leading up to the event the group were keen to focus particularly on the way in which unpaid care work can prevent women from participating and also consider the voice of those who are being cared for. To do this we focused on three specific issues, hearing from speakers who introduced each of these and considered a number of possible actions and areas that would need attention to address these:

Parental leave for Councillors

We heard from Cllr Eve Holt (Manchester City Council) and also co-author of the LGA toolkit, Twenty first Century Councils: supporting women, parents and carers; and from the Fawcett Society that nationally only 7% of Councils have a maternity policy in place for councillors. The group agreed to:

  • Write to all GM Councils asking them whether they had published a maternity/ paternity leave policy for councillors, and if they did not have one what the timetable for putting this in place was
  • Also ask Councils if they had used the LGA Toolkit to review practice, or if not if they had a timetable to do so
  • Promote the importance of having spaces where women can come together to share practice and create change at councils across Greater Manchester
  • And it was recognised that the use of digital / on-line meetings necessitated by Covid had demonstrated that this means of attending council meetings can be successful and will continue to have a role to play in ensuring inclusive spaces as restrictions lift

Informal care and informal campaigning

We heard from Rebecca Harris at Signpost for Carers in Stockport about the experiences of women in caring roles and the impact this has on their ability to take part in work, social, leisure and community activity including participating in campaigning and activism. Things the group agreed were important to focus action on were:

  • Importance of flexible working for carers, ensuring this is embedded within the GM Good Employment Charter
  • Considering how to support the Fairer for Carers campaign from Carers UK
  • Acknowledging the complexity of the situation and solutions required – the reality of the number of hours unpaid caring women are doing on top of working is not sustainable, it’s important we find ways to bring their voices to politics and policy making

Experiences of care

Gail Heath shared personal experiences of caring for her mother and supporting her voice and highlighted the importance of:

  • Fundamentally, there has to be respect for the value (and not in purely economic terms) of caring throughout our lives, communities and society
  • Listening to the voice of those who are experiencing care – be that in residential, supported or in their own home – takes time, it has to be invested in and the importance of advocates should be understood; those receiving care should not be stereotyped into “one box” of views or experiences; for those experiencing care as they age the age-friendly community framework and GM commitment to being an “age-friendly city-region” offer opportunities to promote and increase the voice of older women and these initiatives need to continue to do so
  • Remaining socially connected to communities, valued and supported to continue to make valued contributions that include having a voice should be central to person-centred care
  • We need to understand the risks that increasingly digital based systems to engage pose to hearing the voices of those experiencing care

And across all three of the issue areas the group were keen to emphasise the importance of taking an intergenerational approach to supporting the participation and voice of those who are caring and being cared for, caring is an experience across the life course and It was identified as essential that women support each other’s voice by connecting with and listening to women of different ages and experiences.