As we begin to move out of recession, it is now more important than ever that we address the barriers facing women in the workplace. We are living in a changing world, and we need to take this opportunity to shape a society which ensures women participate equally in the economic growth of our nation, and have equal access to the benefits this brings.
The key to encouraging greater economic equality is childcare. The cost and availability of childcare is a significant barrier to working parents, particularly to women. We need to support these women, by providing flexible, affordable childcare, with ‘wrap-around-care’ offered in schools; so that both mothers and fathers can do a proper day’s work.
This will not only stimulate the growing economy, but it will begin to address the gender division in the workplace. And let’s not forget the value of decent childcare in tackling child poverty, in providing children with the best possible start in life.
We must also think about the place of women in our society, about the occupational segregation that exists in our workplaces. Increasingly, women are employed in low-paid and part-time work. If we are serious about wanting women to have equal access to employment and the jobs of the future this needs to change.
We need to ensure that women have equal access to further education. In the recession it is women who are bearing the brunt of college cut-backs, losing out on part-time college places. We need to equip women with the skills they need to compete in the workplace, and this starts with widening access to further education.
So that’s why, in the run-up to International Women’s Day on March 8, we are out in Edinburgh speaking to women and they are telling us that their problems are part-time and low-paid employment and the cost of living crisis. We want to know what women think about the political process and – importantly – how we can get even more women involved in helping to shape the decisions which affect them.
It’s sometimes said that we live in a man’s world. The reality is, however, that it’s the women who more often than not are holding homes and families together. We are too often the forgotten army which keeps our country moving.
It’s time to change. Let’s hear more of what women have to say.
• Gloria De Piero is UK Labour’s women and equalities spokesperson and Kezia Dugdale is Scotland’s shadow cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning.