The pandemic has revealed various inequalities and the cost of those inequalities. Our MA student Kinga Krol followed up on this important summit theme, and found out more by chatting to local politician Sioned Williams…
During the recent Hillary Rodham Clinton Global Challenges Summit, viewers had the chance to join panels focusing on imptrant issues such as the climate crisis, global health, and social justice. During one panel, Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir and former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf mentioned the importance of female leadership and role of women during the pandemic. I tracked down one such important woman leader, local Plaid Cymru politician Sioned Williams. I began by asking her about how the pandemic affected men and women differently and how during the pandemic, women were automatically expected to do more unpaid labour such as caring and homeschooling. Moreover, most often it is female nurses that are in the front line dealing with the pandemic and risking their own health. So how is it, I asked Sioned, that women are clearly experiencing the pandemic differently to many men and how does the climate crisis add to this difference?
Sioned Williams: I would say pandemic revealed inequalities and the cost of those inequalities, within our society.
There have been a few reports that showed that women make the majority of the poor and marginalised groups within our society and that they are also the most disempowered within those groups. With that being said, we then also obviously need to think about women that are at even more of a disadvantage, which are women of colour or disabled women. And sadly it is people that are the poorest and most vulnerable, and that will suffer mostly from the climate crisis.
In fact this particular crisis is affecting them already. The UN report showed that of those already displaced because of global warming – where people had to move from their own environment and their own homes because of the climate emergency – 80% of those people were women. And that is because women throughout the world are poorer, less educated and more dependent, and they don’t have the resources to cope with the crisis.
To reflect on what you mentioned about females and their role throughout the pandemic, I would like to point out that in order to reach a more equal world, the way we value work really needs to change. This is something that we saw during the pandemic. Traditionally we haven’t valued sectors like the care sector, which is traditionally a very female sector of employment.
When you hear people, particularly the ministers of economic development talking, they are more likely to be talking about “big heavy industries”, in which women traditionally have made up a small part of the workforce. That is then giving a message of what is valued most – those big contributors to GDP – which is how we measure the productivity and success of our nation and our economy. We really need to move away from those kinds of measures, if we truly want to have a gender equal society, and it is necessary to look at things from a different lens.
KK: Former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf mentioned the importance of closing the leadership gap, and empowering women to take more leadership roles within our society. What do you think we can do to bring more female voices into a conversation about climate change and how we can encourage them to take on more leadership roles?
Sioned: There’s a lot of things we can do about empowering people. But with that being said, we need to firstly understand that you need to have a certain headspace in order to be able to think about your future and the way you can contribute to a greener future. This is sadly not a privilege you have while dealing with, for example, poverty. In order to think about the bigger picture, you need to have the capacity within your everyday life to think about those issues. And in poverty you don’t have that capacity because what you are thinking about is your survival from day to day, and if you will be able to put food on the table, or how will you be able to heat and light your house…those are the things that are going to be taking up your energy and your time. In order to get those people in leadership roles and in positions when they can make their voices heard we need to tackle those things. Because those are the barriers that prevent diversity within public representation, and prevent those voices from being heard when we are looking for solutions, when we are looking at things like the climate crisis. So for me tackling those issues has to be a priority. We can not expect people to put themselves forward when they are struggling with their everyday life.
And more specifically with women, sadly we don’t have a good representation in public life and in companies who are making those big decisions related to climate change and should be driving change in the world and have those big positions of influence. Women need to be in the room when we are planning those things because too often they’re not. We need to hear the lived experiences of women and also their perspective.
KK: Lastly, Sioned, do you think the pandemic changed our mindsets in some way and do you think it was a wake up call for some of us, that will change the way we make our choices and think about the future?
Sioned: I do think the change is coming. The COVID crisis really showed that we can act quickly if we need to, so I am hopeful that people saw that we can change and that we can do things differently if we really have to. I am hopeful the crisis will be able to affect the same type of change of mindsets. And even though certain decisions are difficult and uncomfortable, I really believe that people are really beginning to understand that we have to do things differently, in order to reach a more healthy, greener and equal future.
Sioned Williams is a Welsh politician, member of Plaid Cymru and a member of the Senedd (MS) for the South Wales West region. She is a part of the The Equality and Social Justice Committee, and her main area of work focuses around gender equality, social justice and environment.