Inspiring Leeds figures call for equality across our communities & city

WOMEN and girls from across Leeds are being invited to inspire change and call for equality at a special event at Leeds Town Hall today. Women from across the city share their views on what they believe are the biggest challenges they face in Leeds.

Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 7:43 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th March 2016, 7:46 am

Dee Collins, temporary Chief Constable at West Yorkshire Police and President of the British Association of Women in Policing

“International Women’s day celebrates the contribution that women make to social, economic, cultural and political achievements.

“Whilst women strive for peace, harmony and acceptance for being who they are, there is additional work to be done to narrow the gender gap.

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“I think our greatest challenge is to ensure that the voice of women is heard and listened to in all of our communities.

“Within Policing there is much to celebrate in the progress that women have made in becoming more representative of the workforce.

“In the past five years the number of women in the Police Service has increased, taking the overall proportion of women working in all aspects of Policing to 39.4 per cent although there still remains under representation in some specialist roles such as Firearms and Safer Roads.

“Over the next couple of years, many forces including West Yorkshire Police will begin to recruit additional staff and this presents a real opportunity for us all to encourage women to join our profession and to ensure that there is increased representation from other underrepresented groups within our Black and Ethnic minority, LGBT and faith communities.

“By doing so we can ensure that the current under representation in key roles will flourish and increase.”

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, deputy leader of Leeds City Council and executive member responsible for children and families

“One of our aims is to be the best city in UK but we can’t do this without reducing domestic violence and abuse. It affects individuals, families and communities throughout the city and the majority – although not all – victims continue to be women and children.

“Last year there were 15,000 incidents of domestic violence reported in Leeds, this is completely unacceptable, everyone has the right to feel safe in their own home.

“The recent campaign to get Leeds comfortable talking about domestic violence, and the launch of the Front Door Safeguarding hub, are important steps forward in tackling what has for too long been a taboo subject.

“By encouraging more people to talk about their experiences we can help affected access the support they need to rebuild their live . Only then can we continue our push to become the best city.”

Bryony Bond from The Tetley

“The challenge for women in the arts in Leeds reflects the challenge for women in general across the UK: opportunity.

“There are more women in the arts than ever, which is great news, but there’s still plenty more to do.

“We should be supporting more women to be the leading artistic forces; to be the artists, the writers, the directors, the curators. Working as an artist takes more than guts.

“It requires the trust and support of an audience and establishment who value their voice.

“Today there are still many more men than women whose voices are heard. Why is that?

“The challenge underlying ‘opportunity’ is essentially one of value, and we must challenge ourselves, and society as a whole, to value the voices and experiences of women in the arts and beyond.”

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council

“Famous faces on our TVs and in the newspapers often obscure the scale of underrepresentation of women in politics.

“In 2016 more than half our population is female but less than a third of MPs.

“There have been fewer women MPs throughout Parliament’s history than the 459 male MPs currently sitting in the commons.

“Only 14 per cent of English local government leaders are women. Getting women into senior political roles is more than just a matter of principle.

“Politicians should reflect the society that elected them. However, women also bring different skills and judgments to decision making, which ultimately benefits local people.

“As we enter the seventh year of Government austerity, evidence shows women have been hit disproportionately hard by public sector cuts.

“Unless women have an equal voice at the table when decisions about spending are being made this trend will continue.

“Achieving gender equality in politics would be a long overdue step forward.”

Professor Margaret House, Vice-Chancellor, Leeds Trinity University

“I am very proud to be Vice-Chancellor at one of only 22 per cent of universities across the UK with a female Vice-Chancellor in post.

“Although this indicates an increase of 5% since December 2013 (Women Count: Leaders in Higher Education 2016 report issued last week) women still remain heavily outnumbered by men in the top jobs within higher education.

“I feel very strongly that a lot more needs to be done to encourage females, early in their careers, to aspire to senior management roles.

“I don’t feel that I have been disadvantaged being a woman, however I have been fortunate in that I was encouraged to apply for posts and take on roles and responsibilities early in my career that I perhaps would not have done without such encouragement.

“Universities and businesses in Leeds, and in the UK in general, would benefit from having more women in senior management positions.”

Helen Jones, chief executive officer at Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange

“Gypsy and Traveller women in 2016 Leeds face many of the same challenges in homes, health and education that we have faced for a long time.

“Life expectancy 28 years less than the local average means struggling on with poor health and significant caring responsibility.

“However, this may not be our greatest challenge and anyway, to be honest, who cares?

“We face frankly incredible inequity in accessing services that other groups take for granted but, does this mean that we ourselves are weak, needy or incapable? No.

“After decades of the ‘Big Fat Gypsy Weddings’ type of stereotyping, we are in danger of believing bad press about ourselves.

“Our greatest challenge is to recognise our own strengths and value.”

Rachel Reeves, Leeds West MP

“Women in Leeds face issues in the workplace every day and although the world of work has changed hugely in my lifetime, it is important that we continue to break down these barriers.

“Women are more likely than men to take time out to bring up children, work part time as they balance work and family life, and take time out later on to care for elderly parents and grandchildren.

“Women also account for the majority of people on zero-hours contracts with more than 60 per cent of those earning less than the living wage, at just 81p for every pound earned by a man.

“However, things are moving forward and from April 2016 all employees of Leeds City Council will be paid the Living Wage, a step which will directly benefit hundreds of low-paid women across the city.

“International Women’s Day and local events such as the Yorkshire Women in Business Awards also offer a fantastic opportunity to celebrate women’s entrepreneurial successes and encourage equality and diversity in the city’s economy. “It is important that we keep the issue of equality at the forefront of our minds all year round, to ensure that women in Leeds can continue to be celebrated and supported in the contributions they make.”

Hazel Merlino, who opened Farsley storytelling wonderland the Rainbow Factory with her sister Sarah Underwood last summer

“We had been talking for years about creating somewhere that would not only entertain children but also inspire them with a love of books.

“The biggest challenge was probably finding the courage to give up my role as a successful marketing director in London and move up north to turn our dream into a reality.

“Because the project was so groundbreaking - bringing books to life through ‘old-fashioned fun’ like singing, acting and crafts, with no technology in sight - it was often difficult to convince people that it could succeed.

“And every day is a challenge for a small business owner as there is very little support available.

“If I’d known at the start of this venture how hard it would be I don’t think I would have done it! But we’ve already achieved so much, I wouldn’t change a thing.”