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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Asian Women - Future Leaders

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Meg was invited to speak at the ‘Asian Women’s Day’ event organised by E3 - the Association for Empowerment of Asian Women at the Docklands Campus of the University of East London, her speech is below.


Good morning and thank you for inviting me here to speak.


It’s always a pleasure to meet with groups such as E3, which are doing such excellent work in their communities. Particularly so on Asian Women’s Day, an opportunity to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures from the subcontinent that we can appreciate here in the UK. 


“Asian Women - Future Leaders” - what a terrific title for a conference. Made all the more powerful by not having a question mark, it’s a statement about the future, the future not just for Asian women but for the country as a whole. One I am happy to endorse. Of course the question is, “how do we get there?” but your strap-line provides the answer Education - Entrepreneurship - Employment.


We know the rather depressing figures for minority ethnic communities in the UK at present, and women fare worse of all:

  • mothers of Asian pupils are the most likely to have no qualifications,  40% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women of working age have no qualifications at all, compared to 17% of white women,
  • the employment rate for the population for the 2nd quarter of 2006 was 74.4%, for ethnic minorities it was 60.6%, and for females from ethnic minority communities its 51.4%. 
  • there are 646 MPs, 15 are from a minority ethnic community, but only 2 being women - there are no Asian women MPs. 

Some of you will have see the Equal Opportunities Commission’s recent report, Moving on Up? The Way Forward, which was published last week. Their interim report last September showed that young Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean women are:

?         more likely than white women to be unemployed,

?         less likely to be in senior roles,

?         are even more concentrated than white women in a narrow range of jobs, and,

?         that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women also face a bigger gender pay gap than white women.

However, the good news is that these girls are actually doing really well at school and have the same aspirations as other young women to go on and reach their full potential.


Reducing the Employment Gap

The government is working to reduce the gap in employment rates between ethnic minorities and the rest of the population. Since spring 2003, the gap in employment rates between ethnic minorities and the rest of the population has narrowed from 16.9% to 13.9%. There are existing programmes that focus specifically on ethnic minority women, with more to come.  I’d like to highlight a few:


Fair Cities - a ground-breaking initiative designed by the National Employment Panel to help disadvantaged members of ethnic minorities get, stay and advance in work. They are testing an employer-led initiative in three cities with high ethnic minority populations - Birmingham, Leeds/Bradford and Brent in London - matching vacancies with job-ready candidates.


The Ethnic Minority Employment, Voluntary and Community Sector Strategy - involves the voluntary and community sector in delivering employment programmes to improve ethnic minority employment outcomes.


QED in Bradford has the Narrowing the Gap programme of work. QED is a Muslim faith-based group helping inactive Pakistani and Bangladeshi people in South and West Yorkshire into work through educating potential employers and potential employees. They are also working with employers to improve their diversity policies and to break down some of the myths about employing Asians, particularly women.


In my own department we are looking at ways in which we can increase the potential of social enterprise for ethnic minority women. We have produced training materials for potential social entrepreneurs and intermediate agencies to help open up this as a viable employment route. This has the potential to be beneficial for Asian and other minority ethnic women as it allows the flexibility of being their own boss, allows them to juggle work and home, encourages networks to form and helps their local communities - something I know is of great importance to you all.


Women into Public Life

One important area where more work is required is getting more minority ethnic women, and men, into public and political life. We need more women - more of you - on the boards of your local NHS Trust, or as school governors in local schools


In the House of Commons there are 126 women with only 2 from a minority ethnic community. Low by anyone’s standard. We have a long way to go to match the situation in Rwanda, who have female representation at 49%. However, we do have 8 women in the cabinet, including one of the most prominent black women in the UK, Baroness Valerie Amos, who is Leader of the House of Lords.


At the local level only 2.2% of women councillors in England are from an ethnic minority group. We have the legislation to help - In 2002 we introduced the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act which allows positive measures towards women’s participation. This legislation is having an impact, and the numbers are rising particularly in the parties that made use of these measures. 


I know many people who want to become local councillors do so because they want to see change in their local area, and want to be instrumental in bring that change about. But being a councillor is something you tend to do on top of your day job. Indeed I was a local councillor and I know how difficult it was holding down a demanding job, meeting residents from the ward I represented, and being at the Town Hall making decisions.


Last month we launched the Councillors Commission to look at ways to better support councillors, and encourage more people from a wider range of backgrounds to play a leading role in their communities. Over a nine-month period, the Commission will look at what barriers are preventing people from becoming councillors, and what steps can be taken to get more people involved. 


Some of the issues and ideas the Commission may look at are:

  • working with local business to promote more part-time and flexible working,
  • encouraging employers to value people serving as councillors by providing time off for their duties and recognising their experience, and
  • reviewing the time commitments needed to be a councillor and timetables of local meetings,
  • encouraging councils to look at better childcare support,
  • providing better information on how to become a councillor and what the job entails, such as work shadowing schemes, information and awareness campaigns in minority ethnic communities; and
  • more support for councillors to develop the necessary skills for the role. 

Women’s Organisations

I’m a great fan of women’s organisations such as E3. They provide a space for women to come together, to gain strength and encouragement from each other. I think that this is particularly important for women from ethnic minority communities who face levels of ignorance and discrimination that a white woman like me cannot appreciate.


Government remains committed to ensuring that our policies reflect the needs of women. We will carry forward our existing policy commitments and work to improve the experiences of those who lack opportunities. I hope we can work together to overcome problems that hold people back from achieving what they are capable of.


I’m sure today’s conference will help more Asian women become leaders within communities, become councillors, and become Members of Parliament. In short achieve your rightful place within society.


Thank you.

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