Skip to content
Sign up to our: Newsletter | Newsfeeds

First Minister’s speech to Oxford University, 8 March 2018

The First Minister's speech at the inaugural St David’s Day lecture at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University, as part of International Women’s Day.
Friday 09 March 2018

Noswaith dda. Good evening.

Thank you for inviting me to speak – it is an honour to join you to deliver the inaugural St David’s Day lecture.

This college was founded by a woman, for women, and set up to give the opportunity of an Oxford education to young women who would otherwise not be able to afford it. This is a founding principle of which I know you are justly proud.

There could not be a more perfect setting therefore to deliver a lecture on International Women’s Day, and it is my very great pleasure to be able to focus today on the women of Wales – past, present and future.

Let me start with some brutal honesty.

I regret to say that the women of Wales have been almost invisible in our history. We are working hard to redress that, and I will say more about that later, but there is a long way to go. For example, there are virtually no statues of women to be found in Wales and, of our 216 blue plaques, just 11 are for women.

Similarly, if you search online for the ‘top people in Wales’, (and, let’s face it that’s pretty much how any basic research starts these days) then you will see that women are woefully under-represented.

On one such list of ‘the top 100 famous Welsh people’, there were only 9 women included with Catherine Zeta-Jones ranked highest at number 13.

On another list, ‘the 50 Greatest Welsh Men and Women of All Time’, women fared little better with just 6 entries and the highest of these ranked number 22 on the list.

(That 22nd slot is given to 2 remarkable patrons of the arts – the Davies sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret – who were among the earliest to recognise the genius of the Impressionists and amassed a glorious treasure trove, much of which can now be found in the National Museum of Wales.)

We all know that online lists can be the result of dubious editorial control - each of us would have a different opinion as to who should make such a list – but we shouldn’t underplay their significance.

Clearly, history has not sufficiently recorded the achievements of women in Wales.

So I am very pleased to have this opportunity to play a small role in putting that right this evening, and highlight some more of the amazing Welsh women of the past. Women who we may – or may not – have heard of, but who made a difference to Wales and its people and in some cases whose influence has been truly global.

As 2018 marks the centenary of – at least partial - women’s suffrage in the UK, I think it is apt to begin there.

Prospects for a girl born in the late 19th century were few and far between. Her destiny would likely be to marry young, stay home and raise a family. University education was out of the question for most women.

Campaigners, including Millicent Fawcett, fought hard to open male-only professions like medicine to women. Yet only the privileged few got a foot on the ladder of opportunity.

The suffragettes changed this.

And perhaps the most well-known of the Welsh suffragettes is Margaret Haig Mackworth, or Lady Rhondda, as she was to become.

Born in 1883, she lived a life of wealth and privilege but was not afraid to stand up for her beliefs and fight for the rights of others. She was an active member of the Newport branch of the Women’s Social & Political Union.

She joined a number of militant and even violent actions, including protest marches and an audacious attempt to blow up a postbox in Newport. After refusing to pay a fine, she spent 5 days in Usk prison before being released after going on hunger strike.

During the First World War she worked with her father in the war effort, travelling to America with him. They returned to Britain on the Lusitania and narrowly escaped death following the torpedoing of the ship.

Following her father’s death in 1918, she inherited his business empire as well as his title. She was a director of 33 companies and, in 1926, became the first female president of the Institute of Directors. She also sought to take her father’s seat in the House of Lords, a campaign she continued for 30 years without success.

In 1958, less than a month after her death, women were first allowed to take their seats in the House of Lords. Although she never took her seat, Margaret’s portrait now hangs there – thanks in no short measure to the campaigning work of 2 great modern day Welsh women, Baroness Anita Gale and Jessica Morden MP – both former General Secretaries of the Welsh Labour Party.

During her life, Lady Rhondda campaigned tirelessly for gender equality. In 1920, she set up, and financed, the feminist weekly journal Time and Tide.

In 1921, she launched the Six Point Group which campaigned on issues such as equal pay, equal opportunities and child custody.

In 1926, along with other femininsts, she set up the Open Door Council to campaign for equal economic opportunities for women.

What an amazing role model she was – and remains. She stood up for what she believed in and for what she knew was right – not for her own benefit alone, but on behalf of others. Lady Rhondda did not want special favours. All she sought was a level playing field. A plea that remains all too familiar.

Lady Rhondda’s story is quite well known but there are many other women whose accomplishments and endeavours may be less familiar but are no less remarkable.

Charlotte Price-White lived in Bangor. Unlike Lady Rhondda, Charlotte took part in peaceful suffrage protest. When the non-violent Suffragist society to which she belonged called its members to a mass rally in Hyde Park, Charlotte left Bangor and walked all the way to London, joining crowds along the way.

The pilgrimage took Charlotte 23 days, during which she helped to distribute over 500,000 leaflets, meeting huge support in some places, and violent opposition in others.

Elizabeth Andrews, born in Penderyn in 1882, was another member of the non-militant Suffragist movement.

She was politically active across the Rhondda valleys, where she recognised the heavy domestic workload of miners’ wives and campaigned for, and secured, the establishment of pithead baths. An innovation which revolutionised work and family life, and the health and wellbeing of mining communities.

In 1919 she was appointed as the Labour Party’s first woman organiser, in 1920, she was one of the first women in Wales to be appointed a magistrate.

It was Harriet Beecher Stowe who said that “women are the real architects of society.” And that couldn’t be more true of those mining communities where Elizabeth Andrews did her pioneering work.

Other names did amazing things but who most people would not have heard of:

Frances Hoggan was born in Brecon in 1843 and went on to become the first female Welsh physician.

Hester Millicent Mackenzie - the first female professor in Wales who was also the only female candidate to stand in the parliamentary elections of 1918.

Irene Steer – in 1912, she became the first Welsh woman to win a gold medal at an Olympic Games.

There are many other women I could mention – such as Megan Lloyd-George who was Wales’ first female MP, or Lady Llanover who is credited with the creation of the Welsh national costume and who was a staunch advocate for Welsh culture, language and traditions. Or Betty Campbell, Wales’ first black headteacher. There are just too many to mention.

All of these women have one thing in common – they pushed the boundaries forward for the women of their time. They took risks. They weren’t frightened to challenge the status quo. They wanted equality. They weren’t deterred by setbacks or people who didn’t believe in them. And they became role models to others, showing what could be achieved and inspiring others to take action, to believe in themselves and to follow their dreams.

Where they led, others have followed.

And so what of today? I want to talk a little about those Welsh women who continue to break new ground today – but also talk about the challenges we are facing as a society and what the Welsh Government is doing to help women achieve and prosper.

Professor Meena Upadhyaya is recognised as the first female British-Indian professor in medical genetics in the UK. Meena completed a fellowship with the Royal College of Pathologists in 2000, becoming one of the first people to do so in the field of medical genetics.

Following a distinguished career in Cardiff University, she retired in 2014 and now serves as an Honorary Distinguished Professor at Cardiff University and an Honorary Fellow of the Wales University Trinity Saint David.

Meena devotes much of her time to women in the ethnic minority communities.

She is the founder and chair of the Welsh Asian Women Achievement Awards (WAWAA), the Ethnic Minority Women in Welsh Healthcare (EMWWH) and is a Trustee for several charitable organisations in Wales.

In 2017, Meena won the St David Award for Innovation, Science and Technology.

Jessica Leigh Jones started her career aged 5 as an apprentice electrician working weekends with her father. Aged just 17, Jessica became the first female to win the UK Young Engineer Award.

After studying Astrophysics at Cardiff University, she was head-hunted to become a Research Associate in Lightning Strike Protection for aircraft.

Jessica has since taken up an engineering role with Sony where she leads the development of advanced manufacturing technology.

Dame Nicola Davies is the first Welsh woman to have been appointed a QC and a High Court Judge. A former pupil of Bridgend Girls' Grammar School, she was called to the Bar in 1976 and became a QC in 1992.

There are numerous famous names I could add to the list such as Dame Shirley Bassey, the working class girl from Tiger Bay who went on to become a world-famous singer selling over 135 million records, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, the first Welsh woman to win an Oscar.

But there are lesser known Welsh women achieving amazing feats.

Maria Leijerstam is the first person to cycle to the South Pole – the only polar world first to be held by a woman. She also set the human powered speed record for her cycle from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole in 10 days, 14 hours and 56 minutes.

She was the first Welsh woman to run the Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara desert and cycled unsupported across the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia.

The women of today continue to break down barriers in the same way as those from the past had to do.

Within the National Assembly, we have a female Llywydd and Deputy Llywydd – our equivalent of the House of Commons Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Within the Welsh Government, the Permanent Secretary is a woman.

The 4 Commissioners in Wales – for Future Generations, Older People, Children and Welsh Language – are all women.

Although the Assembly has dipped just below the gender balance we achieved in previous years, the Labour Group that I lead numbers 15 women and 14 men.

It has been the Welsh Labour party which, through twinning and All Women Short-lists, has led the way on taking proactive steps to ensure balance in our politics.

I know, as leader of Welsh Labour, that the opposition to these important developments can often resurface quite fiercely, both internally and externally.

But the regressive voices have always been wrong – as exemplified by the superb, balance and talented Labour Group which is delivering in the Assembly.

I pay tribute to the 3 women General Secretaries of my party in Wales, who have helped secure this progress and continue to do so through their tireless campaigning.

It is my strong contention as First Minister of Wales that our Government needs to be as diverse as the communities we seek to represent. You cannot have proper Government without proper representation and a range of ideas.

Diversity of representation brings diversity of thought, fresh ideas, new perspectives and a better understanding of our communities.

The Welsh Government is taking action to encourage and support women and other under-represented groups into decision-making roles across Wales.

We are making progress. In 2016/17, 47.8% of new public appointments and 50% of re-appointments were female.

And we are pursuing broader, societal changes that we think will make a big difference.

I believe that young people should be encouraged to engage with politics and current affairs. There is evidence that 16 and 17 year olds are just as likely to understand political issues as older people.

If we can engage young people – not just women but other under-represented groups as well – then hopefully we can ensure they remain engaged, get involved in public and political life, and become the role models and decision-makers of the future. This is why we recently committed to take forward voting rights for 16 and 17 year olds.

Changing the way young people think about the world, offering more opportunity, is also right at the heart of how we are trying to tackle the gender pay gap in Wales.

The way we approach Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – the STEM subjects has changed for good.

We are tackling gender stereotyping and inequality, through a range of measures right across government.

  • We are training physics teachers across Wales in gender-inclusive teaching methods.
  • We fund computer coding workshops to pupils and teachers across Wales, including specific workshops to engage and motivate girls.
  • Gender equity is now being addressed in all our STEM related funding. It is also being raised through the National Networks of Excellence in Science and Technology, and Maths.

The approach is making a difference.

Last year:

  • 4 Year 9 girls from Wales won the Innovative Packaging category of the Alupro D&T national STEM competition.
  • 3 Year 8 girls won a Teen Tech Award for their innovative work in developing an advanced scanning system to aid supermarket shopping.
  • And a team of 4 girls from Denbigh High School won 3 awards at a global Formula 1 design competition in Texas.
  • In November, I presented Loren Molyneux - a Year 12 student from Ysgol Friars Bangor – with the Dr Tom Parry Jones EESW ‘Student of the Year’ Award and cash prize to support further STEM studies.

Loren worked with the Photonics Academy of Wales at Bangor University on her sixth form project, using her experience with STEM subjects to develop a Photonics proposal that could help contribute to the future of the Welsh economy.

Through our ‘Have a Go’ initiative, young people will be able to experience vocational activities from all sectors at their own schools which we hope will go some way towards bridging the sectoral gender gap and encouraging them to consider non-traditional career paths.

We are working hard to encourage and support women into public life and to achieving gender balance in positions of power.

One of the strategic aims of our Equality and Inclusion Programme is to help to deliver a more diverse pool of decision-makers. All of the lead agencies for this programme have committed to supporting this work, through working with their own members, networks and stakeholders, to help us identify and nurture Welsh leaders now and for the future.

The lack of affordable and accessible childcare can be a major barrier to all parents wanting to access training and employment.

And so, one of our key priorities is the delivery of the commitment to provide 30 hours of government-funded early education and childcare to working parents of 3 and 4 year olds for up to 48 weeks a year.

This will give parents – in particular, women – more choice and a greater ability to have both a family and a career.

In recent years the law making powers devolved to the National Assembly for Wales have grown substantially. This has given us scope to pass legislation that matches the needs and values of the people of Wales.

The Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 was the first law of its kind in the UK.

To help us prevent violence and abuse, we are working with schools to support children and young people to understand what a healthy relationship is and how to recognise the signs of an unhealthy one.

We are taking forward national campaigns to tackle relevant issues. The first of these – the This Is Me campaign - was launched in January and focusses on gender. It encourages people across Wales to engage in conversations about gender norms and stereotypes.

We are also introducing a national framework for engaging with the survivors of gender-based violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence, giving them a voice in the development and delivery of policies which affect them

We have a lot to learn from those who have survived this type of abuse and it is absolutely crucial their experiences are central to our work.

Ultimately we intend to build a society which does not tolerate violence against women, domestic abuse or sexual violence.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Press for Progress” – and progress is being made. However, our society is still based on gender biased norms so we must continue to challenge gender stereotypes on all fronts.

So what does the future hold?

What is the scale of the challenge still in front of us?

The current gender pay gap means that women effectively stop earning relative to men on a day in November. This day is referred to as Equal Pay Day and varies according to the actual pay gap each year.

Last year, Equal Pay Day fell on 10th November. This was the same date as in 2016 and only one day later than in 2015. It marks the starting point from which women effectively ‘work for free’ until the end of the year.

Last year, the gender pay gap in Wales was 14.8% - an improvement of 0.9% on the previous year.

The facts clearly show the pay gap remains stubborn to eradicate and entirely unacceptable.

A new international poll from Ipsos Mori showed this week that:

  • 3 quarters of women say that inequality still exists in their country
  • 40% of women say they personally don’t have equality
  • One in 4 men and women say they are scared to speak out for equal rights.
  • 68% of women in Britain say they have experienced sexual harassment in their adult lives.

The huge global debate that has begun on sexual harassment – and the #metoo campaign – has had a profound impact on our politics in recent months.

The ground is still shifting on this one, and it would be wrong to say that, to date, the impact of this debate has been wholly good – or that it will secure the lasting and fundamental change that all of us who consider ourselves progressives would fight to achieve.

In Wales and Westminster I have seen what the backlash looks like. It is ugly. I have witnessed campaigns and conspiracy theories, victim blaming and vile treatment towards women who choose to speak out.

This behaviour, as ever, has been driven by powerful men through traditional media, content to sensationalise regardless of the consequences.

And more viciously still, through the use of social media – where the law of the jungle seems to apply. Bullies are not brought to justice, and on at least one occasion I know of, harassment extended from online abuse, to direct harassment of a woman who chose to speak out.

This is despicable behaviour and simply demonstrates why such large numbers of women chose not to speak out, before the empowering affect of the #metoo campaign took hold.

It has made me, like many of you, incredibly angry to watch this unfold. I have stepped back from the easy (and you might perhaps describe it as the typically male) temptation to fight fire with fire with these misogynists. To get into a scrap.

So, what is the better way? What is the way to actually make this better?

Every woman and campaigning organisation I have asked said the same thing. Let’s do something positive.

For no matter how bad things might be in politics and the media, at least there is a spotlight there – what are things like for women in workplaces outside that public debate?

And so today, I am committing the Welsh Government to be the one that does show the way. I have asked our Leader of the House and Equalities Minister to conduct a Rapid Review of our gender and equality policies, and bring new impetus to our work.

This review will be supported by the equalities charity, Chwarae Teg (meaning Fair Play), and among other things it will:

  • pull together all the good work we are already doing and highlight where we need to do more
  • investigate the best practise policies of international governments
  • consider how we move gender to the forefront of all decision-making
  • improve the collection and use of equality data
  • deliver gender balanced public appointments in this Assembly
  • better use procurement powers to promote equality
  • work with local government in Wales to create a national, sustainable response to period poverty
  • ensure that our new Economic Action Plan and Employability Plan deliver on the rhetoric in relation to gender
  • to make Wales, through our new ground-breaking legislation, the safest place to be a woman in the whole of Europe

That, I think, is the best way we can respond to the challenges in front of us.

Not with an angry tweet - but a proper, progressive policy shift towards the level playing field demanded by Lady Rhondda all those years ago.

That’s the best way I can think of to honour the progress of those women I’ve talked to you about today.

Our patron Saint David, talked about doing the little things - gwnewch y pethau bychain – and I believe that is a helpful touchstone for our response to gender inequality in the future. There’s no silver bullet, we must be prepared to challenge and change in a thousand different ways. Some of those will be small changes, that together can have the profound impact we want to achieve.

The women of Wales need to be seen and heard at all levels and in all areas of life. If people have role models they can identify with, they can see what they too can become and the barriers are broken down. We need more women in decision-making roles at all levels - local, national and international.

I began this evening by telling you that the women of Wales were largely invisible in our history.

This week we started to put that right.

If we want to get the future right, then we need to start by correcting our history.

So, as a part of the Welsh Government’s plans to mark the centenary of suffrage, we are funding a project to celebrate the top 100 Welsh women – historical and contemporary. The list will be launched in May and, in the autumn, the public will be able to vote for the Welsh woman – or women – they consider to be most inspirational.

2 new statues will be commissioned as a result. We do not want the women of Wales to be invisible any more and hope that this project will be the start of the process.

We will also fund the commissioning of Purple Plaques for as many of the original 100 nominees as possible. The colour purple was chosen to represent the suffrage movement and their sacrifices for gender equality.

I was honoured to be at the unveiling at the first of these plaques, which is located at the Senedd in Cardiff. The plaque celebrates my friend and former colleague in the National Assembly, Val Feld, who passed away in 2001.

Val was a leading architect of devolution in Wales and was instrumental in ensuring that the Government of Wales Act of 1998 included clauses requiring the National Assembly to pay due regard to equal opportunities.

She served as an Assembly Member until her untimely death. Val campaigned tirelessly for gender equality – particularly the participation of women in politics – and she was an inspiration to us all.

I can think of no better role model to leave you with on International Women’s Day.

Equality should be at the forefront of everything a Government does, and I am determined that we do not lose sight of this.

I hope that I have convinced you that we are not complacent – there is more to be done before we can claim to have created an equal future.

The Women of Wales – past, present and future - have much to be proud of. We stand committed to supporting them to aspire, achieve and fulfil their potential.



About social bookmarking



News by date

February 2019
<< Jan    
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28      
Follow us on