Gender equality in Wales: a better balance?

Published 01/03/2019   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Balance for Better’. The World Economic Forum’s annual report on progress towards global gender inequality predicted that it will take 61 years to close the gender gap in Western Europe at the current rate of change, with persistent inequality in the workplace and in political representation.

The World Economic Forum measures the gender gap using a range of benchmarks on economic, education, health and political criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups.

Is Wales an equal country?

International Women’s Day is Friday 8 March, and the Assembly’s annual debate on gender equality takes place on Tuesday 5 March.

Two reports on gender equality in Wales published in recent months can be read alongside this article:

  • the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Is Wales Fairer? 2018 (and the supporting data), which looks at other characteristics alongside gender (such as race, disability, age etc.), and
  • Chwarae Teg’s State of the Nation 2019 report, which provides a more in-depth analysis of women in the economy, representation and women at risk.

In 2017 the Research Service launched a set of gender equality indicators for Wales to provide an illustration of inequality in Wales based on the most recent statistics.

This year we have updated the indicators again (where new data is available) and summarised the areas where equality has grown or reduced.


Some datasets (such as the percentage of working age people claiming out of work benefits) have been discontinued. Other data is not comparable between years because of changes to data collection (such as homelessness statistics).

  • Economic activity: the gap between male and female economic activity rates has narrowed slightly, from 79.9% in 2017 to 84.4% in 2018 for males, and 73.1% in 2017 to 74.9% in 2018 for females. Ten years ago, the female economic activity rate in Wales was 68.6%, and the male rate was 79.7% (these statistics are all for the period October to December).
  • Pay: the gap between male and female pay narrowed in two measures (all work and part-time work), but very slightly widened for full-time work. The media hourly pay gap between males and females (for all work) was £1.65 an hour in 2018, down from £1.81 in 2017.
  • Unemployment: The ILO unemployment rate decreased for females (from 4.8% to 4.1%) but increased slightly for males (4.8% to 5.1%) between 2017 and 2018.
  • Part time employment: 14.7% of males aged 16+ worked part-time in 2018, compared to 42.8% of females.
  • Self-employment: the self-employment rate for females in 2018 was 9.4%, compared to 18.8% for males- an increase of 0.2 percentage points since 2017 for both.
  • Entrepreneurship: according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the ‘total early stage entrepreneurial activity’ rate (which is the percent of the working age population about to start an entrepreneurial activity or that have started one in the previous 3.5 years) for women dropped from 5.8% in 2016 to 3.8% in 2017, and from 9.5% to 8.8% for men.
  • Suicide: the suicide rate per 100,000 people aged 10+ increased from 20.0 to 20.9 for males between 2016 and 2017, and increased from 4.0 to 5.8 for females.
  • Young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs): the NEET rate for females aged 16-18 increased from 8.1% to 8.6% between 2016 and 2017, and decreased for 16-18 year old males from 12.8% to 10.5%. For 19-24 year old males the rate decreased from 17.9% to 15.7%, and decreased for females from 19.1% to 16.8%.
  • Homelessness: the way that homeless data is collected has changed. The new data shows that females are more likely to be eligible for support to prevent homelessness, and males are more likely to be owed a duty to help them secure a home, or to be eligible but not in priority need.
  • Domestic abuse: In 2016-17 9.3% of females aged 16+ and 5.8% of males experienced domestic abuse in the previous 12 months, down from 10.7% for females and up from 5.3% for males in 2013-14.

What’s the Welsh Government doing?

Last year the Welsh Government commissioned Chwarae Teg to undertake a ‘rapid review’ of gender equality policies in the Welsh Government to understand the issues and suggest solutions. The terms of reference for the two phases of the rapid review were published in April 2018.

Phase one of the review was published on 10 July 2018 alongside research from the Wales Centre for Public Policy (WCPP) exploring international good practice. The report made a range of recommendations, a selection of which were explored in more detail in our previous article.

Phase 2 of the review is due to complete by July 2019, and Chwarae Teg is currently running a series of roundtable discussions to inform its work. Phase 2 is intended to develop a roadmap to advance gender equality in Wales in the immediate, medium and long term, across all parts of the Welsh Government.

Article by Hannah Johnson and Joe Wilkes, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales