UK: Women’s National Commission to close as part of Coalition government's reviews


As part of the British Government’s drive to cut costs and increase transparency, accountability and efficiency, the role, size and scope of government quangos have formed part of a broad Coalition Government review.

The Women’s National Commission (WNC), set up in 1969 as the national, independent organisation to present the views of women to government, is an advisory Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) which falls into this category.
It has been announced by the Government today that a number of public bodies are set to be merged, abolished or streamlined as part of this process. The WNC will be closed down on 31 December 2010 and its core functions brought into the Government Equalities Office (GEO), its sponsor department. (see below)
The GEO intends to consult with women later in the Autumn in order to develop a new model of engagement to bring women closer to Ministers. This will include engagement with WNC Partners.
The priorities of the WNC Chair and Board of Commissioners are to engage with the Government to ensure that WNC Partners have an opportunity to influence the new central approach, to work to protect funding designated to promote gender equality and to ensure that the core functions of the WNC, which historically have had such an important impact on the lives of women, will be maintained. Click here for Baroness Gould’s letter to WNC Partners.
The WNC Commissioners have released a press statement:
Closure of the Women’s National Commission
Thursday 14 October 2010
Responding to today’s announcement by the Government Equalities Office of plans to close the Women’s National Commission, Baroness Joyce Gould, Chair of the Women’s National Commission said:
“The decision to dismantle an independent and cost effective mechanism to give women a direct voice to government is yet another blow for women across the UK at a time when the Comprehensive Spending Review is likely to hit women and families disproportionately.
The Women’s National Commission has provided an independent voice of women from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to Ministers for over 40 years on issues as diverse as tackling violence against women, supporting women into positions of leadership and decision making, providing a voice for asylum seeking women, widows and raising awareness of the needs of minority ethnic women.
Partners and commentators will look back on today’s announcement and consider this move to be a mistake. The Commission’s unique, four nations’ remit and proven track record in reaching marginalised women who would not otherwise have access to government is unlikely to be replicated. This fully inclusive and nationally cohesive voice for women could be silenced altogether by this move.
The WNC has been a unique model of engagement for women across the UK and already exemplifies the spirit of the Government’s Big Society by capacity building groups of women at grassroots level who are best placed to develop and run local services and champion women’s requirements.
As the only official, independent advisory body on women’s issues to government, the Commission has over 670 Partners from across the UK’s women’s sector and from organisations working to promote women’s equality. This represents the voices of around 8 million women. The Board of Commissioners and I were very disappointed that the decision to close the Commission was imposed without any consultation and transparency of process.
The organisation, together with successive Ministers for Women from both political parties and the Government Equalities Office, has been a key feature of the UK’s work on women’s equality and is internationally renowned for its independent and impartial links between the UK Government and women’s NGOs.”
1. The Women’s National Commission (WNC) is the UK umbrella body that represents the views of several million women and women’s organisations by providing a voice for women and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the Government and into public debate.
2. The WNC was set up in 1969 by the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, with the remit “to make known to Government, by all possible means, the informed opinion of women”. Its current strategic aims are:
* To effectively influence the political agenda on issues of importance and relevance to women
* To develop and actively engage a wide ranging, diverse and representative membership.
3. A publicly-appointed Chair and Board of Commissioners provide the strategic direction and steer for the Commission. A small team of civil servants (the Directorate) manages the day-to-day work. The WNC is sponsored by the Government Equalities Office (formerly the Women and Equality Unit) which became a department in its own right in October 2007.
4. The current Board, led by WNC Chair Baroness Joyce Gould, now comprises:
Adele Baumgardt (Wales); Ann Henderson (Scotland); Baroness Haleh Afshar; Beatrix Campbell; Brita Fernandez Schmidt; Bronagh Hinds (Northern Ireland); Helen Jackson; Jan Floyd-Douglass; Juliet Lyon; Liz Kelly; Mary-Ann Stephenson; Olivia Bailey; Sarah Veale: and Vivienne Hayes. All Commissioners can be contacted at
5. Equality of opportunity for women and girls is at the heart of the Commission’s vision of a modern Britain where all women can fully participate in all areas of society. To help Commissioners to achieve this vision, we take a strategic approach to identifying and raising awareness of those inequalities that still persist and seek to find opportunities, through the strong relationships with our partners and through our relationships with Ministers and government more widely to influence public policy to bring about real and meaningful change for women and girls across the UK.
6. The WNC Budget for 2010 – 2011 is £661K.
7. WNC Partner priorities for 2010-2011 included Ending Violence against Women; Women in the Economy, Women in Decision Making, influencing the work of International Institutions and engagement in the national equalities debate to promote and protect women’s interests.
8. With a 500 per cent increase in outreach activity in 2009/2010, we met hundreds of Partners and women across the four nations through a series of open meetings, workshops and focus groups and made sure their views were made known to the Government through all possible means.
9. Our Partners are central to the WNC and now number over 670, covering a diverse range of women’s activities and interests across the UK. Any organisation that represents women is eligible to join us as Partners and we also have many individual Partners who are academics and experts in their particular field. One WNC partner Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre CRASAC said:
“Coventry are at the start of a journey of best practice with regard to our local response to sexual violence; we sit on local strategic boards, are organising Coventry Partnership’s first Sexual Violence Conference and sexual violence is acknowledged as a priority issue, particularly for vulnerable groups.
“None of this would have been possible without the work of the WNC on the government’s VAWG strategies. CRASAC have used these strategies as delivery blueprints and followed their recommendations with significant impact where it counts, with victims of rape and abuse.
“The work of the WNC will continue to impact every meeting and every presentation that we do.”
Agnes Tolmie, Chair of the Scottish Women’s Convention commented:
“For the last 40 years the Women’s National Commission (WNC) have provided a focus for women in the UK and ensured their voices are heard at the highest levels of Government.
The abolition of the WNC will leave a huge gap in the battle to combat the numerous inequalities that women continue to suffer economically, socially and politically.
This is a hugely disappointing decision for women in the UK.”