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Improving women's access to work and wages

Women face a double burden of poverty and discrimination. They continue to be paid less than men for the same work and often struggle to find work that fits around other responsibilities. Oxfam is working with employers and policy makers to develop ways of measuring what is 'decent work': so people in the lower end of the jobs market, especially women, can enjoy more flexible, better paid work that gives them more security and allows them to take control of their lives and put food on the table.

We are also working with women who want to get a foothold in the job market, running an employability programme in Oxfam shops where women are offered mentoring, the chance to gain qualifications and wider support to develop job skills and confidence.

Future skills

Oxfam is supporting women from diverse communities to volunteer in our shops to enable them to increase their chances of securing decent employment in the future. The volunteers become part of a supportive team in which they can build their confidence and make progress in their lives. The aim is for the volunteers to leave the project with a variety of impressive and transferable skills that they can use in the next stage of their life: whatever that may be. The scheme aims to improve their skills in retail and leadership,it gives them much more than just work experience.

Each volunteer is matched with an independent mentor who provides personalised support alongside the volunteering. Together the volunteers and mentors come up with goals that are both realistic and ambitious, and will help them to get as much as possible from the experience.

Some of the women we are working with lived isolated lives before joining the project and both the women and shop managers have described how the women have really flourished in the shop setting.

Jo Fells manages a shop taking part in the project:

"This programme has been really empowering for the four women I've worked with, and for the rest of the volunteers too. They've gained so much confidence and learned so much, so quickly. The women are role models, they inspire my other volunteers to try new things and request training in new skills"

Kiran, of one the volunteers on the scheme, describes her experience:

"I have been unemployed for over 5 years - it is a long time. I have skills but I did not believe in myself anymore. You start losing faith in yourself and you start believing that you are not worth very much. Now, a year later, I train other volunteers, I operate the till in the Oxfam shop, I manage the floor of the shop, deal with difficult customers and manage the stock. I'd love to run my own shop one day. Now I know I can do it. It is thanks to Oxfam I feel valuable, stronger and determined. Whatever I will decide to do in the future - I know now that I can do it.'"

Decent work

A research project is helping us create pressure for better jobs in Scotland.

In recent decades, the nature of work and people's experience of the job market has changed. Increasingly, large numbers of people have work which is insecure, without regular or predictable hours, and which is paid at levels which do not allow families to live above the poverty line. Some 445,000 workers in Scotland - two thirds of whom are women - are paid less than the living wage, while around half of working age adults who experience poverty live in working households.

In partnership with the University of West of Scotland and with the support of Warwick Institute for Employment Research, this project consulted more than 1500 people, predominantly low paid workers, on what they think is important to make work decent.

Our first findings have shown that there was remarkable consistency in people's priorities and they represent what many would see as quite limited expectations. These should be common practice in 21st century Scotland. But the research also shows that these expectations are much too often not being met. Decent work is something too many people hope to experience, or experience only partially, rather than a reality in their daily lives.

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