Different Lives, Different Needs, Different Services

Miles Cooper reports on the Gender Equality Duty…

The gender equality duty will require public authorities to pay due regard to promoting gender equality and eliminating sex discrimination. This means service providers and public sector employers will have to design employment and services with the different needs of women and men in mind. It will require public bodies to set their own gender equality goals, in consultation with their service users and employers, and to take action to achieve them.

Public service providers will need to look at who uses their services, and ask:
– What are the priority issues for women and men in the services we provide?
– Do they have different needs within some services?
– Will women or men be put off using a service because of lack of childcare or an unsafe or unwelcoming environment?
– Are there some services which are more effectively delivered as women-only or men-only?

Public sector employers would also need to look at their employment practices and consider the needs of all their staff, including those that identify as transgender or transsexual. We should see increased childcare provision and more flexible working as public bodies respond to the needs of parents and carers.

Real outcomes for real people
The new duty is enforceable by law: instead of depending on individuals taking complaints about sex discrimination, the duty places the responsibility on public bodies to demonstrate that they treat men and women fairly and are taking active steps to promote gender equality. By requiring public bodies to understand the implications of their policies for women and for men, and leading to a better user focus in service development, the duty will lead to progress in gender equality but also to better public policy overall.

It should generate policy-making that is sensitive to gender differences, services that are tailored to meet the different needs of women and men, employment practices that challenge occupational segregation and remove the barriers to women reaching their potential, and procurement practice that promotes equality.

The gender equality duty is part of the larger Equality Bill that is currently going through Parliament. The Bill will establish a new single Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) that will bring together all six strands of discrimination – race, age, gender, disability, religion and sexual orientation – into one unified organization. {mospagebreak}

What will it mean for the public?
The gender equality duty should mean that women and men get services that meet their needs. For example, you may recognise these situations from your own experiences:
– Men are less likely than women to visit their GP, which means that they often seek treatment late in an illness. This is bad for their health and wellbeing, and costs the NHS more in the long run. For example, although women are more susceptible to lung cancer, more men die of the disease because they seek help late.
– Women use public transport in different ways and for different reasons than men, both to get to work and to access services, childcare and food shopping. But transport services and town planning rarely recognise this. They often don’t provide easy access to transport for those carrying children or pushchairs, or recognise that women have a greater fear of travelling at night.

Service users and employees should also be consulted by public bodies in setting gender equality goals and priorities.

What will public bodies need to do?
The gender equality duty is expected to become law in April 2007. On that date, public bodies are expected to have their action plans in place, so preparation is needed now. Promoting gender equality effectively means a fundamental re-think in the design and delivery of services, as well as having implications for employment policy and practice. Those who get it right will reap the benefits in terms of improved customer satisfaction and staff productivity.

The duty to pay due regard to eliminating unlawful sex discrimination and promoting equality between women and men will apply to all public authorities. This is known as the ‘general duty’. The general duty will also apply to voluntary and private sector bodies that are acting in a public capacity.

Some of the things that your organisation may need to consider are:
– Whether your organisation collects information about the proportions of men and women using your services? Are these proportions taken into account when you’re developing new policies?
– Are the staff responsible for policy development clear on what gender equality is and how to incorporate it into their planning?
– Have you taken steps to promote a gender balance at all levels in the workforce? What about equal pay?
– Can gender, race & disability equality be tackled in the round?

Listed public authorities will have to comply with ‘specific duties’ set out in regulations. Not all public authorities are subject to the specific duties. The draft list of public authorities subject to the specific duties is included in the current DTI consultation. {mospagebreak}

EOC and the Gender Equality Duty
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) wants to see specific duties that are action-focused, rigorous and requiring clear outcomes in equality, not in documents or processes. In order to achieve these aims, EOC believes that they should include specific duties requiring public authorities to:
– identify gender equality goals and draw up an action plan showing the action it will take to implement them
– consult employees and stakeholders as appropriate in setting gender equality goals and action plans
– publish their gender equality goals and action plans
– monitor progress and publish annual reports on progress
– review the gender equality goals and actions every three years
– conduct and publish gender impact assessments for all major employment, policy and service developments, consulting appropriate stakeholders, and proposed legislation must be subject to a gender impact assessment which must be published
– develop and publish their arrangements for identifying developments that justify conducting a formal gender impact assessment. This is likely to require initial screening of all developments to identify those that will require a formal assessment
– take action to address the causes of the gender pay gap
– train staff in connection with the duties imposed by the Act

The current DTI proposals for these duties are open for consultation.

What is the EOC doing and how can you get involved?
The EOC are major advocates for the duty, which will be the most significant change to sex equality legislation in 30 years. They believe it has the potential to transform public services, policy and employment. The EOC is working with the government and other partners to develop a model of a gender equality duty that will provide real outcomes for people, but will not tie public bodies down in unnecessary bureaucracy.

The EOC is drafting a Code of Practice explaining how to implement the duty, along with sector-specific and subject-specific guidance documents to help those bodies subject to the duty integrate it into their day-to-day operations. The Code of Practice and Guidance documents will be available on the EOC website www.eoc.org.uk in Winter 2006 and they are working with an Advisory Group to ensure that the Code of Practice is as practical, detailed, and user-friendly as possible.

The Advisory Group has been drawn from a wide range of sectors and regions, and collectively has the experience and dedication to make the gender equality duty work in practice, not just on paper.
The EOC is also collecting examples of good practice in public services – the kind of projects that the gender equality duty will foster nationwide, and this is where you can help, with your experiences. The EOC are looking at updating a list of these projects on a frequent basis and need your help in collecting as many of these examples as possible. Are you involved with, or know of any projects that recognise women’s and men’s different needs? If so, visit the EOC website (www.eoc.org.uk) for details of how to get in touch. {mospagebreak}

Public services that meet women’s and men’s different needs
The following are examples of projects and initiatives that recognise that women and men need different things from public services. They are organised according to sector.

Men and women’s fears and experiences of crime are very different. For example, Home office statistics show that men worry most about car theft while women worry most about rape and personal attack.

One issue that has traditionally been ignored in government policy is domestic violence, despite the fact that it accounts for a quarter of all violent crime. It has the highest rate of re-offending of any type of crime and one in four women experience domestic violence at some time in their lives. Two women are killed each week by violent partners or by former partners.

The Camden Safety Net project aims to reduce both the incidence and the negative impact of domestic violence. A specialist, multi-disciplinary team, working from an independent centre based in a police station, provide these services:
– offer advice, help and support to women who have reported domestic violence, accompanying police officers on visits and helping women identify what support they need to minimize the risk of harm to them and their children
– help write statements that can be used as evidence
– work with GPs, receptionists and practice nurses to raise awareness and enable front line medical staff to help women access help from other agencies.
– work with perpetrators to enable them to form safe relationships with their current or future partner via the use of counselling and other group work.

The initiative joins up work done by the police, a range of council departments, Camden Women’s Aid and the local Victim Support scheme. The scheme involves workers with specialist cultural knowledge and language skills to address the needs of ethnic minority women. British sign language and Braille services will also be provided.

Criminal Justice
Women offenders are often forgotten when criminal justice policy is designed, despite their growing numbers. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of women prisoners increased by 173%, compared to 50% for men.

In order to create a fair and modern criminal justice system, the different needs and circumstances of men and women offenders must be recognised. Policy-makers have traditionally designed services without due consideration of these issues. For example, more than half of women prisoners have dependent children, over two thirds are sentenced to less than a year, and women prisoners are twice as likely as men to have existing or recent mental health or emotional problems.

The Asha Centre in Worcester has recognised the specific needs of women offenders and has designed services to support them and prevent re-offending. It is a community resource centre providing counselling group work (led by Probation Officers) and education facilities. Over a third of women using the Centre are offenders on community rehabilitation orders, many of whom have mental health problems. Childcare and transport are available to enable women to attend. As well as meeting women’s needs it is a cost effective service, costing £2-3000 per head each year. In contrast, keeping a woman in prison would cost £40,000. {mospagebreak}

Gender stereotyping continues to have a significant impact on the education, performance and employment choices of boys and girls. For example, on average girls outperform boys at school but many continue to take jobs in traditionally low paid sectors.

The Vale of Leven Academy in Alexandria set up a gender equality working group to counter the growing attainment gap between boys and girls. The group involves all departments in the school and has worked directly with both pupils and with their parents. The results have shown a significant improvement in boys’ attainment.

Social Care
Although the majority of lone parents in Britain are women, some men are bringing up children alone or share responsibility with former partners. Stereotyping about parental roles can mean that men’s different needs and experiences are overlooked when support services are designed.

The One Parent Families Support and Information Network in York has worked to identify the barriers faced by men in this position. Through monitoring the gender of their users they realised that although 9% of registered lone parents in the area were men, only 2% of their service users were men. This convinced them that male lone parents and men sharing care felt unable to use their services.

The Network worked with Oxfam to look at their own structures as well as the different needs of men and women using their services. The results of the analysis were used to make a number of changes. This included establishing a men’s project, creating a male lone parent place on the board, and the provision of services to non-resident parents (the majority of whom are men).

Benefits to the service provider included increased uptake of services by men (from 2% to 19%), identifying the legal barriers to men taking caring responsibilities, and understanding the specific needs of young fathers. The Network has also created a practical guide and a training programme to help other organisations carry out a gender analysis of their work.

Regeneration has had a significant impact on many communities over recent years and new investments in housing, transport, education, and employment have had a high profile. Little attention, however, has been paid to the different needs of men and women in communities affected by regeneration projects. While many women are members of local groups, men take the majority of decisions. Without this analysis, investment funds will not be effective in tackling poverty or promoting economic growth.

The Gellideg Foundation group in South Wales has recognised this issue. They carried out a research project to assess the needs of men and women on their housing estate, which suffers from high levels of poverty and unemployment. The locally run group worked with Oxfam to identify the factors that influence employment and training choices in the area. The aim was to understand what is different for men and women and how this varies with age. The results of the analysis were used to plan a programme for regeneration, which caters for the needs of both men and women in Gellideg.