The Equal Opportunities Commission - Press Release
EOC warns public sector against complacency in transforming public services - 26 March 2007
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is today putting leaders of all public sector bodies on notice to prepare for the biggest change in sex equality legislation in 30 years and to ensure that services work equally well for both women and men
The Gender Equality Duty (GED), which comes into force on 6 April 2007, will place the onus on public authorities to promote sex equality and end sex discrimination - effective plans to achieve this must be in place by the end of April. These must focus on the critical changes that will ensure that women and men benefit equally from public sector policy-making, services and employment. The EOC is expecting government departments to take the lead and has written to all Secretaries of State to remind them of their responsibilities under the law.
Despite 30 years of individual legal rights to sex equality, there is still widespread discrimination and persistent gender inequality. Policies and practices that seem neutral can have a significantly different effect on women and men, often contributing to greater gender inequality, including the pay gap and poverty in old age, as well as poor policy outcomes. Both sexes suffer from stereotyping of their roles and needs.
Women are frequently disadvantaged by policies and practices that do not recognise their greater caring responsibilities, the different pattern of their working lives, their more limited access to resources and their greater vulnerability to domestic violence and sexual assault. For example, research by the EOC found that Britain's transport services are all too often designed by men for men.1 Transport services are often designed with the needs of commuters in mind, who are typically male, yet women, who have less access to private cars than men and often want to make "cross town" journeys, are the main users of public transport.
Men are also disadvantaged by workplace cultures that do not support their family or childcare responsibilities; by family services that assume they have little or no role in parenting; or by health services, which do not recognise their different needs. Men are half as likely to visit their GP, which often leads to late diagnosis and complications.
For the first time, instead of relying on complaints from individuals who feel they have been the victims of discrimination, public bodies must be proactive in promoting equality and tackling sex inequality and discrimination by:
The gender equality duty also requires public authorities to eliminate discrimination and harassment of transsexual staff and - from December - of transsexual service users.
Jenny Watson, Chair of the EOC, said:
" The Gender Equality Duty is the biggest change to sex equality legislation in 30 years and has the potential to transform our public services. But there is no room for complacency about sex equality if this transformation is to become reality. Leaders in our public services must use it to deliver services and employment practices that work equally well for women and men. This means a shift away from a one-size fits all approach to services to one, which puts the individual at the heart of the service, and does so through recognising the very different needs of men and women, using public money more wisely as a result.
It also means a major shift in employment practice across the public sector, tackling the barriers that prevent women from getting to the top such as lack of flexibility and ensuring that all areas of work are opened up to both sexes, bringing more men into professions such as primary school teaching, nursing and childcare."
To help the public sector in meeting the legal requirements of the Gender Equality Duty, the EOC has developed specific guidance and code of practice available from www.eoc.org.uk/genderduty
Enforcement of the Gender Equality Duty
Examples of where the Gender Equality Duty could make a difference:
Services and health campaigns need to take into account these issues
6 steps for public bodies to meet the duty
Information supplied by The Equal Opportunities Commission Press Release
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