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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:

  • Consulting their service users and staff about how they can improve policy and services to meet the different needs of women and men
  • Setting high level objectives to create gender equality, with resources and action plans to back these up
  • Checking whether their existing ways of working discriminate against women or men, and addressing any discrimination they find
  • Publishing their plans and reporting their progress in achieving gender equality and elimination of discrimination

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

Key Dates:

  • 6 April 2007 – Gender Equality Duty comes into force across GB
  • 30 April 2007– Gender equality schemes must be in place in England
  • 29 June 2007 – Gender equality schemes must be in place in Scotland

Enforcement of the Gender Equality Duty

  • Public authorities must implement the gender duty. The EOC, and in the future, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) can enforce it in the courts

Examples of where the Gender Equality Duty could make a difference:

Education:

  • There are clear and significant differences in boys and girls' attainment levels, subject choices, engagement in sports, and experience of bullying and in the jobs they get after school.
  • The low achievement levels of boys in literacy and language compared to girls is a significant problem and one, which cuts across ethnicity and social class.
  • Even though girls are generally performing better at school, many are still being funnelled into career choices that lead them to low paid, low status jobs – which is a major cause of the gender pay gap.

Health:

  • Women often underestimate the risk of heart disease. Although most women believe that breast cancer is the most pressing health worry, women are four times more likely to die from a heart problem than breast cancer.2 Tests for coronary heart disease (CHD) are designed to be performed on men - yet the symptoms in men and women are different.
  • Health services will be less efficient and waste resources if they fail to understand how gender influences men’s and women’s health.
  • Men and women’s health is influenced by different biological factors, but also heavily influenced by social factors, for example:
  • women are 2-3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression but men are three times more likely to die from suicide
  • under the age of 45 men visit their GP half as often as women

Services and health campaigns need to take into account these issues

Local Government:

  • For local authorities GED will bring them closer to the community and enable them to deliver more effective services for local people - by understanding the needs of service users. It will also enable bettering targeting of users, reducing wasted staff time and resources. Meeting services users needs and responding to gaps, will result in better outcomes and greater customer satisfaction.
  • For example, women are often not involved in community decision-making processes. The duty could require local authorities to think about the barriers to women’s involvement in community meetings, such as lack of childcare facilities, or the timings, venues and design of consultation meetings.

Transport:

  • Good transport is essential for a successful economy and society, but evidence shows that men and women use transport in different ways. Women tend to have greater caring responsibilities and can be disadvantaged by limited access for pushchairs, and fares that leave part time workers out of pocket.
  • Women are more likely than men to feel insecure and vulnerable to attack and are less willing to travel after dark. Transport for London has introduced a number of initiatives, which include an increased police presence n the network, more information on safe travel options and increased security at station interchanges.
  • It is not only women that benefit from these types of measures; increased security will also improve the safety of men.
  • The EOC's research, Promoting Gender Equality in Transport (2005), found that Britain's transport systems are failing to address the needs of women.

Pensions:

  • The current state pensions system has been designed around the working patterns of earlier generations of men - continuous full-time work for 40 years – without breaks for children. The state pension has poorly served women, who often to take time out of the workforce to care for children and older relatives, and is becoming increasingly less relevant to men's lives too.
  • The government has put the needs of women at the heart of their pension reform package - by fully recognising the contribution women make outside of the workforce. This approach will help to end the historic pensions inequalities faced by women that has caused so many to live in poverty in retirement.

6 steps for public bodies to meet the duty

  • Gather information on how their work affects women and men
  • Consult employees, service users, trade unions and other stakeholders
  • Assess the different impact of policies and practices on both sexes
  • Identify priorities and set gender equality objectives
  • Plan and take action to achieve those objectives
  • Publish a gender equality scheme and review progress every three years

Information supplied by The Equal Opportunities Commission Press Release

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