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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Gender Duty - Are You Ready?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Speech by Meg at the CAPITA Gender Equality Duty conference.


Thank you for inviting me this morning. Today’s conference is well timed, and judging from the programme, should help you better understand what will be required for the new public sector duty on gender equality. 


From April 2007 public authorities will be under a new general duty. They will have to have “due regard” to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment, and promote equality of opportunity between men and women in all their public functions. From next April, promoting gender equality will no longer be an option but a fact of daily life in the public sector.


This means that public authorities have to think differently, about their ethos, their structure, the services provided. About how their employment practices need to be changed in order to better meet the individual needs of women and men. Having a statutory duty will bring a more vigorous and systematic approach to securing outcomes. The focus on the gender equality duty will be on outcomes NOT processes. 


Some may say we have gender equality already. After all since the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act more women are now in the labour market - helped by flexible working patterns and increased childcare provision. More recently, girls are outperforming boys at school, and in subjects like science and technology. But in reality women still come second in the workplace, and in other spheres of life.


Men also face inequalities, particularly if they want to have a full role as fathers. Trying to achieve a balance between work and family responsibilities is still not easy for many men today. So we have to continue to move forward in tackling issues of inequality, and this new public sector duty on gender equality helps us do that.


The main strength of this duty will be in its ability to ensure that public authorities change outcomes. They will have to examine their employment practices and service delivery mechanisms. They will have to demonstrate outcomes which deliver high-quality, responsive public services whilst better meeting the individual needs of men and women.


Each public authority will decide what action they need to take, proportionate to its size, scope and role. They will need to take into account any information they consider necessary when drawing up and consulting on their objectives. Examples of information could include gender equality issues raised at a national level - such as the ‘State of the Nation’ Report which the new Commission of Equality and Human Rights will be required to produce every three years.


Public authorities will have to take proactive steps, in their roles as employers and service providers, to positively promote equality of opportunity rather than solely taking steps to prevent discrimination.  The more equality of opportunity there is, the more the scope for discrimination should be reduced and eliminated. 


We know that some public authorities carry out good gender equality practice; we want them to feel commended and supported for their work. They may only need to show their compliance with the requirements of the gender duty. There may be others who have been resistant to pursue gender equality objectives, either because of resource constraints or a lack of a legal requirement to do so. From next April that’ll have to change.


You’ll be hearing about the detailed legal requirements - or ‘specific duties’ - from Ian Shaw and the Equal Opportunities Commission later. But let me offer some thoughts from a Ministerial perspective.


We are very conscious that you have legal obligations under the current race, and forthcoming, disability duties. We are also aware that resources in the public sector have to be used more efficiently. With this in mind officials have worked hard to ensure the new requirements are as sensibly consistent as possible with those in race and disability public sector duties.  The gender duty regulations we laid in Parliament last month, broadly follow the framework of the disability equality duty. 


This means that the gender specific duties centre on “gender equality schemes”. These will outline the public authority’s gender equality objectives and the action plan to implement them over a three-year period. These objectives must be drawn up in consultation with relevant stakeholders e.g. employees, trade unions, consumers, voluntary and community sectors. Objectives must be based on available evidence.  Transparency and openness are key to the success of the process.


Under the gender equality scheme umbrella, in headline terms, public authorities will be:

?        confirming actions necessary and acting to achieve gender equality objectives,

?        considering whether one of their gender equality objectives should address the causes of any gender pay gap, and

?        assessing the impact of policies, services and employment practices on women and men.


In respect of the gender pay objective, the requirement on public authority’s to consider this is an important one. The act of consideration will involve consultation with employees and trade unions. If they decided to have such an objective, they would be in a better position to decide what action they should take proportionate to the size, scope and role of the public authority.


A crucial tool in getting people to think in gender equality terms more frequently, will be that of impact assessments.  The requirement to assess the impact of policies, services or employment practices will show public authorities if they have a disproportionate effect on women or men. If such an effect does exist, then the public authority should be able to establish what is causing it and then do something about it. Effective compliance with this gender equality duty will be important. A benefit may well be a reduction in the number of sex discrimination cases brought before the courts.


This duty is building on what you have already done. It is taking proactive action in identifying and meeting the different needs of men and women.  I hope that you will make the gender equality duty alongside those of race and disability, a major catalyst for positive change.


Thank you.

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