What the gender equality duty means for family services
The new Gender Equality Duty (Equality Act 2006), effective from 6 April 2007, requires all public authorities, including those commissioning parenting services, to have “due regard” to the need to promote equality of opportunity between men and women. Official guidance to the Duty is available at http://www.eoc.org.uk/default.aspx?page=19951.
“Promoting” means being active and not passive: the statutory equality body and inspectorates will look for action and positive change as evidence of compliance. “Having due regard” means prioritising attention in proportion to its relevance. Supporting both mothers and fathers in caring for children is relevant to gender equality:
• The lack of sharing of caring responsibilities between women and men (women do more) is the single biggest driver of the pay gap, according to analysis by the Equal Opportunities Commission. Supporting fathers to take on more of the responsibility for caring for children, therefore, is a key contribution to gender equality.
• Some men, particularly if they are very young, black, separated, mentally ill or from socially excluded families, experience real exclusion from family services – and the detriment to them, their partners and their children is significant.
• Children who experience diverse male and female role models in their lives will have wider horizons and opportunities as they grew up.
Gender equality does not require men and women to receive the same service – there are circumstances where needs are different. But gender equality does mean that neither women nor men should be excluded from support they need. The Gender Equality Duty requires public authorities “proactively to address the individual needs of women and men in all their functions” (official guidance).
Under the law, local authorities need to publish an overall scheme and action plan for promoting gender equality, covering all areas where gender equality issues are deemed to be relevant.
More particularly, at the point of commissioning parenting services, a gender impact assessment is required, assessing the differential impact of the service on women and men. This will assess if there is evidence of different needs between women and men and whether both women and men’s needs are being met. It will also look at the gender norms and stereotypes that are being assumed. (The Equal Opportunities Commission is soon to publish specific guidance on impact assessment.)
Compliance with the Gender Equality Duty includes gathering information on how services impact on women and men respectively and consulting with women and men who use services, in ways they find accessible.
The compliance of local authorities with the Duty in parenting services will be actively monitored, along with compliance in other sectors.
For more about the Gender Equality Duty go to http://www.eoc.org.uk/default.aspx?page=15016.
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