where, for example, transsexual people were affected, as their numbers would be likely to be small but the seriousness or extent of discrimination and harassment might be significant.
Where changing a function or proposed policy would lead to significant benefits to the gender equality of men and women, (or, in employment and vocational training - including further and higher education - for transsexual men and women), public authorities should give greater weight to the case for change and take steps accordingly.
For example, a Regional Development Agency has a target of increasing employment rates in a particular district. When developing this policy, it discovers that women are less economically active than men in that district but the employment services and training opportunities which they are providing are not being accessed by women, because of lack of childcare support. They decide to adjust their policy and resource allocations to provide childcare advice and support.
It will not be acceptable for a public authority to claim that it does not have enough resources to meet the duty. This is because meeting the general duty is a statutory requirement. Existing resources may therefore need to be reprioritised to meet the duty. In practice this may mean that public authorities will use their existing administrative systems and processes, adjusting their plans and priorities where necessary.
The general duty does not only require authorities to have due regard to gender equality when making decisions about the future. It also requires them to take action to tackle the ongoing consequences of decisions made in the past which failed to give due regard to gender equality. This will entail identifying and addressing any significant inequalities resulting from policies currently in place.
For example, previous organisational policy may have given training allowances to full-time staff but not to part-time staff, resulting in more men than women taking up the benefit and improving their qualifications. The public authority may need to consider what action it can take to redress this balance, in order to meet the duty.
Public authorities are not likely to be able to take action to improve all of their functions in a single cycle, for example during the three year life of a gender equality scheme. They have, however, a continuing duty which requires them to prioritise for review functions with the most relevance to gender equality. Consulting male and female employees and service users will be helpful to this process of prioritisation and review, and is a legal requirement under the specific duties.
The technique of impact assessment, discussed in detail in Chapter 3, is designed to assist authorities in ensuring that they have due regard to gender equality in all their decisions and functions.
How to meet the general duty
The steps which will assist a public authority to comply with the duty are as follows:
gathering and analysing information