In addition, the scheme itself must include an outline of the actions which the authority intends to take or has taken in order to consult.
By consulting stakeholders, public authorities will be able to:
build up a better picture of the most important gender issues in their work
gather evidence to use in determining priorities and in the gender impact assessment process
get feedback on their initial draft objectives
develop greater ownership and understanding of their gender equality objectives
improve accountability to their staff, service users and the general public.
Consultation will be especially important where one sex is under-represented in the formal decision-making processes of the public authority.
Using the information gathered during consultation will also be beneficial in conducting impact assessments, gathering evidence and monitoring progress. Public authorities may choose to consult stakeholders again at any relevant stages of the implementation or review process, although there is no legal requirement to do so.
The extent of consultation should be appropriate to the size, remit and resources of the authority and there is no prescribed means of carrying it out. Public authorities are free to adapt their existing processes of public consultation. It is important to remember, however, that the duty is to consult on gender equality. Women and men (and, where appropriate, girls and boys) should both be consulted, but public authorities will have to ensure that the consultation process gives adequate attention to issues of gender equality, and any questions are structured in such a way as to bring out any potential differences in views between women and men, or between groups of women and men.
It is also important that women and men are enabled to participate fully in a consultation process, in order to get a full picture of their concerns. Some women may be less likely to attend, or to speak out at a traditional public meeting if they do not feel sufficiently confident, if their community discourages women taking up public roles, or if there are language barriers.
Where one sex has been under-represented or disadvantaged in a policy area, service or employment issue, public authorities may need to make special efforts to encourage participation. For example, women have rarely been involved in decision-making on regeneration. Similarly, men may not have been previously included in discussions on childcare services. There may also be particular barriers to participation where a minority group has experienced multiple disadvantages, for example, on the grounds of ethnicity and sexual orientation. Public authorities may wish to consult such groups in a single-sex or group-specific environment.
It is recommended that consultation on employment issues with the transsexual community is conducted separately, although they should also be actively encouraged to participate in mainstream consultation processes.
Voluntary sector organisations, such as women's groups and men's groups, are likely to be useful sources of information through consultation. Public authorities should bear