The duty requires public authorities to identify and tackle discrimination, to prevent harassment, and to ensure that their work promotes equality of opportunity between men and women. It is a form of legally enforceable ‘gender mainstreaming’ – building gender equality into the core business thinking and processes of an organisation. It is different from previous sex equality legislation in two crucial respects:
public authorities have to be proactive in eliminating discrimination and harassment, rather than waiting for individuals to take cases against them.
public authorities have to be proactive in promoting equality of opportunity, and not just avoiding discrimination.
Outcomes – the changes to which the gender equality duty should lead
The aim of the duty is not to establish processes but to make visible and faster progress towards gender equality. Indicators of progress might include:
Service-users notice that services are more accessible and better tailored to their needs, and service outcomes by gender begin to improve.
Women and men are making greater use of services that their sex had previously under-used.
Service-users with caring responsibilities are receiving appropriate support, such as better pushchair access on public transport and creche facilities for trainees.
Fathers receive greater support for their childcare responsibilities from public services and employers.
Girls have higher aspirations for their future careers.
Women and men from all groups feel effectively engaged in decision and policy-making around issues that have a direct effect on them.
Women and men are represented at all levels of the workforce and in all areas of work.
Harassment and sexual harassment of staff, service users and others is dealt with promptly and systematically, according to agreed procedures, and tolerance of harassment drops within the organisation as a whole.
The reported level of discrimination experienced by pregnant staff and staff returning from maternity leave reduces significantly and is eventually eliminated.
The gap between women and men's pay narrows and is eventually eliminated.
Employees with caring responsibilities are receiving greater support from the public authority, including flexible and part-time working opportunities at all levels of work.
Transsexual people feel supported and valued as staff and potential staff.
Barriers to the recruitment and retention of transsexual staff have been identified and removed.
Employees are aware of the gender equality duty, understand how it will affect their work, and have the skills to implement the duty in their work.
Gender equality issues, and their budgetary implications, are considered at the beginning of policy-making.