Advancing Equality for Men and Women: Response to government proposals to introduce a public sector duty to promote gender equality | Oxfam | Gender

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Oxfam warmly welcomes the proposed introduction of a public sector duty to promote gender equality as the most significant change in legislation underpinning gender equality since the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts of the 1970s. In this submission, we address Oxfam’s key concerns, including: the importance of a strategic approach
    Advancing Equality for Men and Women: Response to Government proposals to introduce a public sector duty to promote gender equality  1. Oxfam’s approach In the early 1980s, Oxfam identified gender inequality as a key barrier to addressing long-term poverty in its international work. Since 1995, our UK Poverty Programme has been tackling gender inequality in order to reduce poverty, working at UK-wide, devolved and community levels. The programme is built on the recognition that poverty and inequality are connected to powerlessness and lack of rights, as well as unmet material needs. Our experience suggests that the participation of women and men on low incomes is an essential component of anti-poverty strategies; with sufficient resources and power, we believe they can achieve greater control over key decisions affecting their lives. The UK Poverty Programme’s core programme priorities are livelihoods (and in particular the rights of vulnerable workers), asylum, and race and gender equality. In relation to gender, specific projects have focussed in recent years on: ã Using gender analysis in regeneration ã Supporting gender budgeting initiatives ã Encouraging gender-aware policy and practice ã Engaging men in gender equality work Further details are provided in Appendix 1, and on the UK Poverty Programme’s website at: 2. Introduction to Oxfam’s submission Oxfam warmly welcomes the proposed introduction of a public sector duty to promote gender equality as the most significant change in legislation underpinning gender equality since the Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts of the 1970s. In this submission, we address Oxfam’s key concerns, including:   the importance of a strategic approach; issues of structural inequality between men and women; the effects of the proposals on men as well as women; equal pay and women experiencing poverty; the importance of gender-disaggregated data; and the process of conducting Gender Impact  Assessments. 3. The importance of a strategic approach Oxfam’s own gender policy has been actively driven by a series of action plans supported by leadership at the highest level. In order to embed gender equality goals across all areas of the organisation’s programme, structures and culture, we are seeking to ensure that the necessary strategic direction, leadership and resources are in place. Without these components, there is a risk that initiatives are not joined up, and that systemic and sustained change is not achieved. Oxfam e ndorses the call by the Equal Opportunities Commission in its consultation response for enforceable specific duties on public authorities to encourage the setting of strategic priorities and development of co-ordinated action; national and local target UK Poverty Programme, Oxfam GB, Oxfam House, John Smith Drive, Cowley, Oxford OX42JY Email:      coherence; and the use of national policy levers (eg. the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review and Public Service Agreements) to ensure action across government. The implementation of the duty also needs to be supported by sufficient resources and training made available by both central and local government in order to be effective in tackling discrimination and promoting gender equality goals. 4. Focusing on structural inequality between men and women Oxfam welcomes the recognition in paragraphs 2.1-2.5 of the paper that women and men have different needs, and that both can experience unfair and unequal outcomes. Oxfam proposes that the rationale put forward in paragraph 2.1 be developed beyond the notion of a “fair, prosperous and cohesive society, where all can reach their potential, and where none are denied opportunities…”, in line with the enormous body of academic research and practical experience on gender equality that has developed over the past three decades. The consultation paper is written on the basis that the needs  of women and men are different, but in reality the causes of gender inequality go much deeper than this. Inequality between men and women in society is caused, and perpetuated by, structural factors that must be actively tackled if “all [are to] reach their potential”. Gender inequality reflects the structural advantages experienced by men as a group , because societal norms and institutions have been routinely shaped around their interests. For example, the pensions system is still mainly geared to a male breadwinner model of continuous uninterrupted service during the length of a career, creating structural disadvantage for women. It is also vital to recognise and understand how gender interacts with other aspects of identity (including disability, religion and belief, age, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation) and acknowledge how multiple layers of discrimination better reflects the real, lived experiences of men and women as compared with the ‘equality strands’ approach. In practice, this highlights the importance of public authorities addressing the needs of different groups of women and men, and not just focussing on the overall gender categories. Oxfam proposes that the guidance and codes of practice developed as a result of the consultation must be built on an explicit analysis of how unequal power relations cause gender inequality, and should compel public bodies to develop strategies that tackle the structural causes of power imbalances between men and women. 5. The effect of the proposals on men as well as women Oxfam’s international work has tended to focus on developing programmes aimed directly at improving the lives of women, based on continuing evidence that they are the majority in the poorest groups in almost all countries. This understanding remains central, but we believe it is also essential to assess the impact of economic and social change on women and   men if real change is to be achieved. Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International. Registered charity no. 202918 2    In recent years, Oxfam has therefore pioneered work focusing on the role of men in gender equality initiatives 1 . If men are to be included in gender equality strategies, it is necessary to base interventions on a number of key principles. For example: ã Gender equality should be defined as a concern – and a positive project - for men as well as women ã The emphasis should be on addressing gender relations, and on developing integrated gender policies, rather than separate policies towards men and women. ã Men and boys should be ‘named’ in gender equality policies, rather than leaving their presence implicit. ã The well-being of men and boys should be acknowledged as a legitimate goal of gender equality measures. ã It is important to address the specific needs of men and boys, and where they differ from, and converge with, the needs of women and girls. ã The diverse situations, interests and outlooks of different groups of men and boys must be acknowledged. ã  Although most statistics, interventions and institutions tend to be shaped around men’s interests, the position of some men - especially those who are unemployed or economically inactive - is precarious. In practice, the potential and importance of men’s participation in gender equality strategies is frequently not recognised. For instance, women at community level in the Oxfam ReGender project 2  identified that men rarely engage in grassroots organising. Work with a partner organisation, the Centre for Separated Families in York, has highlighted that fathers sometimes feel excluded from services for their children by the assumptions of service providers, and this exacerbates increasing lack of contact between fathers and their children 3 . Without greater male involvement in consultations on how services should respond to different gender needs, it will be difficult to ensure men benefit alongside women from services that are often assumed to be irrelevant to them (eg. child care, family services, and service provision for lone parents). Oxfam welcomes the recognition in the gender duty proposal that any gender assessment must look at the impact on men as well as women. We believe that further guidance and codes of practice should set out clear aims and objectives in relation to the development of work with men, based on the principles set out above 4 . 6. Equal pay and women experiencing poverty Oxfam’s experience of working with women in poverty demonstrates the significance of poor pay levels, the predominance of women among part time workers, women’s responsibility for caring, and occupational segregation, in preventing their advancement in the labour market. Women predominate as employees in some of the lowest paid public sector services, and any move to strengthen requirements to address equal pay are key to 1  Ruxton S. (ed.) (2004) Gender Equality and Men: Learning from Practice, Oxford: Oxfam.  Available at 2  See Appendix 1 3  See Richardson K. (2004) ‘See Both Sides: A practical guide to gender analysis for quality service delivery’, Oxfam. Ordering information at 4  See Ruxton S. (2002) ‘Men, Masculinities and Poverty in the UK’, Oxford: Oxfam. Available at Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International. Registered charity no. 202918 3    progress. Our work with the Gellideg Foundation in Merthyr Tydfil 5  and with homeworkers in the North of England has helped us to understand and address the specific connections between low pay, part time work and poverty for women and men. Oxfam supports the call by the Equal Opportunities Commission and others for mandatory  pay audits as a requirement for tackling the gender pay gap, and also the proactive  provision of information support and advice to women on their employment rights. 7. The importance of gender-disaggregated data. For public bodies to set and implement gender equality goals, and to decide in what areas to conduct gender impact assessments, gender disaggregated data is essential.   Yet because there is no requirement to do so, public authorities often do not have the data available to determine if gender-based discrimination exists, and they are therefore often unaware of it in the way they run their services. For example, an Oxfam analysis of Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council’s Job Connect service identified that three quarters of the beneficiaries were men, and the training provided as part of the scheme was skewed towards gender-stereotypical employment for men . Redcar and Cleveland are now redressing this by active outreach to women and reconsideration of the courses they recommend to job-seekers. Oxfam’s experience suggests that this ‘gender-blindness’ is more the norm than the exception. Without collecting gender-disaggregated data, it is difficult, if not impossible, for public authorities to determine where gender impact assessments are appropriate or necessary. It is a waste of resources, and a risk to the necessary leadership for this process, to undertake assessments that do not effectively identify what needs to be changed because the information is not available, or indeed sought. Oxfam recommends that the gender duty proposals require public bodies to put in place systems to ensure routine and systematic collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data as an essential first step to conducting effective impact assessments, and achieving realistic gender equality goals and action plans . 8. Conducting Gender Impact Assessments Oxfam agrees with the assertions in paragraphs 3.44-3.46 in terms of the role and value of Gender Impact Assessment (GIA). Oxfam uses gender impact assessment in its international programmes as a matter of course. For example, Oxfam has sought to ensure that the gender impact of its response to the Tsunami disaster has been addressed from the outset. A gender analysis also informs the development of sustainable livelihoods programmes for women and men from Central America to Indonesia. And the ‘We Can’ campaign to combat violence against women is currently running in several countries in South Asia.  Across the UK, Oxfam has also built up a considerable body of experience, and is well recognised for its work in developing, implementing and assessing the effectiveness of GIAs within the context of regeneration policies, structures and initiatives (see box below). The success, and clear need, for this work has led to the development of further 5  See Appendix 1 Oxfam GB is a member of Oxfam International. Registered charity no. 202918 4
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