ARCHIVE: Foreword to the gender equality scheme
Foreword by the Secretary of State
Our work at Defra is about changing the world for the better, whether we are dealing with conditions for Britain’s farmers or the threat of global climate change. Positive change happens best if everyone is able to participate in the process.
The world recognised this twelve years ago in Beijing where, at the fourth World Conference on Women, nations came together and said:
“Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice it is also a necessary fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace.”
We continue to believe this and seek to make it happen. But twelve years on we are still not there.
The statistics remind us of the condition of half of humankind. Across the globe more boys than girls go to school; and that means that two thirds of the world’s 800 million adults who cannot read and write are women. Why does this happen? Because girls are not seen as worth the investment, or because they are busy collecting water or firewood or doing tasks in the home.
This is why climate change, the greatest challenge facing us today, is not gender neutral. As women represent the majority of the world’s poor they are consequently more vulnerable and more dependent on threatened natural resources.
If it ceases to rain in some places or water becomes in short supply, in others there will be more water than people can cope with as sea levels rise. One very practical consequence of this is that you will have to travel further to get clean water. On whom does the burden of fetching and carrying water fall in the developing world? On girls and women.
Here in Britain, despite the progress we have made women still earn on average 87% of what men earn for the same work. This inequality is passed on into old age with only 16% of women entitled to a full basic state pension based on their contributions. In fact retired women get an income worth only about 57% of men’s.
We know that all too often women still come second in the workplace and other spheres of life, but we know that men too experience disadvantage. This is particularly acute where they wish to play a full role as fathers and achieve a balance between work and family responsibilities.
This Scheme has given us the opportunity to take a detailed look at the work we do on gender equality, and it showed us that while we have had some successes there is a great deal left to do.
So we will now renew our effort to ensure that the needs and experiences of men and women, including transgender people are understood together with other factors such as race, disability, age, faith and sexual orientation.
What we all want is equality of opportunity where men and women do not face discrimination in the workplace because, for example, they work part-time. We want men and women to achieve a better work-life balance and make choices about their careers and their environments unrestricted by gender stereotyping.
Tackling inequality is at the very heart of Defra’s work. I am passionately committed to this aim and all of us in the Department will provide strong leadership to bring about lasting change. I want you to tell me where things are going wrong or could be improved and I want you to tell others about good work that you are doing that they could learn from. What really matters is getting things right and making change for the better happen.
(then Secretary of State)
Foreword by the Permanent Secretary
The new gender equality duty which came into force in April 2007 has given us a tremendous opportunity to push forward our equality and diversity agenda and redouble our effort to ensure equal access for all the services Defra provides.
The aim of the gender equality duty is to ensure that public authorities like Defra make every effort to eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity between men and women.
We recognise that there is still much work to be done in removing the inequalities that are embedded across society from which Defra is not exempt. Those inequalities manifest themselves in different ways in different situations and we recognise that central and local leadership is key to identifying and addressing discrimination within the Defra network.
As you can understand, I am very committed to addressing these issues and hope that my own experience serves to encourage people who have been held back because of their gender or work-life balance needs.
Now, with enlightened family friendly policies, there are opportunities for all of us at Defra to find flexible working arrangements and support which will benefit both the employee and the business. Moreover, an increase in home working resulting in a reduction in staff travel fits our sustainability goals.
Nonetheless, there are still barriers to staff taking up such opportunities, particularly among men, and these need to understood and addressed. Similarly, where there are areas of our work that continue to be “dominated” by one gender we need to consider what the organisational culture would need to look like to encourage more equal participation.
Defra is going through an exciting and challenging period of renewal. I am confident that through this scheme, mentoring, professional development and other initiatives, “glass ceilings” will become something of the past.
“The way we work no longer fits the world we live in. If it is changed, we could all win. If it isn’t, we will face a bleaker future: wasted potential, less time for caring, more stress-related problems and illnesses, continuing low pay for women and their families, reduced competitiveness for individual businesses and the economy and, even, greater traffic congestion and environmental damage…..a transformation of work itself is needed if we are to face up to the future.”
Working Outside the Box: Changing Work to Meet the Future – Equal Opportunities Commission report, February 2007.
Page last modified: 22 May 2010
Page published: 1 August 2008