Why Gender and Equalities?

This post was first published in 2012 under the title ‘Why Engendering Policy and Practice’ as it originally related to that module within our PgCert Public Services Governance programme. Since then the programme has been expanded into a full MPA programme and the module has become a core module on ‘Gender and Equalities’. Here I explain the rationale for having a module on ‘Engendering Policy and Practice’ and more recently ‘Gender and Equalities’.

Firstly I should clarify that I am not an expert in gender equality. However, as programme leader of our former public services governance course and now co-director of the Edinburgh MPA, it is something that I recognise as fundamental to public service delivery.

The importance of gender equality might seem obvious to some people. But during the redevelopment of our postgraduate course some of the questions that were raised included: why is there a module on engendering policy and practice? Would this be relevant to international students? Why is gender inequality more important than other inequalities? Isn’t this a very niche topic for a public services programme?

1. Why focus on gender equalities?

This is a very good question. There are nine protected characteristics (including age, religion and belief, and sexual orientation) noted in the Equality Act 2010. Given that there are nine protected characteristics why focus on one?

Well, it is certainly not to suggest that some equalities are more important than others. Rather, this module is seen as a useful starting point for exploring some issues that are common across many inequalities. It does cover, for example, the broader scope of the Equalities Act 2010 and includes practical guidance on how to conduct an equality impact assessment.

2. Isn’t this a very niche topic for a programme in public services governance?

Engendering policy and practice is a generic issue – common to all those who work in the development and delivery of public services. In no way is this a less important issue than say, decision making or collaborative working. In fact issues of equality and gender often cut across these other important issues. As such there is a robust academic and practical case for having the engendering policy and practice module as an elective in equal footing with other elective modules within this programme  (NB the update below to account for this now being a core module).

For example, the Civil Service Code, which was placed on a statutory footing as part of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, states that the values of the Civil Service include impartiality which includes the responsibility that all civil servants: “carry out your responsibilities in a way that is fair, just and equitable and reflects the Civil Service commitment to equality and diversity“. In the UK Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 sets out the public sector duty to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. There are also legal duties listed with the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011.

3. Gender equality may not be a subject of relevance to international students.

Gender equality has long been a key goal for international bodies such as the UN and EU. The UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) set out this expectation in 1979. The Millennium Development Goals, agreed by all 193 UN member states, includes the commitment to promote gender equality and empower women. Today the UN Sustainable Development Goals maintain a commitment to Gender Equality not only as a basic human right but also as a crucial aid to accelerating sustainable development.

More recently the EU Article 13 Equal Treatment Directive (2008) makes it clear that all governments and government agencies, including non-public sector organisations who deliver public services within the EU27, have a duty to uphold and promote equalities. Finally, the World Bank World Development Report (2012) focused on the issue of gender equality and development; highlighting continued gender inequalities and the need for governments internationally to address this through appropriate domestic policy as well as through international development.

4. Finally, why is there a module on engendering policy and practice?

Even if there was not such a robust de lire case setting out the responsibility to promote equalities through all public service activities there would be a de facto case for the inclusion of ‘engendering policy and practice’ in this programme at Queen Margaret University. That is, that promoting equalities and social justice is a common thread in all our activities. As stipulated in Our Values, we will uphold certain values such as ‘social responsibility towards all of the communities we serve, demonstrating respect, care, social justice, equality and fairness’. Our university was founded by Christian Guthrie Wright and Louisa Stevenson in 1875 with the principal goals of promoting educational opportunities and career prospects for women, as well as improving the health and wellbeing of the working classes.

Consequently our postgraduate programme includes a module on ‘Engendering Policy and Practice’ alongside modules such as ‘Internal Communications’; ‘Leading Change in Public Services’ and ‘Managing Customer Complaints’. More on these modules to come in later blogposts.

For more on the links between gender and inequality a useful starting point is Carol Craig’s excellent book, The Tears that Made the Clyde.

UPDATE (Post updated on 04/02/2016)

With the development of our new Master of Public Administration (MPA) programme we have built on the experience of our module on ‘Engendering Policy and Practice’ by including a new module on ‘Gender and Equalities’. Exactly the same rationale as above applies. What’s more, I’m delighted to say that this new module is CORE – not optional.

I’m proud that our university – that was started by women, for women, is the only university to have an MPA with a core module on Gender and Equalities. So all our students will be required to consider gender and equalities as part of their wider study of public administration, management and governance.

For more information on our new MPA see ‘What is an MPA‘; the course leaflet; and some further resources on FindaMasters.com.

Published by iancelliott

Senior Lecturer and Director of Education (PGT) at Northumbria University, Newcastle. Chair of the UK Joint University Council (JUC). Interested in all things public service.

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