Understanding and implementing the Equality Duties: The Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System (2009)

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Understanding and implementing the Equality Duties: The Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System (2009) *

The Fawcett Society’s 2009 report from the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System in 2009 raised serious concerns about the operation of the Gender Equality Duty (GED) in the context of the criminal justice system. When the GED came into force in April 2007, it was identified as having the “potential to transform the criminal justice system for women – whether they are staff, offenders or victims of crime”. It was hoped that the duty would result in a more positive, proactive approach to addressing discrimination and promoting gender equality. However, both the Commission and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) felt that there had been significant obstacles in the implementation of the GED that had prevented it from achieving its transformative potential.

  • Evidence gathered by both the Commission and CEDAW suggested that there was a lack of understanding from public authorities around the concept of substantive gender equality, leading to the widespread attitude that meeting the GED was best achieved by parity of treatment and service provision for men and women rather than addressing the particular needs and challenges of each group in order to achieve equality of outcome. For example, this equation of gender equality with gender neutrality had led to the re-direction of funds from targeted women’s only services, to the application of programmes and services designed for men to women.
  • Evidence gathered by the Commission showed that within the criminal justice system, the collection of information on women’s needs generally regarded them as an undifferentiated group. This has prevented a nuanced understanding of the intersections between gender and other inequalities such as race and gender.
  • The Commission also raised concerns that gender equality was not being mainstreamed into all policies and processes. It criticized the inadequate standard of local and central government Gender Impact Assessments and highlighted the need for gender to become part of core decision-making processes, based on concrete evidence about the different needs of men and women. 
  • Finally, the Commission highlighted the dearth of mechanisms to monitor outcomes and to ensure accountability.

In light of the proposed new Public Sector Equality Duty, the Commission made a number of recommendations, including:

  • Statutory guidance on the obligations entailed in the GED, delivered by the Government to all public authorities.
  • The development of an education and awareness raising campaign to increase understanding of the need to promote and achieve substantive equality through meeting the different needs of different groups. This included training staff of public bodies on how to undertake an effective gender analysis of policies.
  • The institution of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure that gender equality policy is translating in practice.


* The Fawcett Society’s Policy Submission to the Review of the Public Sector Equality Duty: 19 April 2013 Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, Engendering Justice – from policy to practice, May 2009: http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Engendering-Justice-from-Policy-to-Practice.pdf