In the course of dealing with Covid-19 many leaders have talked about ‘build back better’ and inclusivity should be at the heart of it.
This article is taken from September's public matters newsletter. Click here to view more articles from this issue.
In the course of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, many leaders in the public and private sector have talked about ‘build back better’. For example, the Prime Minister in a speech during this summer said “this government will build back better, build back greener, build back faster’”. At a local level, many local authorities have started to consider how they can build back better – in Manchester, the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership together with the Growth Company have organised a number of webinars on this topic and have asked businesses to respond with their ideas.
As part of any build back better agenda – whether at national or local level, procurement for works, goods or services will be key (whatever form the applicable regulations take in the post-Brexit world). And as part of this new build back better agenda, what about it being inclusive and integrating gender mainstreaming?
What is gender mainstreaming?
Gender mainstreaming is “the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in any area and at all levels. It is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres, so that women and men [and we would add non-binary as well] benefit equally, and inequality is not perpetuated” (Defined by the United National Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in July 1997). The ultimate goal of gender mainstreaming being to achieve gender equality.
Gender mainstreaming may require specific activities and interventions on a temporary basis to address disadvantages experienced by any gender.
However, it is important to recognise that it is not about adding a ‘women’s component’ or ‘gender equality component’. It requires much further thought so that experiences, knowledge and interests of all genders can be holistically integrated into an activity, policy, programme or contract for goods, services or works.
The process of gender mainstreaming is best understood as a cycle with different stages (designed by the European Institute for Gender Equality)
How is gender mainstreaming currently incorporated in public procurement?
Public authorities are likely to have incorporated some form of gender mainstreaming in their public procurement for a number of years. This may have been as a policy decision, as well as part of complying with their public sector equality duty (if applicable) and their obligation under Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 (Social Value Act).
The public sector equality duty (section 149 (1) of the Equality Act 2010), provides that a public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to:
Under the Social Value Act (section 1(3), contracting authorities are required to consider how what is being proposed to be procured might improve the economic, social and environmental-wellbeing of the relevant area and how it might act in order to secure their improvement.
Well-being is to be considered before starting the procurement process so this should be when the contracting authority is planning how it will procure particular services. It should be an integral part of designing the specification, the evaluation criteria and the contractual arrangements.
In addition, under section 1 (7) of the Social Value Act, there is a duty to consider whether to undertake a consultation on the issue of social value.
However, it is also important to note that:
Therefore, a public authority may instead prioritise a different protected characteristic (and there may be good reason for doing so) or it may discharge its duty by only considering rather than taking any action. For both duties, particularly under the public sector equality duty, the contracting authority must have a good audit trail of the decisions it has made to show that a reasonable and legitimate decision has been taken.
Public authorities are likely to evidence discharging these duties by:
What difference could holistic incorporation of gender mainstreaming make in public procurement?
In 2011, the Municipality of Karlskoga in Sweden1 started a gender equality initiative which required officials to re-evaluate all of the Municipality’s policies through a gendered lens. Officials in charge of dealing with snow clearing were of the view that their work did not require re-evaluating because snow clearing could not be sexist. Their colleagues in charge of the gender equality initiative disagreed.
Looking at the snow clearing operation with a gender lens, the officials in charge found that snow clearing began with the major roads and ended with pavements and bicycle lanes. However, this was affecting men and women differently because men and women travelled differently: men were more likely to drive and have a fairly simple travel pattern – a twice daily commute to their place of work. Whereas women’s travel patterns were more complicated because women do 75% of the world’s unpaid care work and this affects their travel needs. A typical travel pattern for a woman might involve dropping off the children to school before work, taking an elderly relative to the doctors and going to the supermarket on the way home.
In Karlskoga what they thought to be a gender-neutral snow clearing operation was in fact not gender neutral at all. In response, the councillors changed the snow clearing operation starting with pavements and bicycle lanes and then moving onto main roads. Their rationale was that it would be easier to drive a car through three inches of snow than pushing a pram, wheelchair or riding a bike.
Whilst they did not consider accident data or hospital data, this simple change in the order of snow clearing would actually save them money in the longer term. This is because hospital admission data for Northern Sweden showed that pedestrians were 3 times more likely to be injured in slippery or icy conditions than motorists and accounted for half of hospital time of all traffic related traffic injuries. Also, the majority of the pedestrians were women.
How could gender mainstreaming be holistically incorporated in public procurement?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission published the following guidance in 2013 ‘Buying better outcomes: mainstreaming equality considerations in procurement – a guide for public authorities in England’ (guidance). It remains a good resource for public authorities to use as it makes recommendations for integrating equality outcomes throughout the procurement cycle, as well as providing useful examples where local authorities have successfully integrated equality outcomes.
Some of the recommendations the guidance makes are:
In addition, we would advise looking at who is involved in the procurement process: do you have a diverse project team? who is evaluating? can you bring in additional people if the core team is not diverse? The research has been clear for more than 10 years now that diverse teams are more likely to make decisions that have a positive impact on the business both short and long term.
Any equality requirements or requirements specific to gender that you choose to include in a procurement should be objective and clearly stated in terms of your expectations, how bidders can demonstrate them and how you will evaluate them. In addition, it is important to set requirements that are proportionate, transparent, non-discriminatory and enable you to treat all tenderers equally.
As part of the build back better agenda, the first step that public authorities might consider is where do their processes and practices stand for each part of the gender mainstreaming cycle noted above. This would require considering some or all of the following:
With any build back better initiative that public authorities engage in, inclusivity should be at the heart of it as gender mainstreaming in such an initiative, as well as public procurement, would enable building back better for everyone.
If you have any questions about gender mainstreaming in public procurement or if we can assist in this regard, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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