Promoting gender equality

Read about your duty to promote gender equality under the Gender Equality Act 2020.

Under section 7 of the Gender Equality Act 2020 (the Act), defined entities have a duty to promote gender equality.

According to the Act, this means that a defined entity must — in developing policies and programs and in delivering services that are to be provided to the public, or have a direct and significant impact on the public:

  • consider and promote gender equality; and
  • take necessary and proportionate action towards achieving gender equality.

Along with the requirement to conduct gender impact assessments, this duty will ensure the Victorian public sector, local councils and universities make lasting and genuine progress towards gender equality across our community.

  • Public sector organisations, universities and local councils develop and deliver a broad range of policies, programs and services for the Victorian community. If defined entities don’t take positive action to consider gender equality when planning or delivering this work, they might unintentionally reinforce inequalities or allow discrimination to occur. Similarly, if they don’t take positive action to progress gender equality in their work, they may leave such inequalities unaddressed.

    This duty places the obligation on defined entities to actively consider and promote gender equality in their work in order to avoid these unintended consequences. It is an ongoing duty that aims to build consideration of, and positive action to advance gender equality into defined entities’ day-to-day work, including ongoing service delivery.

  • While all defined entities must undertake gender impact assessments, the specific measures or actions an organisation should take to comply with the duty may vary.

    Necessary action could be considered action that is vital to achieving the objectives of the Act and achieving gender equality. What is considered proportionate action will depend on the organisation’s business and the potential for their work to advance gender equality.

    This means that defined entities should primarily consider the public impact of their organisation and its work in determining what actions they must take to comply with the duty. For example, an organisation whose work consistently has a more direct and significant impact on the community in terms of health, education, safety and/or economic security would be expected to take more significant action.

    Read the case study below for an example of 'necessary and proportionate action'.

  • The positive duty requirement outlined in section 7 of the Gender Equality Act interacts with and supports other Victorian legislative frameworks.

    This includes obligations under sections 8 and 38 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 and section 15 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. Visit the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s website for more information on these obligations.

  • The obligations under the Act, including to conduct gender impact assessments and to advance workplace gender equality through workplace gender audits and Gender Equality Action Plans, will in part support defined entities to fulfill the duty. However, all organisations can take further practical steps to comply with the duty to promote gender equality.

    Evidence shows that the best way to achieve lasting and widespread change is through a whole-of-organisation approach to gender equality. This includes creating a supportive workplace culture, building staff capacity to support gender equality, and embedding gender equality into organisational policies, systems and processes.

    Actions could include:

    Embedding a gender lens into all work

    • Provide gender analysis training across your organisation, to support staff in undertaking gender impact assessments for policies, programs and services.
    • Consider existing policies, programs and services that could be reviewed with a gender lens outside of the legislated requirements for gender impact assessments.
    • Apply evaluation criteria relating to gender equality when procuring goods and services or when funding or providing grants to organisations. Similarly, consider how external consultants are briefed about gender equality or how it is factored into contracts.
    • Ensure any budgets developed for new policies, programs and services include consideration of gendered impacts.
    • Ensure adequate time and resources are allocated to this work. This could be through establishment of a cross-organisational gender equality steering group to resource, monitor and review work.
    • Aim to integrate gender equality into organisational frameworks and strategic documents and/or develop a gender equality statement of commitment.
    • Consider introducing standing items on meeting agendas or points in Terms-of-Reference that encourage reflection on gender equality, for example in decision-making processes, delegation of tasks, and how ideas are credited.
    • Embed gender equitable practices at training sessions, such as having a gender equality statement of commitment or code of conduct.
    • Consider how internal organisational reporting templates can include gender equality questions or prompts.

    Building organisational awareness

    • Leaders regularly communicate the importance of considering and promoting gender equality through policies, programs and services.
    • Organisational heads role model authentic and inclusive leadership both through their internal and external messaging and their day-to-day actions.
    • Provide relevant awareness and sensitivity training for all staff that is embedded in the annual training calendar. This could include training on gender equality, gender identity and sexual orientation, sexual harassment, cultural safety, bystander action and equal opportunity.
    • Use imagery and language in publications, public campaigns, advertisements or social media that promote gender equality and diversity and challenge gender stereotypes.
    • Embed a gender equality statement of commitment and relevant key performance indicators in job descriptions, job performance criteria and recruitment and selection processes.

    Strengthening community and stakeholder engagement

    • Build a gender equality stakeholder map or strategy to ensure that your organisation has strong partnerships with local and state-wide gender equality specialist organisations to help drive gender equality – for example, women’s health organisations.
    • Ensure robust and transparent complaints processes are in place to allow community members to communicate gender inequality-related concerns with service delivery.
    • Establish mechanisms to routinely assess consumer/community needs and community consultation feedback by gender.
    • Build community awareness by publicly celebrating women’s achievements.
    • Ensure visibility of gender equality in community engagement processes, rather than hidden under broader diversity themes.

    The above strategies are suggested as part of a whole-of-organisation approach to gender equality. Over time we will review and add to these as we build the evidence base for what works to strengthen gender equality in the Victorian public sector.

Case study: A health service takes ‘necessary and proportionate action’ to advancing gender equality

A metropolitan health service conducts a gender impact assessment on their antenatal and maternity services, and discovers these services are reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes that women are the primary carers of babies and young children. To shift this, they will need to undertake multiple strategies. This includes revising their policies to be more gender-inclusive, updating the imagery and language in their communications to engage fathers and carers of other genders, and educating staff on gender equality.

In addition to these strategies that were identified through their gender impact assessment, the health service also seeks to embed gender equality through other avenues in order to comply with the duty. This includes training and awareness-raising activities on gender equality across departments, embedding gender equality actions into committees and structures, HR policy reviews, job descriptions and performance plans. They also ensure gender equality is a key consideration alongside other diversity issues when undertaking consumer consultation and engagement.

All these actions could be considered necessary and proportionate to addressing the issue and advancing gender equality within a health service.

Reviewed 07 July 2021

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