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Role of gender equality officers

Equal opportunities commissioners and the implementation of Gender Mainstreaming

The Federal Equal Treatment Act (BGleiG [German], December 2001), replaced the Law for the Promotion of Women and strengthened gender equality policy in the Federal government administration. The strategy Gender Mainstreaming (GM) was moreover established in law for employees of the administrative organisations. Under Sec. 2 of the Equal Treatment Act, all staff are obliged to implement gender equality, so that, as a result, gender equality can be regarded as a guiding principle throughout in all task areas. In all measures in private industry, particular attention must be given to freedom from discrimination, and where women are under-represented, women must, under Sec. 8 of the Equal Treatment Act, where qualifications are the same, be given preference in appointments, professional advancement and vocational training places. The Equal Treatment Act makes it possible for gender equality policy to have a higher profile and for enhanced opportunities for enforcement of aims of women’s and gender equality policy. This chance must be taken advantage of. The question is, then, what role so equal opportunities commissioners play and what are the tasks they can perform within the context of implementing GM. The duties of equal opportunities commissioners are stipulated in Sec. 19 of the Federal Equal Treatment Act. Equal opportunities commissioners are to be involved in all staffing, organisational and social measures where they involve equal treatment between women and men, compatibility of career and family, and protection against sexual harassment. The equal opportunities commissioner, on the basis of this legal position, fulfils a monitoring function. She is jointly responsible for ensuring that the provisions of the Equal Treatment Act are adhered to, that is, she monitors the execution of the Act. She retains this function in the implementation of GM. Her involvement can moreover contribute to a reduction in scepticism on the part of those who have been open to the promotion of women, but have reservations about the new gender equality strategy GM.
The equal opportunities commissioner can be a liaison point for connecting top-down and bottom-up. In this sense the equal opportunities commissioner functions as a “change agent”, but not as a “gender officer”, for the equal opportunities commissioner is not responsible for the implementation of GM. She may take on the role of a consultant, mediating for example between internal organizational actors and external gender-competent consultants, but the responsibility for seeing to an orientation to gender equality is firmly with the top management level.

GM and gender equality policy

GM is also aimed at the work processes and results of the organization, which are to be oriented to gender equality in their structures. Within the organization, the strategy relates to the policy field Staff and Organisational Development and aims at the systematic integration of gender equality aspects into all tools (work aids, etc.) and into administrative action (selection procedures, application and staff interviews). So the core questions are: are criteria and processes in staff planning, potential and performance evaluation, qualification acquisition and the working environment structured in such a way that they are non-discriminatory, i.e. favor or disadvantage either women or men as regards gender? Is the compatibility of work with family or social duties promoted by means of the work organization? Are gender aspects given due attention in advertisements and staff selection procedures?
Among other things, training courses for management and staff play an important role in the context of implementation, and these should include
  • offering qualifications specifically for Gender Mainstreaming,
  • including gender aspects in normal training seminars as well as in sensibilization events for GM,
  • structuring training courses in such a way, from a didactic point of view as well as from the point of view of time and place that, for example, no compatibility problems arise,
  • the speakers possessing gender competence and clear paying attention to and emphasising of gender aspects in the respective topic.
Of course, there are overlaps between GM and the duties of the equal opportunities commissioner. As a strategy for the implementing of the goal of gender equality by all staff and in all areas of work of an organization, GM supports the message of gender equality policy, which women’s officers and equal opportunities commissioners have been pursuing for decades in their work.

Competencies in the GM process

Equal opportunities commissioners are involved in terms of their competency under the Federal Equal Treatment Act above all with the policy fields staffing and organizational development, while GM is aimed at all policy fields within organizations. External steering measures, such as legislation, grants or research promotion remain as specialist tasks within the departments, since they do not, legally speaking, come within the sphere of responsibility of the equal opportunities commissioner. The implementation of GM goes beyond the competencies of the equal opportunities commissioner, for GM must be implemented from the top down. This has advantages for equal opportunities commissioners, for they are not overburdened with tasks which are not within their sphere of responsibility and they shift closer (in the sense of mainstreaming) to the central organizational goals.

Challenges of GM for equal opportunities commissioners

The question may be asked as to how synergies may be produced between GM and the equal opportunities commissioners’ field. From local government practice, it has emerged that the implementation of GM is encountering the same problems that women’s and gender equality policy once did. With GM, it is In particular the middle management level that is responsible for gender equality policy within the organization. Middle management staff will not as such be prepared simply to give up their previous resistance as regards gender equality, just because they have undergone a gender training course or the like. A central lever for putting gender equality messages into practice is in creating pressure to act. This pressure to act arises in the civil service on the one hand from the requirements of the department’s top management and from direct superiors, and on the other hand from the demands to fulfill tasks and provide services for citizens.

If there is a lack of willingness at the middle management level to implement GM, the possibility exists for the equal opportunities commissioner to link the systematic implementation of GM with improved fulfillment of tasks, in order to persuade other actors in this way. Thus, the risk of GM being equated with promotion of women or policy on women, and thus, as opposed to implementation into the mainstream, being “fobbed off” on equal opportunities commissioners can be avoided. In the implementation process, the equal opportunities commissioner is an expert in gender equality matters and can work as qualified support and assistance for the implementation of GM. This means knowing the fundamentals of the strategy GM. Her role should be clearly established in the implementation concept. However, responsibility for putting the strategy into practice is with other actors.

A second possibility is to create pressure for action internally with the aid of the equal treatment plan provided for in Sec. 11 of the Federal Equal Treatment Act (BGleiG). Even if the middle management is predominantly male, they usually have a modern understanding of what administration is in their individual estimation. This self-assessment – and this can very much be regarded as a success for women’s and gender equality policy – includes the awareness that the civil service should not discriminate against people on the grounds of their sex or other characteristics. In day-to-day administrative work, unequal treatment continues, for example of part-time staff. With the aid of data that is differentiated in terms of gender, such indirect discrimination can be rendered visible. This would increase pressure on those responsible for staffing matters to do something about it.

It is often primarily equal opportunities commissioners who initiate and pursue a consistent gender equality policy. If gender aspects and gender equality goals can be established in the internal organizational sphere, however, equal opportunities commissioners can work on a consultative basis in organizational and staff development and in the filling of committees and other bodies and bring with them their expertise and experience.

Here you can find further reading and links on equal opportunities commissioners and the implementation of Gender Mainstreaming [German].


by Administrator last modified 2010-01-02 20:07