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Women's Issues in Local Partnership Working - Research Findings

DescriptionSummary of a report that explores the nature of women's issues that arise within the context of partnership working, how they are perceived and addressed.
ISBN1 84268 019 6
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateSeptember 05, 2000
Social Inclusion Research Programme Research Findings No.1Women's Issues in Local Partnership Working

Gill Scott, Gil Long, Usha Brown, Jane McKenzie
Scottish Poverty Information Unit

This research was commissioned to identify and explore women's issues in local partnership working. The study was aimed at generating information about the nature of women's issues that arise within the context of partnership working, how they are perceived and addressed. It also identified examples of good practice in identifying and tackling these issues.

Main Findings

  • Although there was some recognition and consideration of women's needs by partnerships, this was not systematic, and published strategy documents seldom referred to women's issues. It was recognised that men and women could experience poverty and exclusion in different ways, but little had been done to address this in partnership strategies.

  • There was no evidence that planning and development of partnership activities was based on systematic gender analysis or strategy, and there was little commitment to target setting in relation to women. Women specific targets were often seen as unnecessary or counterproductive.

  • Assessing the impact of existing partnership work on women, men or specific groups of women and men was made particularly difficult because virtually no part of the monitoring system recorded either quantitative or qualitative data disaggregated by gender.

  • Women played an important role in partnership management, constituting a large proportion of board members. However, it was assumed that their strong presence as community representatives on partnership boards ensured that women's issues were adequately addressed.

  • Gender specific barriers to effective involvement in partnership governance, identified by women, included multiple home- and care-based responsibilities and access to appropriate childcare. Gender neutral barriers included the confidence and knowledge required to participate fully in formal meetings, the time required to prepare for meetings and 'partnership fatigue'.

  • Problems that partnership respondents identified as affecting women reflected those commonly associated with social and family frameworks. There was little recognition that women are also affected by economic and environmental change.

  • There was also evidence that the needs of women at risk of multiple exclusion within communities, such as carers, ethnic minority and older women, were less likely to be addressed.

  • Constraints on the potential for local partnership working to address women's issues were seen not only as the limited impact local activity could have on structurally-induced elements of poverty and social exclusion, but also as the result of short term and reduced partnership funding.

Strategies, Priorities and Monitoring of Women's Issues

Partnership strategy documents seldom made specific reference to women's issues in their stated objectives. There was some reference to differences in the experience of poverty between men and women, but there were few explicit and developed strategies to address the issue. Where strategies to address equal opportunity issues did exist, boards tended to be local authority led or have a strong input from the community sector.

There was little evidence of commitment to target setting in relation to women amongst most board members' own agencies or in wider partnership work. Indeed, women specific targets were often seen as unnecessary or counterproductive.

A limited review of project expenditure showed major resources directed into activities of value to women, but there was no evidence that their development was based on any systematic gender analysis or strategy.

Assessing the impact of existing partnership work on women was particularly difficult, because virtually no part of partnerships' monitoring systems recorded quantitative or qualitative data disaggregated by gender.

Participation of Women

Women made up a significant proportion of partnership management structures. Women constituted up to 53% of partnership board members and up to two thirds of community representatives on these boards. Indeed, there was more of a perception of under-representation of men, rather than women.

There was a general assumption that, since most community representatives on partnership boards were women, their involvement ensured that issues affecting women were thereby addressed. Women community representatives on partnership boards, however, reported barriers to their effective participation in partnership governance. Gender-specific constraints included the need for access to childcare during meetings, and the lack of time to read and respond to papers due to other home- and care-based responsibilities

Many of the barriers to effective participation, such as the knowledge and confidence required to participate fully in formal meetings, were not only experienced by women. It was recognised that they could be a problem for all members of the community. Strategies to improve community participation existed in all four partnerships, and new forms of consultation were being developed. There was, however, little evidence of these being developed for women as a specific community of interest.

Perceptions of Women's Needs

In order to assess local perceptions of women's needs, all those interviewed were asked to identify what they saw as these needs. The problems facing women were generally seen as located within a social and family context, and there was universal agreement that women in partnership areas needed support in combating poverty and exclusion and in sustaining their safety, health and wellbeing alongside that of their children.

There was little recognition that women were equally affected by economic and environmental change, and the complex relationship between economic and social institutions affecting women at different points in their, and their families, lives was not addressed.

Partnership work based on the priorities of the whole community was thought to be the most effective way to reduce the poverty and exclusion resulting from gender inequality. This understanding seemed to be based more on an assumption of how partnerships were working than on a systematic appraisal of how policies affected women, and it highlighted the difficulties of effectively 'mainstreaming' gender issues.

There was a common perception amongst formal partners that a focus on women was unnecessary, and they considered such a focus to be counterproductive or exclusionary. Addressing women's needs within general partnership strategies was seen to be more effective.

There was also some evidence that the needs of those women most likely to be marginalised within communities were not addressed. The needs of women from ethnic minorities, women with disabilities, or caring for those with disabilities, prostitutes and women new to a community were identified by respondents at community level as most likely to be neglected.

Constraints on the potential for local partnership working to address women's issues were seen not only as the limited impact local activity could have on structurally-induced elements of poverty and social exclusion, but also as the result of short term and reduced partnership funding.

Recommendations

Strategy and Priorities

  • Ensure that benefiting women and men equally is a compulsory strategic objective in future regeneration policies

  • Integrate Scottish Executive initiatives, such as mainstreaming, into regeneration work and establish clear lines of responsibility within the Area Regeneration Division for the promotion of gender awareness in partnership work

  • Require that a gender policy is included in partnership strategy documents. Such a policy should set clear targets, provide an implementation plan and monitoring and evaluation framework in relation to gender

  • Set clear directives for bidding process to assess the gender impact of projects

Participation and Consultation

  • Extend gender sensitive strategies for capacity building and confidence building amongst community representatives, building on examples of good practice

  • Provide practical support for women's participation in partnership structures in the form of childcare and flexible meeting times

  • Explore new forms of consultation to encourage men and women's active engagement with partnership issues

  • Provide support and training for all board members in gender and equality issues to increase understanding and facilitate regular discussion of these issues in partner organisations and the wider locality

Meeting Need Effectively

  • Research more fully the causes and effects of women's poverty using varied and innovative methods

  • Earmark specific resources to facilitate understanding/development of gender strategy and its potential for positive impact on the whole community

  • Highlight the positive features of gender sensitivity in partnership work and ensure that good practice guidelines in this area are available and accessible

  • Require gender monitoring in all partnership work and activities in order to identify their differential impact on men and women and for different groups of men and women

About the Study

The aim of the research was to identify and explore women's issues in the context of local partnership working. Three main areas were covered in the research: strategies, priorities and monitoring of women's issues in local partnerships; patterns of women's participation; and perceptions of women's needs and their relationship to partnership issues.

The research reported here was carried out in spring 1999, immediately after the publication of the Scottish Social Inclusion Strategy. Since the research was undertaken, there has been rapid change in regeneration and social inclusion policy in Scotland and a preface has been inserted into the report to summarise key developments and update the policy context for this project. The preface also draws together some of the latest discussion on women's issues, poverty and social exclusion.

The research was based in four partnership areas in Scotland: Castlemilk, Dundee, Levern Valley and North Edinburgh. The study involved a review of partnership documents; interviews with partnership managers, community representatives, board members, monitoring and evaluation officers and a women's officer; four focus groups involving local women and telephone interviews with grassroots workers in partnership projects.

If you wish a copy of "Women's Issues in Local Partnership Working", the report which is summarised in this Research Findings, please send a cheque for £5.00 made payable to The Stationery Office to:

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http://www.scotland.gov.uk/cru/

The site carries up-to-date information about social and policy research commissioned and published by CRU on behalf of the Scottish Executive. Subjects covered include transport, housing, social inclusion, rural affairs, children and young people, education, social work, community care, local government, civil justice, crime and criminal justice, regeneration, planning and women's issues. The site also allows access to information about the Scottish Household Survey.