From the first time a groundbreaking gender audit was outlined in the Australian Parliament in 1983 to its adaptation by over 40 countries later on, a gender audit has strived to measure the impact national policy has on women. It analyses mainstream public policy such as legislation, regulations, allocations, taxation and other social projects and evaluates the effect it has in relation to women.
Gender audits also analyse income and expenditure at a national level from a gender perspective. Although within the larger picture, a gender audit is more relevant at a national level, a gender audit can also be conducted at a local or an organisational level, often towards determining how policy can impact women on the whole.
As we all know, public or private policy has a tremendous impact on both men and women. The impact on women however can be challenging, given the fact that women are more engaged with domestic issues than men.
Issues such as managing a pregnancy, taking care of small children, raising older kids, managing a home and often a job or a business, are of primary concern to women. Does national policy of a country reflect these real-time issues concerning women?
Including areas of relevance to women in legislature is not limited to relevant yes but not only the most visible areas such as sexual harassment. There are many other areas that can be considered as vital to ensure gender equality in decision-making and policy implementation. A gender audit enables a country or even an organisation to recognize shortcomings and introduce more gender-balanced policy in future.
Benefits for women
How many women are actually benefited from national or organisational policy? What measures have been adapted towards ensuring that women can manage children and domestic issues successfully? How relevant are organisational behaviour patterns, norms and policies in including women’s issues rather than excluding them?
For an example, are the issues of pregnancy and post-natal care given the recognition it deserves along with support services? What about child care during after-school hours? Are there steps in place to encourage and support crèches in localities and communities? Are there special transport services for women whose work shifts end at night?
How relevant is the retirement age for women in the workforce? Are there considerations in place for women whose lifespans typically are longer than men and are those issues taken into account when planning retirement benefits? Most women do not drink or smoke and are likely to reap health benefits of both but are those aspects taken into account when drawing up employment policies?
Unemployment impacts women as much as it does men; what percentage of women is included in being considered for job opportunities? Do the job opportunities encourage women or hold them back? Can more women be included in certain industries?
Understanding women’s needs
It can safely be said that in most countries, even in the developed world, much needs to be done to ensure that women truly are included in the workplace. As Sheryl Sandberg so accurately talks about half the world’s population that Warren Buffet did not have to compete with, in her book ‘Lean In’, women still have a long way to go in ensuring that national and organisational policy does include gender-friendly aspects.
Gender audits help governments and organisations to become more sensitive and relevant to evolving needs of women. They typically identify gaps and enable more gender-focused measures to be included in decision-making. They impact societies with much relevance for the future. Rather than an offensive mechanism, they should be ideally embraced because often enough, they enable us to cover blind areas.
Gender relations have grown tremendously from days when gender was not even a word worth respect. Much has been achieved to ensure that women are included and understood – yet, more needs to be done and there are many measures that can easily and safely be incorporated.
It’s not about ensuring equal status, it’s about making sure that the society understands and accommodates the need for the women to safely be included in the common agenda. Unless and until the society at large understands that gender equality is not a special place for women but one that will ensure the next generation will grow up being cared for by mothers who were encouraged and empowered, there will be gaps in social behaviour patterns that will leave much to be desired for. (Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)