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New questions will monitor gender identity

Posted on 13 July 2011 .
Tags: EHRC, Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Equality Duty, gender, transgender

In April 2011 the new public sector Equality Duty came into force. Its aim is for public bodies to consider the needs of people – employees and service users - with protected characteristics.

Public bodies and authorities are required to publish information on how they’re meeting the duty. This includes reporting at least annually on how policies and practices are affecting staff and service users with different protected characteristics. While most will already collect and hold a lot of information, especially on gender, data on transgender is less commonly collected. And many public bodies won’t understand the issues relating to gender reassignment (a person is protected under the gender reassignment characteristic if they are proposing to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning their sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex).

Transgender monitoring is a very sensitive area. Many transgender people have been bullied, harassed and marginalised, and disclosure carries real risks. So there will be scepticism and reticence about taking part in monitoring, making it critical that it’s done well. A further concern is that because numbers of transgender people are actually small, counting could lead to low prioritisation of their needs. But without evidence it will be difficult to monitor policy impact on transgender people or their circumstances (e.g. employment patterns) and needs.

Gender questions (male/female) have largely not taken into account different gender identities and as such they are incomplete and insensitive. In November 2010, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commissioned NatCen to carry out a research study to develop and cognitively test new gender identity questions that can be used by public bodies when carrying out equality monitoring. It’s important that such questions are short and simple, inclusive and voluntary. They need to be understood and answered by people who are transgender and non-transgender including those who are not necessarily familiar with gender identity issues.

We developed questions using an iterative consultation period including face-to-face and online deliberative focus groups with a sample of the general public (both non-transgender and transgender). The focus group findings helped shape a number of approaches to collecting information about gender identity. The draft questions were then cognitively tested, with non-transgender and transgender people, over two rounds. The questions were finalised and are now ready to use.

Our research showed that transgender people may be uncomfortable answering honestly about gender identity in certain circumstances (for example in a job application). So the suggested questions and supporting guidance have been designed to encourage honesty and provide a greater degree of privacy, anonymity and confidentiality. It’s recommended, for example, that questions are administered in a paper self completion or online format.

What’s also important is that those collecting the data provide clear and accessible information and assurances about why it’s being collected. Public bodies should explicitly state what the data will be used for, how it will be confidential and anonymous (stating who will have access) and that the data will be protected under the Data Protection Act. And those answering should know that such questions are optional. Public bodies are advised only to collect the information if it will be used and to ensure that policies are in place that reassure transgender staff and service users.

For more information about the research and the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidance click here.

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