Mainstreaming in organisations : strategies for delivering women's equality in UK local government
In the early 1980s, feminist councillors and the women's movement pushed for the establishment of structured provision in UK local government to address the issue of women's equality. Women's initiatives were set up by a small number of Labour controlled councils. At the height of their activities in 1987 there were 45 Women's Committees, by 1995 only 9 remained (Halford 1988). A central question of this thesis was to examine why the delivery of equal opportunities for women was changing and what form the new initiatives were taking. The wider significance of studying the political activity of women's initiatives relates to the development of a new approach to women's equality delivery. Previous approaches can be classified as a legislative approach, based on the principle of equal treatment, and a positive action approach, which foregrounds women's material and social oppression. The new approach promoted, most notably, by the European Union argues for the need to 'mainstream' the work of equality practitioners so that every member of an organisation routinely and systematically adopts a 'gender perspective' in their work. A focus on gendered differences, rather than on women, aims to provide a more inclusive agenda which will appeal to a wider number of policy-makers, businesses and citizens. The second main thrust of this thesis was to explore the development of a mainstreaming approach to equality delivery in the UK. It contrasts UK practice to that advocated by the European initiative, and also begins to theorise the concept of mainstreaming in terms of feminist, organisational and sociological theory. Using a new concept of the'equality stool' to describe the historical development of equality practice, the thesis attempts to explain why practitioners in the UK local government have been averse to a mainstreaming approach. The thesis used qualitative methodology and a case study design to examine, in depth, the experience of women practitioners in three local authorities, over the last 20 years. It reports on practitioners' attitudes and opinions and makes the links between their views of the world, and the actions and events which they have described. The thesis has three main findings. First, that past practice holds important insights for the development of a mainstreaming approach in the UK and European member states. Second, that mainstreaming in the UK has been developed for different reasons and from different perspectives than those of the European initiative. Third, that women's equality practice can be seen as a strategy of embodiment, which demands that individuals transform themselves into gender aware actors. Women practitioners' underlying purpose has been to challenge the gendered conception of women's roles at work and in society. The findings are used to construct a table of prerequisites (organised according to Connell's 1987 gender order) which UK practitioners have identified as important for a mainstreaming approach to be successful. These prerequisites suggest that the development of a structured women's equality initiative may be a crucial first step before a mainstreaming strategy can be pursued.