EU anti-discrimination directives empower national equality bodies not just to assist victims of discrimination but also to conduct surveys concerning discrimination and to publish reports and make recommendations on any issue relating to discrimination. Although there is a range of possibilities and realities on how Member States transpose the directives, it appears that a clear objective of the legislators was that equality bodies should not just combat discrimination but also promote (full) equality within society. Traditional measures and tools such as legal support have a limited capacity to ensure the effective promotion of equality and to bring about positive changes in the culture of society. If they are to live up to this challenge, national equality bodies and other actors will have to take proactive steps.
Focusing on and engaging with duty bearers represents such a proactive approach for national equality bodies, going beyond direct assistance to victims of discrimination. As the Equinet Working Group on Strategy Development has already dealt with civil society and “rights groups” in 2010, members intended to focus now very clearly on “responsibility groups”. Chapter 1 of the current report outlines a possible definition of duty bearers that was discussed and used in the preparation of this report by the working group and it gives an overview of some key existing legal duties on the basis of EU law.
According to EU legislation, Member States can go beyond anti-discrimination and develop positive duties. They are also enabled to introduce positive action measures. Some of these measures are instrumental in ensuring that national equality bodies can actively develop a fruitful engagement with duty bearers and work on concepts such as gender mainstreaming or diversity management. Chapter 2 describes a range of different examples of positive duties and actions that exist in some, but not all, Member States. The examples also testify to the different national – legal – contexts.
It is necessary for national equality bodies to identify and determine their specific role and position when engaging with duty bearers, and in doing so they must also be aware of the potential risks and pitfalls in this field. Chapter 3 discusses some potential guidelines for engaging with duty bearers. It also suggests that national equality bodies have to take into account the risk of having or seen as having a „bias against” duty bearers based on the fact that their main role is seen (externally, but often internally as well) as providing independent assistance to victims. If national equality bodies start to work with duty bearers more actively, they will have to work out an internal strategy first and, moreover, identify the topic and the types of duty bearers they want to address.
Chapter 4 provides a possible categorisation of the range of tools that national equality bodies could use in their engagement with duty bearers and it describes the different purposes and strengths of those tools, illustrated by examples from the practice of national equality bodies.
Although the report cannot aim to provide a full strategy fitting every national equality body, the last chapter attempts to offer a practical framework and important factors for decision-making when choosing the right tool for engaging with duty bearers.
The report is rich in examples of national equality bodies successfully engaging with duty bearers, demonstrating the potential of such engagements to lead to more equality and avoiding discrimination in the future.
As the discussions in the working group and during the training event showed, engaging with duty bearers is a very effective means for national equality bodies to combat discrimination and promote equality. Some of them have long experience and already stimulated a culture of compliance and built relationships with duty bearers whereas others have only limited experiences with ad-hoc activities and initiatives. It is hoped that the report can provide a guidance to establish strategically planned activities and further develop existing ones.
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A list of projects implemented by equality bodies in relation to duty bearers is available below: