Gender bias dogs charity research

Gender equality guidelines, similar to the gender equality duty soon to govern the public sector, should be introduced to ensure charity-funded research is free from sexism, Duncan Fisher, director of Fathers Direct, has said.

"The charity sector is just like any other sector in that it can harbour outdated attitudes," said Fisher, who is also a commissioner at the Equal Opportunities Commission. "It needs to take this seriously and regulate itself."

His comments were prompted by the recent high-profile research funded by Sainsbury's Charitable Trust, which suggested that children cared for by their mothers in the early stages of life perform better at developmental tasks than those sent to nurseries or cared for by relatives.

Fisher said the study, co-authored by childcare expert Dr Penelope Leach, "is exclusively about mothers - the role of fathers is an appendix". In order to avoid this kind of bias in future, Fisher proposed that charity-funded research should be regulated in a similar way to public sector research, which, in 2007, will have to adhere to a gender equality duty set out by the Equality Bill.

Sue Pollack, a lecturer in social work at the University of Bristol, agreed. "I think there is a paradigm in the way parenthood is thought about," she said. "This needs to be challenged."

Fisher added that third- sector research should even be seeking to lead the way on gender equality.

"The charity sector should be about leading changes in attitudes," he said.

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