Focus: What's next for women? - Her husband even stays at home to look after the kids

FIONA REYNOLDS
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The Independent Online
THE FORTHRIGHT head of the women's unit is used to campaigning. Fiona Reynolds has worked for most of her life in the green movement. But she has never been a direct-action eco-warrior. Her most recent former incarnation was as head of the determinedly genteel Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

She will use the same undemonstrative tactics in her latest job that she deployed for 11 years at the CPRE - persuading mobile phone companies to disguise their pylons and forcing the Government not to cover up greenfield sites. "I see myself as an influencer rather than a campaigner," she says. "I prefer to use persuasive arguments than shock tactics. It's about winning hearts and minds."

With 40 civil servants under her control but a budget of only pounds 1.5m, she will never be able to fund policy proposals from her Cabinet Office headquarters. Instead, the women's unit must get other ministers to put its ideas into practice. It is intended to play a similar role to that of the social exclusion unit - although it does not have the specific patronage of the Prime Minister to give it the same weight.

Ms Reynolds knows that the proposals she draws up on teenage girls and women's incomes will have to be implemented by Jack Straw, David Blunkett and Frank Dobson. "We are not the programme deliverer, we are the facilitator. We help other bits of government ensure that what they are doing addresses the needs of women."

But she also wants to persuade government departments to think of the equal opportunities implications of their own legislation. The women's unit has drawn up a "policy appraisal" document, which will be sent out to all ministers and policy officials this week, setting out how they should vet all legislation to take account of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people.

"In policy-making and employment practice, we have to consider the impact on those who have found the actions and attitudes of others placing obstacles in the way of equality of opportunity," the paper says. "Most particularly the impact upon women, people from different ethnic minorities and disabled people.

"It is your responsibility to assess properly how your work is likely to affect different groups and to take action to ensure they are taken into account from the beginning of the policy process and in its evaluation."

The head of the women's unit has taken her equal opportunities message to heart. She was educated at Rugby School for Girls and did her degree at Newnham College, Cambridge; she has always been a dedicated career woman. Her own husband, who is a teacher, now stays at home to look after their three children while she goes out to work. "I've always been more career-orientated than him and he loves looking after the kids," she says. "But there is still only four per cent of the population that lives like us."

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