What is the Gender Equality Duty?

The Gender Equality Duty is a new statutory obligation which will require public authorities to pay due regard to eliminating sex discrimination and harassment and promoting gender equality. This means public bodies and those who provide public services will have to rethink and redesign their policies, based on the effect they have on women and on men. Service providers and public sector employers will have to design services and employment with the different needs of women and men in mind.

Draft code of practice

There are two codes of practice: one for devolved bodies in Scotland and one for Great Britain. The code of practice for Great Britain is available in English and Welsh. If you wish to download the documents in pdf format you can do so by clicking on the links below.

Gender Duty: Code of Practice for Great Britain, English version  
Gender Duty: Code of Practice for Great Britain, Welsh version  
Gender Duty: Code of Practice for Scotland  

In order to open the files provided below you need the Adobe Acrobat Reader (click here to download).

Why is this duty being introduced?

Current sex equality law does not prevent discrimination taking place - it just gives individuals the right to challenge it after it has happened, and it does not prevent it happening again. The new duty places the responsibility on public bodies to demonstrate that they treat men and women fairly and are taking active steps to promote gender equality. By requiring public bodies to understand the implications of their policies for women and for men, and leading to a better user focus in service development, the duty can and should lead to progress in gender equality but also to better public policy overall.

It should generate policy-making that is sensitive to gender differences, services that are tailored to meet the different needs of women and men, employment practices that challenge occupational segregation and remove the barriers to women reaching their potential, and procurement practice that promotes equality. Those who get it right will reap the benefits in terms of improved customer satisfaction and staff productivity.

The Gender Equality Duty is about delivering better outcomes for men and women, not about paper production or bureaucracy.

When will the duty take effect?

The Gender Equality Duty is part of the larger Equality Bill that is currently going through Parliament , which will also establish the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights. If that Bill becomes law in February 2006, as currently expected, the Gender Equality Duty will go live on April 2007. On that date, public bodies are expected to have their action plans in place, so preparation is needed now. In particular, you should be thinking about:

  • how you are going to collect the information you need
  • which of your staff are going to lead the work
  • briefing and skills training for relevant staff
  • synchronising work on this with your business planning for 2007/8
  • building in links between the race, disability and gender duties
  • how you are going to consult women and men as service users and employees

What Public Bodies will need to do

When developing policy, public bodies will need to ask -

  • do men and women have different needs, experiences, issues and priorities in relation to this policy?
  • What is the evidence on how the policy is likely to affect women and men?

Public service providers will need to look at who uses their services, and ask:

  • what are the priority issues for women and men in the services we provide?
  • do they have different needs within some services?
  • will women or men be put off using a service because of lack of childcare or an unsafe or unwelcoming environment?
  • are there some services which are more effectively delivered as women-only or men-only?

In employment, public authorities will need to:

  • review their policies and practice - where are women and men in their organisation?
  • not merely seek to prevent discrimination, but ensure better outcomes for the disadvantaged group, which can mean positive action.
  • address pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and discrimination against transsexual people.
  • address all the causes of the pay gap, including direct pay discrimination, but also occupational segregation and indirect discrimination within pay and promotion structures (including access to training and development opportunities for part-time workers)

The duty to pay due regard to eliminating unlawful sex discrimination and promoting equality between women and men will apply to all public authorities. This is known as the "general duty". The general duty will also apply to voluntary and private sector bodies that are acting in a public capacity. Listed public authorities will also have to comply with “specific duties” set out in regulations, which set out exact steps to be taken to meet the general duty.

Further information

Further information on the Code of Practice for the new Gender Equality Duty is available on the Portal website by the Equal Opportunities Commission.

For this consultation process, three websites were set up: