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How is our work influencing life in Northern Ireland and delivering equality? Learn more about our policy, legal and research work.
 
 

Gender equality

The Equality Commission's work in the area of gender equality and sex discrimination

What you need to know

Research

Publications

Legislation

 

Gender equality


Part of the Equality Commission's remit is to tackle sex discrimination and promote gender equality.

Details about our work on gender equality can be found in various sections across the website, but the information here sets out current and recent policy and research work along with relevant publications and legislation.



Gender equality - priorities and recommendations
Gender Equality logo
We recommend that the Executive, Departments and other key stakeholders act to address the following policy priorities to advance gender equality: attitudes, education, employment, caring, public life, violence, healthcare, sport, social protection, law reform and institutional mechanisms.

Further information about the Commission's priorities and recommendations is available in the following publications:
 



Childcare Strategy
OFMdFM's public consultation on the NI Executive's draft Childcare Strategy closed on 13 November 2015.
 

Improving the law in Northern Ireland

The Equality Commission recommends that the law is amended to prohibit unlawful discrimination and harassment by public authorities on the grounds of sex in the exercise of their public functions.

This would mean that men, women and trans people in Northern Ireland would have the right to bring a complaint if they are discriminated against or harassed on grounds of their sex by public bodies, such as the police, immigration services or prison authorities, when exercising their public functions, or by private bodies acting on behalf of a public authority.  Other examples would include the denial of primary health care services, or access to shelters for asylum seekers, victims of domestic violence or trafficking.


The changes proposed by the Commission would the bridge the gap that currently exists between Northern Ireland and Great Britain where sex discrimination law was extended to cover public functions under the Single Equality Act.

The Equality Commission’s paper Gaps in equality law between Great Britain and Northern Ireland (pdf, 2014) summarises the key gaps that exist following the introduction of the Equality Act 2010. Among the areas highlighted is gender discrimination.
 

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

This United Nations treaty ratified by the UK in 1986 provides an international standard for protecting and promoting women’s human rights within political, civil, cultural, economic, and social life. The Government submits national reports, at least every four years, on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations. 

In June 2018, the Equality Commission prepared a submission to inform the UN CEDAW Committee's List of Issues on the UK. The submission highlights the priority equality issues affecting Women in Northern Ireland (pdf)

The Commission’s shadow report to CEDAW (pdf, 2013) recommended that the Committee asks Government to address the following with regard to women’s equality in Northern Ireland:
 

  • Obligations to eliminate discrimination
  • Special measures to accelerate equality
  • Participation in political and public life
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Social and economic benefits

Read more about the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) - www.equalityni.org/CEDAW
 

Formal Investigation: Treatment of pregnant workers and mothers in Northern Ireland workplaces

Expecting EqualityThe Equality Commission conducted a formal investigation into the employment experiences of pregnant women and mothers, on maternity leave and on their return to work.

We explored whether pregnant women and mothers receive equal treatment in employment and identified both barriers to equality of opportunity and employment practices that women have found helpful and supportive.

Almost 1,000 women across Northern Ireland responded to an online survey sharing their experiences through focus group discussions and interviews. Employers were also given the opportunity to tell us about their experiences, concerns and good practices. 

The findings were launched at Titanic, Belfast, on 29 November 2016 – read the press release
 


Download the investigation's findings:
 


Following the investigation the Commission produced new guidance for employers on pregnancy and maternity in the workplace:
 


If you would like to know more about the investigation please contact Rosalynd Harkness, email: Rharkness@equalityni.org, Tel: 028 90500574

 

Childcare - Maximising the economic participation of those with childcare responsibilities

The Equality Commission considers that appropriate, accessible and affordable childcare provision in Northern Ireland should, alongside providing for the child, additionally seek to promote equality of opportunity for parents and benefit wider society and the economy.

A summary of our policy recommendations are available online:


Download our research - Childcare in NI: Maximising the economic participation of women:
 



'Getting a fair share?'

This issue of childcare, along with other factors that impact on women’s economic independence, were discussed at the Commission's 'Getting A Fair Share’ conference in March 2013.

Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said, " We are conscious that gender inequality still exists. Nearly one in three complaints to us relate to discrimination against women. The time is right to ask the question: ‘Are Women Getting A Fair Share?’ and we mean a fair share in terms of jobs, career choice, life opportunities."

 
Key speakers included:

  • Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner, Equality Commission NI (view video)
     - Introducing the Commission's research report - Maximising the economic participation of women
  • Junior Minister Jennifer McCann MLA (view video)
     - Challenges and opportunities facing women in business and female entrepreneurs
  • Tracy Meharg, Executive Director of InvestNI (view video)
     - Challenges and opportunities facing women in business and female entrepreneurs
  • Bronagh Hinds, Senior Associate with DemocraShe (view video)
      - Women’s position in the economy and the impact of the recession
  • Adrianne Peltz, President of the National Union of Students & Union of Students in Ireland (view video)
     - The issues facing women in further and higher education
  • Lynn Carvill, Women's Research and Development Agency (view video)
     - Impact the Government's welfare reform proposals may have on women's economic autonomy
  • Dr Evelyn Collins CBE, Chief Executive, Equality Commission NI (view video)
     - Q&A's from delegates and panelists
 

Improving the Gender balance in STEM business

STEM Charter
The Equality Commission is working with the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) and the STEM Business Group to address gender imbalance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) businesses in Northern Ireland.

Employers are encouraged to sign the Commission's STEM Charter and join the STEM Employer Equality Network>
 

Women and reproductive health

The CEDAW Committee (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) asked in its concluding observations in 2008 that Government initiate a process of consultation on the abortion law in Northern Ireland. Specifically, the Committee asked that consideration be given to amending the abortion law to remove the punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion.

The Commission regrets that this has not taken place. While recent events, including the opening of a Marie Stopes Clinic in Belfast, have increased public discourse on access to reproductive health care services and Government is consulting on guidance on the limited circumstances for a lawful termination of pregnancy, neither of these constitute a full consultation and public debate on these matters.

We believe that such a consultation should consider, among other things, the issue of women in Northern Ireland having the same access to reproductive health care as women in the rest of the United Kingdom.
 

Recent press releases, articles and speeches

Recent press releases, articles and speeches relating to gender/sex discrimination:

Press releases
 
Articles
 
Speeches
 
For a full list of our gender related press releases, articles and speeches, check our searchable news archive
 

Recent legal cases

 
 

Programme for Government
The Equality Commission has set out its recommendations in relation to the next Programme for Government (PfG) and Budget of the NI Executive.  We have highlighted the need for a clear commitment in the PfG to address key inequalities experienced by S75 groups, underpinned by robust measures, as well as a commitment to promote good relations.  Read our key point briefing (pdf) or recommendations in full (pdf, 2016). Further information is available on the Programme for Government section of our website www.equalityni.org/pfg


< Delivering equality
< Addressing inequality
Gender rights:
  Work >
  Services >
  Education >
   
 
 

Gender equality research

Childcare in Northern Ireland - Maximising the economic participation of women

ChildcareDespite an increase in the number of childcare places available since 1996, Northern Ireland has one of the lowest levels of childcare within the UK. 

Research was undertaken for the Equality Commission by the Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier University to advise them on the type, extent and delivery of childcare in Northern Ireland.

The report sets out:
  • the major types of childcare provision currently in existence in Northern Ireland and
  • a vision for childcare provision that might help to contribute to the economic participation of mothers.


It also highlights that improvements to childcare provision in Northern Ireland are central to equality, economic prosperity, poverty reduction and other government aims.

 

Download the research - Maximising the economic participation of women:

 

Fair employment - Monitoring Report

Monitoring report
Monitoring Report No. 24

The Commission's latest fair employment Monitoring Report profiles Northern Ireland's workforce by community background and sex.
 

Boys underachieving in education

Working class Protestant boys underachieve in education
In 2007 our research indicated concerns about underachievement among working class pupils and in particular working class Protestant boys in their educational achievement. Read our findings in our ’Statement on Key Inequalities(pdf)
 

Equality awareness survey

A Question of Attitude (2018)
Question of AttitudeWe asked respondents a series of 'social distance' questions to assess public attitudes towards ten equality groups. The scenarios explored how comfortable people felt with varying degrees of closeness to a member of a 'different' group. Respondents were asked whether they 'would mind' or 'would not mind' having a member of each group as a work colleague, a neighbour or if one of the group members were to marry a close relative.
 

Do You Mean Me? (2011)
Do you mean me?The Commission's equality awareness survey 'Do You Mean Me?' includes social attitudes in Northern Ireland on a number of equality grounds, including sex/gender.
 
 
 

 
Gender equality publications:

 

Gender equality priorities and recommendations
 


Gender Equality Law Reform priorities
 
Treatment of pregnant workers and mothers in Northern Ireland workplaces - formal investigation
 
Maximising the economic participation of women - childcare research:
 
Other publications relating to gender:
 

Additional publications are available in our publication search facility
 

Gender equality legislation


Gender equality legislation refers to: 

- Sex discrimination
- Pregnancy & maternity discrimination
- Gender reassignment discrimination
- Marital/Civil partnership status discrimination

 

Main law:

• Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970
(this link is to the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the several amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2005)

 

• Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976
(this link is to the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the many amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2008)

 

Amending laws:

• Sex Discrimination Order 1976 (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2011

• Sex Discrimination Order 1976 (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2012

 

 
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