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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.

Sex (including gender reassignment)

Service related problem

Have I been discriminated against because of my sex or related to gender reassignment?

If you have been treated unfairly on grounds of your sex, this may be unlawful discrimination.

Men, women, those who are undergoing, have undergone or are intending to undergo gender reassignment, and pregnant women are protected by the sex discrimination provisions.

If you fall into any of these categories and you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, you can challenge the treatment under the sex discrimination laws.

Is all sex discrimination the same?

No. There are different types of sex discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful. The main forms are:
  • Direct discrimination is where you are less favourably treated on grounds of your sex by a service provider who:
- Refuses or deliberately fails to provide you with a service
- Provides a service but it is of a lower quality, or in a worse manner or on worse terms than is normally the case.

Example 1: A man and a woman of similar financial standing both apply for a £9,000 loan. The man is granted the loan but the woman is told that she must provide a guarantor.

Example 2: A group of men are charged a higher deposit than women by a private landlord renting out a shared house.

Example 3: A landlord refuses to rent a one-bedroom apartment in a residential block of flats to a person undergoing gender reassignment because he feels that other tenants will complain.

  • Indirect discrimination is where an organisation unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect disadvantages people from your particular sex.
Example 1: A mortgage provider refuses to provide someone with a mortgage because they work part-time. This will affect women more as a large majority of them are part-time workers.

Example 2: A supermarket locates its baby changing facilities in the women’s toilets.  This means that men cannot change their children when out shopping.
  • Sexual harassment is where you are the target of unwanted behaviour that is of a sexual nature, and / or you find that because of your sex your dignity is violated by an intimidating, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. 

For example: A female student is subjected to offensive remarks of a sexual nature from her Driving Instructor. He also comments on her personal appearance as well as making derogatory comments about other female passersby.


  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of sex discrimination or helped someone else with a complaint under the sex discrimination law, and suffered as a result.

For example: A man is refused service in a restaurant because he gave evidence at a sex discrimination court case against it. 


How am I protected against sex discrimination?

You are protected from sex discrimination in the provision of a wide range of services whether they are paid for or provided free of charge. They include:
  • Access to and use of public places
  • Housing provided by private landlords, managing agents and housing associations as well as public accommodation providers such as NIHE
  • Accommodation in a hotel or other similar establishment
  • Health
  • Education
  • Getting or using services such as:

– Financial services – Banking / Insurance
– Government departments
– Entertainment
– Transport

  • Professional or trade services
  • Pensions


However, there are limited circumstances when sex discrimination is allowed.  This is called a genuine occupational requirement (GOR):

  • Sporting organisations can discriminate between the sexes where the physical strength, stamina, or physique of the average woman puts her at a disadvantage.
  • Voluntary bodies can restrict membership to one sex and provide its services to those members as long as that is the main reason why it was set up. For example women only or men only leagues or teams and single sex sporting clubs. 
  • Services can be restricted to one sex if the users are likely to suffer ' serious embarrassment' at the presence of a member of the opposite sex or the users are likely to be in a state of undress - Women only saunas and leisure facilities
  • Facilities or services can be restricted to one sex if they involve physical contact between the participants where a member of one sex might reasonably object if the contact was with a person of the opposite sex – a Self-defence class restricted to women only.

What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with the service provider and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the County Court.

NB: Only a County Court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.


Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600 (10am-4pm, Mon-Fri).


Useful publications


Useful links


Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of sex discrimination. Complaints relating to services must be made to the court within six months of the discriminatory act.

Even if you are attempting to resolve problems, the statutory time limits still apply.  You may wish to issue proceedings to protect your legal interests if the matter has not resolved close to the expiry of the time limit.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim; this is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.

< Problem with a service


Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, sex, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.


Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

We have listed below current legislation relevant to gender/sex discrimination.  You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated.  The law is also complex and can require interpretation.  Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel:  028 90 500 600.

Refers to:
Sex discrimination
Pregnancy & maternity discrimination
Gender reassignment discrimination
Marital/Civil partnership status discrimination



Main law:

  • 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:


Shivana's Story

Shivana was made redundant from her job when six months pregnant.  She and her husband had paid into a Mortgage Payment Care Policy which included accident, sickness and unemployment cover. The policy could have met half their monthly repayments over twelve months.

The payments were stopped however when Shivana moved from Jobseekers Allowance to Maternity Allowance, as this was not considered an eligible benefit.

Shivana claimed the suspension of her payments during a period when she was unable to seek work because of her pregnancy, was discriminatory.  She took a case to the County Court with the help of the Commission and received £4,000 compensation.  The insurance company also agreed to change the terms of its policy relating to pregnancy.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Gerard's Story

Gerard was separated from the mother of his two children.  He had a Parental Responsibility Order and Shared Residency Order and the children alternated their time between both parents.

The children’s mother received the Child Benefit.  Because of this, Gerard was awarded Job Seekers Allowance as a single person with no enhancement for the children.

He appealed this policy to the Social Security Commissioner.  The resulting decision held that linking entitlement to Job Seekers Allowance additions to receipt of Child Benefit was discriminatory towards men and unjustified.

The Commission supported Gerard’s complaint to the County Court.  The Department for Social Development accepted sex discrimination had taken place and he received the sum of £7,500 in settlement of his case.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements

Nadia's Story

In 2005 Nadia was a pupil at a co-educational grammar school that did not allow girls to wear trousers as part of their uniform.  Nadia chose to wear trousers to school and was asked by a teacher why she was wearing them as they were not permitted for girls.

Nadia asked the school to reconsider their uniform policy and to allow female pupils to wear trousers.  The school refused and, alleging sex discrimination, Nadia took a case to the County Court which was settled with the school agreeing to pay £1000 to a local charity.  The uniform policy was subsequently changed to allow female pupils the option of wearing school uniform trousers.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


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