Schools, further education colleges, universities and bodies responsible for educational establishments such as Education and Library Boards, Boards of Governors, CCMS, are all included.
Article 24 of the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976
lists which types of educational establishments are covered.
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 treated worse than others because of your sex.
Example 1: A female pupil is actively discouraged from pursuing an engineering course by a teacher on the basis that it would be unsuitable for a woman.
Example 2: A 16 year old female pupil due to take exams is suspended from a Catholic grammar school because she is visibly pregnant. She is told by the school Principal not to return to class until after her baby is born, and that notes/instructions will be sent home and her work marked. The school agrees to make arrangements for her to sit her examinations outside the school.
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.
For example: You may find that a course you are interested in enrolling on has specific entry requirements that you do not have and that fewer people from your sex would have, and they are not necessary.
Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of sex discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint under sex discrimination law.
Example: A teacher constantly picks on a pupil because she supported another pupil’s sexual harassment claim against a teacher colleague.
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. It is also where you are treated worse because you have accepted or rejected sexual advances.
For example if a teacher (or any school employee) stipulates that your grade (or participation on a team, in a play, etc.) will be based on whether you submit to unwelcome sexual conduct.
You can be the target of sexual harassment in a range of settings that include:
• Teacher / pupil harassment
• Pupil / teacher harassment
• Pupil/ pupil harassment
• Teacher / teacher harassment
We have advised a small number of individuals (7) with potential complaints on sex discrimination in education.
We helped individuals with issues such as:
- access to colleges and schools
- school uniform requirements
Research such as “Grasping the Nettle, the experiences of gender variant children and transgender youth living in Northern Ireland” (Institute of Conflict Research 2013) highlights the prejudice and discrimination that young transgender people and their families experience. If you are a member of the trans community you are covered by the sex discrimination laws.
You are protected from discrimination in education in the following areas:
Access to classes, courses or other benefits, facilities or services provided by the school or college; for example girls and boys should have the same access to the school curriculum
Exclusions or other unfavourable treatment
Facilities provided by educational establishments in the public sector.
However, there are circumstances where sex discrimination is allowed in education such as:
Single- sex schools and single-sex boarding accommodation in co-educational schools.
Single-sex teaching groups in co-educational schools are also lawful, provided the provision to boys and girls is equal.
So far, there is no decided case law on sex discrimination arising from school uniform policies in Northern Ireland. Schools are allowed to set rules about what pupils should and should not wear at school. However, it is good practice for schools to review school uniform requirements regularly to ensure that they reflect current conventions on dress.
For example: A pupil, Nadia Coyle, took a case against the Board of Governors of St Joseph’s Grammar School in Donaghmore. She argued that in light of what is now conventional dress for girls, it was unlawful sex discrimination to deny a girl the opportunity to wear smart trousers as an alternative to a skirt. The case was settled out of court in 2007 and the school subsequently changed its policy allowing female pupils to wear trousers.
What can I do myself?
1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance. Should you decide to take your case to court, you can ask for us to provide legal representation. Remember the time limits referred to in the earlier section particularly the need to notify the Department of Education if your complaint concerns certain public sector education.
2. Raise your complaint directly with the education body and seek a resolution. If your complaint relates to harassment you will find that most schools, colleges and universities will have an anti-bullying / harassment policy which sets out how they will investigate and deal with your complaint and support victims.
3. Go directly to court with your own legal representative to lodge a complaint of discrimination.
How can the Equality Commission help me?
1. We provide advice and assistance.
2. We provide legal representation in a limited number of cases.
Only a court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to and independent from the Equality Commission.
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).
These are publications relevant to sex discrimination:
You can also visit our publications database