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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

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:

Gender pay strategy and pay reporting

We call for prompt action to bring Section 19 of the Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (‘the Act’) into force, and to introduce a gender pay strategy and associated action plan, in tandem with the introduction of Gender Pay Gap Reporting Regulations in Northern Ireland.

Law Reform: 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.

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

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was ratified by the UK in 1986 and 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 January 2019, the Equality Commission prepared a Shadow Report (pdf) to inform the UN CEDAW Committee's Concluding Observations on the UK. The submission highlights the priority equality issues affecting women in Northern Ireland. In March 2019, the UN CEDAW Committee issued its Concluding Observations on the UK (pdf).


Pregnancy/Maternity: Formal investigation into treatment of pregnant workers and mothers in NI 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 and guidance for employees on their employment rights:


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


Childcare and Early Learning

The Equality Commission has called for action to ensure appropriate, accessible, flexible and affordable childcare and early-years provision to meet the diverse needs of parents, carers, and children from across the range of equality categories. For more information, and to see our recommendations and supporting rationales, see

Download our full childcare policy priorities and recommendations:

Childcare Research

Improvements to childcare provision in NI are central to equality and for encouraging females to participate in the labour market. To inform the development of childcare policy options in Northern Ireland the Commission published an expert paper entitled 'Childcare: Maximising the Economic participation of Women'. Download the research findings:


Improving the gender balance in STEM business

STEM Charter
The Equality Commission has worked 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. 

Recent press releases, articles and blogs

All of the Equality Commission's gender/sex related press releases, articles and blogs are available online

Recent legal cases

Lauren’s story

Lauren McGee took a case claiming sex discrimination with the Commission’s help when she tried and failed to arrange a management trainee position with a local company.

Examples of sex discrimination legal cases

Examples of harassment cases


Further examples of Sex discrimination cases supported by the Equality Commission are available online

Programme for Government

Many key inequalities experienced by Section 75 equality groups remain persistent and hard to tackle and the Programme for Government (PfG) and Budget provide a key opportunity to advance equality of opportunity and good relations. There is also a need for a particular focus on identifying and tackling inequalities which have emerged from, or been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the policy response to it.


Read more on our recommendations at and

< Delivering equality
< Addressing inequality
Gender rights:
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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 No.32 (Latest report)

Monitoring Report 32The 32nd Monitoring Report presents an aggregated summary of the 3,879 valid monitoring returns received during 2021 from 105 public authorities and 3,474 private sector concerns.  These returns were mostly received between 1st January and 31st December 2021, with a period of extension granted to some companies due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year’s report shows the Protestant community share of the monitored workforce was [50%] and the Roman Catholic community share was [50%]. Women made up (52.4%) of the monitored workforce, a slight drop by 0.5% from the previous year (52.94%).
In 2021, the Roman Catholic community composition of the monitored workforce was 1.1 pp lower than the broad approximation of Roman Catholics available for work. The Roman Catholic community composition of the monitored workforce once again approximates estimates of those available for work as taken from the Labour Force Survey.
For the thirteenth consecutive year, the Roman Catholic community [52.8%] comprised a greater proportion of applicants than the Protestant community [47.2%].
In every year since 2006, members of the Roman Catholic community [52.7%] comprised a greater proportion of appointees than did the Protestant community [47.3%].  In 2021, the Roman Catholic community share decreased by 0.7 percentage points from the previous year. Overall their share has increased by [7.9 pp] from [44.8%] in 2001.
In 2021, the Roman Catholic community [51.3%] comprised a greater proportion of leavers than did the Protestant community [48.7%].  Overall, the Protestant community share of leavers has decreased by [7.1 pp] from [55.8%] in 2001.

Further information

Full details of the 32nd Fair Employment Monitoring report (2021) are available on our website

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.

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 Gender Publications >
Gender Legislation >
Gender equality publications:


Gender equality priorities and recommendations

Gender equality law reform priorities
Childcare policy priorities and recommendations
Childcare research: Maximising the economic participation of women
Treatment of pregnant workers and mothers in Northern Ireland workplaces - formal investigation
Other publications relating to gender:

Additional publications are available in our publication search facility

Consultation responses

Recent consultation responses relating to sex/gender:

All consultation responses are available in our main consultation responses search page

< Gender Equality Gender Research >
Gender Legislation >

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


< Gender Equality Gender Research >
Gender Publications >
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