It is important to remember that people are not defined by any singular characteristic. Social determinants such as ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexual orientation combine and intersect to affect health and wellbeing, often varying across the life-course.   Everyone has at least five protected characteristics.

A narrow focus on one aspect of an individual´s or a group´s identity may therefore work to the detriment of understanding and responding to the reality of their lives and experiences.

Sex and gender are often used interchangeably and as if they mean the same thing, however they do not.

Sex refers to characteristics of women and men that are biologically determined. People are born male or female but learn to be girls and boys who grow into women and men (World Health Organization, Gender definitions, 2012).

Gender refers to socially constructed differences between women and men, including expectations of roles, and responsibilities, as well as differences in patterns of employment and unpaid work (World Health Organization Policy Brief 2009).

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection for women and men from all backgrounds, workforce and service delivery perspectives.

There are four types of Sex discrimination.

Direct discrimination: treating someone less favourably because of their actual or perceived sex, or because of the sex of someone with whom they associate. An example of this could be not employing a woman purely because of her gender.

Indirect discrimination: can occur where there is a policy, practice or procedure that applies to all workers, but particularly disadvantages workers of a particular sex. For example, a requirement that job applicants must be six feet tall could be met by significantly fewer women than men. Indirect discrimination can only be justified if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Harassment: when unwanted conduct related to sex has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.

Victimisation: unfair treatment of an employee who has made or supported a complaint about sex discrimination.

It is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of their gender. In very limited circumstances, there are some jobs which can require that the job-holder is a man or a woman. This is known as an ‘occupational requirement’. The list of occupational requirements is restricted. One example is where the job holder is likely to work in circumstances where members of one sex are in a state of undress and might reasonably object to the presence of a member of the opposite sex such as a bra-fitting service.

Other legislation that is now covered by the Equality Act, but previously influenced gender equality practice includes the following:

  • Equal Pay Act 1970
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999
  • Equality Act 2006
  • Sexual Orientation Regulations 2007 (inc. Goods, Services and Facilities)
  • Gender Equality Duty 2007
  • Sex Discrimination (Amendment of legislation) Regulations 2008
  • Various EU Employment Regulations


Further information:

Equality and Human Rights Commission