Regardless of gender, every individual is entitled to be treated equally with respect and dignity.
What is gender?
Gender is complex, encompassing the biological, psychological and social. It may refer to sex: the classification of male or female, assigned at birth. It could also mean gender identity: the internal awareness an individual possesses of their own gender. Further, it could refer to gender expression: the external expression of an individual’s gender identity, revealed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, physical appearance etc.
While gender is traditionally seen as binary (male and female), there is a growing appreciation for gender fluidity. For example, for transgender people, sex and gender identity are incongruent, and gender expression may change over the course of a lifetime. Additionally, some people may find themselves outside the binary, masculine-feminine dichotomy, also known as gender non-conforming, non-binary and/or genderqueer. This experience of gender identity and expression may or may not overlap, but is not interchangeable, with transgender experiences.
What is gender discrimination (including examples)?
Gender discrimination is prejudicial treatment due to your gender. It can take several forms:
This is treating an individual unfairly because of their gender, relative to how an individual of the opposite gender would be treated in the same situation.
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual harassment (For more information please see sexual harassment)
- Allowing only one gender to participate in clinics, theatres, ward rounds or patient examination or giving more favourable treatment to one gender over another in clinical training
- Making pejorative comments of a gender's suitability to a medical specialty or the medical profession
- Assuming female doctors/medical students are nurses and male doctors/medical students are consultants
This is when a rule, policy or practice is in place, which individuals of one gender are less able to meet than the opposite gender and places them at a disadvantage. e.g. Employer requiring all employees to work full-time, which mothers find harder to meet due to child caring responsibilities.
Importantly, if an organization can demonstrate a reason for the rule, policy or practice that is independent of sex, this does not count as discrimination (please see Legally endorsed unequal treatment)
This is when you are treated unfairly for making a complaint of gender discrimination or for supporting a person who has made a complaint.
- A hospital supervisor sets unrealistic deadlines or impossible work schedule following a formal complaint
- A colleague makes disparaging, ridiculing remarks about an individual who has made a formal complaint and/or anyone who has supported said individual
You are protected by law against gender discrimination under the following circumstances:
- Employment and training
- Goods and services provision eg. banking, entertainment and transport
- Any of the activities carried out by public authorities, such as the NHS, government departments, local authorities, the police and prisons
Gender discrimination does not need to be deliberate to be illegal. If you are discriminated against unintentionally, this can still count as discrimination.
Laws pertaining to gender discrimination include:
- Equal Pay Act 1970
- Equality Act 2010: Both gender and gender reassignment are protected under the act.
- Gender Recognition Act 2004:
*Please note, the law and descriptions of gender discrimination currently operate under the binary perspective, with gender reassignment being protected under the assumption reassignment occurs as male or female.*
Positive discrimination vs. Positive Action:
Positive discrimination is illegal and means favouring one gender over another to “offset” previous discrimination eg. only recruiting or promoting women for a position because of past discrimination against women for that position. However, positive action is not illegal and involves making up for historical, unequal opportunity by supporting one gender without actively discriminating the other. This involves for example providing extra training to female staff to support skills growth that would enable them to apply for jobs that historically underrepresent women.
Legally endorsed unequal treatment by gender:
There may be situations in which you need to be a particular sex for a particular job: this is known as an occupational requirement and is not discrimination For example:
- Specifically hiring a woman at a women’s only refuge for survivors of domestic violence, where it could be argued a male staff member would be psychologically harmful to the clients.
- A religious group arguing they can only hire men and not transgender people due to the religious convictions within the group
Where can I get support?
- Citizens Advice: Independent Charity network providing confidential advice for free
- Equality and Human Rights Commission