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The Gender Equality Duty, Single Sex Services & Single Sex Employment

What is the Gender Equality Duty?

The Gender Equality Duty (GED) is a new law that came into force in April 2007 meaning that all
public bodies in England, Wales and Scotland must now take steps to promote equality of
opportunity between women and men and eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment
in all their functions. This is known as the ‘general duty’ and will apply to some voluntary and private
organisations as well1. It is enforceable by judicial review proceedings and anyone can take this

Many public bodies (including local councils, Health Trusts, police forces and schools) also have
specific duties which include:

 Setting gender equality objectives published in Gender Equality Schemes, and implementing
them within three years.

 Gathering relevant information and consulting with employees, service users and others to set
those objectives.

 Carrying out gender impact assessments on all current and new policies.

 Reviewing and revising the scheme at least every three years.

 Reporting on progress annually.

The specific duties are enforceable by the Equality and Human Rights Commission through the
County Courts. There are statutory Codes of Practice for England and Wales and for Scotland, as
well as guidance for specific sectors (e.g. health and education) and on specific issues such as
gender impact assessments and procurement.

There are also public sector duties to promote equality on the grounds of race and disability.

Single sex services

The GED does not change the law on single sex services. These remain lawful where there is a
clear need to preserve decency or privacy, for example a domestic violence refuge. This is a
complicated area of the law; for further information on single sex services, please see the Code of
Practice for the Gender Equality Duty.

Furthermore the GED does not mean that the same services must be provided for women and men
where their needs are different. For example, women are far more likely than men to experience
domestic violence and experience far more serious forms of domestic violence than men. They
often face interconnected problems related to finances and primary caring responsibilities for
children. The context and underlying motives for violence may also be different, thus requiring
different services.

The GED does not mean that single sex services should be cut and any instances of this should be
referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The GED requires public bodies to
proactively address the specific needs of women and men. There are many situations where single
sex services may be a more effective and efficient way of providing services so that women and men
have equal access to public services, or there are equal outcomes. This could entail:

 Providing services only to women, or only to men, or;

 Providing a similar service separately to women and men, or;

 Providing a service in different ways to women and men.

Single sex employment

The GED does not change single sex employment laws either. This is still covered by the Sex
Discrimination Act which allows, in limited circumstances, for discrimination in recruitment, training,
promotion and transfer in a job for which the sex of the worker is a genuine occupational qualification
(GOQ). This is the case where the essential nature of the job, or particular duties, call for a member
of one sex. The most common reasons for single sex employment is where the work:

 Is restricted to one sex to preserve privacy and decency.

 Is in a private home and would lead to physical or social contact with or knowledge of intimate
details of someone living there.

 Requires living in single sex accommodation.

 Is in a single sex establishment.

 Requires the promotion of personal welfare or educational services.

1 The Gender Equality Duty is contained in the Equality Act 2006 and applies to all bodies carrying out ‘public
functions’. For further information on this, please see the Code of Practice for the Gender Equality Duty.

To download Tools for Change, a toolkit of factsheets and enforcement letters, and for more
information on violence against women go to

For more information on the Gender Equality Duty go to