This article on ‘Gender Neutral Laws in the UK: All You Need to Know’ is written by Managya, an Intern at Legal Upanishad.
Gender-neutral laws are those that help protect the rights of all people and which also prevent and punish discrimination on the basis of gender. They ensure that all are treated equally in socio-economic and other aspects of society. Gender equality has been a long-existing issue in society. Earlier gender used to include men and women and in some cases transgender but the term gender has evolved drastically over the last few decades. The States have altered their laws to include the needs and rights of the LGBT+ community.
This article focuses on the gender neutral laws in the UK that deal with ensuring gender equality and how they have evolved over the years to become more inclusive.
For protection against discrimination on the basis of gender and marital status, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was introduced. Its purpose was to ensure that men and women were not harassed in matters of employment and education on the basis of their gender.
A lot of people were affected by transsexualism in the UK. They often underwent a medical procedure to match their bodies to their gender identity. This procedure is referred to as “gender reassignment” and could take months or years to be completed. To protect the rights of transsexuals the Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999 were laid down. They were a measure to prevent discrimination in pay, workplace behaviour and vocational training of those undergoing the gender reassignment process. A person who has undergone gender assignment could not alter his or her birth certificate but can legally obtain other official documents such as a passport and driving license in their new identity.
Gender Recognition Act 2004 made the abovementioned process for transsexuals more structured. It allows them to get a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) for legal recognition in the acquired gender. The Act defined information relating to the process of gender recognition as protected information with an aim to safeguard their privacy. It also legalised receiving birth certificates in the acquired gender.
EQUALITY ACT 2006
Equality Act 2006 was an attempt to combine the various equality enactments so as to lay down comprehensive legislation that ensures equality in all aspects is it religious, racial, disability, gender, sexual orientation, belief or age. It provided for the creation of Equality and Human Rights. Commission.
It further provided to lay down the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. These regulations, for the purpose of provision of goods, services, education and other public functions, made discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation unlawful.
This Act paved way for the Equality Act 2010 which is discussed as follows.
EQUALITY ACT 2010
Equality Act 2010 consolidated 9 major equality laws and 100 other anti-discriminatory enactments into a single Act while it increased the strength of protection for some aspects. It laid down the procedure for punishing anyone who discriminates against any other person on the basis of race, religion, sex, disability, etc. Different parts of this legislation came into force at different times to allow authorities to prepare new laws and structures to apply the various provisions of the Act.
It also established an ‘Equality Duty” in the public sector. It means that all public bodies while carrying out their everyday tasks, have a duty to take into consideration all individuals in an effort to eliminate discrimination and promote equality in terms of opportunity.
It provides for equal pay for equal work i.e. elimination of discrimination in pay on the basis of gender. It makes it unlawful for employers to prevent employees from discussing their salaries. It has made it necessary for any company with 250 employees or more to publish about any differences in the pay given to its male and female employees. Public bodies are also mandated to publish information relating to equal pay. It aims at removing the pay gap between men and women or any other gender.
The Act also promotes the employment of women for top positions or elections to Parliament and local councils by the use of positive action. It also focuses on the elimination of discrimination against those who are getting an education or any vocational training on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. Equality targets have been set for the private sector for the said purpose.
The Act also make sit unlawful to prevent a woman from breastfeeding her baby in public places like cafes or buses and they cannot ask her to leave either.
The Equality Act 2010 also introduced the Gender Equality Duty which mandates all public bodies to create a 3-year scheme for gender equality and impact assessments of the legislation and policies in this respect.
LAWS RELATING TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Sexual harassment and domestic violence continue to be major issues for women. Despite that sexual harassment is not a standalone offence but it is dealt with under the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The definition of rape under the Sexual offences Act 2003 is very limited and needs to be broadened. Furthermore, these laws focus on protecting women only while ignoring the need for the protection of men against sexual harassment, domestic violence or rape. Thus the definition of these offences also requires to be broadened to be inclusive of other genders as well.
Surrogacy and prostitution are not criminal acts in themselves but related activities are. The purpose is not the protection of women but the degradation of the activity. The Abortion Act 1967 was made in an attempt to make lawful the illegal abortions taking place but still did not make abortion an individual right.
The legislation in the UK for the purpose of promoting gender equality has come a long way. They have evolved to effectively provide equality between men and women. They have also become inclusive of the needs of transsexuals by easing the legal process for gender recognition by protecting the privacy of their information and legalising the birth certificates in the acquired gender. The laws have focused on increasing the representation of all genders in both public and private institutions and organizations.
There is still a long way to go with regard to gender equality in criminal offences. The definition of the offences needs to be widened enough to accept males as the victims of the crimes too and not just as the perpetrators. Hence, there is a need for gender neutralization of laws for criminal offences too.
- Are women fully protected by law? The University of Law Retrieved: https://www.law.ac.uk/resources/blog/are-women-protected-by-law/
- The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, Family Law, Lexis Nexis Retrieved: https://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/the-equality-act-sexual-orientation-regulations-2007-si-2007-1263#:~:text=These%20Regulations%2C%20which%20are%20made,and%20exercise%20of%20public%20functions.
- A Guide to Sex Discrimination Gender Reassigment Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1999, Department of Economic Devlopment Retrieved: https://www.equalityni.org/ECNI/media/ECNI/Publications/Individuals/guide-sex-discrim-gender-reassignment-regs.pdf
- Equality Act 2010:Guidance, Government of UK Retrieved: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance
- The Equality Act, Making Equality Real, Government Equalities Office Retrieved:https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/85012/easy-read.pdf
- Bukky Balogun et al, Gender Recognition Act reform: Consultation and Outcome, 18 February 2022, House of Commons Library Retrieved: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9079/
- United Kingdom Champions Gender Equality In Public Policy, Anti-Discrimination Legislation, But Closing Gap Between Sexes Unfinished Business, Experts Told, United Nations Retrieved: https://www.un.org/press/en/2008/wom1694.doc.htm
- Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassigment) Regulations 1999 (1999 No. 1102)