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This is an exciting time for equality in Britain, and the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) welcomes the new gender equality duty as a powerful tool that will deliver real change and practical improvements in the lives of women and men, through helping public services to tackle gender inequality, which remains persistent and widespread.  

The duty will be a key tool for public sector managers to make the sector more efficient, effective and responsive to the realities of how we live our lives.  It should be a catalyst for real change in the way that public sector organisations think about their work, and the way that public policy and public services are designed and delivered.  Both politicians and those who deliver services are realising that a one-size-fits-all approach to design and delivery no longer meets the needs of 21st century Britain.  I hope the duty will help the public sector understand and address the different needs of women and men, leading to more user-friendly services, as well as making better use of the talents of both women and men in the workforce.

The gender equality duty comes into force in April 2007 and is the biggest change in sex equality legislation in thirty years, since the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act itself.  It  has been introduced in recognition of the need for a radical new approach to equality – one which places more responsibility with service providers to think strategically about gender equality, rather than leaving it to individuals to challenge poor practice.  

This Code will help public authorities meet the duty.  The Code will remain in force after the EOC has been dissolved and the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) takes over responsibility for promoting and enforcing sex equality legislation.  

This Code reflects the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA) and Equal Pay Act 1970 (EqPA) as at November 2006, incorporating amendments made through the Equality Act 2006. It is likely that there will be changes to that legislation in the near future, however, and public authorities should keep up-to-date with changes in the law through consulting the website of the EOC and, from late 2007, the CEHR.  

This includes the transposition into domestic legislation of the European Council Goods and Services Directive by December 2007 which will require amendments to the SDA.  In particular there will be express prohibitions on discrimination and harassment on the grounds of gender reassignment in the provision of goods and services.  There will also be express prohibition of sexual harassment and harassment on the grounds of sex in the provision of goods and services.   

The current Discrimination Law Review, which will inform the development of a Single Equality Act, will be looking at simplifying provisions between all forms of discrimination law, and may result in an integrated public sector equality duty covering not just the current duties for race, disability and gender but also sexual orientation, religion or belief and age.

Jenny Watson

Chair, Equal Opportunities Commission

November 2006

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