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DLA Annual Conference 2017 "The Place of Gender in Equality Law" - Friday 3rd November - CONFERENCE REPORT

Date published: 
1 October 2017
DLA Conference 2017
The Place of Gender
in Equality Law

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The DLA Conference was held on Friday 3rd November in Central London and was very well attended with a diverse delegate list - it explored current key equality and discrimination issues through the lens of gender with the aim of considering why prejudice is still so strong and how we can bring an end to it.

 

Although it was lamented that there is a lack of vision among political leaders for the UK’s future generally or for addressing inequality, the conference speakers and participants articulated a wide range of suggestions for developing and improving equality law, with a particular focus on gender equality and protection against sexual harassment.

 

These suggestions included extending gender pay gap reporting across the grounds of ethnicity and disability, technological barriers to minimise harassing and abusive communications, an independent violence against women commission, equal pay requirement in procurement, an enforceable code of practice on dress, a duty on large private sector employers to prevent discrimination and harassment, considering misogyny as a form of extremism, using licensing provisions to enforce equality, a finding of sexual harassment as a reason to be struck off regulatory professional bodies, and many more.

 

The current media/society’s focus on sexual harassment has created a ‘golden moment’ to ensure politicians and employers accept legal change and activists were urged to be less timid in making demands. The responsibility to ensure workers are treated properly and without discrimination is on government and employers; likewise the responsibility to end sexual harassment is on men - the focus should no longer be on the victim to take responsibility to identify and challenge harassment.

 

In relation to the legal tools required to bring about change, there was a call for the public sector equality duty in England to be made more effective, less process driven and more focused on outcomes. The conference was reminded that prior to the Equality Act in 2010, the gender equality duty was stronger; Wales has good examples to learn from, as public bodies there are required to provide more detailed plans and to work towards specific actions in the pursuit of equality.

 

More protection is needed for people/workers suffering harassment - when the present wave of disclosures of sexual harassment cease, there will be a need to keep the momentum going.  The conference participants supported a call for a mandatory duty on employers to record all complaints and investigate all allegations of sexual harassment. Where there is more than one allegation, it was suggested that there should be an assumption of truth. It was argued that this would not undermine the presumption of innocence, but an assumption that the victim was telling the truth was necessary to change the power relationship between harasser and harassed.

 

An intersectional approach to discrimination should be explored further and could lead to an understanding that anti-discrimination law and practice was everyone’s business, not just that of the affected group; it would also help to embed positive action as the norm, rather than the exception.

 

Cultural barriers to reporting sexual harassment need to be broken down by, among other strategies, establishing a national education strategy which tackles gender stereotyping, empowers girls in particular, and teaches children about equality and their legal rights and responsibilities.

 

The DLA is grateful to everyone who contributed to making this such a stimulating conference. Thank you to our speakers and panellists for their insightful presentations, to the workshop facilitators, and to Allen and Overy for hosting the conference.

 

The Discrimination Law Association is very grateful
to Allen & Overy for their generous support