Right of Reply

The head of the Equal Opportunities Commission says sexual equality is a human right
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The Independent Culture
Last week, Anne McElvoy expressed some fears about the Equal Opportunities Commission's proposals for a new Sex Equality Law. Fear not. Social engineering is out. Building a consensus for change is in.

More than 200 organisations and individuals across the spectrum responded to our proposals on replacing the old Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts. We've seen huge support for a single statute that would protect sex equality as a basic human right.

Our proposals grew out of 22 years of front-line experience. It's clear from the thousands of calls we get each year (25,000 in 1997) and discussions with a huge network of partners that the old laws are out of date. They don't cover sexual harassment. They don't deal with transsexualism. And they don't reflect that British society has changed in two decades. There has been much progress, but there are still pervasive inequalities.

A new law will not be a panacea. Real equality will come when government, employers and other organisations build equal treatment into their goals, policies and programmes - what we call "mainstreaming" equality. Good practice and good law are needed and the EOC would like to see both in action.

Just to be clear: we don't support quotas; we support selection on merit. We also support shifting the burden of proof so that an employer has to tell an industrial tribunal or court why they treated an employee in a particular way.

Ms McElvoy asks whether she is a victim of sex discrimination or just unlucky in her workplace. She is neither. The women and men who have been denied jobs, advancement, services or opportunity simply because of their sex are the victims.

Those are the people who will be helped by a better law and good equality practice.