Know Your Rights

Policy and legislation on the global, national and University level protect your right to equality. Empower yourself by knowing your rights, and speaking out if they’re not being respected.

Upon entering Cambridge, you are also ensured rights under University policy. If you feel that your rights to dignity, safety and equal treatment are being violated, don’t remain silent! Get in touch, and speak out if you feel able to do so.

These documents outline University and National policy on gender equality:

National Legislation

University Policy

Gender Duty

The Gender Duty is a huge step forward for pro-equality legislation, placing the responsibility onto public authorities to proactively tackle gender discrimination, rather than just empowering individuals to challenge discrimination. The Gender Duty came into force in April 2007, placing specific responsbilities on public authorities to be aware of the gender-related outcomes of current practices, and implement policies which address existing inequalities.

Briefing document on the Gender Duty from the Equal Opportunities Commission.

More Info about the Gender Duty from the Equal Opportunities Commission Website

The gender equality duty is a new legal requirement on all GB public authorities, when carrying out all their functions, to have due regard to the need:

  • To eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sex
  • To promote equality of opportunity between women and men.

Functions include policy-making, service provision, employment matters, and statutory discretion, as well as decision-making. ‘Due regard’ means that authorities should give due weight to the need to promote gender equality in proportion to its relevance.

The duty requires organisations to take action on the most important gender equality issues within their functions. The promotion of equal opportunities between women and men requires public authorities to recognise that the two groups are not starting from an equal footing and identical treatment will not always be appropriate. Under the duty authorities also have an obligation to eliminate discrimination and harassment towards current and potential transsexual staff. This duty will extend to trans-sexual service users in December 2007.

The duty is made up of two elements, the ‘general’ duty and the ‘specific’ duties. The general duty is the overall duty to eliminate discrimination and harassment and to promote equality. The general duty will come into force in Great Britain on 6th April 2007.

The specific duties are not an objective in themselves, but a means of meeting the general duty. The specific duties for England, Scotland and Wales are different. Full details of the legal requirements of the duty are set out in the statutory Code of Practice for England and Wales and the separate Code for Scotland.

English specific duties

The English specific duties require each organisation to:

  • Prepare and publish a gender equality scheme, showing how it will meet its general and specific duties and setting out its gender equality objectives.
  • In formulating its overall objectives, consider the need to include objectives to address the causes of any gender pay gap.
  • Gather and use information on how the public authority’s policies and practices affect gender equality in the workforce and in the delivery of services.
  • To consult stakeholders (i.e. employees, service users and others, including trade unions) and take account of relevant information in order to determine its gender equality objectives.
  • To assess the impact of its current and proposed policies and practices on gender equality.
  • To implement the actions set out in its scheme within three years, unless it is unreasonable or impracticable to do so.
  • To report against the scheme every year and review the scheme at least every three years.

Those public authorities in England that are subject to the specific duties must publish their gender equality schemes by 30th April 2007.

Sex Discrimination Act

[from the Equality and Human Rights Commission website]

Under section 22 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 it is unlawful for the ‘responsible body’ of an educational establishment to discriminate on grounds of sex. This covers discrimination by:

  • schools
  • further education colleges
  • universities

The responsible body for the establishment will be the local education authority (LEA), governing body or proprietor, depending on the circumstances.

The Sex Discrimination Act gives a full list of which types of educational establishment are covered by these provisions.

Section 22(1) makes it unlawful for a responsible body to discriminate on grounds of sex:

  • in the terms on which it offers to admit a student, or by refusing or deliberately omitting to accept an application
  • where the person is already a pupil at an establishment, the responsible body is prohibited from discriminating in the way it affords them access to any benefits, facilities or services or by excluding them from the establishment or subjecting them to any other detriment.

In addition, sections 22(2) and (3) make it unlawful for the governing body of a college or university to discriminate:

  • in the arrangements it makes for the purpose of selecting people for admission into the institution
  • by subjecting a student or applicant to harassment

Separately, section 23 makes it unlawful for LEAs, the Learning and Skills Council for England, the National Council for Education and Training for Wales, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Training and Development Agency for Schools to do anything which constitutes sex discrimination when carrying out their functions under the various Education Acts.

Citizens’ Advice Bureau Advice on Sex Discrimination

Dignity @ Work

The University’s Dignity@Work policy was formulated to deal with complaints of harassment or bullying. It is chiefly meant to deal with complaints between members of staff, or a complaint made by a student of inappropriate behaviour of a member of staff. There is currently a Dignity@Study policy, more geared towards students, being passed through University committees, but the D@W policy should give you a basic outline of complaints procedure in case of instances of inappropriate behaviour.

Remember that if you feel that resolving the compaint informally is not possible, safe or appropriate, you may place a formal complaint. The policy is meant to set out the first steps which can be taken towards resolution. There are professional mediators available to advise and accompany students in the conflict resolution process.


“Any necessary action, including disciplinary action, will be taken towards a member of staff who is demonstrated to have subjected any member of the University community to such treatment. Ideally, except where there is evidence of wilful misconduct, the outcome of disciplinary action should be to solve the problem and prevent a recurrence of the behaviour rather than punishing it. In extreme cases, where there is no prospect of a solution or the behaviour was seriously in breach of this policy, dismissal may be the only possible course of action.”

University D@W webpage here

Equal Opportunities Policy

Policy and codes of practice (the important bits):

The University of Cambridge is committed in its pursuit of academic excellence to equality of opportunity and to a pro-active and inclusive approach to equality, which supports and encourages all under-represented groups, promotes an inclusive culture, and values diversity.

The University is therefore committed to a policy and practice which require that, for students, admission to the University and progression within undergraduate and graduate studies, will be determined only by personal merit and by performance. For staff, entry into employment with the University and progression within employment will be determined only by personal merit and by the application of criteria which are related to the duties and conditions of each particular post and the needs of the institution concerned.

Subject to statutory provisions no applicant for admission as a student, or for a staff appointment, or student, or member of staff, will be treated less favourably than another on the grounds of sex (including gender reassignment), marital or parental status, race, ethnic or national origin, colour, disability, sexual orientation, religion, or age. For students, ability to meet the requirements of the selection criteria for competitive admission and for staff, ability to perform the job, will be the primary consideration.

If any person admitted as a student or appointed as an employee considers that he or she is suffering from unequal treatment on any of the above grounds in his or her admission, appointment, or progression through the University, he or she may make a complaint, which will be dealt with through the agreed procedures for complaints or grievances or the procedures for dealing with bullying and harassment, as appropriate.

University Equality and Diversity webpage (including full Equal Opps policy) here