Category: Equality

Amendment to Canon C2 of the Canons of the Church of England

Amendment to Canon C2 of the Canons of the Church of England

On the 17 November 2014 the Church of England’s General Synod formally changed the Church’s Canon Law passing legislation enabling women to be consecrated as bishops, and formally amended Canon C2 of the Canons of the Church of England to state that “a man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop” [C2.1]. For the avoidance of doubt, the Canon also made explicit that “In the forms of service contained in The Book of Common Prayer or in the Ordinal words importing the masculine gender in relation to bishops are construed as including the feminine” [C2.6].

Colour photo of female priests
From Diverse Magazine

For the Church of England, this was the culmination of theological debates over women’s ordination which had spanned the twentieth century. From a legal perspective, it was even more significant. Because the Church of England is an established church, the Canon Law which governs its operation forms part of the law of the land.

The position of Church of England bishops is enshrined in the British parliamentary system, as the House of Lords comprises both Lords Temporal (those holding hereditary or life peerages) and Lords Spiritual (the most senior Church of England bishops). The Lords Spiritual had until this point been the last element of the Houses of Parliament that was legally barred to women, and so this Canon removed the final constitutional barrier to women’s full participation in parliament.

The full version of this landmark is written by Miranda Threlfall-Holmes.

Learn More

BBC News, ‘Church of England Formally Approves Plans for Women and Bishops’

Fabiana Barticioti, ‘Archive of the Movement for the Ordination of Women’ (LSE History, 1 December 2016)

The Independent, ‘Church of England Shatters ‘Stained-Glass Ceiling’ by Allowing Female Bishops’

Birmingham City Council v Abdulla [2016]

Birmingham City Council v Abdulla [2016]

Just over 40 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, 11,000 low-paid women local authority employees brought equal pay claims against Birmingham City Council. Mrs Abdulla was the lead claimant in a test case involving 170 women and four men. The claimants (the ‘Abdulla Group’) were ostensibly too late to bring their claims in the Employment Tribunal, where the limitation period for such claims is fixed at just six months. So they boldly challenged the received wisdom that equal pay claims belonged in the specialist tribunal, and instead lodged their claims at the High Court. When Birmingham City Council challenged this, they took their case all the way to the UK Supreme Court and won.

Abdulla established an important legal principle, namely that women had a right to bring equal pay claims in the civil courts, even when out of time in the Employment Tribunal, and even though it had been unheard of for women to exercise that right during four decades of operation of the equal pay legislation.

The full version of this landmark is written by Harini Iyengar.

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Fawcett Society, Sex Discrimination Law Review (January 2018)

Women’s Equality Party General Election Manifesto 2017: Equal Pay Policies

Welsh Assembly Election 2003

Welsh Assembly Election 2003

A landmark may mean different things. It may be something unique in an otherwise uninspiring landscape. Or it may be an indicator that from here on in the terrain changes. Let it be hoped that 2 May 2003 is an example of the latter

Catrin Fflur Huws

On 2 May 2003, the National Assembly for Wales became the first legislative body in the world to have an equal number of men and women returned as Assembly Members.

National Assembly for Wales – Welsh National Assembly [CC BY 2.0(]
A number of factors contributed to this result. First, the National Assembly for Wales was created at a time when increasing the proportion of women in Parliament was high on the Labour Party’s agenda and the political climate was encouraging for women. Second, as new institution the National Assembly for Wales was not fighting entrenched attitudes. Finally, it had size on its side. 50 per cent of 60 is, perhaps a more achievable target than 50 per cent of 650 Westminster MPs.

Since 2003, the proportion of women Assembly Members has remained consistently high – 47 per cent in 2007, 43 per cent in 2011 and 42 per cent in 2016. It is also significant that in all three of these elections, the near-equality of representation was achieved, not through the use of the regional list process, but rather, with women standing as constituency candidates in their own right.

The full version of this landmark is written by Catrin Fflur Huws.

Learn More

BBC News, ‘Largest Number of Welsh Female MPs Elected’

Owen Holzinger, Helen Jones and David Millett, ‘Assembly Election 2016: Women’s Political Representation’ (In Brief: the National assembly for Wales Research Service Blog, 27 May 2016)

Equality and Human Rights Commission, ‘International Women’s Day 2012 Update: Who runs Wales? The Journey Towards Gender Equality’

Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002

Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002

Political parties now seem to have embraced the importance of gender in their selection processes as an integral part of modernisation and election strategies, recognising it as a matter of democratic legitimacy as well as individual justice. Achieving women’s full and equal participation in elected bodies is one of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by 193 United Nations member states (including the UK) in 2015

Susan Atkins

The Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 was an enabling measure which allowed political parties to change their internal processes to improve women’s representation in elected bodies. The Act allowed political parties in the UK to use positive discrimination to tackle persistent under-representation of women in Parliament and other elected bodies. It did so by excluding from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Sex Discrimination Order 1976 (which applied to Northern Ireland) any arrangements made by political parties for the purposes of reducing inequality in the numbers of men and women elected as candidates.

Colour photo of the House of Lords during the Queen's speech
The Queen’s Speech from UK Parliament [CC BY-NC 2.0 (]
Proposals for a Bill were announced in the first Queen’s speech after the 2001 election, which saw a fall in the numbers of women MPs. This was in marked contrast to the doubling of the numbers of women MPs (to 18 per cent) following the 1997 election in which all women shortlists had been used by the Labour Party for half its “winnable” seats, until stopped by a legal challenge.

Passed with all party support in 2002, the Act put positive action to increase female representation in Parliament firmly on the map. Representation of women as MPs (which had remained at under 5 per cent until 1987) has increased at every following election up to 30 per cent by December 2016.

The full version of this landmark is written by Susan Atkins.


Learn More

Home of Commons Library, ‘Women in Parliament and Government’ (SN01250, 12 July 2017)

The Telegraph Media Group, ‘Labour to Change Law on All-Women MP Shortlists’

Webb v EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd (No 2) [1995]

Webb v EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd (No 2) [1995]

Webb is a landmark decision because it emphasises the reality that employers must accept – pregnancy is a normal part of the lives of many working women

Debra Morris

Black and white photo of a pregnant womanIn Webb v EMO Air Cargo (UK) Ltd the House of Lords held that dismissal on grounds of pregnancy was contrary to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, even though a man in similar circumstances (i.e. unable to work for a time) would also have been dismissed. Significantly, it was finally recognised that no comparison (e.g. to a sick man) was necessary to establish discrimination against a pregnant woman.

Looking back, we can appreciate how the English courts made heavy weather of this issue. It took the dedicated Ms Webb eight years, and a trip to Luxembourg (the location of the Court of Justice of the European Union) to win her case. Her tenacity is to be admired, especially upon learning that she was only a teenager when she was told that she would be sacked for being pregnant.

As Anne Morris commented at the time: “Nowhere was the reluctance to promote equality of opportunity for pregnant workers more apparent than in the long, tortuous saga of Mrs Webb”.

The full version of this landmark is written by Debra Morris.

Learn More

Clare McGlynn, ‘Pregnancy Dismissals and the Webb Litigation’ (1996) 4 Feminist Legal Studies

The Independent, ‘Law Report: Pregnancy Dismissal Amounted to Sex Discrimination’

OP-CEDAW (2005)

OP-CEDAW (2005)

Colour photo of the CEDAW for Youth launch
CEDAW for Youth from UN Women conference in 2016 [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0(]

In the twelve years the OP-CEDAW has been in force in the UK, it has made significant contributions to the development of women’s rights and brought into focus grave, systemic and entrenched gender inequalities.

Meghan Campbell

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (OP-CEDAW) opens up exciting new forums to enforce women’s civil, political and socio-economic rights. It allows individual women in the UK to hold the government accountable on the international stage for its commitment under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to eliminate discrimination against women and achieve gender equality.

There are many compelling reasons why women and women’s organisations in the UK should engage further with the OP-CEDAW. It is an affordable mechanism. UK women can submit their individual petition in a simple email. There is no requirement to use a lawyer, there are no complex evidentiary procedures or rules or costly oral hearings. In deciding claims under the OP-CEDAW, the CEDAW Committee is not a judicial body and there is no requirement of certain professional qualifications. Most importantly, however, the OP-CEDAW allows the women in the UK to bring to international attention overlooked aspects of gender equality and makes them active participants on the international legal stage.

The full version of this landmark is written by Meghan Campbell.


Learn More

LSE Centre for Women Peace and Security, ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women’

LSE Centre for Women Peace and Security, ‘CEDAW’s Key Cases on Violence Against Women’

Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, ‘Committee on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’

Olivia Percival, ‘What is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women?’ (Human Rights News, Views and Info, 10 March 2017)

Sam Grant, ‘What is CEDAW and Why Does it Matter to Women Worldwide’ (Human Rights News, Views and Info, 9 March 2016)

Sex Discrimination Act 1975

Sex Discrimination Act 1975

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 was immensely significant for a whole generation of women who needed no longer to accept that sexism was just the way of the world. They could point to the Act and challenge the discrimination they faced.

Ann Morris


The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 came into force along with the Equal Pay Act 1970 on 29 December 1975. The Act is undoubtedly of symbolic and legal significance for women but it is not without its critics. Indeed, even the White Paper that preceded the Act, ‘Equality for Women’, cautioned against expecting too much:

‘It is important to recognise the inevitable restraints on what can be achieved by legislation, so that it is seen in proper perspective, without arousing false expectations or encouraging a sense of complacency.’

Scan of a green guide on the Sex Discrimination Act 1975
Sex Discrimination Act 1975 from the LSE Library Collection (

The Act applied equally to men and women, making it unlawful to discriminate against either sex ‘on the ground of’ sex. It extended its coverage to ‘marital status’ but only in the employment field and only to those who were married, not those who were single.

Despite its limitations the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 deserves its place as a landmark both as a valuable measure in its own right, and as an important marker on the road to modern anti-discrimination laws. It is, moreover, another example of what can be achieved when campaigners and law-makers are united in the desire to produce social change. At the time of its enactment, Ronald Bell, QC, Conservative MP for Beaconsfield said of it that exposed Parliament to ridicule: ‘The good it will do will be microscopic and the harm will be immense’. History proves him wrong on both counts.

The full version of this landmark is written by Anne Morris.


Learn More

BBC News, ‘1975: New Laws to End Battle of the Sexes’

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Equal Pay Packet—With Strings’ 

Sisterhood and After Research Team, ‘The Impact of Legislation on Women’s Lives’ (British Library, 8 March 2013)

Criminal Justice Act 1972, Section 25

Criminal Justice Act 1972, Section 25

Colour drawing of a majority female jury
Drawing of Jurors from Beinecke Library collection [CC BY-SA 2.0)(]

For women, the significance of the reform was the removal of an indirect but powerful, symbolic form of gender discrimination, one which women’s organisations, including the National Council of Women, the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds, the Six Point Group and the Status of Women Committee had long lobbied against, not only because of its symbolism but also because they believed that the country would be better served if women played an equal part in the administration of justice.

Anne Logan

More than 50 years after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 had first admitted women to the jury-box, parliament finally legislated to remove all remaining statutory gender discrimination in the rules for jury qualification. Under Section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972, every person aged between eighteen and sixty-five and registered as a parliamentary or local government elector, with a few non-gendered exceptions, would henceforth be qualified for jury service.

The full version of this landmark is written by Anne Logan.

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘From the Archive, 12 January 1921: The Woman Juror’s New Sphere

Dagenham Car Plant Strike (1968)

Dagenham Car Plant Strike (1968)

Black and white photo of female Dagenham strikers holding up signs demanding equal rights and equal pay
Dagenham Car Plant Strike from The Telegraph (

As well as improving the women’s immediate circumstances, the strike acted as a catalyst for wider, positive change; especially for women working in industry. Demands for equal pay had been voiced many years before … [but] this highly-publicised action by the Ford sewing-machinists meant that the issue of equal pay was brought with some sense of urgency to the attention of government, prompting Parliament to legislate

Dawn Watkins

The Dagenham Car Plant Strike involved 187 women who were employed as sewing machinists by the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham, Essex. Ford had carried out an extensive review of its wages structure, under which both male and female job roles were allocated a grade. The women argued that the Grade B that had been allocated to their role failed to take into account the level skill involved in their work, and that they should be allocated Grade C, which was more in line with the grade allocated to men for work involving similar levels of skill.

Because they voiced their complaints only after the new structure had been formally agreed between Ford and their Union representatives, the women were required to follow a formal grievance procedure in order to seek redress. Sensing that this would be futile, the women took strike action. The strike lasted for three weeks and it resulted in the closure of the entire plant until a settlement was reached.

The women achieved a pay rise and although this was not yet equal to the pay assigned to male workers, the strike is widely considered to represent an important step towards the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 1970 – a statute designed ‘to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women.’

The strike has since been dramatised in the film Made in Dagenham in 2010 and Made in Dagenham the Musical in 2014.

The full version of this landmark is written by Dawn Watkins.


Learn More

BBC News, ‘Did the Dagenham Women’s Equal Pay Fight Make a Difference?’

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Obituary: Baroness Castle of Blackburn’

The Independent, ‘The Timeline: Women’s Pay’

Sisterhood and After Research Team, ‘Sisterhood and After: Pay and Equality Legislation’ (British Library, 8 March 2013)

Education Act 1944

Education Act 1944

Black and white photo of Ellen Wilkinson working with documents
Ellen Wilkinson by Elliott & Fry from © National Portrait Gallery, London [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0(]

The Education Act 1944 represented a hard won victory for women teachers, laid the groundwork for future campaigns on equal pay, maternity leave and childcare, and had significant consequences for the education of girls [who]… were able to complete their education and gradually populate the workplace, universities and professions in greater numbers than ever before
Harriet Samuels

The Education Act 1944 restructured the education system in England and Wales. It raised the school leaving age from 14, and provided for free full time education for children between 5 and 15 years of age. It also abolished the marriage bar, that had permitted a prohibition on the employment of married women teachers, setting a precedent for other employers and occasioned a spirited, but ultimately unsuccessful struggle for equal pay for women.

Although the Education Act 1944 was steered through Parliament by RAB Butler, a Conservative Minister, it was implemented by Labour’s first woman Education Minister, Ellen Wilkinson.

The full version of this landmark was written by Harriet Samuels.

Learn More

BBC News, ‘The Jarrow Crusade’

Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Education Act of 1944’

BBC News, ‘Rab Butler’s 1944 Act Brings Free Secondary Education for All’

Katherine Williams, ‘Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson, Socialist, Feminist, Internationalist’ (LSE British Politics and Policy, 21 February 2017)

Parliament, ‘The Education Act of 1944’ (Living Heritage: Going to School

Parliament, ‘Ellen Wilkinson’ (Living Heritage: People and Parliament Transforming Society

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Project leaders, Rosemary Auchmuty and Erika Rackley, talk to Elizabeth Woodcraft about the aims, methodology and ambitions for the Project for PodAcademy

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