Discrimination on grounds of sex/gender, or WHAT IS IT?

Discrimination on grounds of sex/gender, or WHAT IS IT?

Discrimination means any unreasonable, unequal treatment of individuals by state authorities or other persons who have certain powers, competence or move within environments where people depend on one another in a certain way. The state should make sure that society does not discriminate people on grounds of sex. Discrimination on grounds of gender/sex is usually hidden because it works in combination with gender stereotypes that are usually considered “normal” and “right”.

Discrimination on grounds of sex – direct: When a person receives a less favourable treatment because of their sex (e.g., job postings that read “looking for a male for the post of a director”).

Discrimination on grounds of sex – indirect: A situation when a regulation, practice or policy that appears non-discriminatory (neutral) at the first sight have a negative impact on one of the genders (e.g., an employer decides that trainings will only be open to full-time employees. However, given the fact that part-time employees are almost exclusively women, the decision is discriminatory).

What is sex and what is gender?

Sex is a biological feature of an individual, determining whether a person is a female or male from the point of view of reproductive anatomy, these characteristics being universal. Gender is a “social” or “cultural” construct of sex referring to what society understands as masculine or feminine, or what is expected from a woman and man in society. From this point of view, gender is a learned behaviour of an individual. Unlike sex which is a universal category that does not change over time, gender defines roles, behaviours and norms deemed typical of women and men, which vary throughout different society, different time period or different social groups.

What is a gender stereotype?

Stereotypes or prejudice are generalised views society or individuals hold of a certain group of people. Gender stereotypes assess, in a simplified and generalised manner, abilities and qualities of men and women, or create a simplified picture of what is masculine and feminine while ignoring uniqueness of each individual. Stereotypes are usually negative in their nature, generally suggesting that all members of the same group are the same with the same behaviours. With respect to gender stereotypes, it gives rise to generally accepted and deeply rooted ideas of what is considered masculine and feminine. For example, all women are generally considered sensitive and all men rational (or “women are from Venus, men from Mars”), while a rational woman or a sensitive man are not deemed “normal”.

We usually consider gender stereotypes “innate”, even though they are in fact models of behaviour which people learn from their early childhood, similarly as they learn their mother tongue or other social roles. It means that children cannot develop what is natural to them, but their individuality is suppressed in favour to the fixed model of femininity or masculinity.

Stereotypes do not always play a negative role only. They simplify and make easier for individuals to understand various situations in life. On the other hand, they may result in superficiality. If they are present all around us, we consider them invariable standards. It is not true, however.

What is gender equality?

Gender equality is a fair treatment of women and men, which can also refer to “equal treatment, as well as a treatment which is not equal, but equivalent in terms of rights, benefits, obligations and possibilities. All human beings have the right to freely develop their abilities and chose possibilities without being limited by gender roles. Different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally recognised, assessed, considered and supported.”(quoted from the Glossary of Gender Equality – gender equality/inequality at It also means an equal visibility, empowerment and participation of both sexes in all spheres of public and private life. (definition by the Council of Europe)

Who discriminates?

In the case of discrimination on grounds of sex/gender, it is important to distinguish not only who is discriminated, but who discriminates, as well.Most often, the discriminating person is an individual who has a certain authority or powers to decide on matters important for others and is influenced, for example, by his fixed ideas of masculinity and/or femininity.

The state also discriminates, through its representatives, i.e., public servants, police officers, customs officers, prosecutors, judges, etc.

The most recent statistical survey has shown that Slovak women earn considerably less than men even if they have the same level of education, experience and skills as men doing the same job. Such a behaviour is discriminatory on grounds of sex/gender and results from a generally accepted and fixed idea of a man as a breadwinner, which is now often far from truth.

Service providers may also discriminate; for example a restaurant owner or a private security service that allows/prohibits entry to an entertaining establishment.

Discrimination may also occur with an employer recruiting and hiring a new employee, or a supervising officer who decides on bonuses or career promotion of their subordinates.

Colleagues at a workplace/schoolmates can also be those who discriminate – for example, by mocking, humiliating, slandering or encouraging to discrimination because in the workplace, people share a common environment, communicate together and results of their work or studies often depend on cooperation with others.

A condition that must be fulfilled in order to recognise a certain treatment as discriminatory is that a person who discriminates has the authority or powers, provides services or goods to others, or coexists with other people in a certain closed environment where people depend on each other in a way.

Is discrimination the same as intolerance?

Discrimination is not the same as intolerance. If a married couple quarrels because they cannot agree on how to bring up their children, or how they should spend their free time, it is not discrimination but a family dispute and intolerance. This conflict may be considerably serious, and end up with a divorce, but we can hardly find any discrimination in that because the man and woman are equal in their relationship and none of them depends on the other. However, if one of them was economically dependent on the other and suffered physical or psychological violence, coercion or ridicule, it would be discrimination.

If a company looking for an assistant includes in its job posting “looking for a woman below25”, it involves discrimination both on grounds of sex and age because it prevents men and people older than 25 year to apply for the post. Discrimination on grounds of discrimination is also involved when an employer prefers a male applicant over a female one for a management position, even though the woman is more fit for the position (she has better education, is more experienced), based on a stereotype that men are “better” managers.

When a famous dance club requires entrance fee from men only, and the entrance door is marked with “Babes Enter for Free”, it is direct discrimination. This particular case could also involve an instruction to discriminate, if ushers were instructed by their employer in advance that they should only ask entrance fee from men.


For the sake of ease of understanding, the text contains expressions and phrases which do not have to literally reflect the language of the Constitution, laws and EU directives. When drafting submissions to a court or preparing any other legal or professional actions, please refer directly to relevant regulations or consult experts for assistance.