International approaches to advance equality: insights from six countries

International research publication including insight from six countries on ways to advance equality.

Annex G: Summary of Evidence of Effectiveness by Country


Belgium has made significant strides in its efforts to promote equality, particularly about gender. Despite some debates regarding the absence of sanctions, Belgium's approach to reducing the gender pay disparity has proven effective. The Gender Pay Gap has decreased steadily over the past decade, and in 2021, Belgium had the third lowest gender pay disparity among OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations, at 4.8% (PwC Belgium, 2023). In other indices, such as the gender equality index of 2022, Belgium continues to outperform the EU average, especially in the economic and educational categories, where it has received the second-highest scores, behind Luxembourg and Sweden, respectively. (European Institute for the Equality of the Sexes, 2022)

The use of a central body to assist policymakers in assessing impact appears to be an effective method to maintain a particular quality standard that could be implemented in Scotland as well. Our interviews and the most recent evaluation conducted by the Belgian Impact Assessment Committee revealed that mandating the use of this guidance service would increase the meaningful analysis and use of data.


Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of equality legislation in Canada. Some key points from these works include Tebele & Odeku's (2014) study on the effect of anti-discrimination laws on reducing discriminatory practices in the workplace, which found that such laws have led to a decrease in discriminatory hiring practices. Additionally, a study by Smith School of Business (2019) found that equality legislation has played a significant role in promoting diversity and inclusion in educational institutions, leading to improved outcomes for marginalised groups. These findings highlight the positive impact of equality legislation in Canada and support the need for continued efforts in this area.

Bian et al.'s (2022) comprehensive overview of anti-discrimination legislation, McGill's (2021) evaluation of pay equity legislation, and Joshi's (2020) analysis of affirmative action policies further reinforce the importance of equality legislation in promoting a fair and inclusive society. These studies demonstrate that such legislation not only addresses systemic inequalities but also helps create opportunities for underrepresented individuals, fostering a more equitable and diverse society overall. As a result, it is crucial for policymakers to continue prioritising and strengthening equality legislation to ensure ongoing progress in promoting diversity and inclusion, and Joshi's (2020) analysis of employment equity legislation further reinforces the importance of equality legislation in fostering a fair and inclusive society. These studies demonstrate the multifaceted benefits of such legislation, including reducing discrimination, narrowing wage gaps, and increasing the representation of underrepresented groups in various sectors. Together, they provide a solid foundation for policymakers to prioritise and strengthen equality legislation to ensure equal opportunities for all individuals.

In addition, Stienstra 's (2020) study on human rights legislation and disability rights found that implementing comprehensive equality legislation not only promotes equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities but also leads to improved accessibility and accommodations in public spaces. This research highlights the importance of enacting laws that protect the rights of marginalised groups and create a more inclusive society. Furthermore, Joshi's (2020) analysis of equality legislation in the workplace revealed that it not only fosters diversity and inclusion but also enhances employee satisfaction and productivity. These findings underscore the significance of robust equality legislation in creating a fair and equitable society.

And Tamtik & Guenter’s (2019) study on employment equity legislation found that it not only addresses systemic barriers faced by marginalised groups but also leads to improved representation and opportunities for underrepresented individuals in the workforce. This research further emphasises the crucial role of comprehensive equality legislation in promoting social justice and equal access to opportunities for all members of society.

These studies provide valuable insights into the achievements and ongoing challenges of promoting equality and addressing discrimination across various dimensions of identity.

New Zealand

The effectiveness of equality legislation in New Zealand has been reported in a number of studies. These studies highlight the challenges in implementing and enforcing equality legislation, such as the lack of transparency in pay data and societal attitudes towards gender roles. The Employment Relations Act 2000 and Human Rights Act 1993 have made progress in promoting gender equality and preventing discrimination, but there are still gaps in implementation and enforcement.

The anti-discrimination legislation in New Zealand has also been crucial in promoting equal access to education for students with disabilities, but implementation challenges persist, including inadequate funding and support. Evans (2016) highlights the progress made through legislative reforms like the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 and the Human Rights Act 1993, but also notes ongoing challenges in addressing broader societal attitudes and achieving full equality for the LGBTQ+ community. Gunn et al. (2019) assess the effectiveness of New Zealand's legislative framework for promoting gender equality in the workplace, arguing that while the legislation has been instrumental in promoting women's rights, persistent gender pay gaps and the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions indicate the need for continued efforts to enhance its effectiveness.

In conclusion, the effectiveness of equality legislation in New Zealand depends on its context, implementation, and enforcement. To gain a deeper understanding of the efficacy and challenges of equality legislation in the country, additional research and dialogue are required. However, our interviews in New Zealand have uncovered a positive perspective on the effectiveness of equality legislation. The interviewed organisation was satisfied with the progress made in addressing gender inequality, citing improved workplace policies and increased awareness. However, other studies have highlighted ongoing challenges, such as the lack of accountability for non-compliant organisations and the need for more targeted initiatives to address intersectional forms of discrimination. In our thematic analysis of these interviews, we further emphasise the importance of ongoing evaluation and refinement of equality legislation. Specifically, we highlight the need for scrutiny, enhanced guidance, and setting equality outcomes to ensure the continued effectiveness of such legislation in promoting gender equality. These lessons are adaptable to Scotland.

Evidence of Effectiveness for the Use of the Mean Wage for Pay Gap Calculations in New Zealand

It is crucial to highlight that there is no consensus among academics over which is a more accurate metric for determining pay gaps: the mean or the median. While using the mean wage in pay gap estimates does have its benefits, it is vital to note that there is no consensus on which measure is superior. Here, we highlight some of the arguments that have been made in favour of using the mean wage.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recommends the median over the mean due to the latter's sensitivity to extreme values. The mean wage considers extreme values, such as very high or very low salaries; however, Creedy et al. (2018) argue that this can be crucial for comprehending income disparities within a population. The mean wage has been credited with reflecting differences among top earners; the mean wage can capture disparities among high earners, providing insight into the potential impact of gender or other factors on the highest levels of compensation (Hecht, 2021).

Comparability across groups is an important factor to consider when analysing mean wages. It is necessary to ensure that the groups being compared have comparable characteristics and job responsibilities, as variations in these factors can have a significant impact on the interpretation of mean wage differences (Budig and England, 2001). Since it provides a broad overview of wage disparities, the mean wage can be useful for comparing pay disparities across industries, sectors, or regions (Blundell, 2021).

In summary, due to the ability to reflect overall distribution and be more sensitive to high earners, and capture changes in distribution over time, and conform to economic theory, the mean wage is extensively used to calculate pay differentials. However, academicians and policymakers are divided over whether to utilise the mean or median wage. Income inequality has less of an impact on the median wage, which is more resistant to extreme values and reflects typical earnings. Enhanced guidance is important to inform a unified approach across sectors.

South Africa

Different perspectives can be found in the literature regarding the effectiveness of equality legislation in South Africa. Some studies indicate that equality legislation has made significant strides in promoting equal opportunities and addressing historical inequalities, whereas others highlight ongoing challenges and limitations. Employment equity policies have made progress, but substantive equality has not yet been attained. Narula (2019) highlights the need for stricter enforcement mechanisms and increased accountability. Furthermore, the gender quota legislation has increased the representation of women in political positions, but challenges remain in ensuring meaningful participation and removing structural barriers (Okedele, 2021).

Affirmative action policies have helped to diversify workplaces and increase black representation, but they have been criticised for reinforcing racial categories and perpetuating inequalities between racial groups (Matotoka & Odeku, 2021). Moyo and Bantwini (2016) highlight that, although policies in higher education have increased the number of women in academic positions, deeper structural changes are necessary to eliminate gender disparities in the sector. Representation and redistribution in post-apartheid South Africa indicate that while affirmative action policies have contributed to more inclusive governance and economic opportunities, they have been ineffective in addressing structural inequalities with deep roots and challenging power dynamics (Valodia & Ewinyu, 2023).

Overall, studies emphasise that South Africa's equality legislation has been instrumental in advancing equality and addressing historical injustices.


Our analysis of literature findings suggests that equality legislation in Sweden has effectively promoted gender equality and reduced gender-based discrimination. We have highlighted several key findings derived from scholarly works on this topic. Ahl and Nelson (2015) carried out a comparative study to look at the effect of Sweden's parental leave policy on gender equality. They found that equality legislation in Sweden effectively contributes to increased gender equality in the labour market and encourages fathers to take more parental leave, thereby leading to a more balanced distribution of childcare responsibilities between parents.

The OECD[32] conducted an examination of the effectiveness of Swedish antidiscrimination legislation in addressing discrimination against transgender individuals. It has been found that although the legislation has enhanced the legal protection of transgender individuals, challenges persist in relation to broader societal attitudes and awareness.

Duvander et al. (2020) conducted a study to examine the effects of parental leave reform in Sweden, with the objective of enhancing fathers' engagement in childcare. It has been concluded that the reform, along with other measures promoting gender equality, has yielded positive effects on unpaid work, employment patterns, and earnings in terms of gender equality.

In their study, Freidenvall (2018) examined the efficacy of gender quotas and gender-neutral parental leave policies in fostering gender equality within the labour market. It has been found that these policies have contributed to reducing the gender wage gap and increasing female labour force participation. While Andersson (2018) examines the challenges and opportunities associated with the implementation of equality legislation in Sweden. Our literature review identified various factors that influence the effectiveness of the legislation. These works emphasise the importance of continuously evaluating and monitoring these factors to address any potential gaps and ensure the legislation is effectively implemented.


The results of our literature review into the effectiveness of the Public Sector Equality Duty in Wales have produced a variety of conclusions. Some studies have found that the Public Sector Equality Duty in Wales has had a positive impact, leading to increased awareness and improved equality outcomes. However, other research suggests that there are still challenges and gaps in its implementation, indicating the need for further improvements and monitoring.

Smith et al. (2023) highlight the positive impact that equality legislation has had on organisational culture in Wales. They note that the Public Sector Equality Duty has contributed to positive changes in organisational culture by promoting greater awareness and engagement with equality and diversity issues. In addition, the authors note that the Public Sector Equality Duty has contributed to positive changes in organisational culture. Dwight & Biscomb (2018) suggest that the legislation has had a positive impact on organisational culture by fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility for promoting equality within public bodies.

Manfredi et al. (2018) emphasise the reporting requirement of the Public Sector Equality Duty as an important mechanism for enhancing transparency and accountability in public bodies and their efforts to promote equality. They argue that this is an important mechanism since it helps improve openness and accountability in public bodies and their efforts to promote equality. According to Clayton-Hathway (2013), the responsibility has given external stakeholders the ability to hold public organisations accountable for their commitments to equality, and this work argues that this is a positive development.

Some studies have found that interventions have a limited impact on outcomes for disadvantaged groups. Davies and Parken (2017) emphasise the limitations of the Public Sector Equality Duty in addressing deeper structural inequalities and achieving substantive equality for disadvantaged groups in Wales. Manfredi et al. (2018) suggest that although the legislation has caused some changes focused on compliance, it has had limited success in achieving genuine improvements in outcomes for specific equality groups.

Other studies have highlighted the difficulties in data collection and analysis. Clayton-Hathway (2018) specifically emphasises the challenges associated with collecting robust and reliable equality data. These challenges can impede the effective implementation and monitoring of the Public Sector Equality Duty. In addition, Manfredi et al. (2018) emphasise the necessity of improving data collection to facilitate meaningful analysis and precise targeting of interventions.

Importantly, Manfredi et al. (2018) argue that the absence of strong enforcement mechanisms brings the limited enforcement mechanisms to the forefront. They suggest that this may impact the effectiveness of the Public Sector Equality Duty, as public bodies may not feel compelled to take proactive measures to address inequalities. Clayton-Hathway (2018) emphasises the necessity of enhancing enforcement measures to bolster the legislation's effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes.

Overall, the studies reviewed across all 6 countries included in this research indicate that equality legislation has effectively promoted gender equality and reduced discrimination. However, it is also important to highlight the significance of addressing societal attitudes and regularly evaluating and monitoring the legislation to maintain and further enhance their effectiveness.


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