Take any seat

January 9, 2014

The British Federation of Women Graduates welcomes the news that Universities UK has withdrawn its controversial guidance on voluntary gender segregation of audiences at the request of guest speakers.

The BFWG was astounded that UUK should ever have made such a recommendation. Universities are not religious premises, and lectures are not places of religious observance. Universities are secular institutions that live by freedom of speech, free exchange of ideas, freedom to assemble (including where listeners wish to sit) and freedom to protest. Segregation on grounds of gender is as unacceptable as that on grounds of race and disability and must be roundly condemned.

The British Federation of University Women (as the BFWG used to be known) was founded in 1907 with the aim of securing access to lectureships and research funding for female academics in a male-dominated academic environment and to support women in the academy against inequality and discrimination. Although things have moved on, it is alarming to note that in the 21st century, inequality and discrimination can be reintroduced under the pretext of accommodating religious sensitivities. The rights of the listener must surely be more important than those of the speaker.

Gabrielle Suff
Vice-president
British Federation of Women Graduates

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