Gender segregation on campus "unlawful"

New guidance for universities and student societies stating gender segregation is “unlawful” contradicts advice provided by Universities UK.

July 19, 2014

Legal advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission was welcomed by Labour, after stating that gender segregation, such as seating men and women separately at an event, is not permitted at events which are not acts of religious worship.

UUK, which represents 132 universities, faced a major political backlash in December after it published guidance on the voluntary segregation of men and women at campus events.

The controversy hinged on a case study, in which an external speaker was invited to talk about his orthodox religious faith and who subsequently requests segregated seating areas for men and women.

University officials should consider both freedom of speech obligations, as well as discrimination and equality laws when considering the request, UUK said.

Granting the request might be “appropriate” if neither men nor women were disadvantaged by the move, the UUK guidance said.

But the advice was roundly condemned by politicians, who accused UUK of pandering to religious extremism.

UUK eventually withdrew the case study after David Cameron joined the criticisms.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, who said he was “horrified” at the original advice, welcomed the new guidance, saying it “makes it clear to universities and student unions that, outside of religious worship and practice, gender segregation is unlawful and should be prohibited at all times.

“Labour is clear that we would not tolerate segregation in our universities.”

The EHRC, which was asked to review the guidelines after the UUK controversy, says gender segregation outside religious worship is likely to be considered “unlawful” by the courts, and amounts to discrimination if it results in disadvantage to any participant because of their gender.

Genuinely voluntary gender segregation is permissible under the law, but it would be “impracticable for organisers to attain the necessary certainty that, at every stage, segregation was demonstrably voluntary” and there should be no explicit or implicit expectation that men and women should sit separately, it adds.

The safest approach is to ensure that there is no encouragement of segregated seating by gender, other than in acts of religious worship, it says.

A spokesman for Universities UK said it had updated its guidance to take account of the EHRC advice.

“Enforced gender segregation is never acceptable,” the spokesman said.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Post-doctoral Research Associate in Chemistry

University Of Western Australia

PACE Data Support Officer

Macquarie University - Sydney Australia

Associate Lecturer in Nursing

Central Queensland University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Alexander Wedderburn

Former president of the British Psychological Society remembered

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham

The University of Aberdeen

Tim Ingold and colleagues at the University of Aberdeen have created a manifesto that they hope will preserve higher education's true values