Just for men: brickbats for Leeds over Arabian night

The University of Leeds has been accused of breaching its own equality policies by agreeing to hold a men-only alumni event in Saudi Arabia.

March 14, 2011

The reception and dinner in Riyadh, which is due to take place on March, was originally advertised to alumni online with the caveat: “Please note this event is for men only.”

The wording was amended to offer further explanation only after a complaint was made. The Leeds website now clarifies that the institution was unable to gain authorisation for a mixed event from the Saudi firm that owns the hotel where the meeting is to take place.

A female member of staff at Leeds contacted Times Higher Education to complain that the event runs contrary to the equality and diversity policy in the university’s Royal Charter.

In the charter, Leeds pledges to “ensure that all individuals are treated fairly, with dignity and respect; that the opportunities it provides are open to all; and that the university provides a safe, supportive and welcoming environment for staff, students and visitors”.

The Leeds academic, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was “outrageous” that the university had decided to press ahead with the event in the knowledge that women would be excluded.

“The University of Leeds is meant to be an institution that promotes equality,” she said. “Part of its mission is that it will educate anybody, and for it to support discrimination like this is just dreadful.”

She added that the discrimination affected both female alumni and staff.

“The university is only sending blokes over there, so female staff are effectively being discriminated against,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the university said that the Riyadh event was one of many organised for Leeds alumni around the world.

“We always talk to academics, former students and contacts in the host country to plan events that are respectful of the local culture,” she said. “In this case, we were advised that a mixed gathering was inappropriate – and female former students would be unlikely to attend.

“After careful consideration, a men-only event was therefore planned on this occasion, with a women-only event planned for later in the year in Jeddah, where we have a larger number of female alumni.”

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com

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