UUK gender segregation case study withdrawn

Controversial passage removed pending review as prime minister intervenes

December 13, 2013

A controversial case study that aimed to help guide universities on gender segregation at events featuring Islamic speakers has been withdrawn after David Cameron waded into the row over Universities UK’s advice.

The prime minister said universities should not be able to separate men and women at the request of guest speakers, a Downing Street spokesman said on 13 December.

His comments came amid growing criticism of legal advice issued by UUK last month, which says a speaker’s right to religious expression may be violated if a request to segregate an audience is not allowed for in some way.

A case study published as part of the advice says side-by-side segregation might be a possibility because this step would not disadvantage either sex, though it must be voluntary.

However, after Mr Cameron’s intervention, Nicola Dandridge, UUK’s chief executive, said the case study would be withdrawn pending a review of the document.

“Universities UK agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers,” she said.

“However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear. We are working with our lawyers and the [Equality and Human Rights Commission] to clarify the position.

“Meanwhile the case study which triggered this debate has been withdrawn pending this review.”

Education secretary Michael Gove was among others who had also accused UUK bosses of “pandering to extremism” by issuing the advice.

“Speakers who insist on segregating audiences should not indulged by educators,” said Mr Gove.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said he was “horrified” by the advice, which was also condemned by former Labour home secretary Jack Straw.

Ms Dandridge has also faced criticism after she said that gender segregation is not completely “alien to our culture” in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We are not talking about universities enforcing segregation,” Ms Dandridge told the programme on 12 December.

“One of the questions that runs through our case study which illustrates this questions is: ‘Is this segregation voluntary, have the people who are likely to come to this event agreed to the segregation?’”

According to a review of its advice by Fenella Morris QC, the organisation’s advice was “lawful” and “provides an appropriate foundation for lawful decision-making”.

However, the advice was further thrown into doubt by a statement published on 13 December by Mark Hammond, chief executive of the EHRC.

“Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it,” he said.

“However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the Commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”

Mr Hammond said UUK should clarify its guidance, which “concludes that the imposition of segregated seating in certain circumstances could be permissible.”

“The guidance also gives the impression that the right to manifest or express a religious belief should be balanced against the right not to be discriminated against,” he said.

“We think the guidance could be clearer on what the legal framework lays down on these issues to avoid any risk of misrepresenting the legal position.”

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

When gender Segregation is practiced by Jews they’re called Orthodox Jews. When its by Muslim they’re extremist. I was disappointed that not a single Muslim was able to explain gender segregation eloquently on LBC ( James O'Brien's show). The sad reality is that back a few years ago in ISOCS this was a complete non issue. I guess we are beginning to see the early stages of a modern day enforced form of liberalism, who knows what will be next in their agenda, maybe the beard? May Allah grant us steadfastness and allow the truth to be victorious. Separating men and women cannot necessarily be assumed to reflect a statement of male supremacy. It can reflect personal preferences, as in women-only gyms, etiquette concerning behaviour in sacred spaces, as in orthodox synagogues or mosques, or feminist calls for “autonomous women's space”. Like some feminists, some conservative Muslim women argue for their right to female-only spaces. Why should such requests be ignored simply because their purveyors are Muslim rather than radical secularists? Schools don’t separate children because girls are assumed to be inferior, but because it is believed by some educationalists that girls and boys perform better in single sex environments. Similarly to those who believe students of the opposite sex can be a distraction in co-ed classrooms, some Muslim groups believe this applies in lecture halls. One doesn’t have to condone this view (which I don’t) to accept its right to exist. If secularism means anything, it means the neutrality of the state on religious matters. Separate but equal access to a lecture is no more or less discriminatory than separate but equal access to education more broadly. As Baroness Warsi quite rightly points out, “there are certain boys in our political system who have spent their whole life being segregated from girls as they were educated, some of the best schools in our country are segregated.” The question does arise, why - when some of the UK’s leading schools, including some state schools - continue to offer separate educational facilities without encountering mass protests, why Muslims organising separate seating in an educational facility, does. Nobody's forcing you to attend their events that they hold on campuses. If you don't like segregation, don't attend. If you do like segregation, hold your event somewhere else please. I'm confused .Doesn't the Government support faith schools?Are they extreme? We've got a Girls school & a Boys school in my town. Very highly regarded both of them.Is this segregation? "Michael Gove has launched a passionate defence of faith schools, telling them they can avoid "unsympathetic meddling" from secularists by becoming academies. Writing in this week's Catholic Herald, the education secretary praised Catholic schools and attributed their strong academic performance to their religious ethos." "Mr Gove said: “Of course, what really makes Catholic schools stand out is their Catholicity … A key element of [Cardinal Manning’s] vision was that Catholic schools must be allowed sufficient autonomy to integrate the Catholic faith into every aspect of school life. A Catholic ethos is not something confined to RE lessons, but a pervasive set of values that find expression throughout the school day.” IA http://www.londonschoolofislam...

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