Guidance on Gender Segregation at British Universities

November 25, 2013

New guidance from Universities UK on hosting controversial speakers on campus suggests that, in regards to the issue of gender segregation at "ultra-orthodox" religious events, segregation from right to left is preferable than front to back and “a balance of interests is most likely to be achieved if it is possible to offer attendees both segregated and non-segregated seating areas, although if the speaker is unwilling to accept this, the institution will need to consider the speaker’s reasons under equalities legislation.”

The guidance, which is intended to help universities balance their legal responsibility to protect freedom of speech while also meeting the requirements of nondiscrimination legislation, also states that “Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

The guidance from the British presidential association, which includes a number of legal caveats and issues to consider in any given case, is likely to be controversial. The University of Leicester and University College London both found themselves under scrutiny last year after word got out that Islamic speakers invited to the campus addressed audiences segregated by gender. The Telegraph’s deputy women’s editor, Louisa Peacock, has called the new Universities UK guidance “outrageous. What is the point of a university's equality policy -- designed to promote equal rights between men and women of all faiths -- if it cannot or will not be enforced properly?” 


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