British Group Withdraws Guidance on Gender Segregation

December 16, 2013

Universities U.K. has withdrawn controversial guidance it released last month on gender segregation at “ultra-orthodox” religious events on campus after coming under criticism from the prime minister’s office. The guidance, which was intended to help British Universities balance their legal responsibility to protect freedom of speech while also meeting the requirements of nondiscrimination law, said that in regards to a hypothetical case study in which an outside religious speaker requested seating segregated by gender, “a balance of interests is most likely to be achieved if it is possible to offer attendees both segregated and non-segregated seating areas."

However, last week a spokesperson for the prime minister said that David Cameron felt “very strongly” that guest speakers should not be permitted to address segregated audiences and urged Universities U.K. to review the guidance, as the BBC reported. Universities U.K issued a statement saying that it had withdrawn the case study in question pending a legal review.

"Universities UK agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers,” Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the British presidential association, said in a statement. “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.”

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