EHRC to help Universities UK improve the clarity of guidance on gender segregation and external speakers

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Mark Hammond, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“Clearly a university like any other institution is entitled to provide services and facilities separately by gender where appropriate and lawful for example, accommodation, sports and targeted welfare provision. It is also entirely permissible for a university or other organisation to have private members clubs for a single sex.

“Universities can also provide facilities for religious meetings and associations based on faith, as in the rest of society. 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.

“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.

“The UUK's guidance accepts that the initial question is whether that segregation is discriminatory and 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.

“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. UUK has now written to the Commission and we have agreed that we will work with UUK to ensure that their guidance and our guidance are consistent and clear.”