Written by Student Rights on 13 December 2013 at 6pm

Victory for campaigners as UUK withdraw gender segregation guidelines

The news that Universities UK has announced that it will be withdrawing guidelines which excused gender segregation on UK campuses is a great success for those who have been campaigning on this issue since the guidelines were released in November.

The guidelines declared that:

Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way”.

They also favoured the rights of the religiously intolerant over women by stating that:

...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”.

A broad church of campaigners, including students, equality groups and human rights activists, responded to this excuse of ‘gender apartheid' by rallying support across the UK.

A demonstration outside UUK’s offices showed that people were willing to turn out on the streets to support the rights of women on campus, and this brought the issue to wider public attention.

This led to vocal opposition to this practice from both Labour and the Conservative Party, showing that this was a non-partisan issue, and giving the campaign the strength of political consensus.  

Prime Minister David Cameron said through a spokesperson today that he:

"...does not believe that guest speakers should be allowed to address segregated audiences, so he believes that Universities UK should urgently review its guidance".

Meanwhile, Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna said on Thursday that a Labour government would “not tolerate segregation in our universities”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission, to whom UUK had referred the guidelines, also declared that “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".

It is vital this momentum is not allowed to slip, with UUK stating that it has only withdrawn the guidance “while it reviewed its stance”, and Student Rights will continue to report and campaign on this issue as the 2013/14 academic year continues.  

Finally, congratulations to all those involved in this campaign, including:

One Law for All; Southall Black Sisters; Left Foot Forward; the Lawyers' Secular Society; the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies; LSE Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society; the National Secular Society; the Peter Tatchell Foundation; the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; British Muslims for Secular Democracy and many, many, others.