Written by Student Rights on 18 July 2014 at 11am

EHRC guidance declares gender segregation 'unlawful'

Following the criticism which followed Universities UK’s release of guidelines excusing gender segregation in November 2013 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has released its own guidance.

It confirms the Commission’s view at the time that such practice was not permissible, and also challenges the suggestion that so-called ‘voluntary segregation’ is possible.

A press release states that the guidance:

...confirms that gender segregation, such as seating men and women separately at an event, is not permitted at events which are not acts of religious worship.

These include academic meetings, speaking events, lectures or meetings organised for and attended by students, members of the public or employees of the university or students union, whether or not held on university premises”.

It also says:

Genuinely voluntary gender segregation is permissible under the law. However, it is the Commission’s view that it would be impracticable for organisers to attain the necessary certainty that, at every stage, segregation was demonstrably voluntary for all individuals considering or attending an event and that there was no explicit or implicit expectation that men and women should sit separately.

The evidential challenge in relation to what is demonstrably voluntary will be significant and for that reason may be impractical given that universities must satisfy themselves that the event is lawful.

Therefore, the safest approach is to ensure that there is no encouragement of segregated seating by gender, other than in acts of religious worship”.

Finally, it points out that:

...any claim of religious discrimination on the basis of a refusal to permit gender-segregated seating would not succeed as the prohibition would be justified in order to prevent unlawful sex discrimination”.

Here at Student Rights we hope that this guidance by the EHRC will settle the issue, and that UUK and other groups will not seek to excuse this practice again.