By British Humanist Association
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have today published new guidelines on gender segregation in meetings and events after Universities UK (UUK) were forced to pull guidance they had issued which endorsed gender segregation at university events. The new guidance ‘Gender Segregation at Events and Meetings: Guidance for Universities and Student Unions’. The new guidelines clearly state ‘Universities and students’ unions must not knowingly facilitate discrimination by others at the request of an external speaker or an individual attending or wishing to attend an event’ The British Humanist Association(BHA) and National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) who condemned the UUK guidelines and submitted evidence to the EHRC have welcomed the EHRC guidelines as the correct and proper interpretation of the law.
In November 2013 Universities UK (UUK), the umbrella organisation for UK academic institutions published a report which endorsed gender segregation at university events. The report, entitled ‘External speakers in higher education institutions’, set out guidance for academic institutions for managing controversial visiting speakers. However, the report also stated that the segregation of the sexes at universities was not discriminatory as long as ‘both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.’ The new EHRC guidance which takes into account universities legal obligations to secure freedom of speech under both the Human Rights Act (Article 10) and the Education Act 1986 states;
‘Students’ unions are obliged to protect freedom of speech under education law and act in accordance with anti-discrimination duties under equality law. These obligations apply to their activities on the premises they occupy permanently or temporarily within and outside the university establishment. These legal obligations are also likely to apply to activities carried out in premises otherwise unconnected with the students’ union or the university but which are occupied by associations affiliated to students’ unions. Students’ unions maintain their own protocols and policies regarding meetings.