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Sex segregation is the separation of people according to their gender.

The pejorative term gender apartheid (or sexual apartheid) has been applied to segregation of people by gender,[1] implying that it is sexual discrimination.[2] In some circumstances, gender segregation is a controversial policy, with critics contending that in most or all circumstances it is a violation of human rights, and supporters arguing that it is necessary to maintain decency, sacredness, modesty, female safety,[3] or the family unit.[4]

Public facilities

File:Ladies Only Train.jpg

A sign on a station platform in Osaka, Japan, showing the boarding point for a ladies-only car.

In almost all parts of the world, places for activities which involve nudity - for example, showers, toilets, changing rooms - are usually segregated by sex.[citation needed] There are exceptions to this: clothing-optional beaches and art classrooms for figure drawing are generally not segregated. Saunas and baths may or may not be, depending on the culture.

The degree of segregation can vary. In some places, separate changing rooms for men and women are the norm, while elsewhere, a single change room with cubicles is normal. With the widespread practice of groping women in crowded public places (e.g. street harassment or eve teasing), some countries have designated women-only passenger cars or compartments on trains.[5][6][7]

In most countries of the world, prisons are segregated. Often contact with prisoners of the opposite sex is forbidden or limited to specific moments. Prison officers often are of the same sex as the inmates.


Organized competitive sports are frequently segregated by gender, especially at higher levels. Where performance is strength-related (such as upper-body weight-lifting), any alternative would see women excluded from the higher levels of competition. A few sports, such as equestrianism, are mixed-gender at all levels. A very few, such as Korfball, specify mixed-gender participation in the rules.

Some sports that do not rely on physical contact, such as bowling or golf, may have separate sporting events. In archery, though, it is normal for both sexes and all ages to shoot alongside each other: in a handicap tournament they will, in fact, be competing against each other.[citation needed]

To cater to the religious requirements of various faiths, and for other preference reasons, sometimes separation is achieved by allocating times or facilities for the exclusive use of one gender, usually of women. This is sometimes done with public saunas, swimming pools and gymnasiums[citation needed].

Many countries now have laws outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex, and regard the refusal to provide facilities on an equal basis to both men and women as sexual discrimination.


Template:Multiple image In much of the world education, especially institutional education, was available only to boys until the last few hundred years. In some parts of the world, especially in Europe, when education was made available to girls as well as boys, educational establishments were frequently single-gender, a situation which in some cases exists in the United Kingdom to this day[citation needed]. Sometimes a reason was historical - an all-male education institution refusing to change. Arguments were made that the presence of the opposite sex would distract students from their studies, as well as allowing for inappropriate conduct.

There have been studies conducted to analyze whether single-sex schools or co-ed schools produce better educational outcomes, but each has its advocates and critics.[8][9] Even in co-ed schools, certain classes, such as sex education, are sometimes segregated on the basis of gender[citation needed]. Some schools decide to segregate students only in core subjects; this is called parallel education[citation needed].

In Louisiana following the forced race integration of public schools, the schools were segregated by sex. St. Bernard and Jefferson Parishes (surrounding New Orleans) instituted sex segregation to reduce the likelihood of black and white students dating.[10] The last year of sex segregation in Jefferson Parish public schools was 1975[citation needed].

Female safety, privacy and sensitivity

Some sex segregation occurs for reasons of safety. For example a refuge for 'battered mothers or wives' may refuse to admit men, even those who are themselves the victims of domestic violence, both to prevent access by those who might commit or threaten violence to women or because women who have been subjected to abuse by a male might feel threatened by the presence of any man[11]. Non-segregated toilets might also be a threat to safety[12] and rights of privacy.

In most cultures of the world, gender-specific socializing and gathering places remain the norm. Historically even in the western world, baby showers and bridal showers were strictly all-female out of an idea of women can only feel that experience; and bachelor parties and male bonding campouts are exclusively male. Until the mid-20th century (in the USA), bars, clubs and pubs formerly prohibited women customers from entering, bartenders refused to sell or allow female visitors buying drinks and sitting in their seats. Today that is considered sex discrimination and has became illegal in western countries. The same was true for public beaches in the Victorian Age for women to not be publicly seen by other men outside the family (see bathing machines).



Islam discourages social interaction between unmarried strange men and women. Sex segregation is strictly enforced in some Islamic countries by religious police.[13][14]

In the Muslim world, preventing women from being seen by men is closely linked to the concept of Namus.[15][16] Namus is an ethical category, a virtue, in Middle Eastern Muslim patriarchal character. It is a strongly gender-specific category of relations within a family described in terms of honor, attention, respect/respectability, and modesty. The term is often translated as "honor".[15][16]


It is common for Orthodox Judaism, esp. of the Hasidic sect, to maintain gender-specific events, where men and women sit or be present separately among members of the same sex.[citation needed]

Orthodox Jewish synagogues have separate men's and women's sections, typically separated by a wall or curtain called a mechitza.[17]

In Israel there are a few buses, serving ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, which are segregated by sex, with one sex sitting in the front and the other sitting in the back of the bus.[18]


In many Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox parishes, there is rigid sex segregation.[19] This is not as common in the New World as it is in the Old World, especially in more rural areas where men will sit on the right (near Christ's icon) and women will sit on the left (near Mary's icon)[citation needed].

Segregation by occupation

Some jobs and occupations have been reserved for one gender or the other. This is often considered a form of sex segregation, even though they may not be physically segregated from workers of different genders in other fields. Some jobs have also been predominantly carried out by one gender or the other, and this can be considered sex segregation, even though there are no rules excluding either gender.


The roles of men and women have been different for most of human history since prehistoric times. In hunter-gatherer societies, both past and present, hunting has been largely a male preserve while gathering has been a female role. Other roles are often carried out by only one of the genders[20]. However differences in roles did not imply disparity of status[21][22].

Historically military occupations have been exclusively (with few exceptions) reserved to males. This has ceased only in the later twentieth century. Related occupations such as police have been exclusively male in some countries[citation needed].

In occupations where physical strength is a necessity differences in strength between men and women can mean that more men than women are suitable[23]. However since there is overlap in the range of physical strength of men and women there should not be total exclusion of women[23].

Professional sports and major leagues including in the USA remain virtually all-male and in some cases like the WNBA are absolutely gender-specific participation apart from the NBA in basketball.[citation needed]

See also


  1. Bates, Stephen (2001-10-25). "Women clergy accuse Church of sexual apartheid". The Guardian (London: Guardian Unlimited).,3604,580180,00.html. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  2. Otto D (1996). "Holding Up half the Sky, But For Whose Benefit: A Critical Analysis of the Fourth World Conference on Women". Austl Feminist LJ. 7.
  3. Amnesty International includes segregated toilets among the measures to ensure the safety of girls/boys in schools. Six steps to stop violence against schoolgirls, Document ACT 77/008/2007, November 2007.
  4. Claussen CL (1991). "Incorporating Women's Reality into Legal Neutrality in the European Community: The Sex Segregation of Labor and Work-Family Nexus". Law Policy Intern'l Bus. 22.
  5. Nechapayka, Tatyana (2005-04-13). "Belarus rail targets 'smelly men'" (in en). BBC News. Retrieved 2008-06-11.
  6. "Visually-impaired want railways to clarify stance on riding in women-only carriages". Mainichi Shimbun. 2007-04-05.
  7. "Metro reserves compartments for females".
  8. Lee, Valerie E.; Bryk, Anthony S. (October 1986). "Effects of single-sex secondary schools on student achievement and attitudes.". Journal of Educational Psychology (American Psychological Association) 78 (5): 381–395.
  9. "Keep Boys and Girls Together, New Research Suggests"
  10. Mayeri S (Summer 2006). "The Strange Career of Jane Crow: Sex Segregation and the Transformation of Anti-Discrimination Discourse". Yale JL Human. 18: 187.
  11. Hinsliff, Gaby (2009-04-05). "Women's refuges told they must admit men". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
  12. "Six Steps to Stop Violence Against Schoolgirls". Amnesty International USA.
  13. SAUDI ARABIA Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh - Asia News
  14. BBC NEWS | Middle East | Saudi minister rebukes religious police
  15. 15.0 15.1 Werner Schiffauer, "Die Gewalt der Ehre. Erklärungen zu einem deutsch-türkischen Sexualkonflikt." ("The Force of the Honour"), Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main, 1983. ISBN 3-518-37394-3.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Dilek Cindoglu, "Virginity tests and artificial virginity in modern Turkish medicine," pp. 215–228, in Women and sexuality in Muslim societies, P. Ýlkkaracan (Ed.), Women for Women’s Human Rights, Istanbul, 2000.
  17. "Synagogues, Shuls and Temples". Retrieved 2007-02-25.
  18. Katya Alder, [ April 2007). "Israel's 'modesty buses' draw fire". BBC News.
  19. Dickemann M (1997). Murray SO, Roscoe W. ed. The Balkin Sworn Virgin: A Cross-Gendered Female Role In: Islamic homosexualities: culture, history, and literature. New York: New York University Press. pp. 197–203.
  20. Marjorie Shostak (1983). Nisa: The Life and Words of a ǃKung Woman. New York: Vintage Books. p. 13.
  21. Thomas M. Kiefer (Spring 2002). "Anthropology E-20". Lecture 8 Subsistence, Ecology and Food production. Harvard University. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  22. [|Johm Gowdy] (1998). Limited Wants, Unlimited Means: A reader on Hunter-Gatherer Economics and the Environment. St Louis: Island Press. pp. 342. ISBN 155963555X.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Greenhorn DR, Stevenson JM (1995). "Gender based biomechanical difference that impact on task performance".

External links


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