Gender Segregation in Public Places: Religious Accommodation or Sex Discrimination?

The Ultra-orthodox (UO) Jewish community in Israel is a highly religious group that comprises 8% of the population and abides by strict modesty standards that call for the separation between men and women in many settings. In order to facilitate the integration of the community in the public sphere Israeli authorities have in the last 20 years initiated the separation of men and women in various public services such as parts of the public transportation system, some occupational training courses, parts of the Academia, and various other places. While this separation was intended to affect only members of the UO community it has had a significant effect on the public sphere in Israel, leading to the exclusion of women from parts of it. Unpacking the conflict between the UO claim for religious accommodation and women’s right to equality the paper will argue that the UO accommodation claim cannot be justified by principles of either religious freedom, multiculturalism or equality.