Suppose an organisation offers training courses on a subject of general significance that could not in any stretch be said specific to either or the other gender.

And it offers free spaces on it under a "scholarship" that is only available for female applicants.

Is this lawful?

  • Probably yes, if they need people with this course, and there are many more men than women with this course.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 15:11
  • What do you mean by need people? Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 15:38
  • Purely incidentally (I don't mean this to constrict further responses in any way), I think (at least based on the limited data which I have available) the course is already majority-female in its participants' constitution. It seems likely that the requirement is simply based on a general overarching belief of the organizers' that women should be actively encouraged and assisted to get into certain fields for whatever ideological objectives they may hold. Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 15:41

2 Answers 2



s158 of the Equality Act 2010 allows proportionate action to redress disadvantage, different needs or disproportionately low participation by people with a protected characteristic.

For example, woman make up 16.5% of the UK’s engineers. Given they make up more than 50% of the population one could reasonably come to the conclusion that this is disproportionately low. If this was an engineering scholarship, this would fall within the exemption.

In contrast, woman are 52% of UK lawyers - not a disproportionate number for either gender and not engaging the exemption. However, female judges are only 39%, arguably disproportionate, so if the course is a post-graduate one preparing people to enter the judiciary, that’s probably ok.

Women are 75.5% of teachers, so a scholarship for male students in that profession is ok too.

  • Does lower empirical prevalence implicitly indicate any disadvantage though? I'm sure that men make up less than 1% of tampon purchasers worldwide, but does that suggest they are discriminatorily disadvantaged by tampon vendors? Relevant: law.stackexchange.com/a/53790/32669 Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 7:33
  • 1
    If you actually read the law, you'll see that positive discrimination is allowed if you reasonably believe "participation in an activity by persons who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low". What counts as "disproportionately low" isn't based on simple numbers but will involve consideration of other factors that may affect participation.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 10:03
  • That last para is actually false in Australia. We are all equal but some are more equal than others. - theconversation.com/…
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 13:37


It is legal to offer scholarships to women only, but illegal to offer male-only scholarships because as a long-term teacher I know sexism is only wrong if it affects a woman.

Across Australia, there is a shortage of male teachers, particularly in primary schools, where men make up just 19% of the full-time workforce nationwide.

While in universities, incentives are offered to women to redress the gender imbalance in certain subject areas like science, technology, engineering, and maths, the law doesn’t allow for the same incentives to be offered to men.

In 2004 the federal government announced A$1 million in scholarships for men studying to become primary school teachers. To date, not a single scholarship has been funded. So why can’t Australia deliver?

Tertiary scholarships have been used successfully in Australia to encourage female students to study traditionally male-dominated subjects, like engineering and mathematics.

These scholarships were created to eliminate discrimination against women in male-dominated professions.

Surprisingly, offering male-only scholarships is unlawful. These male-only scholarships would breach the 1984 Sex Discrimination Act – unless, that is, the act is amended or an exemption applied.

  • Is part of this sarcastic? Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 18:00
  • You can tell me what conclusions should be drawn by those facts.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 18:32
  • 1
    I would categorise my sentiment as thinly veiled contempt at the deplorable situation faced by men in the education field.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 18:41
  • 1
    It's not just the education field mate, it's society at large. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 20:01

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