Our friends at the University of Birmingham’s Rainbow Network have kindly allowed us to share an update they sent to their members on 28 August 2018 summarising the University’s current approach to protecting the rights of LGBT people at the University of Birmingham Dubai campus.
We are sharing this update without additional comment but encourage our members to read the statement and draw their own conclusions as to whether the University is doing enough to protect staff and students in Dubai.
Rainbow Network Dubai Update
We are getting in touch with a complete update with regards to the Dubai branch campus. The purpose of this email is to provide you with an objective and accurate overview of the current situation so that you will be able to make an informed decision about whether to travel there, since its first operational academic year is rapidly approaching and we are aware that increasing numbers of staff are either travelling or accepting permanent positions there. If there are significant changes to anything mentioned in this email in the future, we will circulate another full update. It should be noted that there are several grey areas where the complexity of a situation will require the University to address it on a case-by-case basis rather than attempting to implement a formal procedure, and also issues which may only become apparent once the campus has been operational for some time (despite the best efforts of the Rainbow Network committee to predict and pre-empt as many scenarios as possible).
Some staff may find parts of this email distressing, particularly the information about laws in Dubai, so we would encourage everybody to defer reading it until they have a time and place where they feel ready and comfortable to do so. Please note that the Rainbow Network committee are not qualified legal practitioners, so while this email is based on our best understanding (obtained through meetings with the Dubai project team and conversations with colleagues and other people who have visited Dubai), it should be used for general information rather than formal advice.
As mentioned in a previous update, the University, on the advice of Stonewall, made the decision to adopt an “embassy approach” to equality and diversity. This means that staff and students will have the same rights under University policies as they would in the UK, and they will have access to the same grievance procedures if they experience discrimination or other issues relating to equality and diversity, apart from where there are specific legal reasons that this is not possible (e.g. trade union representatives cannot attend HR meetings in Dubai).
However, the embassy approach only applies to internal policies, and the University will be limited in its ability to provide protection to staff and students who are reported to external authorities for breaking the law (whether this happens on or off campus). The culture in Dubai is relatively lenient for illegal behaviour that takes place in private (i.e. within an individual’s home, and possibly within student accommodation). However, the campus cannot be considered to be private due to the number of people and external visitors who will be there, so anything illegal which happens on campus is still at risk of being reported to the authorities. Similarly, the University cannot do or support anything which is in direct contravention of Dubai laws, so there will have to be some key differences between the UK and Dubai campuses which this email will set out, with explanations of the rationale behind these differences where possible.
Some decisions that have already been made under the embassy approach have been formally outlined at https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/dubai/staff/hr/Staff-Resources/Working-in-Dubai/Equality-and-Diversity.aspx after the Rainbow Network committee and others raised queries.
Key violations of Dubai law relating to equality and diversity include:
- · Public displays of affection (whether real or perceived, and same sex or opposite sex).
- · Advocacy for LGBT rights.
- · Pregnancy outside marriage or within a same sex marriage (which are not recognised under Dubai law).
- · Cross dressing. (Also, transgender identities are not recognised under Dubai law, so it is likely that transgender staff and students would be considered to be in violation of this law.)
Identifying as LGBT or acknowledging that these identities exist is not illegal in itself – it is same sex behaviour (whether real or perceived), cross dressing, and LGBT advocacy that risk legal retribution. It is important to note that any of these may also be undertaken by staff and students who do not identify as LGBT, so they are also at risk of breaking these laws. Something as simple as wearing one of our LGBT lanyards could be considered to be an example of advocacy, although other words and symbols that we associate with LGBT advocacy (e.g. rainbow, pride, stonewall) are less likely to hold this association for people in Dubai, so actions such as including Stonewall logos in email signatures are unlikely to cause any problems (based on anecdotal experience from staff in other organisations).
The University have confirmed that staff will not be required to travel to Dubai unless they have been recruited on a recent contract which specifies this as a fundamental part of their job – it is entirely your own decision whether or not to travel there if the opportunity arises, and choosing not to will not disadvantage you. For staff who do choose to travel there, whether this is an optional or required part of their job, the Dubai authorities have been known to unexpectedly refuse entry to the country to people (or subsequently deport them) for various reasons including the individual being a known LGBT activist or having a gender expression which does not match their passport – no specific procedure is being implemented to mitigate these situations should they arise, and the University would need to deal with them on a case-by-case basis (especially if the person’s conditions of employment required travel to Dubai).
An urgent return procedure has been drafted for students who are considered to have broken the law and need assistance from the University to return to their home country (“repatriation”), at the discretion of senior staff on the Dubai campus. This procedure will also apply to staff as long as they have booked travel insurance through the University, and due to intervention from the Rainbow Network committee this is going to be explicitly confirmed in the Dubai staff handbook (https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/hr/documents/public/dubai/UoB-Dubai-Staff-Handbook.pdf). The University’s travel insurance does not cover family/dependents of repatriated staff; additional support may be provided to them on a discretionary basis, but it is advisable to have personal travel insurance in place for anybody who travels to Dubai with you.
It is unclear how a political evacuation would be accommodated within a staff member’s job contract, especially if the substantive part of their role is based in Dubai, and this is likely to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. It is also unclear how staff in need of evacuation would be supported if they would also be in violation of the law in their home country (or if they are originally from Dubai) and they did not have a legal right to travel to the UK.
There have been some changes to the policies in the Dubai Staff Handbook – these changes do not completely remove internal protections for LGBT staff which are still explicitly covered (e.g. page 113), but there are some removed references to LGBT equality (e.g. page 30) and added references to religious harassment (e.g. page 31). It therefore remains unclear as to the extent to which positive statements made in regard to LGBT identities could be interpreted as religious harassment under this policy, given its difference to the UK policy and the fact that the UK Equality Act 2010 (and Public Sector Equality Duty) does not apply in Dubai. A section of policy has been removed regarding expectations of contractors in relation to discrimination and harassment, and while we have been informed that procurement procedures will incorporate equality and diversity to the same extent as the UK, the FAQs indicate that it is unlikely that the University will expect Dubai-based contractors to be as proactive in ensuring that their staff abide by our Fairness and Diversity policy as UK-based organisations. This is likely to be negotiated with contractors on a case-by-case basis, and could mean that their staff who work on the Dubai campus are held to less strict standards when it comes to equality, diversity, discrimination, and harassment than their equivalents in the UK.
Diversity data will not be collected for staff and students based in Dubai, and the diversity data held for UK staff and students will not be available outside of the UK. This decision has been taken to protect staff and students, but does have the unfortunate consequence that it would not be possible to analyse access/success/promotion etc. data broken down by protected characteristic to look for discrepancies, as it would in the UK.
Staff benefits will not include transition-related healthcare coverage because requesting this sort of coverage would require the individual to come out as transgender, which the University cannot encourage due to the legal risks that this would entail for the individual. The phase 2 campus in Dubai will include gender neutral toilet facilities, marked “Accessible and Inclusive” at the intervention of the Rainbow Network committee.
The mandatory online Equality and Diversity training will not be undertaken by staff in Dubai, but there will be mandatory induction training which includes the University’s equality and diversity policies and information about protected characteristics under the UK Equality Act 2010. Recruitment & Selection training will remain mandatory for staff sitting on interview panels, but it will not be offered in Dubai, so only staff who have received the training in Edgbaston will sit on interview panels. (It may be rolled out in Dubai in the future, in which case the Rainbow Network committee will request information about its content and whether it covers unconscious bias to the same extent as the course in the UK.) Similarly, dedicated Unconscious Bias training will not be offered in Dubai to begin with. Many Dubai staff (especially academic staff) will attend a Central Induction session in Edgbaston which will enable them to learn directly about the University’s approach to equality and diversity (and the staff networks) before travelling to Dubai, and local induction processes for Dubai staff who do not receive an induction in Edgbaston are intended to include reference to the staff networks and the information available about them on the intranet. UK-based staff travelling to Dubai will undertake a briefing session which will include information about the embassy model. However, these sessions will not include formal practical advice relating to equality and diversity due to the difficulty in making such advice comprehensive. The Rainbow Network committee will develop and maintain a document containing top tips, which we hope will be able to be promoted as part of these sessions.
We hope that this has given you a relatively complete and fair overview of the situation as it stands – if there is any missing information that you would like us to request, you can let us know at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will anonymously raise a query through the correct route.
As this message has gone out to a limited group of staff and PhD students, we encourage you to share the information with any colleagues who may be planning to travel to Dubai, or considering it – as mentioned previously, some of these issues could affect anybody whether they identify as LGBT or not. For further information, please see the Stonewall Global Workplace Briefing for Dubai.
Rainbow Network committee
About the Rainbow Network
The University of Birmingham Rainbow Network aims to provide a space for staff and PhD students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning, as well as friends and allies of these communities, to meet and develop contacts across the University. With the support of the Equality and Diversity team, the Rainbow Network committee organises a series of interesting and enjoyable events and activities throughout the year, and works with groups in the wider community to increase awareness and visibility of LGBTQ people. To find out more, please follow the link below