Why we’re protesting against gender segregation this evening


On November 22, Universities UK issued new guidelines on external speakers in higher education institutions which granted permission for visiting university speakers to separate male and female audience members during debates.

Gender segregationThe document stated that ‘assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating’.

It added that ‘an act of indirect discrimination can be “objectively justified” if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

The ‘legitimate end’ in this instance is soothing the feelings of visiting religious speakers, who apparently find the prospect of men and women seated together too abhorrent to stomach.

To be clear, we are not talking about men and women voluntarily choosing to sit apart (which is of course up to them), but about granting visiting speakers permission to *impose* segregated seating on their audience.

As long as neither gender is put at a disadvantage by imposed segregated seating – i.e. men and women will be ‘separate but equal’ – Universities UK don’t see any problem with it.

To get an idea of just how absurd this is, imagine for a minute the justified furore there would be if racial segregation were permitted on campus on the basis that black and white people were ‘different but equal’. Imagine if gay people were separated out from their straight friends on the basis that they were ‘difference but equal’, with those refusing to move booted out of the lecture hall for no other reason than their sexuality.

You know this would not be permitted, and yet it is with women. Why?

The Universities UK guidelines state that:

‘Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.’

Fine, except that freedom of religion also means freedom from religion. It also surely matters what the ‘belief system’ in question stipulates. Does anything go so long as it is in accordance with a supernatural ‘belief system’? And isn’t our secular democratic belief system, whereby women aren’t treated as distinct alien entities but are valued on the same basis as men, just as important?

On the one hand this is an issue of fundamental freedom: people should be permitted to sit with whom they like in a publically funded university. But it’s also a question of politics: one shouldn’t pretend that those who wish to impose segregated seating view men and women as equals. They don’t, otherwise it’s completely unnecessary. As Yasmin Alibhai Brown put it in an excellent article yesterday:

“Such guidelines, in effect, endorse the most offensive prejudices about women: that they are a social and moral peril and if they sit with men, pornographic fantasies or molestations will make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on lectures, say, on Plato or the Life of the Prophet.”

Separate but equal is never equal, and the decision to allow gender segregation on campus is a shocking betrayal of any notion of equality between the sexes, let alone democracy or socialism. That’s why we’ll be protesting against it tonight. You should too.

The protest against gender segregation in our universities will meet in Tavistock Square this evening at 5pm to start the protest at 5.30pm. More information can be found here.

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  • Oli

    “To get an idea of just how absurd this is, imagine for a minute the justified furore there would be if racial segregation were permitted on campus on the basis that black and white people were ‘different but equal’. Imagine if gay people were separated out from their straight friends on the basis that they were ‘difference but equal’, with those refusing to move booted out of the lecture hall for no other reason than their sexuality.”

    But it doesnt talk about race or sexuality. Yes its a rediculous thing that UUK have done and deserves to be shown up for the absurd and offensive policy that it is but the argument should stick to the fact that it talks about gender NOT about race or sexuality.

  • Stephen Wigmore

    Many Mosques and some synagogues have gender separate seating. As do most toilets, sports teams and many schools.

    Stop pretending that gender segregation is some appalling immoral invention of ‘UK Universities’. It is a common and accepted part of life in certain specific circumstances.

    And no, gender segregation in seating is not equivalent to racial segregation. Having male and female rugby teams is not the same as having black and white rugby teams. The one is commonly accepted the other is not.

    The ‘freedom from religion’ bit is particularly silly. You have freedom from religion by not turning up. Don’t go into a mosque and then demand freedom from religion, don’t go to a lecture by a conservative muslim and then demand freedom from religion.

    Get a grip and go find something genuinely worth protesting about.

  • RP

    Well, actually the report specifically mentions race at the end of the case study:

    “For example, there is an express prohibition in the Equality Act against segregation
    on racial grounds, and there are also special provisions in relation to single-sex sporting events.”

    Its still ludicrous. I would have thought universities have a duty to be progressive on these things. If a speaker refuses to talk to a non gender segregated audience, the university should respect his wishes, and that he doesn’t have to give the talk.

  • RP

    There is a rather large difference between gender segregated toilets and being forced to sit in a segregated manner to appease the views of one person.

    The freedom to not turn up may become a bit more of an issue if the speaker was addressing the course you are studying. Why should students be required to bow to someone’s religious beliefs to fulfil their course requirements?

  • Arran

    The amount of concentrated nonsense in this comment is genuinely embarrassing. Please try and use your brain properly Stephen Wigmore.

  • George Potter

    Yes, that would certainly be a major issue but only if it were actually happening.

    This is about voluntary events put on by societies at universities – not about allowing for segregation in components of academic courses as that would be grossly illegal and discriminatory. As a student I’m disadvantaged if I don’t turn up to lectures. I’m not disadvantaged if I choose not to go listen to a speaker being hosted by a society.

  • swatnan

    Absolutely unbelievable!. Don’t invite the bigots in the first place. Its about time we stood up to them and said enough is enough; if you don’t like the way we live in Britaino go and get stuffed.

  • Sparky

    Blame the last Labour government. They created the atmosphere where anyone who criticised a non-white person’s beliefs was labelled a racist. That’s why Islamic extremism flourished in the UK: because phoney, white, middle-class, hand-wringing lefties from Islington created the environment.

  • TM

    I’m waiting for the announcement when the posh rich boys and girls and the Middle classes start demanding they sit apart from the plebs from the council estates, you know just like in society in general here. Oh how silly of me, they already do that with their ‘free’ schools and their very expensive ‘public’ schools don’t they? And then it carries on into our society in every sphere like business, medicine, the army, civil service, the arts, the media, government and politics and so many other things too. guaranteeing that the rich and powerful dominate everything even if they are rather mediocre or not particularly bright and have few real talents or accomplishments except for their rather overblown sense of entitlement. And now someone else wants to add another layer of prejudice and segregation.
    I am also wondering how all the PC Middle class Lefties are going to react to this? ‘Erm’ Josh, isn’t this actually rather un-PC?’ ‘Er yes Jules, but we CANNOT criticise in ANY way lest we be seen as racist!!!’ ‘Oh you mean, we have to accept anything anyone who is not white and Working class says?’ ‘Yep! That’s party policy now.’ Welcome to the deluded wine bar socialists…

  • TM

    We are not talking about mosques or churches though are we? Why should the dictates of a few religious types be foisted on to those who are not of that religion? And that goes for Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism etc as well. What next?

  • Timmy2much

    What is happening here is the segregation of people to fall in to line with a religions mores without that event actually being apart of that religion (ie religious sermons).

    In effect the speaker is forcing their religion on to people who might wish to observe or partake in any debate even if those people do not subscribe to that religion.

    The logical progression is as follows;
    1. Women must be segregated at these events.
    2. Women must wear headscarves to these events.
    3. Women must wear headscarves around the speaker at ALL times (before, during and after the event)
    4. ALL women MUST wear headscarves on campus at ALL times when said speaker is on campus.

    Its a logical progression of events based on the campus’s need to appease the sensibilities of the guest speaker (which is obviously going to be a muslim who is complaining)

  • Stephen Wigmore

    Try actually contesting the logic rather than just being a twat.

  • Stephen Wigmore

    We basically are. I’ll bet good money we’re talking about Islamic groups inviting Islamic speakers to talk that happen to be on university premises.. Their talks, their rules. If you don’t like that then feel free not to go.

  • TM

    Thank you Timmy for explaining something that Stephen cannot seem to understand. It is a slippery slope.

  • Arran

    Given your previous ‘arguments’ I’m entirely sure you would be unswayed by logic. Keep up the good work.

  • Clara’s Bow

    We’re basically not. And the fact that you think the rules of religious buildings should leach out into secular ones is a worry in itself

  • Penny

    Gender segregation in toilets and changing rooms are common sense issues of privacy.. Parents choose single-sex schools because they think the education on offer is better. Single sex sports teams generally arise because of physical strength differences and issue of contact injuries arising.

    Gender segregation at private venues – be they mosques or hired rooms – is up to the host. Providing the law is maintained the host can do what s/he chooses and invite who s/he wants.

    Gender segregation in the public space is the issue here. Not who does the inviting but where the event is held.

    With regard to religious rights being respected – this particular *right* is extremely new. Muslim speakers have managed perfectly well for decades.

  • Penny

    It isn’t about the society doing the invited, George. It’s about the venue. A society – any society – can hire a private venue and do what it wants – within the law. A university is a public-funded space where all must be allowed to compete on equal terms.

  • George Potter

    Yes, and that’s precisely what’s happening. If a society decides to hold an event on campus and invites a speaker who wants to segregate the audience then they are competing against other societies who aren’t doing that. Students have free choice as to which events they attend.

    Again, what is the issue if this is what people choose to do? It doesn’t harm anyone.

    I’ll also point out that, for example, a speaker on feminism might also want to segregate the audience by gender in order to help illustrate a point in their talk or for the sake of an exercise they plan to do with the audience. Is that evil too?

  • Penny

    George – you are missing the point. A university is tax-payer funded and is considered public space. No single organisation has the right to impose its terms and conditions in such a space. Precedents can be set which, in a country of many faiths and ethnic groups has the potential to cause problems. The public square has to be kept free so that all can compete on equal terms.

    Competing rights has nothing to do with Society A v Society B. It’s to do with societal values. Supposing I were a Muslim female student firmly against gender segregation. I may not have the right to barge into a private meeting, held in a private venue, to challenge the proposal of gender segregation, but in a public space – I do. So whose rights trump whose here? The right of the cleric to claim his “deeply held religious beliefs” prevent him from speaking to a mixed audience, or my “deeply held values” that I have a right to hear him on equal terms?

    No one is suggesting that those who are fine and dandy with segregation cannot hold a private meeting in a private venue. Most arguing this point are simply saying “not in the public square”. It’s an imposition on the values of others.

    Your argument about feminists segregating an audience is a little straw clutchy.

  • Cole

    Oh yawn. Blame the last govt. Actually Labour have come out against this,

  • Sparkyboy

    Do you mean in the same way that Jack Straw and David Blunkett now admit was immigration was too high under Labour? Cause the problem, deny it for years, then finally acknowledge what everyone at the time knew.

  • Brian Evolved

    Arran, stephen wants for religion to taken all people down to its level, of stupid think. Thankfully by us demonstrating the universities UK has had to withdraw its 200 page document. no thanks to steven whingemore.

  • Brian Evolved

    No If they do not like it they are free to not come to this country that has some of the best laws and rules in the world. steve are you a religious apologist

  • Aaron Aarons

    There are still many times more people of British descent outside the U.K. than there are people of other descent inside the U.K., and I don’t think that the migration into the U.K. has caused nearly as much of the problems in the world as has the out-migration.

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