Why we’re protesting against gender segregation this evening

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.

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.

The 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.

25 Responses to “Why we’re protesting against gender segregation this evening”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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…

  5. 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?

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