My head spun recently when I read that assemblies of men and women at English universities could increasingly be segregated by sex.
Nick Cohen carried the story on his Spectator blog. In ‘The segregation of women and the appeasement of bigotry’, he tells us:
Prof Lawrence Krauss, an eminent atheist and former adviser to President Obama, and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, of the Islamic Education and Research Academy met at a University College London debate in March. Professor Krauss was shocked to find that the organisers segregated men and women. ‘Quit the segregation or I’m out of here,’ he said, after security staff tried to throw out three men who had gone to sit in the women’s section of the audience. British politeness had become debilitating, he continued afterwards.
People are not only afraid to offend, but afraid to offend a vocal and aggressive group of people. There is a segment of the Islamic community that is very vocal about this.
Spurred by his example, UCL said they could not tolerate discrimination against women, and stopped the group from holding more meetings.
However … Universities UK — the self-styled ‘voice of UK universities’ — adopted ‘guidance’ on external speaker events on campus. Dated November 22, 2013, it all sounds innocent enough:
practical assistance to universities in steering a path through all the different considerations, legal and otherwise, that arise in the context of inviting external speakers on campus.
Yet, Cohen maintains that Universities UK has taken the Islamic approach:
Universities UK has therefore sided with the Islamic Education and Research Academy and against UCL.
The academy’s chairman Abdurraheem Gree put forward a business case on the subject, a dog whistle to foreign Muslim students, Cohen says (emphases mine), quoting Gree:
With a growing number of Muslim countries seeing a revival in adherence to normative Islamic practices, the idea of being forced to sit with people of the opposite sex and observing the adoption of anti-Islamic policies by British Universities might well lead many to avoid choosing this country to further their education.
Good — there are plenty of other countries in which they can pursue their ‘education’.
Whilst the chairman of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge — a woman, no less! — underscores that the guidance from her organisation
does not promote gender segregation.
Nonetheless, when Cohen asked her about it and why Universities UK didn’t take a similar view on sexual orientation (racial discrimination is already illegal), Dandridge told him:
‘Because,’ she replied, ‘gender difference is visible.’
So there you have it. If women did not insist on growing breasts and wearing their hair long, Universities UK would treat them with greater care.
So, a woman who heads a university-oriented organisation is supporting gender segregation, the likes of which we have not seen since … when, exactly?
To make this even worse, another woman — Fenella Morris QC — issued a note of advice on December 12, 2013. Talk about betrayal of her own sex. Excerpts follow.
First, she says, universities do not have to follow this, but it would probably be better if they did; furthermore, the whole document must be considered (page 2, item 4), not just parts of it:
3.c. Universities are under a statutory obligation, imposed on them by Parliament, to take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure free speech (see section 43 of the Education Act (No. 2) 1986 set out in more detail below).
d. In making their individual decisions about external speakers, universities have to balance a range of different and competing interests.
Where does the ECHR — our much lauded European Union human rights legislation — enter into this? Or the UK’s Human Rights Act (HRA) of 1988? Surely, this is discrimination. Or maybe not.
Morris writes (page 4, item 6):
4. … Importantly, in this and other regards, the Guidance draws attention to the possibility of finding practical and mutually-acceptable solutions to situations of competing rights, for example, offering both segregated and non-segregated seating so that attendees may choose how they make arrangements to hear a particular external speaker.
And (same page, item 8):
… whether the reason advanced for placing a stipulation of segregation of an audience for a particular speaker relies upon the fact that it is the manifestation of a religious belief, two rights–Articles 9 and 10–will be invoked. These two important rights must be balanced against a right of freedom of association of those who do not wish to be segregated while hearing a particular speaker. Although it would be too simplistic to suggest that the two former rights will always outweigh the latter, it is likely that in many cases the significance of the two former rights will be greater than the latter in terms of where a person sits in order to be part of the audience for a particular speaker if not allowing segregation would prevent the speaker appearing.
Astute readers might have noticed that Dandridge’s organisation is called Universities UK, yet, I have been referring to English universities. This is because Morris says (page 5, item 10):
Scottish universities will be aware that they are not subject to the requirements of section 43 set out above …
Presumably, Welsh universities are under the same regulations and ‘guidance’ as English universities, but, like the Scots, they might also have a get-out clause under their own parliament.
Fortunately, Universities UK met with a strong backlash in the comments on external speakers guidance.
And, on December 10, 2013, 100 demonstrators protested at Universities UK in Tavistock Square, London.
Pity there were not more.
The world has come to a pretty pass when women are asking for — and positing legal advice in favour of — discrimination against themselves. Pathetic.