Remembering. And keeping an eye on gender apartheid at British universities.

Towards the end of 2012, [in response to] the growing practice of gender segregation at public events in universities, Universities UK (UUK), the governing body of British universities, issued guidance which permitted gender segregation of women in university spaces in order to accommodate the religious beliefs of external speakers. The guidance presented in the form of a case study purported to provide advice in contexts in which the right to manifest religion clashes with gender equality.

Far from addressing the question of sex discrimination, the guidance merely legitimised gender apartheid. It took a campaign and threats of legal action by [Southall Black Sisters] before the UUK agreed to withdraw the guidance. We argued that the UUK’s guidance violated the equality and non-discrimination principles enshrined in the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act and other equalities and human rights legislation, themselves the product of long and hard campaigning by feminists, racial minorities and other marginalised groups in society. The withdrawal of the UUK guidance was followed by a formal investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission which found the guidelines to be unlawful…

This blog will continue to keep an eye on attempts at gender segregation at universities.

From a Guardian Editorial About Segregation at British Universities

In Britain, segregation of the sexes is viewed as a tool of the patriarchy. It traditionally reinforced a system in which women were deemed to be second best. For women to “voluntarily” opt to sit apart may be their religious right in a place of worship but in a public institution it undermines the hard-fought civic rights of women who, for generations, have battled for equality – and are still battling.

… [W]hat the controversy has again revealed is a profound concern about interpretations of Islam that conflict with a modern civil liberties agenda. Further, political correctness, sensitivity to charges of Islamophobia and commercial considerations (it has been suggested that segregated meetings appeal to overseas Muslim students vital for university finances) block discussions about what should and shouldn’t be inviolate in British society.

Well, thanks to the Orwellian language of separate but equal in the (now-withdrawn) Universities UK document, discussion is entirely unblocked. For years now, in a semi-underground way, women at some British universities have been treated like dogs. UUK, in seeking to normalize this treatment, instead made it very, very public. And when a practice as ugly as this one becomes public, that’s all it takes. Decent people will put a stop to it.

More international condemnation of the gender apartheid document on British universities.

The petition calling for the rescinding of a Universities UK document permitting sex segregation in British universities is heating up the airwaves, having in only a couple of days attracted almost seven thousand signatures.

Manfredi La Manna, an economist at the University of St Andrews, writes to the vice-chancellors of Scottish universities:

[M]ake a stand for Scottish universities and state unequivocally that the abhorrent guidance on external speakers issued recently by [UK Universities] does not apply to Scottish
 universities.

The document mandates any British university to accede unconditionally to the conditions imposed by any external speaker who demands a gender segregated audience.

Indeed, in the Orwellian newspeak language of the UUK document, it is the “imposition” of an “unsegregated” area contravening the “genuinely held religious belief” of the speaker demanding segregation that British universities should oppose so that the “freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully”.

Do you really want your female students to be treated as sex 
objects and second-class citizens and to be marshalled into special female-only pens so that the 
“genuinely held religious belief” of external speakers is not 
challenged? Would you have 
acceded to the demand for race segregated audiences by the Dutch Reformed Church (before it apologised for its role in propping up apartheid)?

La Manna is quite right to note the Orwellian newspeak by which, as women are herded into pens, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.

After pointing out that the document is “horrible,” “wretched,” and “stupid,” Charles Crawford goes on to sketch a non-disgraceful policy.

[For] an open event no segregation along gender or other lines is acceptable…

As with all grotesque illiberal eruptions, the UUK document is in fact bolstering freedom of speech by mobilizing people against its vileness. Sometimes people need to be reminded of the democratic basics. Fools like the authors of this document provide reminders.

The anti-gender segregation petition is attracting thousands of signatures…

… many of them distinguished. Whew. I always worry that people won’t get their act together when things this bad happen. Women will not be segregated by bigots in British universities. Not if the rest of us have anything to say about it.

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Already over five thousand people have signed the petition. That was fast.

Yet another British university introduced to the joys of…

sexual apartheid.

UD’s Liberal Reckoning, Part 2.

For the first installment of UD’s attempt to be reasonably self-aware about the fact that she’s a liberal, go here, and be sure to read the comments, which include a lengthy give and take between me and my old friend Rita Koganzon.

It’s clear from this blog’s long preoccupation with the genital mutilation of children, enforced veiling, enforced sex segregation, child marriage, various forms of erasure of women and images of women from the public realm, etc., etc., that an absolutely crucial liberal value, for UD, is gender equality.

One of her boyfriends at Northwestern University was an Iranian, from an extremely poor family, who scored so well on a national exam that he got one of the Shah’s special fellowships to study engineering at an American university.

His mother, he told me, was literally taken from playing with her dolls and married off to a man in his thirties. She was if I remember correctly nine years old.

Her husband’s sister could not have children, so this woman’s first child – she must have given birth at twelve or something – was simply taken from her and given to the sister.

I don’t remember the rest of her life story, but I remember my hopelessly naive shock at this tale, my hopeless effort to imagine this woman’s life in all its horror; and this of course was an early lesson for UD in the difference between liberal and non-liberal cultures. (Forget rule of law: “[T]here is no specific age limit for marriage in Iran and marriage is possible at any age.”) Culture (FGM) and religion (all the other stuff; including, in plenty of settings, FGM) continue, all over the world, to subject women to unspeakable cruelty as a routine part of life. We ignore most of it, since it’s so huge, but our attention will certainly be riveted to it at least for a little while as the Taliban begin reinterring Afghan women and girls.

And to be clear: None of this is to deny what Jordan Peterson rightly goes on about: Men have shitty lives too. We all have shitty lives, if you like – as Adam Gopnik, in his discussion of liberalism, points out:

If we got the best government imaginable, with national health care and with actually fair voting democratic voting procedures — we abolished the electoral college and Roe v. Wade was saved — we still would be stuck with the fact of mortality, with the misery of human life, with our inability to get everything we want.

Human life has a deep, deep sadness and the liberal project of reform can seem fatuous compared with the full enormity of human suffering and human unhappiness. That’s not a trivial observation; that’s deep in the richest kind of conservative political philosophy.

More tersely, there’s Adam Phillips:

The reason that there are so many depressed people is that life is so depressing for many people. It’s not a mystery.

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Now in all of this, one iteration of liberal culture has it that FGM etc is none of our business – that it is indeed one of the crowning glories of liberalism that our tolerance/moral relativism finds ways to normalize these behaviors. FGM is only a nick …no one will marry you if you’re not… nicked… It’s been part of these cultures forever… To be a liberal after all is to be neutral in regard to what constitutes a good life… Only a moral absolutist would judge, let alone militate against, FGM and assorted other women-only treats…

Yet — put aside the obvious cruelty of the FGM procedure – a cruelty to which you’d think morally serious people – and certainly liberals – would respond — wouldn’t you think that since equality is one of the primary liberal virtues, liberals would judge FGM to be, well, wrong?

Or recall my many posts in 2013 about the decision of the governing body of British universities that gender segregation at university events was fine. In the language of the Muslim student groups who held such events, the Sisters could sit in the back, behind a curtain, and be quiet, while the Brothers could sit in the front and make comments.

Another eminently admirable liberal decision, based on respect for diverse ways of life.

Only right away something interesting happened. This wasn’t some far-away degradation, like FGM or child marriage; this was happening next door to my residence hall! I could SEE this – could see women obediently walking through side doors marked BLACKS ONLY I mean WOMEN ONLY… And a HUGE fuss ensued and the liberally enlightened governing body first tried condescendingly lecturing people on their benighted colonialist myopic evil until absolutely everyone starting with the prime minister came down on them like a ton of bricks and they suddenly announced uh no we meant gender segregation at university events is unlawful.

So… liberalism seems to mean standing your ground when your national liberal values are directly attacked, which is great, only UD recognizes her liberalism as equally international in orientation, which means that unlike some people she thinks there are universal non-negotiable human rights/values, and that it’s perfectly okay – even commendable – to be appalled at – call them militant and even vicious illiberalisms – around the world, and to speak and act against them.

**********************

So now let’s return to the story of the day – the EU court’s decision that under conditions of strict across the board religious neutrality, banning the hijab from the workplace might be okay. Might be. This decision is subject to all sorts of local review and approval. But that was the decision; and obviously the broader context is that one liberal European country after another is in various ways restricting the burqa and the hijab, and lots of other in no way liberal countries are also restricting various forms of female Islamic covering.

Clearly, banning certain religious forms of dress is far more questionable than banning sex segregation at university events. The latter takes a stand on behalf of gender equality in a context where such equality is obviously flouted; the former looks like illiberal bigotry against innocuous self-expression. (Marine Le Pen has called for a total ban on the hijab.) Liberal societies enshrine freedom of religion, and only an illiberal person would favor restrictions on religious symbols and apparel.

A practical problem has arisen, however. Some businesses are suffering serious losses, as people who object to the illiberal values of burqas and hijabs vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere. Are these people bigots?

Only some of them. I think some of them aren’t. Consider a woman who doesn’t want her five year old daughter to spend all day every day in the child care center with a woman whose clothing (hijab; loose full-body robe) broadcasts her deep conviction that the public relationship of women and men must be one in which women hide themselves from men; that the proper public posture of women is extreme modesty; that God wants women to hide their bodies. Having grown up in a liberal, secular, culture, this woman wants her daughter to develop in the exact opposite direction: Bold open bodily – and every other form of – self-expression in a context of absolute equality with, and non-fear of, men. (When interviewed, veiled women often talk about how they feel less subject to male harassment – they seem to see sexual harassment as hard-wired in men – when covered.)

I can easily imagine that this woman would without a second thought vote for Muslim-background political candidates, have more assimilated Muslim friends, have no objections to the core Muslim creed, etc. But the profound gender inequality of female veiling (the whole issue would be much more interesting if Muslim men also veiled) is for her a bridge too far; it offends precisely the liberal values she cherishes. It overrides the liberal value of tolerance in this situation because it threatens to have a direct effect on the liberal formation of her child. As Ronan McCrea notes, “Most mainstream religions have teachings on matters such as gender and sexuality that people can legitimately find offensive.” To their liberal values. In a certain setting.

“What possible justification could there be for always requiring girls to wait for their mid-morning snack until such time as the boys had finished theirs?”

The answer to a British judge’s question about a co-ed school in England that systematically and humiliatingly discriminates against female students is obvious: It’s crucial to communicate to girls as early as possible in life that they are worth a bucket of spit.

The other question is whether British taxpayers should pay for daily lessons in female servitude and worthlessness.

Apparently, after some thought, the courts of that country think not.

*****************

And then there’s the school’s library:

[Library books] contained comments such as: “The wife is not allowed to refuse sex to her husband.” Another book said that a wife “cannot go out of her husband’s house without his permission and without a genuine excuse”.

It stated that a man can beat his wife “without causing any mark”. One book, called Islamic Family Guidelines, said that the husband is in “the position of leadership over the family” and that “women have thus been commanded to obey their husbands and fulfil their domestic duties”.

“[I]n 1986, a federal court struck down a village policy that prevented women from driving school buses there.”

Don’t think for a minute that the gender apartheid we’ve seen in British universities isn’t an ongoing issue in the United States. Don’t think that our homegrown equivalents to the segregationists over there aren’t always trying – trying to segregate buses, trying to segregate parks.

This is getting kind of exciting.

Official guidelines which endorse sex segregation at British universities have been declared potentially unlawful by Britain’s equality watchdog, The Telegraph can disclose.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced it will help re-write guidance, published by Universities UK (UUK) last month, which said Muslim societies and other groups were entitled to practice gender segregation at public meetings on campus.

Mark Hammond, the EHRC’s chief executive, said gender segregation was “not permissible” under equalities laws, adding that UUK’s guidance required clarification.

Fuck clarification. It requires getting its butt kicked.

Bravo to everyone who signed the petition, gathered in front of the offices of the yucky UUK, and just kept this thing at the front of the news in England.

“[I]n an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”

“The Equality and Human Rights Commission is also reviewing the legal position of University UK’s guidelines to establish whether they break the law.”

Yes, well, the Telegraph just a few minutes ago reported that the “backlash” against sanctioned sex segregation in British universities is getting rather intense. Opponents to enforced segregation (which turns out to be almost everyone who has weighed in, except, of course, the suddenly very very quiet people at Universities UK) are going to

send … teams to meetings and use the kind of techniques that were pioneered in countries like the US and South Africa in terms of black segregation.

…The prospect of groups deliberately provoking the organisers of gender segregated events, raising the prospect of tempers flaring, will be a matter of concern for vice-chancellors whose guidelines were intended to defuse tensions rather than enflame them.

It’s easy for the vice-chancellors to get a glimpse of what fun awaits. They need only Google Beit Shemesh.

*************************

More commentary.

England’s Channel Four Covers the Anti-Apartheid Demonstration…

… in front of the offices of hapless Universities UK, the organization that, in a recent document, told that country’s universities that they can enforce segregation of men and women at public, university-sponsored events.

The news clip starts with invited speaker Laurence Krauss [scroll down] expressing disgust, and leaving the room, when he scans his audience at a recent university-sponsored forum on religion and realizes he’s been tricked into appearing at a separate but equal event. The clip continues with coverage of yesterday’s well-attended demonstration in front of UUK’s offices.

Krauss’s disgust and exit were spontaneous, the instinctive reactions of a decent human being to indecency. The various forms of protest at sanctioned gender apartheid in British universities – a petition, the demonstration – are planned, organized responses. As long as both forms of response continue to be expressed – instinctive disgust on which one is willing to act, and considered political strategies – democracy will win through.

7,000.

The petition to rescind the endorsement of sexual apartheid at British universities is already at seven thousand signatures.

Don’t let the vice-chancellors who issued the endorsement get away with the segregation of women at their universities.

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On some level, this action is so grotesque that UD continues to have trouble believing that it has happened.

**********************************

But it has happened. Aux armes.

Ophelia Benson, UD’s Blog Buddy, Scathes Through Britain’s …

… “Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever.”

The petition condemning sanctioned gender apartheid in British universities is here.

“Excruciating nonsense.”

A Guardian writer describes a new report approving gender segregation in British universities.

Good grief. The compromise is that women can’t be put at the back: “The room can be segregated left and right, rather than front and back.” Depressingly, the National Union of Students has endorsed this. What’s wrong with “side by side” segregation? Just ask how that would look if universities allowed speakers to demand separation by race.

This sickening report – which UD hopes self-respecting UK universities will ignore – caves to what the Guardian writer calls “the sexist eccentricities of some religions.” If only they were as innocuous as eccentricities. They are profoundly encoded convictions, excruciatingly out of place in liberal democracies.

If liberal democracies don’t fight back in places devoted to intellectual and social freedom – places like universities – they are making the world safe for theocons. UD is proud of the way her country has decisively rejected theocons at the polls (Rick Santorum, Ken Cuccinelli); for contemporary Britain she feels sorrow and alarm.

Finally, someone in a position of authority in England…

… says what needs to be said about sex segregation and hate speech in British universities.

Boris Johnson, in The Daily Telegraph:

The universities need to be much, much tougher in their monitoring of Islamic societies. It is utterly wrong to have segregated meetings in a state-funded centre of learning. If visiting speakers start some Islamist schtick – and seek either to call for or justify violence – then the authorities need to summon the police.

… These Islamist evangelists have no allegiance to the western society they live in and whose benefits systems they abuse: far from it – their avowed intent is to create a sexist and homophobic Muslim caliphate.

This blog has watched with bafflement as one British university after another colludes with sex segregationists and people who call for the murder of homosexuals. She truly has no idea why these schools do that. Depraved indifference?

Perhaps Boris Johnson’s opinion piece will help them begin to think about the matter.

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