X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Coffee House

Gender segregation: radical speakers cannot demand an audience that fits their prejudices

14 December 2013

12:00 PM

14 December 2013

12:00 PM

I spent much of Tuesday afternoon shivering outside the offices of Universities UK. I was there to protest their publication of guidelines which suggest segregated seating of men and women may be legally required where guest speakers demand it. It’s reassuring to learn that protest sometimes works: by Friday, the beleaguered body had shifted their position twice within 24 hours, thanks in part to criticism by Michael Gove and David Cameron.

But for all their fair words, I’m told the Cabinet have no plans for legislation to clarify the law. And I hear some members of the Islamic Education and Research Association, the group behind most confrontations over this issue, are agitating to launch a test case, heading to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary, to argue that their Islamist speakers do not enjoy freedom of speech unless they can speak to audiences segregated exactly how they like. Those who want Britain to stay in the EU, and committed to the ECHR, had better start hoping the ECHR come down on the side of common sense.

[Alt-Text]


iERA has long promoted radical Islamism in universities, as Stand for Peace documents. The group insists separate seating areas for men and women don’t disadvantage women, so presumably their top speaker’s defense of a husband’s right to administer ‘a light beating to bring your wife to goodness’ is consistent with their stated commitment to gender equality. I expect death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery are equal-opportunity punishments.

Universities UK are a less brash bunch. Meekly, their guidelines mumble of  ‘a hypothetical case involving an external speaker invited to talk about his orthodox religious faith, who had subsequently requested segregated seating areas for men and women’. They’ve since cut this case study from the online report, so journalists can’t find it. But this isn’t some hypothetical we can forget about: as Nick Cohen notes, a notorious incident occurred earlier this year at my university, UCL. Meanwhile, the University of Leicester’s Islamic Society has been in the spotlight for routinely running segregated events, including several with the iERA.

Most such Islamic societies are affiliated to the student union, receiving funding and support. As I told Radio 4 yesterday, as a member of the same student union, I have a right to engage fully with the intellectual life of the campus. The ECHR protects my right to education regardless of sex – and as a woman, even if I’m allowed the privilege of a seat, I don’t engage intellectually on equal terms at an event whose organisers think I need to be kept away from men in public. Just sit back and think about how a culture of segregated seating areas would affect the number of women asking questions in the Q&A sessions. My opponent on Radio 4 compared this to single sex toilets – I’d argue most of us come to lectures to expose our intellects, not our genitals.


Basing your very seating arrangements on the belief that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are the fundamental categories of human existence is deeply discriminatory to transgender or intersex students – these fenced-off areas offend by their very presence, even if mixed seating areas are also available. I don’t actually believe I have the right to avoid being offended in this way. Sometimes, my university atmosphere won’t suit me perfectly – and I’ll just have to live with it. But if we allow speakers to demand an audience that fits their prejudices, we embroider their vision of their rights just as indulgently.  As a practicing Christian, I hardly want to prevent students from praying together. But we can’t let iERA define free speech.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close