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More on gender segregation

Yesterday the Chief Executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, was interviewed on the Today programme. At one point she said:

‘You’re assuming that we have the right to impose views on participants’

In fact that was exactly what the guidelines she was defending assumed.

In a defence of gender segregated seating, Hizb-ut-Tahrir spokeswoman Shohana Khan writes:

First let’s be clear that this voluntary gender separated seating, takes place in events that are specifically designed for Muslim students, for whom this practice is an integral part of their faith.

This disregards the perspective of many Muslim women and men who do not see this practice as an integral part of their faith.

And in fact the Universities UK case study (now withdrawn) featured a speaker demanding segregation, without reference to the views of the audience.

One reason I particularly objected to these guidelines was that they did not even insist on a mixed seating area for those who preferred that option.  Some recent reports imply that this option was seen as crucial.

‘It concluded that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged and a non-segregated seating area also provided, a university could decide it is appropriate to agree to the request.’

Not really. Here’s an extract from the original report:

Further, an act of indirect discrimination can be ‘objectively justified’ if it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, meaning the institution should also have regard to its other obligations under the Equality Act and the s.43 duty to secure freedom of speech, for example.

It should therefore be borne in mind–taking account of the s.43 duty, as well as equality duties and Human Rights Act obligations – that in these circumstances, 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. Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely- held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully. Those opposed to segregation are entitled to engage in lawful protest against segregation, and could be encouraged to hold a separate debate of the issues, but their views do not require an institution to stifle a religious society’s segregated debate where the segregation accords with a genuinely-held religious belief.

For an alternative perspective, please see this important report shared by diversity champion @kingofdawah

Update

I’ve been sent a statement from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA) UK.

‘The preference of certain individuals, Muslim or otherwise, who choose to sit with members of their own gender should never be imposed upon others. The statement of Shohana Khan assumes that Muslim women, or men for that matter, have previously been unable to sit alone or with members of the same gender at university lectures. As the President of a national university student association, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (AMSA), I have not once observed this issue arise in the dozens of lectures on Islam organised by AMSA. Despite strongly opposing enforced segregation at Universities, I feel it important to also add that those wishing to freely sit separately should be able to do so and their rights respected.’

Tahir Nasser, President AMSA UK.

Hat Tip: Mehrdad and John Sargeant