British universities shouldn’t condone this kind of gender segregation
While I think freedom of religion for everyone needs to be respected, that doesn’t mean they have the right to impose those beliefs on anyone. Why should publicly funded Universities in the UK or anywhere require students to be segregated by Gender, even if its just when certain people are speaking? Also, since the religion of the speaking is what’s being used here to justify enforcing gender segregation in some instances, might this also cause an issue with the establishment clause if this was happening in the US? Americans United For The Separation Of Church And State, would oppose this, as they would oppose publicly funded faith schools
‘Just ask how it would look if universities allowed speakers to demand separation by race.’ Illustration by Daniel Pudles
Separate but equal; where have we heard that before? Apartheid South Africa is no metaphor for anything else, but women of my generation and all those before were told over and over again that the sexes are different “but equal”, as an excuse for excluding them from places they didn’t belong: they should be doing “separate but equal” in the kitchen, bedroom and nursery. Whatever is segregated by diktat is rarely equal.
Universities once barred women altogether. Now they strive to be emblems of enlightenment, temples to reason, equality, free speech and freedom of thought. But it’s not easy to balance conflicting freedoms. Universities UK, their representative body, has just published 40 pages of guidelines on External Speakers in Higher Education Institutions, wriggling and writhing over competing freedoms for women versus not causing religious offence: it ends up with excruciating nonsense.
Some students may want a “no platform” policy for speakers they find obnoxious - the BNP or members of unsavoury governments. Demonstrating opposition is a freedom, but banning or yelling down free expression within the law is a denial of freedom. However, Universities UK’s guidelines give the sexist eccentricities of some religions priority over women’s rights, by allowing religious speakers the right to demand women and men are segregated in the lecture hall.