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Nov 23 2013

The part where 2+3=17

I think I found the place where Universities UK got their arithmetic wrong.

The guidance document itself is available on their website. I’m reading the pdf version. It lays out general policies and then offers some (hypothetical) case studies. Study 2 is the one about the controversial speaker who demands gender segregation. It starts on page 29.

A representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group

has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith

in the modern world. The event is part of four different

speeches taking place over the course of a month

exploring different approaches to religion. The initial

speaker request has been approved but the speaker

has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be

segregated according to gender. The event organiser

has followed agreed processes and raised the issue

with university management. The event has been widely

advertised and interest levels are high.

There it is: that’s where the arithmetic is wrong. They forgot to say “No.”

It’s so simple, as so many mistakes in arithmetic are. They merely forgot that the right answer in cases like that is just No.

Here’s how that passage should go:

A representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group

has been invited to speak at an event to discuss faith

in the modern world. The event is part of four different

speeches taking place over the course of a month

exploring different approaches to religion. The initial

speaker request has been approved but the speaker

has since made clear that he wishes for the event to be

segregated according to gender. The event organiser in

turn made clear that this was out of the question.

End of case study. Next?

Seriously, people. What are they thinking? The speaker can go fuck himself. If you invite a speaker and the speaker then makes outrageous requests, you turn the requests down. What is there to discuss? Just say No.

But that’s not what they do in this case study. For some unexplained reason, they treat the request as something that has to be managed as opposed to something that has to be flatly rejected, and go on to talk a lot of stupid kack.

The segregation request is not yet in the public domain

but the students’ union has an active feminist society

which is likely to protest against the segregation

request. Other societies are likely to express similar

concerns. The event is also due to take place a few days

after a number of campus-based activities to coincide

with International Women’s Day.

What the hell??? What does any of that have to do with anything? Does the university normally shove women into corners except around the time of International Women’s Day? Does it need a god damn active feminist society to tell it it can’t shove women into corners? No! Basic equality of that kind is already the norm, and is not dependent on an active feminist society which is likely to protest things.

Things to consider

Legal framework – points likely to be particularly relevant

Aside from freedom of speech and the s.43 duty,

the paramount issue is to consider how equality

obligations apply, and how those interact.

For example, under the Equality Act 2010, the first

question is whether the segregation is discriminatory

on the grounds of a protected characteristic within

the definition of the Act. Segregation in the context of

the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory

on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable

treatment’ of either female or male attendees.

Segregation of that kind is itself “less favorable treatment.” That’s why people risked their lives – and sometimes lost them – to end racial segregation in the US a few decades ago. It’s why people did the same to end apartheid even more recently. Segregation, separation, apartheid: that is less favorable treatment.

It will therefore, for example, be necessary to consider

the seating plan for any segregation. For example,

if the segregation is to be ‘front to back’, then that

may well make it harder for the participants at the

back to ask questions or participate in debate, and

therefore is potentially discriminatory against those

attendees. This issue could be overcome assuming

the room can be segregated left and right, rather than

front and back (and also ensuring that appropriate

arrangements are made for those with disabilities).

No. No, no, no. You’re doing it wrong, because of the simple mistake three paragraphs back. You were supposed to tell the speaker “No” and that’s an end of it.

Consideration will also need to be given to whether

imposing segregation on everyone attending the

event is required (see below). If it is required, this

may amount to less favourable treatment of other

attendees because of a protected characteristic. On

the face of the case study, assuming the side-by-side

segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there

does not appear to be any discrimination on gender

grounds merely by imposing segregated seating.

Both men and women are being treated equally, as

they are both being segregated in the same way.

However, one cannot rule out the possibility that

discrimination claims will be made on other grounds.

For example, it is arguable that ‘feminism’ (bearing

in mind the views of the feminist society referred to

in the case study), or some forms of belief in freedom

of choice or freedom of association, could fall within

the definition of ‘belief’ under the Equality Act. This

would in turn mean that applying a segregated

seating policy without offering alternatives (eg a nonsegregated

seating area, again on a ‘side by side’

basis with the gender segregated areas) might be

discriminatory against those (men or women) who

hold such beliefs. However, the question of whether

such beliefs are protected under the Act is unclear

without a court ruling. 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.

Oh for christ’s sake. No. It is not just “the feminist society” that objects to gender segregation, just as it’s not only the organized groups for racial equality that object to racial segregation.

The bit about the other obligations and the duty to secure freedom of speech seems to rest on the assumption that if the speaker is told No then he will refuse to speak. That in turn seems to rest on the assumption that free speech depends on allowing invited speakers to extort any conditions they like, on pain of destroying free speech. That can’t be right. As Maryam puts it in her excellent post on this,

Clearly, this is not about people’s belief systems.

If it were so, Muslims would be unable to ride buses, the underground, enter their workplaces via entrances used by both men and women, eat in non-segregated restaurants… They wouldn’t even be able to get to the segregated meeting room since men and women would be mingling freely on the streets and halls right up to their entry into the segregated hall kindly organised by Universities UK.

gender_segregation-150x150And what next? Another set of guidelines asking unveiled women to veil so as not to “result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.” Maybe they can ask that niqabs be handed out to unchaste and unveiled women before entry.

And now it gets even worse:

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.

Yes.it.should.

If the religious group will have the debate only on condition that women are treated as second class citizens, which is what segregation does, then the religious group doesn’t get to have the debate.

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. The s.43 duty requires an institution

to secure freedom of speech within the law.

It is not “stifling debate” to refuse unreasonable conditions demanded for the debate. Freedom of debate is allowing the speaker to say whatever the speaker chooses to say. It is not allowing the speaker to tell the institution to discriminate among the people who attend the debate. That’s an extra, outside the debate, so refusing the speaker’s unreasonable demand is in no way to “stifle a religious society’s segregated debate.”

This is getting very long. Part 2 to follow.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    Mervyn D

    Well BLOODY said!

  2. 2
    Al Dente

    The vice chancellors did a lot of hand waving, tap dancing, and bs slinging to say “some misogynists don’t want women and men to be treated equally so we’ll cave in to their desires.”

  3. 3
    Gordon Willis

    They wouldn’t even be able to get to the segregated meeting room since men and women would be mingling freely on the streets and halls right up to their entry into the segregated hall kindly organised by Universities UK.

    No, they wouldn’t, so the solution would be not to allow women out at all, so that the problem wouldn’t arise. Of course, no one would argue the unthinkable alternative, that men should stay at home or be escorted under cover from place to place by a female relative: it would be wrong, and god would be cross, and all universities would worry about it.

    Either women and men are on equal terms, or they are not. If they are segregated, they are not equal, because segregation means no commerce except in controlled conditions, and who controls? who makes the conditions? If they are equal, there is no “us and them”. There can be no meeting of minds, with “us and them”.

    Democracy must mean that all citizens are on an equal footing. It cannot mean that one section of the population is allowed to impose upon another. Segregation of free citizens is an impossibility, a non sequitur, if you like. If a religious group feels imposed on by the conditions of democracy, then they are not willing to accept democracy, and they must amend or go elsewhere. They must not be allowed to undermine it. We have democracy because it is the most just system yet devised. It has taken immense pains and suffering to achieve it. Anything else is less than just. No hostages.

    Perhaps these strange people think that “democracy” represents a group which imposes on another (which, of course, would be undemocratic!) Democracy is the condition under which we learn to accommodate our differences, and antidemocratic demands cannot be accommodated: no one can have the freedom to make unjust demands.

    What worries me most is that the people who are so keen to be accommodating take for granted that they will still have personal liberty at the end of the day. They don’t see that in granting away other people’s liberties at the behest of minorities they are giving up their own.

  4. 4
    Dave Fernig

    Your logic is impeccable, unfortunately those in power clearly have a different agenda. The only way forward is to disobey what is in effect a decree that goes against UK and European law. Get tickets, swap seats on a massive scale. if security is “heavy” nothing works quite like several hundred (thousand better) people sitting down.

  5. 5
    MEFoley

    Guess they didn’t ever have any protests here on the grounds that “separate is not equal”, so they never got that bit.

    They think segregation is okay as long as nobody has to sit in the back of the bus? Sheesh — are they being wilfully disingenuous?

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    Mary Ellen, that’s what I cannot figure out. It seems impossible that they don’t see what’s wrong with it, but…

    …who knows.

    Dave @ 4, Maryam is organizing groups to do just that.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/2013/11/23/rescind-endorsement-of-sex-segregation-at-uk-universities/

  7. 7
    Gordon Willis

    @Ophelia #6
    It’s called “multiculturalism”. We can all go about making demands and everybody will say, “Fine, OK” except when it’s against my religion, of course. It’s stupid, but it’s still the received “wisdom”. Everybody is scared, including universities, who are prepared to sacrifice all their principles: and everyone else, too, it seems.

    Dave Fernig is right. It may be the only recourse we have left.

  8. 8
    A. Noyd

    If they want to promote discussion of faith “in the modern world,” then why are they inviting speakers who demand the modern world be kept at bay?

  9. 9
    AsqJames

    Does it need a god damn active feminist society to tell it it can’t shove women into corners?

    It sure looks like the Vice-chancellors could do with a bit more interaction with some active feminists!

  10. 10
    dmcclean

    So long as we are studying hypotheticals, why didn’t they “study” the analogous case where the speaker’s religious “values” only require the segregation of menstruating women? Perhaps that would make the relevant principles more clear to their intuition.

    After all, does their hypothetical speaker really want gender segregation or sex segregation? The study says the speaker requested “gender” segregation, but in two places they cite laws pertaining to “sex” discrimination with the implication that they are somehow relevant. Who judges gender when gender segregation is enforced? The IOC has policies and procedures for judging sex when sex segregation is enforced which attempt to draw a line where there isn’t one, have been the subject of extended debate, and are invasive. Surely any attempt to externally judge gender must be even more arbitrary.

    Obviously any speaker in the real world making such a demand is really demanding that sex and gender be identical and binary. Counterfactual demands are childish, and clearly impossible for an institution or anyone else to grant. The speaker might as well demand that his childhood pet goldfish be restored to life, for all the sense it makes.

  11. 11
    rnilsson

    Spine.
    Grow one, UUK.
    Or just go UUK youselves.
    Resign, since you’re already so resigned.

    And that’s good advice if you can get it.

  12. 12
    suttkus

    I have a plan:

    1. Become famous.

    2. Offer to give a popular talk on my religion.

    3. Demand the audience be segregated on some ridiculous characteristic, like hair color or whether people have multiple vowels in their first name.

    4. Proclaim they just hate freedom if they don’t let me segregate the audience on random characteristics.

    Besides, we all know blondes are dirty and red-heads shouldn’t have to associate with them. That is the logic here, right?

  13. 13
    Silentbob

    … there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating.

    Bizarre. How is “Madam, you must go left. Sir, you must go right.” not discrimination on gender grounds.

    Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.

    This is positively Pythonesque. “‘Women must walk on their knees, while men must walk on their feet’ is not discriminatory because everyone must follow the same rule.”

  14. 14
    Eamon Knight

    Seems to me that if a speaker demands a sex-segregated audience, then we’ve already heard all we need to from him on the subject of “faith in the modern world” (namely, that his particular faith doesn’t belong in it). So actually having deliver his talk would be superfluous, wouldn’t it?

    Problem solved ;-).

  15. 15
    LykeX

    @14
    Absolutely spot on. They’ve made it clear that their faith is incompatible with a free and equal society. What else do we really need to know?

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