Chris Moos updates us on the situation with gender segregation at UK universities. It hasn’t noticeably improved.
Worryingly even some elected student officials go so far as to openly advocate segregation. Joe Killen, welfare and diversity officer at Goldsmiths Students’ Union opposes bans on segregation based on an alleged “importance of segregation in political movements.” The Women’s Officer of King’s College London Students’ Union, Shaheen Sattar, who is also a National Union of Students delegate, has gone as far as demanding that “gender segregation should be respected, if not tolerated, in institutions of higher education“, as it was “firm to the principles of Islam”.
What else should be respected because it’s “firm to the principles of Islam”? Stoning? Marrying off girls at the age of 9? Mandatory hijab?
At my own university, the London School of Economics, the picture is hardly different. Despite the claims of the Students’ Union that segregation would “not be allowed“, the Islamic Society regularly holds segregated ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ circles’. This is institutionally endorsed by the LSE, who recently inaugurated new Islamic prayer rooms, next to a ‘multi-faith’ room for all other religious students, encouraging segregation with the provision of exclusive ‘male’ and ‘female’ Islamic prayer rooms.
Notice how the most conservative version of Islam is treated as if it were the only version.
Now, some Muslim scholars suggest that the provision of separate male and female praying spaces in mosques is desirable, whereas others, like the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, do not. In fact, there are numerous examples of Muslims drawing on traditional and progressive Islamic schools of thought, like theInclusive Mosque Initiative, who actively challengesegregation and encourage the full inclusion of women and LGBTQ people into acts of worship. As a place of progressivism and learning, it is hardly understandable why LSE would give its explicit endorsement to the segregation of prayer rooms to the detriment of existing egalitarian approaches within Islam, thereby side-lining progressive Muslims.
Then Chris points out a truly revolting example of cultural cringe in the form of a chaplain at Keele University.
LSE and UCL are not the only universities implicitly or explicitly condoning or enforcing gender segregation. An even more worrying example of official endorsement of gender segregation can be found at the University of Keele. On the Facebook page, students can be found discussing an event involving several religious speakers. As one of the student expresses that the Muslim speaker had displayed a “backwards mind-set” by saying that the cutting off of hands as corporal punishment was justified, and that men and women were different so must be treated as such, the university chaplain Reverend James Stewart takes it on himself to retort: “He said cutting off hands was acceptable as a punishment ONLY ONCE certain very specific, very extreme criteria were met. […] It’s a cultural, not a “backward” mind-set.” In the ensuing discussion, several students then go on to express discomfort about the fact that the event was ostensibly gender segregated. In what becomes clear in the following exchange, the university administration, in the form of Reverend Steward, does not only dismiss the concerns of the students, but actively defends gender segregation:
Some cultures find it easier to stay within their gender groups, is all. […] They [Muslim women] are used to it, and feel protected in their gender roles. It does not impede their enjoyment of the event, but enhances it, as if they were more intermingled the sisters would have felt uncomfortable […] Sitting separate is not “wrong” and I will defend women to go separately if they feel more comfortable to do so […] “Many cultures do this – Sikhs in Gurdwara, many Churches in the past in the west, and now in the East. It isn’t Islam telling them to do this, but their cultural inheritance. It does not abuse or disempower the women in any way, but rather the opposite. Maybe it challenges our Western expectations of what “equality” looks like, but to them it feels like being respected and valued for being a woman.
Right, and slaves in Mississippi were treated very well by their owners.