Shoulder to shoulder to shoulder

There was a new comment yesterday on Nicola Dandridge’s November 25 blog post about the gender segregation bit of Universities UK’s guidance on external speakers. The new comment is by Jane Kelly, who went to the protest.

Seats For Women!
On Tuesday 10th December  I joined  ex Muslims from One Law For All, and various secular groups to attend a demonstration outside 20 Tavistock Square,against sexual segregation at lectures and debates. My mother laughed heartily at the thought of me going on a demo, something I have not done for thirty years, not since I was supporting Polish Solidarnoc. I promised her I would resist knocking off any police helmets.

The demo was for a cause which should get the attention of anyone interested in basic, long held principles of equality. Astonishingly sexual apartheid has just been allowed by UUK, the body which represents university Deans and faculties. This has been done to appease Muslims, probably in the hope of getting more wealthy students in from the near East.

Only of course it didn’t and wouldn’t “appease Muslims,” because so many Muslims want nothing to do with it and are insulted that university administrators would think they do. Islamists are not all Muslims.

There was about fifty of us there in the cold and fog, including Yasmin Alabi Brown, who is a tiny lady but speaks very forcefully. The following day  the event was reported on Today, but Maryam Namazai, who is behind it,  can never get interviewed by the BBC, and is ignored by Woman’s Hour. The radio report also included a report from the LSE where some atheist students were banned from having a stall and wearing T Shirts bearing the names Jesus and Mohammed, in case they offended Muslims.

It’s not quite true that Maryam can never get interviewed by the BBC, I think.

If these segregated university lectures go ahead, there are plans to disrupt them which may mean  women like me dressing up as Muslim clerics to get into meetings to sit among the men.  Later at my church coffee morning, I mentioned what I had been up to. One of the older ladies, who spends most of her time cooking for our social events, got very excited.
‘I fought for gender equality’ she expostulated.

Well yes. We older ladies did fight for gender equality. Noisily, visibly, obstreperously. We older ladies aren’t from Victoria’s day, yaknow. We’re battleaxes from the 60s and 70s.

Many people who were students in the 1960s believe that they did this, even if they never left the bar or library. I told her about the plans to disrupt segregated meetings. ‘I’ll come, I’ll do that!’ She said, and I think she will. Suddenly I was back in another age, one we thought was long, long dead, my Grandmother’s time, when she as a young woman had to take a view on her sisters who were joining the Suffragettes. Some women in our family were chaining themselves to metal railings in Liverpool, while others, like my Granny, remained quietly at home.

When I was a teenager I saw a wonderfully good BBC drama series called, ‘Shoulder To Shoulder,’ about the suffragette movement and how I longed to join Christabel Pankhurst’s radicals, and then Sylvia’s socialists. Those women were all the world to me for awhile, but it was fiction and it was history. But now in 2013,  the same issues of equality before the law have to be redefined and fought for all over again – I once regretted not being able to join a struggle which started in 1903 and ended in 1914, now I am getting into a struggle which also  has the disadvantage of being utterly unnecessary before international law, and absurdly forced on us by men from Pakistan.

And resisted by other men and women from Pakistan and Bangladesh and India and Iran and Algeria and Egypt to name only a few. Shoulder to shoulder.


  1. rnilsson says

    There is a saying that history repeats itself, only the second time as comedy, or something like that.
    This is a tragedy, as well as a travesty.
    Not a bit funny.

    What might be amusing, however, is if those dinosaurs dove back into their oil wells to replace the material they sold.
    Metaphorically speaking of course.

  2. stevebowen says

    The danger here is that we will end up with some horrible ‘compromise’ involving ‘voluntary’ segregation which nobody will be able to prove is genuinely voluntary. It’s the same reason I am coming around to the idea of a burqa ban in the UK even though it grates against my personal liberal values. Self segregators and voluntary Burqa wearers, which amount to the same thing really, are cover for the Islamist’s agenda to make tolerance of gender apartheid normative.
    Truly voluntary Burqa wearers should declare their preference but choose not to, then we would all see those who are the coerced, the oppressed and the vulnerable. How big is that problem? At the moment we cannot know due to misplaced liberalism so let’s not compound it by allowing UUK to argue for tolerance of voluntary segregation.

  3. says

    There’s no such thing as “voluntary segregation” unless you’re talking about one person sitting alone. If everyone can sit where they want, it’s voluntary seating. If there’s segregation, there must be coercion or physical enforcement, and that, by definition is involuntary.

  4. says

    Shoulder to Shoulder was an excellent series with that stirring theme tune written by Ethel Smythe:-

    I keep on saying this, but this business touched people viscerally. They were outraged. On Any Questions the tone of the four speakers – all first or second generation immigrants, from very different political positions – was WTF! This is England in the 21st century. How can this be possible. I am utterly delighted this is so deep in the culture that touching it emits shrieks of pain.

    (England is right in this instance as this was nothing to do with Scottish universities).

  5. Dave Ricks says

    I worry with Steve Bowen @2 about the danger remaining.  I downloaded the legal advice UUK got from Fenella Morris. It quotes from the Equality & Human Rights Commission in their Technical Guidance on Further and Higher Education:

    4.8 When the protected characteristic is race, deliberately segregating a student or group of students from others of a different race automatically amounts to less favorable treatment…

    4.9 Segregation linked to other protected characteristics may be direct discrimination. However, it is necessary to show that it amounts to less favorable treatment.

    Double standard from the EHRC, what else can I say?  I’ll be interested how the EHRC makes their guidance more clear.

  6. says

    Shami Chakrabarti mentioned that very fact on Any Questions, Dave – she said gender isn’t a protected [that’s not the right word, but it was something close in meaning] category the way race is, and that’s something that should be looked at – then went on to say that still doesn’t mean what UUK thinks it means.

    It’s the same in the US. Gender is a rung down from the most protected categories. That’s…disturbing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *