Notes and Comment Blog

Shoulder to shoulder to shoulder

Dec 14th, 2013 11:12 am | By

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.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Dec 13th, 2013 5:44 pm | By

You’re wondering what Sayeeda “Baroness” Warsi is concerned about these days, aren’t you. I know how you are. You can’t sleep nights for wondering about it. Well I’ll tell you. I found out via the Telegraph. She’s concerned about the possibility that laws introducing same-sex marriage might not contain enough protections for religious groups. What have they got to do with anything, you’re probably asking yourself. The Telegraph explains.

The former Conservative Party chairman said she could not support the Government bill during votes in the Lords because of “reservations” about how clauses designed to prevent faith groups being sued for refusing to perform gay weddings would work in practice. 

She raised the prospect of smaller churches, mosques and temples which are linked to local community centres, finding themselves in a legal grey area when same-sex marriage becomes possible from March next year.

Uh oh uh oh uh oh uh oh. She’s concerned about smaller churches, mosques and temples that don’t want to marry same-sex couples and might get in trouble if they stamp their feet and say no. Well that is the important thing after all – not people who want to marry being able to marry, but people who want to stop them because a made-up god said Ew. What a good thing to be concerned about – not enough protection for people who want to prevent other people from marrying.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Duck’s off

Dec 13th, 2013 4:42 pm | By

From Gnu Atheism at Facebook.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Maltby and Barkatulla on PM

Dec 13th, 2013 12:15 pm | By

Radio 4′s afternoon news program PM had the UUK-gender segregation story as its lead item, and then its first in-depth story. The talking heads were Kate Maltby, a Christian and a PhD student at UCL, and Fatima Barkatulla of Seeds of Change which (PM failed to say) is part of iERA.

Barkatulla pushed the UUK line that it’s voluntary, with extra added “live and let live” and “religious Muslim women just want a space.”

But that’s all nonsense. You can’t have separate space in a public auditorium or class room or lecture hall without keeping the “wrong” people out, so it can’t be voluntary. The minute some “wrong” person tries to sit in that space, some sort of action is required to keep that wrong person out. It might be just a very polite request, but that still makes the keeping out not voluntary.

Suppose a bunch of women went together and went very early, so that there was a big bloc of women. Then maybe any men who came later would simply decide not to sit there, to be polite. That’s still not voluntary. It may look voluntary to the willfully naïve onlooker, but it’s not.

And anyway it’s all just fake. it’s at a university. People mix there, all the time. Trying to create segregation at particular debates isn’t really for the sake of people who go all wobbly without it, it’s to make a point. A bad, illiberal, creepy point.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Those who wish to sit in separate areas

Dec 13th, 2013 11:14 am | By

The Telegraph has the skinny on what the Equality and Human Rights Commission thinks of the gender segregation issue.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced it will help re-write guidance, published by Universities UK (UUK) last month, which said Muslim societies and other groups were entitled to practice gender segregation at public meetings on campus.

Mark Hammond, the EHRC’s chief executive, said gender segregation was “not   permissible” under equalities laws, adding that UUK’s guidance required clarification.

By agreeing to go back to the drawing board with the EHRC’s help, the vice-chancellors’ organisation appeared to have headed off the prospect of a legal challenge from the official watchdog.

There: the Telegraph described UUK properly: it’s “the vice-chancellors’ organization”; it’s not the representative of the universities.

Its controversial guidance   to universities across Britain said segregation could be acceptable as   long as men and women were seated side by side rather than with women at the back.

It also said that any event where some segregation took place for religious reasons should also provide a separate, non-segregated area.

Mr Hammond said: “Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it.

“However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”

What we said all along. Public meeting or debate or lecture. That’s what the “guidance” was about and that’s what we disagreed with so strongly.

The EHRC’s announcement came after UUK’s chief executive insisted gender segregation was not completely “alien” in British life.

Nicola Dandridge said: “It’s not something which is so alien to our culture that it has to be regarded like race segregation, which is totally different and it’s unlawful and there’s no doubt about that whatsoever.

“This is about ensuring that everyone has the right to sit where they want, including those who wish to sit in separate areas.”

You know…Dandridge really ought to stop saying that. She’s not thinking it through. (Why the hell not? Since it is after all her specialty?) She is forgetting that “those who wish to sit in separate areas” can include those who wish to sit in areas with no Jews / blacks / foreigners / dalits / you name it. This attempt to control and purify and sanitize public spaces from the pollution of filthy Others is at the heart of racism and all its cognates. It’s the direct opposite of equality and as such it is not a “right”. She might as well claim that white people have a right to swim in separate municipal swimming pools.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Meanwhile, in Turkey

Dec 13th, 2013 10:42 am | By

A court has sentenced Sevan Nisanyan to jail for two years for illegal construction…in a country where illegal construction is ubiquitous.

A prominent Turkish-Armenian blogger accused a Turkish court on Friday of issuing a “politically-motivated” verdict after being sentenced to jail on charges of illegal construction.

An appeals court in the western coastal city of Izmir sentenced Sevan Nisanyan to two years in prison on charges of building without a permit.

An Istanbul court in May had also sentenced Nisanyan, a self-confessed atheist, to one year in jail for blasphemy over a blog post supporting the controversial anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” but he has appealed the verdict.

So while they’re waiting they’ll convict him of something else. Whatever works.

Nisanyan, who also faces up to 16 years in prison on other charges related to construction work on his hotels in the village of Sirince near Izmir, said he would be sent to jail next week.

But in a country littered with illegal constructions, he said the court ruling on Thursday was punishment for his outspoken views about restrictions on freedom of expression in Turkey.

“It is politically motivated because in this community, those who try to be an individual and stand firm on their ideas have always been punished,” he told AFP.

He must have hurt the feelings of the community.

Nisanyan was convicted of blasphemy over his September 2012 blog defending the anti-Islam film that ridiculed the Prophet Mohammed and sparked angry protests across the world.

“Mocking an Arab leader who centuries ago claimed to have contacted God and made political, financial and sexual benefits out of this is not a crime of hatred,” he wrote.

His words touched a nerve in the staunchly secular but majority Muslim nation and he received hundreds of death threats after the court decision.

Turkey has long been criticized for a lack of press freedom and dozens of journalists are in detention, accused of plotting against the Islamist-rooted government or having links with outlawed movements such as the Kurdish rebels.

“Staunchly secular”? A “staunchly secular” nation doesn’t produce hundreds of death threats over an observation like that.

H/t torcant

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

UUK has withdrawn its advice while it has another think

Dec 13th, 2013 9:07 am | By

The Guardian reports. Universities UK, the bod that represents university vice-chancellors (not universities themselves, contrary to what the Guardian says),

has withdrawn guidance on the gender segregation of audiences in lectures and debates after the prime minister, David Cameron, said it should not be allowed to happen.

So……………for once, IT WORKED. Making a stink worked. It was just a few people making a stink at first. You know that; you saw the whole thing.

Universities UK said a controversial case study setting out the guidance was being withdrawn while it reviewed its stance, but insisted the legal position remained unclear on whether the voluntary separation of men and women could be allowed at events such as lectures on Islam by visiting speakers.

Cameron’s spokesman had earlier said Universities UK should urgently review the guidance.

His intervention followed comments by the education secretary, Michael Gove, who accused the body that represents universities of “pandering to extremists”.

It’s a damn good thing Jack Straw talked to the Today programme yesterday, so that we don’t have to think this is a purely Tory view. Nevertheless…why is UUK stupider about human rights than the Tories are (on this particular issue)? Awkward!

Universities UK issued the guidance following a series of Islamic events at campuses at which male and female students had been separated.

They weren’t “Islamic events.” They were open to the public. That’s the issue.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “There is an issue around speakers who are invited into universities. He doesn’t think that guest speakers should be able to address segregated audiences and he thinks that Universities UK should urgently review its guidance.

“There is an important issue around principle and possible risks around discrimination. I think [Cameron] feels very strongly about this.”

The spokesman made clear that the PM wanted a ban on gender-segregated audiences on campus even where men and women voluntarily separated themselves.

He also stressed that the prime minister’s views did not extend to places of worship such as mosques, synagogues or gurdwaras.

Well, I gotta bite the bullet and go with Cameron on this one.

The intervention comes the day after the education secretary said the guidance, which has also been branded not permissible by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was a “disgrace”.

“We should not pander to extremism. Speakers who insist on segregating audiences should not be indulged by educators. This guidance is wrong and harmful. Universities UK should withdraw it immediately,” Gove told the Daily Mail.

On Thursday Universities UK, which represents more than 130 higher education institutions, said it was seeking a definitive legal view on the issue from the EHRC after its London headquarters were targeted by student protesters this week.

The EHRC said it was involved in redrafting sections in guidance that said that Muslim and other groups were permitted to voluntarily segregate men and women at events. Its chief executive, Mark Hammond, told the Telegraph: “Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it.

“However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender.”


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Shohana Khan

Dec 12th, 2013 6:24 pm | By

On the other hand there’s a post by Shohana Khan, Women’s Media Representative of Hizb ut Tahrir Britain. Her post is not a good post.

Placard reading “we reject gender apartheid” waved at a winter evening protest. Fiery discussions about the imposition of medieval practices in Universities, unleashed in the media, as yet again another Muslim practice is in the firing line. The report issued by Universities UK which has allowed Islamic societies to practice voluntary gender separated seating in their events, has created uproar. Allowing this Islamic practice in UK Universities would be a travesty for women’s rights. Apparently.

That’s a discouraging first paragraph. Demands for gender segregation at university public events is not “another Muslim practice.” It’s an Islamist practice. Islamists don’t represent all Muslims, nor do they speak for them. The report was not confined to events exclusive to Islamic societies; it was about public events; that’s exactly why there is outrage. (What the hell would Lawrence Krauss have been doing at an Islamic society event? He was at a UCL event.) The practice is not an Islamic practice, it’s an Islamist practice. That’s a lot of smokescreen for one paragraph. I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t trust anything she says.

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. If anything I remember from my days at university, is that the very purpose of these societies are to meet the extra curricular needs and interests of University students. Therefore if Muslim students attend Islamic society activities for this very reason, why on earth is this a problem?

No. She’s flat wrong on that. The UCL event was organized by the iERA, but it was a public event. It was open to the public, not just to members.

Why not ask the opinion of those Muslim women who organise and attend these events, rather than ask those hurling the accusations with no real standing in the Muslim community – Did they feel denied of an ability to participate? Did they feel stripped of respect and value in such events?

Yes just ask the people who organized the event. That’s the way to sample opinions in “the Muslim community.”

Then the fact that segregation is being facilitated between men and women, by men and women in Islamic societies, shows the commitment to cater for both genders. Discriminating against women would mean denying women entry, or any participation in the venue. Neither of these takes place. And what is forgotten is that women are also part of these societies, co-organising if not leading activities.  We are talking about separated seating, not patriarchy.

And if they were all confined to a small dark room that would be ok too, because that wouldn’t be denying them entry. Absolutely. Nelson Mandela (whom she invokes) would be proud.

She explains the excellent reasons for gender apartheid.

Rather the concept of separating men and women in public spaces in Islam, is part of a wider objective. Islam has a societal view that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman is for the committed private sphere of marriage, and should not be allowed to spill outside of this sphere. This is because in society, men and women need to cooperate to achieve things in society whether in the work place, in education, in interactions across the public space. Islam firmly believes if the sexual instinct is let loose in this public sphere, it can taint and complicate these relationships. Therefore Islam promotes ideas such as honouring women which are upheld in society, but alongside such ideas specific rules and laws are implemented to help maintain the atmosphere of healthy interaction between the sexes. These rules aim to minimise the presence of this instinct in public life.  So minimising the mixing the interaction of the sexes in the public sphere unless necessary, the covering up of women and men through the Islamic dresscode, the prohibition of exploiting the sexuality of women in any profession, modelling to pornography, are all laws to help maintain an atmosphere in public life, where focus is not on the sexual element of women and men, but on the contributions they make.  The impact this has, and had in the history of the Islamic state, was that women were actually valued for their intellectual capability and what they could contribute regardless of gender, such as Fatima Al Fihri who founded the world’s first university in Morocco.

Yes! And like Malala Yousafzai, and all the teachers and girls killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan for teaching or going to school. Like all the women beaten for not wearing hijab, or wearing it wrong. Like the women politicians and police chiefs in Afghanistan, killed for being…politicians and police chiefs. Yes, the Islamic loathing of “the sexual instinct” has been a beacon for women for centuries.

Her bio at the end is…depressing.

Shohana Khan is the Women’s Media Representative of Hizb ut Tahrir Britain. A graduate of English, she writes and blogs about issues affecting women in contemporary society and specialises in presenting Islam, as a societal alternative to them. She has written about issues affecting the Muslim community in the UK, including producing an open letter for MP Sarah Wollaston following her attack on the niqab (veil). She speaks at events and has debated feminism at a London University. She writes for the Huffington Post. She is married and has three children she homeschools. tweet her @ShohanaK

She homeschools her children.





(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It’s just a social norm, totally no pressure

Dec 12th, 2013 5:55 pm | By

Steve Bowen has a good post about UniversitiesUKgendersegregation. And, specifically, Nicola Dandridge. (She’s personally getting all the heat over this issue, but she’s the only name that’s been put out there. It’s almost as if she’s their sacrificial lamb or something…Except not quite because equality is in fact her field, as we learned last week. She’s a specialist in equality, and this is the dog’s breakfast she’s defending.

From Steve Bowen’s post:

There is no universal human right to non-association and nor should there be. If you are the kind of person who does not want the company of a certain gender, creed or race, your only right is to avoid places where those individuals go. Universities are open publicly funded spaces and whether or not the speaker is a Muslim or Haredi Jew, or even if most of the audience are, the fundamental principle should be one of equal and open access to all parts of the auditorium.

Dandridge also insisted that universities were not being advised to “enforce” gender segregation, but this is [dis]ingenuous. Social norms will always compel people to follow the stated protocols and if you happen to be, for example, a Muslim woman in that situation there is zero chance that you will risk the [dis]approbation of your peers by bucking the system. The very act of offering segregated seating, even if mixed areas are also available will mean that at least a proportion of the audience will be compelled to segregate whether they really want to or not.

Dandridge seems to be carefully oblivious to that obvious fact. It’s infuriating.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The assertion of religious political power

Dec 12th, 2013 5:35 pm | By

The Telegraph reported on the gender segregation protest.

Maryam Namazie, a researcher at the University of London and one of the organisers of the event, said that she has noticed a rise of Islamism across UK Universities that is not truly representing the views of most Muslims.   She said: “In the UUK’s efforts to be inclusive they are encouraging sexism and endorsing discrimination.

“It’s about free speech and its about Islamists imposing their rules and projecting women as symbols of chaos in society.” 

A whole host of speakers were at the protest that climaxed in the chanting of ‘shame on UUK’ directed at the organisation’s headquarters.

There’s a picture of people at the protest above that passage, with Maryam in the foreground. (And trees overhead that look oddly leafy for December.)

“Words cannot fully describe what I feel today,” said Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, a feminist group. “Rage, indignation and sorrow are just some that spring to mind.” And she went on to say “that the assertion of religious political power obliterates the very ideas of liberty and equality that so many people lived for and died for”.

‘Separate but equal’ is not equal at all was the message being spread by protesters. And of course it isn’t. By pursuing the appeasement of these religious fundamentalists anyone is right to question where this might end?

You would also be right to question why splitting people on race or sexuality would cause public outrage but splitting people on gender has received relatively little attention?

Last night’s protest echoed much of what Nelson Mandela fought for. Ms Patel likened the two examples by saying that UUK’s justification for its actions was that it was “trying to uphold equalities law [but] this was the same defence they used for racial apartheid in South Africa”.

Trying to uphold equalities law by throwing women overboard. Hmm.

Two young women at the rally, from Oxbridge, were concerned about the progress of girls in higher education.

Radha Bhatt, 19, a student at Cambridge University, said: “I am absolutely shocked and concerned that this segregation is still going on … the idea that Muslim leaders are uncomfortable with men and women sitting together and that UUK is appeasing them shows that they have a problem with co-education.”

Geetanjali Normande, 20, from Oxford University, said: “It scares me that institutions like UUK which exist to represent universities and the student body find that it is acceptable to condone this. It sounds like they are so   far removed from what it is to be a student and to be told that you can’t sit where you want to in your lecture.

“I grew up in a very religious background but my family are extremely supportive of me getting an education.”

It’s only Universities UK that’s not so supportive.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Nicola Dandridge speaks

Dec 12th, 2013 1:48 pm | By

I’ve just been listening to Today’s Today programme on UUK and gender segregation. I’ve got to run off so will post later but there it is for your listening pleasure fury. It starts just before 2 hrs 10.

I find Dandridge simply astonishing. I can hardly believe what I’m hearing. Fortunately Justin Webb sounds almost as incredulous as I am, and he keeps pushing back.

Jack Straw is very definite about what he thinks.

The BBC and everyone really needs to stop saying UUK represents UK universities, because (if David Colqhoun is right, and I think he would know) it doesn’t, it represents the vice-chancellors, not the universities. That does make a difference.

Dandridge actually seems to think that not acceding to an external speaker’s demand that the audience be segregated by gender is a violation of free speech. She certainly says that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

She has always been drawn to holes

Dec 12th, 2013 12:27 pm | By

An item from last May is being passed around on Twitter and Facebook today – Eve Ensler writing about fistula and…well, Eve Ensler.

She had a fistula because she had uterine cancer, you see.

My friend Paul says to me, “It’s like you’ve got Congo Stigmata.” Well, actually, almost everyone said it in one way or another. “It doesn’t surprise me, Eve, of course. All those stories of rape over all these years. The women have entered you.” And at first I pushed this away because it’s not really a great advertising for activism. Come care about others, listen to their stories and their pain, and you can contact it too.

Hmmmno. That’s not the problem. The problem is that rape in the Congo isn’t about you. It isn’t something you should invoke as a way of talking about you. Ever.

Dr Handsome, my colon doctor, e-mailed Dr Deb the day after the surgery and said he had been unable to sleep because he was so in awe of the mystery of what they had found. He said, “These findings are not medical, they are not science. They are spiritual.”

Another way not to talk about rape in the Congo.

I have always been drawn to holes. Black holes. Infinite holes. Impossible holes. Absences. Gaps, tears in membranes. Fistulas. Obstetric fistulas occur because of extended difficult labor. Neccesary blood is unable to flow to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder. As a result, the tissues die and a hole forms through which urine or feces flow uncontrollably. In the Congo fistulas have been caused by rape, in particular gang rape, and rape with foreign objects like bottles or sticks. So many thousands of women in eastern Congo have suffered fistulas from rape that the injury is considered a crime of combat.

Ohhh myyyyyyy godddddddd that is so not a way to talk about rape in the Congo. It’s not a fucking literary conceit, it’s not a metaphor, and it’s sure as hell nothing to do with any distant safe prosperous woman’s literary interest in “holes.” It’s not an occasion to drop sophisticated chat about holes as absences. Just don’t. Do not.

After three trips to the Congo, I needed to see a fistula. I asked to sit in on a reparative operation. I need to know the shape of this hole, the size of this hole. I needed to know what a woman’s insides looked like when her most essential cellular tissue had been punctured by a stick or penis or penises. Wearing a mask and gown, I peered

No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.

There in the lining was an undeniable hole, a rip, a tear in the essential story. It was almost a perfect circle, the size of a quarter may be, too big to prevent things from getting in or from falling out. I couldn’t help but think of the sky, of the membrane of the sky and the rip in the ozone. Humans had become hole makers. Bullet holes and drilled holes, hurt holes, greed holes, rape holes. Holes in membrane that function to protect the surface or bodily organ.

Yes; holes. In this case, physical injuries, which are not playthings for Eve Enslers to bat around like so many ping pong balls. (Hey didja ever stop to think that balls are holes turned inside out? Wo, deep, huh?)

Seriously; don’t ever do that. Don’t treat horrors as sources of aesthetic “play” and don’t treat them as pretexts to talk about your Self. Don’t be an Eve Ensler.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

‘Have the people who are likely to come to this event agreed to the segregation?’

Dec 12th, 2013 11:53 am | By

The BBC reports on UUK’s statement.

Universities UK says it has today requested legal clarification from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In a letter, Universities UK which represents 132 institutions, has asked the Commission to consider having the issue clarified by the High Court, “or provide a clear and public statement about the law and the relevant policy considerations”.

The row over the UUK guidance has sparked protests from students and some MPs.

UUK actually doesn’t represent 132 institutions, it represents 132 vice-chancellors.

Along with students and MPs the row has also sparked protests from journalists and activists and bystanders like me.

Shadow business secretary Chukka Umunna told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme he was “horrified”.

While former home secretary Jack Straw said it was “wrong” for universities “to indulge in such extraordinary behaviour”.

That’s good. Jack Straw was terrible about the Danish Motoons; it’s good that he’s better on this subject.

Ms Dandridge told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “We are not talking about universities enforcing segregation.

“One of the questions that runs through our case study which illustrates this question is, ‘Is this segregation voluntary, have the people who are likely to come to this event agreed to the segregation?’

“That is something that would be fundamentally important to the university in making a decision.

She is so confused. Her question makes no sense. “‘Is this segregation voluntary, have the people who are likely to come to this event agreed to the segregation?’” She talks about “the people who are likely to come to this event” – in other words an unknown – and then talks about whether this unknown has agreed to the segregation or not. That does not work! This is not a set of people who have been asked for their agreement in advance. It’s an unknown set of people, and their “agreement” is simply being guessed at. She doesn’t even know what people are likely to come to the event! It could be a lot of curious secular people, or people who admire the opposition side in the debate. That whole claim is incoherent.

“In practice if the people coming to this event said, ‘We do not want to segregate and separate out men and women,’ it is inconceivable that the university would impose it on them.

Oh really? Because a lot of people going to the Krauss-Tzortzis debate did say exactly that, yet the segregation was imposed anyway. It was imposed by the organizers but the university did nothing to prevent it, or prevent it from being imposed.

Ms Dandridge emphasised that the case study was about a very specific scenario: “We are not talking about teaching, lectures, the core business of universities.”

She rejected comparisons to racial segregation.

Well I reject her rejection.

I am seriously tired of people cheerfully doing things to women that they wouldn’t in a million years do to Other Races.

“It is not something which is so alien to our culture that it has to be regarded like race segregation.”

Really? It’s not? People in the UK are quite accustomed to being told to sit with their own gender in public places? On buses, on the tube, in cinemas, at the theatre, in libraries, in restaurants?

The hell they are. That kind of pious, squeamish, cootiephobic sorting is extremely alien to UK culture.

Mr Umunna told Today a future Labour government would outlaw segregation on campus.

“I was horrified by what I heard…

“Let me be absolutely clear. A future Labour government would not allow or tolerate segregation in our universities.

“It offends basic norms in our society.

“Of course people should be free to practise their religion privately in places of worship and at religious events but universities are publicly funded places of research, learning and teaching and as such there is no place, in my view, for state-sponsored segregation.”

See that, Minnow? Universities are publicly funded places. We didn’t make that up.

Universities UK has today also published legal advice on its guidance from Fenella Morris QC which concludes that it “is lawful and provides an appropriate foundation for lawful decision-making by universities”.

If Fenella Morris QC is correct then I hope Parliament changes that law quickly.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

UUK speaks at last

Dec 12th, 2013 10:44 am | By

Universities UK has issued a press release on the gender segregation issue.

Statement from Universities UK:

Universities UK’s publication External speakers in higher education institutions aims to provide guidance to institutions in managing the process for inviting external speakers onto campus, both in terms of upholding principles of free speech, and also complying with the law. It was produced with significant input from a range of organisations and individuals (referenced in the full report) as well as extensive legal advice.

The guidance is not prescriptive. It is intended to provide practical assistance to universities in making decisions about who they choose to invite to speak on campus, steering them through all the different considerations, legal and otherwise, that apply. Universities are independent institutions and will make decisions themselves on a case by case basis.

The guidance includes a hypothetical case study (case study 2) involving an external speaker invited to talk about his orthodox religious faith, who had subsequently requested segregated seating areas for men and women. The case study considers the facts, the relevant law and the questions that the university should ask, and concludes that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged and a non-segregated seating area were also provided, it might in the specific circumstances of the case be appropriate for the university to agree to the request.

Defensive. It’s guidance! There was extensive input! The guidance is not prescriptive! We were just trying to help! Universities are independent and they don’t have to listen to us anyway!

And then they just recycle the same bullshit  – “and concludes that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged and a non-segregated seating area were also provided, it might in the specific circumstances of the case be appropriate for the university to agree to the request.” But the trouble with that of course is that UUK buys the ridiculous claim that formal pre-arranged gender segregation can possibly be anything other than disadvantageous to women. It ignores history, it ignores much of the world, it ignores reality. It ignores the obvious objection, which many many people raised: the objection that segregation of, say, Jews and non-Jews, or blacks and whites, or gay and straight, would not be “appropriate” even if there were a non-segregated seating area also provided. You may remember that Nick Cohen asked Nicola Dandridge about that point and her utterly dense reply was that Parliament had made racial segregation against the law. You may also remember that he asked her why is sex different then, and that she said “because it’s visible.” Yes really.

The guidance does not promote gender segregation. When faced with requests for segregated seating, universities will consider all the circumstances: they will consider questions of disadvantage to men or women, and will inform themselves about the speaker’s views and the context of the event. Many, taking account of all factors, may legitimately refuse the request. It is for example very hard to see any university agreeing to a request for segregation that was not voluntary and did not have the broad support of those attending. But with different circumstances, as with the case study, the university may agree to it.

No, UUK, it may not. Stop issuing “guidance” that says universities may accept discriminatory practices at the behest of external speakers who demand them on religious grounds. Just stop.

The case study has generated considerable public concern and media coverage, some of which raised questions about our previous legal advice. In the light of that, we sought an opinion from senior counsel, Fenella Morris QC. We have now received her advice which confirms that the guidance is correct and provides an appropriate foundation for lawful decision-making. The advice is also clear that in adjudicating between conflicting priorities in relation to gender and religion, institutions have to balance a range of competing interests and strike a fair balance between them having regard to all the individual circumstances of each case. A copy of senior counsel’s advice is available at the link below (see notes).

Given the continuing public concern we have also today written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to request that they consider having the issue clarified by the High Court or provide a clear and public statement about the law and the relevant policy considerations in this area.

That one sentence is…quite frightening.

The advice is also clear that in adjudicating between conflicting priorities in relation to gender and religion, institutions have to balance a range of competing interests and strike a fair balance between them having regard to all the individual circumstances of each case.

In other words universities have to “strike a fair balance” between theocracy and women’s rights. Jesus fucking christ.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Dec 11th, 2013 5:42 pm | By

Catholic morality. Rape children, protect colleagues who rape children, protect the church from all consequences of protecting colleagues who rape children…and make sure to punish people who marry someone the church disapproves of.

It’s impressive, isn’t it? Inspiring? No wonder the church inspires such loyalty.

A Catholic high school near Philadelphia fired a teacher who told administrators he was going to marry his male partner.

The episode is the latest in a string of similar incidents, and it came just a week after New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the church is not “anti-gay” but has been “outmarketed” on the issue of gay marriage.

Ah, Timothy Dolan. Timothy Dolan, archbishop and blogger. Timothy Dolan who took to his blog a few years ago to complain that lots of people rape children but everybody shouts at the church. “They do it too!” the archbishop complained, like any toddler.

In this case, Griffin, 35, an alumnus of Holy Ghost who taught languages there for 12 years, was dismissed Friday (Dec. 6) in a meeting with the school president, the Rev. James McCloskey, and the principal, Jeffrey Danilak.

Which surprised him, because they knew he was gay, the two of them went to school parties as a couple.

But McCloskey said in a statement to the newspaper that Griffin’s action violated the terms of his contract, “which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the church as a condition of their employment.”

And yet…what if “the teachings of the church” were that staff could not marry people of other races? Would such a contract be enforceable? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think the church wouldn’t try to enforce such a teaching. Maybe it should think hard about what “teachings of the church” have changed over time, and why.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Nick Cohen spurns the proffered compromise

Dec 11th, 2013 5:16 pm | By

Nick Cohen has posted round 2 of his disagreement with Universities UK over its guidance on gender segregation.

On the Today programme this morning Justin Webb covered the decision by Universities UK to allow fundamentalist speakers to segregate women from men at public meetings.

With a characteristic disdain for accepted standards of behaviour, Universities UK refused to go on air and answer his questions. Webb had to ‘put the other side of the story’ himself. He told a Palestinian woman demonstrating outside Universities UK headquarters in central London, [1hr 36mins in] ‘What Universities UK say is, if non segregated seating is also provided it could be all right.’

Put like that it can sound just about all right. Men and women who want to sit apart can do so. Meanwhile there will be mixed seating for students who find the notion of sexual apartheid as repellent as racial apartheid. A typically British compromise, you might say.

I am not having a go at Webb. He delivered a fine report. Nor do I blame him for not understanding the Universities UK report on segregation – the academics write as if they learned English as a foreign language in an understaffed Brussels business school. But Webb, like many others, underestimates the extremism of the leaders of our institutes of “higher” learning.

Hmm, I didn’t think Webb put that in a way sympathetic to UUK. He frankly sounded pretty repelled by the whole idea throughout the piece. I thought he was more feeding the Palestinian woman a line so that she could respond to it than arguing UUK’s case for them.

To all of this Universities UK say: oh we’re just acting on legal advice. But as you can find lawyers who will say that black is white and 2 + 2 = 5, the question remains: is its legal advice any good? No one knows. Universities UK has not published its advice, and thus deprived feminist lawyers of the chance to examine it.

It admitted to me, in the days when it was talking to journalists, that it was just acting on this mysterious advice. It accepted that no court had ruled on whether speakers can impose segregation. Even without judicial authority, however, it went ahead and upheld the supposed rights of speakers with a ‘genuinely held religious belief’.

If you read the whole report, you discover a glaring double standard. When Universities UK moves on to discuss the rights of women, far more stringent criteria apply. It speculates that ‘feminism’ might be a ‘belief protected by the Equalities Act’. If it were, then maybe feminists could stop segregation. A terrible prospect, indeed. But Universities UK finds reassurance in the knowledge that no judge has ruled on the status of feminism.

It’s so bizarre, isn’t it? The burden of proof isn’t on the people who want to stop segregation, it’s on the people who want to start it. Imagine some blowhard gets on a city bus and tells everyone, “men sit on the right, women on the left.” Would everyone jump to obey? Hardly! We don’t get to tell each other where to sit in public places, barring extreme situations such as someone who just fell into a pool of shit. People sitting wherever they damn well please is the default, and they don’t have to get a court ruling first. That’s not even feminism. It’s more just fuck off.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

To remove shadows and blocks

Dec 11th, 2013 4:24 pm | By

There’s a blog and blogger called Kelly Barnhill, and she has a post from yesterday on anti-feminism and how mystifying it is. I know; isn’t it? It mystifies the hell out of me. Why not join it instead of fight it? (I think the official answer is “because only ugly bitches are feminists,” but that answer is incorrect.)

Now, a while ago (quite a while, actually) I wrote a post about a children’s movie with some pretty gross lady-hating themes, and I’ve managed to catch heck for it. In the comments, in my email box. Whatever. There are people who are seriously mad at me for pointing out that the movie was, in addition to being a crappily-animated, source-text-destroying, dreckish disaster of a movie – it was also grossly antifeminist. Moreover, it fed into the baseless fears of the men’s-rights folks who seem to think that personal empowerment is a zero-sum game. That to empower women means to disempower men. And that the purpose of feminism is to throw men, collectively mind you, into the proverbial dust-bin of history.

These things make me tired.

And sad.

It’s depressing that so many people think not-being-dominant=being-subordinate. Oy. Just because I don’t want to be subordinate, that doesn’t mean I want you to be subordinate.

The curious thing for me, though, is the sense of ownership. I write children’s books. I tweet. I keep this blog. I have a readership – a small one, sure. But a readership nonetheless. I get notes from readers – both men and women – saying “I come here to read about the writing process” or “I come here to get your insights on….” whatever. Books. Kids. Pretty things. “Please keep your feminism to yourself,” people say in comments I delete. “No one cares about your politics,” one woman wrote me. She wrote a lot of other sentences, mind, and I’ll repeat none of them here. She closed with, “the next time you want to air your grievances, just keep your yap shut.”

Apparently, for both children and children’s authors, silence is golden.

Or maybe it’s not authors. Maybe it’s women. Maybe women saying things online makes us itchy. Or maybe women saying things at all.

And campaigns. Don’t forget campaigns. Campaigns of fretful deracinated angst-ridden wastrels trying to persuade the entire rest of the world to stop reading the blogs of six or seven Demons Incarnate because they so hates’em.

The thing is though? My identity as a feminist informs every facet of my life. It informs my parenting. It informs my reading. It informs the way I listen to the news. It informs my interactions with others. It informs my understanding. It informs the questions that I ask. And it informs the writing that I do  - the novels for children, the short stories for grown ups, the stuff on this blog. I can’t take the feminism out. I don’t even know how.

And maybe this is the limitations of my world-view. Because I honestly can’t understand how we can be in this world and not be feminist. How can we just not notice inequality and injustice when it is staring us in the dang face? How can we not come up against the blindness of privilege and not want to change? How can we not desire to open our eyes? All social justice movements, in the end, work to remove shadows and blocks. We cannot see injustice if the limits of privilege block the view. If we remove the block we can see unfairness and we can change the world and make it better. Those blocks are removed through experience, through awareness-raising, and, probably most effectively, through story. Story matters.

I like this Kelly Barnhill.

I am a feminist. Proudly so. Unabashedly so. It concerns me that I get unpleasant emails and comments just based on this blog. I have in the past. I will in the future. Ugly people will say ugly things, and that is just that. It concerns me that “Writing While Feminist” is offensive to people – that the fact of my world-view and the fact of my voice and the fact that I tell stories and think things and see the world in terms of changing and re-shaping and bettering things for everyone is somehow worthy of vitriol or anger or shaming words.

Same here.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

More major media

Dec 11th, 2013 11:32 am | By

Radio 4 also reported on the No Gender Segregation protest, this morning on the Today programme. (I spell it programme because it’s in the UK. They get to spell it their way when it’s there.)

That’s huge, because everybody listens to Today.

It’s available for a week. They talk to Chris and Abhishek. It starts at 1 hour 35 minutes.

H/t Maureen.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The church and its insurers continue to play hardball with victims

Dec 11th, 2013 10:36 am | By

David Marr’s reporting continues; on the testimony of Joan Isaacs.

The council has already conceded in its submission to the royal commission that Towards Healing is opaque in its workings; inconsistent in its outcomes; operates without central oversight; and might be seen as lacking independence as it investigates abuse.

“It is now clearer than ever that the time has come for the church to hand over the determination of victims’ compensation to an independent process,” Sullivan told his Ballarat audience. “We are recommending a national compensation scheme, independent of the church that would determine payments.”

Sullivan doesn’t mean the courts where the church and its insurers continue to play hardball with victims such as Joan Isaacs. She is the first of the four. We know her name and saw her face. Most of this week will be spent examining her case.

When she began to read her statement in a slightly faltering voice the feeling in the hearing room changed. The commissioners lowered their eyes; the lawyers were still; there was absolute silence.

Not a moment for bible quotations? Not a place for hypocritical invocations of pseudo-compassion for thelittlechildren?

“From 1967 to 1968, I was sexually abused by Father Francis Derriman who was a priest of the archdiocese of Brisbane and chaplain of Sacred Heart Sandgate for those two years. I was aged 14 to 15 at the time of the abuse …”

And when she finished half an hour later I heard something I have never heard before at a royal commission: applause. McClellan did nothing to reproach the gallery. The applause rolled on. Isaacs said very softly to the room: “Thank you.”

Handy-dandy, which is the beggar, which the thief.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Special tickets

Dec 11th, 2013 10:22 am | By

There’s a hearing on institutional responses to child sexual abuse in the Catholic church going on in Sydney now. It started off with a bang on Monday

Victims of child abuse and their supporters walked out of a public hearing at the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse after the Catholic church’s legal representative quoted the Bible in his opening address.

Peter Gray, representing the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council began his opening statement by quoting a passage from the gospel of Mark, prompting cries of shock and disgust in the hearing room.

“Many will remember, from their own childhoods, the ageless words from the gospel of Mark,” said Gray.

“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such of these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

Members of Care Leavers Australia Network and survivors of abuse walked out of the room, some in tears.

Speaking to reporters outside the commission during a recess, Trish Charter said that at that point she could not listen any more and that hearing the words was “crashing us back down”.

Imbecile. Think about it. What do these many remember from their own childhoods? Hearing those “ageless words” in a context that made them a foul, cruel joke. Hearing them uttered by men who did nothing to help the real children in their power, or men who abused the real children in their power. Talk about whited sepulchre! King Lear says it best:

Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand.
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back.
Thou hotly lust’st to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.
Through tattered clothes great vices do appear;
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks.
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.

David Marr reports on the first day’s testimony.

At one end of an immensely expensive room in the Sydney legal district was a squad of lawyers briefed months ago for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

But in the gallery at the other end sat victims and the parents and friends of victims who have been on the case for nearly 20 years. For some it has become their life’s work. And they came from all points on Monday to see what they had managed at last: to put the Catholic Church in the dock.

They made their presence felt. They groaned. They protested. A handful walked out when Peter Gray SC, counsel for the church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council, began by quoting the “ageless words” of St Mark: “Let the little children come to me.”

Gray laid on the apologies not with a trowel but a front-end loader. He called abuse by clergy and its concealment by the church unbearable, disgraceful, heartbreaking, shattering and devastating. He declared the royal commission, “a watershed in church history and indeed in Australian history”.

The gallery was unmoved. For 20 years the church has been saying sorry and promising to do better. Nothing to applaud here. Nor did the campaigners seem impressed by Gray’s fresh assurances the church would co-operate “fully, without reservation” with the commission.

Isn’t that called, obeying the law?

Well…yes, for ordinary humans, it is, but for people with special tickets from god, it’s a different story.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)