There are three messages in this blog post:
1. Helping to build the awards list for 2013
2. Come and join us in Harrogate
3. UK university event gender separation of audiences

1. First of all, please do let me know if you were, or if you know of someone who was, the organiser of one or more ELT events in the UK in 2013 where there was rough parity of numbers of women and men plenary/keynote speakers or panellists. I would need to know the name of the organiser, contact details, name of the event and some sort of proof (such as a programme). I am hoping lots of people will get in touch as it would be great if The Fair List, UK for the year 2013 was even longer than the one for 2012!
So, hoping to hear from you about that!

2. Then, we will have a get together of The Fair List friends, plus our awards ceremony, at the IATEFL international conference in Harrogate, UK on Thursday April 3rd just after the main day’s programme has finished and well before the evening events start. For the exact time and place, please see the conference brochure when it comes out. I will of course put the time and place on this website too when I know it!
But do put it in your diary while you still have some spaces and come. All welcome!

3. And finally, here is a hot one!

‘Go to the back of the bus ma’am, er, I mean the side of the bus, er I mean the side of the university!’
‘Universities UK’, which is ‘the representative organization for universities in the UK’ (www.universitiesuk.ac.uk) has produced a guide that seeks to provide practical assistance to universities in steering a path through all the different considerations, legal and otherwise, that arise in the context of inviting external speakers on campus. The whole guide can be seen here.

The Fair List, as you know, is concerned with the points of view of the UK ELT event organizer, the plenary or keynote speaker or panelist who might indeed be such an external speaker and the participants at a UK ELT event. In these blog posts, we report on resources, organizations, ideas and opinions that can inform and interest. Many thanks therefore to Briony Beaven for bringing the ‘Universities UK’ guide to my attention.

There has been a lively debate recently about Page 26 of the guide mentioned above. On that page is Case Study 2, entitled ‘Segregation’ which outlines a hypothetical situation where a representative of an ultra-orthodox religious group (perhaps a preacher from a mosque, synagogue, Sikh temple or orthodox Christian church?) has been invited to speak at a university 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 organizer has thus followed agreed processes and duly raised the issue with university management. The event has been widely advertised and interest levels are high. The segregation request is not yet in the public domain but the students’ union has an active feminist society which, the case study supposes, 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.

That is the case to be studied. The advice on ‘things to consider’ given by Universities UK includes a discussion of the legal framework within which the event would take place and of other practical considerations. The conclusion is then reached that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged and a non-segregated seating area also provided, a university could decide it is appropriate to agree to the external speaker’s request. Thus a balance of interests ‘is most likely to be achieved if it is possible to offer attendees both segregated and non-segregated seating areas.’

So, if you pitched up at a UK university for an educational event with an outside speaker who had requested a gender segregated audience, whether or not this was an ELT event, and the university had followed the advice in the case study, you might be pretty surprised when you saw the seating arrangements!
The guidance and arguments in the case study and the conclusion that is reached have enraged quite a few people. 8,000 people have signed a petition against such gender segregation. Sara Kahn, a one time member of a University Islamic society, wrote an article for The Independent on Monday 25th November, 2013 entitled ‘Segregating men and women at university events won’t lead to equality’ and added, ‘It enables the unequal distribution of power resulting in gender based discrimination.’

After recounting some of her own and her colleague’s experiences with Isocs, she goes on to say, ‘Preacher Haitham al Haddad, who has spoken in approximately twenty Isocs in the last two years, argues that women should withdraw from public life, hoping to disempower them by denying them their economic self-determination and to silence them through their invisibility. In the interests of freedom of speech how often do those Isocs who host such preachers invite speakers with opposing views?’

She says, ‘Universities UK are not only giving speakers like him a green light to say these things but are also preparing the gender segregated seating for him to say it to. For years I have witnessed institutions and statutory agencies breaking their backs to respect ‘cultural sensitivities,’ …… while happily making martyrs out of ethnic and religious minority women.’ She finishes by saying, ‘Perhaps Universities UK should heed the wise words of Paul Harris, founder of Rotary, “Segregation never brought anyone anything except trouble.”

But, we may say, all this is just hypothetical. Surely it wouldn’t actually happen very often, if at all? Marieme Helie Lucas in her article entitled, ‘Sex segregation in UK universities – a step forward for the Muslim religious-right’ writes ‘In a report written by Student Rights on 13 May 2013, entitled ‘Unequal Opportunity – Gender Segregation on UK University Campuses’, one learns that (this is) far from being (an) isolated incident. According to the report, ‘180 events logged in the period March 2012 to March 2013 were investigated for evidence of segregation; 46 of these events (25.5%) at 21 separate institutions were found to have either explicitly promoted segregation by gender, or implied that this would be the case, with six of these cancelled before taking place’. The report concludes that ‘As all 21 of these institutions have equality and diversity policies which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, as well as a legal responsibility to do so under the Equality Act 2010, this briefing uncovers potential failings in these duties’.

Back to me…..One test I personally find helpful to apply in situations like this is, to try switching the group affected and see how that feels. How would we feel, for instance, if a white speaker at a UK university event asked for an audience to be segregated so that white people sat in one area and black people in another? How would it be if a heterosexual speaker asked for all the straight participants to be directed to one side of the hall and all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people to sit to the other? What if an English person asked all the Scots to sit separately over there and the Welsh at the back where they couldn’t see or ask questions? Or if a hearing person said they would not speak unless members of the Deaf Community and their signers were segregated into a part of the hall? Weird?

Someone who does feel that such classifying and separate seating of people is downright weird is Professor Krauss, a theoretical physicist and director of the Origins project. He was recently invited to debate the question of science vs religion with a Mr Hamza Andreas Tzortzis. Prof. Krauss threatened to walk out of the debate at University College London, when he realized that sex segregation was being enforced on the audience. After security staff tried to throw out three men who had gone to sit in the women’s section of the audience, (which was at the back of the hall) he said, “Quit the segregation or I’m out of here!” Prof. Krauss added, “You are in a public arena and not in a mosque… ” He was apparently then heckled for intolerance!

Is this reminding anybody of anything??

Since I wrote the above UK Prime Minister David Cameron has come out clearly against gender separation at University events. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has ruled the type of segregation “not permissible” under gender equality laws. And a spokesman for UUK said they would take new legal advice on the guidelines. ‘We are now working with senior legal counsel and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to review both our case study and the commission’s guidance to ensure that they are consistent and clear for universities.’

Consistent and clear, or simply withdrawn? We shall see.

I hope you have had a good 2013. Hope to see you in 2014!

All good wishes,

Tessa