Gender Segregation in Universities
Kate Galilee (Durham University)
Universities UK (UUK), an organisation representing over 130 higher education institutions is seeking a legal ruling on the issue of voluntary gender segregation at university events.
In guidance issued by the organisation to its members last month, it was stated that it would be legally permissible for external speakers to request that audiences be voluntarily split by gender. Provided men and women are split side to side rather than back to front, the guidance states that no gender inequality would be involved and therefore segregation would be permitted.
Controversy over the guidance intensified on Thursday when Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, claimed that unlike racial segregation, gender segregation is not ‘alien to our culture’. She added that segregation is only allowed provided it is voluntary and does not cause disadvantage.
A growing backlash is developing amongst individual students, student groups and human rights organisations, with protests held outside the Universities UK office earlier this week and another protest planned for Tuesday as part of petition for UUK to rescind what has been described as this ‘sex apartheid’.
Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary, has said that a future Labour government would not tolerate segregation in universities – people can practice their religion privately or in places of worship but not in publicly funded places of research.
Equality group Student Rights published research earlier this year to show radical preachers had spoken at more than 180 university events in the year before March 2013, more than a quarter of which involved segregation. The group, which campaigns against extremism on campuses, said segregation had become ‘widespread’ at many British universities.
Human rights organisation One Law for All has said any gender segregation is ‘completely in conflict with equalities laws’ while a spokesman for Universities UK has said that ‘the guidance was approved by senior legal counsel as properly reflecting the law.’ The organisation has now asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to seek a ruling on the issue.
Men and Women’s Brains
Sarah Moorhouse (Durham University)
There has been wide criticism from both male and female experts following recent research which proclaimed that men and women’s brains are wired differently.
The research claims to support theories that certain tasks are performed better by a particular sex. For example women were found to be more suited to multitasking whilst men excelled at focusing on one task at a time. Despite these results the conclusions drawn have been heavily criticised for several reasons, including the fact that the research only tested one part of the brain and that parts of the brain change throughout life.
One of the most interesting critics, Dr Michael Bloomfield, notes that the research lacks consideration of non-biological attributes on the behaviour of men and women. Dr. Bloomfield has emphasised that while hormones and brain connections have the potential to shape our abilities so does the environment we grow up in and so gender influence in our childhood could also affect our abilities to carry out certain activities. Therefore, the research needs to be understood within its narrow setting and the extreme conclusions drawn interpreted with a more contextual understanding of the influence of biology on sex-based difference.
Croatia Same Sex Marriage Ban Referendum
Tammie Chung (Durham University)
Croatia recently held a referendum asking whether or not the Croatian constitution should be amended to ban same-sex marriage. Two thirds of those who voted, as well as 69% of the members of parliament voted yes.
While only a minority of countries currently permit same-sex marriage the referendum is particularly problematic because there is an obvious difference between a state not recognising same-sex marriage and actively legislating against it. In addition, if the referendum decision is implemented, the ban on same-sex marriage would be entrenched in the constitution and as such would be much harder to repeal than if it were contained in normal legislation. Various groups of people have now sought to challenge the results of the referendum by protesting and raising awareness of LGBT rights in the country.