The following is the text of the speech made by Quilliam Research Project Officer Erin Marie Saltman at a public protest on 11th December 2013 in response to the issuing of guidelines by Universities UK suggesting that the practice of gender segregation at UK university events should be acceptable.
I am here speaking to you in three main capacities. First as a researcher, who looks at civil society and social movements. Secondly, as a foreign student who is finishing a PhD at UCL and thirdly, I am here as a human who supports equality and human rights.
As a researcher, when I first heard about universities upholding standards of segregation and the protest that was being planned to counter this issue I decided to do my research. I looked up the UK laws on equality, mainly referring to the Sexual Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Equality Act of 2010. In these laws it states very clearly that sexual, racial, religious and age discrimination are all protected against. Discrimination is protected against at work, at educational institutions and as a member or guest of a private club or association. It seems like we are dealing with two out of three of these spaces here.
Direct discrimination is defined if a person discriminates against another person by treating them less favourably due to a protected characteristic. Being a female is one such characteristic that should not be targeted.
As a foreign student studying in London I am grateful to be immersed in a multi-cultural learning environment. Universities, as public knowledge centres, teach us so much more than what is found on a syllabus. We broaden our minds, our cultural awareness and perceptions about the world around us. There is no place for allowing a certain ‘racism of lower expectations’ for particular groups on campus. It seems that when we have a discrimination against men or mankind it is discrimination, yet when we have discrimination against women we call it culture.
Religions and beliefs are of course protected in their own right but university societies holding events in public education spaces are a part of a wider community, a community which is diverse, tolerant and respectful of equality.
Lastly, as a human who upholds equality as a fundamental human right, separate but equal has never worked. Separate but equal was a legal doctrine in America until 1964 maintaining that separation was acceptable as long as conditions of facilities were equal. In the final court hearings that overturned separate but equal the court held, and I quote:
“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
So as a researcher, a student and as a human who upholds values of human rights and equality I conclude that separate is never equal.