Gender segregation at a Muslim-sponsored university event in Canada

March 10, 2016 • 12:30 pm

Reader Darryl Gwynne described an incident he experienced at his university in Canada, and I asked him to write a brief account of it for me. So here it is. I’ve added a photo to supplement the one Darryl links to below.

Segregation by gender at a University of Toronto event

Darryl Gwynne

So it’s 2016 in Canada. Several students and I turn up at a public ‘science’ seminar where we are astonished to see that men and women are being seated on opposite sides of our campus lecture hall. Segregation began at the entrance when ticket-takers directed the women from our group through a separate door, but was further enforced inside; after we had taken seats with the ‘sisters,’ the males in our group were twice asked to move over with the ‘brothers’ (the second time by the speaker himself). We refused. The January 8th eventGod Is Not Dead: Science and Atheism in Islam – was co-hosted by our (University of Toronto-Mississauga) Muslim Students Association and Ilmster Seminars.

We were not the only ones objecting to the segregation that day; a hijab-wearing student quietly thanked us for not moving, stating that dividing the audience by gender was wrong. Our subsequent discussions with her and other women were very interesting (and revealed that they were far better than the speaker, Abdul Malik, in articulating some of the key lecture points).

I complained about the segregation to our campus equity officer, the campus Vice-President, and the University’s Vice President of Human Resources & Equity, and they all indicated that gender segregation should not occur in lectures and seminars. However, there appears to be no policy and very little effort at our university to prevent such segregation. Although our equity officer informed me that, in response to my complaint, she is having an ongoing dialogue with our Muslim Students Association, segregation appears to continue at this group’s recent campus workshops and seminars:

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JAC: I’ve added this photo to the one linked above. FB caption: “Dawah workshop happening right now till 5pm with Sheikh Osta in CC2150!”

When I contacted the Ontario Human Rights Commission they refused to give me an opinion on whether gender segregation at a public university event violated Ontario’s Human Rights Code, and simply informed me that any person who believed their rights had been infringed can submit a claim. Importantly, there appears to be no “legal standing” here in Canada on the issue of audience gender segregation at universities. This is in direct contrast with other countries such as the UK where “Gender segregation is not permitted in any academic meetings or at events, lectures or meetings.

When it comes to prayer, however, our university does allow religion to overcome the right of women to sit where they wish in a student audience.  In order to accommodate religious ceremony our campus has a Muslim group prayer room where (to quote one official) “gender segregation during worship services that the Muslim Students Association practices is in accordance with their religious beliefs which is permissible at the University of Toronto”.

Finally, Ilmster Seminars have done the God-Is-Not-Dead thing at several Ontario universities. There will likely be others, and the coordinators of the event will no doubt continue to separate men from women in modern university classrooms.

32 thoughts on “Gender segregation at a Muslim-sponsored university event in Canada

    1. I concur. Thanks Darryl for standing up for gender equality, and for making the effort to take the matter further. It’s people like you doing things like this in everyday settings that will change things.

    2. Wow! What an incredible and hard fought effort it took just to get basic gender equality recognized :-O

      I have to agree with Alison Bevege that this segregation must not be allowed to be normalized. We must not be bamboozled into thinking that we should “respect” enforced segregation of men and women at lectures in public places.

    3. I’d like to add another “well done” to Darryl, thank you for being a decent human being and for making the effort to help make our society better.

      Darrell Ernst

  1. So much for women’s day. When you treat half of the human population this way, you deserve no respect.

  2. FTA “When it comes to prayer, however, our university does allow religion to overcome the right of women to sit where they wish in a student audience. In order to accommodate religious ceremony our campus has a Muslim group prayer room where (to quote one official) “gender segregation during worship services that the Muslim Students Association practices is in accordance with their religious beliefs which is permissible at the University of Toronto”.”

    This is wrong on so many levels. School is about education, NOT indoctrination. No school or university should ever need to accommodate religious observations. “Sorry, professor, but showing up for class and handing assignments is against my religion, and if you dare even question it, I’ll scream ‘[insert religious title]-aphobia’ ” .

    If you want to observe your faith, do it off campus on your own time.

    1. “gender segregation during worship services that the Muslim Students Association practices is in accordance with their religious beliefs which is permissible at the University of Toronto”

      Are those private, invitation only services? If not what about the those Muslims attending whose religious beliefs, and practices are in opposition to gender segregation?

      1. Multiculturalism as practiced is an essentialist paradigm that has no time for dissent from the norm within minorities.

    2. Yes, I was thinking just this. Why are they having religious services on campus to begin with? Are our standards now so low that we sort of hope that maybe when the religious pray on university campuses that some of them won’t make the women sit in the back of the bus?

      Because I would think a university could aim a tiny bit higher than that.

      1. Unfortunately this is an example where doing superficially the right thing has nasty consequences. Many Canadian universities have long had *Christian* ties and catered accordingly traditionally. At some point, there was presumably a request for the same sorts of “accommodations” on the part of other religious groups. So, in the interest of fairness, I’d guess, the Muslims were granted their space (and also student clubs).

        It raises a question we’ve talked about previously: how much do student societies, and the clubs they charter, have to abide by university rules?

        There’s an unfortunate grey area between a lecture, which should not have religious associations, and a “bible study group” which might want to open with a prayer. And so then the slippery slope is greased …

        Given what I know of UofT I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is an Orthodox Jewish club or the like which also (as is often tradition there, from what I understand) would likely sex-segregate.

  3. And I suspect the general theme of the “God is Not Dead: Science and Atheism in Islam” talk was that the Islamic religion and secular science are so compatible that when properly understood there’s no conflict.

    1. Yeah, I’d think it was just a Trojan Horse lecture, to justify religion in secular society with the unstated agenda of making society less secular.

    2. The lecture was very unsophisticated. Most memorable quotes:

      “Gravity is a theory, not a fact”
      “With scepticism you’re not going to get anywhere”

        1. + 1
          Years ago, I read a dystopia short story by some unknown young author in my country. In it, a country was ruled by a dictator who imposed doctrines on his subjects. When he stated that gravity does not exist, people started to jump from high roofs with the slogan: “There is gravity!” He relented and withdrew his decree, but suicides continued. (Presumably because he did not resign.)

      1. That’s interesting; usually they try to claim the opposite. My favourite has always been when you point out that gravity is a scientific theory like evolution, and they say “no, it’s a scientific LAW”, to try and draw a distinction.

        Revealing that gravity (which I have to imagine 98% of the population “believe” in) and evolution are both scientific theories, tends to puncture a huge hole in their misunderstanding of the word “theory”, as it regards science.

        1. Go back to Newton’s time and you’d see something similar. Gravity was accepted as a fact — on Earth. Newton’s theory (which came in for some ridicule at the time) was that gravity was universal and obeyed the same mathematical laws everywhere.

          /@

          Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

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  4. Perhaps Larry Moran could weigh in on this. As a Canadian I’m quite ashamed of this knuckling under to islam.

  5. I am not surprised. Hindus were banned from the cafeteria at a Toronto high school a couple years ago when it was converted to a Muslim prayer room on Fridays.

    Cherish your first amendment.

  6. The more we pander to Islam to avoid hurting Muslim Sensitivities the more we go down the slippery slope to having their Rules replace ours, when in Rome etc, they should leave their Medieval Outlook in their Homes , out in the Real World Universal Integration applies as well as Freedom of Speech which as far as I am concerned includes the freedom to insult or condemn their insane beliefs.

    1. And we aren’t even pandering to “Islam,” just the radicals in that community. There were Muslims in this story who thought it was a bad idea, there will be Muslims who agree with us if we stand up against other bad interpretations of that religion.

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