Gender-segregated talk in Oxford causes controversy

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A gender segregated talk on Monday caused concern among Oxford students.

The talk, entitled ‘Quran and Sunnah: The Final Revelation’ was held at the City Council-owned Asian Cultural centre. A poster circulated online read “Men and Women welcome – Fully Segregated”.

The talk was advertised online by the Interesting Talks in Oxford Facebook page. However, the advert caused concern among visitors to the Facebook group because of the  planned gender segregation of the event. Subsequently, the original poster withdrew the advert from the Facebook page. 

The Interesting Talks Oxford website is run by eight volunteers, six of whom are Oxford students. An ITO spokesperson said, “ITO does not condone or condemn the talks it lists on its website and calendar, but recognises that the content or arrangements of some talks may cause upset. We feel that it is important that all talks are listed so long as the information they provide is accurate and clear.”

DaruTawheed, a group which organises lectures and prayer groups for the Muslim community in Oxford, arranged the talk. A DaruTawheed spokesperson told Cherwell “The majority of our attendees feel that it is necessary to segregate between sexes because mixing between men and women is prohibited by Islamic legislation…due to our religious beliefs we won’t be able to offer this or offer partial segregation either.”

Earlier this year, a UCL society caused controversy by enforcing gender segregation during an “Islam or Atheism” debate. The Islamic group was subsequently banned by UCL’s governing body.

DaruTawheed is not a university-affiliated group, and the event did not take place on university premises.

Chiara Giovanni, a Magdalen student, commented, “I think it’s appropriate if everyone attending is absolutely fine with it, but I think as it’s not a prayer meeting but a seminar, full segregation is unnecessary.”

“Another key factor is how the segregation was enforced: side by side is fine, but relegating women to the back smacks very strongly of a gender hierarchy. As this is a rather niche event, I doubt the segregation will cause any problems and whether or not such division should be a factor of a social event at all is another question entirely”.

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