This month the Equality and Human Rights Commission weighed into the controversy over the treatment of women by radical Muslims.
It issued strict guidelines forbidding the segregation of men and women at universities, colleges and student unions except for acts of religious worship following controversial suggestions that this had been happening in the UK at university meetings. As to be expected the ECHR was on the side of the equal treatment of women at all times.
Not highlighted was the position of Baroness Onora O’Neill, the three day a week chairman of the ECHR appointed by former culture secretary, Maria Miller, to replace Trevor Phillips. It is highlighted in an article by me in Tribune magazine this week.
Baroness O’Neill,a 71 year old philosophy don, whose academic career is mainly based in an all women’s college in New York and as a former principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, was of course thoroughly in favour of that move in the UK.
What is not so widely known is that the Baroness is also a trustee of a university in the Middle East in Sharjah,in the United Arab Emirates. Indeed the ECHR website omits the appointment – along the lines that she has so many that it was not worth mentioning.
But in this context it is more than a little relevant. Sharjah, the most conservative of the Emirates, has strict laws about the role of women in society. Its 2001 decency laws have very strict views about the relations between men and women.
It says: “A man and a woman who are not in a legally acceptable relationship should not be alone in public places, or in suspicious times or circumstances.”
Now Baroness O’Neill is a trustee of the American University of Sharjah which as she points out educates men and women and does not have the same segregation as the next door University of Sharjah which has separate men and women’s campuses.
However a reading of the American University’s Code of Conduct makes it crystal clear how students have to behave. It is subject to Sharjah’s law, which includes a strict ban on alcohol and no unsupervised visits to the student halls of residents where 2000 students stay.
There is a night curfew in operation – all students have to be in their rooms by midnight ( I.0 am is allowed at weekends) and even male and female friends are banned form being alone together in the halls of residence.
I quote from the rules::
• Visitors are allowed for limited hours and are only allowed to meet the residing students in the TV lounge and the computer labs; exceptions to this rule are mentioned below
• Mothers and sisters can visit the AUS women’s dormitories only and for a limited time.
This is subject to the approval of the dorm supervisor. Other family members can meet
the women students in the Women Welcome Center building
• Fathers and brothers can only visit the AUS men’s dormitories for limited time and this is
subject to the approval of dorm supervisor.”
The rules on dress are also restricted:
I quote: “Inappropriate dress for both males and females is prohibited. This includes, but is not limited to, tank tops, clothing that is very tight or transparent and indecently exposes the waist or back or shoulders or cleavage, and short clothing above the knee or very short pants. Moreover, clothing must not display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans.”
I can’t imagine any of this being imposed on British university students. I was interested to find out how the noble Baroness squared her two roles in two different cultures. Did she secretly disagree with Sharjah’s strict ban on alcohol and strict control of the sexes? Or would she like to impose similar restrictions on British students( she might be a teetotaller!) and not believe in sex before marriage.?
But she was being very silent. All she would say that the university was co-educational and she was not paid to be a trustee by the Arabs.. But it was not her financial gains that really interested me, it was her hypocrisy of legislating for rules in one country ( the UK) while backing a regime in the Middle East that did the very opposite.