The two faces of equality chair Baroness Onora O’Neill on sex segregation: One for UK, one for UAE

Baroness Onora O'Neill: Pic credit: Flickr

Baroness Onora O’Neill:
Pic credit: Flickr

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.

 

 

London firefighter firm recruiting Brits for UAE military support

 

A UAE Hawk jet -part of Assetco's training programme. Pic courtesy http://www.militaryimages.com

The company that owns  and maintains London’s fire engines  is  recruiting British firefighter instructors to train the military in the United Arab Emirates.

They are offering tax-free salaries of £46,812 a year  for  British recruits just as Abu Dhabi has joined the Saudis to help Bahrain’s  rulers  put down dissent among pro democracy demonstrators in Bahrain in the most brutal way. Reports have included torture of nurses, removal of people from intensive care units so they can be left to die and intimidation and possible murder of hospital surgeons. See this Sunday Telegraph report  http://bit.ly/fNNvug

 UAE jet fighters are  also preparing to join the coalition of the willing against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. They are planning to send 12 fighters and are blaming their civil unrest on the Iranians.

AssetCo, the  troubled fire privatisation company, is hoping to get £40m out of a £120m deal with the  Gulf State’s armed forces to boost its profitability. It has been facing severe problems in Britain, including having to raise £26m from investors and through a  share placing. Revenue and Customs has issued a winding up order against AssetCo seeking at least £4m and they have to pay off a debt to the state-owned Lloyds TSB.

The deal was one of the last negotiated by former chief executive, John Shannon, before he resigned after a huge row  with the rest of directors over the share placing.

 Now they are  desperate to recruit  trained staff so they can fulfill it. The advertisement promises a company car, free medical cover and flights home to Britain. See here. http://bit.ly/ftpdZi

The Telegraph report on Bahrain atrocities, the AssetCo contract and job advertisement can be seen together here. http://bitly.com/i4yYFk 

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, has written to David Cameron, to protest about the deal.

He said: ” The clampdown in Bahrain has resulted in a significant number of protestors being killed. The clampdown, including martial law, is supported by armed forces from Saudi Arabia and from the UAE.
… I hope you will make it clear that it is not acceptable for them to take British public money, and also to assist the armed forces of the UAE … I hope you will insist that any company which takes on such work in future, does not also undertake work for military clients involved in the suppression of democracy.
May I remind you that, in 1963, fire hoses were turned on school age civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham Alabama. Ever since that deeply alarming moment, fire services have sought to maintain an independent role as a result of their humanitarian responsibilities. We now have a UK firm providing an essential aspect of our emergency service which has close commercial links to a brutal and anti-democratic military. All the talk from politicians about support for democracy in the Arab world is so much hypocrisy if they allow UK public services to operate in this manner. AssetCo and its directors clearly have no regard for the humanitarian role of our service, and are only in it for profit.   ”

It seems extraordinary to me that a  foundering British company is poised to make millions out of Middle East  misery and recruit desperate British people to do it.