Bristol University's Christian Union bans women from speaking at meetings

Amazingly, in 2012, The Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) has banned women from speaking at events and teaching at meetings unless they are accompanied by their husbands

by Ghaffar Hussain on 5 December 2012 16:21

At a time when the Church of England's (CofE) has been severely criticised for voting to ban female bishops, you would think that Christian organisations wouldn't be taking steps to make themselves any more irrelevant to the modern world.  But that is precisely what some have decided to do.

The Bristol University Christian Union (BUCU) has banned women from speaking at events and teaching at meetings unless they are accompanied by their husbands. In fairness to the BUCU, they had originally decided that women could speak at meetings, but this decision led to the resignation of their international secretary and protest from other members. They subsequently changed their policy.

This unfortunate decision by the BUCU has, understandably, led to it attracting sharp criticism from the local Secular and Feminist societies, as reported in the Huffington Post. Catlin Greenwood, vice-president of Bristol's atheist, agnostic and secular society said, “...we think gender equality is a fundamental human right. Most people would agree that women have an equal right with men to speak at universities, regardless of their marital status.” She added “This is the kind of thing the Union's equality policy is meant to guard against, and the CU's status as a faith society does not exempt them”.

Whilst I agree with Catlin, her comment does sound like something straight out of the 1950s. Do we really need people in Britain in 2012 reminding us that unmarried women have the right to speak up at universities?

This ban would also be in breach of any sensible contemporary equality policy and I hope the local SU do investigate this thoroughly to ensure no rules have been breached. Faith-based organisations often cite their religious convictions in order to justify discriminatory stances, as if that makes them exempt. This has often been a source of conflict at universities, especially with regards to gender discrimination issues.

Shannon Kneis, of the feminist society, was more direct with her thoughts: “They are suggesting that women have more worth as speakers if speaking with their husbands whilst assuming that all women are interested in marriage, or men for that matter”.

I am aware that ultra-conservative Muslims and Jews practise gender discrimination in many contexts, in fact, such practises are common at Wahabist run events where a curtain is often drawn between men and women. However, I was genuinely surprised to hear of a Christian Union upholding such practises at a British university in 2012.

I wasn't surprised because I have higher expectations for Christians, I just assumed that modern western European strands of Christian practise had moved away from such forms of discrimination.

Clearly, we are living in an age in which religious conservativism, feeling threatened by modernity, is starting to fight back. Conservative strands of Abrahamic doctrine do have a way of re-emerging when you least expected them to. However, such revelations (pun intended) will only serve to further isolate and tarnish the religious at time when they should be seeking relevance and utility.  

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