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School of Law

Interdisciplinary workshop: Gender segregation and deconstruction in the UK

7 January 2019

Time: 4:00 - 6:00pm
Venue: Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London, 67-69 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3JB

Interdisciplinary workshop organised jointly by Centre for Law, Equality and Diversity (LEAD) and the School of Law, Politics and Sociology, Sussex University.

Two diametrically opposed trends are emerging in the UK in relation to gender rights. On the one hand the very conceptualisation of gender is under challenge. Gender is increasingly either being rejected as a meaningful term altogether or being viewed as a spectrum rather than in binary term; a voluntarily acquired, cultivated and fluid form of identity. This trend is not limited to the realms of academia, as evidenced by the decision of HSBC bank in 2017 to offer ten categories of gender neutral titles for their customers to choose from, including Myr, Ind, Mx, Sai and Ser.

At the same time, there is pressure for greater binary gender-differentiation in services, employment and facilities in areas such as education, religious observance, sports, health care and leisure activities. New forms of women-only spaces and segregated group activities have emerged, reversing the general trend throughout the 20th century of increasing gender integration across a wide range of fields of social interaction.

Feminists disagree about the implications of these two trends and the extent to which they ultimately promote or undermine gender equality and the needs and rights of women. The various gender deconstruction projects can be viewed either as the ultimate goal of a feminist agenda or a mechanism for masking ongoing gender inequalities and denying the particular and distinct needs of women (and men). Likewise, gender segregation can either be seen as a backward step, reinforcing women’s second class status, or as evidence that women’s particular needs are being taken seriously, and that different cultural and social practices are valued in a more diverse and multi-cultural society.

Nor is it clear what will emerge at the meeting point of these two, apparently contradictory social forces. What is clear is that accommodating both gender segregation and gender deconstruction is likely to challenge existing legal, political and social arrangements in profound and unexpected ways.

In response to these important and challenging developments, this interdisciplinary workshop will explore some areas in which these challenges are likely to emerge. It will consider what the appropriate legal and political response should be to these diverse perspectives on gender in the UK today and the tensions which they give rise to.


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