BBC approach to gender-segregated events differs with location

On August 12th a report titled “The Kenyan dance parties where men are banned” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Africa’ page.

Readers of that sympathetic report were told that:

“The team behind a new event in Nairobi argues all-women’s dance parties can create safe nightlife spaces for women. […]

“You have to be so strict in a place with men. You just want to go out with your friends and men interfere,” says Jane, 26, who’s come to the party with her best friend Shani.

“So having a space where it’s all women immediately feels safe and you feel you are with people who understand you.””

And:

“Munira, 22 and Khadija, 25 are best friends. As practising Muslims, they often find themselves with minimal options when it comes to night life.

They say that, although women from all faiths attend the all-women parties, they particularly suit Muslims.

“Some of us have to remove our hijabs to blend in when we are out dancing. When they see you with a hijab, people are surprised and wonder what you are doing there.

“A space like this is also better because we are forbidden from freely mingling with men,” Khadija says.”

Apparently short of UK domestic news, on the following day – August 13th – BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ aired an item (from 27:16 here) introduced by presenter Corrie Corfield as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Corfield: “Israeli women’s rights groups are urging the mayor of Haifa to cancel a planned concert for a men-only audience by two popular ultra-orthodox Jewish singers. The controversy comes after one of the artists cancelled another event when a court ruled that organisers couldn’t force men and women in the audience to sit separately. Under a strict interpretation of Jewish laws, men and women are not supposed to mingle at social events. Our correspondent Yolande Knell sent this report from Jerusalem.”

Yolande Knell began her report with a claim which – coincidently or not – is also found in the opening lines of the singer’s Wikipedia page. Listeners discovered that Corfield’s reference to “groups” in the plural is inaccurate.

Knell: [Music] “Mordechai Ben David is often called the king of Jewish music. He’s due to perform in Haifa later this month with a younger star of Hassidic pop, Motty Steinmetz. Their concert, which is getting city funding and support, is meant to be for men only and that’s the problem. A rights group – Israel Women’s Network [Shdulat Ha Nashim B’Israel] – says it amounts to illegal discrimination.”

She went on:

Knell: “Its objections have infuriated members of the ultra-orthodox community. They came just days after legal action by the same organisation led to Motty Steinmetz pulling out of a concert in a public park in the city of Afula because men and women might not be separated. A judge ruled that while Haredi audience members were free to seat themselves as they wanted, keeping to their religious customs, the event organisers couldn’t force gender segregation on others.”

The judge’s ruling to which Knell refers was made two days before her report was aired, on August 11th. However the next day the political party Shas petitioned against that ruling and on August 14th a different judge at the same court gave a different ruling.

“The Nazareth District Court ruled to allow the Afula municipality to hold a gender-segregated concert Wednesday evening, accepting an appeal against a controversial decision it made just days earlier barring the northern city from putting on such an event. […]

As part of his Wednesday ruling, Judge Atef Eilabouni recommended that the municipality agree to a compromise in which the amphitheater be split in three for the concert, with a woman’s section above a men’s section as well as a mixed-gender area.”

The Motty Steinmetz concert in Afula – which both Corfield and Knell told listeners was cancelled – in fact took place on August 14th.

Knell continued, referencing a story from 2017 which was described by the local media at the time as “unusual” to support her claim of “not uncommon”:

Knell: “The decision sparked a heated political debate. One ultra-orthodox politician described it as evil while the head of a secular party praised it, saying Israel was not Iran. It’s not uncommon for musical events in Israel to lay bare the religious-secular divide. Two years ago another conservative singer stirred up controversy by blindfolding himself with duct tape on stage to avoid seeing women dancing to his song. But with the ultra-orthodox population here growing fast, it’s not just its pop stars becoming more influential. Its religious leaders are too and that’s having a cultural and political impact.”

While everyone is entitled to their opinion on gender-segregated events, the understanding of this story by the BBC’s British audiences would obviously have been enhanced had Knell bothered to inform them that in Afula that concert was:

“…the only one of over 300 events put on by the city over the summer to have segregated seating as it was aimed at the local ultra-Orthodox population.”

Had they been provided with that information, listeners may have been able to make up their own minds about the validity of Knell’s closing claims concerning “cultural and political impact” and reach their own conclusions about why two BBC reports on gender-segregated events on consecutive days were so different in tone.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘World Have Your Say’ misleads on Israeli buses

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