There has been coverage on BBC News, in the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph as well as in the local Birmingham Mail of the opening of a children’s play centre in the area of Sparkhill, Birmingham, which does not permit entry to men or to boys over nine. The policy is being looked into by the Equality and Human Rights Commission after concerns that the policy contravenes equality legislation.
The Birmingham Mail states that the centre, Kids Go Wild advertises itself as “the UK’s first ladies and children’s only soft play centre.”
The paper states that when they rang the play centre, a woman who claimed to be the manager told them, “It’s a predominantly Asian community around here and we’re catering for that. It’s a cultural thing.
“It’s not that men are an issue – ladies are more comfortable around women.
“We’ve had ladies coming in and they’ve not questioned it [ban on men]. They’ve been asking for it for a long time.”
The report adds that “The centre is in Birmingham’s Springfield ward which was home to 17,120 Asian or Asian British people at the time of the 2001 Census. It was also home to 13,461 Muslims – the largest single religious group at 46.5 per cent of the ward’s population.”
Covering the story, the Daily Telegraph states that “The centre, in the predominantly Asian area of Sparkhill, Birmingham, has defended the man ban, claiming Muslim mothers welcomed it for cultural reasons.”
The Daily Express headlines with, ‘Dads banned from nursery to avoid offending Muslims’. It states similarly to the Daily Telegraph that “Managers defended the decision, claiming that Muslim mothers welcomed it for “cultural reasons”.” In an editorial, it again states that “The manageress of the centre says they are catering for the Muslim community but this is unacceptable.”
The statement from the centre’s management does not specify that the issue is one pertaining to Muslims only- it could be catering to any number of subcultures in the Asian community. Why, then, portray it solely as a Muslim issue?
The EHRC, who are looking into the case have made a statement in which they have said that single sex facilities should be “the exception not the norm and must pass a strict test to be justifiable.” If, as the centre’s policy states, boys up to and including the age of nine can use the facilities, one can only assume that the policy was considered and approved by the council in the planning process.
The Daily Telegraph and Daily Express articles both twist the centre’s claims of cultural sensitivities to be specific to Muslims when there is no such statement from the children’s centre. Moreover, despite implying that it is a specifically Muslim issue, none of the papers have statements from local Muslims in support of a ‘man ban’. We’ve seen similar reporting on ‘bans’ and restrictions allegedly prompted by Muslims, such as alcohol bans at universities, pork bans at schools and Christmas bans. All of these stories cast Muslims as the ‘other’, opposed to British norms and customs. As Peter Wilby, writing in the New Stateman earlier this year put it, “British newspapers use every opportunity to highlight how Muslims, abetted by “politically correct” politicians and bureaucrats, allegedly undermine our way of life…Studies suggest more than two-thirds of British press stories about Muslims portray them as a threat to British values”. The New Statesman’s claim in the issue that it’s about time that this sort of mainstream Islamophobia was put on trial, appears to be ringing true.
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