A lesson on sex-segregation with more work to be done

UPDATE: Peter Tatchell just sent information on Islamists being blocked from meeting at East London University after protests; their meeting was meant to be segregated too. Read more here.

gender_segregationI had earlier reported on the sex segregation scandal at University College London (UCL)  during a March 9 debate between atheist Lawrence Krauss and Islamist Hamza Andreas Tzortzis organised by the Islamic Education & Research Academy (a nice sounding front for Islamism).

UCL did quickly concede that sex segregation was contrary to its policies and banned IERA from holding future meetings on its premises.

This is in and of itself an important gain for those who are opposed to sex apartheid given that  segregation of the sexes has happened at UCL before and that segregation at UCL is not an exception as reported by Student Rights.

In discussing the scandal, Lorraine Harding, a retired social policy academic, mentioned that even the police had been segregated at a meeting she attended in Bradford. She wrote on my Facebook page:  “I went to an Islamic Society debate at Bradford University where gender segregation was enforced – even on the police officers present! – by young men. I complained to both the University and the Union but had no response.”

What’s clear as daylight – to me at least – is this: had the two male students not made a fuss about the segregation, the meeting would most likely have gone ahead as planned. It’s a lesson in how even one or two students can challenge Islamists on campus even when the University is complicit. And UCL is no exception. Whilst they have come out with a statement opposing sex segregation, there are still many questions about their complicity in this whole affair, namely via staff members (Dr Aisha Rahman and security staff) who enforced the segregation on the day. You can read more about it in a new statement issued by concerned students below:

The following is a statement from concerned students

Despite denial, UCL staff found to have actively enforced gender segregation.

Following the events of March 9th, UCL has denied that its members of staff were allowing the enforced gender segregation on attendees, and issued a statement that alleged that UCL had responded appropriately to warnings from student, putting measures in place that only failed to protect students because the organiser iERA acted in counter of them (see annex). New evidence has now emerged that UCL has neglected its duty of care towards students to an unprecedented amount, with UCL staff not only tolerating, but also actively enforcing gender segregation.

An individual who identified herself as “Dr Aisha Rahman”, who claimed that she was “teaching at UCL Chemistry” and that she had “booked the room on behalf of UCL Chemistry”, said the segregation had been agreed with the university and repeatedly refused two students, Christopher Roche and Adam Barnett access to the venue unless they complied with the segregated seating plan.

When confronted with the evidence that a UCL member of staff enforced, rather than opposed gender segregation, UCL Vice-Provost Rex Knight said: “Miss Rahman is a student at UCL, not a member of staff, and the booking for the event was made by her in a personal capacity, not as a representative of UCL. I note that you are seeking an apology and I suggest that you take that up with Miss Rahman; we are unable to assist you in that regard as Miss Rahman was not acting as an agent of UCL.”

However, contrary to Mr Knight’s statement, new evidence shows that Miss Rahman is indeed a member of staff of the UCL Chemistry Department and listed in the UCL staff directory, and not solely a student (see annex).

Christopher Roche, one of the affected students said: “There is a great deal of confusion as to who exactly Aisha Rahman is. Whilst she claimed to be an academic in the Department of Chemistry, I have been informed that senior management at the university deny both her qualifications and seniority. Given that Ms Rahman is indeed a member of staff, the claim that she is not an agent of UCL does not seem entirely credible. No matter what the truth is, Ms Rahman has used a stated position in the Department of Chemistry to organise and run a gender-segregated event at the university. I understand UCL’s desire to minimise their responsibility in this matter, but from the information I have been given, it appears that they need to urgently reconsider this position”.

The fact that UCL are denying their affiliation to Miss Rahman raises many questions, especially given that Miss Rahman is now using her affiliation with UCL to spread libellous information about complainants Christopher Roche and Adam Barnett (see annex).

On top of that, despite the assurances of UCL, UCL security staff did not only fail to protect attendees from enforced gender segregation, but several attendees who approached UCL’s security personnel to alert them to the situation were indeed instructed to comply with the organisers’ policy of segregation (see annex).

Chris Moos, a student who has been in correspondence with UCL, asked for reassurance that the university has made it clear to Miss Rahman and the security guards that this conduct is inappropriate and that an internal investigation is being conducted into their actions. In response to that, UCL Vice-Provost Rex Knight, denied any responsibility of UCL to give these concerns due consideration, stating that “as regards to your other points I believe that they are covered by our public statement, your discussion with Dr Siddall and my earlier response.”

Chris Moos said: “This response is highly surprising, as many questions remain unanswered: Has Ms Rahman acted in accordance or against the instructions of UCL? Has she abused her position of power within UCL, whether imaginary or real, to enforce gender segregation? How is it possible that Miss Rahman was able to book a lecture theatre for an organisation that holds views contrary to the ethos of UCL on behalf of the UCL Department of Chemistry? Why are the attempts of Miss Rahman to spread libellous information about the attendees of the event, using again her affiliation to the UCL Chemistry department to lend authority to her false account of the events not countered by UCL? UCL should do justice to the students who were affected by the failure of UCL to protect them and answer these questions.”

Halima, another student attendee said: “This issue is even more pressing as it is not an isolated case. Speakers that promote extremist views and create an intimidating atmosphere for student attendees speak regularly on campuses, including at UCL. There is a real need for UCL to address the problems we are raising, and these events have highlighted that UCL’s current procedures and security protocols are insufficient for dealing with these kinds of cases. UCL should thoroughly investigate the behaviour of its staff, retrain them if necessary and devise new procedures for making sure that all events at UCL are inclusive to all attendees.”

The students concluded: “We were seeking an apology from UCL for the way they failed to protect us from the enforcement of gender segregation. UCL should make it clear that their staff who were enforcing or tolerating segregation will be going through the appropriate disciplinary procedures. UCL should also provide the public and us with an answer to our questions, and not brush off the concerns that we are raising. It is surprising that UCL has not only neglected its duty of care towards students, but seems now unwilling to make sure that the events are investigated in a way that would prevent similar ordeals in the future.”

Link to Aisha Rahman’s entry in the UCL Staff Directory

Link to press statement of concerned students of March 11th

Link to Aisha Rahman’s libellous comments against Mr. Roche and Mr. Barnett

Screenshots available upon request


  1. evilDoug says

    With regard to Rahman’s listing in the telephone directory, from the home page thereof (emphasis mine):
    “This directory contains entries for UCL staff and students who either have a phone number, …”

    Rahman may be simply a student with an office, actually “on staff” in the generally-accepted sense, or most likely (in my opinion, lacking further evidence) a “graduate teaching assistant” (terminology varies by institution).
    It was very common at my Uni for GTAs (and even a few undergraduate TAs) to teach labs or seminars. TAs were simply selected by individual faculty members. All faculty and “true” teaching positions were by appointment by the board of governors.

    • chrismoos says

      In most likelihood Ms Rahman is both a student and a member of staff with an position of a teaching assistant(like most PhD students). Teaching assistants are not appointed, but have an employment relationship with the university, makibg them part-time members of staff with an entry in the staff directory, a staff card, staff room booking rights (which she used for booking a 300 person lecture theatre, no simple student would be able to do that). And she used that authority that comes with a staff position to enforce gender segregation.

      • evilDoug says

        Thanks for the clarification, Chris.

        From the outset of Maryam’s and Ophelia’s postings about this I have wondered just how iERA got onto your campus in the first place. I speculated that it was probably via an on-campus Muslim group, rather than just an individual “insider”.

        I am of the opinion that the fact the event went ahead as is did was actually a “good” thing, but only because of your diligent work. You have been able to clearly demonstrate how reprehensible iERA is, and your work in alerting other universities on the “tour” list hopefully will keep them off a lot of campuses. I’m convinced that a significant part of their activity at universities is so they can claim just that – it gives them some perceived measure of credibility that holding their events off-campus would not.

        Keep up the great work!

  2. Questioner says

    This whole issue seems to be getting out of hand. What was intended to be a debate between two respected intellectuals, and an exchange of ideas, has descended into chaos.

    What is most sad about this entire incident is the way in which people have completely misrepresented the events of that day, and repeated falsehoods which have now been published and reprinted in media sources far and wide. It shows a level of ideological cowardice – the atheist, liberal camp with which they aligned themselves was clearly ill equipped to tackle the arguments put forward by Hamza on a conceptual basis, so they resorted to brute force. This I think speaks volumes on their true motivations that day.

    Several people were heard to be saying it was an abuse of civil rights, and that it was similar to the abuse endured by Rosa Parks, or the black people of South Africa in the apartheid era. Indeed, I have come across many such observations in the various media reporting the story since. As a person of African descent, I find the comparisons between voluntary segregation based on personal preferences, and forced segregation and killing based on racial hierarchy, deeply offensive. That such over privileged individuals compare their feeble attempts to essentially sit next to a bunch of girls who wanted to sit together, to the great efforts spared, and struggles endured by people like Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, is truly astounding and shows a level of arrogance I never thought I would see.

    I think in this debate we seem to be forgetting a crucial point – there was no coercion involved. Those girls chose to sit together at the back because they felt more comfortable. The irony is that in all the kerfuffle about women’s rights not being respected in Islam, and Muslims being guilty of oppressing women, it was actually men who weren’t Muslim, who showed the biggest disrespect toward women. Some are questioning why the women were not asked if they would have minded having men sitting next to them. It is implied from the fact that they chose to forfeit the mixed section, which in fact included the majority of the lecture theatre, that they did indeed mind sitting next to men. The irony of men forcing their decisions on women – while claiming to uphold gender equality and women’s rights – has, it appears, been lost on some people.

    The old adage, “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has put on its shoes”, is apt in this case. It is a great shame that the polemic of the people who created this problem has overshadowed an event which would have been great for public discourse about the role of religion in society. It is most unfortunate that a Muslim woman who was trying to play her part in building much needed bridges between people of different faiths and none, and embodying a true example of Muslim interaction with wider society, has now been vilified and made a scape goat.

    To the individuals who started this: shame on you.

  3. Michael Flood says

    I have also made representations to the University of Bradford. They quoted a customisation of the Equality Act, 2010. The text was prepared through their legal department and referred to a passage engaging with gender segregation at sports events, i.e, appropriate changing facilities, as justification. Where does this end? Who makes the law of the land – Is it our politicians or is it unscrupulous law students on campus? Who are the ISOB/ISOC and why do they yield so much power within our education system?

Leave a Reply