Equality and Human Rights Commission rules that gender segregation is unlawful

Protests-equality_2764314kPress Release
23 July 2014

One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, the Centre for Secular Space, and the LSESU Atheist Secularist Society have welcomed the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) ruling against gender segregation in universities and students’ unions.

On 17 July, the EHRC published its guidance on gender segregation, stating that: “Gender segregation is not permitted in any academic meetings or at events, lectures or meetings provided for students, or at events attended by members of the public or employees of the university or the students’ union.”

The EHRC’s ruling came after a campaign of a broad coalition of women’s rights and secular activists who have opposed Universities UK’s guidelines on external speakers in universities, which said that: “Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating. Both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.”

The campaign saw a petition signed by almost 10,000, an open letter co-signed by renowned human rights activists and secularists like AC Grayling, Peter Tatchell, Polly Toynbee, Fatou Sow, Richard Dawkins and Yasmin Rehman as well as support from political leaders like Labour shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna MP and Stewart Maxwell SMP. It culminated in a letter sent to UN Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights Farida Shaheed, and a protest attended by more than 100 activists in front of the office of Universities UK, which received media coverage from major national and international news outlets. As a result, the UUK withdrew its guidance.

Maryam Namazie, one of the main organisers of the campaign, commented: “The EHRC ruling is good news indeed. Finally common sense has prevailed with equality trumping religious beliefs and the religious-Right, which is really what the demand for gender segregation is. It’s an Islamist demand to gain access and institutionalise its values whilst limiting civil rights and equality under the guise of the ‘right to religion’. A victory here is a triumph for equality between women and men but also against Islamism.”

Chris Moos of LSESU ASH said: “This is a great victory for gender equality in the UK. It is great to see that the EHRC has found a clear answer to the claims of the proponents of segregation, specifically that segregation is a ‘religious right’ whose denial amounts to discrimination, that ‘voluntary’ segregation can be reasonably practised in an educational setting and that the provision of a ‘mixed’ seating area makes segregation somehow less discriminatory. Hopefully, universities and students union will now live up to their responsibilities and prevent segregation.” He added: “However, the exemptions that the ruling provides, legitimising gender segregation in religious settings, leave a bitter aftertaste. Equality is a human right that cannot be ‘exempted away’ – it is therefore saddening that British legislation still puts religion above considerations of equality.”

Gita Sahgal, Director of the Centre for Secular Space said: “The Centre for Secular Space would like to congratulate all the students who opposed gender segregation at some risk to themselves. Their stand resulted in a campaign which has lead to the ruling by the EHRC. Universities UK and university authorities should be ashamed of themselves. Rather than stopping gender segregation they endorsed it or did nothing about it.”

Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters, commented: “We welcome the ruling. Had the UUK guidance endorsing gender segregation gone unchallenged, it would have had a profoundly detrimental impact on black and minority women who already struggle to assert their fundamental rights to education, freedom and independence. The whole sorry affair is symptomatic of a bigger battle waged by the religious-Right (aided and abetted by public bodies like the UUK) to control women’s minds and bodies. We must remain alert to the dangers of religious fundamentalism in all religions because its very goal is to use public spaces to gain power and to destroy the very principles of democracy and the universality of women’s human rights.”

You can read a full analysis of the ruling of the EHRC and its likely impact here.

For further enquiries please contact:

Maryam Namazie
One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
077 1916 6731
@maryamnamazie

Pragna Patel
Southall Black Sisters
Pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
02085719595
@SBSisters

Chris Moos
LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
c.m.moos@lse.ac.uk
074 2872 0599
@LSESUASH

2 August, Another international day of action in support of jailed workers in Iran

Continuing the campaign for the release of Reza Shahabi, Behnam Ebrahimzadeh and Shahrokh Zamani

* 2 August, Another international day of action in support of jailed workers in Iran
*Call on all worker organisations worldwide
*Reza Shahabi, Behanm Ebrahimzadeh and Shahrokh Zamani need urgent support
*We need an international campaign to save the lives of jailed Iranian worker activists

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Reza Shahabi, a member of the executive board of the Union of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs United Bus Company (Vahed), has been jailed for his part in the great bus workers’ strike in 2006 and in forming the bus workers’ union.

In early June 2014 Shahabi began a hunger strike in protest against his transfer to Rajaee Shahr Prison, instead of being admitted to hospital for urgent medical care and treatment. After 43 days hunger strike and a global campaign in support of Reza, he was transferred to hospital. He is still on hunger strike though because he has been handcuffed to his hospital bed and not allowed him to visit with his family. As a result, they have removed his hand cuffs and let him meet his family. Reza continues to protest and insist on his demands. Finally on the fiftieth day of his hunger strike the authorities have agreed with Reza’s sick leave and allowed him medical care. He will be returned to jail when his doctors give the go ahead.

Now Reza and Shahrokh Zamani, another worker activist in Iran who himself is under constant threat and pressure in Rajaee Shahr prison, have written a letter to protest their imprisonment.
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We must break hold of pro-Islamist lobby on the Law Society

Please see an open letter to the leading Pakistani lawyer Asma Jahangir about her forthcoming talk at the Law Society, which has endorsed sharia-compliant wills.

Dear Asma Jahangir,

We are writing to you regarding your forthcoming conversation at the Law Society on Law, Gender and Religion on the 30th July. We are very pleased you are coming to London but are concerned that you may not have been informed about the Law Society’s issuance of guidance which endorses sharia law in Britain and the campaign against it.

One Law for All, Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, and LSE Atheist and Humanist Society have led a campaign asking the Law Society to withdraw its discriminatory and dangerous guidance on ‘Sharia Compliant’ wills. Recently, we won an important victory. Southall Black Sisters and One Law for All sought legal advice which resulted in the Solicitors’ Regulatory Authority withdrawing its endorsement of the guidance. The Law Society, however, has still not withdrawn the guidance, and instead embarked on an aggressive promotion of Sharia Law using advocates of parallel legal systems such as the legal academic Maliha Malik, the solicitor Aina Khan and Tariq Ramadan.

Our experience with many prominent British institutions has been that eminent secular voices such as yourself are often used strategically to be able to claim that they have consulted legal experts who have endorsed their position. Indeed, the Law Society claims that they have consulted ‘sharia law’ experts, although they have refused to name them. The guidance on Sharia-compliant wills mentions as references Islamists which defend death by stoning amongst other things.

We would be very pleased if would use this opportunity as a way of supporting the work that we are doing against the increase of religious fundamentalism and its promotion by British institutions. We would be grateful if you would consider calling on the Law Society to withdraw its guidance and to name the ‘experts’ they have consulted as campaigners have demanded.

The Law Society’s Sharia Compliant guidance is relevant to the subject of your talk, since their partners argue that sharia councils and what they call sharia compliant law are essential to the religious freedom of women. The work of the Law Society and the lawyers and academics we mention usually ignore actually existing family law in Pakistan and elsewhere and all progressive judgements on these issues.

It may well be that you have been asked to speak by members of the Law Society who want to present an alternative view, and felt that someone of your eminence, could help to break the hold of the pro-Islamist lobby; and that is why they want you to speak. We hope that you will be able to find some way of publicly supporting our campaign.

We would be very pleased to provide you with any further information you that you require.

With best wishes

Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Chris Moos, Secretary, LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society