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 The Law Society, however, has still not withdrawn the guidance, and instead embarked on an aggressive promotion of Sharia Law using advocates of parallel legal systems such as the legal academic Maliha Malik,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

UK’s smacking law like Sharia

ban-smackingYou can smack a child in the UK if it’s for “reasonable chastisement and does not leave a serious mark”. It reminds me of the Sharia law that allows men to beat their disobedient wives as long as they leave no marks (or at least according to the “Islamic feminist” interpretation).

The Children’s Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, had finally brought some sense into the Government’s debate by saying that parents should be banned from smacking their children.

Of course they should. Children are not the properties of their parents. They are human beings that deserve protection, even more so than adults, because they are so vulnerable.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling says he isn’t opposed to smacking as “sometimes it sends a message”. I’d like to smack Grayling in order to send my message but hold on, I’m not allowed to smack an adult and even a pet – but a vulnerable child – it’s permissible under the law.

And it shouldn’t be.

 

To UN: UK Public institutions continue to fail to uphold an environment free of discrimination

CAMPAIGNS-protests-against-universities-uk-guidelines-on-gender-segregation_347312114 January 2014

Ms. Farida Shaheed
Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
CH-1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland

Dear Ms. Shaheed,

We write to draw your attention to the increasing incidence of gender segregation on public university campuses in the United Kingdom, and to seek your intervention in this matter.

Gender segregation reinforces negative views about women, undermines their right to participate in public life on equal terms with men and disproportionately impedes women from ethnic and religious minorities, whose rights to education and gender equality are already imperilled.

The practice first came to light after two men were forcibly removed from the ‘Women’s’ section and several students were refused entrance to the ‘female only’ section at a public debate at University College London (UCL) on 9 March 2013 between the Islamist Hamza Tzortzis and the American cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, organised by Tzortzis’s Islamic Education and Research Academy. Seating at the event was divided such that men were seated at the front of the lecture theatre and women at the back. The two men were readmitted only after Lawrence Krauss threatened to pull out of the debate (video) if segregation was enforced. Following an internal investigation, UCL banned the organisers from conducting events on their campus in future and reaffirmed its Policy on Gender Segregation.

We are compelled to seek your intercession in this matter after Universities UK (UUK), the representative body of British universities, issued, on 22 November 2013, Guidance for universities on ‘External speakers in higher education institutions’. The Guidance featured a hypothetical case study (of a visiting speaker who insisted that the audience be segregated by gender) which concluded 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”. The case study triggered a protest by students and women’s rights campaigners outside the London offices of UUK on 10 December 2013, and, following sustained criticism, was withdrawn on 13 December, pending further legal advice. (The original guidance is attached: ExternalSpeakersInHigherEducationInstitutions.)

UUK has claimed that the case study was merely ‘hypothetical’. However, besides UCL, there have been several cases of students complaining about gender segregation, for example at Leicester University and Queen Mary University London. A poll by the Times Higher Education revealed that out of 46 universities that responded, 29 do not have prohibitions against gender segregation in place. The Federation of Islamic Students Societies, for example, has issued guidelines on how to run a successful Islamic student society. These prescribe to “maintain segregation between brothers and sisters, keeping interaction between them at a minimum”.

Universities UK claims that it has still not abandoned the case study, which is merely pending “review”. Instead, a number of public statements made by their Chief Executive, Nicola Dandridge, and by the organisation itself, give us reason to fear that the case study may quietly be reintroduced to the report, with purely cosmetic alterations that do not neutralise the danger it poses to gender equality and women’s rights.

We hope you will appreciate that it is difficult enough resisting gender-segregation in public spaces even with equality and human rights legislation demonstrably in our favour, and that a recurrence of this Guidance will irretrievably damage the cause of gender equality and women’s rights in Britain by emboldening the apologists of this practice.

Should you wish to investigate these incidents, we would like to forewarn you of a common misconception that has been encouraged by apologists for this practice, namely that it is “voluntary”. It is not, inasmuch as it is beyond dispute that attendees at these events are expected to sit in specific zones, on pain of eviction. The prefix “voluntary” merely implies that such events will sometimes have three sections – men’s, women’s and mixed. We hope you will agree that this token concession does little to address our principal objection to this practice, which is that it amounts to the appropriation of a public space in the name of religion or culture, in a manner that undermines the dignity of both men and women and creates a hostile, degrading and humiliating environment for women. We also hope you will concur that, for many women, particularly those from ethnic minorities, the ‘choice’ of mixed/segregated seating is often made under considerable duress.

Finally, we would also like to draw your attention to a legal note submitted to UUK by Radha Bhatt, an undergraduate student of the University of Cambridge, which provides a succinct illustration of the manifest illegality of gender segregation under Britain’s Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention on Human Rights, and reminds UUK of its Public Sector Equality Duty towards the imperatives of eliminating discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations between those who share protected characteristics.

We are concerned that beyond the cases we have brought to your attention, there is a persistent issue of discrimination through gender segregation at public universities in the UK and also elsewhere. Recently, for example, a professor at York University in Canada faced reprimand for upholding gender equality in his classroom. Gender segregation is often done in the name of respecting cultural and religious rights with culture, religion and ethnicity often presented as inextricably intertwined and seen to supersede women’s rights and equality in the hierarchy of rights.

Even though the UK is a signatory to CEDAW and despite the fact that the issue has been brought to the attention of university administrators and policy makers, public institutions in the United Kingdom continue to fail to uphold an environment free of discrimination.

We thank you for your consideration, and look forward to your intercession on this pressing human rights issue.

Yours Sincerely,
Radha Bhatt, undergraduate student of the University of Cambridge
Marieme Helie Lucas, Founder of Secularism is a Women’s Issue
Nahla Mahmoud, Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Chris Moos, Secretary of LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson of One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Abishek Phandis, President of LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Fatou Sow, International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws

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

We will continue our fight against gender apartheid at universities

More than a 100 protesters rallied outside the office of Universities UK to condemn their endorsement of segregation of the sexes and demand gender equality on 10 December 2013, International Human Rights Day. Chris Moos, a co-organiser of the rally and Secretary of the London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society was master of ceremonies.

At the rally, Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, said:

For me, today is a particularly emotional moment. I stand here reminded of the heroic struggle waged against racial apartheid in South Africa, and yet find myself protesting against another form of apartheid that is also being justified with reference to that ubiquitous but flawed logic ‘separate but equal’. Who would have thought that in the 21st century, we would be protesting against policies adopted by institutions that should be in the business of producing and nurturing truth and knowledge, but which are instead endorsing the subjugation of one half of the human race? Who would have thought that in the 21st century, gender apartheid would become the new battleground?

Writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said:

UUK backs gender segregation and defends it. The reasons given- choice, human rights, freedom and the law- are all untested and spurious. This ‘advice’ is based on cowardice and proves collusion with fanatical religionists. Gender parity is non negotiable. UUK is unfit for purpose if it cannot understand that basic, fundamental value.

Comedian Kate Smurthwaite said:

The word equality has only one meaning. It’s not the back of the bus and it’s not the side of the lecture theatre. This is not about telling women who want to sit separately that they can’t. This is about allowing external speakers to demand that the audience be segregated.

James Bloodworth, editor of Left Foot Forward, said:

Opposition to gender segregation is an issue of fundamental freedom: people should be permitted to sit with who they like in a publicly funded university. It’s also a question of politics, though: we shouldn’t pretend that those who wish to segregate men and women view us as equals. They don’t. They think women are little more than a temptation to men; and they view men as uncontrollable predators whose view of women is on a par with that of uncovered meat.

Chris Moos added:

With alleging that “genuinely held beliefs” of speakers or event organisers trump existing equality legislation and allow some groups to take away the basic right of people to choose where to sit, Universities UK has become the laughing stock of the legal profession.Universities should be spaces where we all are treated equally no matter what their beliefs are. By proposing a framework that would allow a small minority of religious fundamentalists, who do not represent religion or religious people to impose their beliefs on others, Universities UK has set a dangerous precedent that would lead to students to be singled out and refused access to certain areas of their institutions merely on the basis of their gender. The right of individuals to express themselves freely within the law does not extend to the right of groups to impose their sensibilities or preferred seating order on others.

Marieme Helie Lucas, founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Secularism is a Women’s Issue sent a solidarity message saying:

By bending to the Muslim Far-Right’s supposedly-religious diktats of segregating sexes on university premises, UUK also endangers further the women and men of Muslim descent – believers and unbelievers alike – who stand both against fundamentalism and against xenophobia and discrimination, in increasingly difficult circumstances.

In another message of solidarity, Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

The people who approved this policy are unfit to hold any public office – and should resign. Universities once pioneered the Enlightenment and liberal, progressive values. Now, it seems, they appease misogyny and cave in to religious sexism and intolerance. The right of women and men to sit where they like is not negotiable… Universities have a moral and legal duty to uphold equality and respect for all. If they don’t, we will fight them, just like the Suffragettes fought male chauvinism 100 years ago.

Maryam Namazie, co-organiser of the protest and Spokesperson for Fitnah and One Law for All ended by saying:

We will continue the fine tradition of the anti-apartheid movement and Nelson Mandela but also the ongoing resistance of the people of Iran and elsewhere against gender apartheid by breaking up segregation wherever we can. We are the new sex apartheid busters and will go to segregated meetings at universities with women dressed as men (like Iranian women who dress as men to enter football stadiums where women are banned) or as men dressed in drag (like the men who did so to support women’s rights after the Islamic regime in Iran paraded some men in the streets of Iranian Kurdistan wearing women’s clothing because according to them being a woman is the greatest source of humiliation).

UUK and Islamists: you have been warned! Gender segregation is as intolerable as racial segregation and cannot be permitted at our universities.

demo-4-photobyReza-MoradiOther speakers at the rally included: Ahlam Akram, director of Basira; Charlie Klendjian, secretary of the Lawyers’ Secular Society; Georgi Laag, founder of London Atheist Activist Group; Sean Oakley, founder and former president of Atheist, Humanist and Secularist society; Helen Palmer, chair of the Central London Humanist Group; Abhishek Phadnis, President of the LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society; Erin Saltman, Research Project Officer at Quilliam Foundation; and Anne-Marie Waters, Council Member of the National Secular Society. Taj Hargey, director of the Muslim Educational Centre at Oxford and an Imam at the Oxford Islamic Congregation was one of those who sent messages of solidarity.

Soon after the rally, which received widespread coverage, including when Prime Minister David Cameron intervened to oppose sex segregation at universities, UUK was forced to withdraw its guidance. Whilst this fight has been won, the battle continues particularly since sex segregation is still taking place at universities and UUK has said it hopes to redraft the guidance.

The Campaign against Gender Segregation at UK Universities will continue to press on until it is made very clear that there is no room for segregation of the sexes in public places like universities, including by organising teams of sex apartheid busters to break up gender apartheid at universities and hold a huge march against sex apartheid on 8 March 2014, International Women’s Day. We are also getting legal advice.

Photos of the 10 December rally can be found hereand here.

The open letter kick-starting the campaign against UUK on 23 November was signed by philosopher A C Grayling; Scientist Richard Dawkins; women’s rights campaigner Yasmin Rehman; Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society; and Fatou Sow, Coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, amongst others.

In a short time, the campaign has received widespread support.

Media coverage of the protests can be found below:

Outcry at ‘gender apartheid’ in new guidance for UK universities, The Independent, 11 December 2013 [external link]

University gender segregation ‘violation of women’s freedom’, BBC, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Backlash grows over university gender segregation guidelines, Daily Telegraph, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Gender Apartheid is real in UK universities so why aren’t more people fighting it? Daily Telegraph, 11 December 2013 [external link]

‘We will fight them like the suffragettes’: Protesters target Universities UK over sex segregation policy, Politics, 11 December 2013 [external link]

The segregation of women and the appeasement of bigotry at UK’s universities, The Spectator, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Sex apartheid in British universities deemed acceptable, Voice of Russia, 11 December 2013 [external link]

Gender Segregation protests against university guidelines, Channel 4 News, 10 December 2013 [external link]

Why we are protesting against gender segregation this evening, Left Foot Forward, 10 December 2013 [external link]

British universities shouldn’t condone this kind of gender segregation, Guardian Comment is Free, 26 November 2013 [external link]

For more information, contact:
Maryam Namazie
Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
One Law for All
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
077 1916 6731

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

Sharia Law: Extremism the Government Ignores

In her latest Huffington Post article, One Law for All Spokesperson Anne Marie Waters concludes:

One Law for All has repeatedly asked the government why it allows sharia councils, with their blatant disregard for human rights and democracy, to yield power in such important areas as family and criminal law; the government response? It doesn’t prevent people from living in accordance with culture and faith. I have yet to receive an answer as to the limits of what can be defined under these headings. Is child rape covered by “culture” and “faith”?

David Cameron once said that multiculturalism had failed – he has yet to prove that he means it. There is no better opportunity than this; he should shut down the sharia councils (or any other body that facilitates the rape of children and encourages violent misogyny) that his government currently defends in the name of culture, prosecute hate speech and incitement to murder, prosecute child marriage as rape, end cultural relativism and racist separatism once and for all….. and enforce One Law for All.

To read the full article, click here.