Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand

This is the editorial of the January 2014 issue of Unveiled, Fitnah’s Monthly Publication.
By Maryam Namazie

Segregation of the sexes is an Islamist demand though it is often couched as a right and demand of ‘Muslims’. When Islamists have state power like in Iran or Saudi Arabia, it’s the law. Transgressing it can mean fines, imprisonment or worse. There, women must enter government offices via separate entrances from men; they must sit behind men or boys in classrooms and at the back of the bus…

Like racial apartheid in South Africa, gender apartheid is segregation based on the inequities between genders. The ‘logic’ behind it is that women are not equal but ‘complementary’ to men and if unveiled and unsegregated are the source of fitnah and affliction in society. Whilst this perspective is debasing to women, it’s also demeaning to men who are seen to be unable to control their sexual urges. An unveiled, unsegregated woman is like uncovered meat or sweets, asking for it – a whore. It follows, therefore, that the woman who refuses to veil (or ‘properly’ veil) or segregate and who enters the public space on her own terms is considered open season.

One of the slogans of the Islamists attacking women who had joined the 1979 mass demonstration in Iran against compulsory veiling was: ‘Ya rusari, Ya tusari’ (either the veil or a punch). Abdullah Mohammad Al Dawood, a Saudi Arabian writer, recently asked his followers to sexually molest women who work so as to stop women from leaving their homes. In Egypt, the sexual violence against women is often spearheaded by the state in order to prevent women from protesting in the public space…  This is also fundamentally why the Taliban bombs girls’ schools and why those who have sex outside of marriage are stoned to death:  to keep women/girls in their place – captive, covered, segregated, disappeared, not seen and not heard.

Whilst women and men often resist these anti-women rules at great risk to themselves across the Middle East, Asia and North Africa (and might I add also in the west), the likes of Universities UK (UUK) and Islamism’s apologists defend misogyny as a culturally relative ‘right to religion’.

If anything, however, can be learnt from the recent fight (and small victory) against the endorsement of sex segregation at UK universities, it is that gender segregation has nothing to do with the right to religion; after all ordinary Muslims (not a homogeneous group by any means) manage to go about their lives whilst freely mixing with the opposite sex all the time (and where mixing is banned, spend much of their time getting round segregation).

Gender apartheid is an Islamist demand to increase power and influence by asserting medieval rules on women and the society at large. The groups lined up to defend UUK’s indefensible position are all hard-core Islamists who hide behind ‘Muslim’ and religion to push forward their regressive and misogynist far-Right politics: Hizb Ut-Tahrir, FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies), Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), and Islamic Human Rights Commission…

FOSIS, for example, has just had their winter council in December with Kamal El Mekki as speaker who supports death for apostates. Hizb-Ut-Tahrir says gays should be killed and has been classified as a hate group. iERA’s Abdurraheem Green says disobedient women should be beaten; iERA won’t even publish on their website the photos of their women speakers (for women-only events of course)…  The British jihadi Iftikhar Jaman who recently died in Syria fighting for Al-Qaeda affiliate ISIS was part of iERA’s dawah team…

The irony of such groups defending sex apartheid out of concern for ‘women’s comfort’ is lost on the likes of UUK.

As is the fact that Islamists have supporters amongst women. Having women supporters who are pro-gender apartheid doesn’t make segregation of the sexes pro-woman just like having black South Africans defending separate homelands for black people doesn’t makes Bantustans pro-equality. Just like having a Sikh spokesperson for the English Defence League doesn’t makes that organisation anti-racist…

A 20 December meeting entitled ‘A Muslim Women’s Unified Community Response: The attack on gender segregation in Islam’ in London shows that in fact segregation is the Islamist women’s demand (whilst feigning representation of all Muslim women). Per Islamist rules, the meeting is women-only because women are not allowed to address men; their very voices will cause fitnah if heard by men, which also explains why women must write their questions down at meetings rather than voice them. Speakers at this women-only event are from Hizb-Ut-Tahrir, iERA, Islamic Human Rights Commission, and University Islamic Societies. Another speaker is Yvonne Ridley who used to work for the Islamic regime of Iran’s Press TV.  Her former employer has also waded into the debate with a Member of the Islamic Assembly saying sex segregation has gotten attention in non-Islamic countries because universities in the west are ‘swamps of corruption’ and ‘Muslim students’ are in a position to influence and act as role models for non-Muslims…

Of course it is not just Universities UK. Whilst many got it right this time around and opposed UUK’s position that sex segregation is a deeply-held religious belief (sadly only because they see it as ‘their universities’ and not a Sharia court or burqa which only affects ‘the Other’), many – including the British government – have got it wrong countless times before.

Which is why UUK thought it could get away with endorsing gender apartheid and why Islamists can dare to speak of ‘women’s comfort’ whilst simultaneously waging an all-out war on women.

In other equally important fights against other aspects of the Islamist project to increase influence and power, there have been many, including humanists and secularists, who have defended Sharia courts as ‘people’s right to religion’ and the burqa and niqab as ‘women’s right to clothing’.

But as Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says: “There is an ideological battle going on, as well as very concrete ones. Introducing parallel legal systems, making one’s political presence visible thanks to more and more women wearing a so-called ‘Islamic dress’, gender segregation, the revival of medieval forms of punishment such as beheading ( let’s not forget it happened in Woolwich not so long ago) or stoning or flogging or amputation of limbs – all this does not come in a vacuum. There is a correlation between all these demands; and there is a deliberate political will behind it.”

The demand for gender segregation like Sharia courts and the niqab help Islamists gain political ground at the expense of the innumerable, including many Muslims who are Islamism’s first victims.

The only way to stop Islamists from gaining more ground and in order to push them back, ‘progressives’ must begin to recognise this far-Right movement for what it is, defend universality and secularism, and fight it politically on all fronts in solidarity with the many women and men battling it from Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia to Iran.

La lucha continua (the fight continues)…

Against gender apartheid: Mixing is the future of humanity

male-female-1024x731-blabstaThe below Interview with Marieme Helie Lucas has been published in the January 2014 issue of Unveiled, Fitnah’s Monthly Publication.

Maryam Namazie: What is the nature of the recent sex segregation scandal at Universities UK where the representative body issued guidance saying side by side sex segregation was permissible? Why does it occur and by whom is it imposed? Also, it’s more than just a question of physical separation isn’t it?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Just like with the niqab, it’s an extreme-Right political organisation working under the cover of religion to promote sex segregation as a pawn in the political landscape and using all possible means to make itself visible and impose its mores and laws. The idea is to permanently demonstrate that the law of god (as interpreted by them) supersedes the law of the people. It is a blatant attack on the very principle of democracy and one woman/man, one vote, particularly relevant in the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s death.

The UK has laws for gender equity; therefore, the government should be clear that these laws are the only ones applicable in the UK. However we know that this is not the case as it has already accepted a parallel legal system [what’s known as Sharia Courts or Muslim Arbitration Tribunals] which does not grant women the same rights as the law of the land does. This is a major setback.

Às long as all these attempts by Muslim fundamentalists – whether in the form of different rights for different categories of citizens, veiling, sex segregation and so on – is not analysed in political terms – as the expression of an anti-democratic programme, but rather in terms of religion or culture, the British government will not limit the rise of this extreme-Right movement, which will be increasingly difficult to control.

Those of us who clearly see the rise of a new form of fascism – mostly because we come from situations in which we have had to live under the boot of fundamentalists – are left to our own devices to struggle against it. It is not very different from the situation of anti-Nazi Germans who were not listened to, for far too long, until a bloody war was inevitable.

Maryam Namazie: Universities UK’s guidance first said (though it has now been withdrawn as a result of pressure) if women are not made to sit at the back of the room but are segregated alongside men, since none are disadvantaged, then there is no discrimination. Your views?

Marieme Helie Lucas: Whether at the back or on the side, the old argument is always that this is done to protect women – for their own good, of course, and by doing so to restrict their freedom of movement. By the same logic, some twenty years ago, Bangladesh suddenly restricted women from leaving the country as there was a lot of trafficking of women in the region. What appeared to be their solution was NOT to arrest pimps-protectors, but to prevent women from travelling without a wali (a male guardian from their family). Please note that Bangladesh does not even abide by the Maliki School, in which the institution of wali is legal.

What is discriminatory is to assign a place to somebody, whatever that place may be. It says: keep to your place; to women’s place!

Universities have no business pandering to such requests, and if they do, what’s next? Fundamentalist speakers will only address audiences where females are fully covered?

It seems we are already witnessing some of the next steps. According to media reports, in one instance at a UK university, women were not only segregated but had to give their questions in writing to the speaker, whilst men could raise theirs. As one knows, their voices are sexually attractive and fundamentalists plug their ears against temptation – hence the ban on singing in the areas the Taliban control…

What is sure is that fundamentalists will not stop here and will produce more and more demands, since the aim is not to get satisfaction for a specific demand, but to gain political ground.

Maryam Namazie: Omar Ali, of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, says ‘segregation’ is ‘an emotive use of language’. ‘If a society is set up to cater for religious needs on campus, why shouldn’t they?  ‘A lot of people would find it insulting to say this is something discriminatory against women.’

Marieme Helie Lucas: Why should religious needs be catered to on campus? If we launch a society for the rights of naturists, should universities cater to our need to organise healthy debates in the nude (in summer only), and to exclude or seclude those who do not adhere to putting our philosophy in practice? Or is Mr Omar Ali’s religious ideology considered by university authorities more valuable than my naturist philosophy? In that case, I could take the authorities to court for discrimination against my philosophy, for creating a hierarchy of rights amongst different views and beliefs.

What is to be allowed on campus? What is in keeping with a university’s general mission of expanding knowledge and reasoning? I presume that my naturist philosophy could be and should be of interest to all to debate about on campus, but that my insistence to put my beliefs in practice may not be considered as indispensable to the exchange of ideas.

Maryam Namazie: Separating men and women isn’t necessarily discriminatory and can reflect personal preferences, such as women-only gyms on women-only refuges. The head of Universities UK which issued the guidance endorsing segregation of the sexes says: “It is possible for women to choose to be educated in an all-women environment. It’s not something which is so alien to our culture that it has to be regarded like race segregation, which is totally different and it’s unlawful and there’s no doubt about that whatsoever.” Are racial and gender segregation incomparable? Why is it that everyone can see the distinction between a black university and racial apartheid but when it comes to gender, it’s not as obvious?

Marieme Helie Lucas: This is a very crucial question that I have debated a lot, including more than twenty years ago with feminist friends in the USA. While sex segregation was rapidly expanding in Algeria under the heavy weight of the first fundamentalist preachers and religious groups, I was trying to warn them about the potential backlash of their gender segregation policy in the name of feminism.

Many of our feminist weapons have been turned against us along the years… and I have come to this very sad conclusion that we were not smart enough to think, as thinkers and philosophers should, about all the facets of the concepts we were grappling with. Just think of our feminist praise for diversity, whilst all along we knew that difference was used to legitimise the racist South African apartheid regime, or the segregationist states of the USA. This concept is now used to legitimise the imposition of differences on women that make them unequal in the name of religion, ethnicity or culture.

I think we should urgently question the present trend to regroup with ‘the same’ in order to protect ourselves from ‘the other’. It seems to me that this is a general trend, from the creation of Israel to the dismantling of the former Yugoslavia, to the creation of ghettos – whether for Blacks – or increasingly for wealthy Whites, Asians, Muslims, Sikhs… you name it.

We are slowly returning to the ethnic/racial/religious/gender purity which induces us to stay amongst ‘the sames’. Decades ago, I wrote a chapter entitled ‘What is your tribe? The construction of Muslimness’ in which I discussed the fear of the other to discover that the other is the same…

Mixing is the future of humanity. [Read more…]

December 10: Protest Universities UK’s endorsement of Gender Apartheid at British Universities

CAMPAIGN-genderequaluk-Maha-Kamal DATE: Tuesday 10 December 2013

TIME: 5:00-6:30pm

AT: Universities UK, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HQ (Closest Underground Stations: Euston or Russell Square)

Universities UK (UUK) guidance to universities on external speakers endorses gender apartheid by saying that segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way!”

Any form of segregation, whether by race, sex or otherwise is discriminatory. Separate is never equal and segregation is never applied to those who are considered equal.

Join Us on International Human Rights Day to unequivocally reject gender apartheid.

It’s 2013. Let’s not time travel.

Contacts: Maryam Namazie,, 077 1916 6731 or Chris Moos,, 074 2872 0599.

More information here.

Rescind endorsement of sex segregation at UK universities


* There will be a protest at Universities UK offices in London on 10 December 2013, International Human Rights Day, to oppose sex segregation. You can join Facebook Events Page here.

* Teams of Sex Apartheid Busters are being organised to break segregation wherever it is instituted. To join, email 

UniversitiesUKSegregationUniversities UK (UUK) has issued guidance on external speakers saying that the segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.” The guidance has been supported by the National Union of Students.

UUK add that universities should bear in mind that “concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system” and that if “imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

We, the undersigned, condemn the endorsement of gender apartheid by Universities UK. Any form of segregation, whether by race, sex or otherwise is discriminatory. Separate is never equal and segregation is never applied to those who are considered equal. By justifying segregation, Universities UK sides with Islamist values at the expense of the many Muslims and others who oppose sex apartheid and demand equality between women and men.

The guidance must be immediately rescinded and sex segregation at universities must come to an end.

Join initial list of signatories below by signing the petition here.

Initial List of Signatories:
A C Grayling, Philosopher
Abhishek N. Phadnis, President, London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Anissa Helie, Academic
Charlie Klendjian, Secretary of Lawyers’ Secular Society
Chris Moos, Secretary, London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Deborah Hyde, Editor of Skeptic magazine
Deeyah Khan, Film Director and Music Producer
Dilip Simeon, Chairperson of the Aman Trust
Elham Manea, Author
Faisal Gazi, Writer and Blogger
Fatou Sow, International Coordinator of Women Living Under Muslim Laws
Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizen’s Web
Helen Palmer, Chair of London Humanists
Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian and Activist
Marieme Helie Lucas, Coordinator, Secularism is a Women’s Issue
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson for One Law for All and Fitnah
Mina Ahadi, International Committee against Stoning
Nadia El Fani, Tunisian Filmmaker
Nahla Mahmoud, Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Nina Sankari, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Ophelia Benson, Writer
Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs of the British Humanist Association
Peter Tatchell, Director of Peter Tatchell Foundation
Polly Toynbee, Journalist
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Rahila Gupta, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Richard Dawkins, Scientist
Rohini Hensman, Social Activist
Rory Fenton, President of The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies of the UK and ROI
Rumy Hassan, Academic
Safia Lebdi, Founder, “Les insoumis-es”
Salil Tripathi, Writer
Soad Baba Aissa, President, of Association pour l’ Egalité, la Mixité et la Laicité en Algérie
Terry Sanderson, President of National Secular Society
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner

Sex apartheid not discriminatory?

Universities UK, a “representative” body of UK Universities, has issued guidelines on external speakers saying that the segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as both men and women are segregated side by side rather than women being made to sit in the back! The guidance states:

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.

So racial apartheid would have been non-discriminatory if white and black people had been segregated in the same manner? In fact that is the very argument the apartheid regime of South Africa used when faced with criticism:”separate but equal.”

The Universities UK guidance adds:

“Segregation in the context of the facts outlined above would only be discriminatory on the grounds of sex if it amounts to ‘less favourable treatment’ of either female or male attendees.” … “It should therefore be borne in mind that […] concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.” …

“Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

Clearly, this is not about people’s belief systems.

If it were so, Muslims would be unable to ride buses, the underground, enter their workplaces via entrances used by both men and women, eat in non-segregated restaurants… They wouldn’t even be able to get to the segregated meeting room since men and women would be mingling freely on the streets and halls right up to their entry into the segregated hall kindly organised by Universities UK.

gender_segregation-150x150And what next? Another set of guidelines asking unveiled women to veil so as not to “result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.” Maybe they can ask that niqabs be handed out to unchaste and unveiled women before entry.

More importantly, what about the women and men, including Muslims, who don’t want to be segregated? What Universities UK conveniently forgets is that segregation of the sexes and the veil are highly contested even amongst Muslims. By justifying segregation, they choose to side with Islamists at the expense of women’s rights and equality.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that segregation is never applied to those who are considered equal but rather to separate the “superior” from the “inferior.” Women are too “beguiling” to sit next to men; they will cause chaos and fitnah and therefore must be segregated and veiled. Universities UK agrees.

The guidance must be rescinded immediately.

I suggest writing and calling and exposing this lot until they do. Here are their details:

Woburn House 20 Tavistock Square London WC1H 9HQ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7419 4111
Twitter: @UniversitiesUK

I would also suggest that NO speaker or audience ever agree to enter a room that is segregated. We should boycott universities that accept this guidance and the speakers that agree to speak in such situations.

How do you think racial apartheid ended? When people refused to accept it and to submit.

And this is how gender apartheid will end too. Not by appeasement and certainly not by institutionalising misogyny against women. It will end when we insist: no more!

Here is the guidance in full: ExternalSpeakersInHigherEducationInstitutions

(Via Chris Moos)