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

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

Joint statement on legal note to Universities UK against their guidance condoning gender segregation

Protests-equality_2764314kJoint statement of Southall Black Sisters, One Law for All, Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation and LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society

We are pleased to learn of the legal note submitted to Universities UK (UUK) yesterday in the name of Radha Bhatt, a student of Cambridge University, against their Guidance condoning gender segregation. (Legal Note can be found here: 560365 Letter to Universities UK 06 01 2014 (final).)

We share Radha’s apprehensions that gender segregation reinforces negative views specifically 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.

Radha’s legal submission makes it unmistakably clear that despite UUK’s protestations, the law could scarcely be more unequivocal on gender segregation. The practice is specifically condemned by the Equality Act as amounting to less favourable treatment of women. We hope it will be noted that this condemnation applies equally to ‘voluntary’ segregation, a notorious misnomer used to pressure students to comply with ‘Mixed’ and ‘Segregated’ zones.

The existing rights legislation recognises that gender segregation undermines the dignity of both men and women and creates a hostile, degrading and humiliating environment. We hope Radha’s representations will remind 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.

Abhishek Phadnis, President of the LSE SU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society commented: “The beliefs of visiting speakers are no excuse to legitimise discrimination against women or any group. We applaud Radha for her principled and courageous stand, and hope that UUK will heed her solicitors’ advice to redraft its guidance to reflect the manifest illegality of gender segregation. Following up on our rally against gender segregation, we are looking forward to continuing to work with Southall Black Sisters, One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation to ensure that the rights of all students in the UK are fully upheld at all times.”

Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters commented: “We welcome the legal advice which clearly states that UUK’s position on gender segregation in universities breaches both domestic and international human rights and discrimination law in substance and in process. We note that not a single women’s rights organisation was consulted about the guidance. Had it 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.”

Maryam Namazie, spokesperson for One Law for All and Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation said: “For too long, cultural relativists have excused discrimination against women in the name of ‘respect’ for religious beliefs. Whilst the right to belief is absolute, the right to manifest it is not. Equality must trump religious beliefs, particularly if we want to respect human beings rather than beliefs. Moreover, let’s not forget that Muslims are not a homogeneous group. Endorsing segregation of the sexes means siding with far-Right Islamists – like Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, the Islamic Education and Research Academy and the Islamic Human Rights Commission – at the expense of rights and equality of many Muslims, ex-Muslims and others. We unequivocally support Radha’s stand and will continue to fight for an end to gender segregation at universities, including via teams of sex apartheid busters and a rally on March 8th.”

You can find regular updates on our campaign 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

Campaign against gender segregation will persist

fitnah-UNVEILED4-jan14-A4-v2.1_Page_01Dear friend

Thank you so much for all your support during 2013, particularly for our most recent campaign against gender segregation at universities in the UK, which we organised in conjunction with Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation, Southall Black Sisters, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and LSE Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society.

Nearly 9,500 signed our petition against guidance issued by representative body Universities UK (UUK) endorsing segregation of the sexes. Soon after our emergency 10 December rally at the UUK office and the ensuing public outcry, Prime Minister David Cameron intervened to oppose sex segregation at universities and UUK withdrew its guidance.

Whilst this fight has been won, the battle continues particularly since UUK aims to redraft its guidance rather than rescind it altogether.

The Campaign against Gender Segregation at UK Universities will persist to press on until there is no room for segregation of the sexes at universities, including by organising teams of sex apartheid busters and a huge march and rally against gender apartheid on 8 March 2014, International Women’s Day. We are also getting legal advice.

As Algerian Sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says in an interview in the latest issue of Fitnah’s monthly, Unveiled: “Whether [it’s segregation] 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… 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… 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.”

In my editorial in the same issue, I write: “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…: FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies), 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 [Islamic Education and Research Academy] 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.” You can see the latest issue of  ‘Unveiled’ here.

Some of the media coverage on this scandal can be found here and include a BBC World Service and Channel 4 News debate between myself and the Islamist Hizb-Ut-Tahrir. You can also see my 4thought.tv interview in favour of banning the niqab here.

You can find out more about other aspects of our work in 2013 by visiting our website. Please also see a post by Anne Marie Waters who has left her position as One Law for All co-Spokesperson and also my blog entry on ‘Walking a tightrope: between a pro-Islamist Left and the far-Right’.

In the coming year, particularly important for us will be a conference we are co-organising on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights in London during 11-12 October 2014. You can register for the conference now. Also help us raise funds needed to invite secular activists from across the world and strengthen the global secularist front against the religious-Right.  One way to help is to donate items for an auction which will be held sometime early next year.  You can also help by joining our small but growing group of monthly donors or give us a one off donation if you can. Here’s information on how to donate. We also need office space in central London if you can help.

Finally, we would like to thank you once more for your donations and in-kind help including as volunteers, by providing free meeting space at a local language school and by helping with publicity, our campaigns, design, editing, and more. We want to particularly thank those of you who donate on a monthly basis; it has made a world of difference being able to depend on regular support.

We look forward to continuing – together – our fight for secularism, rights and equality in 2014 and beyond.

Wishing you a happy New Year and warmest wishes

Maryam Namazie
Spokesperson
One Law for All
BM Box2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731
email: onelawforall@gmail.com
web: http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/

Oh the irony!

Here’s a debate I did today on BBC World Service with the Hizb-Ut-Tahrir rep on segregation of the sexes at UK universities. The irony of “debating” with an Islamist group that wants apostates and gays killed and supports stoning but uses rights language and cries of discrimination to impose sex apartheid at UK universities… At least the media has begun calling them Islamists rather than “Muslim organisations”!

Listen here.

In the media

Here is some press coverage on the sex segregation issue and the niqab. The first one is a debate with a member of Hizb-Ut-Tahrir. Ironic how a representative of a misogynist Islamist organisation can speak of women’s rights. And using language Universities UK has used to defend its indefensible position.

Whilst UUK has now withdrawn the section endorsing sex apartheid, we still need to be vigilant as they will be rewriting the guidance to most likely legitimise “voluntary” segregation. Rather than re-writing their document, the head of UUK should resign for the sex segregation scandal.

See some of the coverage below:

Religion and democracy: never the twain, The Times, 18 December 2013 [external link]

On sex segregation, BBC World Service, 14 December 2013 [external link]

Gender segregation guidelines u-turn following PM warning, Channel 4 News,13 December 2013 [external news]

Universities pull back from sex segregation as Cameron weighs in, Daily Telegraph, 13 December 2013 [external link]

On the niqab, Community Channel, 13 December 2013 [external link]

Sexual apartheid: Is there any room for gender segregation, This Week, 12 December 2013 [external link]

A future labour government will ‘not tolerate’ gender segregation at our universities, Left Foot Forward, 12 December 2013 [external link]

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]

Sex segregation at university debates is not okay, Care2, 30 November 2013 [external link]

Should Britain ban the niqab? Channel 4thought.tv, 27 November 2013 [external link]

Leaving the Faith, BBC Radio 4, 27 November 2013 [external link]

British Universities shouldn’t condone this kind of gender segregation, The Guardian CiF, 26 November 2013 [external link]

Other press coverage can be found here.

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

Islamists and Universities UK: You have been warned!

To mark 10 December, International Human Rights Day, and in lieu of our protest rally against Universities UK’s endorsement of sex segregation at British universities, which is being held today from 5-6:30pm in London today, Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation announces the official start of sex apartheid busters.

Here’s what you can do:

* Join today’s rally. DATE: Tuesday 10 December 2013. TIME: 5:00-6:30pm. Universities UK, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HQ (Closest Underground Stations: Euston or Russell Square).

Sign our petition against sex segregation at universities. Let’s get 10,000 signatures by the end of today.

* Contact us if you hear of any segregated events so we can organise against them.

* Become part of a team that will go to segregated events and stop the segregation. Anyone who is opposed to segregation and is pro-equality, women’s rights, and secularism is welcome to join.

From this day on, there will no longer be any segregated meetings at universities or public spaces if we can help it.

Islamists (and your apologists such as Universities UK): You have been warned!

To join Sex Apartheid Busters, contact Maryam Namazie.

Sex segregation in UK universities – a step forward for the Muslim religious-right

Here’s an article by Marieme Helie Lucas in support of the 10 December rally in London against gender apartheid. 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)

segregationA battle that concerns us all is being waged in the UK right now and has surprisingly very little echo outside Britain: Universities UK- a body that officially represents universities – made public their new guidance, according to which sex segregation could be practised in the universities at the request of guest speakers representing religious groups. (To see the guidance in full: ExternalSpeakersInHigherEducationInstitutions)

While protests flew in and an international petition ‘Rescind endorsement of sex segregation at UK Universities’ was posted on November 23, 2013, UUK published a response that pretended that they were only envisaging a theoretical case, a mere ‘hypothetical case study (p.27) in which an external speaker on faith in the modern world requests that the audience is segregated according to gender’.

They also pretended that there were only trying to apply ‘ a wide range of legislation from equalities law through to criminal law and the duty to protect the safety of university staff, students and visitors’, with the aim of ‘accommodating everyone’s views’ and ‘ensur (ing) that no one is unlawfully excluded from the event’.

This was a blatant lie, as a brief search in the media clearly shows. And it was only one among the many lies that were uttered by UUK authorities on the issue of sex segregation, secularism, higher education and the pervasive political importance of religious organisations in the UK.

Facts

In short, here are some facts: in March 2013 a Prof made the local news, when he started walking out of a debate in which he was one of the two speakers at University College London, if sex segregation was enforced on the audience, as was the case. A video shows him saying “quit the segregation or I’m out of here” after security staff tried to throw out three men who had gone to sit in the women’s section of the audience. Prof Krauss added “You are in a public arena and not in a mosque, not in a private event.”
Not surprisingly, women were seated at the back of the room: according to a student, ‘females were allocated seats at the back corner of the auditorium to view the debate from a disadvantaged position‘. Dana Sondergaard who attended the event, wrote on her Facebook page: “After having been told the event would NOT be gender segregated, we arrived and were told that women were to sit in the back of the auditorium, while men and couples could file into the front”.

The debate entitled Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense? was organised by the Islamic Education and Research Academy: Prof Krauss, a theoretical physicist and director of the Origins project, was to debate on the question of science vs religion with Mr Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a lecturer and iERA member.

Interestingly, rumours had been spreading beforehand that sex segregation will be the rule during this debate, and Prof. Krauss had approached the authorities, making it clear that he would not speak to a segregated audience; he was assured in advance that this would not be the case. (Video: Krauss, stating that he had been promised no such segregation would take place.

In the week before the event, word of a segregated seating arrangement began circulating. On Friday, Dr. Krauss posted the following status on Facebook: ‘News update: Have now been informed that the event in London will NOT be gender segregated.’

However, one of the organisers said that the segregation had been agreed with the University and suggested more than once that the men should be refused entry.

Similarly, students alerted their unions and the authorities and were given similar re-assurance. However segregation signs were posted on doors in advance.

In a statement by concerned students, it is made clear that ‘Separate entrances were in place for women and men’, and that ‘A policy of sexual segregation was enforced at an event at University College London on Saturday, with the organisers’ security trying to physically remove members of the audience who would not comply’, and that ‘A policy of segregation was suggested by IERA in a statement before the event’.

This was raised by students with UCL, who gave assurances that no segregation would be allowed. ‘Several attendees approached UCL’s security personnel to alert them to the situation, but found that the staff were unwilling to intervene, and were instructed to comply with the organisers’ policy of segregation’.

Interestingly UUK first denied that enforced segregation took place, then argued that sexes were separated left and right, and not front and bottom, and finally said that, as a last minute arrangement, there was provision for a mixed area for married couples! UUK went on stating 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.”

Students speaking to different media after the event used strong words to describe the situation and their reactions: ‘shocked’, ‘intimidating’, ‘threatening and divisive’, ‘genuinely fearful of the repercussions’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘insulting’, ‘a scandal’, ‘a violation’, ‘disappointed at UCL (which) did not keep its promise’ …

So much for the ‘hypothetical case study’ that UUK pretends to have addressed in its guidance document. Moreover, UUK lied to Prof Krauss as well as to students about not allowing segregation. It also pretended to ban in future religious groups that would request sex segregation, while they were in fact preparing the infamous guidance document that justifies this very segregation.

On the occasion of this incident, and thanks to Prof Krauss making his dissent public, one learnt with dismay that sex segregation had been enforced for over a year – at least – in many public debates or conferences, at the initiative of vocal Muslim fundamentalist organizations.

In Leicester university in a segregated event entitled Does God Exist?, organized by the same group and with the same guest speaker, Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a message on the group’s website says: “In all our events, [the society] operate a strict policy of segregated seating between males and females.” The statement was removed after the Guardian contacted the society. A photograph passed to the Guardian shows signs put up in a university building, directing the segregation.

Leicester University denied enforced segregation. But a Leicester student told the Guardian he believed segregation was common practice at the society’s events to avoid offending those with strong religious beliefs.

More recently, in an article written on November 24, the author states that sex segregation openly continues elsewhere: ‘One recent example of an event held by the Islamic Society at the University of Northampton described seating arrangements as “open to both Brothers and Sisters, with segregation adhered-to” ‘.

In a report written by Student Rights on 13 May 2013, entitled ‘Unequal Opportunity – Gender Segregation on UK University Campuses’, one learns that those are far from being isolated incidents. According to the report, ‘180 events logged in the period March 2012 to March 2013 were investigated for evidence of segregation; 46 of these events (25.5%) at 21 separate institutions were found to have either explicitly promoted segregation by gender, or implied that this would be the case, with six of these cancelled before taking place’. The report concludes that ‘As all 21 of these institutions have equality and diversity policies which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, as well as a legal responsibility to do so under the Equality Act 2010, this briefing uncovers potential failings in these duties’.

Meanwhile, UUK wrote in their guidance document 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.”

If we understand correctly, it creates a hierarchy of rights, in which the rights of religious groups supersede the rights of others?

UUK ‘s choice of partners

Not all Muslims –far from that – nor all people from Muslim descent, nor all faith based Muslim organizations hold that genders should be segregated. In fact two extremely important women’s organisations joined the protest against sex segregation, by signing the on line petition and by additionally writing separate letters to UUK, stating their dismay at and opposition to sex segregation in universities under religious pretexts: those are the international solidarity network of Women Living Under Muslim Laws – a non-confessional organization – and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women – a faith based organization -. Moreover, among the initiators (and among later signatories as well) of the online petition are numerous men and women of Muslim descent.

Who are then the religious groups that UUK see fit to invite to organize their events in the premises of universities – rather than other groups?

According to Stand for Peace, they are far from being ordinary religiously minded people; they are fundamentalists and very organized. ‘Tzortzis has previously been associated with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organization that campaigns for a global Islamist caliphate’. ‘He is on record condemning democratic principles and advocating for a Sharia state and advocating for a Sharia state: “We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom. We see under the Khilafa (caliphate), when people used to engage in a positive way, this idea of freedom was redundant, it was unnecessary, because the society understood under the education system of the Khilafa state, and under the political framework of Islam, that people must engage with each other in a positive and productive way to produce results, as the Qur’an says, to get to know one another.” Stand for Peace also says that ‘IERA’s staff includes Islamist hate preachers such as Abdurraheem Green, Hamza Tzortzis (the opposing speaker at the debate) and Yusuf Chambers.’ The article goes on to give various examples of such hate speech: ‘Tzortzis wants to criminalize homosexuality.’‘Yusuf Chambers is a founding member of the iERA. In a recorded conversation conducted with Dr. Zakir Naik (who has been banned from entering Britain), Chambers specifically asks what the punishment for homosexuality should be (the answer is “Death”), and then asks Naik to refute suggestions that homosexuality has any natural or genetic origins. In the same interview, Chambers agrees that adulterous women should be stoned to death. [Read more...]