Islamic preachers: the pied pipers of sexual apartheid?

February 9, 2014

 

A young man called Ishmael, with a wispy black beard and a slight blemish in one eye, is telling me why women should be covered up and kept apart.

“If I had two sweets – one wrapped and one unwrapped – and threw them in a bin, which one would you pick out and eat?” He grins, the amateur philosopher pleased with his analogy, and breaks off to shake the hand of a young man walking past the makeshift London Metropolitan University Islamic Society stall set up in the student canteen. Ishmael, who says he is a former head of the society (something the current president later denies), appears to know a lot of the students passing through. Women are man’s great temptation,” he turns back to face me. “They should be covered up.”

Spring term 2014 was supposed to bring an end to gender segregation at British universities. In December, the Prime Minister himself intervened over the issue, emphasising through a spokesman that he wanted it banned even where men and women voluntarily separate themselves (although not in places of worship). Mr Cameron – backed by the Education Secretary Michael Gove – made his comments after Universities UK (UUK), the body that represents vice-chancellors, published new guidelines endorsing segregation which, according to some student groups and human-rights organisations, were tantamount to “sexual apartheid”.

UUK’s controversial guidance, set out in a case study detailing how external speakers from “ultra-orthodox religious groups” could request that men and women sit separately, has now been withdrawn. It continues to work with senior legal counsel and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to clarify its position. The equality group Student Rights, which monitors preaching by extremists and discrimination through segregation at student events, says separated seating has become a widespread trend at many British universities.

Yet moderate Muslims find themselves at odds with this view of the relationship between the sexes. “That [position] isn’t something I recognise at all,” says Humayun Ansari, a professor of the history of Islam and culture at Royal Holloway, University of London, who specialises in researching the experience of Muslims in Britain. “What we’re talking about is various interpretations of Islam.”

Myriam Francois Cerrah, a journalist and DPhil student at Oxford University who regularly gives talks in front of mixed and intermingled audiences at Islamic societies up and down the country, says it is the London Islamic societies, in particular, that have become dominated by these ultra-traditional stances on the relationship between men and women.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10625879/Islamic-preachers-the-pied-pipers-of-sexual-apartheid.html

Student and women’s groups write open letter to UN condemning gender segregation in UK universities

January 15, 2014

 

Students and women’s groups have written an open letter to the UN to condemn gender segregation at British universities. Writing to the UN’s special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, the signatories are hoping to build pressure on UK universities to ban segregation of any kind.

They write: “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 letter appeared on the LSE student union page on Tuesday, and has been signed by various people including Chris Moos, the secretary of LSE’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, and Nahla Mahmoud, the spokesperson for the council of ex-Muslims of Britain.

Mr Moos, who was recently involved in a freedom of expression battle with LSE, believes that any type of segregation should be fought and that the UN pressure would help public discussion.

Universities UK and the Federation of Islamic Students Societies were both targets in the open letter. Last December, UUK said in a report that “Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination”, but later clarified their position, saying: “[UUK] agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers”.

FOISS were mentioned as their guidelines recommend societies “maintain segregation between brothers and sisters, keeping interactions between them at a minimum”.

A march has also been planned which will take place on March 8th.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/student-and-womens-groups-write-open-letter-to-un-condemning-gender-segregation-in-uk-universities-9061327.html

Outcry at ‘gender apartheid’ in new guidance for UK universities

December 13, 2013

 

Over 100 demonstrators attended a rally last night in protest against “legitimisation of sex apartheid” by Universities UK (UUK).

Protesters are up in arms over controversial new guidelines from the body on the laws affecting external speaker events. They claim that the new guidance will allow “ultra-orthodox religious groups” to separate men from women at events.

Demonstrators in Tavistock Square in central London carried banners with slogans such as “separate is never equal” and “no gender apartheid”. Several speakers addressed the crowd, condemning UUK’s actions, including Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, the Independent journalist.

UUK’s guidelines state that gender segregation might not necessarily discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way”.

It continues: “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.”

UUK insists 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”.

Maryam Namazie, an organiser of the rally and spokesperson for Fitnah, which champions women’s liberation in Islam, told the Independent: “it’s fitting that this rally is on International Human Rights Day, as well as the day of Mandela’s Memorial Service, as it goes to show that the fight against all forms of apartheid is not over.”

She added: “Any form of separation can never be equal as segregation is a restriction of equality and freedom. Women must not be separated. People have a right to religious beliefs, but this is about equality and universities should protect that equality.”

Meanwhile, In response to claims that the NUS supports the guidelines, a spokesperson said that the “NUS supports the rights of groups to self-organise how they wish but would be concerned about enforced segregation and certainly does not endorse it.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has accused Universities UK of “pandering to extremism” with controversial guidance endorsing the segregation of men and women at campus events, urging it to be withdrawn immediately.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/13/michael-gove-university-gender-segregation

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10517111/Campus-segregation-religious-freedom-cannot-be-allowed-to-trump-equality.html

The Independent: