Written by Student Rights on 11 December 2013 at 12pm

Rally against UUK excuse of gender segregation: Report

Last night Student Rights attended a rally outside of the offices of Universities UK (UUK) which had been called to highlight anger at the organisation’s excuse of gender segregation.

In guidelines released last month, UUK had stated 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”.

It also declared 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”.

As a result, an open letter and accompanying petition was published, which has since gained over 8,000 signatures.

With over 100 people crowded outside the UUK office, a number of speakers gave powerful denunciations of the organisation’s capitulation to religious demand, while the crowd chanted “shame on you, UUK!

These speakers included Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters, who powerfully declared that “the assertion of religious political power obliterates the very ideas of liberty and equality that so many people lived for and died for”.

She was joined by event organiser Maryam Namazie, and Ann-Marie Waters, both of ‘One Law for All’, who spoke out against appeasing the demands of Islamists and called for greater work in challenging religious bigotry.

The President of the LSE Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society Abhishek Phadnis read out a statement of support from the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, whilst fellow student Chris Moos read one from the Algerian feminist Marieme Helie Lucas.

Other speakers included the comedian Kate Smurthwaite, who criticised men who had attacked her for speaking out, and called for solidarity with those women who wanted to attend the rally, but were trapped by poverty, patriarchy, or religious intolerance.

They also included the journalist James Bloodworth, who highlighted that our secular democratic beliefs which value women on the same basis as men should be considered just as important as those of the religious.

Former University of Reading student and AHS officer Sean Oakley also spoke out against the way in which his student society was treated last year after labelling a pineapple ‘Mohammed’, and declared that universities were putting the demands of wealthy religious students above human rights.

Whilst it was great to see people turn out on a cold December night, the numbers should have been higher, and Maryam Namazie has called for further rallies, including on 8th March 2014, which is International Women’s Day.

It is continuing campaigns by the broad church of activists and campaigners from across the political spectrum that rallied last night which will keep this issue in the public eye until then.

As Chris Moos said last night on ending the protest, this was not the end of a rally, but the beginning of a campaign; one which Student Rights is firmly behind.