Written by Student Rights on 11 December 2013 at 12pm

The Telegraph: 'Gender apartheid' is real in UK universities. So why aren't more people fighting it?

By Emma Pearce

11 December 2013

University degrees were first offered to women in the UK in 1878, but last night, stood in front of the London headquarters of Universities UK, which claims to be ‘the voice for UK universities’, it appeared that the fight for equality is far from over.

Standing in Tavistock Square on a freezing December night, over 100 campaigners and students gathered to protest against the "shame of gender apartheid" at universities.

Last month, new guidelines from Universities UK suggested institutions could allow gender segregation during lectures given by external speakers, based on the teachings of their religion, as "there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating".

The rally last night was purposefully held on International Human Rights Day and on the day of Nelson Mandela's memorial, to expose the fact the National Union of Students is supporting the segregation rule, rather than speak out against it.

The protest came after some 8,000 people signed a petition to rescind endorsement of sex segregation at UK Universities.

Maryam Namazie, a researcher at the University of London and one of the organisers of the event, said that she has noticed a rise of Islamism across UK Universities that is not truly representing the views of most Muslims. She said: “In the UUK’s efforts to be inclusive they are encouraging sexism and endorsing discrimination.

“It's about free speech and its about Islamists imposing their rules and projecting women as symbols of chaos in society."

A whole host of speakers were at the protest that climaxed in the chanting of ‘shame on UUK’ directed at the organisation’s headquarters.

A report in the spring revealed gender segregation, at events run solely by student Islamic societies or in the interests of Muslims, is widespread.

Student Rights, which carried out the research, found that radical preachers spoke at 180 events at universities including Cardiff and University College London (UCL) between March 2012 and March 2013. Segregated seating for men and women was promoted or implied at more than a quarter of the events, at 21 separate institutions.

“Words cannot fully describe what I feel today,” said Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, a feminist group. “Rage, indignation and sorrow are just some that spring to mind.” And she went on to say “that the assertion of religious political power obliterates the very ideas of liberty and equality that so many people lived for and died for”.

‘Separate but equal’ is not equal at all was the message being spread by protesters. And of course it isn’t. By pursuing the appeasement of these religious fundamentalists anyone is right to question where this might end?

You would also be right to question why splitting people on race or sexuality would cause public outrage but splitting people on gender has received relatively little attention?

Last night's protest echoed much of what Nelson Mandela fought for. Ms Patel likened the two examples by saying that UUK’s justification for its actions was that it was “trying to uphold equalities law [but] this was the same defence they used for racial apartheid in South Africa”.

The protesters seemed very inspired by the legacy of Mandela and felt that much that he supported could be used in their fight for co-education.

Most of us might think that we have come a huge way in equality in education but what the report of the UUK has exposed is that we still have a long way to go.