Written by Student Rights on 12 December 2013 at 3pm

Daily Mail: Students demonstrate against 'gender apartheid' as Universities UK refuses to ban the separation of sexes during visits by speakers

By Andrew Levy

11 December 2013

Men and women are being segregated at universities as academics bow to the beliefs of extremist Islamic speakers.

University authorities are allowing the separation of sexes in fear of infringing the rights of the firebrands.

In most cases, women are made to sit at the back of rooms but in some instances they have been made to sit in a separate room and watch proceedings on screens via a live feed.

Out of 180 visits by extremists monitored over a 12-month period, a quarter – or 46 – at 21 institutions were found to have promoted segregation by gender. Six of these events were cancelled, usually after complaints from students.

The astonishing practice was unearthed by Student Rights, a group set up to monitor extremism on university campuses.

It said security staff at one debate organised by the Islamic Education and Research Academy at University College London ‘tried to physically remove members of the audience who would not comply’ with a sexual segregation policy.

The practice is effectively supported by Universities UK, an umbrella organisation that speaks on behalf of 132 British universities. Its guidance says that failing to segregate men and women might breach ‘the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker’.

Graham Stuart, chairman of the Commons education select committee, branded the guidance ‘nonsense’ yesterday and demanded that it be reviewed. ‘Segregation by sex is completely unacceptable in a publicly-funded institution,’ he said.

Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, accused universities of betraying the ‘hallowed principles of freedom of expression’ by ‘succumbing to demands from speakers, generally those trying to undermine universal human rights’.

Student Rights, which describes extremism on campuses as ‘an increasingly worrying trend’, looked at all visits by extremist speakers in the 12 months to March. Director Raheem Kassam said segregation forced ‘cultural practices’ on to people on a public campus.

‘It is disgraceful that this can happen in a modern and equal society,’ he said. ‘If we’re going to make concessions like this then where does it stop? Should we segregate people by race?’

Students have been protesting outside the London headquarters of Universities UK this week over its stance.

The issue provoked a furious exchange between Muslim newspaper columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Omar Ali, of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, on Channel 4 News.

Mrs Alibhai-Brown described it as a ‘disaster for feminism, university life and progressive ideals’. ‘You can do what you like in mosques and temples,’ she said. ‘These are meetings by fundamentalists telling women to get out of the public space.

‘You are using democracy,  freedom, the great rights, to fundamentally destroy these very rights. Don’t use our universities to impose these Saudi Arabian practices.’

Mr Ali dismissed ‘segregation’ as ‘an emotive use of language’. ‘If a society is set up to cater for religious needs on campus, why shouldn’t they?’ he said. ‘A lot of people would find it insulting to say this is something discriminatory against women.’

A Universities UK spokesman said its guidance ‘does not promote gender segregation’ and allows universities to make decisions ‘on a case by case basis’.

‘It includes a hypothetical case study involving an external speaker talking about his orthodox religious faith who had requested segregated seating areas,’ said the spokesman.

‘It concluded that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged and a non-segregated seating area also provided, a university could decide it is appropriate to agree to the request.’