Written by Student Rights on 13 December 2013 at 11am

The Telegraph: No place for segregation at our universities

By Telegraph View

12th December 2013

There is no reason, religious or otherwise, why the segregation of the sexes should be permitted at universities. The sight of men and women sitting separately at meetings of Islamic societies is not a reflection of Islamic teaching, denies the self-evident equality of the sexes and is an affront to human dignity.

Sadly, it does happen. In one high-profile instance earlier this year, photographs appeared online of the entrance to an event organised by the University of Leicester Islamic Society showing sheets of A4 paper attached to a door reading “brothers” and “sisters” with arrows pointing in opposite directions.

The anti-extremism group Student Rights has conducted research that shows radical preachers spoke at 180 events at universities including Cardiff and University College London between March 2012 and March 2013. Gender segregation was either promoted or implied at more than a quarter of the events, at 21 separate institutions.

Clearly there is a problem, and it is up to the universities as public institutions to address it. Unfortunately, what Universities UK, the organisation that represents vice-chancellors, chose to do was fudge.

Last month it produced new guidelines on meetings with external speakers that were extraordinary in their effort to strike some impossible compromise between extremists and women’s rights. It is okay to segregate, said Universities UK, so long as it is voluntary and no discrimination is involved – meaning, for instance, that women are not all forced to sit at the back of the room.

It added: “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.”

This is identical in sentiment to the infamous “separate but equal” spirit of racial segregation found in the pre-Sixties American South. As African-Americans found, it is impossible to separate on the grounds of biology without discriminating, and if a social arrangement is discriminatory then it is self-evidently unequal.

Speaking on the Today programme, Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, had the gall to insist that gender segregation is “not something which is so alien to our culture that it has to be regarded like race segregation”.

But requesting that women in a public place sit separately away from men is entirely alien to 21st-century British culture, and something that should be condemned as strongly as Islamophobia. Universities UK needs to review its guidelines, urgently.