Written by Student Rights on 5 January 2014 at 2am

FOSIS guidelines encourage gender segregation

During the recent controversy over guidelines excusing gender segregation by Universities UK Camilla Khan, the Head of Communications at the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), wrote that:

The focus on this single case-study...has been extremely disproportionate and led to sensationalist comments, vilifying Islamic societies and Muslim students”.

She followed this by stating that it was:

...encouraging to see that Universities UK have chosen to remain firm on their objective and measured stance, acknowledging the nuances that exist with different theological perspectives”.

Khan was joined by other commentators in criticising the focus on segregation, including Laurie Penny, who wrote that she was tired of being “asked to condemn this "policy of gender segregation" by "Islamic extremists", despite the fact that no such policy exists”.

However, an article on the FOSIS website uncovered by students at the London School of Economics ahead of an appearance on the BBC both suggests that such a policy does exist, and encourages student Islamic Societies to enforce it.

Entitled ‘Guidelines on how to run a successful Islamic Society’, the post suggests to society committee members that they should “Maintain segregation between brothers and sisters, keeping interactions between them at a minimum”.

In our report on this issue in May 2013 we highlighted how segregation by gender potentially broke the ‘Equality and Diversity’ policies put in place by the UK’s universities, and should student groups follow this advice it is likely they will do so as well.

It is also difficult to square Khan’s claims that “the most successful Islamic societies are always the ones with both active males and females in the leadership committee” with her organisation’s advice that interaction between the sexes be minimal.

Here at Student Rights we hope that the National Union of Students will make clear to FOSIS, which it partners with in annual ‘I Will Lead’ training sessions for Muslim women, that any enforcement of gender segregation by affiliated societies would be deeply concerning.

We also hope that any universities which are concerned that any of their student societies are encouraging such discrimination will stress the importance of complying with campus equality guidelines at the start of a new term.