Petition aims to block ‘endorsement’ of sex segregation at UK universities.
A petition fighting Universities UK’s claim that sex segregation is not discriminatory has gained more than 4,600 signatures.
The petition, which has been signed by public figures including A C Grayling, Polly Toynbee and Richard Dawkins, calls separate seating for men and women “gender apartheid.”
It goes on to claim that “Separate is never equal and segregation is never applied to those who are considered equal. By justifying segregation, Universities UK sides with Islamist values at the expense of the many Muslims and others who oppose sex apartheid and demand equality between women and men.”
It ends: “The guidance must be immediately rescinded and sex segregation at universities must come to an end.”
The petition comes in response to guidance offered by Universities UK, which on Friday advised universities who may be “managing controversial guest speakers” that “concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system.”
The guidance goes on to say 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.”
Controversy over gender segregation was caused earlier this year at Leicester University, Northampton University and University College London (UCL).
In March, atheist academic Lawrence Krauss walked out of a UCL debate that had been organised by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), after speaker Hamza Tzortzis addressed an audience that had been segregated by gender. The group was later banned from campus.
At Northampton in April, the opening of a series of six events was advertised on Facebook as being “Open to both Brothers and Sisters, with segregation adhered to.”
In Leicester, an event again featuring Tzortzis hit the headlines after imposing segregated seating and separate entrances for ‘Brothers’ and ‘Sisters’.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “External speakers play an important role in university life, not least in terms of encouraging students to think for themselves, challenge other people’s views and develop their own opinions.
“Although most speakers are uncontroversial, some will express contentious, even inflammatory or offensive views. Universities have to balance their obligation to encourage free speech with their duties to ensure that the law is observed, the safety and security of staff, students and visitors secured, and good campus relations promoted. In practice, achieving this balance is not always easy.”