Published on February 12, 2014 | by Sophie Smallshaw3
SUARTS rejects PM’s call to ban gender segregation
The Prime Minister’s call for the banning of gender segregated events at university campuses has been challenged by an SUARTS officer on behalf of UAL.
Mostafa Rajaai, Culture and Diversity Officer for SUARTS, stressed that students should decide how societies are run, without university or government interference.
Rajaai told Arts London News: “I believe it is not right to force students to do anything, whether it’s forcing them to sit separate or to sit together. It should be left to the attendees to decide how they want to arrange their seating and if they do decide to sit separately, that is their choice.”
“Members of our Islamic societies, or other societies for that matter, do not need to be told how they should run their events by the university nor the government as they are meant to be autonomous, student-led entities,” he added.
Agreeing with Rajaai, CSM alumni Matthew Keeley called the guidelines “outrageous” and stated that “it is a student’s right to decide how their societies are conducted.”
The guidelines put forward by Universities UK (UUK) – which stated that external speakers for societies such as Islamic and feminist groups were entitled to practice gender segregation at public meetings on campuses – were rejected by a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2013.
The spokesman said: “[David Cameron] does not believe that guest speakers should be allowed to address segregated audiences, so he believes that Universities UK should urgently review its guidance.”
“Universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers. However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear.” Nicola Dandridge
This response came after widespread backlash by many student groups and human rights organisations who condemned the endorsed guidance by UUK.
A protest was also staged outside their offices in central London, with some campaigners referring to the advice as ‘gender apartheid’ and demanded the organisation rethink its statement.
UUK decided to withdraw their statement after the Prime Minister’s announcement.
According to Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of UUK: “ [The organisation] agrees entirely with the Prime Minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers. However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear. We are working with our lawyers and the EHRC to clarify the position.”
With the Prime Minister’s plans to bring an end to gender segregation at British universities as early as the spring term of 2014, The Telegraph has reported that government interference is yet to take hold as many Islamic societies still remain male dominated, with gender segregation a prominent fixture at events.
Although UAL are yet to acknowledge the issue directly, Rajaai believes that university officials are in agreement with his stance against outside influences controlling student-led events.
He said: “If a society decides to hold an event, individuals attending the meeting should be the ones deciding this and there should be no set rules which would apply to all events.”