Scroll down for the full transcript of Pragna Patel’s speech on: Gender Apartheid – the new battleground.
As 8,000 people sign a petition against gender segregation in British universities, a rally last night attracted only 100 protesters. Who is fighting the good fight, asks Emma Pearce
Students in the UK are demonstrating against university guidelines allegedly backing gender segregation. Channel 4 News looks at what sparked the debate in the UK’s biggest universities.
Protesters are up in arms over controversial new guidelines from the body on the laws affecting external speaker events. They claim that the new guidance will allow “ultra-orthodox religious groups” to separate men from women at events.
Is it right that men and women should be segregated when Islamic speakers at Universities demand it?
A battle that concerns us all is being waged in the UK right now and has surprisingly very little echo outside Britain: Universities UK- a body that officially represents universities – made public their new guidance, according to which sex segregation could be practised in the universities at the request of guest speakers representing religious groups.
This capitulation is a disaster for feminism, progressive ideals and above all Muslims. In its wisdom, this august body has published guidelines on gender segregation at universities. The issue has been raised over the last few years by lecturers and students who complain that, for certain events, organisers and speakers expect men and women to either sit apart or that women not attend.
by Maryam Namazie 12th December 2013
“The Campaign against Gender Segregation at UK Universities will continue to press on until Universities UK rescinds its guidance. We plan to continue to raise our opposition to gender apartheid via a petition, which has already gathered over 8,500 signatories; organise teams of sex apartheid busters to break up gender apartheid at universities; and mobilise for a huge march against sex apartheid on 8 March 2014, International Women’s Day. We are also looking into legal challenges to the guidance.”
Protest address outside the UUK offices – 10.12.13
Pragna Patel – Southall Black Sisters
Today, the world is still reeling from the news of the death of one of the greatest secular democrats that has ever lived. For me, today is a particularly emotional moment. I stand here reminded of the heroic struggle waged against racial apartheid in South Africa, and yet find myself protesting against another form of apartheid that is also being justified with reference to that ubiquitous but flawed logic ‘separate but equal’.
Who would have thought that in the 21st century, we would be protesting against policies adopted by institutions that should be in the business of producing and nurturing truth and knowledge, but which are instead endorsing the subjugation of one half of the human race?
Who would have thought that in the 21st century, gender apartheid would become the new battleground?
Words cannot fully describe what I feel today: Rage, indignation and sorrow are just some that come to mind. Ever since the Rushdie Affair burst into our lives, as black secular feminists, SBS has been stood tall in resisting the rise of religious fundamentalism in all religions. Why?
Because we recognised long ago that the assertion of political religious power is taking place over the bodies of women.
That the assertion of religious power obliterates the very ideals of liberty and equality that so many have lived and died for.
That the assertion of religious political power diminishes our very humanity and prevents us from uniting against injustice everywhere.
We cannot allow this to happen. We cannot abandon the secular spaces that we have created based on the universality of secular human rights. Make no mistake religious fundamentalism from Iran to India, from the US to Israel is on the march and gaining friends and allies. It seeks to colonise women’s bodies by capturing public spaces, especially the fields of politics and education. It seeks to force us to retreat into straightjackets which prevent us from dreaming other kinds of dreams. Their weapons of colonisation are no different to that faced by Nelson Mandela and those who struggled against racial apartheid – fear, intimidation and violence.
This is why I say, shame on the UUK for its cowardly capitulation to the view that the right to manifest religion takes precedence over the right to gender equality.
Shame on the UUK for its pathetic attempts to cover up its indefensible stance – by putting out nonsense that it was only trying to uphold equalities law? Yes? That is what they also said in defence of racial apartheid.
Shame on the UUK for capitulating at a time when millions of ordinary people around the world are ready to face torture and death rather than compromise with profoundly authoritarian, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-democratic forces.
If they can say loudly and clearly ‘Your fatwa does not apply here anymore’, why can’t you?
Today, on Human Rights Day, whilst the UUK and others prevaricate and compromise their intellectual and moral integrity, we must resolve to stand by those who are waging struggles against religious fundamentalism. We must defend our right to freedom and equality by shouting loudly and clearly, ‘Fear is your weapon, but courage is ours’. ‘Our tradition: struggle, not submission’.