With women obliged to sit yards behind chairs reserved exclusively for men, the photograph above shows the shocking reality of gender segregation at a British university.
It was taken earlier this year at a training course at Leicester University organised by its Islamic Society. The course was entitled Call Of Duty and it featured a guest speaker from a hardline Islamic group.
Rupert Sutton of campaign group Student Rights, which monitors campus extremism, said: ‘The obvious discrimination in this picture is what segregated seating can mean in practice – women pushed to the back of the hall, while men are given the best seats to see and hear the speaker.’
PICTURE EXCLUSIVE: Women and men sit separately at a day-long seminar at Leicester University earlier this year - which was about how to 'talk to non Muslims about Islam convincingly and in a structured way'
The disturbing image emerged at the end of a week in which Universities UK – the vice-chancellors’ association – backed down from guidelines it had previously given that apparently allowed campus Islamic societies to impose segregated seating at meetings.
The guidelines have been withdrawn while Universities UK consults with the Equality and Human Rights Commission about the appropriate position. It is expected to be forced to back down permanently.
A recent report by Student Rights found that over a quarter of visits by Islamic speakers to British universities resulted in segregated meetings.
Last week the controversy over gender segregation prompted the Prime Minister to intervene.
Mr Cameron said: ‘I’m absolutely clear that there should not be segregated audiences for visiting speakers to universities in Britain.
That is not the right approach, the guidance should say that universities should not allow this.’
The Leicester University event in February was billed as a ‘Dawah Training Course’.
Dawah is the word Muslims use to mean ‘preaching’ or ‘invitation to Islam’.
Inequality: The women sit at the back, left, while the men are given the best seats closest to the front, right
Defence: Guest speaker Saleem Chagtai said: 'Separate seating for men and women is not something we ever enforce. It happens naturally and if Muslim women were disadvantaged they would be the first to complain'
It was held on a Sunday in the oak-panelled Queen’s Hall and featured guest speaker Saleem Chagtai from the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA).
Mr Chagtai said: ‘Separate seating for men and women is not something we ever enforce.
‘It happens naturally and if Muslim women were disadvantaged they would be the first to complain.
They are forthright, not meek and mild as those who do not understand Islam assume.
‘This photo must have been taken at the start of the meeting because by the end there were many more women at the talk.
‘We have consulted with Liberty and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to ensure that we stay within the law and we do this by providing a mixed seating area for those who prefer this.
‘I think David Cameron has failed to do his homework. He is trying to make capital out of a problem that isn’t there.’
Criticised: The training course on Islam preaching happened in February at the University of Leicester
Soon after this photograph was taken, the IERA was barred from University College London for segregating seating at a debate over the existence of God.
Several of its leading figures have a history of making intolerant comments against free speech and in favour of brutal punishments for homosexuals and ‘fornicators’.
IERA was invited back to Leicester University a month after the Call Of Duty course for a debate called Does God Exist? Photographs of that event emerged showing signs pointing males (brothers) and females (sisters) to different entrances.
It prompted the university authorities to investigate after they were alerted that its own Islamic Society boasted of operating ‘a strict policy of segregated seating between males and females’.
At the time, university officials insisted that they did not permit enforced segregation and there would be ‘no recurrence’.
Brothers and sisters: The picture comes after this sign was put up at a public lecture hosted by the University of Leicester's Islamic society, which academic authorities said they would investigate
Last night there was no comment from Leicester University’s Islamic Society.
A spokesman for the university said: ‘The university expects all persons to respect its commitment to freedom of speech, its good name and reputation and to be sensitive to the feelings of all sections of its diverse community.
‘We will be in discussions with Universities UK following their most recent statement to clarify the impact of their legal advice.’