More universities move towards gender segregation

Three years after the February 17 Revolution, some universities in Libya are moving from co-education to segregating male and female students on campus.

The last segregation move involves the law faculty at the University of Sirte, as reported on 15 April by the Libya Herald.

Male students will sit in the front rows during lectures, male and female students will be barred from mixing on campus, and female students will be required to wear loose-fitting and modest clothes, a Sirte University source was quoted as saying.

The decision is based on Article 39 of Higher Education Regulation No 501 of 2010, which requires students to keep to certain dress codes. Under Article 44 of the regulation, those not dressing appropriately may face a number of penalties, from a caution to suspension from the university.

Guards at Derna University have also called for gender segregation in order to be able to ensure security, after extremists angered by mixed-sex classes have reportedly stormed the campus. This call was reported on 17 September 2013 by the Libya Herald.

The Abu Salim Martyrs' Brigade indicated that at a minimum, male and female students should be kept apart in open areas.

This gender segregation call is in line with a higher education regulation based on an April 2013 open letter addressed to the country's leaders and issued by Libya's top religious authority, the grand mufti Sheikh Sadiq Al-Ghariani.

Al-Ghariani said he had received complaints about "the deterioration of morals and the widespread phenomena of free mixing between sexes, with no restrictions or regulations, in all state institutions".

He said such mixing of the sexes was "immoral" and called on authorities to end it.

The grand mufti is Libya's highest-ranking religious scholar and heads the Fatwa office - the Dar Al-Ifta - in government, which issues religious rulings about what is forbidden or permitted under Islam.

The office's rulings do not have the force of law but can be influential, especially on political Islamists in the country's General National Congress and in government.

Expert's view

Libyan higher education expert Amal Rhema, a lecturer at Aljabal Algharbi University and presently at Victoria University in Australia, said: "Gender mixing is common in Libyan universities and recent reports about proposed gender segregation have sparked controversy.

"While some Libyan clerics deem gender mixing at universities illegal, others debate whether the concept is modern or rooted deeply in Islam," Rhema told University World News.

For example, Derna University official Omar Abu Khatwa was quoted as saying that the brigade's segregation request was in line with Islamic law.

"At the university level students are mature and professional; they are being prepared to access the labour market and participate in the global economy, in which there is no distinction between jobs for females and for males," Rhema said.

"However, free mixing is not permissible. Separating male and female students in the same lecture room, the same lab, or the same cafe to sit apart from each other is desirable to be applied at Libyan universities as this follows Islamic rules and regulations."