British Muslim Women

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Image Source: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2015/april/muslim-women-and-employment.html

The Women and Equalities Committee’s report entitled “Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK”, released on Thursday 11th August 2016, makes a great number of recommendations to the Government on improving the accessibility to employment for British Muslims. According to the report, unemployment rates for Muslims are more than twice of that of the general population at 12.8%. A further breakdown shows 41% of Muslims are economically inactive, 65% of which are women.

Addressing and removing barriers to employment for Muslims, and Muslim women should be an absolute priority for the Government. The recommendations made in the report about the need for better, comprehensive data, will go a long way in helping us understand better where the issues are within our systems and institutions. Once we have these, other suggestions, such as “equipping Job Centre staff with the tools and training to improve their understanding of employment issues”, and asking universities to publish “strategies to improve the under-representation of Muslim students” can be enacted effectively, based on evidence. The move towards “name blind recruitment” is also a welcome step towards ensuring equality and reducing discrimination at application stage.

Whilst addressing unemployment in Muslim communities must be a priority for Government, it must be a priority for Muslim communities too. And this is where I fear, we fall down. No matter how excellent the recommendations and proposals set out by the report are or how effectively they are implemented, they will only lead to minimal improvement for the biggest proportion of Muslims that are economically inactive: Muslim women. The report does well to highlight the additional barriers faced by Muslim women, borne out of cultural, parental and religious expectations and limitations, especially regarding matters such as going to university, childcare and traditional family roles.

For example, following on from the point made about the under representation of Muslims at Russell Group universities, the report rightly points out that for Muslim girls, parents will push for the nearest university rather than the best one- due to expectations that girls must stay at home, driven by religious beliefs or cultural norms that discourage Muslim girls and women from living alone or exercising their agency.  Another example is the statistic that 44% of economically inactive Muslim women are inactive because they are looking after the home, compared to the 16% of the national average. The report notes that there may be lack of awareness of free childcare available to individuals, however there is also still the reality of the stigma about “leaving your kids and going to work” when it is oft-repeated that a woman’s primary (and often her sole role) is motherhood.

Initiatives cited by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) such as their work with Reed employment agency to “access Muslim women” are welcome, as are requests by the group to the Government to “provide Muslim women with more focussed support”. However, what we also need to see is groups like the MCB engaging with their own hundreds of affiliates, mosques and Islamic community organisations to start changing attitudes towards women and pursue a more active gender egalitarian approach.  The Committee’s report states “mosques can also play an important role in promoting opportunities for women”- but who will make them? Apart from a few exceptions, to date, they have shown little appetite for such positive action.   The vast majority of mosques, affiliates of the MCB, are still hostile places for women, failing to offer adequate provisions and facilities for women, still running male only boards, making women sit in separate rooms and talking to them through doorways and publishing guidance that women must not travel alone more than 48 miles, wear trousers or have Facebook accounts.

Instead, efforts from some Muslim organisations and our so called community leaders are concentrated on much less significant matters. There is a recommendation for the Government to publish their timetable to introduce Shariah compliant student finance- groups, something the MCB lobbied hard to bring about. However, the lack of “halal” students finance is only a barrier for the tiniest of Muslim minorities. HSBC, who with much fanfare announced so called “halal mortgages” in 2008 after being led to believe there was an overwhelming demand discontinued the product in the UK in 2012 due to the lack of uptake. This should highlight how small an issue this is.  If only a similar amount of energy and efforts went in to our communities when it came to changing attitudes and working towards gender equality and economic freedom for Muslim women.  Instead, Muslim organisations such as Inspire and others that endeavour to undertake this work are attacked, rubbished and subjugated to misogynist abuse, highlighting how difficult the struggle for gender equality within Muslim communities is.

It is not only the intra-community gender discrimination that disadvantage Muslim women. The report correctly draws attention to the increase in anti-Muslim prejudice in our society and the disproportionate way it impacts women who are “visibly Muslim”.  There has been quite substantial evidence indicating that Muslim women are being discriminated against in the workplace, in job applications and during interviews; in fact in every stage of the recruitment process.  Muslim women experience what is often referred to as the triple penalty: discrimination on the basis of their gender, ethnicity and religion.  This is a clear violation of the equality act 2010 and the report is right to address this.

Yet whilst we ask the Government to ensure that employers are sensitive to the needs of Muslim employees, colleagues and team members with appropriate diversity and equality policies to ensure no one is excluded, it is also important for some Muslims to develop what the report calls ‘soft skills.’ Socialising at work is cited as a barrier, alongside the lack of these soft skills, which are developed through engaging and socialising with wide and varied circles. While employers can do more to ensure all staff socially feel part of the workforce, offering diverse out of office venues for example, it is also important to recognise the limitations and even harm of those who hold puritanical interpretations of Islam which often actively discourage socialising or striking up friendships with non-Muslims. I have seen how this can become an inhibiting factor when searching for work or considering an employment opportunity.

In conclusion, yes the Government needs to separate their attempts to tackle inequalities within Muslim communities from their counter-extremism policy, provide more support through their systems and job centres. Yes, employers need to look at how they can be more inclusive and ensure universities are more accessible. And yes, we need to deal with the barriers brought about by anti-Muslim prejudice and preconceptions.  But there is also a huge amount of work that needs to be done from within, that can only be done by Muslim communities.  These include challenging patriarchal attitudes and beliefs put upon women either culturally or religiously, which limit their potential in life and have a negative impact on our society and our very own communities who, as we have seen, continue to remain economically the most disadvantaged in the UK.  We need to and can do better.

Yasmin Weaver

Inspire Project Manager

 

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Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

First aired on Sunday 26th June 2016, Sara Khan was invited on to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs to talk about her life, work countering extremism and the tracks that made her.  As it’s Sara, it’s fair to say there are few surprises!  You can here the complete interview and Sara’s eclectic choices on BBC iPlayer .

From the BBC Website :

A British Muslim human rights activist, Sara is director of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation which she co-founded in 2009.

Born in Bradford in 1980 to Pakistani parents, she decided to wear the veil when she was thirteen changing her mind eighteen years later. She studied Pharmacy at the University of Manchester but never felt she was fulfilling her potential, and set up Inspire in her home. She has been at the heart of various campaigns to raise awareness of her cause from Jihad Against Violence to #MakingAStand which encouraged women in particular to stand up against extremism.

In 2009 she was listed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Muslim Women’s Power List and in 2015 was included in BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Power List. She is currently sitting on the Department for Education’s Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group and on the Government’s Community Engagement Forum.

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After appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee on the 17th November 2015, Inspire have provided additional written evidence.  The evidence examines:
1. Inspire’s independence
2. Evidence of some of our extensive work between 2009-2014 and 2014-2015.
3. Challenging Naz Shah’s MP inaccurate claims about Inspire made by her in October 2015.
4. Understanding the wider negative discourse around Prevent.
Click here to download the evidence submitted.
UPDATE: 
Inspire has submitted further written evidence on the 5th February 2016 to address in full the unfounded allegations repeated by Naz Shah MP in relation to our independence and transparency.
Click here to download our response

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In the wake of the uproar caused by the news of three teenage girls from East London travelling to Syria to join ISIS, Inspire’s Co-Director Kalsoom Bashir appeared on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on 1 March 2015.

She spoke about the lure of the extremist narrative and the danger it poses particularly to young, impressionable women seeking guidance and direction. Kalsoom also highlighted Inspire’s work with grassroots organisations and in particular the latest campaign #MakingAStand, which seeks to equip women across the country with a strong counter narrative.

Please watch the segment here, starting at 34:46:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b054z7gt/the-andrew-marr-show-01032015

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What a week.  The start of our nationwide roadshow of our campaign #MakingAStand began with the news that three teenage girls from East London had left the UK to join ISIS.  The words of grief shared by the girls’ families were painful for anyone to watch.  But the case of Shamima, Amira and Kadiza only strengthened our resolve at Inspire, to do what we can in preventing people from being drawn into extremism.  It is why #MakingAStand, especially in these times, is so important.  Our message to women resonated.  If we will not challenge extremism in these times, then when?  If we will not speak out against those who prey on our children, who deliberately target them with an extreme religious and political ideology then who will?

This week we were in Birmingham and Luton and the discussions with the participants were honest, critical, introspective, refreshing and uplifting.  In the safe spaces we had created, women shared with us their direct experiences of extremism.  Cases of extended family members who had become radicalised, concerns over messages of hate coming from mosques and the lack of counter-messages being taught to kids in these places of worship.  Some women had very strong views; including a firm belief that madrassas should be regulated.  Many mothers argued that parents needed to take greater responsibility in deciding where they send their kids for an Islamic education.  Parents should demand to see the curriculums, find out if they have child protection policies and other normal policies one would expect from institutions that are teaching children.  Concerns were raised over the internet about the dominance of extremist websites and about groups operating in their own local communities who peddle a narrative of hate and an “us V them” worldview to young impressionable Muslims.  The issue of gender inequality within sections of British Muslim communities, was unsurprisingly raised.

But women also told us how they are making a stand and next steps they plan to take.  Examples of how they have been challenging hatred, bigotry and extremism were offered.  Some of the practical ideas we heard were great and we hope to share the activism of these principled women with you in the future.  So watch this space.  Next stop will be Leeds on the 10th March.  If you’re interested in attending, please register on our website.  The #makingastand movement is growing!

This week Inspire also did many local, national and international media interviews, about the three schoolgirls.  I wrote an article for the Independent you may wish to read, arguing why these girls were not only radicalised but were also groomed by ISIS.

Seeing the pain of the parents of the three schoolgirls, I also wrote an open letter to any young girl who maybe considering joining ISIS.  Within 72 hours the letter was viewed over 20’000 times in countries across the world from Canada to India and has been translated into different languages.  It was also reported in the Independent, Huffington Post and the Metro.  Teachers told us they would read it in their morning assembly.  Young Muslims contacted us saying what an important message it contained.  Some people contacted us saying they now understood the difference between ISIS and Islam.  My motivation for writing the letter was to sow the seed of doubt in the minds of any young girl (or boy for that matter) who maybe considering to leave the UK to join ISIS.  If the letter convinces even one person, then it has fulfilled its purpose.

You can read the letter here.

May we all continue to make a stand against all forms of extremism, violence and hatred.   #MakingAStand

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