Sorry, Louise Casey, but Muslim women are held back by discrimination

theguardian: by Aina Khan —

I thought my degree would be a passport to a dream job, but in Bradford the ladder of social mobility was always out of reach
Bradford, Yorkshire. ‘Not only are Muslim women subject to high levels of unemployment and poverty, but discrimination on the basis of our faith, gender and ethnic background hinders our entry into the labour market.’ Photograph: David Levenson / Alamy/Alamy

If like me you’re female, Muslim and from an ethnic minority background, it sometimes feels like a one-way ticket into economic and social purgatory.

Despite the fact that more British Muslim women than men are getting degrees, we are the most disenfranchised group in the country. Not only are we subject to high levels of unemployment and poverty, but discrimination on the basis of our faith, gender and ethnic background hinders our entry into the labour market.


However, according to the findings of Louise Casey’s review of integration and opportunity released yesterday, it’s not discrimination that is holding us back. British Muslim women have apparently failed to grasp that integration is the missing “key to success”.

If only it were that simple. The triple whammy that Muslim women face is what really makes for stagnant social mobility. Casey’s report suggests that the UK needs a major new strategy focused on promoting the English language and British values and social mixing among young people. While language proficiency can be a barrier to integration, being a first-generation immigrant with limited proficiency in English doesn’t necessarily mean your children won’t become engaged members of the community. My grandmother, a first-generation British-Pakistani woman who cannot speak a word of English, raised my mother and eight other daughters, all of whom speak fluent English – and Pashto, to boot.

Talk of “women’s emancipation in communities where they are being held back by regressive cultural practices” is merely a synonym for “Muslim women need saving”. Yes, patriarchy is indeed a problem within the Muslim community, but it is by no means exceptional. On the one hand, Muslim women are required to do more to integrate, and on the other we’re paragons of victimhood. Which is it?

The fact we are even discussing “integration”, as if the Muslim community were an oddly assembled jigsaw puzzle incongruous with wider society, is troubling. The mono-ethnic wards the report refers to, in Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim communities in Bradford, have been highlighted as barriers to integration. But what exactly is the solution? A “brown flight” is hardly possible when people are struggling to pay their council tax, let alone move out of the area. I have lived in Bradford for eight years, although I had the benefit of spending most of my life in the kingdom of cosmopolitanism that is London. Just because I won’t leave the predominantly Muslim, Pakistani ward that I live in now doesn’t make me averse to integration. I simply don’t have the financial means to do it.

Graduating from university last year, I thought, naively perhaps, that my degree would ease my passage into the labour market. But instead of a gold-paved road to my first job, I found myself hurtling down the rabbit hole of unemployment. And I’m not alone. I’ve watched many friends, Pakistani Muslim women like me, get sucked into a void of hopelessness as they try to crack the job market. They lose confidence, not because of the shackles of their faith and their unwillingness to integrate, but because of the economic struggles, discrimination and gradual erosion of self-worth they have experienced.

Bradford is a city that has been battered by austerity cuts. Bradford West, where I live, is the joint fourth poorest constituency in the country. At least once a month, I make a four-and-a-half-hour commute to the economic promised land of London to build my experience through unpaid internships in the hope of eventually finding work. Two years of commuting between the two is exhausting. The voluntary positions, occasional freelance work and below-minimum-wage positions were amounting to nothing. The lack of job opportunities and constant rejections have finally prompted me to pack up and join an exodus of graduates relocating to London.

There’s also an assumption that in a city such as Bradford, with its large south Asian, Muslim demographic, Islamophobia isn’t felt there. But it is. The 326% spike in Islamophobic attacks in 2015, over half of which were directed towards visibly Muslim women, and the glare of the media spotlight after two families from Bradford left to join Islamic State, means fear is once again as tangible for British Muslims – wherever in the country they live – as it was following 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings. The murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox only a few miles away is a manifestation of this fear of the “other”.

There is a great emphasis in the report on attaching “more weight to British values, laws and history in our schools”. But what exactly are “British values”? Fish and chips? The monarchy? A quintessentially British cup of tea?

Muslim girls at school in UK
‘Through mentoring work I do with primary school children in Bradford, I see charismatic, intuitive young girls who are raring to take over the world.’ Photograph: Don McPhee for the Guardian

Through mentoring work I do with primary school children in Bradford, I do see hope for the future. I see charismatic, intuitive young girls who are raring to take over the world, even if some need a little nudge. But the dreams and ambitions of many of Bradford’s young women eventually ebb away once they realise the ladder of social mobility is out of reach for them. Instead of framing the discussion around integration, real and tangible efforts need to be made to actually help Muslim women.

The fact that we even have to talk about our Muslim identities, our anxieties surrounding issues of poverty and employment in an attempt to humanise our struggle and reassure people we are “good Muslims”, not “Isis Muslims”, is demoralising. Economic and class struggles affect Muslims just as they affect anyone else, and divisive talk that centres on integration only undermines the struggles of British Muslim women from ethnic minority backgrounds and whitewashes the policies that hold them down.

The glass ceiling has many layers for British Muslim women. If we refuse to march to the drumbeat of victimhood, we will have to work twice as hard as our white counterparts to secure a job, and it’s not just because of the lack of opportunities. It’s also because of discrimination and the persistent idea that we live “parallel lives” in a parallel dimension yet to be discovered by Stephen Hawking. This is particularly true for visibly Muslim women like me who wear the hijab. The media’s fetishisation of the piece of cloth wrapped around my head means my sartorial choices are up for public discussion, whether I want that to be the case or not.

If the government really wants to help British Muslim women, it needs to take discrimination seriously: create job opportunities across the country; invest in stagnating cities such as Bradford with so many talented women resigned to mediocre jobs for which they are overqualified, or no jobs at all. Create platforms from which Muslim women can ascend the ladder of social mobility.

Once that’s done, then we can talk about integration – but I bet we won’t need to.

Origional Post here:

2 replies

  1. British society and British schooling is the home of institutional racism. We live in a shrunken world and millions of people are on the move; one of our biggest challenges is how we learn to live in proximity to difference – different skin colours, different beliefs and different way of life. According to a study by COMPAS, Muslims born and educated were given the impression of outsiders. The perception among Muslims is that they are unwelcome in Britain is undermining efforts to help them integrate into wider society. Most of them say that they have experienced race discrimination and religious prejudice. Muslims and Islam is promoted a fundamentalist and separatist by the western elite, which have negative impact on community and social cohesion. The number of racist incidents occurring in London Borough of Redbridge’s schools have reached their highest levels since record begin.
    People are people, regardless of where they were born, what colour their skin is, or whatever religion. All deserve respect. Tolerance in Sweden/Britain is an illusion. The problem isn’t immigrants not adapting to British culture, it’s Brits showing much disrespect and scorn to those who are of any immigrant background. even if an immigrant was well versed in English, knew the customs etc. would they still get employment? No. Would Brits treat them as a decent human? No. So why would they want to assimilate into a culture that is constantly tearing them down?

    Multiculturalism is not about integration but about cultural plurality. It is not about separation but about respect and the deepening awareness of Unity in Diversity. Each culture will maintain its own intrinsic value and at the same time would be expected to contribute to the benefit of the whole society.
    The spirit of crusade is still alive in West. Now Muslim community is part and parcel of Western society, contributing for its prosperity, obeying Western laws and paying all sorts of direct and indirect taxes. What do you expect from them? People like you must learn to respect and tolerate those who are different. The demand for Masajid, state funded Muslim schools, halal food, sharia laws, time off for Friday afternoon prayers in the Masjid, two official religious holidays per year and Muslim cemeteries are not against the law of the land.

    During colonial days, British did not follow local customs or culture. They didn’t exactly “go native”. They even forced the Native Americans and native Australian to adopt all the evils of their culture and customs. They are still the underdogs of American and Australian societies. At least Australian Prime Minister apologised to the natives for their evil deeds. Brits living in Spain and France don’t even bother learning the language of the new adopted country. Frankly suggesting that people don’t want to become “British” they should move elsewhere is extremely irritating. Immigrants are in UK because they are needed, it was never an act of charity. Without migration, British economy and society will bleed to death. British culture and customs will undoubtedly change as it has for millennium due to immigration. I am not quite sure why Brits would be worried about that.

    West must learn to respect and tolerate those who are different. Muslims are part and parcel of the western society. Muslim community needs Masajid, state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers, halal meat, sharia laws, time off on Friday afternoon prayers in the Masjid, two official religious holidays per year and Muslim cemeteries, otherwise, the future generations would be lost in western jungle.

    Muslim population is on the increase in all western countries because of immigration, high birth rate and conversion. There will never be an end to immigration from Muslim countries. Islamic studies should be a compulsory subject in all schools and colleges for the benefit of the western people and Muslim children should have their own state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers where they could develop their cultural, linguistic and spiritual identities, otherwise, they would be lost in western jungle.

    Muslim schools are nothing to do with segregation or integration. It is purely an educational issue. If you are not aware of educational processes, please keep your mouth shut. You better educate your children and let Muslim community educate their children according to their needs and demands.

    Human rights are protected for minority communities in a country. The customs of the majority do not get special protection. Why? Because they are the customs of the majority, which already tend to be dominant if not dominating. It is precisely because of the tendency of majority cultural norms to be dominating that international human rights laws protect minority communities from them. I see human rights violations along two lines here: (1) the handshaking ritual is clearly a form of ritualized (silent) nationalist oath, enacted in a daily way at school, something that religious people do not have to engage in as they are able to show support for the nation otherwise and it is usually read as a violation of their religious right to hold God above everything, even the state; and (2) the right to the physical integrity of one’s personal body cannot be violated by the state or the majority community without significant cause, e.g., a violent act, which might allow a state to put a citizen in prison. Children being forced to have physical contact with an adult against their will and the customs of their community, or even just in general — even in a handshaking ritual — can have emotionally damaging effects on children That the handshaking is expressed and explained as a nationalist ritual is significant. There is no such thing as an insignificant ritual of forced physical obedience.

    Bilingual Muslims children have a right, as much as any other faith group, to be taught their culture, languages and faith alongside a mainstream curriculum. More faith schools will be opened under sweeping reforms of the education system in England. There is a dire need for the growth of state funded Muslim schools to meet the growing needs and demands of the Muslim parents and children. Now the time has come that parents and community should take over the running of their local schools. Parent-run schools will give the diversity, the choice and the competition that the wealthy have in the private sector.

    There are hundreds of state primary and secondary schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion all such schools may be opted out to become Muslim Academies. This mean the Muslim children will get a decent education. Muslim schools turned out balanced citizens, more tolerant of others and less likely to succumb to criminality or extremism. Muslim schools give young people confidence in who they are and an understanding of Islam’s teaching of tolerance and respect which prepares them for a positive and fulfilling role in society.

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