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Forgotten Women: The impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women – the European Network Against Racism

June 7, 2016

FWThis report is timely as we start Ramadan. It is based on research conducted in eight countries, including the UK.

The project aims to:

Document the disproportionate effect of Islamophobia on Muslim women
Foster cross-group partnership and develop alliances between the anti-racist and feminist movements in order to better address the intersectional discrimination affecting Muslim women (gender, race, class and religion)
Counter stereotypes about Muslim women and promote positive messages
Provide analysis to improve the implementation of equality law in cases of discrimination against Muslim women

The researchers focused on the labour market and Islamophobic speech and violence. They concluded that Muslim women “suffer from the same inequalities as other women, but that additional factors such as perceived religion or ethnicity deepen these gender gaps”.

Muslim women are being dis­criminated against in employment, they report, but this is often indirect and complex and thus hard to prove: Muslim women rarely com­plain, the report says.

In the UK, one in eight Pakistani women is asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews, com­pared with one in 30 White women. Half women wearing the hijab thought that they had “missed out on progression opportunities because of religious discrimination and that the wearing of the hijab had been a factor”.

Muslim women with degrees are less likely to get a job commensurate with their qualifications than their White British Christian counter­parts, the research suggests.

Muslim women are also more likely to be victims of hate crime than Muslim men. The headscarf “acts as a trigger”, the researchers write.

The report describes how Muslim women have been verbally abused by a mix of racist and sexist insults, and spat at, and their clothes have been ripped off, generally by unknown men. One “major difficulty” is that religious attire is “often considered as going against gender equality by influential stakeholders”.

The researchers argue that some media “often do not consider Muslim women as having agency and depict a stereotypical binary representation of Muslim women as either oppressed or as dangerous”. These views are also reflected in opinion polls, and are “reinforced by some political discourse arguing the lack of compatibility between some expressions of Islam with `European values'”.

The report suggests that a lack of trust in the police and “internalisa­tion of the normality of such viol­ence” prevent the reporting of prob­lems to the authorities.

The report recommends that the European Commission challenge employers who “structurally dis­advantage” Muslim women by restricting their wearing of religious attire. It also asks the media to offer “more responsible and genuine representations”; feminist groups to acknowledge “that it is possible to be feminist and religious”; and Muslim community organisations to involve more women in leader­ship.

FW 2Quotations:

Equality between women and men is a core principle of the EU and its Member States. However, such commitments do not often translate into practice in most areas of life. The 2012 EU-28 Gender Equality Index puts women at just 52.8% of the way towards equality with men, a percentage that has barely shifted in the last decade.

Women are discriminated against with regard to wage gap, pregnancy and motherhood. Along with this they also suffer from a glass-ceiling effect as far as their access to power and visibility and their professional careers are concerned. The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) underlines that over a quarter (26.9%) of women in the EU-28 countries experience poverty and social exclusion.

Across a range of indicators in the labour market and in social protection, the structural causes of poverty have a disproportionate impact on women.

Across the EU, “women are underrepresented in positions of responsibility in all domains. Particularly at the highest levels, women are still largely outnumbered by men in leadership positions in politics and business, as well as in other fields”.

Several international reports on the status of women in employment show that European societies are far from having solved the question of equality of opportunities and outcomes. As EWL puts it: “Educational choices continue to be highly gendered: in Europe women are 78,3% of graduates in education and training, 75,9% in health and welfare, 25,5% in engineering, manufacturing and construction, 40,2% in science, mathematics and computing. The sectors where women are over-represented are sectors which are less remunerated and less “valued”. Moreover, women with low levels of education are highly likely to be unemployed.”

Muslim presence and diversity is hardly reflected in the composition of TV presenters and journalists and this has an impact on the way Muslims are included in the media and the kind of issues tackled when talking about Muslims. Visibly Muslim women also have difficulties in accessing jobs in the media as their impartiality and neutrality are often questioned, all the more so when related to representative positions.

the organisation Kvinder for Frihed (Women for Freedom) collected 500 signatures against Denmark’s fi rst Muslim female TV host Asmaa Abdol-Hamid in 2006, because she was wearing a headscarf in the DR2 TV programme “Adam and Asmaa”. The show did not change as a reaction to the pressure though.

Some positive practices are worth noting, both from media and from civil society organisations willing to proactively influence the media landscape. For example, in Denmark the newspaper Politiken initiated a debate on the opposition and harassment many Muslim women experience as a result of their dress. The newspaper published a series of debate-articles featuring Muslim women’s experience of the headscarf  inspired the founder of the blog “Nyans: Muslim” (Nuance: Muslim), founded in 2014 as a platform for voices of Muslim women and men from a broad spectrum in Sweden. Al-Nisa, an organisation of Muslim women in the Netherlands, launched a public campaign which aimed at countering stereotypical images of them entitled “Do you know me?” (Kent u mij?)

In the UK Gallup has done extensive research on issues pertaining to Muslim women. They find that 30% of the British public believes that the hijab is a threat and that 16% of the British public would not want a Muslim neighbour. At the same time, 41% of the British public associates the wearing of the hijab with ‘confidence’ and 37% an enrichment to European culture. Further, 36% of the British public believe that ‘loyalty’ to the UK did not apply to British Muslims, though 82% British Muslims surveyed did feel that loyalty applied.

in a UK Department for Work and Pensions study three closely matched applications were submitted to a number of job adverts in different industries across the UK and proved an ethnic penalty as ethnic minority applicants had to send 74% more applications than their white counterparts to achieve an equal level of success.

A study in Germany carried out by Linz University also demonstrated an ethnic penalty. For applicants with German names 18% of the companies responded with an invitation to an interview, while only 13 % responded to applicants with Turkish sounding names. Additionally a ‘headscarf penalty’ was also proven since only 3% of Muslim women wearing a headscarf in the CV photo were invited to an interview.

“I have not experienced any discrimination by my employer, not that I can recall. But I have experienced discrimination by colleagues. My former colleagues have used racist and offensive expressions such as the n-word, others have questioned my choice of wearing the headscarf, while others have reproduced stereotypes that my parents would probably force me to marry against my will. There are also colleagues who have tried to make me into this suspicious subject by associating me with people travelling to Syria.”

Some women also state that the customers/clients assume they are less competent than other colleagues. One of the clients had written to my boss that she did not trust that I could be impartial in her case given that I probably come from a culture where women are hated. My boss handled it well, however, this kind of behaviour strikes a nerve with me; how can I be disqualified on the basis of racist stereotypes and not my actions?

In Denmark 26-year-old Dana worked in a bakery where she repeatedly experienced Islamophobia from customers: A customer ignored me and walked out. He came back another day and said ‘you provoke me just by standing in front of me, I am a Christian’, so he threw the money at me and walked out. It shocked me. I didn’t dare to confront him; I just went out and cried.”

In respect of German Christian faith-based institutions, the law guarantees them the right to self-determination so that they are allowed to discriminate against other beliefs. In a case of a 36 year old nurse who was fired by a Christian hospital because she started wearing the headscarf after three years of parental leave, the court stated that by wearing the headscarf, the nurse showed that she “visibly stands for another faith”, which could damage “the Church’s credibility”.

Generally in relation to this, Dr. Michael Wrase from Berlin Social Science Centre argues that on the one hand “the state pretends to be neutral, on the other hand it de facto privileges the Christian religion”.

Basically, I’ve become this person who constantly evaluates risks and potential dangers. I feel like I have to look around when I’m on the go. I’m busy making sure that I know what to do, just in case something would happen. It’s exhausting.

In Sweden in 2012, a man attacked a woman on the street in Malmö. He threw a shoe in her face and banged her head against a wall. This left the woman unconscious. When the woman’s daughter intervened, the man beat her too. While beating them he screamed “You’re ruining this country”. The perpetrator was one of the driving forces of the Free Press Society (Tryckfrihetssällskapet), an organisation whose definition of freedom of the press exclusively extends to the ‘right’ to off end Muslims and mock and defame Islam. The man was sentenced with probation and 75 hours of community service. However the court considered that there was not sufficient evidence that he attacked the women as a result of their religious belonging despite racial slurs and abusive epithets and although he was known for his opinions about Muslims. The sentence was appealed against in the Court of Appeal, which stated that the assault was in fact a hate crime with an anti-Muslim bias.

The report is online here

It also produced a factsheet about the UK

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