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Muslim women are being disadvantaged by society and 'don't feel safe' outside Newham

PUBLISHED: 18:00 17 August 2016

Green Street in Upton Park has a high Muslim population

Green Street in Upton Park has a high Muslim population

Archant

Muslim women from Newham are being discriminately disadvantaged in society - and even feel unsafe travelling outside of the borough - according to a spokeswoman from a grassroots organisation.

Nalini Khan, founder of Newham Muslim Women's AssociationNalini Khan, founder of Newham Muslim Women's Association

Nalini Naidoo, who runs Newham Women’s Muslim Association, spoke out after a parliamentary committee report found Muslim women to be the most economically disadvantaged group in society.

Discrimination and Islamophobia were highlighted as two of the reasons why Muslim women are three times less likely to be employed than women generally in last Thursday’s report by The Women and Equalities Committee.

Mum-of-three Nalini said: “I feel like I am living in a bubble.

“Even if you go a few miles out in Essex you see people are looking at you in a funny way.

More data needed to make progress

Key among the report’s recommendations was a concern “about the lack of available data on Muslim students entry to university, and their attainment there and subsequent employment.”

Irfaan Arif, Equality and Diversity Manager at University of East London (UEL) acknowledged that the university did not currently record religion or sexual orientation data about its students but that this may change in the future in order to help monitor students’ transition in to the workplace.

In the meantime, he said the university was doing its best to provide Muslim women, and other BME students, with a confidence-boosting time at the university.

He said: “It is about giving them an inclusive experience and being the best that we can be.

“It is about making them feel they belong here – making them feel they can do it. Then it is about training our staff.”

He added that many companies and employers are “making unconscious biases” when it comes to recruiting students from BME backgrounds, including Muslim women.

He said: “It is up to the organisations themselves to make sure that they are more inclusive.”

The university is currently setting up a new system “to provide emotional for students” who may feel at risk of prejudice or bias during their university experience.

“People don’t feel safe to go to the seaside and that is a scary thought.

“People don’t feel safe to move around in their country which is alarming to me.”

The Manor Park resident told the Recorder of several incidents where Muslim women she knew of had received setbacks in their career as a result of their religion, even when malice was unintended, including her own.

This occured when the 32-year-old attended a professional skills test in order to be able to take a teacher training course.

She was asked to remove her hijab to prove she was not hiding answers underneath, but said she was given no prior warning about it.

“I said if a female can do it that is fine but they said they did not have one available,” she said.

The education worker was unable to do the test, causing her “personal distress and embarrassment” as her future studies lay in the balance.

Nalini said: “It was very stressful, I started crying. I thought most of that stress was just because I am a Muslim woman.”

Many Muslim women in Britain face a “triple penalty” being women, being black or minority ethnic (BME) and being Muslim, according to the report’s authors.

Ministers are now under pressure to tackle some of the issues and barriers facing Muslim women, which also included recruitment discrimination, pressure from traditional families, poverty and language barriers, and insufficient information surrounding education choices.

Nalini cited other applicants who believed they have been discriminated on job applications because of their names but acknowledged this “is hard to prove”.

“People do not always have the energy [to question it] because life is stressful,” she explained.

A lack of English skills and support can hold back some Muslim women

Family pressures and traditional expectations of women’s roles were cited as having an impact on the aspirations of Muslim women in the report.

There was a “conventional cultural acknowledgement” among Muslims that “women are homemakers and men are breadwinners”.

Despite generational differences showing this viewpoint was more likely to be prominent amongst Muslims aged 55 or older, evidence was found that the problem “remained an issue” in general.

However, Nalini said she believed non-monetary contributions by Muslim women had been undermined.

“I feel that in the report and message in general, the whole idea of a woman as a carer is overlooked,” she said.

“They raise their children to become productive members of society and that is something that is overlooked.”

The Newham Muslim Women’s Association (NMWA), which Nalini founded four years ago, plays an active role in the borough, she said.

In addition to being a social space for members, the group provides parenting classes, support with letter writing and information on subjects such as domestic violence through group workshops.

Nalini said: “At NMWA, we believe if we combine our efforts, resources and knowledge we will be able to support each other and strengthen the community we live in, resulting in better futures for us and our children.”

At present the group has pledged £5,000 towards the education of 26 orphans and the building of a school in Zanzibar.

When it came to achievements within the workplace, Nalini believed that the experience of Muslim women differed.

“A lot of Muslim women who come to Britain are well-qualified but because of their lack of English skills and lack of work opportunities they cannot use their qualifications,” she said.

Even where English language classes existed, there were few available with facilities for women with children, she added.

While she welcomed the report’s findings, the spokeswoman stressed some recommendations would misfire, such as asking mosques to do more.

“When they start talking about the mosques – most of the women I know do not go to the mosque,” said Nalini.

“They need to start working with the grassroots organisations and schools like us.”

A government spokeswoman said it is “committed to making Britain a country that works for everyone”.

She said: “We want all people, regardless of their faith or gender, to have access to the same opportunities so that they can reach their full potential.

“We are making progress – for example, there are now 45 per cent more Muslim women in work than in 2011 – but we know there is much more to do.

“We will look carefully at the recommendations and respond in due course.”

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