Show Hide image

Muslim women face triple discrimination at work - and taking off a hijab won't help

Muslim women face discrimination not only in the workplace, but in education and within their own communities. 

The findings of the Women and Equalities committee confirms what we at the Muslim Women's Network UK  have known for a long time: that Muslim women face triple discrimination when trying to enter into the workplace. They face a penalty for being a woman, for being from an ethnic minority background, and a third penalty for being Muslim.

Internalised stereotypes come into play when a Muslim woman comes in front of an interviewing panel, more so if she is wearing a headscarf. She may be single but her career aspirations once she is married and starts a family may be questioned. She may have obtained a degree after living three years of living away from home but her availability in being able to travel across the country and stay overnight for meetings in different cities will be questioned. She may challenged on how social she is. Just exactly how well did she get on with her colleagues in her last job? Did she meet up with them outside of work? 

It may be subconscious, and the interviewer may not realise themselves what they are saying, but these questions are borne from misconceptions about Muslim women. They draw on the idea of Muslim women being weak, submissive and unable to make decisions themselves. At the same time there are fears that Muslim women may not fit into the employer's work environment and may be problematic. What if she doesn’t turn up because her family need her to stay at home? What if she tries to get the Christmas party cancelled? 

It's not all happy news for those Muslim women who manage to obtain employment either. Many report having to work twice as long and as hard as other colleagues to prove their capabilities, being unjustifiably passed over for promotion and not being provided with the training and support that could help their development as professionals.  

One response has been to suggest Muslim women take off the hijab to avoid discrimination. Aside from ignoring the fact that there are many non-hijab wearing Muslim women in the UK who also face discrimination and Islamophobia (your name sounding too Muslim being one trigger), we ask the question: If the hijab does not impact on their abilities to carry out their work and is not a health and safety issue, why should Muslim women stop exercising their (legal) choice to wear a headscarf to please the prejudiced? 

We are fully aware that the workplace is not the only place that Muslim women face discrimination. They may face issues in schools, universities, in their local mosque and by their own communities. We are aware of cases of young Muslim girls being discouraged from studying further and being pushed towards marriage instead. We were at the Women and  Equalities committee hearing in April to contribute evidence towards the report. We were saddened to hear the example of a female Muslim student who had turned down a mentorship because she was fearful of what community members may say if she was seen with a man. She may be a minority example but it highlights a serious problem - no one should compromise with their career and life aspirations because of such patriarchal and un-Islamic attitudes. Such cultural issues must be challenged.

What we do ask for is for all these issues of discrimination to be tackled together, and we ask for everyone to play their part. That includes employers. We need investment into promoting awareness and understanding of equality and diversity in the workplace. We need all employees (Muslim or otherwise) to be given the training and encouragement needed to progress further, and we need to reward them when they do. We also need further research into the issues of discrimination and Islamophobia so that we have sufficient information to tackle the issue, and we need a collaborative approach between key organisations such as schools, universities and employers.

Young Muslim girls should be provided with mentoring opportunities from an early age. Not only will this assist them in their career aspirations, but it will also allow them to develop the critical thinking skills needed to challenge any patriarchal attitudes still lurking around them.

Nazmin Akthar-Sheikh is vice-chair of Muslim Women's Network UK. 

Show Hide image

On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:

“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

0800 7318496