Research completed at the University of Bristol shows that Muslim women are 71% more likely than white Christian women to be unemployed. This study was made by comparing women with similar language abilities, education, marital status, number of children and strength of religious belief. It is a very sad fact that Muslim women are problematic to most Brits, whether they say it out loud or not. David Cameron made his views loud and clear when he announced that Muslim women should be taught English to tackle “backward” attitudes. Our very existence is a rejection of the mainstream discourse which perpetuates a view that in order to be liberated you must wholly subscribe to western values. So, Muslim women must work twice as hard as their white, female counterparts to be taken seriously in the workplace and not be written off as the ‘other.’
“Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in British society, according to a report by MPs. They are three times more likely to be unemployed and looking for a job than women generally and more than twice as likely to be economically inactive” Says The Women and Equalities Committee, BBC News 2016
The Muslim women I have grown up with are strong, powerful and influential. They are patient, aspirational and brilliant and have shaped who I am today. This might come as a surprise, as it is very rare to come across Muslim female role-models in the media. I was first introduced to a leading Muslim woman in a dusty history book passed down to me. In this book, I read about Khadija, a prominent and hugely successful merchant of her day. She was influential in pre-Islamic Arabia which was overwhelmingly patriarchal and made a name based on her own merit; a true example of a powerful Muslim woman and what the roles they are truly meant to take. The view that all Muslim women are passive, withering wallflowers is a western social construct. It is a dangerous label to give which derives from a lack of cultural understanding and often Islamophobic views. Dealing with this label is draining and impedes our growth and ability to flourish in the workplace.
Perhaps it is about time we stop underestimating Muslim women and take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror… and ask “when is the last time you made a judgment on a woman who just so happens to be Muslim?”
Maymouna Osman works in the Education sector and blogs in her spare time
Scanning an office floor of a popular furniture company in London it was clear that first, it’s dominated by men and second, most of the females there were not of an ethnic let alone Muslim background. I am both those things, a Muslim woman of British Asian nationality, attempting to break into the design industry. It leaves me wondering about why there is such a lack of familiarity.
The office floor in question was for a job interview I had, which I didn’t get. I’m stuck in this position of how to get my foot in the door of the industry that so much of my enthusiasm lies. Looking into why this is the case has led me to identify that it isn’t always about the experience I have, but the whole package I have to offer as a person. In every environment I have worked in within this industry, I have always been the only one of “my kind.” In my previous job, a well known British paint company, I was lucky to have had colleagues who were actively interested in understanding multiple cultures. This was likely down to a large international customer base, but it gave me the opportunity to educate my colleagues about my background.
Having that platform,where even though their inquisitiveness had the potential to make me feel uncomfortable, taught me that it is ok providing I am not being singled out. The main challenge I have found working in the design industry is having to question myself as a person because of my identity: will I be taken seriously? Will clients know I actually work here? What do I do to fit in and progress? Questioning who I am and where I stand has in fact cemented my beliefs and taught me that getting where I want does not mean conforming, instead using it to my advantage to empower my individuality. Ultimately, it is about accepting who I am, allowing that very difference to ground me and using it as the tool to further myself in my career. It sets me apart from my colleagues in a positive way by driving me to prove my capabilities and strengths.
Just as the late Zaha Hadid paved the way, a shining torch as it were for women and Muslim women alike, I will strive to work towards one being able to walk into an office, scan and find familiarity by advocating that there needs to be equality for not only gender but also religion. When questioned in an interview with Interview magazine on the role of women in Islam, Hadid states “many women don’t have the encouragement and support they need to [advance in their careers].” That support manifests itself on multiple levels: from family, friends or the workplaces themselves. In my opinion, without the support from this industry itself, there will be a continuance of little to no women let alone Muslim women making it through the gaps.
Amira Hasan is the Resident Writer for Change the Script. She has a passion for writing, style and design. In her spare time, she writes short pieces and blogs on lifestyle.