I am often asked whether I have a female British Muslim role model. My mother is a British Muslim and happens to be my role model. She’s inspired me to be a strong and motivated. I’ve also drawn a lot of strength and good values from her and I’m probably not wrong here when I say that most Muslim girls will talk about their mother this way. But when considering whether or not I have a role model who exists in the public sphere, and in sectors of which I have always had a personal interest in i.e. politics I sadly have to say that I did not have one growing up.
This is not to say that there aren’t amazing, driven British Muslim women making their mark and having successful careers, but they simply have not been given the platform to be able to be seen as role models for young women. Many people do not seem to see this as an issue, for as long as you have a role model in the field you feel passionate about, why does it matter they do not reflect who you are? However, not seeing people that represent you, and all you stand for in the public sphere is highly damaging, especially on young developing minds. It creates the belief that people like yourself don’t belong in these institutions, therefore the barriers are too entrenched to attempt to break through. It leads young people from various ethnic minorities to consider themselves as unworthy, or incapable.
Additionally, it can lead people from ethnic minorities to change who they are, suppressing their cultural roots in order to appear more ‘palatable’, or simply more alike to their white colleagues. A young British Muslim woman may simply begin to refer to herself as a British woman, as she knows most of her role models, or people in the field she is attempting to break into, are also simply British women.
As Dr. Line Nyhagen, from Loughborough University, states that some organisations such as Parliament, the BBC, churches and mosques “have particular barriers to the inclusion of women”. With this gender-based barrier set before them, “women from minorities face triple discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, and religion”. When seeking to gain statistical evidence to show that in fact, Muslim women are not represented in positions of power, it became clear that almost no data of this kind is being collected. It is hard to paint a clear picture of the situation, due to how diversity is usually examined. Ethnic diversity (rather than religion) and gender are the characteristics which tend to be reported. However, in light of the recent rise in Islamophobia, hate crime and that British Muslim women are “70% more unemployed than white women”, does the way in which data is collected need to be revisited?
The reconsideration of diversity data collection is one way of attempting to solve the issue of the absence of British Muslim women in powerful positions. Another way of combating the issue is to provide women who are currently fighting to break these barriers with a platform. Change the Script’s research into exemplary British Muslim women has led us to discover some remarkable and inspirational women. By providing these women with a nationwide platform, not only do they finally have their success acknowledged but they also become examples to young women and girls in demonstrating these barriers can, in fact, be broken, and there are role models in which they can personally see themselves in.
Rihana Osman is a researcher, with a postgraduate degree in Global Ethics and Human Values and a bachelors in Law. Rihana is an advocate for gender equality and social justice.