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Veil disapproval 'makes Myslim women less equal'

03 June 2016


In the shadows: women attend prayers in Rome's main mosque, at the end of January 

In the shadows: women attend prayers in Rome's main mosque, at the end of January 

MUSLIM women in Europe suffer from greater inequality than other women, a report published by European Network Against Racism suggests.

Forgotten Women: The impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women is based on research conducted in eight countries, including the UK. Researchers held literature reviews and interviewed Muslim women, experts, and activists. They focused on Muslim women’s position in the labour market and their experience of 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 said. In the UK, the researchers found, one in eight Pakistani women is asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews, compared with one in 30 White women.

Half of 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 who had degrees have a lower likelihood of getting 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, because it is a visible marker of identity. The report describes how Muslim women have been verbally abused by a mix of racist and sexist insults, spat at, and had their clothes ripped off, generally by unknown men.

One “major difficulty” that prevented Muslim women from being protected from discrimination is the fact 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 Muslim women from reporting problems to the authorities.

The report recommends that the European Commission challenge employers who “structurally disadvantage” Muslims 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 to Muslim community organisations to involve more women in leadership.

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