By Yara al-Wazir
18 August 2016
Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in the UK, according to a report issued by the UK House of Commons. The report highlighted that Muslim women in the UK face the triple penalty: they are a religious minority, an ethnic minority, and they are women. These statistics are bleak, but what is even more upsetting is the lack of active action to boost economic participation of women.
It’s a difficult time to be a Muslim in the West. Muslims face scrutiny when they fly, when they study, and even when they work. For Muslim women who choose to observe their faith and wear a headscarf, their identity is instantly given away, making it even harder for them to find jobs.
This is why British women are 71 percent more likely to be unemployed due to workplace discrimination. Nothing screams “misunderstood minority” quite like a headscarf. The solution offered by a top EU court advisor is oversimplified, and frankly, sounds like something Donald Trump would say.
The EU commission has received advice to completely ban the headscarf at the workplace, a solution that would only further marginalize the female Muslim community.
Increasing the provision of part-time jobs, or jobs that encourage flexibility would allow Muslim women to participate both in the workplace and at home, fulfilling both economic and cultural expectations
A two-way approach, I reckon, is needed to mobilize the economic participation of Muslim women. The first is the introduction of government policies and changes to tackle discrimination, marginalization, and challenges to stereotypes that employers and recruiters may have about the community. The report suggests introducing a “name-blind” recruitment.
This would prevent employers from seeing the names of job applicants, and therefore from allowing them to disregard applications in the early stages of recruitment. However, this approach ignores the later stages of recruitment: face-to-face interviews.
“Name-blind” recruitment does not solve the issue, rather muffles it to a later stage in the recruitment process. Name-blind recruitment can only be effective if it is tracked, and if employers who disregard a large portion of Muslim applicants after the fact-to-face interview stage are reprimanded for their actions.
It is interesting that 27 percent of Muslim women identify themselves as “looking after the home or family”, compared to the UK-average of 7 percent. This is a figure that the House of Commons report is neglecting. The socio-cultural expectations of a minority within the British-Muslim population mean that holding a full-time job may be difficult. Increasing the availability of part-time jobs is a method to tackle this particular issue.
In a full-time job, a person is contractually obliged to commit to a 40-hour workweek. However, the expectations by employers are usually higher than this 40-hour average, be it because of a high workload, or networking events that take place after the working day, such as dinners or drinks.
Increasing the provision of part-time jobs, or jobs that encourage flexibility would allow Muslim women to participate both in the workplace and at home, fulfilling both economic and cultural expectations.
The wheels are moving, albeit slowly. A government spokesman has said that 45 percent more Muslim women work today than in 2011, but there is “much more to do”. The possible impacts of the recent increase in Islamophobia must not be ignored if the government and the people want to continue to see this trend evolve.
Islamophobic hate crimes have risen by 96 percent between November 2014 and October 2015.The impact of an increasingly Islamophobic rhetoric in the media and in society must not be ignored as it increases the misconceptions about Muslim culture, which the report has many examples of.
Besides reaching out for support from the government and from employers, the Muslim community must also challenge itself to break away from the barriers set within its own society. These barriers include inflexibilities with regard to working locations, working hours, and in extreme cases, the very concept of working.
Economic participation of Muslim women is a win-win situation for all those involved; it increases spending within the community, generates income for the household, and gives working women a strong concept of what the real life and outside world is like. All this encourages them to raise more successful children.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories.