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For Visibly Muslim Women, Islamophobia Is an Ever-Present Issue in UK

New Age Islam News Bureau

01 December 2021

• Taliban Local Administrators Persuaded to Reopen Girls' Schools in Herat, Afghanistan

• Over 120 European MPs Blast ‘Ongoing Persecution’ Of Saudi Women Rights Defenders

• Saudi Justice Ministry Praises Female Employees

• Jordan Has ‘Crystal-Clear’ Decision to Support Women’s Political Participation — Najjar

• Project to Support Women Cooperatives Starts in Pilot Provinces of Turkey

• Egypt Chairs African Peace And Security Council Session On Women

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



For Visibly Muslim Women, Islamophobia Is an Ever-Present Issue in UK


A silhouette of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab

Getty Images/iStockphoto


November 30, 2021

“It’s one of the worst identities you could be,” says Aysha Yaqub* on being a Muslim woman in the UK. At 27-years-old, Yaqub has been on the receiving end of countless death threats and verbal abuse because of her religion. According to statistics from the Home Office, Muslims were the target of 2,703 religious hate crimes in the year ending March 2021 – 45 per cent of all those recorded.

MEND, a charity that seeks to tackle Islamophobia in the UK, predicts the true extent of hate crime towards Muslims is likely much greater as many, like Yaqub, never end up filing a report with the police. “As one woman once told me, ‘if you want me to report the comments I receive for wearing a niqab, that’s all I would be doing all day’,” says Shockat Patel, a MEND board member.

This November marked Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM); an annual campaign co-founded by MEND which aims to highlight the discrimination Muslims face across different sectors of society. This year, groups have been calling on the government to adopt an official definition of Islamophobia as proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG). In a 2018 report, the APPG wrote: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness and perceived Muslimness.”

While the definition has been accepted by the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and the London Mayor’s office, a government spokesperson told the BBC in 2019 that it needed “careful consideration”. Two years later, there is still no formal definition.

Although there are no known statistics around which demographic is most affected by Islamophobia, MEND’s work shows that those who appear visibly Muslim, such as women who wear the hijab or niqab, are likely to be targeted. In a parliamentary debate on 24 November, Labour politician Afzal Khan said defining Islamophobia is “the first step in rooting it out” and will “establish a mechanism for accountability”.

This sentiment has been backed by MEND, which said the absence of a definition has allowed Islamophobia against visibly Muslim women to “permeate all sections of society”. “Lots of women say they are fearful of going out, just because of the fact they are wearing a headscarf. For those that wear a niqab [the garment that leaves only eyes visible] they find it even more difficult because they know, almost certainly, that they are going to get verbal abuse,” Patel says.

Hamida Agarwal*, who converted to Islam more than 15 years ago, says she had never experienced any form of racism until she began wearing a headscarf, despite being a brown woman. “I conformed, and I fitted in. I drank alcohol, I dressed the way everyone else dressed. But as soon as I put the hijab on everything changed,” she says. “The way people looked at me, the comments that were made, I just couldn’t believe it. It was really difficult to now live this life where everywhere you go, you’re now on the defensive and feel like you have to break a stereotype.”

One common assumption members of the public would make upon seeing Agarwal’s headscarf is that she couldn’t speak English. “I would be in the supermarket and the cashier would talk to my husband instead of me, thinking that I couldn’t respond to them,” she recalls.

Muslim women experience Islamophobic microagressions every day, whether it be at work, at university or even online. Rana Yusuf*, a doctor who works in the NHS, described a workplace where microaggressions happen often. She says these are difficult to prove and hard to report.

Examples include overhearing colleagues describe Muslims as “a little bit backwards and weird” while discussing the news of Malala Yousafzai’s marriage, and being told by a nurse that she could not wish a Muslim colleague “Ramadan Mubarak” – a greeting Muslims use to wish each other a happy Ramadan – because she was not “speaking English”. “It was just one phrase in a totally English conversation,” Yusuf explains.

On a separate occasion, she recalled doing ward rounds with a senior consultant when the conversation turned to her personal life and he asked whether she would marry an English man instead of a Muslim man, as he said it was “important for your communities to integrate”. “It was really awkward because this is supposed to be the person that I should feel comfortable going to if a patient is not well, or if I feel out of my depth, but after having an interaction like that it makes me feel like I want to limit my interaction with him as much as possible,” she says.

When contacted by The Independent, the NHS said that Islamophobia and any form of discrimination is “unacceptable” and “will not be tolerated”. “It is absolutely deplorable for anyone in the NHS to feel unsafe on the grounds of their religious belief or practicing their faith and NHS organisations should take a zero-tolerance approach to all and any form of discrimination and take stringent action when reported,” a spokesperson said.

Khadija Khan*, a former student at the University of Glasgow says a lack of understanding of what Islamophobia is and how it affects Muslims made it difficult for her to take part in discussions around the Middle East, Palestine and religious extremism that were integral to her studies. “Some of the things said in class by other students who were white and non-Muslim should 100 per cent have been challenged as Islamophobic, but it was really exhausting to have that onus on me because my tutor or lecturer was letting them be said,” she says.

Khan says she initially challenged some of these views but stopped over time after a tutor told her that “a successful student should be able to detach themselves from personal and emotional feelings they have towards a subject”. “It’s easy for someone to make Islamophobic comments when it doesn’t affect them, but when it’s your daily lived experience you’re obviously going to be affected,” Khan says.

A University of Glasgow spokesperson tells The Independent that they “encourage” anyone from the university to come forward if they have experienced “unacceptable behaviour” such as racial discrimination. “Our Understanding Racism, Transforming University Cultures report published earlier this year recognises that there can be a reluctance to report such harassment and we know there is more for us to do to further strengthen our processes,” the spokesperson explains. “Through the report’s action plan we are committed to being an anti-racist organisation, to act decisively against racism and racial harassment on campus.”

Patel says one of the reasons why Muslim women are targeted is down to “irresponsible reporting” by the media. On 30 November, the Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) Centre for Media Monitoring released a report which found that 60 per cent of online articles portray Muslims in a negative light. The report, titled British Media’s Coverage of Muslims and Islam (2018-2020), examined 48,000 online articles and 5,500 broadcast segments. The MCB said the use of stock images of visibly Muslim women to illustrate conflict and terrorism is one of the ways Muslims are often misrepresented by the media.

While many Muslim women experience verbal and physical abuse in public, they are also targets of hate online. Yaqub, an employee at the Muslim Association of Britain, often faces racism on Twitter which gets worse if her profile picture shows her hijab. “The minute they see a headscarf on your profile, that’s it, you’re a target. They don’t care where you’re from, for them being a Muslim is worse – it’s the worst identity you could have,” she says.

Yaqub says she can receive abuse for sharing her views on social issues such as universal credit or her opinions on the monarchy. “It’s crazy to me that my experience as a Muslim woman using social media is completely different to someone who doesn’t have those identity markers that make them a target for racial abuse and hate,” she says. When she has the time, she reports the abuse, but the response from Twitter is “hit and miss”. “If it’s very blatant racism, that kind of language is easier for Twitter to pick up. But sometimes the language is subtle,” she says.

While Yusuf did not openly receive hateful remarks about her hijab at work, she often felt nurses treated her less favourably than they did non-Muslim doctors. “As a doctor on-call, my work depended on nurses being receptive to me, but as a visibly Muslim woman coming on to new wards, I very much got a frosty reception.” she says. Her suspicions were confirmed when she stopped wearing a hijab one year later and felt a significant shift in the way she was treated. “The principal reason behind my decision is that I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to come in and do my job and go home, and not have people reacting to me,” she says. “I noticed a massive difference when I stopped wearing the hijab. I was very much the same person, with the same knowledge but I was just getting much better responses from nurses and colleagues.”

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, there are approximately 3.4 million Muslims in the UK, making up around five per cent of the total 67.2 million population. In 2018, a report by Ipsos MORI found that 57 per cent of the UK population feel they do not have a “good understanding” of Islam. This figure increased to 72 per cent among those who do not personally know someone who is Muslim. Researchers said this lack of understanding is likely to give rise to misconceptions, with 62 per cent of respondents stating that they believe Islam negatively impacts the quality of life of Muslims.

One common theme reported by Muslim women is how false perceptions of Islam often make them feel “othered” and “silenced”. Khan eventually stopped participating in seminar discussions in a bid to “blend into the background” but ultimately had a less rewarding university experience because of it. “It was difficult to be enthusiastic about going to university. Every day felt more exhausting than the day before,” she says.

For Yusuf, Islamophobia meant silencing her own beliefs, in order to feel accepted at work. “It’s not fair and I miss my hijab, but it was just getting too hard on a daily basis,” she says. Yaqub says the constant barrage of Islamophobic abuse she receives on Twitter has affected her ability to tweet freely, making her feel like she is being “driven out” of all aspects of public life. “I think 10 times about the language I’m using, about whether I’m going to get abuse for what I’m writing, and whether I should be commenting on common affairs,” she says. “This is what silencing looks like, when someone is driven away and made to feel like they can’t participate in a space – there is no safe space for me to be myself as a Muslim woman.”

Source: Independent UK


Taliban Local Administrators Persuaded to Reopen Girls' Schools in Herat, Afghanistan


An Afghan girl looks out at Tajrobawai Girls High School, in Herat, Afghanistan, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021, (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) PETROS GIANNAKOURIS AP


Dec 1, 2021

KABUL: High school girls are sitting at home almost everywhere in Afghanistan, forbidden to attend class by the Taliban rulers. But there’s one major exception.

For weeks, girls in the western province of Herat have been back in high school classrooms — the fruit of a unique, concerted effort by teachers and parents to persuade local Taliban administrators to allow them to reopen.

Taliban officials never formally approved the reopening after the lobbying campaign, but they also didn’t prevent it either when teachers and parents started classes on their own in early October.

“Parents, students and teachers joined hand in hand to do this,” said Mohammed Saber Meshaal, the head of the Herat teachers’ union who helped organize the campaign. “This is the only place where community activists and teachers took the risk of staying and talking to the Taliban.”

The teachers kept pressing. About 40 female principals, including Basiratkhah, met with senior Taliban education officials in September to address their main concerns.

“We assured them that the classes are segregated, with only women teachers, and the girls wear proper hijab,” Basiratkhah said. “We don’t need to change anything. We are Muslims and we already observe everything Islam requires.”

By October, the teachers felt they had the Taliban’s tacit agreement not to stand in the way. Teachers began spreading the word on Facebook pages and messaging app channels that girls’ high schools would reopen Oct. 3. Parents created a telephone chain to pass along the news, and students told classmates.

Mastoura, who has two daughters attending Tajrobawai in the first and eighth grades, called other parents, urging them to bring their girls to school. Some worried the Taliban would harass the girls or that militants might attack. Mastoura and other women still escort their daughters to school daily.

“We had concerns, and we have them still,” said Mastoura, who like many Afghans uses one name. “But daughters must get an education. Without education, your life is held back.”

Fadieh Ismailzadeh, a 14-year-old in the ninth grade, said she cried with happiness at the news. “We had lost all hope that schools would reopen,” she said.

Not all the students showed up when the doors opened at Tajrobawai. But as parents became more confident, classes filled after a few days, Basiratkhah said. About 3,900 students are in grades 1-12.

On a recent day, girls in a 10th grade chemistry class took notes as a teacher explained the elements that make up water. Lines of younger students marched through the halls to the schoolyard.

Shehabeddin Saqeb, the Taliban education director for Herat province, insists the group has no problem with girls going to school.

“We openly tell everyone that they should come to school,” he told The Associated Press. “The schools are open without any problem. We never issued any official order saying high-school aged girls should not go to school.”

Herat is the only place where girls’ high schools are open across the province, although schools also have reopened in a few individual districts in northern Afghanistan, including the city of Mazar-e Sharif.

Meshaal pointed to changes within the Taliban, saying some factions are more open. “They understand that people will resist on the subject of education.”

He said the Taliban are not corrupt, unlike the ousted, internationally backed government.

“With the previous government, if we proposed something for the good of the schools, they would throw the idea into the trash because they couldn’t profit from it,” he said.

“The Taliban spent all their time in the mountains fighting. They don’t know administration. So when we meet them, we try to give them advice and, after negotiations, they start to come around,” he said.

Still, teachers are struggling. Like other government employees, they have not been paid for months. The education department has not provided funding for other needs like maintenance and supplies, Meshaal said.

And the opening of girls’ high school in Herat remains an exception. Other parts of the country have had less success.

Teachers in the southern city of Kandahar approached local Taliban officials about reopening girls’ high schools but were refused, said Fahima Popal, principal of Hino No. 1 High School for girls. Officials said they could do nothing without orders from the central Education Ministry. In the meantime, Popal said parents have been asking her when their daughters can return to class.

“We hope that one day we’ll have good news for them,” Popal said. But she said she believes it is better to wait for the central government to act rather than repeat the Herat experiment. If provincial authorities allow a reopening, the ministry could reverse their decision, which “would hurt students and teachers,” she said.

A full return of girls is a top demand of the international community and likely must take place before U.N. agencies will agree to pay teachers’ salaries directly.

So far, the Taliban have refused to set a timetable and most schools are starting a winter break until March. In a speech Saturday, Taliban Prime Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund insisted “women are already getting an education,” adding only: “There is hope to broaden it, as God allows.”

Source: Times of India


Over 120 European MPs blast ‘ongoing persecution’ of Saudi women rights defenders

December 1, 2021

More than 120 European Parliament members have denounced the “ongoing persecution” of Saudi women human rights defenders by the Riyadh regime, saying the activists freed from prison still face rights violations and harsh restrictions in the kingdom.

The legislators, in a joint letter signed on the occasion of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, reiterated their call for Saudi authorities “to immediately and unconditionally free all women targeted for their human rights activism.”

While all of the women activists arrested during a sweeping crackdown in 2018 have now been released from prison, the campaigners, including prominent figures Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Loujain al-Hathloul, have been subjected to heavy restrictions and curtailment of basic rights since their release, the letter said.

“These measures constitute further violations of their fundamental rights, including free movement and association and free speech, and ostracize activists at the critical threshold of starting a new life after release from prison,” the legislators said.

Hathloul, known for defying the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and for opposing the Saudi male guardianship system, currently still faces three years of probation and a five-year travel ban.

Some of the women had to sign pledges that they would not disclose details of their detention, while several of their family members are also under travel bans, as a form of collective punishment and general harassment.

The European parliamentarians further denounced Saudi Arabia’s repressive system and the restrictions that women face in daily life there.

“The male guardianship system as well as disobedience laws continue to negatively affect all aspects of women's lives,” the letter read.

For its part, the London-based Saudi rights group ALQST called on Saudi authorities to immediately and unconditionally free all women targeted for their human rights activism, to drop all charges against them, and to provide them appropriate compensation.

The group said the released women rights activists should be fully granted their right to free movement, their travel bans and those on their family members should be overturned, and they should be able to carry out their legitimate human rights work without fear of reprisals.

Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has ramped up arrests of activists, bloggers, intellectuals, and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.

Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedoms of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.

Source: ABNA24


Saudi Justice Ministry praises female employees

December 01, 2021

RIYADH: Female employees at the Justice Ministry have been praised for their positive impact on service and performance, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Women’s entry into the ministry has contributed to their empowerment and to raising the level of their participation in the public sector. Their roles have included legal and social researchers, administrative assistants, program developers and notaries.

The ministry said that empowering women in the justice sector had reflected positively on the service provided to people, enhancing the speed of performance and achievement and raising the ceiling of work completion.

Noura bint Abdullah Al-Ghunaim, director of the Women’s Administration, said the female employees had provided services in all sectors, including 1.7 million in the implementation sector, 551,000 in the judicial sector, 320,000 services in the documentation sector, 240,000 services in the reconciliation system, in addition to 180,000 services in the digital transformation agency and through the unified communication center.

Al-Ghunaim added that the ministry had allocated central departments fully staffed by women, including the Cases Audit Center, the Case Preparation Center, the Judicial Attribution Center for Execution, and the Documentation Operations Audit Center.

The ministry has empowered distinguished women leaders by assigning more than 85 of them with supervisory tasks since the establishment of the women’s departments at the ministry, in addition to the tasks assigned to female employees in courts and notaries.

Source: Arab News


Jordan has ‘crystal-clear’ decision to support women’s political participation — Najjar

Nov 21,2021

AMMAN — Jordan has a “crystal-clear” political decision to support women’s participation in political life, notably their representation in Parliament, Culture Minister Haifa Najjar said on Sunday.

During the launch of a field study implemented by the Arab Women Parliamentarians Network for Equality "Ra'edat", ("Pioneers" in English), Najjar said that this orientation is in line with the output of the Royal Committee to Modernise the Political System, according to the Jordan News Agency, Petra.

The study was conducted between March 2020 and September 2021, surveying 30 women parliamentarians from 13 Arab countries: The UAE, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Yemen.

The results showed that women's representation in Arab parliamentary bodies has not reached 20 per cent, as women participation rate in Arab countries is the lowest at an average of 17.8 per cent in 2021, below the international average of 25.5 per cent in 2021, Petra added.

Source: Jordan Times


Project To Support Women Cooperatives Starts In Pilot Provinces Of Turkey

December 01 2021

A project to support and improve women cooperatives in Turkey, conducted by three ministries and funded by the European Union, has started in 24 out of the country’s entire 81 provinces, daily Milliyet reported.

“The Improvement of Women Cooperatives” project, coordinated by the Family and Social Policies Ministry, Forestry and Agriculture Ministry and the Trade Ministry, aims to help women cooperatives, established for or by especially the victims of domestic violence.

The EU has provided some 3.3 million euros to the project.

“We formed a women’s cooperative in [the southern province of] Mersin with Turkish and migrant women. We are producing food products,” Mehmet Sarıca, the head of Inogar Innovation Cooperative, told the daily on Nov. 29.

Sarıca advised that the municipalities should be encouraged to buy the products of these women’s cooperatives.

The Terra Development Cooperative is an institution that applied for the project. “We focused working on migration, development, fight against poverty, and social policies,” said Çağıl Öngen Köse, the head of the cooperative.

“We also conducted projects for women living in shelters with their children,” she said.

Gülsüm Soyak is the head of a cooperative established to help women with disabled children. “We have an atelier where women learn needlecraft while their disabled children make ceramics under the guidance of special teachers,” she said.

The cooperative aims to enable the mother and the child socialize with the public, while the women earn their money by selling the clothes they produce.

The institution opened a drying center in the Finike district of the southern province of Antalya where women make flour out of spinach and beet. “The women’s cooperatives should be given the chance to sell their products to public institutions,” she added.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News


Egypt chairs African Peace and Security Council session on women

Sami Hegazi

December 01 2021

Egypt’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union, Ahmed Omar Gadو chaired the last session of the African Peace and Security Council in November under the Egyptian presidency.

The meeting addressed the issue of women and their role in peace and security, and the progress made in the agenda of women on the African continent and their role in maintaining peace and security.

The Egyptian Ambassador reviewed national efforts in this regard, especially efforts to promote women’s participation in political and economic life in Egypt.

He also stressed the need to redouble efforts on the continent to support the involvement of women, and the need to pay special attention to this issue in light of the efforts to recover from the pandemic, in order to prevent the doubling of the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on women and the neediest groups.

He also called for strengthening international partnerships with the African Union and its Member States to push forward the role of women on the continent.

Source: Daily News Egypt



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