Social and Economic Integration of British Muslim Women
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Social and Economic Integration of British Muslim Women
18 July @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
It is important to discuss what drives social and economic exclusion among British Muslim women. Levels of female unemployment continue to be stubbornly high within the UK’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities – the country’s two largest Muslim-majority ethnic minority groups. In addition to this, birthrates remain relatively high within such communities – comfortably above the national average. These long-standing trends raise important questions over the social integration and socio-economic empowerment of Muslim women in the British context. To what extent are ultra-conservative gender roles acting as a roadblock to social inclusion and economic empowerment? Is patriarchal hierarchy a genuine problem within British Muslim communities? Are our political leaders doing enough to facilitate the integration of British Muslim women into the social and economic spheres of life?
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to invite you to this highly important event on the social and economic integration of women in British Muslim communities, discussing the factors which contribute towards forms of social exclusion and economic inactivity.
Nimco Ali was born in Somalia and grew up in the UK, where she studied at Bristol University and went on to work as a civil servant and an independent training consultant. She is the Co-founder of The Five Foundation, a non-profit organisation set up in 2019 to support and protect young women from communities that practise female genital mutilation (FGM). FGM is a set of procedures that involve partial or total removal of external female genitalia, including the clitoris and labia, and sometimes also infibulation – narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal by sewing up the labia. It is carried out before puberty, and often on girls very much younger.
Emma Fox is a Research Fellow in the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism. Emma’s work specialises on UK extremist networks and their exploitation of institutions within civil society. She was previously the Director of Student Rights – analysing the vulnerability of students to extremism within Higher Education. As Student Rights Director, Emma published the ‘Extreme Speakers and Events: 2017/18’ and ‘Profiting from Prejudice: How Mend’s ‘IAM’ Campaign Legitimised Extremism’ reports. Her work has been published across the national media; including in The Daily Telegraph and The Times. Emma holds a first-class degree in Classical Civilisation from the University of Leeds.
Iram Ramzan is a journalist from Greater Manchester currently working for The Sunday Times, with experience in writing about issues relating to South Asian and Muslim communities. She is also the founder and editor of the website Sedaa, a platform that gives a voice to those of Muslim heritage – both religious and none. Iram decided to set up Sedaa after seeing a lack of progressive voices in the media, particularly those of Muslim background. She pitched the website idea to the Women in Journalism committee, for which she was shortlisted in the Georgina Henry Prize 2015, and a subsequent runner up in the 2015 Press Awards. The judges said, “Never has there been a greater need for such a forum” and were taken with her “New, fresh voice from the North West of England”.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine entered the House of Lords in 2004. She is Chairman of the EU Sub-Committee on Financial Affairs, a Member of the Joint-Committee on National Security Strategy and Visiting Professor at King’s College London. She chaired the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs (2000–15), and has served on the Constitution Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and several EU committees. She served on the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Tackling Muslim Extremism established after the London bombings in July 2005. Her academic background is in International Relations.
On the 18th of July the Henry Jackson Society hosted the event, “Social and Economic Integration of British Muslim Women”, which was chaired by Baroness Falkner of Margravine. Nimco Ali, co-founder of The Five Foundation and founder of the Daughters of Eve, and Iram Ramzan, journalist and founder of the Muslim forum website Sedaa, were both hosted for a discussion on the prevalence of economic and social exclusion amongst British Muslim women. Further, the issues of patriarchal-imposed gender roles and integration prevention were also explored. They were all joined by Emma Fox, who is a Research Fellow in the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society.
Baroness Falkner introduced first Emma Fox, who began the discussion with remarks on the effects of Islamic extremism within Muslim minority groups in the UK. She extrapolated upon these remarks with examples of how the propagation of ultra-conservative values within these minority communities fuels the development of ‘minorities within minorities’, i.e. groups within an obvious minority that feel separated from both the main minority group as well as wider society. Fox went on to explain the societal disagreements in regard to the debate about whether cultural relativism, in the pursuit of preserving multiculturalism, has allowed toxic members of Muslim minorities to continually indoctrinate other community members against allowing women to seek societal integration in the forms of education and labour.
Fox then cited the 2016 Casey Report, a government-sponsored study that found that over 44% of British Muslim women were ‘economically inactive’, whether due to community pressures or other factors such as a lack of education. Further, 65% of Pakistani and a staggering 87% of Somali Muslim women were not present in the UK’s economic sphere. Fox concluded her remarks positively with the fact that the younger generation of British Muslim women are much more persistent in pursuing jobs and education, and that they have positive views on integrating ‘outside the faith’.
Baroness Falkner then introduced Iram Ramzan, who started her contribution with a personal anecdote about her family. She explained that she was raised by a single mother, who whilst raising her pursued higher education towards becoming a nurse. These efforts were met with trepidation and hostility by their wider Muslim community. These experiences made Ramzan realise that it was important to challenge traditional narratives that are not conducive for the personal development of Muslim women. She went on to explain that the notion held amongst British Muslims of ‘women in the home, men at work’, was not a practice observed historically either in developed or developing countries. Ramzan then went on to explain that integration efforts by British Muslim women are being held back by these artificial cultural dynamics. Muslim women that want to work amongst society are often unable due to the concern of ‘distance from family for work purposes’, and many Muslim women are still expected to uphold traditional viewpoints by ‘getting married and having children straight after that’. Ramzan concluded that strives for integration by British Muslim women should be supported by the British government. She called for work placement programmes in fields where a British Muslim woman’s voice could make a real difference, such as in journalism, and advocated for government cooperation with imams in mosques in order to spur positive change.
Baroness Falkner then finally introduced Nimco Ali, who stated that the focus in regard to British Muslim women should extend to British Muslim women of all colours, not just South Asian. Ali, a Somali and survivor of FGM, contended that the relationship Muslims in Britain had with Islam was radically altered after 9/11. Suddenly, many Muslims found their own ethnic identities insufficient to hold against the radically-changed public opinion, and so many turned to Islam as an identity supplement. This integration of Islam into the everyday identity of many British Muslims in response to community apprehension, Ali argues, has led to cultural and social gatekeeping which is a large impediment towards British Muslim women wishing to integrate into wider British society. She defines the ‘gatekeepers’ as young, educated, and native English speakers that have had Islam developed as a core part of their identity from early childhood or birth. In other words, without Islam they have no identity. Therefore, the propagation of toxic cultural values, which many toxic Muslim community members link to Islam, seems natural to them. Ali went on to state that the UK has allowed these people to live outside the national sphere due to the fear of being offensive, which has led to the failed integration efforts and heightened community tensions that are now being observed across the UK. She concluded that it is not the fear of Islam which has caused social upheaval, but instead fear of perverted values that are contrary to those of the wider nation.
The event then closed with a round of questions and answers.
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