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International Women’s Day reminds us of triple penalty against Muslim women

International Women’s Day reminds us of triple penalty against Muslim women

Categories: Latest News

Thursday March 08 2018

International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, as well as raising awareness of the continued battle to ensure gender parity.

The seeds of IWD were planted in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

Two years later, Clara Zetkin suggested making the day an international celebration at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. One hundred women from 17 countries unanimously agreed and the first IWD was officially celebrated in 1911.

Whilst IWD is an important opportunity to celebrate the many achievements of women all over the world, it is an equally important occasion to remember that women are still frequently confronted by institutional barriers limiting their participation in society.

Regarding discrimination in the workplace for example, the UK’s gender pay gap in 2016 was 18.1%.

Disparity between the genders is also observed when considering job tenure.

The same report found that on average men enjoy an increase of around 20% pay if they have worked at the same organisation for more than 20 years. For women this is far lower at an increase of only 17%.

Meanwhile, while all women suffer from structural discrimination, the challenges facing certain groups of women are frequently exacerbated by issues of class, race, ethnicity and religion. Within these groups, Muslim women are of particular concern.

As pointed out by the House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee, in 2016, “discrimination and Islamophobia, stereotyping, pressure from traditional families, a lack of tailored advice around higher education choices, and insufficient role models across education and employment” have contributed in creating significant barriers that prevent Muslim women from being an integral part of British society.

The report concluded that Muslim women face a on the grounds of their gender, their ethnicity, and their religion.

This gendered, ethno-racial and religious discrimination is illustrated by the fact that 65% of economically inactive Muslims are women, and that Muslim women are 71% more likely than white Christian women to be unemployed, even when they have the same educational level and language skills.

The same report also estimated that one quarter of employers admit to being reluctant to hire Muslim women due to concerns that they will put family commitments and caring duties above their professional duties.

This is emphasised by statistics demonstrating that British Pakistani women are far more likely to be illegally asked whether they have plans to get married or have children in job interviews than White women (1 in 8 and 1 in 30 respectively).

A graph from the Muslim Council of Britain showing that 28% of Muslim women (aged 16+ years old) are in employment, a significantly lower percentage than the approximately 51% of the overall female population.

The current climate of anti-Muslim hate contributes to creating further barriers to employment of Muslim women.

Dr Anthony Heath and Dr Asma Mustafa, from Muslim Women’s Network UK, told the Select Committee that Islamophobia was causing a “’chill factor’, whereby the perception and fear of discrimination or even hostility of colleagues was putting Muslim women off applying for certain jobs”.

More recently, the Government’s “Race Disparity Audit” showed that with just 35% in employment and 59% economically inactive, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women of working age were the least likely to be employed and the most likely to be economically inactive.

Therefore, women’s social and economic inequalities remain an urgent and critical issue requiring concerted effort and immediate redress.

While undoubtedly much has been done in the century since Clara Zetkin’s suggestion at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts; they are still not represented in equal numbers in business or politics; and they still suffer inadequate access to education and healthcare on a global scale.

Considering the compounded discrimination that BAME and Muslim women face on account of their race, religion and gender, it is imperative that special attention is paid to these particular groups.

In particular, focus must be given to ways to engage these women within politics and media, and facilitating easier access to education and employment, whilst addressing the root causes of discrimination themselves.

It was precisely with this aim that MEND hosted its fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in September 2017. In providing a platform for speakers such as the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, Kate Green, MP, Naz Shah, MP, MEND sought to highlight avenues for empowering Muslim women and finding solutions to social issues such as education, employment, healthcare and political engagement.

MEND is proud to support International Women’s Day!



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