IWD: The rise of Muslim women in politics and media
Categories: Latest News
Tuesday March 05 2019
Muslim women are steadily redefining their place in British society, challenging the ‘triple penalty’ of race, religion and gender which disadvantages them in employment, and in the high levels of reported hate crime. By taking roles that challenge negative stereotypes of the ‘oppressed’ Muslim Woman, they are demonstrating agency and setting the precedent for upcoming generations.
In this article, we examine two professional areas where Muslim women have traditionally been underrepresented, politics and the media
The 2017 general election saw the most diverse representation in parliament to date with 14 Muslim MP’s taking a seat – 8 of them being women. From the North/Midlands region, Naz Shah, Yasmin Qureshi and Shabana Mahmood took their seats to represent Bradford West, Bolton South East and Birmingham, Ladywood respectively.
As Vice Chair of the APPG on British Muslims, Naz Shah MP has used her platform to highlight the terrific work British Muslims are doing for charity and in their local communities, challenging the negative stereotype perpetrated by sensationalist headlines that Muslims are “terrorists” or the antithesis to so-called British Values. Ms Shah states “What we hear even less about is the ‘Merry Muslim Christmas’. The soup kitchens, the food banks, the Christmas dinners, the New Year clean up work Muslim charities will be busy doing during the Christmas period. In this season of peace and goodwill to all, the APPG on British Muslims wanted to refocus attention on aspects of our British Muslim communities which are not considered ‘newsworthy’, which are not given due credit, and which all too easily slip into the background because too little of it is captured and disseminated by British Muslim charities themselves”
Shabana Mahmood is the first female Muslim MP elected into the House of Commons in 2010. Ms Mahmood’s social and political activism began as a youth when she campaigned to increase the number of applicants from BME and disadvantaged backgrounds to read at Oxbridge. As an MP she was a steadfast opponent of the Iraq War and supported a reversal of the niqab ban at Birmingham Metropolitan College.
In London, female Muslim MPs include Rupa Huq, Rosena Allin-Khan, Tulip Siddiq and Rushanara Ali. Named as one of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain, Rushanara Ali is the first MP of Bengali heritage to gain a seat in Westminster. She has previously been Shadow Minister for International Development and is the Associate Director of the Young Foundation, a think tank which seeks to tackle structural inequality.
It’s not just the political world that is seeing an increase in Muslim women – the journalist industry which is 94% White and 55% male is beginning to include more Muslim women. A most notable example is Fatima Manji who is the first (and only) news correspondent in Britain to wear the hijab on screen. Fatima Manji previously worked at the BBC, before joining Channel 4 where she regularly reports on a range of issues. Despite receiving complaints and criticism from Ofsted and other media editors for her coverage of the Nice attacks (claiming her visible ‘Muslimness’ made her an inappropriate, tone-deaf reporter), Fatima Manji has continued to succeed in covering major international stories such as the ‘migrant crisis’, victims of ISIS and political discourse during the Brexit debate- defying her critics with the statement “I am Britain – get used to me.”
Mishal Husain of Pakistani descent became the first Muslim presenter for Radio 4’s Today programme. She has presented stories on the Taliban’s atrocities in Pakistan to the armed insurgencies in the Arab Spring to the London Olympics in 2012. Mishal Husain has previously held interviews with many notable politicians such as Aung San Suu Kyi, where she famously scrutinised the leader for her complicity in the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslims and Islamophobic rhetoric. She is an ambassador for the charity Mosaic, and recently released a book titled ‘The Skills: From First Job to Dream Job – What Every Woman Needs to Know’ which seeks to empower women from all backgrounds to cultivate their abilities and pursue their desired career.
Samira Ahmed is an award-winning journalist with a career spanning two decades as a print and broadcast journalist. She has received critical acclaim for her documentaries such as ‘Islam Unveiled’, where she speaks to Muslim women, scholars and academics across the world who use an Islamic framework based on the Qur’an to empower women and challenge cultural practices so often miscommunicated as ‘Islamic.’ Samira Ahmed has also written analysis articles for the Guardian, The New Humanist and The New Statesman and is a trustee for the Centre for Women’s Justice.
Although this article highlights the progressive steps Muslim women are taking to establish their essential role within British society, much more needs to be done to encourage Muslims (and women in particular) to reclaim the narrative of what it means to be a Muslim woman today. It is imperative that traditionally ‘elitist’ sectors introduce more initiatives and workplace schemes to diversify the representation to incorporate women, BME and working-class groups.