Socialist Worker

Muslim women are worst affected by discrimination and Tory policies, say MPs

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2516

On a TUC demonstration on 2014

On a TUC demonstration on 2014 (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Muslim women have been forced to abandon wearing the headscarf in order to find work, a parliamentary committee has found.

The Commons Women and Equalities Committee report found that Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in England and Wales. They suffer “direct and indirect discrimination affects recruitment and in-work progression”.

The report suggested that religion was the main reason for the discrimination, and more significant than sex or ethnicity.

The report said, “Eighteen percent of women respondents in work stated that they previously wore the hijab, and in one case the niqab and that when they did so they could not find work.

“Once they stopped wearing the hijab and niqab they all found employment.”

Some 41 percent of Muslims are “economically inactive” in England and Wales, compared to 21.8 percent of the population as a whole. And 65 percent of economically inactive Muslims are women.

Nahella Ashraf is an anti-racist campaigner in Manchester. She told Socialist Worker, "The figures are shocking but I'm not surprised. We all know there's racism.

"We know that if you put in a CV with a Muslim name you're less likely to get an interview."

Women reported a lack of support in finding jobs. One woman in Dundee said, “I went to Job Centre, and there was a man. I tell him, my English not good.

“I ask him how do you see the jobs? He said, ok there are the computers, go there and check.”

The woman found a job she was interested in and was told to call the number. “I called him, I couldn’t understand him,” she said. “He said no sorry, that’s all we can do. After that I stopped. I didn’t go back.”

Assumptions about Muslim women affect the whole recruitment process. They are much more likely to be questioned about their marital status and family life at interview than white women.

Fighting for jobs in East London

Fighting for jobs in East London (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Muslim women who find work suffer “negative stereotyping which affected their career progression”. One woman found employers questioned her a lot on her ability to travel. She felt they had “a misconception that because she is a Muslim woman she would not be allowed to travel away from home”.

Rising Islamophobic attacks and abuse have made things worse. The charity Tell Mama told the report a “sense of fear” has increased over the last five years. Some Muslim women avoid going out in the evenings.

And the “chill factor”–a perception of Islamophobia–is “putting Muslim women off applying for certain jobs”.

The government has spearheaded this Islamophobia, particularly with the Prevent strategy which treats Muslims as potential terrorists.

Nahella said, "Racism is discouraging Muslim women from going out and making the most of their lives."

The report said Prevent was “a significant source of tension”. Some Muslims were “reluctant to engage” with the inquiry as they feared it was linked to Prevent.

It criticised the government’s “conflation of integration with counter-extremism” for increasing “inequalities experienced by Muslims”.

People giving evidence to the report criticised David Cameron for linking Esol funding with extremism.

Funding for adult skills budget Esol fell from £203 million in 2009/10 to £104 million in 2014/15. Cameron announced £20 million for it in January this year – and combined it with rhetoric that demonised Muslim women.

Cameron said, “The isolation of some women in society could lead to a slide towards radicalisation and extremism”.

Government ministers were determined to continue the racist rhetoric.

Minister for Skills Nick Boles told the inquiry, “There is a link between not speaking English and isolation, and some people who are isolated may then be more likely to fall prey to authority figures in their community who want to encourage them to take up extremist ideas.”

The government likes to stigmatise Muslim women either as refusing to integrate or as helpless victims to an authoritarian religion.

But while the report referred to some “cultural” ideas about Muslim women’s place, it said these were by no means homogenous. And the main focus was on racism in society.


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