Women’s Rights

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by Sara Khan, first published in "The Telegraph" on Wednesday 24th August 2016

Police patrolling the promenade des anglais beach in Nice fine a woman for wearing a burkini CREDIT: VANTAGENEWS.COM

Who would have thought a woman, lying on a beach and minding her own business, could present such a threat to the French state?

Bu today, pictures have emerged of four armed police officers – armed with pepper spray; batons in hand – confronting a woman doing just that and ordering her to remove some of her clothing. Namely, her burkini.

Violating both her dignity, and freedom in deciding what adorns on her body, the woman is seen dutifully and humiliatingly removing the blue tunic in front of countless other sunbathers – some of whom reportedly shouted ‘go home’ and applauded, as her daughter wept – in the name of “women’s rights” and “protection of the public.” The ban on the garment was announced by the Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, earlier this month in the wake of the Nice lorry attack, which killed 85 people on July 14. A number of women have already been fined and arrested for breaching it.

As France finds itself in the grip of emergency law brought about by the numerous Islamist-inspired terror attacks that have plagued the country in recent times, you would think the authorities would have more pressing concerns on their mind than the burkini, which as many have pointed out is really not dissimilar to a wetsuit.

France’s intelligence and police agencies have found themselves severely criticised having missed vital clues that could have thwarted terrorist acts. From the Charlie Hebdo incident to the Paris attacks in November 2015, the authorities knew some of the attackers – but had failed to intervene effectively.

The threat to France and its population by extremists requires a sophisticated, multi-pronged counter-terrorism approach, which must include building trust and co-operation with the country’s Muslim communities – especially if they are to deal with homegrown jihadists.

Yet it appears France believes the way to “protect the population” as Nice’s local Mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni argued is by banning a swimsuit. Going further, highlighting the join-the-disjointed-dots approach France has in countering terror, a Nice tribunal ruled on Monday that the ban was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder.

Rather than making war against the jihadists as France keeps telling us, they appear to have made war against Muslim women’s bodies and agency. This, after all, is a country that already has a ban on women wearing full-face veils in public. And, ironically, just like the jihadists who seek to control, deny and prevent women from making their own choices, France too has now made women’s bodies a key battleground instead of standing up for the values of ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite’ it claims to hold.

France has fallen right into the Islamists’ trap: abandon your values that we despise.

Sadly the French authorities fail to see this; and how these pictures will be used as propaganda by terrorists. Banning the burkini doesn’t really achieve much apart from protecting a few illiberal people’s sensibilities; what it does do however is undermine France’s counter-terror efforts at a time when it matters most.

I would be very interested to know the statistics of how many burkini-clad women the French police have arrested for plotting a terror attack while lying on a beach, gazing at the clouds as their children splash about in the sea.  I doubt such information will be forthcoming.

But we know this is not about the burkini. It’s not even about women’s rights. It’s about the religious identity of those women who wear them. It’s about the very presence of Muslim women and Islam in France, and the unease some have towards that religion.

France, while a secular country, appears to struggle with Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights: the freedom to hold and manifest religious belief. The manifestation of religious belief can be curtailed under strict conditions – where the freedoms of others could be compromised or in the interests of public order.

Promoting hatred, violence and discrimination in the name of religion, as many Islamist preachers do, would be legitimate grounds for curbing the so-called religious rights of such individuals. Banning a swimsuit, is not a reasonable or proportionate response.

I hope France’s feminists stand on the side of these Muslim women, and not with the authorities or Islamists – both ironically two sides of the same coin in seeking to enforce their clothing choices on women. And I hope French government officials recognise how they are undermining not only their own values but also their counter-terror efforts at this critical time.

Sara Khan is the author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism (now available with Saqi Books), co-authored with Tony McMahon. She is also the co-director and founder of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation.

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Image Source: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2015/april/muslim-women-and-employment.html

The Women and Equalities Committee’s report entitled “Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK”, released on Thursday 11th August 2016, makes a great number of recommendations to the Government on improving the accessibility to employment for British Muslims. According to the report, unemployment rates for Muslims are more than twice of that of the general population at 12.8%. A further breakdown shows 41% of Muslims are economically inactive, 65% of which are women.

Addressing and removing barriers to employment for Muslims, and Muslim women should be an absolute priority for the Government. The recommendations made in the report about the need for better, comprehensive data, will go a long way in helping us understand better where the issues are within our systems and institutions. Once we have these, other suggestions, such as “equipping Job Centre staff with the tools and training to improve their understanding of employment issues”, and asking universities to publish “strategies to improve the under-representation of Muslim students” can be enacted effectively, based on evidence. The move towards “name blind recruitment” is also a welcome step towards ensuring equality and reducing discrimination at application stage.

Whilst addressing unemployment in Muslim communities must be a priority for Government, it must be a priority for Muslim communities too. And this is where I fear, we fall down. No matter how excellent the recommendations and proposals set out by the report are or how effectively they are implemented, they will only lead to minimal improvement for the biggest proportion of Muslims that are economically inactive: Muslim women. The report does well to highlight the additional barriers faced by Muslim women, borne out of cultural, parental and religious expectations and limitations, especially regarding matters such as going to university, childcare and traditional family roles.

For example, following on from the point made about the under representation of Muslims at Russell Group universities, the report rightly points out that for Muslim girls, parents will push for the nearest university rather than the best one- due to expectations that girls must stay at home, driven by religious beliefs or cultural norms that discourage Muslim girls and women from living alone or exercising their agency.  Another example is the statistic that 44% of economically inactive Muslim women are inactive because they are looking after the home, compared to the 16% of the national average. The report notes that there may be lack of awareness of free childcare available to individuals, however there is also still the reality of the stigma about “leaving your kids and going to work” when it is oft-repeated that a woman’s primary (and often her sole role) is motherhood.

Initiatives cited by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) such as their work with Reed employment agency to “access Muslim women” are welcome, as are requests by the group to the Government to “provide Muslim women with more focussed support”. However, what we also need to see is groups like the MCB engaging with their own hundreds of affiliates, mosques and Islamic community organisations to start changing attitudes towards women and pursue a more active gender egalitarian approach.  The Committee’s report states “mosques can also play an important role in promoting opportunities for women”- but who will make them? Apart from a few exceptions, to date, they have shown little appetite for such positive action.   The vast majority of mosques, affiliates of the MCB, are still hostile places for women, failing to offer adequate provisions and facilities for women, still running male only boards, making women sit in separate rooms and talking to them through doorways and publishing guidance that women must not travel alone more than 48 miles, wear trousers or have Facebook accounts.

Instead, efforts from some Muslim organisations and our so called community leaders are concentrated on much less significant matters. There is a recommendation for the Government to publish their timetable to introduce Shariah compliant student finance- groups, something the MCB lobbied hard to bring about. However, the lack of “halal” students finance is only a barrier for the tiniest of Muslim minorities. HSBC, who with much fanfare announced so called “halal mortgages” in 2008 after being led to believe there was an overwhelming demand discontinued the product in the UK in 2012 due to the lack of uptake. This should highlight how small an issue this is.  If only a similar amount of energy and efforts went in to our communities when it came to changing attitudes and working towards gender equality and economic freedom for Muslim women.  Instead, Muslim organisations such as Inspire and others that endeavour to undertake this work are attacked, rubbished and subjugated to misogynist abuse, highlighting how difficult the struggle for gender equality within Muslim communities is.

It is not only the intra-community gender discrimination that disadvantage Muslim women. The report correctly draws attention to the increase in anti-Muslim prejudice in our society and the disproportionate way it impacts women who are “visibly Muslim”.  There has been quite substantial evidence indicating that Muslim women are being discriminated against in the workplace, in job applications and during interviews; in fact in every stage of the recruitment process.  Muslim women experience what is often referred to as the triple penalty: discrimination on the basis of their gender, ethnicity and religion.  This is a clear violation of the equality act 2010 and the report is right to address this.

Yet whilst we ask the Government to ensure that employers are sensitive to the needs of Muslim employees, colleagues and team members with appropriate diversity and equality policies to ensure no one is excluded, it is also important for some Muslims to develop what the report calls ‘soft skills.’ Socialising at work is cited as a barrier, alongside the lack of these soft skills, which are developed through engaging and socialising with wide and varied circles. While employers can do more to ensure all staff socially feel part of the workforce, offering diverse out of office venues for example, it is also important to recognise the limitations and even harm of those who hold puritanical interpretations of Islam which often actively discourage socialising or striking up friendships with non-Muslims. I have seen how this can become an inhibiting factor when searching for work or considering an employment opportunity.

In conclusion, yes the Government needs to separate their attempts to tackle inequalities within Muslim communities from their counter-extremism policy, provide more support through their systems and job centres. Yes, employers need to look at how they can be more inclusive and ensure universities are more accessible. And yes, we need to deal with the barriers brought about by anti-Muslim prejudice and preconceptions.  But there is also a huge amount of work that needs to be done from within, that can only be done by Muslim communities.  These include challenging patriarchal attitudes and beliefs put upon women either culturally or religiously, which limit their potential in life and have a negative impact on our society and our very own communities who, as we have seen, continue to remain economically the most disadvantaged in the UK.  We need to and can do better.

Yasmin Weaver

Inspire Project Manager

 

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Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

First aired on Sunday 26th June 2016, Sara Khan was invited on to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs to talk about her life, work countering extremism and the tracks that made her.  As it’s Sara, it’s fair to say there are few surprises!  You can here the complete interview and Sara’s eclectic choices on BBC iPlayer .

From the BBC Website :

A British Muslim human rights activist, Sara is director of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation which she co-founded in 2009.

Born in Bradford in 1980 to Pakistani parents, she decided to wear the veil when she was thirteen changing her mind eighteen years later. She studied Pharmacy at the University of Manchester but never felt she was fulfilling her potential, and set up Inspire in her home. She has been at the heart of various campaigns to raise awareness of her cause from Jihad Against Violence to #MakingAStand which encouraged women in particular to stand up against extremism.

In 2009 she was listed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Muslim Women’s Power List and in 2015 was included in BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Power List. She is currently sitting on the Department for Education’s Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group and on the Government’s Community Engagement Forum.

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Sara wins in the Social and Humanitarian category

Inspire is thrilled to announce that our Co-Director Sara Khan won the Social and Humanitarian category at the Asian Women of Achievement Awards 2016 that took place last night at the Hilton, Park Lane, London.

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Social & Humanitarian Award Winner 2016- Sara Khan- Inspire

The other nominees within the category who also deserve a nod for their service and commitment to the cause of empowering and inspiring women to fight and overcome abuse, inequality and injustice are:
Santosh Bhanot, Founder & Chair, The Circle: Asian Circle
Manjit Gill, Founder & CEO, Binti
Winnie M Li, Co-Founder, Clear Lines Festival

Sara and Inspire are deeply honoured to have our work recognised in this way by Asian Women- Congratulations Sara!

 

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Inspire’s Co-Director Sara Khan with her trophy at the Asian Women of Achievement Awards 2016

 

 

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We are honoured that young talented Graphic Design student Nina McAndrew chose the work of “Inspire” to inspire her college project.

Nina’s poster with her use of Ghandi’s quote ” Be the change you want to see in the world” perfectly captures Inspire’s own ethos and efforts in empowering women, whilst the powerful image of a silenced girl symbolises the many millions of girls and women deprived of human rights.

In Nina’s own words:

‘I’m studying for a HND in Graphic Design at Fife College in Scotland. you may be interested to know how I came to use your organisation in my project. 

The brief was to create a poster using mixed media techniques where a quote and an image are combined so they complement each other. The poster was to be part of a campaign for a non profit organisation.

I picked a quote from Gandhi that I really liked and thought about whose cause it could sit with best. Women’s rights and equality are close to my heart so I started with that. As part of the research I googled “Influential women in Britain” and came across Sara Khan. I then learnt about Inspire and how the organisation carries out valuable work on a grassroots level.’

Thank you Nina for your tribute to our work. We are very touched.

 

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Our Work: Reflecting on 2015

At the start of 2016 we would like to take the opportunity to thank all our supporters, friends and donors who have helped us in our work in countering extremism and supporting human rights. The work we do is difficult, challenging and sometimes downright depressing. We all witnessed families taking unsuspecting children, or young bright A-grade teenage girls who had all the opportunities to fulfil their potential in Britain instead choose to live under ISIS’ rule.

The killing of innocent people whether in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, the US, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries did (or should have done) trigger off alarm bells that the threat of Islamist extremism is not only real but it is thriving. The tragic consequences impact ordinary people on a local and global scale.

From Syrian children (fleeing both ISIS and Assad) drowning in the Mediterranean to Shia Muslims and Christians being killed for simply being Shia and Christian. From cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo being gunned down for expressing their views, to Muslims being attacked on the streets of our country because of anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet the circle of hatred and violence continues. Post Paris, ISIS further encouraged Muslims to commit lone wolf attacks. Post San Bernardino Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

It is hard to feel optimistic about the future but giving up is no answer. Instead we must carry on with heavy but determined hearts. And we do so because after every incident, we have witnessed the greatness of the human spirit exemplifying hope and compassion: communities becoming more united, with support and protection offered to those most vulnerable. We have also met many inspirational young British Muslims over the year who have aspirations to contribute positively to society, who are comfortable with their identity and who recognise that diverse Muslim voices, who promote human rights and a British Islam, is desperately needed now more than any other time.

As a small civil society organisation this year we:

  • Undertook over 200 local, national and international media interviews including for Sky News, Good Morning Britain, CNN Amanpour, ITV’s Loose Women, BBC News, Radio 4’s Today Programme, Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, Channel 4 News and many others.
  • Delivered our anti-ISIS Making A Stand campaign and visited 9 cities across England and Wales reaching hundreds of Muslim women where we:
  1. Taught women theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology
  2. Helped them to recognise early signs of radicalisation and the role they can play
  3. Signposted them to external agencies who could provide help to vulnerable individuals in their family or community
  4. Encouraged them to take the lead in challenging extremism in their communities and to exert influence in their mosques and communities.
  • Overwhelmed by the number of requests we have had from schools, we have delivered training to thousands of teachers and senior leaders across the country about how to safeguard children from extremism whether far right or Islamist extremism. We have also worked in partnership with the Association of Schools and College Leaders. Part of our training has included explaining the difference between Islamist extremism and Islam, encouraging staff to challenge extreme and intolerant views whether anti-Muslim prejudice or anti-Semitism., clarifying Islamic concepts that staff find confusing e.g jihad, as well as helping staff to understand vulnerabilities to radicalisation. Our contribution in schools has also helped create a comfortable environment for teachers to ask us questions on culturally sensitive issues which is of direct concern and relevance to them.
  • We have been working with many parents and pupils at school. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. But struggling to meet the demands that have come from every corner of British society from many parts of the country has not always been possible due to the small size of our organisation. In 2016 we are working to expand our organisation.
  • We have also spoken internationally in Washington, at the European Parliament, in Virginia and San Francisco to name just a few and here in the UK at many conferences.
  • Sara was honoured to be named in BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Top 10 Power List of influencers.

Since the first day Inspire was founded, the work we do engaging directly with Muslim women in communities is the dearest to us. We have done so as individuals for over 20 years now and we never tire of it. Women have told us how important and in some cases, life changing our programmes have been for them. Their voices are too often ignored by the media and even by traditional Muslim structures. They share with us their untold stories of battling misogyny daily in Muslim communities or the reality of hate preachers targeting their children.

We do not doubt that it is women who are key to preventing extremism but too frequently the powerful role they play is discouraged and played down often by those same communities. While challenges such as anti-Muslim prejudice are real, we cannot turn a blind eye to the huge challenges that exist within British Muslim communities too. We have seen too regularly how when some Muslims dare point out the injustices, sexism and regressive and hate filled attitudes that exist within some British Muslim communities, they have experienced abuse in an attempt to silence their voices. This does not serve the interests of British Muslims or wider society. The vast overwhelming majority of British Muslims contribute positively to our country; this is our home but we need to challenge those who promote extreme and intolerant views and who seek to divide our society.

We would like to thank the great, considerate and generous British public –whose emails, donations, standing orders and kind words of support spurred us on and allowed our organisation to keep ticking. There are so many individuals and organisations – far too many to name – whether imams, theologians, to headteachers, activists and people from all backgrounds – who have sought to help us, for no other reason but for believing in what we do. We cannot even begin to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you.

We would like to wish everyone peace and blessings and a fruitful 2016.

Sara Khan and Kalsoom Bashir

30th Dec 2015

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Written by Alex Preston, the Guardian Long Read reflects on the challenges of countering extremism and preventing radicalisation but highlights that despite the difficulties, advocacy work of this nature is desperately needed yet so few are willing to do it.

Please read here.

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Inspire have been inundated with numerous requests from schools to help support teachers across the country in understanding the requirements of the new statutory Prevent Duty.  Inspire have helped provide clarity on the Duty and have guided staff to recognise the role they can play in protecting pupils from the risk of radicalisation.

Kalsoom Bashir has spoken at safeguarding conferences and inset training days in Manchester, Birmingham, London, Dewsbury, Bodmin, Bath, Bristol and  a number of locations in London. . As well as speaking to practitioners in the field of education we are also delivering lessons to pupils to equip them to challenge all forms of extremism.

Feedback has been consistently positive;

‘Mrs Bashir was very organised and concise. The information and materials were very thought provoking’

‘The trainer was very friendly, open to questions and was very professional and informed about the topic’

‘Really good insight and extended by knowledge’

‘A really informative session-what a great speaker-thank you’

For more information on Inspire’s “Working With Schools” project, please click here.

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Inspire and Sara Khan recently spoke in Birmingham at the “Our Families, Our Future” conference.

Acting as keynote speakers, Inspire spoke on how parents can help safeguard children from extremism and were well received by an audience of over 170 women.

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