Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Satirical Cartoons on Issues Facing Muslim Women and Girls

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

I had this series of cartoons produced to challenge attitudes regarding the treatment of Muslim women and girls.  These were produced by a Muslim female illustrator Zaufishan, however I own the copyright to the cartoons. So if republished and shared, please acknowledge!

Inside Muslim Minds

Women are allowed in Mosques!

No, Men Can’t Beat their Wives although some Scholars try to Justify it

So Men think it is Women that belong in Hell fire….

So Women are not Allowed to be Leaders…..

My Body, My Dress and My Choice

What is Equality?

Child Marriage is Child Sexual Abuse

Sex Education Muslim Style

Patriarchy Competition

Feminism is the light in the darkness of patriarchy – Quotes by Shaista Gohir

Saturday, January 11th, 2014


Our beliefs and principles are what define us. Never give them up for anyone! – Shaista Gohir


Feminism is the light in the darkness of patriarchy – Shaista Gohir

Islamic feminism is not about changing God’s words but about bringing attention to them – Shaista Gohir

Muslim women have the right to evaluate what they are told – we have been in the darkness about our rights for too long – Shaista Gohir

Islamic feminism is needed because Muslim societies expect women to take responsibility for men’s desires – Shaista Gohir

Women’s Power

Women have the power to control the world from the outside with their votes & purchasing power – Shaista Gohir

The next emerging powerful emerging economy is not a country but women – Shaista Gohir

Women must not be scared of men’s ‘war of words’ – Shaista Gohir


I will hold on to the rope of Allah while others hold on to the robes of clerics – Shaista Gohir

Men  play God with women’s lives without any fear from the Almighty and hold us hostage to their version of Islam – Shaista Gohir

No matter how respected scholars are from past to present, their words are not protected from error; they are only telling us what they think God means –  Shaista Gohir

Because of the anti-women narrations it contains, the hadith has become a manual for the enslavement of women – Shaista Gohir

Reviewing religious texts does not mean changing text, it means reviewing our understanding of it – Shaista Gohir

Women have every right to carry out our own rational investigation of religious sources – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – Shaista Gohir

Religious clerics create fear, men exploit fear but women should only fear Allah – Shaista Gohir


Men want to keep us powerless and voiceless so we do not challenge them and it is really up to us to change it that – Shaista Gohir

Muslim communities and societies will not prosper until they give women their dignity – Shaista Gohir

Women will need to challenge the status quo  and push boundaries, if they want a better future for their daughters and future generations of women – Shaista Gohir

When you are caught in a patriarchal system of lies – it takes courage to tell the truth but also to accept the truth – Shaista Gohir

Violence Against Women – Facts from Around the World

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

16 FACTS for 16 DAYS of activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th Nov -10th Dec)

FGM: 130 MILLION girls in the world have undergone female genital mutilation – each year another 2 million join them

RAPE CONVICTIONS: Convictions for rape very low e.g. Argentina 6-10%, South Africa 9%, UK (7%)

RAPE WEAPON OF WAR: Rape is used as a weapon of war, for example,  DRC’s South Kivu province estimate that 40 women are raped in the region every day

EGYPT: 47% of honour killings were because of the women had been raped – so she becomes a victim twice!

US: 23 women killed every week and 700 000 raped every year

INDIA: 98 women are murdered a week by their husband or his family

RUSSIA: 32% of all murders are women killed by domestic violence – 36 000 women beaten everyday by husband or partner

PAKISTAN: 3 women a day murdered by honour killings and 70% of women in police custody are subjected to physical & sexual abuse

UK: One incident of domestic violence reported every minute accounting for
16% of all crime

ISRAEL: 200 000 women suffer domestic violence every year

SOUTH AFRICA: a woman is raped every 83 seconds

KUWAIT: Honour killings treated as a misdemeanor (not criminal acts).

SUDAN: Rape victims have been prosecuted for adultery and prosecutions for rapists non existent

BRAZIL: 72% of murdered women are killed by a relative or friend

BANGLADESH: 50% of all murders are of women by their husbands

AFGHANISTAN: 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence

Extraordinary Muslim women at the Olympics – past to present

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Published on the Huffington UK website (featured on the UK Homepage) here

At the 1996 Atlanta Games, 26 countries did not send women and by the 2008 Beijing Games, only three countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei) did not have female Olympians.   It is therefore a very important milestone that every Muslim majority country competing at the London 2012 Olympics will now have at least one woman in their team.  Even if Muslim women don’t win any medals they are guaranteed to be a source of inspiration for many young Muslim girls across the world wanting to take up sports.

As these Olympics will host the most Muslim women in the games history, I have decided to highlight my favourite Muslim female Olympians from past to present. My list mainly includes women who have made history by being pioneers or have had to overcome substantial obstacles just to compete.  I am giving special attention to Muslim sportswomen because they are comparatively small in number. I consider them extraordinary because of the many challenges they have to overcome.

Their biggest hurdle preventing girls from taking up sports is religious extremism, particularly for those living in conservative Muslim countries.  Although there is nothing in the Quran forbidding women and girls from exercising and playing sports, religious scholars are making Islam more restrictive than it should be through misinterpretations.  They disregard the fact that Islam encourages health and fitness for both men and women.  Clerics also conveniently ignore Islamic history, which tells us that female warriors took part in battles. The likelihood is that these women were involved in very physical and demanding activities.  Other barriers holding girls back from sports include: lack of funds and training facilities, family, and dress codes.  However, girls are now starting to become aware that participating in sports is not against Islam and are slowly getting involved in sports.  Some are even choosing to combine their faith with their chosen sport by competing in a headscarf and by wearing modest sportswear.

Before I highlight a few of my favourite Muslim female Olympians, one British Muslim woman not on my list deserves a special mention. Zaha Hadid has played an important role in London 2012.  The globally renowned and award winning Iraqi born architect designed the iconic Aquatic Centre where the swimming events are taking place.  It is also important to recognize that a Muslim woman has designed one of the Olympic landmark buildings.

Some of the Muslim female Olympians from past to present that I would like people to know about are:

Halet Cambel (Turkey)
1936 Berlin Games
First Muslim Woman to Compete in the Olympics

The first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics was archeologist, Halet Cambel. When the founder of the Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk promoted women’s sports, she took up fencing and represented Turkey in the 1936 Berlin Games. She was even invited by a female German Official to meet Hitler, but refused on political grounds.

Nawal El Moutawakel (Morocco)
1984 Los Angeles Games
First Muslim to Woman Gold Medal

Nawal El Moutawakel made history at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. When she won the 400m hurdles race, she by became the first Muslim woman and first African female to win an Olympic gold medal.  The victory was a breakthrough for sporting women in Morocco and other Muslim countries. Since her Olympic win, El Moutawakel has continued to be a role model and break new ground.

In the late 1990s El Moutawakel organised the first Moroccan women’s 10 km race through the streets of Casablanca. It now attracts more than 27,000 participants annually. She was appointed inspector at the Ministry of Sport and Youth, as well as the national sprint and hurdle coach. She was named Minister of Sports in 2007. She became a pioneer again in 2008 when she became the first Muslim woman to be elected to the powerful executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who are responsible for setting the Olympic agenda.  Her huge contribution towards women in sport was recognized when she received her Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Hassiba Boulmerka (Algeria)
1992 Barcelona Games
First to win Olympic Gold for Algeria

Hassiba Boulmerka made history for Algeria.  She won a gold medal in the 1500m race at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  It was Algeria’s first gold medal at the Olympic Games.  Although she was hailed as a national hero by some, Boulmerka was also condemned by extremist groups for showing too much of her body while competing.  Death threats eventually forced her to move to Europe for training.  Boulmerka went on to win medals at the World Championships – a bronze in 1993 and a gold in 1995.  She retired from athletics in 1997 and is now a successful businesswoman.

Lida Fariman (Iran)
1996 Atlanta Games
First Muslim woman to wear hijab at Olympics

When Lida Fariman participated in the 1996 games, she was the first woman to do so since the 1979 Iranian revolution.  Her participation was significant because she was the only woman in Iran’s squad of 18 and she became the first Iranian woman to carry her country’s flag at the opening ceremony.  As she was competing in the target shooting, she was allowed to wear the headscarf, making her the first to do so at the Olympics.

Ruqaya Al Ghasara (Bahrain)
2004 Athens Games
First Muslim female runner to wear hijab at Olympics

When Ruqaya Al Ghasara represented Bahrain in the 2004 Athens Games, she became the first female runner to wear a full hijab (headscarf) at the Olympics.  She was also one of the first women to represent her country at the games (although Bahraini women had participated in the 1984 Paralympics).  To participate in the 100m sprint races she had to overcome a lot of objections from fundamentalists.   Although Ghasra did not win a medal, she went on to win a gold at the Asian Games in the 200m race and also competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she was her country’s flag bearer.  She is not participating in the London 2012 Olympics as she retired in 2009.

Nurcan Taylan (Turkey)
2004 Athens Games
First female to win Olympic gold for her country

When Nurcan Taylan claimed gold at the 2004 Athens Games, she became Turkey’s first female Olympic gold medalist.  However, the 5ft tall reigning world champion and six times European champion is not participating in the London games after failing a drugs test.  The 28 year old now face a four-year ban.   Although Taylan has been involved in a doping scandal, I felt she deserved to be mentioned because she is a weight lifting legend in 48kg category – she holds six European and one world record with another two tied world records.

Nur Suryani Mohammed Taibi (Malaysia)
London 2012 Games
Most Pregnant Olympian

A few days after finding out she was selected for the Olympic team for London 2012, Taibi, found out she was pregnant.  Only a few pregnant women have competed in the Olympics, but Taibi is certainly making history by being the most pregnant woman to participate in the games at 8 months pregnant.  These are Taibi’s first Olympics, and the Games will be even more special because she is sharing the moment with the baby daughter inside of her.   Taibi is ranked 47th in the world and won two gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games in 10 meter air rifle and 50 meter rifle in last November.

Khadija Mohammed (United Arab Emirates)
London 2012 Games
First female weight lifter from the Gulf

This 17 year old is a future star because she is the first female Emirati and one of the few Muslim women who qualified outright for the Olympics.  Many others were given wild card entries because they did not meet the Olympic qualifying standard.  Khadija Mohammed is also making history by being the first female weight lifter from the Gulf at the Olympics.  She was only introduced to weight lifting two years ago by former Egyptian Olympic lifter Najwan El Zawawi, who established a gym in the U.A.E    Mohammed who will be competing in the 75kg category is fortunate that her family is supporting her dreams.  There is widespread resistance to weight lifting in Muslim families and societies because it is confused with bodybuilding – they fear girls will develop masculine bodies and not receive marriage proposals.

Sarah Attar and  Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim  (Saudi Arabia)
London 2012 Games
Making history for Saudi Arabia

Sarah Attar is competing in the 800m race and Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim in judo at the London 2012 Games.  They are making history by becoming the first women to represent Saudi Arabia.  Although they both actually live outside of the Kingdom, this is a very important breakthrough for one of the most religiously conservative countries in the world. This paves the way for women activists to demand internal policy changes, enactment of laws and provision to allow women and girls to play sports and compete within and outside the kingdom.

Woroud Sawalha (Palestine)
London 2012 Games
Making it to the Olympics despite living in an area of conflict

Woroud Sawalha has made it to the London 2012 games despite being surrounded by violence, subjected to travel restrictions, facing regular security checks and having no training facilities.  The 20-year old is taking part in the 800m event.  Sawalha is unlikely to win a medal because her personal best is 53 seconds slower than the Olympic gold medal-winning time.  However, for her just competing under the Palestinian flag will be a source of pride. The U.N. does not recognize a Palestinian state but athletes have been allowed to compete under a Palestinian flag by the International Olympic Committee since 1996.  Sawalha will not be the first woman to represent Palestine as they sent the first female athlete in 2000.

Tahmina Kohistani (Afghanistan)
London 2012 Games
Female athlete from a war torn country

Tahmina Kohistani will be Afghanistan’s only female athlete at the London Games.  She will be competing in the 100 and 200m events. The 23-year-old runner will be the third woman ever from the war-torn country to compete in the Olympics.  Kohistani has been training at Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium, a place where the Taliban used to carry out public executions – a reminder of the brutality of the former regime. However, Afghanistan still remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman.  Kohistani’s presence at the games is therefore even more important because she will not only be representing herself but all women of Afghanistan. She will be helping to pave the way for other Afghan girls to follow in her footsteps.  A woman participating in sports was something unthinkable 10 years ago when the Taliban were in control. Despite breaking barriers, Kohistani does not have the whole nation behind her. Olympics preparations took place behind guarded doors due to fear of retribution.  She has encountered hostility from a very religiously conservative society that severely opposes women playing sports and participating in any form of public life.

Fatima Sulaiman Dahman (Yemen)
London 2012 Olympics
Only female athlete representing her country

Fatima Sulaiman will be the only female athlete representing Yemen at the London Olympics.  She has had to overcome strong male prejudices and civil unrest to make it to the games.  In Yemen girls are only allowed to train inside stadiums. So whenever Dahman wants to train outside, she waits until dark so no one can see her. During the uprisings in Yemen it was difficult for Dahman to leave her home to train. When Dahman was able to travel to the stadium, she had to mostly practice alone because there are only a few other female athletes in her country. When she first joined her sports club, there were 20 girls but now she is the only one left because the others did not receive support from their families to continue.  The lack of family encouragement is not surprising in such a strongly male-dominated and tribal society, where child marriage is common. However, Dahman’s parent, both doctors, encouraged her to compete.  The 19-year-old received an Olympic scholarship and entered the women’s 100m event.

Bahia Al Hamad, Nada Arkaji, Noor Al-Malki and Aia Mohamed (Qatar)
London 2012 Games
First Qatari women to compete in Olympics

Shooter, Bahia Al Hamad, swimmer, Nada Arkaji, sprinter, Noor Al-Malki and table tennis player Aia Mohamed are making history for Qatar by becoming the first women to represent their tiny nation at the Olympics. Bahia Al Hamad was also given the privilege of carrying her country’s flag at the opening ceremony.  Perhaps it is no surprise that Qatar are encouraging women to play sports because they will be bidding to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Qatar can lead the way in the Gulf region and in the rest of the Muslim world by promoting sports for women.

Egyptian Women’s Olympic Team
London 2012 Games
Country with the largest delegation of Muslim women

Egypt has the most Muslim women in their team compared with any other Arab or Islamic nations at the London 2012 Olympics. Despite their political instability, Egypt has 36 female Olympians, which is the largest female delegation it has ever sent.  The number breaks the previous record of 29 Egyptian women athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  The women will be competing in archery, athletics, badminton, fencing, , gymnastics,  pentathlon, rowing, shooting, swimming (including synchronized swimming), table tennis, taekwondo, weight lifting and wrestling.

Inside Muslim Minds

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Inside Muslim Minds


Feminism – is it Islamic and do we need it?

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

My Youtube talk on feminism and also specifically on Islamic feminism:

I explain why those holding conservative and traditional views about Islam feel threatened by feminism and therefore try to portray it negatively and criticise it.  I also explain how Islamic feminism is about bringing attention to God’s words and not changing them and therefore challenging patriarchal interpretations of Islam instead of continuing to be held hostage to them.

You can view other videos on my Youtube channel here

Is the Face Veil Really a Threat to Western Culture?

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Published on Huffington Post (UK) here

Anti Muslim sentiments are contagious – now Holland has joined the widespread campaign in Europe tocriminalise the face veil. The veil is already banned inFrance and Belgium and on Friday, the Dutch government agreed to propose legislation that will make it illegal to wear clothes that cover the face in public places. Anyone flouting the ban in public buildings, educational institutions, hospitals and public transport, will be issued with a fine of 380 euros.

The government says they want to “protect the character and customs of public life in the Netherlands.” However, the truth is that they are pandering to the anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders because they need his party’s support. Wilders leads the far-right Freedom Party (PVV), which won 24 of the 150 seats in the 2010 Dutch elections, making it the third biggest party in parliament. When the Liberal WD party and the Christian Democrat party formed a minority coalition last year, they struck a deal with Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party – despite not being a part of the governing coalition, they pledged to back austerity measures in exchange for a ban on the face veil.

I wonder how curbing this minor phenomenon of veiling is going to help the country’s economy? An opportunity to influence decisions that would have improved the lives of his voters has been wasted by Wilders. But I guess that should not be surprising, as he doesn’t have any credible policies. He only has anti-Muslim policies – he wants to ban the Quran, veil, new mosques and new migrants from Muslim countries. He promotes anything but freedom contrary to the name he has given to his party. Many Governments in Europe will not mind this distraction away from an economic crisis that they (and the bankers) are responsible for. Instead of allowing the far right to influence policy, those in power should be removing the conditions in which such political parties thrive. Providing a platform to an opportunist such as Wilders, who has built his profile on promoting fear and hate, is likely to damage the reputation of the Netherlands.

Are Muslim women’s clothing really a threat to the Western way of life? I cannot see how a few thousand veiled women in Europe, who are apparently not engaging with the majority anyway, going to bring down Western culture! The veil has become such an emotive issue, but how many calling for a ban, have actually come across women wearing it? Statistics quoted are based on guesswork and exaggeration. For example, the exact number of women veiling in the Netherlands is unknown – it is believed there are only a few dozen from the 900 000 Muslims. Belgium estimates that only a few hundred adopt it from a Muslim population of 630 000. In France, the Interior Ministry has been quoted as saying that 1900 women wear the veil (from a population of 5 million Muslims). However, the influential newspaper, Le Monde, revealed they had seen government reports showing the actual figure to be 367.

Despite the disproportionate level of attention given to Muslim women’s attire by politicians, media and public – most appear to be misinformed about the topic. Reasons cited for a veil ban vary and are not coherent. Some say covering the face is a threat to security but veiled women are showing their faces for identification when necessary. Another common argument is that it’s a barrier to integration. I accept the veil impedes communication and integration but how is preventing a few thousand women in Europe from covering their face helping the majority of Muslims integrate? If concerns were genuine, then politicians would be attempting to tackle the real barriers to integration such as high unemployment rates and the multiple forms of discrimination experienced by the Muslims.

And there are those who want to save the oppressed Muslim women who are forced to cover. Such women do exist but the majority are wearing the veil out of choice and their reasons vary widely. Some feel it is a religious obligation while others admit it isn’t but want to take an extra step to feel closer to God. There are those who want to make a political statement or do it for reasons of fashion or culture or are simply going through a fad. Many have told me they feel liberated in the veil. I can’t see how the veil is liberating, but that does not matter. It does not matter that some people find it intimidating and frightening because it’s unfamiliar as my nine year old daughter described in her blog – none are sufficient reasons to justify legislation banning it.

Personally I am not keen on the veil as it overwhelmingly reinforces every conceivable Western prejudice about Muslims and Islam. I would even urge veiled Muslim women to consider the impact their choice is having on Muslim communities living in the West. However, from a gender perspective, I will vociferously continue to speak out on the right of women to make autonomous choices about their bodies whatever that may be – whether they live in the West or in Muslim countries. It is interesting to note that it tends to be mainly men that lead debates telling women what to wear.

Celebrities Call on World Leaders not to Sacrifice Afghan Women’s Rights

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Published on Huffington Post (UK) here

It’s great to see that Dame Helen MirrenShazia Mirza, and Alesha Dixon are being the voice for women outside of Afghanistan so they can have one inside it. Celebrities are going green for the Green Scarf Campaign calling on world leaders not to sacrifice their rights in any political deal. I am sure Afghan women’s rights activists, who wear green scarves as a show of strength and unity, will welcome this much needed support. They are worried the clock could be turned back on their rights now the US government is in direct talks with the Taliban. I know Hilary Clinton has made public statements defending Afghan women, but who knows what is going on behind the scenes. This issue of Afghan women always touches an emotional chord globally – no wonder Pakistani pop star Hadiqa Kiani and the chat show host dubbed Oprah of the Middle East, Nashwa Al Ruwaini, have also joined the campaign.

Since the fall of the Taliban, women have once again returned to work as doctors, lawyers, judges and police officers although participation levels are nowhere near the pre-Taliban era when women in Kabul made up 70% of teachers, 50% of civil servants and 40% of doctors. Women are participating in sports too – something unthinkable 10 years ago. There are now female boxers preparing for the 2012 Olympics and even a women’s national football team – although they have to train behind guarded doors for fear of retribution.

Despite these gains, Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman because the Taliban continue to get away with attacking them. In 2008, the Taliban assassinated police commander, Malalai Kakar and last year MP Fawzia Kofi survived an attack by gunmen. I some times wonder what the Taliban hate more – women’s empowerment or Western occupation. A recently launched Oxfam report reminds us what life is really like for most Afghan women. More than 87% have experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage. Renouncing violence and severing links with Al Qaeda is a pre condition set by the international community for negotiations with the Taliban -so why has ending violence against women not been included?

The Afghan government doesn’t appear to be committed to women’s rights either. Any legislation passed offering equality to women is not backed up by any enforcement. So those who intimidate, threaten and attack women are rarely punished. President Karzai publicly vowed that the men, who threw acid in the faces of 15 female students in Kandahar city in November 2008, would be severely punished. He has made no attempt to bring them to justice.

Karzai also panders to conservative religious clerics in exchange for their political support. Prior to the 2009 presidential elections, he passed the Shia Personal Status Law, allowing fathers and even grandfathers to have full custody of children in a divorce and women having to seek permission to work. Karzai was ready to pass the law in its original form, which was even more controversial as it legalized marital rape and only amended it after an international outcry. Pressure can work so let’s be the voice for Afghan women. Foreign Ministers from around the world will attend the Bonn Peace Conference on 5th December to discuss the support package for Afghanistan after Western forces withdraw in 2014. Let’s tell them not to negotiate away women’s rights by joining the campaign at – I just have!

Muslim women finding empowerment despite the hostility after 9/11

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Published on Huffington Post (UK) here

As we commemorate the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, it is also an ideal time to take stock of how this tragedy has impacted on the lives of Muslim women in Britain during the last decade. The events of 9/11 and the subsequent intensification of anti-Muslim sentiments has been a double-edged sword for Muslim women – on one hand they have suffered immense hostility and on the other, they have found a voice and are more visible now than they have ever been before.

One unintended legacy of 9/11 and the London bombings has been a dramatic rise in the number of Muslim women wearing the headscarf and a minority adopting the face veil. This phenomenon is not surprising because when any population feels threatened, it reacts by defending its culture or faith, becoming more attached to it. By assuming a public Islamic identity, Muslim women suddenly became more visible. However, this visibility also made them easy targets of discrimination because their faith was constantly being associated with extremism and terrorism – even though Muslim women are law-abiding citizens.

Muslim women are now under intense pressure to conform rather than make autonomous choices about their lives and their bodies. Mainstream society uses their dress to highlight they are not integrated enough while increasingly religious sections of Muslim communities accuse women of not being Muslim enough if they do not wear the various forms of Islamic dress. All sides are victimizing them, and this negativity is manifesting itself in the form of verbal and sometimes physical abuse. Muslim women are being viewed as one monolithic group – their diverse cultures, ethnicities, dress and the way they want to practice their faith is being ignored.

This obsession of what Muslim women wear needs to stop – the vast majority of the 1 million Muslim women in Britain, do not even wear the face veil. Why is attention not being given to those Muslim women who are participating in a range of professions and various aspects of British life? There are Muslim female policewomen, magistrates, lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers etc. I wonder how many people know that Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of the MITIE Group PLC, is the first and only Muslim woman to run a FTSE 250 company. Then there is Salma Bi who works as a nurse and plays for Worcestershire Women’s Cricket Team and also teenage golfer Sahra khan who represents Wales and Britain in international tournaments. Another successful woman is London based Zaha Hadid. She is a globally renowned architect who has won a plethora of awards, including the Pritzker Prize, becoming the first woman to be given this award. Many such female role models have been highlighted on the Big Sister website to raise the aspiration of young Muslim girls. Such achievements should be applauded instead of constantly complaining about the face veil.

These accomplishments show that despite all the barriers, it is still empowering to be a Muslim woman in Britain today – it would be much harder to be socially and politically active and take up leadership roles anywhere else in the world. Last year Muslim women even made history – one made it into the cabinet (Sayeeda Warsi) and three were elected as MPs (Shabana Mahmood, Rushanara Ali, Yasmin Qureshi).There is also a steadily growing band of women who are reacting against what is happening in their communities. So one advantage of Muslim women becoming more conscious of their religion has been better knowledge of their Islamic rights and interpreting faith for themselves. Activists are now using Islam as a tool to challenge culture and patriarchal interpretations of religious texts.

A British Muslim women’s movement has emerged spearheaded by the Muslim Women’s Network UK. Muslim women may be trying to stamp out inequalities within their communities, but they need to have equal life chances in mainstream society too. They are still one of the most disadvantaged groups in society, disproportionately experiencing adverse socio-economic conditions such as high unemployment rates; low academic achievement; experiencing mental health problems; and having the poorest general health. Within their communities they experience further inequality due to culture and sexist interpretations of their faith – examples of abuse encountered include: forced marriage, female genital mutilation, honour based violence, polygamy, domestic violence and isolation.

When they are given the opportunity, Muslim women are integrating, participating in civic, economic and social life while raising children who are productive members of society. In the last decade, Muslim women may have developed their religious identity, but it is now time to strengthen their national identity. Tackling poverty, discrimination and high unemployment rates as well as providing them with information about their rights is the way forward now.

Muslim Women are not political pawns

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Published in Guardian (Comment is Free) here

The National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group was little more than a tick-box exercise, which is why I had to resign

This week, I resigned from the government’s National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group (NMWAG), which was launched by the prime minister more than two years ago. We were supposed to influence policies by advising on empowering Muslim women; on issues affecting them; and on their role in preventing violent extremism. We did very little of this and instead were side-tracked into overseeing the delivery of projects, which was not our job. Whenever I raised concerns, my views were ignored by both the group and government.

My frustration turned to anger in recent weeks when NMWAG suddenly took steps to be more visible and active after a long period of inactivity. I felt that this move was linked to concerns over a new government disbanding the group due to its lack of impact. I felt extremely uncomfortable about the timing of this renewed interest to empower Muslim women.

I felt that I could no longer remain on NMWAG as a matter of principle. It was not an easy decision because I knew my resignation could mean my links to government being severed and damage my relationship with individuals on the group. However, I was compelled to stand up for what I believed in and sent a letter to the current minister for communities and local government, John Denham stating the reasons for my departure. My criticism was directed at NMWAG as an institution and at government policy rather than the individual women on the group. There will be relief that my dissenting voice will no longer pose a problem. However, the messages of support that have poured in since my resignation should tell the group it lacks credibility.

By creating a structure that served no purpose, except contributing towards a political agenda, the government have missed an opportunity to empower Muslim women which could have contributed to Gordon Brown’s election pledge on strengthening fairness in communities. Muslim women are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society, suffering the highest levels of economic inactivity, worst health and discrimination on multiple fronts. We were never consulted on these issues. I urge the future government to explore ways of genuinely consulting the wide array of women’s organisations and community activists through credible mechanisms and not restricting engagement through a particular group.

After initial interest in the group, the subsequent lack of enthusiasm should not have been a surprise. The government has always employed a strategy of elevating a Muslim organisation before replacing it with another and NMWAG suffered the same fate too. The government diverted its attention towards the Young Muslims Advisory Group (YMAG), which they launched a year after NMWAG. They were provided resources for a website, a national conference and will be launching a magazine. NMWAG was never promoted in this way.

The failure of this initiative highlights that the government is not serious about the role of women in influencing public policy. For example, initiatives are often launched to encourage women into public life, but are not matched with resources to support them. Women’s empowerment ends up becoming a tick-box exercise.

If NMWAG survives, mechanisms are needed to ensure that members are replaced, allowing an influx of other knowledgeable and talented women to constantly increase the diversity of women being engaged with. However, empowerment means giving away power, which may be difficult to let go when one has access to the corridors of power. It may not matter anyway because if David Cameron wins the election he has promised to reduce the number of quangos, so the writing could be on the wall for NMWAG.