When your company engages in conversations around gender equity and inclusion, what measures do you take to prioritise the specific context and needs of Muslim women? Using the following activity with your team, you can start by unearthing the negative ideas at the root of Islamophobia, their impact on Muslim women colleagues everyday, and discussing what it will take to meaningfully prioritise gender equity in the workplace and beyond.
Spend a full minute examining this picture and then reflect on the following questions.
What do you see in this image? What does it make you think of?
Who is placed in a position of power? How do you know this?
What might be the impact of this interaction on the woman in the centre?
What is denied to Muslim women when they are assumed to have been forced to wear Islamic dress?
Considering laws that prohibit Muslim women and girls from wearing religious dress, what decisions do you think this could force them to make? And what might they therefore not be able to do and be?
What does it achieve when we seek to prevent women from being ‘forced’ to wear certain attire by forcing them to not wear certain attire? How does this connect to sexism?
Where else do people wear religious dress? Who is seen as legitimate in this practice?
Where might you personally be complicit in perpetuating negative ideas about Muslim women?
Over the course of important feminist struggles worldwide, a dangerous phenomena has arisen that pits Muslim womens’ experiences and choices against standards of gender equity and “progress” as they are characterised by the Global North. While violence against women and girls is pervasive, majority-Muslim countries and Islam are spotlighted as being uniquely oppressive towards women because of widely-held false ideas about Muslims being inherently dangerous and repressive. Professor Nadera Shalhoub Kevorkian writes how private security companies, military experts, and even NGOs, create radicalised policies using language of “protecting, supporting, or treating women” who they deem to be “backwards” in order to pathologise and politicise the women they claim to help.
Not only do these strategies ultimately stigmatise and harm Muslim women, but they justify Islamophobic political agendas that beget even more violence. Let’s not forget how the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was largely validated by “feminist causes” that claimed to liberate Afghan women, in order to legitimise and uphold the retaliatory “War on Terror.” This year in India, Muslim girls were denied entry to school for wearing hijabs, implying that their Islamic dress was forced on them by Muslim men, or that they were terrorists themselves. In 2011, the French government banned the wearing of the Niqab in any public place, giving a fine of €130 and a required citizenship class to any objectors. These and many other surveillance strategies have directly led to further violence against and oppression of Muslim women worldwide.
Meanwhile, when international humanitarian institutions assess a country’s scale of Violence Against Women (VAW), they use different frameworks that are not applied to the Global North, which creates disproportionate representations of VAW in majority-Muslim places like Gaza. But when women in Gaza were actually asked about their priorities of care, they rarely cited domestic violence, but focused on needing access to resources and freedom of movement. So who benefits from this targeted amplification of Muslim women experiencing “unique violence at the hands of Muslim men?” Non-Muslim men worldwide who perpetuate violence against women, whose actions are ignored or even normalised. Additionally, the Global North in general benefits from a false ‘moral authority’ that can then be used to demonise certain communities as part of broader geopolitical aims.
In order to disrupt the negative outcomes that Muslim women experience then, we have to identify how they are specifically regulated and used to pursue Islamophobic agendas. Now that you’ve spent some time reflecting and gaining a more in-depth understanding of the roots and scale of the hyper-surveillance of Muslim women and their dress, you can use the following prompts to discuss with your team how to disrupt Islamophobia in your own organisation.
1) How might Islamophobic outcomes similar to the ones above show up in your workplace? What feelings and realities could this generate for Muslim colleagues?
2) Create forums for Muslim women to share comfortably and in a dignified way their experiences in your organisation.
3) In recruitment processes (shortlisting, interview and selection) build in some reflection questions for those involved in decision making, to interrogate and disrupt where these ideas about Muslim women may be informing decision.
4) Track the specific progress of Muslim women into leadership.
5) Monitor how lucrative client engagements or projects are allocated in your organisation.
6) Talk to security and reception at your organisation to ensure they are not basing surveillance decisions on dress or other aspects of people’s identities.
7) Challenge colleagues if you hear them reinforce the idea that Muslim women are oppressed by/because of their religion.