UK: Muslim women angry at views being ignored, study shows

The Guardian
Muslim women in Britain feel their views are being ignored because community leaders and male-dominated national Muslim organisations are failing to represent them, according to a recent government report.
The study, the most comprehensive attempt to represent the views of British Muslim women, found that women believe they are also widely misrepresented in the media, and end up as "pawns" in national debates on issues such as dress codes.
While the media is guilty of stereotyping women as oppressed and submissive, fuelling Islamophobia and even violence, the Muslim community itself silences women at national and local level, according to those joining a national "listening exercise" run by the Muslim Women's Network and Women's National Commission, both of which advise the government.

They also accuse the government of consulting the community only through groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain, in which women's voices are "either absent or extremely marginalised".

Women speaking at a series of five roadshows that contributed to the five-month study were united in their view that, despite a strong desire to have their voices heard, women are also excluded from debate in their local communities. Men within the communities use Islam as "a way to control women", they said, even though this is driven by cultural practice rather than true Islam. Women questioned wanted acceptance of their rights under Islam, and called for their local mosques to be opened up to more women and greater representation on their governing bodies.

Islamist terrorist attacks and increased debate over Muslim women's dress have heightened levels of Islamophobia and racism to the extent that daily experiences of verbal and even physical abuse are now unremarkable, says the report, titled She Who Disputes after the story of a woman who successfully challenged the prophet Muhammad over the unfairness of divorce customs.

The study says the problem "critically curtails the lives of women and children", who do not feel safe on the streets.

Muslim women also raised concerns at levels of violence against women within their community, and stressed that services should not accept "culture" as a reason for failing to protect them.

A large majority of those attending the roadshows knew someone who had been forced into marriage, though the issue has always been dismissed as rare by community leaders. Women were concerned that appropriate help was not always available for those who needed it, and did not regard mainstream domestic violence refuges as able to cater to the religious and cultural needs of Muslim women.

Lucy Ward, social affairs correspondent
Thursday December 7, 2006
The Guardian