Activism from Afar: How to Make a Difference Even When You’re Far Away

When I was 19, I decided to move abroad, wanting to explore the world and give myself a better professional chance than what my hometown could offer. 

While it has been an incredible experience, it came with its own set of struggles (both expected and unexpected): one of them being the growing disconnection between me and the place I have called home for most of my life. 

I have had to witness national scandals, social crises, political breaking points, and a pandemic at a distance, mixing my homesickness with an acute sense of helplessness. 

Perhaps as a way to protect myself from this reality, I started detaching myself from current affairs, quickly leading me to become unfamiliar with the social and political climate of my own country. 

Instead of having to feel powerless in the face of every tragedy I had to witness from far away, I relied on a version of home that was stuck in time, protecting me from the more sinister developments of reality. I have now had to watch the rise of hatred, discrimination, far right extremism, and violence at a distance; silence is not an option. But, as my home country faces its latest crisis, I find myself unsure of my place at this political juncture.

Society continues to encounter racist, sexist, and xenophobic platforms en masse; while these may be things I feel very strongly about and fight against every day, I have no idea how I can make my voice heard back home, or if I even have much legitimacy in wanting to, as someone who keeps choosing to live far away. 

Still, there are a few things that I have found help me maintain a connection with my home country and what is happening there, even as my focus has also been on where I am now. 

Community efforts were the first thing I missed about home, and the thing that feels the most out of reach now. It may not always be easy or obvious, but maintaining contact with my home community in my new residence has been very helpful not to feel so isolated. Having people speak my language and discuss the ‘in-between’ state of having two homes has helped me find a balance.  

There are many ways to engage in activism remotely — a recent development propelled by the way the pandemic has helped us rethink how we interact with the world and each other. Panels, exhibitions, and talks are now accessible, wherever you are, and have allowed me to feel engaged, involved, and challenged by what is happening in my home country, while also reminding me of my legitimacy in wanting to be involved. 

I have also managed to have my voice officially heard by signing petitions and using all the tools of a democracy at my disposal. Most democracies have overseas constituencies, which enable you to vote for representatives of the diaspora and be accounted for at every level of decision-making. 

While less practical, art and writing have also helped maintain my connection with my mother tongue and feel heard and understood by others, while also taking care of my mental health. By finding and reading the words that best describe my experience, I have been able to keep a creative connection with the struggles and history of my culture, and the people currently defining it. 

I still experience a messy tangle of mixed feelings every time I hear of something dramatic happening back home, but I have found that maintaining strong ties with both communities and not shying away from the dualities of my experience has helped me put it into perspective and find my place. Understanding that our identities live at the intersection of everything we have lived through has helped me make peace with the fact that I will never be just one thing, which has in turn allowed me to do what’s best for me, while also giving back to my home country and honouring where I come from. 

At JAN Trust, we work to raise awareness of intersectional issues and the struggles faced by those living far from their homes. Everyone has the right to feel included and our team value the diverse experiences that come from having different backgrounds. 

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Painting Africa with a single brush: the dangers of telling a single story

Western media has a tendency to tell “a single story” of Africa, and particularly so of African women, which creates a stereotypical perception of Africa and opens the door for unhelpful white saviourism.

Last year, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah recently released an anthology called The Sex Lives of African Women, which explores the sexual lives of women in several countries in Africa. The book was borne out of a desire to diversify the image of African women and their sexuality in media, since, as Sekyiamah has said, the image we are often presented with is one where African women are “repressed or constantly pregnant or they don’t have sanitary towels or they’ve been cut [as part of female genital mutilation]”.

This image obviously misses out on a lot of complexity, but is symptomatic of how the West tends to view Africa: as one uniform region which is poverty-stricken, disease-laden, steeped in violence and conflict, and dependent on Western aid. The image has been perpetuated by Western charities and media. For example, a study showed that in six European countries, “social and political instability”, “violence”, “death”, “corruption”, and “poverty” are the most common terms used in relation to Africa, and in total the coverage on Africa only accounts for 4% of all the foreign news coverage. This means that when people in the West hear about Africa, it tends to be one-sided and very negative.

In the UK, the charity Comic Relief has received extensive criticism, including from David Lammy, for tattooing “images of poverty in the African continent” to encourage donations and for only presenting “Africans as helpless victims to be pitied” rather than equals. Comic Relief also has a history of sending white celebrities to make films about those living in poverty, and presenting Western donations, mosquito nets, food parcels and digging wells as the solution to everything. This white saviourism gives the impression that African people are incapable of helping themselves, and that the same universal solutions can be applied everywhere. It completely disregards the grassroots projects happening all over Africa, established by African people, and that African people who live outside the continent send back more money to their families than the Western world sends in aid. 

Aside from children, who are often the faces of campaigns, women are largely presented as oppressed victims who need to be saved. It is true that there are deep, entrenched inequalities which women face. Gender-based violence is pervasive and maternal mortality rates are high in several African countries — especially so in South Sudan, Chad and Sierra Leone — and in many countries women and girls struggle to obtain education and participate, economically and politically. But, equally, it is important to remember that progress is being made: for example, in Sub-Saharan Africa maternal mortality rates have gone down by 40% since 2000, the average number of years girls attend school has increased substantially in the past 50 years — in Morocco, the number has increased from 2.2 to 13 years, and in Burkina Faso the number has increased from a single year to 8.7 — and the political participation of women is increasing in many Africa countries, most notably Rwanda, South Africa, Namibia, and Senegal, who are all in the top ten countries in the world with the highest number of women’s representation in Parliament. While economic aid and charities are helpful in some cases, progress is mostly made through grassroots initiatives led by local activists who are familiar with the particular contexts in their countries.

These activists are often women. Some examples include Damilola Odufuwa and Odunayo Eweniyi who founded the Feminist Coalition, which focuses on women’s economic and political participation in Nigeria, and, during 2020, they crowdfunded food and medical assistance for SARS protestors. Stella Nyanzi is a political activist and poet in Uganda who uses her poetry to protest against Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni. Senior Chief Theresa Kachindamoto in Malawi has annulled more than 2,500 child marriages in Malawi and sent the children back to school. She has also challenged gender norms by being a woman in a position of authority, has convinced other royal families to appoint women as chiefs so that there are now 55 female chiefs, and has worked to curb the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These are only some of the many women who work for change in all parts of Africa, living proof that they do not need to be saved by white Westerners.

Western media needs to stop painting Africa with this single brush, or, in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, stop telling a “single story of Africa”, and particularly of African women. This single story robs people of dignity, makes it hard to recognise equal humanity, and opens the door for unhelpful white saviourism.

At JAN Trust we empower minority women and work to combat stereotypes by speaking out against racism and all forms of discrimination. We continuously challenge the media’s portrayal of marginalised groups and those who are not white men in the West.

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We need to be careful about creating hierarchies of immigrants

Should place of birth influence a person’s worth?

The UK has long struggled with the idea of cultural and national identity, as a country that wants to be proud of its long history, but must also accept its increasing diversity and grapple with how to address past crimes committed by the Britons of previous centuries against the ancestors of Britons of today. 

In recent years — and particularly in recent months with increasingly xenophobic bills coming through Parliament — this discourse has shifted towards defending British residents from this onslaught and highlighting the extreme prejudice inherent in the idea that a person must be ‘fully and solely British’ or ‘foreign and threatening’. Whilst minoritised ethnic groups have borne the brunt of this prejudice, these gotcha-style rules on citizenship and immigration have meant that anyone without two native-born parents, even if they were born in the UK and grew up in the UK, can find themselves ostensibly without the legal right to be in the country. 

As we condemn these laws and the troubling attitudes behind them, however, we need to be careful about unwittingly creating our own hierarchies of immigrants based on place of birth. A person who was born in the UK and knows no other home should not be forced to jump through hoops to stay in the country. 

Many of our country’s celebrities and idols are lauded for being “born and raised” or “born and bred” in the UK, which strengthens public support for them, and, when they are subject to horrifying abuse, this is often where public defence of these figures focuses. 

But, if we focus on ‘only’ defending those born in this country, we risk labelling immigrant Brits — whether naturalised citizens or long-term residents — with an inferior status.

International migration conceptualises generations of immigrants based on place of birth and ancestry, whereby a ‘first generation immigrant’ moves country as an adult and a ‘second generation immigrant’ is born in their home country to immigrant parents, and so on. We are now at the point, though, where there are countless ‘generations’ of immigrants and real people who don’t fit nicely into one particular category — for example, many people are caught in the limbo of having immigrated to their country of residence, but at such a young age that they don’t remember any other life.

A person who was born in the UK to non-British parents is not ‘worth’ any less than a person born to two adults born in the UK. Yet, is a person who also grew up in the UK but spent a few years of their young life in a different country worth any less? Is a person who considers the UK their home but ‘only’ immigrated as an adult then worth less than that?

It’s clear how problematic this debate could be. 

If a person contributes to the country, abides by British laws, and considers the UK their home, then we should not be judging their worth based on how ‘British’ they are based on some rudimentary characteristics that have been determined arbitrarily, or subjecting them to even more discrimination than they have likely already faced. 

Those of us who love living in London value the diversity that the city brings. This diversity is, in large part, a result of 40% of Londoners coming from minoritised ethnic backgrounds and 37% of Londoners being immigrants of some sort.

The idea of an ‘immigrant’ is a helpful administrative term, but the days of generations of families staying in the same town or country are far behind it, and we need to adapt our cultural and societal perceptions accordingly. 

At JAN Trust, we are proud of our history — as an organisation that was founded to satisfy the needs of marginalised immigrant communities — and work to ensure that minoritised ethnic women and young people are not left behind. But we also know that we must evolve with the changing times and actively campaign against stereotypes and prejudice. No person should be treated differently based on the colour of their skin or where they, or their parents, were born.

In 2022, should we even still be so fixated on the idea of the ‘immigrant’?

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The dominating perception that light skin colour defines beauty standards

Do you think your skin colour determines perceptions of you in society?

Skin colour is an extremely sensitive issue which faces implausible bias. Discrimination is evident between races, however, prejudice within ethnic groups due to variations in skin colour demonstrates the severity of this issue. 

Although diversity is promoted in the present society, there is an ideal appearance which has shaped beauty standards. This image presents fairer individuals as more beautiful compared to individuals with ‘dusky’ complexions. This ideal has proven to be damaging, particularly amongst young women, as they feel their physical appearance is under constant scrutiny from ideal images, which are being reinforced by mainstream media and the marketplace. 

As a young woman from the South Asian community, I have witnessed people aspiring to have lighter skin with devastating consequences, as fair skin was taken to mean you were more attractive, which provided you with better opportunities, such as finding a good-looking spouse. This ideal of fair skin has been ingrained into a common belief, so much so that young girls compare their ‘levels of beauty’ according to their complexion. This is highly problematic as it is creating insecurity amongst young girls leading to issues concerning their mental health. 

The origins of this ideal can be drawn from the colonial period, where western colonisers used the pale ideal to justify their actions. Colonisers had created white supremist ideology to justify racial slavery; they emphasised that whiteness became identified with all that is civilised, virtuous and beautiful. This tool employed by the colonisers became a deeply rooted belief amongst colonised societies, including India who associated light skin with higher social standing. An article published in 2018, investigating the importance of skin colour in arranged marriage, highlighted the pale ideal to be driven from White rule, leading to “internalisation of superiority and power of the ‘white’ skin and inferiority and powerlessness of dark skin”. 

The trauma of light skin supremacy is long-standing, as many communities hold social status dependant on one’s physical appearance. This gives rise to an unjust society which places physical characteristics over merit. 

Based on this ‘light skin ideal’, there have developed multi-national cosmetic brands which are rapidly increasing in popularity. Global Industry Analysts have noted that the driving force is the ‘dark skin stigma and cultural perception that correlates lighter skin tone with beauty and personal success’. Additionally, the media have promoted the television of a Netflix reality series called ‘Indian Matchmaking’ which has sparked significant debate, as its protagonist puts lighter-skinned women and men on a pedestal, praising their complexion as a highly desirable attribute.

The coupled impact of cultural belief and popularisation of this ideal has normalised this form of racism, creating a discriminatory divide between the light- and dark-skinned. The globalised effect of this prejudice has become increasingly evident as individuals from non-European backgrounds speak out about their experiences.

The toxicity of this prejudice is forcing young girls to fall into an ‘identity crisis’ — they are unable to express themselves because skin colour is the greatest determiner of their identity. This can lead an otherwise pure relationship, such as friendship, between a light-skinned and dark-skinned girl to face struggles because society will constantly compare their future based on their complexion.  The projection of this Eurocentric image has become the epitome of beauty, which has shaped a prejudiced society. Society is blinded to this prejudice, as being light skinned has become a desirable characteristic that is woven into current trends and popularised by the media. 

It is important to break these stereotypes around skin colour and call out the perpetuation of this prejudice. A psychologist, Dr Tina Mistry, has presented ways for people to embrace their natural self, such as looking at brands which cater for your skin type, changing your social media feed by following people that look like you, and seeking professional help if you are struggling with self-esteem that is impacting your day-to-day life. These are some of the actions that can be taken by individuals, but it is important that society participates in a collective effort to condemn this prejudice.

Activists have created campaigns to stand against bias towards lighter skin. Kavitha Emmanuel set up the ‘Dark Is Beautiful campaign’ in 2009, which is not ‘anti-white’ but about inclusivity and beauty beyond colour. This campaign forms as a platform for people to share their personal stories of skin colour bias, which also holds endorsement form celebrities. This campaign acts as a step towards ensuring everyone is aware that discrimination based on physical appearance is a backwards and derogatory attitude.

JAN Trust stand for universal women empowerment as an organisation rooted in helping women from ethnic minorities. We seek to aid women in developing their self-confidence to achieve their best in whatever it is they choose to do. JAN Trust are specifically working with schools to educate young people about online dangers which can have a detrimental impact on their lives. 

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Who is Responsible for Partisan Violence?

Despite the last few years witnessing sweeping and hopeful social justice movements such as #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, climate strikes, and repeated protests against deportation efforts, instances of hate crime and discrimination in England are far from declining.

COVID-19 had a particularly compounding effect in not only increasing violence against women, girls and minorities, but also making reporting and accounting far more arduous. However, the pandemic isn’t the only explanation as to why the deeply rooted racism in our society is increasingly translating into instances of hate-based violence.

Of course, the initial answer as to “who is responsible” for this violence is always going to be the perpetrators of such acts.

However, it would be short-sighted to say that this is just “the way things are,” especially when put into the context of the global rise of right-wing extremism.

There are many factors that can account for the rise of division, isolation, and worsening relations in Britain, such as financial crises and inflation, the effects of Covid-19, and racist bias from the media.

But it is also important to take a deeper look at who is fuelling the fire of such existing divisions, increasingly turning them into instances of hate-based violence. In particular, we must take an honest look at the role our politicians and celebrities play in promoting narratives that can have lethal consequences on vulnerable populations while also skirting accountability for the way their words will be acted upon.

Donald Trump may be the most stark example of how a politician’s words and attitude can encourage populations to commit violent acts seemingly in their name: when a protestor was escorted out of his rally in 2016, he said himself that he’d “like to punch him in the face,” a statement that followed a long history of encouraging his followers’ violence with vitriolic remarks.

The UK is no stranger to far-right mobs inspired by words from British politicians. And they started long before Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own words were repeated to Keir Starmer by protesters who threatened violence earlier this year.

In 2019, it was Labour representatives campaigning for a second Brexit referendum that were attacked and abused by far-right demonstrators chanting Johnson’s name. In 2020, an acrimonious eight-tweet thread by Johnson claimed that Black Lives Matters protests had “been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence.” The Prime Minister decided to draw attention to alleged “attacks on the police” and “indiscriminate acts of violence” at the hands of BLM protestors, which he described as “intolerable” and “abhorrent.”

After he claimed that the Parliament Square statue of Winston Churchill was at “risk of attack by violent protestors,” swarms of supporters violently attacked BLM protestors, bolstered by their Prime Minister’s words and chanting his name.

Not only were his words careless and partisan, but they also provided extremists with the semblance of legitimacy and democratic endorsement, which was supported by the inaction of the Metropolitan Police. The violence that Johnson’s words triggered targeted peaceful protestors largely made up of marginalised communities.

Yet, there is only ever one answer to such instances: politicians repeatedly stating that they do not condone such violence, thereby skirting accountability for their words.

Nevertheless, in the same way that simply not being racist cannot be enough to bring racial equality, simply not condoning hate-based violence is but the bare minimum when one is supposed to represent and protect an entire country.

Angry speeches and hasty statements made by political representatives are part of the harmful discourse that perpetuates violence, legitimising it with the weight of the political institutions that come with elected officials. These instances cannot be seen as accidental, especially when they accompany systemic abuse by security forceseducation policies, and laws that particularly impact vulnerable people.

The race to be relevant in the 24-hour news cycle combined with the trials and tribulations of increasingly living online — inundated by anonymous abuse — have got us used to angry words uttered ostensibly solely for their shock-value. But, this does not mean politicians and elected representatives can be absolved from responsibility when they use harmful rhetoric to divide, pushing racist and sexist agendas, and relying on old stereotypes in order to trigger support.

The House of Commons 2021 report on Hate Crime stated that “victims of hate crime were more likely to be affected emotionally and psychologically following a crime than victims of all crime.” This includes higher rates of anxiety and panic attacks among many other symptoms which are starkly higher than after non-hate-based crimes.

There needs to be a serious consideration of the weight carried by statements made by public figures, and a frank call for accountability on the real-life consequences that such speeches can have. Some might say that imploring society to be more careful about the words we use and the statements we give attention to is already a lost cause, but JAN Trust will not give up, as we believe that we can make a difference in the fight against hate and extremism.

Posted in Active citizenship, BAME, british, Campaigning, Crime, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, Far right, Hate Crime, International, islamophobia, MET, Online abuse, Online hate, Politics, Prime Minister, Racism, Society, Twitter, Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not Everyone Gets to “Stay At Home”

Between COVID-19, adverse weather, and tube strikes, we have now become somewhat accustomed to sudden demands to stay at home and avoid travelling when possible – especially to work. 

Thankfully, the development of hybrid working has made us highly adaptable to such orders. Schools have developed apps and online teaching tools; many workers have the necessary equipment and a designated space to work from in their home. For many, the habits created over the past two years can allow sudden demands to stay at home to have a minimal impact on their mental and physical health as well as their workload. Indeed, many have found benefits of now being able to work from home (‘WFH’) when they did not before. 

However, we tend to forget too quickly that staying home and earning money is not a possibility for everyone. Deemed essential to the functioning of society, first sector, utility, health, social care, and food supply chain workers have been continuously required to go to work, even as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed or the country witnessed wind speeds as high as 122 mph.

A focus on who is actually affected by these stay-at-home orders is needed to understand how events such as the pandemic and natural disasters keep overwhelmingly increasing social inequalities, especially along education levels and in the labour market.

While WFH tends to favour male, older, well-educated, and well-paid employees, key workers tend to be the lowest paid and disproportionally made up of people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds.

This has introduced a new axis of inequality in our society: those who have the capacity, freedom, and option to work from home as opposed to those who don’t. Incidentally, the populations that fall on either side of this duality tend to mirror the racial and gender inequalities of society as a whole. 

Over the past two years, those we have repeatedly sent to the frontlines of our society have tended to be the least privileged: mostly ethnic minorities and women. While their work is deemed essential, income inequalities between those who can work from home and those who can’t keep increasing. 

Being unable to work from home creates a long list of short-term hardships for workers, which can range from disproportionate fatality rates (which are already higher among certain ethnic minority groups) to the increased risk of having to face violence and discrimination (which is also higher for certain ethnic minority groups). 

Particularly during the pandemic, public scapegoating of migrantshealthcare professionals and food workers from minority backgrounds rose exponentially. Those who did not have the option to stay home — therefore being faced with higher risk of exposure and transmission — somehow became subject to blame for the spread of the virus throughout the country.

Instead of providing an analysis of how the organisation of labour dramatically affected the most vulnerable, the media made shortcuts between minority communities and COVID rates that relied on pre-existing assumptions, which in turn compounded discriminatory behaviours towards them. As “key worker” slowly became synonymous with “minority”, there were dramatic consequences for the lives, safety, and health of communities that are often poor and non-White.

The situation is even worse for minority women, who are overrepresented in caring positions, still responsible for most of the housework, have to shoulder most of the added emotional labour caused by the pandemic, and still have to juggle with childcare as the rest of the world gets to work from home. 

But, these are just the short-term consequences. Looking towards the future, the pandemic has already increased income inequality, socio-economic inequalities in education and skills, and intergenerational inequalities

This, combined with the existing gap in education, skills, and income among racial and ethnic groups, paints a worrying picture of “working from home” ever being truly accessible to many marginalised communities, for whom breaking intergenerational patterns is becoming more and more out of reach. 

As all the attention is now on the future of hybrid work, with such initiatives as the Right to Request Remote Work Bill appearing in Ireland, it seems that once again minority ethnic, low income, and vulnerable populations are pushed out of the conversation, even as their poverty levels are rising and their working conditions are overwhelmingly ignored. 

Even as working from home seems to be taking the world by storm, we must remember that our society cannot function without its millions of key workers, and make every effort possible to ensure that all types of employment benefit from a diverse workforce. JAN Trust works to raise awareness of intersectional inequalities affecting our marginalised communities, which is why we encourage rethinking a labour market that has led to health, social care, food and necessary goods workers to be among the lowest income in the country, while simultaneously often being the only accessible profession to vulnerable groups. 

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The Double Standards in Fashion: Kim Kardashian covering herself is high fashion, but Muslim women covering up is a form of repression

As everyone admires this year’s Met Gala ensembles, it’s important to think about the lens through which we see clothing and fashion.

The Met Gala is undoubtedly one of the fashion highlights of the year: celebrities and other notable people dress up in the most amazing — most of the time, simply bizarre — outfits according to the theme and strut down the red carpet, posing for the media. Last year’s Met Gala took place on 13th September and the theme was American Independence.

One look that caught many people’s eyes was Kim Kardashian’s black ensemble which covered every inch of her body, including her face and hair. Many critics were confused and thought the look had no aesthetic value or meaning, whilst others loved the look and lauded it as one of the best looks of the night. While people tried to decipher the significance of the outfit, Kim Kardashian responded on Instagram by posting a picture of herself at the gala with the caption of: “What’s more American than a T-shirt head to toe?”. 

While her statement does bear weight and her outfit deserves credit for creativity and boldness, many disagreed with the white privilege she experienced whilst wearing such an outfit. Muslim women in the West who wish to cover themselves are discriminated against and experience racism, and in some countries are even banned from wearing their religious clothing, and yet Kim Kardashian was labelled as a fashion icon simply because she isn’t Muslim. 

This is no criticism of Kim Kardashian herself. The issue here is the reception of her outfit by others and in the media. It’s ironic that the burqa, which is so often seen in Western media as a symbol for Islamic oppression, was complimented and labelled as “high fashion” at an event in the West with a theme of ‘independence’. The Muslim women who, on a daily basis, wear essentially the very same outfit as Kim Kardashian are never considered to be fully consenting adults who are “independently” making the decision to cover themselves.

Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, told Vogue that he believed that we have come to a time where American identity needs to be re-examined “through the lens of recent social justice movements”. He said that he was impressed by “American designers’ responses to the social and political climate, particularly around issues of body inclusivity and gender fluidity”, and that he is finding their work very, very self-reflective”. Although not deliberately intended, the outfit has actually caused reflection and reignited the social justice movement against Islamophobia, and the double standards between Muslim and non-Muslim women. Fashion is meant to provoke, to cause outrage, and to begin a discussion, and, based on this case, we can agree that it has accomplished what it has set out to achieve. 

It’s time for society to stop dictating what women can do, say, and wear, and open up the freedom to express oneself to all. We are all empowered by different things, and we must celebrate that. JAN Trust values the inherent worth of every individual, and provides expert training and workshops in schools and offices that help raise awareness and deconstruct myths that surround sensitive topics such as Islamophobia. 

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What that infamous Oscars incident reveals about toxic masculinity

After the extensive media coverage received, there is no need to recap the events of 28th March 2022, when Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock out of anger at the latter’s belittling jokes about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaven head caused by alopecia-induced hair loss at the Oscars. 

Very few Hollywood incidents have received this amount of international attention, from outraged op-eds to the footage playing on a loop. The words that seem to resurface the most describe “shock” and “surprise” at what happened. And yet, on the day, the slap was followed by silence and inaction; the general feeling of discomfort did not stop the show from continuing on as planned. Similarly, that incident was widely condemned but it has not stopped many individuals and even companies from producing memes or making jokes about the assault to capitalise on potential publicity — as if the impact on assault victims and the backlash don’t matter, and that this is somehow a laughing matter. 

Simply put, toxic masculinity is the cultural pressure for boys and men to behave in a certain — “manly” — way. The idea of “manliness” in question is one that perpetuates domination, homophobia, sexism, and aggression. On the other hand, it also equates masculinity with a lack of emotion and the appearance of complete invulnerability. Steeped in old gender roles of women as “emotional” and men as “tough”, this translates into perpetual encouragement to repress one’s feelings until they fester and break out by the one acceptable and expected means: violence. 

Patriarchal roles follow familiar narratives of protective, strong men and soft, nurturing women. In this script, Will Smith was cast as the protector; when Jada opened up, a few days after the incident, to state that it was now “a season for healing,” she slid into the role of the carer, providing the support needed by the man who used violence in her name. Indeed, as many noted, she was more than capable of defending herself and had an opportunity to raise awareness or speak up for herself in a way of her choice taken away from her. 

Heated debates about what it means to “protect women” only betray our society’s comfort with male violence and female victims which serve no one. The narrative of Will Smith defending his wife is a seducing one, especially as we consider the history of Chris Rock’s repeated teasing and belittling of Jada Pinkett Smith all the way since the 1990s. However, living in a world where many men are unable to communicate their emotions results in a society too ready to cast experiences of violence into the mould of heroism. 

The prevalent idea that “love makes you do crazy things” is blinding us from a conversation about men’s anger and the harm it is doing to them just as much as their loved ones. The emotional state that would push someone to resort to violence in their workplace and the absence of other avenues for healing and dialogue is a sign of our society’s inability to provide mental health care to all and to rid itself of harmful behavioural expectations for all genders. 

While our society has grown more rigorous with punishing violence, toxic masculinity would state that there are some instances when it can be okay, because it falls into narratives of defending helpless women. This creates a familiarity with gender relations being seeped in physical anger, a leniency to violence as an alternative to communication that is endangering many of its victims. In England, three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases are closed early without the suspect being charged, while only 1.6% of rape allegations result in someone being charged.

The lack of tools and resources to combat toxic ideas of what it means to be a man is harming everyone, including men themselves. The public outrage against Will Smith and his resignation from the Academy are only the top of the iceberg; the real worry is the lack of avenues for men and young boys, men of colour, and those from already marginalised communities to express their feelings and be given tools to exteriorise them that don’t include resorting to violence. 

Having zero tolerance towards men’s violence is of course one thing. But, we need a much deeper look at men’s mental health and how the most vulnerable are deeply affected by the pressure of stereotypes they must mould themselves into, if we hope to end violence against women and girls. This is especially true in marginalised communities, who are most at risk of facing violence and have little access to support or remedy. At JAN Trust, we see it as vitally important to raise awareness of harmful stereotypes in our fight against violence against women and to show that all people have equal worth — and should have equal power. 

Posted in discrimination, girls, Health Issues, Inclusion, International, International Affairs, mental health, Representation, Society, Violence, Violence Against Women, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How does my hijab determine how I am perceived?

Why practising your religion should not prevent you from thriving.

Why does wearing religious garments or symbols marginalise you in society?

From my experiences and observations, I found that it is not normal for people to carry visual symbols of their religion — in fact, many of these people face prejudice and discrimination. 

I found myself a victim of this prejudice when I decided that I was ready to wear the hijab. I took this step when I first began secondary school, which took a lot of courage as I was embracing an important part of my identity whilst moving on to the next stage in my education. I was very nervous and conscious of my surroundings as I was in a new social environment.

It was not long until I was faced with my first obstacle in my new stage in life, when I was told that I was privileged to wear my hijab with school uniform. This comment was made as my scarf had accidentally covered the school tie, but it was a statement which made me feel isolated from everyone else. 

I was reminded that my hijab does not fit in with their uniform, which immediately made me feel marginalised. As this occurred at such an early stage in my journey as a hijabi, it made me question my decision of wearing the headscarf. I felt very self-conscious when I was in a social environment where there were no other hijabi women. I found myself missing out on opportunities, as I was afraid my hijab would not be accepted.

However, I soon realised that my hijab was a symbol of my peaceful religion. Everyone has the freedom to practice their faith, so I should not be afraid to embrace an integral part of my identity due the ignorance of others. I came to terms with the fact that difference is not widely accepted by people, which can lead to prejudice, which is what I faced. 

I believe that all Muslim women should confidently embrace their hijab and not be afraid of the judgements of others. We should not allow ill judgments to limit us; rather, we should emphasise that our hijab is a cause for our empowerment. 

Minority groups are often quickly marginalised due to their differences, as difference is met with fear. Presently, this attitude is common towards Muslims as a result of atrocities committed by a small group of ‘Muslims’. The media are characterising these acts as attributable to all Muslims, thereby promoting fear against them. This, in turn, is causing many Muslims to feel isolated in society, as they are confronted by negative stereotypes and are made to feel apologetic towards actions carried out by a small group. 

Muslim women are placed at a greater disadvantage due to their gender and religion. Women are considered to be weaker than men due to their physical characteristics and Muslims carry a negative stigma due to false representation. Therefore, Muslim women are faced with a multitude of damaging stereotypes which can further demotivate them to reach for their potential.

This has made integration difficult for Muslims as well as other minority ethnic groups, as people have become reluctant to communicate with people who appear to be ‘different’. It is important to break down these hesitations and misjudgements so that they do not form stereotypes by educating people that actions of some people from a group do not characterise the attitudes of an entire group. 

JAN Trust seek to embolden women who are faced with prejudice and discrimination through our expert support and stand to encourage, educate and empower women. By promoting tolerance and raising awareness about the dangers posed by discrimination and extremism, we work towards strengthening a peaceful society. 

Posted in Advocacy, BAME, british, discrimination, girls, hijab, Inclusion, Islam, islamophobia, Muslim, Muslim dress, Muslim women, Racism, Representation, Society, We At JAN Trust, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How the Home Office uses narratives to justify more state control

Law and order has long been an issue that political parties exploit to appeal to voters. Complex social issues are flattened into two-dimensional narratives of good vs. evil that play on citizens’ fear and sense of security. 

The world of politics is fast moving. While some issues only remain important for a single election cycle, crime and policing remains high on the policy agenda across different elections, governments, and contexts. Politicians and parties often use the issue of crime and public safety to appeal to voters, from the infamous 1997 ‘New Labour, New Danger‘ Conservative campaign advert to the Home Office’s new Beating Crime Plan. Campaigns and policies such as these intend to push a clear narrative that criminality is inherent to certain individuals who we must, in the words of Boris Johnson, “come down hard on” in order to protect “the law-abiding majority”. Yet, the reasons behind crime are complex, with many different factors driving individuals to break the law. 

Instead of acknowledging how society and those in power may be failing individuals and leading them to crime, a simpler picture is painted that plays on voters fears and calls for harsher policing and punishment. Additionally, the ethnic disparities in how crime is recorded, spoken about, and perceived make both the perception of criminality as inherent and the action taken by police particularly harmful to BAMER communities. It has been argued that viewing criminality as inherent is a fundamentally racist approach to crime and punishment, a criticism that has particularly been made against Bill Clinton’s attitude towards crime in the US. It is also hypocritical to paint a picture of criminality that plays on public fears to win votes or policy support, when we now have a Prime Minister who has openly admitted to taking a Class A drug. People have the capacity to do bad things and still contribute to society and flourish — we must facilitate that instead of pitting citizens against each other and implementing measures intended to publicly humiliate those who have broken the law.

Not only does this approach to crime dehumanise perpetrators, but it also does a disservice to victims and their families. Victims cannot be painted as a homogenous group — victims and their families will react to crime and trauma differently, and have different views on what retribution looks like to them. But, despite this, victims are often portrayed as a singular group and used to justify any increase in police powers. ‘We owe it to the victims’, we are told, with little regard for what victims actually want. 

For many victims, the best form of justice isn’t increasing sentence lengths or stop and search powers as the government proposes, but taking effective action to prevent anyone else falling victim to the same crime. There are many examples of victims advocating for strategies focused on community or education, rather than harsher policing, to tackle the type of crime by which they were affected. The Ben Kinsella Trust, for example, was set up by Ben Kinsella’s family after he was killed aged 16 as a consequence of knife crime. JAN Trust has long worked within communities to campaign against knife crime and raise awareness of the need to fight against such dangers. 

Such nuanced approaches to knife crime, with a strong focus on prevention, are rarely reflected in politicians’ use of victim narratives to justify policing tactics. Instead, politicians lean heavily on the victim characterisation to allow them to pass policy with little scrutiny for its efficacy. Better law and policy would consult directly with victims, rather than using a nameless ‘victim’ to further a particular narrative.

Parties across the political spectrum, but particularly those in power, must view crime differently to take effective action against it and not just rely on binary narratives to score political points. In fairy tales, evil is shown to be inherent, and we rarely see examples of villains changing for the better. We must break away from our reliance on simplistic tropes to help us understand the world and approach the issue of crime with empathy for both sides. Particularly in the wake of Black Lives Matter, Sarah Everard, and the Plymouth shooting, we must be conscious of communities’ needs and growing distrust of policing. 

To many, the police aren’t a knight in shining armour committed to protecting them. Calls for more police may do little to address the deep-rooted issues in this country. Abandoning our current narratives around crime is the first step forward. At JAN Trust, we are committed to responding to the concerns and needs of our beneficiaries. We work to empower mothers, and young women and girls against the dangers presented by online extremism and hate crime, including violence. We know that a holistic approach is necessary if we are to truly tackle this issue.

Posted in BAME, british, Crime, discrimination, Ethnic Minorities, Home Office, London, MET, police, Politics, Prime Minister, Racism, Representation, Violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment