Tuesday thoughts: Hijabs, the Scottish police and women’s bodies

Summer 2016 saw Muslim women’s dress at the forefront of public debate. As the media storm surrounding the #BurkiniBan raged on, the Scottish Police Force made the announcement that Hijabs are now to be accepted as part of their uniform, with women no longer having to seek approval to wear them (as was previously the case). This change in rules was received positively, with politicians, Muslim groups and senior police figures welcoming the shift towards a more inclusive police force in Scotland. Establishing a dichotomy between ‘deplorable’ France and progressive, representative Scotland became widespread across a range of voices, gratefully embracing a rare moment of optimism in a climate of Islamophobia and increased hate crime against Muslim women.

This response necessitates a pause for thought. As advocates for the rights and dignity of ethnic minority women, it’s critical we approach policy shifts like this with nuance and that we avoid uncritically lauding Scotland’s change in uniform policy as a direct ‘contrast’ to France. It’s tempting to grasp onto any glimpse of progress towards a society in which state institutions welcome, rather than persecute black and brown bodies, and it is easy to establish nationalistic narratives of a liberal and tolerant British state and a racist, dictatorial French state (a narrative we can see reproduced in British discourse surrounding police brutality against black people in the US). But upon closer inspection, the suggestion that this policy change is indicative of progressive and inclusive values in the UK is naïve to say the least.

Whilst the incident on the beach in Nice, in which a woman was forced to remove an item of clothing at the feet of four officers towering above her produced an egregious visual image of subjugation and control, the ostensibly oppositional developments in the Scottish police force have merely moved beyond a requirement that its female Muslim police officers have to ask permission to wear a particular item of clothing. Even aside from the unwillingness to understand or engage with the religious background of workers who are integral to the daily functioning of the force, the symbolic significance of a requirement to seek approval for sartorial choices renders the move away from this deplorable power dynamic at best a rejection of Victorian-style notions of women’s agency over their own bodies.

Moreover, perhaps we should hesitate a moment before praising the steps the Scottish police have taken in reaching out to the Muslim community: any attempts to improve representation are long overdue. Chief Constable Phil Gormley’s hope that “this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse,” is somewhat underwhelming given that in a staff force of 17, 242 there are just 6 Muslim women. None of these officers wear the hijab on duty or out in force. This lack of diversity is extremely problematic when considered in the context of a community facing rampant Islamophobia and widespread mistrust of authorities, inevitable in a climate of high profile cases of unfair racial profiling. There is an urgent need for a sustained and concerted effort to send a message to the Muslim community that they are welcome to participate in any and all employment sectors, whilst retaining the freedom to express their culture and religion.

Rather than a jingoistic celebration of the ‘progressive and inclusive’ values demonstrated by allowing women to make their own clothing choices, we at the Jan Trust instead would like to focus on the way in which the inclusion of the hijab in police uniform allows for an image of Muslim women which runs contrary to mainstream narratives of silent, subjugated figures and instead positions them as professional women in an important and challenging role in society. We believe that society can be stronger, fairer and more equal if we knock down the barriers to women achieving their potential and realising their dreams, and we continue to dedicate our efforts as an organisation in order to make this happen.

To find out more about our work, please visit www.jantrust.org

Posted in Muslim, women, Muslim women, Society, hijab, Muslim dress, Diversity, Inclusion, Representation, Ethnic Minorities | Tagged , , ,

New Racist Codewords Emerge Online: How to Stay Vigilant

Internet slang and codewords morph almost constantly. That’s why it’s important that we stay as up to date as possible with changes.

Knowledge of popular platforms and apps helps us stay connected with our children in a positive way. But it also enables us to monitor what they’re up to online and be vigilant against worrying behaviour.

Many national publications recently reported a growing trend in online communities developing a new code for racial, homophobic, and bigoted slurs in an attempt to avoid censorship.

The code uses terms like “Google,” “Skittle,” and “Yahoo” as substitutes for offensive words describing black people, Muslims, and Mexicans. It is being used on Twitter and other social media platforms.

The words have been deliberately chosen as big brand names – many of them internet giants – to bypass filters designed to censor this kind of content. It’s easier for Google to filter out obviously racist language, for instance, than to identify and erase offensive posts that use its own brand name as a derogatory term.

We are concerned that Islamist extremists such as Daesh are adopting this language to reach young people who are ‘in-the-know’ about these codewords. The use of these words also helps online extremists evade capture and continue peddling their hateful ideology to our children.

Our Web Guardians© programme is designed to equip Muslim mothers with the essential skills to tackle dangerous influencers online. We make sure mothers have the necessary knowledge to enter the online world with confidence, so they support their children at home and, ultimately, protect them. Our training is not simply focused upon technology, but extends to social and cultural tactics used to radicalise and recruit, such as language.

To find out more about Web Guardians©, visit our website or send us an email to info@jantrust.org. If you’re an organisation that is interested in partnering with us, please fill in our partnership form.

Posted in Daesh, Facebook, google, ISIS, islamophobia, Jan Trust, Online abuse, Online hate, Racism, Radicalisaton, skittle, Twitter, Web Guardians, yahoo

We must equip Muslim mothers to combat hate crime online

Hate crime is often perpetrated through direct violent words and actions, but also appears as indirect aggressions through the social media world.

Mocking physical appearance and use of abusive language, using derogatory labels and humiliation, and making false and abhorrent claims about a person, are all forms of bullying which may be categorised as hate crime. This includes racial, Islamophobic and anti-immigration attacks.

Whereas bullying was previously associated with the playground, cyber bullying occurs on internet platforms and involves pictures, comments, taunts and threats – and it’s on the rise. Psychiatrists and campaigners have raised the alarm about the impact of social media on mental health, citing women aged between 16 and 24 as a high-risk group.

A new report shows that six out of ten parents are concerned about cyber bullying, yet nearly four out of ten are unaware of where to go to get help. That’s why the work we do at JAN Trust is so crucial.

Our Web Guardians© programme is designed to equip Muslim mothers with the essential skills to tackle dangerous influencers online. With cultural sensitivity and technical expertise, we ensure mothers are left feeling confident about using online devices to support their children at home and, ultimately, to protect them.

To find out more about Web Guardians©, visit our website (http://webguardians.org/) or give us a call on 0208 889 9433. If you’re an organisation that is interested in partnering with us, please fill in our partnership form.

National Hate Crime Awareness Week runs from 8 – 15 October 2016.

Posted in Extremism, Hate Crime, islamophobia, Jan Trust, Muslim, Muslim women, National Hate Crime Awareness Week, Radicalisaton, Uncategorized, Web Guardians

It’s Time We Broke the Silence on Mental Health Among South Asians

Poor mental health is normally regarded as something that affects individuals. But sometimes it can help to take a step back and look at what may be troubling the minds of particular groups in our society. There’s growing evidence that a combination of social pressures are creating overwhelming challenges for some people in the South Asian community.

It’s important to help people with mental health problems in any community. But in the case of South Asians, offering timely and effective assistance can prevent catastrophe, as young Asian men with mental health issues are increasingly being targeted by extremists and radicalised. The pain and confusion that often comes with their illness is being redirected into violent rage.

When we examine the life of a “lone wolf” attacker we’ll often find a web of interlinked issues that have contributed to their fragile mental state, such as a difficult upbringing, bullying, rejection and confusion over their identity. Often, the people suffering do not feel they belong in our society.

While lone wolf attacks are certainly not an inevitable result of mental health conditions, they present an urgent need to ask community-specific questions on mental health to help us find the right remedies.

The issue is beginning to attract the kind of attention it needs. A report focusing on the mental health of Asian women, for instance, has been published by Sarah Wright and Dr. Nimmi Hutnik. The authors cited financial problems, poor health and social isolation as factors affecting mental health in this group. Some were also struggling with culturally-specific problems concerning religion and the concepts of “honour” and “shame”.  To make matters worse, mental health services are routinely avoided by South Asian women in the UK, until they reach the “point of desperation” when it is often “too late”.

Breaking the taboo in discussing mental health is vital and a few South Asian public figures have stepped forward to talk about their own struggles. Suffering from paranoia and anxiety, England cricketer Monty Panesar described the pressure of having to conform to fixed ideas on masculinity. “When you play cricket you want to be perceived as strong, resilient, able to be competitive,” he said. After opening up about his experiences, many young Asians approached him to thank him.

Musician Steve Kapur, or Apache Indian, whose 1993 single Boom Shack-A-Lak reached number 5 in the UK, has also discussed his experiences of depression. “Whether it’s cultural, embarrassment, or whatever it is – we brush a lot of things under the carpet,” he said. To help young people face up to their difficulties, he now runs a music academy at South Birmingham College where students can express themselves through music and open dialogue.

What we urgently need is a comprehensive study on mental health in South Asian communities, with a particular focus on women’s issues. It is only by dissecting some of the issues at the heart of these communities that we can begin to resolve the host of interrelated domestic and social problems manifest in wider society..

If you’re interested in our work to empower women, please get in touch with us here: http://jantrust.org/contact-us.

Posted in Citizenship, Education, Extremism, girls, Health Issues, mental health, Radicalisaton, South Asian, women

Jihadi Bride Heading Women’s Cell

This week news reports emerged that British widow Sally Jones is leading a secret army of female jihadis who are aiming- along with their children, to launch a violent wave of suicide attacks in Europe.

The mother of two has been hailed by Daesh as a figurehead for the recruitment of western girls and women. Bragging about her plans to release hell on the UK through planned attacks and suicide missions, Sally Jones has been able to maintain a presence on social media despite her accounts repeatedly being taken down. She is also believed to have recruited other females through social media.

Elsewhere, Jihadi bride Aqsa Mahmood has also been instrumental in recruiting young girls from Europe. She has even written a checklist for schoolgirls wanting to travel to join Daesh.

The ex-Glasgow University student, who left her home in 2013, is on a UN wanted list because of her significant role in brainwashing females into travelling to Syria using social network sites, luring them into believing that a perfect life awaits them. Through social media, she has urged Muslims unable to travel to commit terrorist acts in their home towns.

Aqsa’s parents made desperate pleas for her return and have described her as becoming a “bedroom radical” who betrayed her family.

Sally Jones and Aqsa Mahmood’s stories are further proof of the dangers of online radicalisation, and the risk our children and loved ones face when it comes to extremists lurking online waiting for their next victim to brainwash.

Though Twitter has recently announced that it had removed 235,000 accounts for violating their extremism policy, bringing the total number of removed to 360,000 since the middle of 2015, it is still up to all of us to do more. Parents in particular must play a huge role in the fight to protect our young people.

At Jan Trust, we are working extremely hard through our Web Guardians© programme to ensure that mothers are able to protect their loved ones against the threat of online radicalisation.

The programme equips parents with the necessary tools to safeguard their children from the dangers of online radicalisation. It is more important than ever that parents are at the forefront of this battle. We run workshops across the country to thousands of young people, parents and practitioners aimed at educating on the dangers of online radicalisation. If you want to get in touch and find out about workshops near you get in touch athttp://webguardians.org/contact/ 

Join us and become part of the fight.

Posted in Extremism, ISIS, Jihadi Brides, Radicalisaton, Sally Jones, Syria, Terrorism

The forgotten women: Muslim women, misogyny and Islamophobia

In recent weeks, there have been a spate of attacks targeting Muslim women both in the UK and abroad. Last week, a man was arrested for kicking a pregnant Muslim woman who it was reported on Tuesday lost her baby as a result. In the US, a Scottish Muslim woman visiting New York had her blouse set alight as she waited near a store. Attacks on Muslims have sadly become the norm. Everyday hate crime and discrimination seem to inform the daily lives of British Muslims but this doesn’t make the above any less shocking. In the US, Islamophobic rhetoric being spewed by Republican presidential frontrunner Trump is fanning the flames of Islamophobia whilst in the UK, hate crime has risen rapidly since Brexit. As Linda Sarsour, executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, wrote in an opinion piece for the Guardian last week, ‘not only is wearing my religious headscarf in public an act of faith, but it has also become an act of courage.’

These attacks against Muslim women, particularly those who are visibly Muslim, highlight the link between misogyny and Islamophobia, the fixation on the veil and the role of women in Islam. Muslim women are not only suffering online hate but offline hate as well in the form of physical and verbal attacks. A report published by Tell MAMA, an organisation that reports, records and analyses hate against Muslims, in June 2016, found that women are more likely to be attacked than men. 61% of cases reported were incidents involving women. A recent example of the targeting of Muslim women by the state was in France when the Mayors of 30 French coastal resorts decided to impose a ban on the burkini (a type of swimming costume worn by some Muslim women that covers their arms, legs and hair). In Europe, hate crimes against Muslim women have increased by over 300% with 46% of all hate crimes being experienced by visibly Muslim women.

Hate crimes against Muslims must be taken seriously. At the same time, we must ask ourselves what can Muslim women do individually and at community level. A research project carried out by the University of Cambridge last year revealed the coping strategies employed by British Muslims when dealing with Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate. These included the role of religion in responding to Islamophobia and hate crime for example, forgiveness of perpetrators based on religious practice, pre-emptive courtesy, and a reliance on strong community networks. Some involved in the research project expressed resilience in stronger terms for example, speaking back to those who spout verbal abuse or preparing themselves in the event of a physical attack.

JAN Trust aims to raise awareness of hate crime through its Say No To Hate Crime campaign. On our website we provide a range of information on hate crime for both victims of hate crimes and those working to tackle hate crime. Hate crime is an issue which is discussed in our centre and in the training and services we deliver where we receive anecdotal evidence from Muslim women about the anti-Muslim hate they and their families have experienced. We educate Muslim women about their rights and how to stand up for these rights. We inform the ladies we support about the mechanisms available for them to use to report anti-Muslim hate but also how to be assertive in responding to Islamophobia be it challenging it online by reporting it, in the media by submitting a complaint or standing up for oneself on the street.

Posted in discrimination, Hate Crime, International, Islam, Muslim, Online abuse, Online hate, Violence Against Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Burkini ban busted!

Arundhati Roy

Nearly two weeks ago, mayors in about 30 French coastal resorts decided to impose a ban on the burkini (A burkini is a type of swimming costume that some Muslim women wear, which covers the arms, legs and hair). The ban prohibited women from wearing a burkini on public beaches or in the sea. If the ban was violated, a fine would have to be paid. Mayor Villeneuve-Loubet argued that in light of the recent attack on Nice it was ‘necessary, appropriate and proportionate’ to implement the ban in order to prevent public disorder. A French NGO, Human Rights League, and the Collective against Islamophobia in France challenged the ban arguing that the mayors had no right telling women what they can and cannot wear on beaches. They were successful and last week the burkini ban was overturned by France’s top court which ruled that the ban ‘violates basic freedoms.’ However, the mayors are refusing to lift the ban. The ban was also condemned by the UN who described it as “a grave and illegal breach of fundamental freedoms” and a “stupid reaction” to recent extremist attacks.

Within the French cabinet, most supported the ban but there was some disagreement over it. The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated that, “For me the burkini is a symbol of the enslavement of women.” Both the Education Minister and the Health Minister, Marisol Touraine, spoke out against the ban. The former said that the debate was fuelling racist rhetoric whilst the latter wrote on her website that “To pretend that swimming veiled or bathing on a beach dressed is in itself threatening to public order and the values of the Republic is to forget that those (secular) values are meant to allow each person to safeguard their identity.”

The burkini ban reached its climax last week when a photo was published of a Muslim woman on a beach in France surrounded by armed Police officers who made her take off her burkini. This sparked widespread furore which led to a protest against the ban outside of the French embassy in London in the form of a beach party. Despite being organised last-minute the protest received a lot of attention. Women in the city came together to show their solidarity with French Muslim women. The Mayor of London even spoke out against the ban telling the Evening Standard newspaper that “I’m quite firm on this. I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that”.

Mayor Villeneuve-Loubet’s claim that there is a security threat from women who show their religious affiliation is untrue. It is utterly absurd to link a piece of clothing with terrorism and in fact it is irresponsible to do so. The burkini ban is anecdotal of France’s rampant Islamophobia particularly against visibly Muslim women and follows the country’s ban on wearing the veil. There has been a wave of conservatism sweeping Europe and the rest of the world. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are calling for a partial ban on the niqab, whilst in Austria right-wing politicians have called for a ban on the burqa. In Switzerland there are calls for a popular vote on a ban on the burqa. Civil liberties are being curtailed on the pretext of national security which is very worrying.

State-sponsored Islamophobia is weakening community cohesion and has the potential to sow the seeds for conflict and hatred. The argument that the burkini is oppressive is offensive and ignores the fact that many women choose to wear the swimsuit because it allows them to go to a public beach or pool and swim and feel comfortable whilst doing so. It encourages social integration and can help overcome certain communities from being socially excluded. In the UK, many leisure centres hold women’s only swimming sessions where women of no faith and women of faith can swim. For many women from faith communities this enables them to undertake a healthy activity.

JAN Trust has done a lot of work on fostering community cohesion. Our experience of working on community engagement and community cohesion, as a charitable organisation, includes the delivery of training, projects and services aimed at socially and economically empowering women. For example, through our City and Guilds Fashion course and our IT for Beginners course we are not only skilling women but helping them to acquire the knowledge and tools to enter today’s challenging workforce. At the same time we are also promoting the enhancement of women as active members of society. Through our training, projects and services we are enabling independence and resilience by building the skills, resources and capacities of the BAMER community. Many of our women have gone on to become employed, self-employed or started volunteering.

We have also delivered a number of workshops across the country encouraging civic awareness amongst grassroots communities. In 2008, JAN trust organised Haringey’s first community cohesion conference called ‘One Community Many Voices’ (2008). The conference gave members of the public, in particular BAMER women, the opportunity to question the leader of the Council, their local Member of Parliament, the relevant portfolio holder for Communities and the local Police force.

If you’re interested in our work to promote community cohesion, please get in contact with us.

Posted in Active citizenship, Citizenship, discrimination, Extremism, International, Islam, Muslim, Politics, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Muslim mothers v Extremism

Here at JAN Trust, we had a very busy start to 2016 travelling across the UK to deliver our innovative and highly acclaimed Web Guardians© programme.

We began working on the issue of online radicalisation and extremism after being approached by mothers who had concerns about their children. We found little research had been done on online radicalisation and extremism and so in 2006 we began conducting our own research into this area. This culminated in a report titled ‘Internet Extremism: Working Towards a Community Solution’ published in 2012 and the creation Web Guardians© a programme targeted at Muslim mothers. The programme educates and equips women and mothers with the ability and essential skills to tackle online radicalisation. Our programme has received praise not only from former Prime Minister David Cameron and both current and former members of government but most importantly from the women and mothers with and for whom the programme was developed. Web Guardians© is successful because of our technical expertise and cultural knowledge.

This week we would like to introduce you to one of our programme participants, Fatma a 39-year-old mother of two, who is originally from Somalia. When asked why she was participating in the programme, Fatma replied, ‘I have two children, a boy and a girl … Since I have two children who constantly use the Internet and ask me questions [about] whether things are appropriate, I want to know how to answer them.” Although Fatma’s husband is an IT technician, she wanted to learn herself and not from him.

We were delighted to receive an e-mail from Fatma during the course which read:

“I would like to thank you and everyone at Jan Trust for the amazing work you do to educate our communities about the benefits and dangers of new age technologies.”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the Web Guardians© course and plan to implement what I learned into my daily work and family life.”

At the end of the programme, Fatma spoke about her motivation to participate in the programme and what she would be taking away from it. She felt very strongly about other mothers having the opportunity to attend the programme saying that “I want other mothers to be made aware by you, not just about how to protect themselves and their children, but also how to reach out to others in their community.”

A fortnight ago, JAN Trust caught up with Fatma to see how she was getting on. She said,

I am always talking about the programme with my friends. I’ve told them about what I learnt and now they can protect their children.”

To find out more about Web Guardians©, take a look at our website: http://webguardians.org/ or give us a call on: 0208 889 9433. If you’re an organisation that is interested in partnering with us, please fill in our partnership form.

Posted in Active citizenship, Citizenship, Education, Extremism, International, ISIS, Muslim, Online abuse, Online hate, Prime Minister, Radicalisaton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Muslim women and unemployment

A report published yesterday commissioned by the Women and Equalities Committee titled ‘Employment Opportunities for Muslims in the UK’ has revealed that many Muslim women face “triple penalties” which affect their job prospects – being women, being from an ethnic minority and being Muslim. 12.5% of Muslims are unemployed, compared to 5.4% of the general population and if we analyse these figures further Muslim women are more likely to be unemployed than Muslim men.

Muslim women face the ‘double bind’ of gender and religious discrimination particularly visibly Muslim women who are on the front line of attacks as we have written in previous blog posts. Muslim women who wear the hijab told the Women and Equalities Committee that they felt wearing the headscarf limited their employment opportunities. This discrimination prevents them from fully integrating into the society in which they live and fosters a sense of inequality and unfairness. Last month, JAN Trust wrote a blog on how institutional racism affects Muslims and about the difficulties they face in finding employment or rising to a managerial role. We highlighted the work of Dr. Nabil Kattab of the University of Bristol who conducted a survey in 2015 revealing that 71% of British Muslim women are up to 65 per cent less likely to be employed than white Christian counterparts.

The committee identified several factors including the following: discrimination and Islamophobia, stereotyping, pressure from traditional families, a lack of tailored advice around higher education choices, and insufficient role models across education and employment. It is true that discrimination and Islamophobia are affecting Muslim women as are the other factors identified by the committee such as poverty and language barriers. However, the work done by efforts made by JAN Trust to lift these women out of poverty by empowering them economically can be thwarted when they are not given access to the same opportunities as other women with similar skills and experience.

Maria Miller MP said that “Muslim women particularly, face really unacceptable levels of discrimination and that discrimination comes from the workplace, from employers, but also from within communities as well.” The committee has told Ministers that a plan must be introduced before the end of the year detailing how this issue will be tackled. Recommendations have already been made to the Government as to how it could begin confronting the employment inequalities being experienced by Muslim women. These include: raising awareness among employers of what constitutes illegal discrimination, pushing universities to introduce a dedicated careers advice service for BME students, and training Jobcentre Plus staff on the issues faced by Muslims.

The discrimination faced by Muslim women is not a new issue. Since it was established in 1989, JAN Trust has been campaigning for discrimination against Muslim women to be addressed. Founder, Rafaat Mughal OBE, sought to draw attention to this issue “the elephant in the room.”

In our work with women Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) communities we have been told by Muslim women about the discrimination they and/or their families and friends have faces. In one area where JAN Trust delivered its Web Guardians© programme we were told by one lady about how her daughter’s friend had taken off her hijab prior to attending a college interview worried that she would not be given a place to study. Another lady told us of the discrimination her daughter had faced in the workplace because she wore hijab. Discrimination, in whatever form, must not be tolerated and organisations such as JAN Trust who work on a day-today basis with Muslim women should be listened to by the Government and supported to continue doing the work they do.

Posted in discrimination, Islam, Muslim | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Meet Sarla!

Sarla Dave-2


“Before I had no confidence to write English but now I write WhatsApp [messages] and I’m trying to use the computer as well.”

This month JAN Trust would like to introduce you to Sarla. Read her profile below:

Name: Sarla

Country of origin: India

Ethnicity: Indian

Sarla arrived in the UK in 1975 with her father-in-law from Gujrat, India. Her in-laws were already settled in the UK in London. She came to join her husband who was born in Kenya and had gone to university in India.  When she came to the UK she knew a little bit of English but was not confident in speaking.

Sarla had been in the UK a long time before she heard of JAN Trust. She learnt of JAN Trust from a friend who she met through her work. One day her friend was in a rush to get somewhere and Sarla asked her where she was going. “I have to go to school now. I’m going to JAN Trust. Aunty, why don’t you come with me?” And this is how Sarla ended up at JAN Trust by word of mouth.

When asked what she likes the most about JAN Trust, Sarla responded with a smile “I like everything. People are friendly.”

Sarla feels coming to JAN Trust has definitely helped her. “Before I had no confidence to speak and write English but now I write WhatsApp [messages] and I’m using the computer as well. My daughter has bought me a small computer now.”

To find out more about our ESOL classes and other classes we run, take a look at our website: www.jantrust.org or give us a call on: 0208 889 9433.

Posted in Active citizenship, Citizenship, Education, International | Tagged ,