It’s hard to deny that there is an underrepresentation of Muslim women and women of colour in our Muslim institutions and also within wider society.
For example, of the 1,975 mosques in the UK, a staggering 28% do not offer spaces for women. This figure rises to 50% for South-Asian run mosques.
And that’s not to say that when space is available that women feel welcomed. In fact, women have to compete with restricted access or a lack of prayer space.
As part of our work here in the UK, Islamic Relief supported the Muslim Council of Britain’s women’s leadership programme to help address the gender imbalance in UK mosques and to strengthen women’s leadership.
Likewise, we’ve been encouraging male allyship to encourage a sense of positive (rather than toxic) masculinity and also raise awareness of the challenges faced by women. Because without men on our side, we’re talking to an empty room.
As we begin critical dialogues and I think about the recent 65th Council for the Status of Women, I reflect on the words I said to sector leaders. I was sadly reminded that women are often forced into corners, have to push towards the glass ceiling and are constantly striving to get a seat at a male-dominated table.
I’m left thinking about those boundaries, rules and restrictions and in particular, those who hold us to account within those boundaries. There’s a double standard that puts women under a higher level of scrutiny than their male counterparts.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with accountability, we all need to be accountable. However, I often feel that as a Muslim women, there is a double accountability for my actions and words by, let’s face it, mostly the men around me.
Accountability works both ways and therefore I believe that sector leaders must be thoughtful in terms of getting the right combination of people in the room, at the table, in conversations. This includes racial and gender diversity, so that better-informed decisions can be made.
Leaders often fail to include, let alone think about or consult, women. During times of crisis, calamity, disaster or catastrophe, when the stakes are the highest and strategic decision-making is paramount, women and girls are often the worst affected but the least consulted.
And so I ask: why do leaders continue to lack thoughtfulness?
During the ongoing pandemic, we’ve actually seen how female leaders have championed keeping people safe. This is something which has definitely not gone unnoticed.
Nonetheless, Muslim women remain marginalised in the area of decision-making, confined to the ‘soft’ (“less important” or visible) areas.
The question I ask, Are our male colleagues and our leaders, taking the few extra minutes needed to ensure a diverse group of voices will be engaged in problem-solving discussions?
I think not…
Examining our behaviour: Moving forward