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Muslim Women Finding it Twice as Hard to Succeed

Q-News International, No. 284 (Janaury 1998)

"It is twice as hard for Muslim women to succeed in achieving their career goals" because of "hostility from college, discrimination at work and struggles within their communities" according to the interim results of a recent study into the under-representation of young Muslim women in higher education and professional employment.

Based on the initial findings of a larger research into the career destinations of Muuslim women from 1995-98, the study critically examines their school and post-school experiences, family backgrounds, personal attitudes to work and self-motivation and their role in affecting career opportunities.

"Muslims are multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual in nature" claims the report spearheaded by Prof Marie Parker Jenkins of the University of Derby, but "they are united by a religious dimension within their lives". Although Islam is often perceived as a distinct social and moral code, investigations such as that into gender and career advancement tend to subsume Muslims under the umbrella notion of ethnicity.

The study insists that there has been no research into Muslim women in the workforce or about their career patterns and aspirations. "They are often perceived as an invisible and unobtrusive element of the labour market and under-utilised in terms of their potential as human resources contributing to the economy."

Educational and career institutions play an influential role in discouraging young Muslim women to pursue certain paths of education and employment, claims the study which was based on the statements of Muslim women themselves.

One respondent, Mariam, was keen to become an engineer from an early age but faced many problems from her teachers and careers advisors who encouraged her to do 'girlie' courses like textiles and home economics. Mariam ended up as a
voluntary careworker for Asian women.

Muslim girls also face a disproportionate amount of pressure from the immediate family which is often unwilling to support career aspirations out of fear of how it will be perceived in the wider community. "It is so frustrating when my dad says that I understand but this isn't acceptable in our community", said one Muslim girl. "They are always concerned with what everyone else will say and we have to reform to their way of thinking. There's no point in arguing because if you rebel you will be disowned."

A previous related study conducted in 1987 about the educational provisions of Muslim children found that girls wanted to achieve equal opportunities in the workplace but within the confines of Islam. They emphasised the notions of equality in Islam insisting that pursuing chosen career destinations would not mean compromising religious values.

The current report, which has appointed a Muslim research assistant and a panel of advisors with expertise in Islam, found that Muslim girls are challenging inherited assumptions. "When I question what they are telling me about Islam and
then correct them they argue back by saying that it is not acceptable in the community even though I am right. This causes friction between us... Parents want you to be a Muslim not the way the Quran outlines but what they have chosen to be regarded as Islam."

The report did however detect a change in parental attitudes towards girls in work. Possible reasons for this shift are identified as the realisation among Muslim parents that educational capital is necessary for survival and that Muslim men increasingly look for more educated partners.

Shagufta Yaqub

Copyright 1998 Q-News International, UK.

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