While authorities in several French towns have banned women from wearing burkinis on the beach, Police Scotland announced yesterday that it has formally added the hijab as an option to its uniform. The move opens the door for more Muslim women to consider a career in law enforcement.
"Like many other employers, especially in the public sector, we are working towards ensuring our service is representative of the communities we serve," Chief Constable Phil Gormley said in a press release. "I hope that this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse and add to the life skills, experiences, and personal qualities that our officers and staff bring to policing the communities of Scotland."
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Previously, officers were allowed to wear religious headwear, but they had to seek approval first. Currently, the BBC reports, there are six female Muslim officers working for Police Scotland.
Fiyaz Mughal OBE is the founder and director of the UK-based MAMA Project, an organization that works to document anti-Muslim prejudice. Mughal tells Broadly that the adoption of the hijab to Police Scotland's uniform is "a hugely positive step."
"Police Scotland obviously understand that their workforce has to reflect the population that they serve," Mughal says. "It means that more Muslim women may see the police as a possible route for a career [now that] it is seen to be inclusive."
A report released earlier this year outlining the Scottish Police Authority's Work Force Diversity Strategy showed only one percent of Police Scotland officers and staff were from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups. That's compared to the national average of four percent in the general population. In order for the police force to be truly representative, an additional 650 people with BME backgrounds would need to be hired, researchers found.
Furthermore, the report's authors wrote, "Research participants felt that increasing the number of BME officers was seen as the most important equality outcome for Police Scotland and saw addressing this as the single biggest factor which would help improve confidence and trust in policing amongst ethnic minority communities in Scotland."
This is particularly important, Mughal explains, because a victim who trusts law enforcement is more likely to provide more information to ensure a perpetrator is prosecuted. "Having someone who is visibly Muslim may help some members of Muslim communities to open up more and to relate to the police officer," he says.
According to The Guardian, Police Scotland reported 71 charges relating to Islamophobic hate crime from 2014 to 2015. In the week after the Paris terrorist attacks last November, there were 64 reports of "racially or religiously motivated crimes across Scotland," with concerns of under-reporting.