Earlier this week, Dame Louise Casey finally released her report on "opportunity and integration" in Britain. The report was commissioned by David Cameron last year and its release has been repeatedly delayed, reportedly because the government was nervous about its findings.
The Casey Review rightly raises a number of concerns, including the high incidences of FGM and honour-based violence in the UK, but also lingers on the negative effects of immigration on the UK, particularly with regards to social cohesion. It includes findings that Muslims and some other minority faith groups express "less progressive views, for example towards women's equality, sexuality and freedom of speech". Casey also calls on immigrants to embrace "women's emancipation in communities where they are being held back by regressive cultural practices".
I reached out to a few Muslim women to chat about all things integration, what they really think about the Review and what it's like to be spoken for:
If the government wants to tackle the so-called "integration" struggles of Muslim women, then it first needs to take into account their experiences. Pointing the finger at Muslim communities doesn't dismantle barriers; it creates and strengthens them.
My problem is with the definition of integration as a responsibility upon ethnic minorities. When young white people enter university having never seen a black person or a Muslim before, no one considers it a lack of integration on their part.
Muslim women's liberation from oppression can only happen if the full extent of our oppression has been identified. What holds Muslim women back is a complex mix of many things. One example is how we have become targets for gendered Islamophobic attacks. It is simply not safe to be a visibly Muslim woman in today's society.
I was disappointed that the recommendations didn't include how to tackle the high levels of Islamophobia faced by Muslim women when trying to access the job market or services. So it appears that there is more willingness to deal with barriers facing Muslim women within their communities rather than those faced outside of their communities. All barriers need to be challenged with equal enthusiasm.
I don't mind Muslim women being spoken about if it helps to empower them and highlight the challenges they face. Nor do I have a problem with outside forces trying to empower Muslim women. However, their experiences always need to be put into context and they need to inform the debate and identify the best solutions. Lasting change can only come from within the community.
Shaista is the Chair of the Muslim Women's Network UK
I think Britain is segregated in many ways, but I'm not convinced that this is a problem. I've lived in London for most of my life. I married a man of Nigerian origin and most of my friends are from the black and Asian community. I don't have many white friends. Have I integrated enough?
I'm sick of hearing this "debate" around Muslims and their place in British society, often fought over what they wear and what languages they speak. We need to have a wider debate around what integration, assimilation and segregation mean in modern Britain, and investigate the limitations in the language we currently use to discuss these issues.
For Muslims who are discriminated against, living in a majority Muslim area is not only convenient but sometimes just safer. As someone who grew up in a massively segregated area, it hasn't limited my interaction with non-Muslims, as the majority of my friends are non-Muslim.
Muslim women like myself being spoken for is my number one problem with the Review. Let women speak for themselves – why are you owning their narrative? They don't need a saviour.
I think there are a minority of women who are socially isolated. But to give it so much coverage – it becomes a witch hunt. Even if there were women who live very isolated lives, why is the government trying to police them? It's not freedom when you dictate that people should live one way, a way that's been selected by you.
How can it be a report examining all of British society when it mentions Muslims 249 times while other sections of society get almost no mentions? Not sure why you would conduct a report that would essentially piss off the Muslim community. If it was a report looking at the Muslim community and segregation and integration, I think I would be slightly less outraged.
I agree that there are communities in which many Muslim women don't mix with women of other cultures or religions. But I think that's sometimes not through choice. My grandmother was a first generation immigrant back in the 70s and kept to herself because she was terrified. At the time, many South Asian immigrants were assaulted or hurt or picked on because they were new to the country. This could explain why many Muslim women might be fearful of venturing out alone.
Also, what level of integration is acceptable? I was recently told by a white British man he will only accept Muslim women to be truly British when he sees them at the pub or attending football matches with him.
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