Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK Contents

2Supporting the aspirations of Muslim women

44.Muslim women are more likely to be economically inactive than women from other religious groups. Demos’ analysis of the 2011 Census found that 65% of economically inactive Muslims over the age of 16 in England and Wales are women, compared with an average of 59% across all religious groups. Nearly half (44%) of economically inactive Muslim women are inactive because they are looking after the home this compares with a national average of 16% of women who are inactive for this reason.44

Triple penalty

45.Many Muslim women face a triple penalty45 impacting on their employment prospects: being women, being BME and being Muslim. Witnesses told us that the most significant of these penalties was religion. Dr Asma Mustafa and Professor Anthony Heath explained:

Berthoud and Blekesaune (2007) used a longitudinal survey based on the British census, to explore disadvantage among groups and found that the largest employment penalties were faced by Muslims, especially women. They concluded that for women, religion is more important in predicting employment penalties than among men, for whom ethnicity was equally relevant.46

46.Statistics published by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) show economic activity for women broken down by Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths:

Figure 1: Economic activity by faith category

Source: Muslim Council of Britain, Muslims in Numbers, Briefing 5, October 2015

Employment is more challenging for Muslim Women

47.Muslim women should not be considered one homogenous group. For example, a 2014 report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlighted differences in economic inactivity rates for Muslim women from different ethnicities: Somali women have an 87% labour market inactivity rate compared to 65% for Pakistani women.47 Muslim women’s experience of the labour market varies depending on many factors, including: migrant heritage, migration status, which generation they are, and whether they were born into the faith or have converted.

48.One significant factor in economic inactivity rates for some Muslim women is participation in full-time education. Analysis of the 2011 Census by the MCB shows that in comparison to 2001 the number of Muslims in full-time education has increased from 20.6% in 2001 to 24% in 2011. In some local authority areas Muslim women’s participation in higher education is now higher than that of Muslim men.48 Increased participation in higher education by Muslim women is important because of the improved economic opportunities that having a degree will provide. Chapter 3 deals with widening access to university.

49.While recognising the variety of experiences of Muslim women, in this chapter we will examine the challenges some face when they are ready to enter the labour market and once they are participating in work, including family pressures, English language skills, discrimination and poverty.49 We also look at the quality of support provided to help overcome these challenges.

Views of women’s roles

Traditional family pressures

50.A number of witnesses told us about the impact family pressures can have on the aspirations of some Muslim women. Dr Asma Mustafa and Professor Anthony Heath told us:

Some religious values are pertinent to Muslim family life, hence providing an overlapping factor impacting on employment or business choices. Not underestimating the relevance of contemporary debates on the role of husbands and wives, among Muslims there is a conventional cultural acknowledgement (not religiously mandated) that women are homemakers and men are breadwinners. This could restrict the business and employment choices of Muslim women. Returning to work after a substantial period of time bringing up children could be difficult.50

51.Demos analysis of ‘Understanding Society’51 polling data for The Guardian, points to attitudes towards marital roles being generational. It found more than half of Muslim 16- to 24-year-olds disagreeing with the statement: “A husband’s job is to earn money, a wife’s job is to look after the home and family.” Fewer than 24% agreed. In contrast, 50% of Muslim respondents aged 55 or older agreed with the statement, while less than 17% disagreed.52

52.In evidence to us Demos argued that the younger generation of Muslims should “lead the way in shifting attitudes in Muslim communities” and that this should be “with the support of key institutions and organisations within the Muslim community, including mosques and the Muslim Council of Britain”.53

53.However, others argued that it remained an issue which needed to be tackled. When we visited the University of Bedfordshire we heard of a student who had to turn down a mentorship because she could not be seen with a man due to fears about how the mentorship would be perceived by the community. Nazim Akthar from the Muslim Women’s Network UK argued that more should done to challenge such views:

It goes back to the community issues: why can a man and a woman not be seen together? Why does there have to be something sordid about it? It could be for professional reasons, they could be friends, or it could be for any reason whatsoever. That must obviously be challenged by us and by everybody involved, and we must address these issues. The main thing is that we need to make these opportunities available, because unless they are available we will not get the opportunity to change the status quo and be able to address them and help women progress further.54

Role of mosques

54.We heard evidence from Muslim women’s organisations that the failure of some mosques to involve Muslim women in their governance and take actions on issues that mattered to them, was having a negative impact on attitudes and affecting Muslim women’s attempts to enter the labour market. Muslim Women’s Network UK told us that more needed to be done by mosques to tackle the issues facing Muslim women:

There are mosques around the country, but Birmingham Central Mosque is the one we have been vocal about. It has 39 male trustees. I know there are debates about whether women should be in the mosque or not, but that is beside the point. If you are running a mosque and you have charitable status, especially, as a mosque, you should be catering for Muslim women and you should have them in roles.55

55.In 2012 the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board carried out a national consultation to increase their understanding and knowledge base of Muslim women participation in Mosques and Islamic centres and found that:

Nearly 78% of the total responses said that there were no women representatives at the Mosque Management Committee and trustee level or that if they were, then they were unaware of them.56

56.We were also told about positive examples of involvement of women. Sufia Alam told us:

We have many women trustees on the mosque board and we have a vocal committee that makes day-to-day decisions or strategic decisions that involve women as well as men. We are working with MCB at the moment to look at best practices across other mosques and share those practices from our own experiences.57

English language skills

57.We also heard evidence that English language skills continue to be a barrier for some, although a lack of data means we do not know how widespread this issue is. English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is discussed in Chapter 4, however, some aspects of ESOL specifically affect women and these will be discussed here.

58.We heard from Sufia Alam that attitudes towards migrant women learning ESOL at classes has changed and that some women are now more likely to be encouraged:

I see a lot of young men coming with their women who cannot speak English, especially in the last three or four years, who are advocating putting ESOL classes on, and quite desperately as well, because we saw the cuts at that time. I think it is encouraged, definitely. There might be a small minority of the community, but it is a thing of the past. More and more people are encouraged and definitely faith leaders are encouraging people to learn and be educated, and that has had a really good impact.58

59.However, we did hear evidence of women who were victims of domestic violence being prevented from going out. Nazmin Akthar, from the Muslim Women’s Network UK told us:

We still get calls to our helpline from Muslim women who cannot speak English [ … ] We hear stories of the domestic violence they have gone through and one of the things that they do mention is that they were not allowed out. They were not allowed to speak to anybody in English. It is a way of controlling people. It might be that it does not happen as much as it used to, but that does not change the fact that it does exist and even one case of it should not be happening.59

60.We heard concerns from those based in the community about instability of funding for ESOL. Some users of ESOL classes need to attend classes over long periods of time in order to be able to master English language, rather than classes lasting from one to two years. This was particularly important for those women who after starting classes were identified as having particular challenges, including learning difficulties.60

61.The Somers Town Community Association highlighted their use of a holistic approach to barriers affecting unemployment:

We have seen a change, and we are working with the women, as well. We did a delightful project a few weeks ago around raising confidence, but it was a make-up class. We got the women coming in. [ … ] It was confidence-building. It was talking about them. They all had access to information around welfare and benefits. They could access the ESOL cookery class [ … ] It was a safe, comfortable environment in their community—but that takes time. It takes time to build that trust and that relationship up.61

Impact of Islamophobia

62.Recent figures from the Metropolitan Police show that in London the number of Islamophobic hate crimes increased by 59.4% between 2015 and 2016. In Greater Manchester there has been an even starker increase with the number of recorded Islamophobic hate crimes rising by 96% between November 2014 and October 2015.62 Not all police forces currently record Islamophobic hate crime, although the Government have recently committed to bringing in legislation which would require them to do so.63

63.These figures could represent an increased awareness of how to report hate crime, and better recording by police forces. However there is also evidence of short-term spikes in hate crimes which occur following international terrorist attacks such as the attacks in Paris in November 2015.64 These spikes would suggest that Islamophobic attacks are increasing in response to heightened fears around Islamic extremism. Tell MAMA also reported increases in the number of Islamophobic hate crimes in the weekend following the EU membership referendum65.

64.Tell MAMA’s research has found that Islamophobic hate crime disproportionately affects Muslim women, as those who wear headscarves or other religious dress are more identifiably Muslim when compared with Muslim men. Its website details examples of hate incidents reported to them. For example, one woman said:

When I was walking to the shops a man behind me pulled my hijab and strangled me but no one stood up for me and he said to me ‘Are you going to bomb Boots?’66

65.Tell MAMA told us that the rise in Islamophobia was affecting women’s participation in the workplace:

The fact is that also within Muslim communities there is a very strong perception and sense of fear today. That has increased over the last four to five years. We hear it particularly and acutely from Muslim women. For example, if they go out to work, they do not want to go out in the evening, or if they come back from whatever they are doing, they will ask their husbands to go out and do the shopping for them if it is slightly late. It has a distinctly strong impact on their lives. What we have is a particular and an acute impact at a street level on visible Muslim women. We know that women who wear the niqab suffer more incidences, and more aggressive incidents, including assaults.67

66.Muslim Women’s Network UK suggested that employers should “take such matters into account and help employees feel a part of the team and cared for.” They added: “simple actions such as the company offering to pay the taxi fare, arranging car sharing or organising lunch time events during the day for team-building purposes, shows inclusivity and solidarity”.68

67.Dr Anthony Heath and Dr Asma Mustafa told us that Islamophobia was causing a ‘chill factor’, whereby the perception and fear of discrimination or even hostility of colleagues was putting Muslim women off applying for certain jobs.69 The ‘chill’ factor is also considered in Chapter 5.

Discrimination in the recruitment process

68.We were given many examples of the discrimination that Muslim women might face when applying for jobs. We heard evidence that Muslim women were more likely than white women to be asked questions about their marital status and family life. Iman Abbou Atta from Faith Matters told us:

In interviews and definitely in the research that has been done around women in general, Muslim women tend to be asked more than white British women about marriage, about their childcare, about whether they are looking to have this marital status [ … ] It is definitely a difference between white British women and Muslim women.70

69.The European Network Against Racism’s recent report, Forgotten Women, which looked at the experiences of women across the EU, found that, “ [ … ] in the UK, one in eight Pakistani women are asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews whereas only one in thirty white women are asked such a question.”71 There is also evidence that the outcome of job applications is affected by name-based discrimination. We will discuss this in Chapter 5.

70.The Muslim Women’s Network UK told us of the impact of unconscious bias on employment opportunities for Muslim people:

One Muslim woman stated that despite the fact that she had spent three years at a university away from home to obtain her degree in a few interviews she was questioned a lot on her ability to travel around the country for meetings and events and felt that the interviewers held a misconception that because she is a Muslim woman that she would not be allowed to travel away from home.72

71.There is evidence that Muslim women face discrimination in recruitment processes because of religious or cultural dress. The Young Foundation’s 2008 report, Valuing Family, Valuing Work: British Muslim Women and the Labour market, found that:

Eighteen percent of women respondents in work stated that they previously wore the hijab, and in one case the niqab and that when they did so they could not find work. Once they stopped wearing the hijab and niqab they all found employment.73

72.The Muslim women we met at the University of Bedfordshire explained they experienced conflicting pressures about wearing a headscarf. They felt that it was their personal choice to wear it, but that if they chose not to, they would be judged badly by the male members of their family. But they also felt that wearing it restricted their employment opportunities. Witnesses told us that the negative effect of dress on the result of job interviews and attitudes of co-workers “might be because employers hold stereotypical views of Muslim women, assuming they are likely to need maternity leave, flexible working, be uncommitted, unsocial and so on”.74 Witnesses such as the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations, told us that even once they had secured a job, many Muslim women continued to experience negative stereotyping which affected their career progression.75

73.They also pointed to a lack of understanding about what constitutes discrimination under the law and how to report it:

While generally being aware that discrimination is illegal, people themselves are not always aware of what constitutes discrimination under existing law, nor of the procedures for reporting it.76

We will discuss discrimination under the law in Chapter 5.

Impact of poverty

74.Poverty disproportionately affects the Muslim population, Miqdaad Versi from the Muslim Council of Britain told us that, “ [ … ] half of the British Muslim population live in the 10% most deprived areas [ … ]”77 According to research78 from the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity, many Muslim people live in areas of multiple deprivation:

The Bangladeshi ethnic group was the most likely to live in neighbourhoods deprived because of low income (46%) and barriers to housing and services (32%). The Pakistani ethnic group was the most likely to live in neighbourhoods deprived because of living environment (39%), education (23%), health (20%) and employment (16%).79

75.Faith Matters told us about the impact that geographical location has on employment chances of Muslim women:

Geography has an important impact that partly explains some of the employment gaps that affect Muslim women. ‘Homemaking’ women in relatively deprived neighbourhoods are less likely to become employed and those women residing in those areas who are employed are more likely than others to become unemployed.80

76.Witnesses told us that Muslim women had been affected by the spending reductions in the public sector since the 2008 recession.81 A survey carried out by the Fawcett Society in February 2012 found that BME women are being disproportionately hit by job losses in 12 London councils: for example, in one council BME women constituted 5% of the workforce but 23% of redundancies.82

Government support for Muslim women

77.Many witnesses told us the Government was not doing enough to support Muslim women who aspire to work to make that a reality. Witnesses told us that Muslim women are more likely to have negative experiences of the support they receive from Jobcentre Plus. A focus group participant at a South Asian women’s organisation in Dundee illustrated what these negative experiences look like in practice:

I want to tell my experience. I went to Job Centre, and there was a man. I tell him, my English not good. I ask him how do you see the jobs? He said, ok there are the computers, go there and check. Somehow I managed to see the jobs, and ok I am interested in this job, a chef job. He said, ok there is a number, call. I called him, I couldn’t hear properly what the man was saying. I couldn’t understand him, but he said no sorry, that’s all we can do. I cannot do anything more than this so you have to. After that I stopped. I didn’t go back.83

78.In its evidence the Government acknowledged that the support offered to many Muslim women in the Jobcentre was inadequate:

DWP qualitative research has found that of those Muslim women who have used the job centre plus, a high proportion have said that they did not get the help they needed in order to improve their employment skills or find work. This contrasts to the general population who were at least satisfied.84

79.The Employment Related Services Association85 highlighted the use by some of their employment sector members of a targeted approach that focuses on improving the employment opportunities of Muslims: such as peer to peer community support, job ‘melas’ (or fairs) and supporting SMEs to address the underrepresentation of minority groups.86

80.The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) told us about their work in partnership with the employment agency, Reed:

[We] are looking at how to access Muslim women in terms of building their confidence and making them more economically active. You need those kinds of positive projects but it should be coming at a national level. It should not be recruitment agencies taking the initiative and applying to the European Social Fund or the National Lottery in order to put those processes and systems in place. It should be mainstream, so that it includes all, because it is about equal opportunity, at the end of the day.87

81.MCB told the Committee about the need to provide Muslim women with more focused support:

[ … ] it is always worth trying to support British Muslim women as much as possible in these regards—for example, leadership development programmes and networking events. Extra work needs to be done to reach out and extra work needs to be done to try to support those British Muslim women through that process and through application processes.88

82.Muslim Women’s Network UK highlighted the need for mentors across a woman’s life experience, throughout their education and employment:

The only thing I want to add is that mentoring schemes are useful at all levels across the board, so not only in schools and universities or when you start your career, but when you are within your career, because then you have a mentor to help you progress further and achieve whatever your aims are. It is definitely a positive way to promote career progression.89

83.The Government Equalities Office (GEO) told us that they have been using their Women’s Engagement Programme to improve engagement with BME groups:

Through its Women’s Engagement Programme, GEO has led a programme of Ministerial engagement with women’s groups throughout the UK to ensure their voices are heard and influence national and local decision-making. This has included engaging with BME and faith groups including the Muslim Women’s Network.90

Conclusions and recommendations

84.One of the key drivers of the under-representation of Muslims in the labour market is the high levels of economic inactivity among Muslim women. The data suggests that these patterns are shifting across generations but we remain concerned that this shift is happening too slowly and that not all women who aspire to work or progress in their careers are being supported to make that a reality.

85.Gender equality applies to all British residents no matter what faith. We have noted the evidence that stereotypical views of Muslim women, which may be held by employers or communities, can act as a barrier to employment opportunities. The Government needs to show confidence in challenging such views to help Muslim women to access language and education and to work independently.

86.We have heard evidence of the value of a peer-to-peer approach, such as mentoring and role modelling, in helping Muslim women overcome barriers to employment. We note that mosques can also play an important role in promoting opportunities for Muslim women. The Government Equalities Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government should create specific national outreach programmes to promote female role models within Muslim communities as soon as possible. The Department for Work and Pensions should also consider integrating tailored peer-to-peer support into their support package.

The impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women should not be underestimated. The Government should raise awareness amongst employers of what constitutes illegal discrimination. In particular, this applies to those employers who advertise vacancies through Jobcentre Plus.

44 Demos, Rising to the Top, 2015

45 Academics use the term ‘penalty’ to refer to the gaps in the employment outcomes of ethnic minorities.

46 Dr Asma Mustafa (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies) and Professor Anthony Heath, CBE, FBA (Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford) (MIE0008)

48 Muslim Council of Britain, British Muslims in Numbers, 2015

49 Some witnesses raised issues with us such as Muslim women taking roles they were overqualified for in order to fit in with caring responsibilities but since these are not unique to Muslim women we have not covered them in this Report. We covered these issues in detail in our Gender Pay Gap report. Use of formal childcare by Muslim parents is discussed in Chapter 4.

50 Dr Asma Mustafa (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies) and Professor Anthony Heath, CBE, FBA (Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford) (MIE0008)

51 Information from Demos: Understanding Society conducts panel studies, with the same people interviewed repeatedly across a range of questions. The sample size was 38,952, and the data was collected between 2012 and 2013. Within this, households are randomly selected, although there is an ethnic minority ‘boost’ sample. Data are weighted to correct for sampling bias.

53 Demos (MIE0031)

59 Ibid.

61 Q136 [Sarah Elie]

62 Metropolitan Police, ‘Crime figures’, accessed 10 June 2016

65 Tell Mama, ‘Twitter feed, accessed 28 June 2016

67 Q6

68 Muslim Women’s Network UK (MIE0014)

69 Dr Asma Mustafa (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies) and Professor Anthony Heath, CBE, FBA (Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford) (MIE0008)

70 Q5

71 European Network Against Racism, Forgotten Women: the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women, 2016

72 Muslim Women’s Network UK (MIE0014)

74 Dr Asma Mustafa (Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies) and Professor Anthony Heath, CBE, FBA (Centre for Social Investigation, Nuffield College, Oxford) (MIE0008)

75 National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (MIE0033)

76 Muslim Women’s Network UK (MIE0014)

78 As discussed in the Introduction, where data is broken down by heritage, we have taken Pakistani and Bangladeshi as a proxy for those of Muslim faith.

79 Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity, Ethnicity and deprivation in England, 2013

80 Faith Matters (MIE0034)

83 Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre (MIE0012)

84 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (MIE0030)

85 ERSA represents organisations that deliver, or have an interest in the delivery, of employment related services.

86 Employment Related Services Association (MIE0007)

87 Q15 [Talat Ahmed]

88 Q15 [Miqdaad Versi]

90 Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (MIE0030)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

3 August 2016