JAN Trust is a multi-award winning charity empowering and providing leadership for women in order to create positive and active citizens of society

ethnic minorities

Hijabs, the Scottish police and women’s bodies

Summer 2016 saw Muslim women’s dress at the forefront of public debate. As the media storm surrounding the #BurkiniBan raged on, the Scottish Police Force made the announcement that Hijabs are now to be accepted as part of their uniform, with women no longer having to seek approval to wear them (as was previously the case). This change in rules was received positively, with politicians, Muslim groups and senior police figures welcoming the shift towards a more inclusive police force in Scotland. Establishing a dichotomy between ‘deplorable’ France and progressive, representative Scotland became widespread across a range of voices, gratefully embracing a rare moment of optimism in a climate of Islamophobia and increased hate crime against Muslim women.

This response necessitates a pause for thought. As advocates for the rights and dignity of ethnic minority women, it’s critical we approach policy shifts like this with nuance and that we avoid uncritically lauding Scotland’s change in uniform policy as a direct ‘contrast’ to France. It’s tempting to grasp onto any glimpse of progress towards a society in which state institutions welcome, rather than persecute black and brown bodies, and it is easy to establish nationalistic narratives of a liberal and tolerant British state and a racist, dictatorial French state (a narrative we can see reproduced in British discourse surrounding police brutality against black people in the US). But upon closer inspection, the suggestion that this policy change is indicative of progressive and inclusive values in the UK is naïve to say the least.

Whilst the incident on the beach in Nice, in which a woman was forced to remove an item of clothing at the feet of four officers towering above her produced an egregious visual image of subjugation and control, the ostensibly oppositional developments in the Scottish police force have merely moved beyond a requirement that its female Muslim police officers have to ask permission to wear a particular item of clothing. Even aside from the unwillingness to understand or engage with the religious background of workers who are integral to the daily functioning of the force, the symbolic significance of a requirement to seek approval for sartorial choices renders the move away from this deplorable power dynamic at best a rejection of Victorian-style notions of women’s agency over their own bodies.

Moreover, perhaps we should hesitate a moment before praising the steps the Scottish police have taken in reaching out to the Muslim community: any attempts to improve representation are long overdue. Chief Constable Phil Gormley’s hope that “this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse,” is somewhat underwhelming given that in a staff force of 17, 242 there are just 6 Muslim women. None of these officers wear the hijab on duty or out in force. This lack of diversity is extremely problematic when considered in the context of a community facing rampant Islamophobia and widespread mistrust of authorities, inevitable in a climate of high profile cases of unfair racial profiling. There is an urgent need for a sustained and concerted effort to send a message to the Muslim community that they are welcome to participate in any and all employment sectors, whilst retaining the freedom to express their culture and religion.

Rather than a jingoistic celebration of the ‘progressive and inclusive’ values demonstrated by allowing women to make their own clothing choices, we at the Jan Trust instead would like to focus on the way in which the inclusion of the hijab in police uniform allows for an image of Muslim women which runs contrary to mainstream narratives of silent, subjugated figures and instead positions them as professional women in an important and challenging role in society. We believe that society can be stronger, fairer and more equal if we knock down the barriers to women achieving their potential and realising their dreams, and we continue to dedicate our efforts as an organisation in order to make this happen.

To find out more about our work, please visit www.jantrust.org

The Louise Casey review: JAN Trust’s Response

A report reviewing integration of ethnic minority communities in the U.K., authored by Dame Louise Casey, was published this week. The report concluded that local communities were becoming divided and minority communities were increasingly segregated from wider social life.
This report identified the vital need for greater ESOL provision for minority communities, a recommendation which The JAN Trust has been at the forefront of advocating for.

The pledge to improve English language provision by appropriately prioritising the adult skills budget is a proposal which we at JAN Trust welcome. We have seen the positive effects of investing in language provision at first hand as a result of our free ESOL classes for marginalised women in the local area.

JAN Trust formed in 1989, providing a range of classes for minority ethnic women and addressing the issues affecting them by creating a safe environment where service users can voice their concerns freely and openly. From its inception, JAN Trust has recognised that lack of language skills can lead to low self-confidence and isolation, and we have worked tirelessly to challenge this vicious cycle. This has resulted in scores of success stories. We have seen women evolve from isolated individuals with no confidence, to empowered women armed with qualifications, moving on to successful careers or further study. A small investment in classes for the community can reap considerable rewards.

As one JAN Trust user commented:

“A big thank you to JAN Trust who has helped me gain new skills and confidence. They supported me in opening my own fashion business which is proving to be successful. JAN Trust has inspired me to continue with my business and support my family out of poverty."

ESOL provision and skills classes run in the community do not merely work to support women’s social and professional development, they also facilitate women’s access to support in cases of domestic violence and other forms of abuse, such as forced marriage. Casey highlighted the fact that a lack of English language skills was “hampering understanding of rights and services available and the ability of service users to respond,” as well as a widespread sense of social isolation acting to prevent women suffering from abuse from seeking help. The report identified that in the case of a reliance on a husband’s English language skills, it is made almost impossible for women to escape abusive situations. The JAN Trust recognises these issues, and the fact that in these situations, the classes that we run are not merely empowering for the women; they can make the difference between life and death. We have evolved as an organisation to address the issues which affect our service users through campaigning work, but also work at the grassroots to create an environment where cases of abuse can be raised and addressed.

The issue of Islamophobia is similarly an issue highlighted by Casey as one of serious concern which is disproportionately targeted at women. JAN Trust raises awareness of this issue both locally and nationally. We encourage our service users to report instances of hate crime and racist abuse and support them through this process. The potential for community groups to create a supportive, secure environment for these issues to be adequately addressed, as well as providing the language skills necessary for engagement with police and other services, is critical in tackling Islamophobia. JAN Trust is proud to set an example as a leading community group which takes its wider responsibilities seriously.

In the report, Casey rightfully decries the efforts of far right and Islamic extremists to attempt to show Islam and modern Britain as incompatible as 'wrong.' But it's also up to British society to make a concerted effort to demonstrate this - by investing in the skills and services which will enable minority ethnic communities to become involved in wider society and address the challenges they face. JAN Trust takes its responsibility to do precisely this very seriously. We hope that our organisation will be one of the recipients of the increase to ESOL funding, enabling us to reach out and support even more women in the communities we serve - preventing the segregation the report highlights as such a damaging force in modern British society.

Vulnerable Minds: How Daesh is Recruiting Iraqi Children and Targeting British Teenagers

As Iraqi forces’ liberation of Mosul continues, attention is increasingly focusing on what Daesh will do next.
 
It’s feared their leaders, members and sympathisers will ramp up their sinister efforts to target our young people here in Europe, calling for so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks on home soil, prompting calls for us all to remain vigilant when it comes to protecting our children online.
 
One of Daesh’s most horrifying future strategies is the indoctrination and training of a new generation of fighters. As Daesh’s failed ‘caliphate’ collapses, hoards of fighters have been deserting the ranks – if they haven’t already been killed in combat or suicide attacks. Now, Daesh is preying on the most vulnerable and malleable minds: those of Iraqi and Syrian children.
 
The Independent recently published letters from young radicalised recruits to their parents, discovered at abandoned Daesh hideouts in eastern Mosul. They make for heart-wrenching reading.
 
One, written by Iraqi schoolboy Alaa Abd al-Akeedi, says: “My dear family, please forgive me. Don't be sad and don't wear the black clothes [of mourning]. I asked to get married and you did not marry me off. So, by God, I will marry the 72 virgins in paradise.” He was killed by his suicide vest shortly after. It’s thought he was just 16 years old.
 
The news agency Reuters has managed to gain access to relatives of the teenagers who left the notes.
 
Family members tell a story of innocence; of vulnerable, fragile minds being targeted and then indoctrinated. A man reveals that his teenage relative, who was recruited by Daesh and killed in a suicide attack, had been overweight and insecure and joined the jihadists after his father's death. He told Reuters: “His mind was fragile and they took advantage of that, promising him virgins and lecturing him about being a good Muslim. If someone had tempted him with drugs and alcohol, he probably would have done that instead.”
 
It is this last statement that hits home. As parents, we all understand the worry that our children will hang out in the ‘wrong crowd’ and get into drugs. Young minds are open to influence and eager to try new things – to ‘grow up’. It can be as easy as that.
 
In Iraq and Syria, young people may not be exposed to violence in the same format that our children are in the UK. Despite our efforts to shelter or protect them, our kids consume film, TV, online and video game violence to a point of such desensitisation that it is normalised. They witness the violence occurring in places like Syria and Iraq through their screens.
 
Syrian and Iraqi children on the other hand are directly witnessing violence on the streets in the most gruesome and horrific ways. Some have even been exposed to it under the regime of Daesh as the terrorist group took control of their neighbourhoods, yet even they are vulnerable to radicalisation.
 
Violence is glamourised in action films and video games in the virtual world British children often live in. The brutal realities of extreme violence are all too real for many Iraqi and Syrian children.
 
Some may be more susceptible to radicalisation than others. But all are vulnerable.
 
Phone apps and the Internet make it simple for a direct line to be formed between a Daesh militant in Iraq and our children here in the UK. Daesh knows that our young people are excited by video game violence, by the idea of handling a rifle and fighting an enemy.
 
Considering all of this, we must educate ourselves about the dangers and threats are children face and ensure lines of communication are open between us as parents and our children to protect them and prevent radicalisation.
 
At JAN Trust, we aim to help mothers who fear for their children’s safety online with our Web Guardians© project.
 
Many families have been destroyed by Daesh. JAN Trust is helping in the struggle against home-grown radicalisation so that more families do not have to suffer this same fate.
 
If you are interested in finding out more about Web Guardians© go to http://jantrust.org/projects/web-guardians
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