Happy International Woman’s Day to women (and men) across the world! Many events are happening today, including a general strike in the US against the current administration and their attitude towards women and a parallel Day Without Women strike in the UK to highlight women’s contribution to the economy. A highlight of the day is set to be Malala Yousafzai’s UN speech which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women across the world, socially, economically, culturally and politically. The day also calls for gender equality. International Women’s Day is important in symbolising the power of women across the world. This day is a day to commemorate the hard work that women all over the work commit to in order to achieve their dream. Last Year the campaign was a pledge to end gender disparity. This year, the International Women’s Day theme is to Be Bold for Change,- encouraging women to be empowered in the fight for gender equality. .
Currently, despite the UN’s theme of achieving 50/50 gender equality by 2030, it is estimated that this will not happen for 170 years. However, the fight for gender equality has been slowly making progress.
Last week, the UK Parliament voted to pass a bill which aims to end domestic violence. And since International Women’s Day last year, gender equality around the world has progressed. The US Senate has more women than ever before. Maternal mortality has fallen by 45% since 1990. In terms of representation, more movies now have female protagonists. Rwanda’s parliament has the highest number of women representatives in the world. In terms of educational attainment, girls are outperforming boys.
Of course, despite these changes there is still much to be improved and awareness still needs to be raised around the issues facing women and girls. Still, one in three women experience gender-based violence and annually 62 million girls are denied access to education.
At JAN Trust, we have helped to empower over 110,000 women by giving them skills to improve their employment prospects including IT, English and fashion. Our Web Guardians© programme works to provide women and mothers to tackle extremism and online radicalisation, protecting their young ones. Furthermore, our Against Female Genital Mutilation and Against Forced Marriages campaigns work to raise awareness of the human rights abuses women suffer around the world on a daily basis. During this month of celebrating women’s achievements, if you would like to support the work that JAN Trust does, text JANT00 £10 to 70070.
Our Director, Sajda Mughal OBE, has said:
“Every year I welcome International Women’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and also the potential of women. As the leader of a multi-award winning women’s charity, JAN Trust, I recognise the key role that women play in society, a role that is often overlooked. I work to create gender parity in all areas by providing women with the skills so that they can integrate, feel confident in their abilities and fulfil their full potential. For JAN Trust, being Bold For Change means unlocking the potential that women all over the world have. As leaders, we have a responsibility to take decisive action to help include and advance women. Everyone – women, men and non-binary people – can pledge to take a step to help achieve gender parity in whatever way they can. At JAN Trust this includes helping women to believe that they can push themselves to achieve their very best and take control of their lives. In 2017 let us all #BeBoldForChange and fight for gender parity between men and women.”
The Integration Report, released on Thursday by the Integration All Party Parliamentary Group, was based on previous findings of the controversial Casey Review which highlighted worrying levels of segregation in British society.
Alongside its findings, the report includes twelve recommendations on how to improve integration in British society. The first recommendation emphasises integration though education at the community level – supporting the emancipation of women, providing them with better employment opportunities and creating space for socialising opportunities –and is based on precisely what JAN Trust has long recognised and has been working towards since 1989, with little government funding. We contributed to the reccomendations of Dame Louise Casey's report. She came to visit our centre in 2015; the conclusions she has come to were influenced by talking to us and meeting our beneficiaries and hearing about their experiences and needs.
The need for greater provision of ESOL lessons as a means of promoting integration and inclusion is particularly highlighted. That speaking the language of a country is a key part of being able to properly integrate, find employment and feel part of the society in which you are in is not a shocking concept, of course.
What is shocking, though, is that the UK budget for ESOL classes has been consistently cut in recent years. The government pledge in January last year to provide £22million for ESOL classes came just months after funding had actually been cut by £45 million. Overall ESOL funding has been slashed by almost 50% since 2009.
At JAN Trust our provision of ESOL classes to vulnerable and marginalised women is based on our understanding that many women face a combination of barriers, including lack of English, which can create a vicious cycle of low self-confidence, isolation and poor awareness of the options open to them, all of which not only prevent them from being able to integrate and contribute to society but also leave them open to harmful cultural practises such as FGM or domestic violence. We have worked tirelessly with women at the community level to challenge this vicious cycle and promote integration since our inception.
Over the past three decades, we have helped thousands of women to not only improve their English, but to regain their confidence and improve their job prospects, through skills classes. Women such as Sarla, originally from India, who said: “Before, I had no confidence to speak and write English but now I write and I’m using the computer as well. My daughter has bought me a small computer now.” Or Jurgita, originally from Lithuania, who took one of our tailoring courses and now says: “I would like to do something more with these new skills I have gained – maybe open my own business or get a job.”
Our classes not only enable women on a personal level to further their careers and gain skills. They also support social inclusion in a supportive atmosphere and sense of empowerment that can even help women to prevent domestic violence, forced marriage, FGM and radicalisation, all of which are among the government’s top priorities.
Our Web Guardians© course, pioneered in 2010, provides a further help for mothers, educating them and providing them with the skills and support to protect their children and loved ones from online radicalisation. It is the only course of its kind in the UK.
Just some of the feedback we have received from our Web Guardian© programme is:
“I found this course excellent and it should be given to all mothers.”
“There’s no other programme like this.”
“You have really made me aware of the internet and its dangers.”
While long overdue, we hope the findings and recommendations from this report show that the government is finally ready to take steps that allow everyone to integrate and contribute to our society, and we hope that as a vital resource in this process, JAN Trust will be will be one of the recipients of the funding to enable us to continue our increasingly important work in local communities. We have decades of expertise in this area and, ultimately, make a real difference to the society that we all live in.
If you are interested in finding out more about the services we offer, visit http://jantrust.org/projects
A report by the Social Mobility Commission, the ‘Ethnicity, Gender and Social Mobility’ report, has shown that Asian Muslim women, despite doing well in school, become socially immobile. This is due to many factors, including discrimination they face when looking for employment. The chairman of the commission, Alan Milburn, stated that the promise of social mobility is ‘being broken’.
The statistics are shocking when considering that ethnic minorities are far more likely to pursue higher education than White British children, with five in 10 Bangladeshi children going to university compared to just 1 in 10 white British children. Reports have found that British Muslim women have strong positive attitudes towards work, and that whilst they are more likely than White British women to take time out of employment after having children, they tend to have the overwhelming support of their families in finding work afterwards. The Young Foundation found that 93% of Muslim women who are not in work want to be, and feel supported by their families in looking for it. This disproves tabloid claims that Muslim women are unwilling to travel for work, or work in mixed-gender environments. Only 15% of Muslim women in the study said that they sought work in ‘women-only’ spaces, whilst 93% of British Muslim women stated that they would commute for up to an hour. So why are unemployment rates for British Muslim women still so high?
Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are the lowest earners out of all black and ethnic minority groups, having very little chance to gain professional occupations. When compared to male Bangladeshi graduates, despite performing better in education they are still less likely to gain a professional role. Culture is often cited as the central reason behind Muslim women’s perceived “failure” to integrate fully and economically, into British society.
While it is true that some British Muslim women face pressures from their family or community to stay at home, particularly after having children early - three times as many Muslim women as White British women are economically inactive because they are looking after the home – there are many other barriers that Muslim women face. These include discrimination due to religion and gender, and Muslim women who wear the hijab experience an even higher level of discrimination due to their outward display of religious beliefs
Islamophobia in the workplace has been well-documented. Evidence from France has discovered that practicing Muslims had a 4.7% chance of being called back for an interview, compared to 17.9% for their Catholic counterparts. In the UK, the Runnymede Trust has found that 25% of unemployment in ethnic minority groups can be accounted for by employer discrimination.
Muslim women face additional gendered barriers, and ‘cultural’ arguments seep into this discrimination. 1 in 8 Pakistani women in the UK have been asked about marriage and family aspirations in job interviews, as opposed to only 1 in 30 non-Muslim women, and they may also face evidence of “name discrimination”. Many women have “whitened” job applications, using non-Muslim names on forms. Some have even chosen to stop wearing the hijab and niqab – 18% of Muslim women in work have stated that this helped them to find employment. If Asian Muslim women who are educated struggle in the labour market, it is even harder for barriers BAMER who don’t have qualifications or have recently migrated to the UK and might have limited English.
The report offered a number of recommendations, including that businesses need to specifically support Asian Muslim women to progress in their careers. This is something that JAN Trust has long recognised to be a priority. At JAN Trust, we provide the education for women to become aware of when they are experiencing discrimination and how to overcome it, with the aim of empowering themselves and be socially mobile in the job market.
JAN Trust empowers women to attain and achieve more, despite the fear of discrimination, through a variety of measures: from workshops that provide information about opening businesses to building confidence and self-esteem. Milburn stated that ‘Britain is a long way from having a level playing field of opportunity for all regardless of gender, ethnicity or background’.
Visit our website www.jantrust.org to learn more about the work we do empowering women to play a vital role in British society.
Last week, King Salman announced through royal decree that the long-standing ban prohibiting women from driving in Saudi Arabia will be lifted by 24th June 2018. Saudi Arabia is currently the only country in the world where women cannot legally drive; a law which has received widespread condemnation and has become a signifier across the globe of the country’s strict patriarchal regime.
The news of the ban being lifted has been much anticipated and celebrated, especially by the brave activists who have been fighting tirelessly for years to change the law; jeopardising their own freedoms in the process. One such activist, Manal al-Sharif, who galvanised the women’s right to drive campaign after being detained for filming herself behind the wheel, made an emotional statement on social media:
"You want a statement here is one: "Saudi Arabia will never be the same again. The rain begins with a single drop" #Women2Drive"
There is no doubt that this decree is a huge step forward for women’s rights in the notoriously conservative region and it has been deeply moving to witness the outpouring of joy and a brief moment of respite across social media. Activists are now witnessing the culmination of their efforts over the years and the foundation for change is starting to emerge. However, the attitudes which have given rise to and emanate from the system cannot change overnight and whether this ruling marks a monumental shift in the consciousness of the Saudi Arabia is still murky territory.
For those who uphold the conservative values of the state and its strict interpretation of religious doctrine, the lifting of the driving ban has been met with resistance. On the eve of the landmark announcement, one of the top trending hashtags on Saudi Arabia’s twitter feed was “The women of my house won’t drive.” This unfortunately demonstrates that there is a lot of work to be done to change people’s hearts and minds, which the lifting of a law can’t immediately solve.
This outlook is also characterised by the continued enforcement of the kingdom’s male guardianship system; a binding set of regulations which prevent women from being able to truly govern their own lives. In this way, women are obligated to gain the permission of a male guardian in order to study or travel outside the country, start their own business, get married or even leave prison. There has been no official comment as of yet from Saudi officials as to whether the lifting of the driving ban marks the start of a U-Turn on these types of policies, which dominate the daily lives of Saudi women. However, Saudi Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman, has stated the new driving procedures will ensure that women will be able to drive alone and apply for their licenses without gaining permission from their male guardians.
Although the practicalities of the implementation of this ruling will be discussed by a new specialised committee in the next 30 days, this detail, if true, has the potential to be hugely significant. If this comes to fruition, it would mark a loosening of a facet of guardianship legislation; setting a precedent which holds a mirror up to the guardianship system itself. The inconsistency of allowing women to drive without a male guardian, but still needing the permission of a guardian to travel or start a business is stark. The example set by this ruling sparks hope that it will act as a catalyst for the undermining of the guardianship system altogether.
Moreover, the recent news of a mixed audience being permitted to celebrate in the national stadium, and the proposal of new legislation criminalising sexual harassment, spells promising change for the kingdom. Equality for the women of Saudi Arabia feels like it is inching closer, but it is not a given. At JAN Trust we believe it is possible to celebrate these victories yet still acknowledge that there is much work to be done to ensure that societal attitudes are changed and that women’s rights are fully enshrined in law. For those of us witnessing this moment in history, it is vital to not get complacent and continue to support and fight for the rights of women in the UK, Saudi Arabia and around the world.