News and current issues

Employers Reject Women In Hijab

30/07/05
A unique survey has once again revealed the dilemma faced by Muslim women in hijab as many employers in Britain and Europe refuse to employ them. Many employers perceive Muslim women in hijab as extremists (terrorists), illiterates, non confident and lazy with attitude problems. Manchester Evening Newspaper-reports ‘Life Behind The Veil’ explains.

It is amazing the difference a simple scarf can make. To Muslim women who choose to wear the traditional hijab headwear, it is an important symbol of modesty and faith. To some people in Manchester, according to shocking news research, it has a much sinister meaning – ‘Terrorism.’

The disturbing findings arose during a project looking into employment rates among Muslim women in the city. And, according to research by Janet Ahmed, "It was not the only stereotype the team encountered.

“What we found, when we stated our investigation, was a general negative attitude towards Muslim women,” she says. “ In fact, our findings showed widespread stereotypical view of their behaviour and appearance. I think the biggest barrier was around dress code and hijab headscarf. The most shocking thing we found was that a lot of people see women wearing this as terrorists.

“In reality, of course, it is a modesty thing and an act of faith – a barge of identity to show they associate with Islam. But some women have told me how they have been for jobs interviews and people have been too frightened to talk to them”.

Janet, who was wearing the hijab, says her study into attitudes in Manchester, funded by the European Social Fund, was prompted by resent research indicating Muslim women are the most disadvantaged faith group when it comes to employment, with their unemployment rates being three times the national average.

Working with a Manchester based organisation - Faith And Enterprise, she decided to find out why, in an attempt to do something about it. What she found, in many cases, was that a stereotypical picture has been built up over the years, based on anything from headscarves to praying.

“Having completed my research, I think some of the public perceive Islam as a bad religion and they associate it with repression of women.” Janet says, “The worrying thing is that these stereotypes linger. For instance, there was concern among some employers about whether Muslim women pray or don’t pray – and how many times a day. Other women told me they had been for interviews and people had treated them as though they were illiterates, and spoke very slowly. It’s just negative points of view.

“There are certain arrears where women told me it was particularly hard to get a job, such as in the media, as it is so image-based. The other main problem area, they told me, was getting into self-employment. These women have a lot of ideas and skills, but feel they can’t get any support for setting up a business. People treat their ideas like hobbies and don’t take them seriously. In a way, they are dealing with double discrimination in the employment market. – both racial and sexual.”

However, as the research continued, it became clear to Janet that discrimination was just part of the problem. Other factors, such as lack of self-esteem, and feelings of exclusion among the women, also play a crucial role.

Things such as not going to for a drink in the pub with colleagues after work, or wearing certain clothes to work may seen harmless enough. But failure to blend into the rest of the group, and go along with out-of-hours socialising can lead to isolation.

“In terms of things like promotion at work, my interviewees told me dress code plays a big part,” Janet explains. “If women are wearing the hijab they feel they have to prove themselves much more, whereas Muslim men can integrate in the work place more easily.

“ They felt this was a barrier to them being accepted and that promotion is more about whether you fit in than what work you do. Not being able to go to the pub, or something, with workmates also makes some women feel isolated. Although, really, I think this probably has more to do with people simply not understanding each other’s cultures than deliberately isolating others.

“Of course, Muslim women is a very broad category and there are differences between first and second generations. Some second-generation women, who have been through the education systems here, feel a lot more confident going to work... However, women in this group still found work by looking for something that would balance a career and family life, such as teaching or community work.” (Source: Manchester Evening Newspaper, UK, 17 February 2005).

Unequivocally, this unique survey as featured in the M.E.N., has further confirmed that when it comes to employment opportunities, the hijab (burka) is a curse rather than a blessing to Muslim women and girls. Here is how the hijab has set a galling limit on job prospects among women. Such that Muslim women worldwide have for decades continued to needlessly miss out from benefiting from the annual-whooping-multi billion pounds windfall in the areas of sports, music, dance, drama, cinema, photography, fashion modelling and general media entertainment, including science and technology. Suffice it to conclude that, unemployment and poverty rates among Muslim women and girls will continue to rise uncontrollably as long as they refuse to abandon the hijab and burka for good.