To mark Women’s History Month, the University of Edinburgh’s Students’ Association’s Women’s Campaign hosted a panel discussion on Gendered Islamophobia.
The tour, led all around the UK, aims to raise awareness of the surge in Islamophobic attacks across Europe which keep on increasing following the recent terrorist attacks.
Gathering four Muslim women activists, the panel focused on everyday physical and verbal harassment experienced by Muslim women in public spaces wearing the hijab, niqab or jilbab, and the mental suffering this can involve for them and their families.
The informal discussion allowed the speakers to share their personal experiences of being an identifiable Muslim woman (wearing a recognisable sign) and the psychological burden that it can sometimes represent for them.
An emphasis was placed on the lack of freedom Muslim women feel in public spaces: “When I’m entering spaces, I am aware that I am black, I am wearing a jilbab, and I’m a woman. So the way I have to speak to people in the first place is always vericated,” said Fatima Dirye, student at SOAS, University of London.
Muslim women can feel hostility from the people they meet or merely by sharing public spaces with others. Suffering from both misogyny and Islamophobia, this usually impacts the way they will engage with people.
“I have to be very cautious about whether I should interrupt, I should speak or if my opinion is even necessary” added Fatima, always feeling the pressure to be a “good Muslim”.
Something seems to be expected from Muslim women. Samayya Afzal from the Muslim Council of Britain emphasised the fact that “Muslim women are sometimes seen as living walking debate machines”, who need to bring a constant justification answering questions about their origins, the situation of the country they are from – even if they are British and spent their whole lives in the UK.
A real anxiety of being judged not for who they are but for their religion makes it even more difficult to navigate from one space to another. While the number of police reports concerning hate crimes committed against Muslim women is one of the lowest in the country, the oppression Muslim women are facing happens every day through threats and verbal or physical harassment in the streets.
When terrorist attacks happen, the anxiety becomes much deeper as they feel in constant danger. Not enough emphasis is put on mental health issues that result from those attacks on the Muslim population and especially on Muslim women who do not feel safe anywhere as a result. This scare is the most visible on public transportation, described as the most isolating space.
On this climate of real fear, Fatima explained: “I don’t have to apologise for something I haven’t done.”
The panel illustrated that the main goal of feminism is to liberate women and their bodies.
Image: Eugenie Meyer