Brussels 2 March 2016. 

Ahead of the international women’s day, EFOMW (European Forum of Muslim Women) in cooperation with MEP Soraya Post, ENAR (European Network Against Racism) and FEMYSO (Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations) organized a hearing at the European Parliament with intention to shed light on the growing Islamophobia in Europe and its devastating impact,particularly on Muslim women.

In recent decades we have experienced in different ways a gradual downplaying of civil rights, liberties and equality of European Muslim women. The testimonies and data from across Europe show an alarming increase of Islamophobia, and in particular its disproportionate effect on Muslim women. Still, we lack a strategy that corresponds to the seriousness of this issue.

The hearing brought together politicians, human rights activists and academic experts to discuss not only what consequences Islamophobia has on the social, political and economic lives of Muslim women, but also to stress the need for immediate action to guarantee European Muslim women full equality.

Several important issues have been highlighted such as the fact that Muslim women are victims of multiple discrimination. They are often discriminated because of their religion, their ethnicity (or just belonging to a minority group), and also because of their gender.

“Islamophobia is extremely gender biased form of discrimination and of racism”. Muslim women are one of five groups mostly affected by discrimination in employment. They are also most likely to be victims of hate crimes which are “usually very violent and very physical”,reported ENAR.

In France, CCIF report shows that shocking 82% of victims of physical violence with Islamophobic motives are women. They are easily recognised but also dehumanised since Islamophobic hate speech has become more and more acceptable.  Islamophobic speech and attitudes moved from far rights movement into a mainstream, and that makes an atmosphere where Muslim women become a ‘legitimate’ and ‘easy’ target.

The responsibility of media was also pointed out.
FEMYSO reported that 91 % of coverage of Muslims in media is negative. Media coverage of Muslim women is mostly focused on how she looks because of the “hyper visibility” and public focus on hijab/headscarf. A Muslim woman is stereotyped, often portrayed as a victim within her own cultural group and she has not been given space in media to talk for her self.

During the hearing we have seen the consensus about the fact that something needs to be done and that we need to do that together.

Some methods/concrete steps were proposed by the speakers, for example:

  •  The importance of having an intersectional approach when tackling the issues of discrimination.

  • The need to switch focus from how women look and start to discuss issues such as exclusion from decision making, increase of participation in public life and lack of access to labour market, as these areas are the “continuation of the struggle for gender equality”.

  • Taking action for increasing equality for all of our citizens, whoever they may be, whatever faith they may have or none.  Seeking inner balance through spirituality, or even living in the compliance with norms of Islamic devoutness, should not make a person less autonomous or a second-class citizen.

  • Importance of including Muslim society and particularly Muslim women in finding solution for these problems, as an important part in finding processes which will have effect on the ground.

  • Importance of collecting data about Islamophobic discrimination and hate crimes, and considering Islamophobia as a racist act.

(Find whole list of key recommendations from the hearing as pdf here or read it further below at the end of the article) 

MEP Soraya Post reminded that Islamophobia is not a Muslim problem but the problem of broader society and that fighting Islamophobia is a responsibility of all.  Mr Karim said that the rest of society needs to stand with Muslim women in this struggle and that particularly policy makers have an absolute responsibility to do that.

Lamia Elamri president of EFOMW concluded that “A decisive, clear and legally defined response to all these problems by the EU would confirm to all affected communities and individuals that Europe is committed to fighting Islamophobia. A strong action would make it clear that Europe is, and intends to remain an open, tolerant and inclusive part of the world that welcomes and embraces religious, ethnic and cultural diversity”.

EFOMW will keep up with its efforts to combat Islamophobia through continued contact and discussions with members of the parliament and with European Commission’s Coordinator on combating Anti-Muslim Hatred, David Friggieri who invited EFOMW to share ideas before the 1st meeting of the high level group on racism and xenophobia (which will be held 14 June 2016).
During this year EFOMW will also organize a series of activities as a part of its project Woman Against Islamophobia, with aim to strengthen its members’ capacity in efforts to combat Islamophobia.

 List of speakers:

  • Soraya Post, MEP, S&D, Co-President, Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI) 
  • Afzal Khan, MEP, S&D President´s Special Representative to Muslim Communities
  • Jean Lambert, MEP, Greens/EFA, Co-President Antiracism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI)
  • David Friggieri, European Commission’s Coordinator on combating Anti-Muslim Hatred
  • Sajjad Karim, (ECR), MEP, Vice-President, Anti-Racism and Diversity Intergroup (ARDI)
  • Ilham Skah, Researcher, Conditions of Muslim women in Norway
  • Ragad Al Tikriti, The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB)
  • Julie Pascoet , “Forgotten Women” project, European Network Against Racism (ENAR)
  • Yasser Louati, Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (CCIF)
  • Fatima Doubakil, Swedish Muslim Human Rights Committee
  • Assai Oulkadi, IMAN project Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO)
  • Lamia Elamri, president of European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW)