On 14 June 2016 EFOMW participated in the launch of the High Level Group on combating Racism, Xenophobia and other forms of Intolerance, held in Brussels, which follows up on the Colloquium on Fundamental Rights held in October 2015.  

The High Level Group brought together representatives of Member States, civil society organisations, and community organisations, as well as relevant EU agencies and international organisations active in this area.

The objective of the group is to foster the exchange and dissemination of best practices between national authorities, and to encourage concrete discussions on how to fill existing gaps, and better prevent and combat hate crime and hate speech.The High Level Group will also be a platform for dedicated discussions on how to tackle specificities of particular forms of intolerance, also in light of the experience of civil society and communities.

In opening speech, Věra Jourová Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said:

“Over recent years, racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance have been growing and spreading across Europe at a toxic speed… For the first time today, all actors are sitting around the same table…Let us put our minds together and discuss concrete ways to prevent and counter hate speech and hate crime…I look forward to hearing about the joint actions we will undertake together to tackle the unprecedented societal challenge Europe is facing.”  

EFOMW was invited to speak at the panel on the specific issues faced by Muslim Women in Europe in terms of Islamophobia. We, as a civil society representative welcomes this initiative which gives Muslim women opportunity to enter the discussions and to speak for them selves in issues that concerns them.

 EFOMW’s advocacy coordinator Hajar El Jahidi lifted up following points during the meeting:

1. Intersectionality of the inequalities and discrimination faced by Muslim women
Muslim women in Europe face the same inequalities as all women but these are compounded with discrimination based on their religion and their ethnicity. The fact that there are different angles to the discrimination Muslim women face over-complexifies the issue and also means that advocacy groups fighting these issues have to diversify their approaches and the solutions they bring forward. 

As an example of the gender aspect of the discrimination faced by Muslim women, in the Netherlands, a research found that out of all the complaints on Islamophobic hate crimes that were filed, 90% of the victims were Muslim women AND 71% of the perpetrators were men. In France, another research by CCIF found that nearly 100% of the victims of physical aggressions in cases of Islamophobia, were women.  

2. Institutionalised discrimination
The recent examples of spread of public discourse against Muslim women are French ministers (M. Valls , L.Rossignol ) that held distressful comments on the headscarf. Such discourses not only negate the freedom of belief and of conscience of these women, but they also infantilize these women and alienate them from the mainstream. These speeches, fuelled with similar comments and portrayals of Muslim women in the media, contribute to normalizing discriminations against Muslim women. 

In France again, a survey showed that 79% of Women think Hijab is a problem to Vivre Ensemble. This discrimination is transposed to the employment sector. Muslim women in Europe still face structural discrimination in the job market. These women are denied access to economic empowerment and independence and are further alienated from the mainstream society. 

3. Challenges and Best Practices
Challenges are the internalization of discrimination and issues of avoidance. Muslim Women may feel like they should not even pursue higher education or apply for certain jobs due to the fear that they will be rejected anyways. This is dangerous for a healthy democracy, as all citizens must feel like they have equal chances and opportunities.

Good thing is that Muslim women group are now taking things in their own hands and moving forward, and that there are opportunities for join collaborations between different groups of civil society.All presented figures are taken from the report ‘Forgotten Women: the impact of Islamophobia on muslim women’

During the meeting Commissioner Věra Jourová also informed about some concrete actions against online hate speech. It is a code of conduct signed by major IT companies, such as Facebook, and Twitter to ensure that hate speech online can be easily identified and tackled by online intermediaries and social media platforms. 

The IT companies and the European Commission also aim to continue their work in identifying and promoting independent counter-narratives, new ideas and initiatives, and supporting educational programs that encourage critical thinking.

She also announced that the Commission launched a one-stop-shop website, which will provide easy access to information about EU funding, projects and initiatives in the area of inclusive tolerance, racism, xenophobia and non-discrimination.