Sanja Bilic, European Forum of Muslim Women
8 May 2020

COVID 19 has dramatically changed the way we live – affecting all of us – as an affirmation of globalisation. However, the privilege of having comfortable, safe homes, food, modern amenities, technology and even the ability to socially distance is not equally accessible to all of us. COVID 19 has brought to the fore and amplified the existing problems faced by many marginalised communities in European societies: migrants, ethnic/religious/racial minorities, LGBT, poor and disabled.

Many organisations and institutions, including the UN, have highlighted the disproportional effect of the pandemic on women and girls around the world. Surges in domestic violence incidents, limited access to health and social services, employment issues – are just a few to mention.

European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW) is an umbrella organisation, representing 18 European Muslim women organisations. As such, we are acutely aware of the multidimensional and compounding impact of coronavirus on Muslim women. COVID 19 has had a huge impact on the way EFOMW works and communicates with its members. The changes in everyday life have increased women’s work burden as they are required to manage home and work responsibilities; this, in turn, has impacted women’s voluntary activities and their engagement with the organisations they represent. For Muslim women, due to Islamophobia and structural racism, this struggle is even more pronounced as they are more likely to experience inequalities related to health, access to public and social services and work.

We are now exclusively working online and trying our best to support and stay connected to our members during these challenging times. We do this by information sharing, focus on well-being and, of late, consultation on best practices to be shared between our members. We are also conducting a mini-consultation amongst the member organisations to understand the key issues they are facing due to COVID 19 and we are hoping to present these issues at the EU level next month.

Islamophobic hate speech, in both public and social media, connecting the spread of COVID19 and Muslims/Islam has gained prominence. A study conducted at Birmingham City University found that “the COVID-19 crisis has been used to create ‘others’ of Muslims blaming them for the spread of the virus… The rise of fake news and how social media spreads it has led to a lot of these myths produced by the far-right being spread to the point that some have made their way into mainstream media, despite being debunked.” For example, media articles with Muslim women wearing headscarves, Muslims praying and mosques are shown with entirely unconnected headlines discussing shop closures in Italy and the immigrant situation in Greece.

found that “the COVID-19 crisis has been used to create ‘others’ of Muslims blaming them for the spread of the virus… The rise of fake news and how social media spreads it has led to a lot of these myths produced by the far-right being spread to the point that some have made their way into mainstream media, despite being debunked.” For example, media articles with Muslim women wearing headscarves, Muslims praying and mosques are shown with entirely unconnected headlines discussing shop closures in Italy and the immigrant situation in Greece.

The coronavirus should not be yet another tool to separate communities when working together is needed more than ever. We need to challenge and call out any form of hate speech targeting Muslims and other marginalised communities.

In this context, it is crucial that EU leaders represent the diversity of people living in the EU. This is particularly important in combating hate speech or speech that can lead to harm of inter-community/social relations during these difficult times. They need to focus on facilitating a positive and constructive dialogue and to nurture a tolerant and caring EU attitude, such as expressed by EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, in her Ramadan message.