Muslim women are particularly vulnerable to intersectional discrimination (both direct and indirect) based on gender, racial and religious discrimination; the most sensitive to this being those who choose to wear a religious head covering and who are thus more visibly identified as Muslim.
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.
In an effort to reach out to its members, on 16th of May 2020, EFOMW held an online network meeting, with 25 participants from 16 different European countries. We wanted to hear from our member organisations and talk about activities and challenges they faced during COVID19 lockdowns. This meeting was a first opportunity to share COVID19 experiences and see each other, albeit, virtually.
It was a very successful meeting and received positive feedback from the participants. These are some of the experiences shared during the meeting:
Italy – members talked about difficulties facing and coping with the COVID19 death rates. They also mentioned difficult economic situation particularly for the poorer families. However, the Muslim community responded by their collective efforts collecting the money, distributing the food and helping all citizens, regardless of their background. Also, many activities, that would normally take place in the mosques or Islamic centers were successfully adopted to online platforms. Women, in particular, were very responsive in helping each other with home-schooling. This was important as not all families were equipped with technology needed to maintain home-schooling.
Italian Muslim members also mentioned the rise of Islamophobic attacks especially as the COVID19 cases were starting to rise. They talked about the presence of hate-speech in the media. However, the humanitarian efforts of Muslim communities (such as collection of 50000 eur for the hospital) shifted and challenged that view to a more positive one, showing Muslims as active and responsible citizens.
Ireland – Muslim communities participated in many humanitarian efforts, distributing food parcels and providing other help where needed such as helping the elderly and providing the food for the doctors.
Ukraine – Muslim communities involved in food distribution, protective face-mask making. There was an online program to help with education for children. The main difficulties noted were financial.
Germany – Difficulties in maintain mosque rents as worshipers were not allowed to attend during the COVID19 lockdown. Community responded by collecting the funding to cover the rents. The attitude towards women wearing niqab changed somewhat as people were required to wear face-masks. The usual ways of practicing, particularly those related to the mosque attendance (such as Tarawih prayers during Ramadan), were not possible so new ways of practicing were encouraged such as ‘Mosques at home’. Another very positive initiative of communities coming together, was opening of the Churches in Berlin for Muslims to offer Friday prayers (Jummah).
Spain – During the lockdown, as elsewhere, mosques were closed and many activities took place online. There were number of quite negative experiences: lack of burial places for Muslims, increase of online hate-speech (particularly aimed at those perceived as more visible Muslims, such as women wearing hijab) and racial profiling. The racist speech did not come only from the far-right sources but ‘from all sides’.
Macedonia – Organised many online lectures for different age groups, with 700-800 viewers weekly. Humanitarian organisations were helping a lot with the distribution of halal food parcels. Youth work was intensified online with women taking a lead.
Romania – Numerous humanitarian efforts including distributing food to those in need. Muslim doctors were praised in their response to the COVID19. In positive sense, COVID19 lockdown offered the opportunity for the families to spend more time together.
Albania – Member organisation switched their activities to online fairly quickly, holding weekly lectures. The lectures covered a variety of topics dealing with the psychological wellbeing and coping during the lockdown. Also, collaboration with other organisations was intensified.
Finland – Our member organisation started a helpline, which works three times a week (per phone) for 2 hours. The people who are there on call, are all either professional of social work or have a psychology education background. They also organized lectures/webinars online related to how to prepare for Ramadan – these lectures would have otherwise been on-site. Finally, they noted that not completely as a result of COVID, but that the pandemic and its consequences were the final push, they launched a network against violence for Muslim female professionals who are working in the social sector or in their volunteer work deal with anti-violence issues. The network is part of Amal RY’s UMMA project.