In 2022 Europe, on the 21st of September, which is European Action Day Against Islamophobia we note the following:
There is an increase in political parties which promote Islamophobic ideas, policies, and practices around European countries. There is an increasing number of legislative measures that regulate the wearing of the headscarf/hijab and, although such laws apply to all religious symbols, Muslim women disproportionately bear their impact. Media is a contributing factor in reinforcing the Islamophobic stereotypes in which Muslim women are perceived. This is particularly damaging when images of Muslim women are used in reports about terrorism, religious practices and gender repression. There is a growing sense of insecurity which limits the places and societal spheres in which Muslim women feel safe to enter. The risk of being a victim of hate crime is greater for Muslim women as many Muslim women are easily identified as Muslim.
While living in societies where gender-based discrimination is still a mainstream problem, numerous examples show that Muslim women in Europe bear the brunt of intersectionality of discriminations in their daily lives. Muslim women in Europe suffer from the same type of inequalities all women experience: the gender pay gap, the risk of being relegated to the lower-wage sector in the labour market, difficulty accessing good health care, and violence are just some of the issues. Recent research from Oxford University showed that Muslim women face more discrimination than others when applying for jobs in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. Added to this, is the latest decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2021, stating that the employers may prohibit their employees from wearing visible signs of political, ideological, or religious beliefs in the workplace under narrow circumstances. This ruling has a direct and negative impact on an already difficult employment situation of Muslim women in Europe who wear headscarf. We believe that it furthers discrimination and goes against the European Convention on Human Rights. Also, and uniquely for Muslim women, gender-based discrimination is often masked as an attempt to promote gender equality by claiming, for example, that veiled women cannot be free. These arguments deny Muslim women self-determination and rarely allow them to speak for themselves. Therefore, in contemporary Europe, we are faced with a situation where prejudice based on religion or gender is considered illegal but an exception is made for Muslim women.
The issue of the intersecting discrimination faced by Muslim women emerged as a common theme in EFOMW’s work and a critical issue of concern for our member organisations. Intersectionality shows that multiple forms of discrimination shape each other and demands that we acknowledge that current mainstream approaches to reaching gender equality do not take into consideration the plurality of women and therefore do not address the multiple discrimination that women face. Women are affected by discrimination differently depending on their profile (determined by religion, ethnicity, gender orientation, gender identity etc.) but are all affected by the same power structures, including patriarchy, racism, islamophobia and economic exploitation to name but a few.
In late 2021, EFOMW was part of the consultation process in, now adopted and published, European Commission against Racism and Intolerance – ECRI’s – “General Policy Recommendation No. 5 on preventing and combating anti-Muslim racism and discrimination” where Islamophobia is defined as ‘anti-Muslim racism’ therefore taking into account the structural and systematic nature of Islamophobia. The revised policy recommendation repeatedly mentions gendered aspects of anti-Muslim racism/Islamophobia and recommends that the EU governments and member states should ‘guarantee that Muslim religious dress is not used as a pretext for unjustified differential treatment, particularly when directed at Muslim women, by striking a fair balance between the free manifestation of religion and belief and legitimate public interest that is necessary in a democratic society, as enshrined in paragraph 2 of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights’ .
We, at the European Forum of Muslim Women (EFOMW), call for an intersectional approach to combating the specific forms of Islamophobia that impact Muslim women in Europe. We also call on Europe-wide civil society organisations, who work on human rights and discrimination, to work together, with us, on combating gendered Islamophobia.