Last week a seminal report by the Muslim Women’s Network, MWN, examining sexual exploitation and grooming of young Asian and Muslim, women was launched. This report is heartbreaking and shocking to read. It destroys the myth that only “white girls” are sexually exploited by Muslim or Pakistani men.
The report itself received much media attention and I was very glad to be asked to talk about my experiences of working with young girls who have been sexually exploited, coerced and abused, to BBC Radio4’s flagship the Today programme. You can listen to the whole piece here:
There is much work to be done in addressing the issue of sexual exploitation at a national and local level. However this report makes a first and brave step in deconstructing the racialised narrative that has surrounded the issue to date. This stigmatising narrative only serves to silence victims even more and is a barrier to addressing this phenomenon fully.
So I had a twitter spat with a bigot which made me write this: ‘5 tips to integrate Muslims like me’: http://christianmuslimforum.org/blog/5-tips-to-integrate-muslims-like-me/
And then an EDL dude responds with all Muslims are inbreds, groomers etc.. You get the idea! However it just proved the point of my piece.
Having been a mother who has worked, mostly full time, for the last ten years or so, I have just recently had another child and taken time out to concentrate on and dedicate all of my time to my family. Whilst juggling work and motherhood, I worked long hours – often 50 hour weeks, and would then come home in the evening and work again once the children were in bed. I was a “working mum” in every sense but still managed the day to day running of the household (with the help of darling husband who shared the burden), cooked, cleaned and did the laundry (when I could), as well as spend time with my children, husband, extended family and friends. I did have great support in my parents who often helped with school runs and cooking. My husband and I felt additional paid help with childcare or household duties was a luxury that we could not afford. And yes I had the inevitable missed parents evenings, trips and sports days, although the more senior I became, the more confidence I had in pushing back and making sure I could attend such events. It wasn’t easy, however these were the choices I had made.
So now I am a “stay at home mum”. And this label I find frustrating. If before I was a “working mum” that now “stays at home” it rather sounds like I have taken an easy, more comfortable option of “just” taking care of my family. Almost like a holiday or one might say – a staycation.
One thing that struck me over these last ten years is that the hardest job I have ever done is and still is being a mum, not everyone would agree with me, but often I found being at work was a break from being a mum. Like many parents and women before me have said, being a mum does not come with any manual or instructions -you simply are plunged into parenthood from the birth of your child. As each child and parent are different you have to learn how to be a mother on the go, and failure is never an option.
If I were to compare motherhood to working as a CEO ( my last role) being a mother is definitely, hands down, the most taxing. As a CEO I had years of experience behind me, a team to delegate to, a board to supervise me, mentors to advise me, training that I could attend and a number of tools to guide and support my daily work in the form of targets, strategic plans, software etc.
A mother however does not have a ready made support structure within which she can work. She has to seek out her own peer support networks in the form of similar friends or online forums. Parenting books can be helpful but I am yet to come across a parent who has used one as a prescriptive guide for their child and it has worked. (To be honest, the best advice I ever had was to ignore the books and do what feels right for you as a mum). And then there are the goverment guidelines on how best to bring up your child which again are useful, but are guilt inducing if you do not follow them to the T. All in all, in our very British culture stepping into the role of mum is far from easy, and just as challenging if not more, than any other job.
For me, concentrating on my family full time is just as hard work, entails equally long hours, is challenging and just as enjoyable as working full time. But I can’t help feeling that the label “stay at home mum” hardly encapsulates all of those things.
The term “stay at home” does a disservice to the important and challenging role of motherhood. It also implies privilege for women of a higher socioeconomic status or lack of stature for women from lower socioeconomic status groups. Embracing motherhood and concentrating on one’s family full time should not need any sort of pre-qualification. So if people ask my current job role is ‘mother’, and in the near future, I may, most likely, additonally work in another role.
With Self-harm awareness last Friday the 1st March 2013, I was reminded of the high percentage of calls that the Muslim Youth Helpline received relating to self harm and suicide. Still very much a taboo subject within wider society, it is even more so within the UK Muslim communities. It also does not help that self harm is misunderstood and seen to be a “sin” within Islam. So young people that do self harm are often seen as seeking attention, succumbing to peer pressure and are chastised.
I wrote a short blog piece for the community care magazine website, which is still relevant today. If, as mental health workers and social care providers we are going to support young people in particular BAME young people, then we need to collaborate across agencies and sectors – mental health services and third sector – in order to reach those hardest to reach. Then only we can provide adequate care, ensuring that a significant minority of young Muslims do not slip under the radar. Like any other young person they need help to overcome their issues. In particular young South Asian females are more likely to self harm than their counterparts, the majority of whom are of Pakistani and Bengali origin, hence Muslim.
So at the risk of seeming narcissistic, I am posting stuff that relates to my past achievements and recognition. One blogger, who wrote about myself and hubby in not so nice terms, wrote that he likes to prick the ego’s of the famous and those in the public eye. At first I was appalled, now I take it as a badge of honour – never really thought of myself as someone in the public eye. Still do not. Just like to do good work.
Anyhow, a few years ago I was given the accolade of being included in the Muslim Power List. I was very honoured and humbled to be recognised in such a way, but didn’t have the time to mention it anywhere. The list was created independently and anonymously, so I didn’t actually know I had been included until a former colleague mentioned it.
I was doing a search on myself and this came up. Reminding me that I had spoken at the launch of the Centre for Identities & Social Justice, alongside Sunny Hundal and others, in October 2011.
I will have to dig out my speech, but the gist of what I said was that British Muslim young people were more than likely to be marginalised, suffered from fractured identity and had a significant lack of access to opportunities that ensured good psychological well being. Government funding under the prevent programme meant that much needed funds were available for Muslim communities to capacity build internally and begin to address these issues. Thereby promoting social cohesion and a sense of belonging for young British Muslims. However the lens of securitisation through which this funding came from, also meant that young Muslims felt pathologised and were often problematised.
Care needed to be taken to achieve the right balance of how this funding was used positively, and not to ultimately isolate young Muslims further. Through the discussion and debate, I agreed that a civil liberties approach could safeguard against this.
The socio-political landscape has changed a lot since I spoke at that launch. Prevent funding now focuses exclusively on counter-terrorism. And the coalition government only funds projects which tackle extremism, including far right ideology, and Muslim extremists.
So as you can see I am posting a backlog of work which I think would be interesting for you. A while ago, I gave evidence to the Home Affairs select committee which is led by Keith Vaz MP, on the violent roots of radicalisation. You can read some of what I said here, although for the full inquiry you will need to buy the book.
As promised previously, here is an example of a piece of work, I helped create during the last few months:
Heather has been working with couples in mixed relationships or interfaith marriages (ifm) for over 15 years. She was very passionate that the issues around IFM were not fully understood or even known about. Meaning that often couples and families were left in a vacuum of isolation with little support from families and communities.
I also have friends who had married “outside” of their Muslim faith, and as a consequence were ostracised by friends and family. I witnessed these friends suffer psychologically and face life changing decisions which ultimately meant that they either left their faith and/or family behind.
So Heather felt there was a need to produce ethical guidelines for Imams and Clergy on interfaith marriage, which were not theological or prescriptive but gave faith and community leaders the tools to navigate the reality of IFM. I wholeheartedly supported this initiative, and inputed into their creation, advising on the pastoral needs from a Muslim perspective.
The guidelines were launched in the Westminster Abbey on the 26th November 2012, I gave a short speech.
A quick blog post to say that my details are finally up on the Christian Muslim Forum (CMF) website. Yay! After nearly a year and a half with the forum, I finally managed to send them an updated bio and photo to place on the website.
I joined the forum in June 2011, as the Muslim Family specialist, joining forces with my esteemed colleague Heather Al-Yousef. Since then we have worked together on workshops for Christian and Muslim mothers, on how to handle difficult teenage relationships, as well as more recently producing guidelines for Imams and clergy on interfaith marriage.
It has been a wonderful experience working with Christian counterparts on the same issues, and sharing the same values and vision.
I will try to keep the blog updated with more details of the work I do with CMF and other organisations. By the way you can also read my updated bio, on the link above!
Something I have observed during my short life. Everyone is born with the capacity to become a great leader, to have endless compassion, the capacity to forgive in their heart, overlook the faults of others and be kind when you see someone suffering (even if you do not agree with their actions). We are not born to be followers, but slowly over time our hearts are eroded and we forget we ever had this greatness in us. Following or appeasing the crowd/others becomes applauded and we can no longer see that this is another manifestation of our ego and ultimately results in the degradation of our souls.
Yet speaking up or standing up for what you believe in, does not mean attacking another personally or trampling over them. Something I always say, is that you can say anything you want – without hurting others or harming yourself, if you couch it in the right way, with compassion.