Muslim women most disadvantaged, say MPs

By Mark Easton
Home editor

  • Published
Muslim women generic picture

Muslim women are the most economically disadvantaged group in British society, according to a report by MPs.

Ministers must introduce a plan to tackle the inequalities before the end of the year, the Women and Equalities Committee said.

Figures suggest they are three times more likely to be unemployed jobseekers than women generally, and twice as likely to be economically inactive.

The government said it was committed to making Britain "work for everyone".

Progress has been made, with 45% more Muslim women in work than in 2011, but ministers "know there is much more to do", a government spokesman added.


Many Muslim women in Britain face a "triple penalty" impacting on their job prospects - being women, being from an ethnic minority and being Muslim, the committee suggested.

It cited Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for 2015, which found 35% of all Muslim women from 16 to 64 were in employment. By contrast, 69% of all British working-age women were in employment between March and May this year.

The starkest comparison was in the proportion of women who are classed as economically inactive - that is, unemployed and not seeking work.

The 2015 ONS figures found that 58% of Muslim women were economically inactive. By contrast, 27% of all working-age women in the UK were economically inactive between March and May.

The percentage of Muslim women unemployed and seeking work was 16%, the ONS found - compared with 5% of women nationally.

The unemployment rate is calculated as a percentage of those who are economically active.

The figures suggest Muslim women are the least economically successful group in British society, the report added.

The report cited Demos's analysis of the 2011 Census which found that nearly half (44%) of economically inactive Muslim women are inactive because they are looking after the home; this compares with a national average of 16% of women who are inactive for this reason.

The report cited a number of contributing factors:

  • Family pressures: There was a "conventional cultural acknowledgement" among Muslims that "women are homemakers and men are breadwinners", academics told the committee
  • Islamophobia: Evidence suggested the biggest cause of the "acute" disadvantage felt by Muslim women was their religion, and impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women "should not be underestimated"
  • Recruitment discrimination: Muslim women can face discrimination based on their name, religious or cultural dress, and are more likely to be asked about marriage, childcare or family aspirations, the MPs suggest
  • Role of mosques: Some mosques were failing to involve Muslin women in the way they were run, which could have a negative impact on attitudes and women's attempts to find work, the report said
  • Poverty and language barriers: The committee heard evidence that English language skills "continue to be a barrier for some", and poverty disproportionately affects the Muslim population

'Not a nice feeling'

Media caption,

Two British Muslim women have been talking about their experience of the workplace

A 21-year-old Muslim graduate from Manchester has spoken to BBC News anonymously about what she believes was discrimination when she applied for a sales job.

She said: "There were two phone interviews... and I got brilliant feedback. They said 'You sound absolutely perfect for this role' and said I was very articulate - that kind of thing."

But the 21-year-old said that when it came to a face-to-face group interview, during which she was the only person wearing a headscarf, there was a "change in the tone".

"I felt they were strange, and there was a bit of a change in the atmosphere, and that was not a nice feeling for me," she said.

She did not get the position.

"It has lessened my confidence a little bit when going for face-to face interviews, I definitely think I'm more confident over the phone," she added.

The report refers to a "chill factor" where the perception and fear of discrimination or hostile work colleagues puts Muslim women off applying for certain jobs.

The MPs called on ministers to roll out "name-blind recruitment" to all employers, so that recruiters do not see applicants' names, following evidence that job applicants with white-sounding names are more likely to get an interview.

Married women in Muslim communities are often expected to be home-makers while their husbands are the breadwinners, the committee heard from expert witnesses.

"The impact of the very real inequality, discrimination and Islamophobia that Muslim women experience is exacerbated by the pressures that some women feel from parts of their communities to fulfil a more traditional role," the committee said.

But Faeeza Vaid from the Muslim Women's Network stressed that while family pressure may be an issue for a "small proportion of Muslim women", many other women were breaking stereotypes in a wide range of roles from doctors to pilots.

The committee said attitudes were changing, but not fast enough, saying the government must introduce a plan to tackle the inequalities faced by Muslims by the end of the year.

"We call on the government to introduce a role models and mentoring programme aimed at Muslim women to help them realise their potential in employment," the report said.

Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said: "Muslim women particularly, face really unacceptable levels of discrimination and that discrimination comes from the workplace, from employers, but also from within communities as well."