Dear Mr Cameron,
I was appalled to hear your comments about the “traditional submissiveness of Muslim women” that have been so widely shared and ridiculed on social media. I have lived and worked in a number of countries, including those that are predominantly Muslim and, in my experience, your comments could not be further from the truth. The Muslim women that I have met are invariably strong women who realise that, in many ways, the world appears to be stacked against them and yet I have found that this never prevents them from doing the best they can for their families, their communities and society at large. Whilst I understand that anecdotes are not the same thing as data, let me share with you some of these women.
Shahad has a PhD in engineering. She works for an engineering consultancy in Birmingham and also looks after three bright and energetic primary-age children. Her husband works away from home during the week so she juggles her career and her family with little support from her family who are scattered across the globe. As if this were not enough, she is an active member of the local community resident’s group, determined to make the area she lives in a better place for all who live there, regardless of their age, religion, race or background.
Beena lives in Khartoum with her two daughters who she is determined will be well-educated and successful in life. One of them swims for the Sudanese national team. Her husband works in Canada and when Beena took her daughters back to Sudan from Canada, so that they would understand where they came from, she set up a nursery business to support the three of them. Until recently, she was a vocal Scout leader, determined to see girl Scouts given the same opportunities offered to their male counterparts. This brought her into conflict with the leadership of the scouting organisation, but she refused to back down and instead was forced out. She is also a key member of a charity volunteer team in Khartoum, working to prevent drowning in local communities.
Mai is also from Khartoum. She is a part-time university lecturer, lecturing on both Sudanese history and medicinal flora. The rest of her time she dedicates to her partially paid and partially voluntary role as a project coordinator for a drowning prevention charity. She organises all of the logistics around both international and local training programmes, and is the key contact for a volunteer team of 100 instructors who spread vital water safety messages in schools and community groups. She was the driving force behind the inclusion of women in these programmes and actively engages with mothers in an attempt to help them keep their children safe around water. She too was forced out of the scouting organisation for her insistence that any activities open to boys should also be open to girls.
Hadeel is studying journalism at university. Her father is a businessman and firmly believes that a woman’s place is in the home. Hadeel has no intention of bowing to her father’s wishes and is determined that she will become a journalist so that she can bring to light the injustices that plague her country. She knows that pursuing this career path will bring her into conflict with her father but it is a risk she is determined is worth taking. If nothing else, she feels that she must take on this fight so that her younger sister has an easier battle when she decides that being a stay-at-home mother is not what she wants either.
These are just a tiny handful of the strong Muslim women whose stories I know directly. There are many others that I have had related to me by proud sons, husbands and brothers. They are women who have fought long and hard to make it to the top of their profession whilst raising a family and fulfilling all the more traditional roles that might be expected of them at home, women who work in dangerous situations to protect others and lessen their suffering, women who have escaped persecution in their own country and made their way to the UK to work hard and help others.
Every single one of these women speaks good English, often as their second, third or fourth language. Not one of these women could possibly described as submissive.
One of the many things that I have learnt from living and working with women like this is that stereotyping is never productive. In future, please think before you make sweeping generalisations about a group of people you clearly know very little about.