Muslim women in Australia today are treated as second class citizens not just because of their faith or gender, but because of both.
Upon being set a task in my social work diversity class at university, I chose to research, analyse, and create a diversity report on Muslim women in Australia and where their position is in Australian society today.
And whilst many other students wrote about great advances in legislation and attitudes towards diversity groups such as the LQBTQI+ community, people with disabilities, and other minority groups, I reported on what many already knew and what many are yet to understand: the overt Islamophobia and misunderstanding about Muslim women in Australia today.
I am a pale, 20-year-old female student of Irish descendants from the South Coast of NSW and will be in no way speaking for or representing the Islamic community in Australia. But what I do hope to represent is the future of not only culturally humble social workers, but the future of non-discriminatory Australians.
It is with no surprise then when I analysed the rates of islamophobia in Australia, I did not struggle with finding sources, statistics and personal accounts of both the explicit and the subtle discrimination against Muslims in Australia; women in particular. We know that since events such as 9/11 and the 2014 Sydney Siege that incidents of islamophobia in Australia have risen, and due to the easily identifiable hijab many of these victims are women.
A notion we often speak of in social work training is intersectionality – the idea of multilayered discrimination. Muslim women often face discrimination for both their gender and their religion, but after speaking with interviewee Mobinah it became clear that there were even more layers – “I am often the minority in gender, religion, race, and age”.
I was fortunate enough to conduct multiple interviews with generous Muslim women who shared their struggles and insight into the misunderstanding of their gender and religion in Australia. Aisha* shared many comments and insulting questions she faces, including “Muslim men are chauvinistic and Muslim women are door mats, they’re culturally trained to be that way”. Not only incorrect, but these comments are dehumanising.
However, amongst the stares, spitting, segregation and insults, there is hope in the initiatives and practice in place for future practitioners (like myself) to not only support people facing discrimination, but help ensure that it will one day be a thing of the past.
Practicing cultural humility trusts that practitioners not only attempt to understand ‘other’ but understand their own prejudices and privileges to ensure a feminist and human rights approach.
I have comprised my own studies that combine experiences with Muslim women and literature reviews that will no doubt stay with me not only in my social work practice, but my day-to-day thoughts and efforts towards a fair Australia.
As a future practitioner and member of society I must remain aware, be open, investigate, ask tricky questions, offer a voice but above all, I have learnt to simply listen.
Iner, D, 2016, Islamophobia in Australia, Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisations, Charles Sturt University and ISRA.
Jasperse, M, Ward, C, & Jose, P, 2012, ‘Identity, Perceived Religious Discrimination, and Psychological Well-Being in Muslim Immigrant Women’, The International Association of Applied Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Nipperess, S, Pease, B, Goldingay, S, Hosken, S, 2016, Doing Critical Social Work : Transformative Practices for Social Justice, pp76-79, pp234-235, Taylor & Francis Group.