With more and more people viewing Muslim women as the key to dampening Muslim extremists, the British are now formalizing programs to extend their influence.
In a school in south London, women in headscarves are learning English, childcare skills and citizenship, to smooth their integration into British life. The courses are encouraged under a new government policy to “empower” Muslim women, ultimately to combat the threat from Islamist violence, a threat made brutally clear when four homegrown suicide bombers killed 52 people in London in 2005.
Triggered by events from racial violence in northern England in 2001 to the London bombings, British policy on ethnic minorities has shifted from a “laissez-faire” approach to encouraging integration or “community cohesion”, said Rick Muir, research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research.
But Shazia Qayum’s story illustrates the obstacles still to be overcome in a country with more than 1.6 million Muslims.
Qayum, who lives in the northern city of Derby, says her family kept her away from school for a year at age 15, planning a forced marriage to a Pakistani cousin.
She ran away from her family after her marriage: now aged 28, she works with women who are undergoing similar experiences: “In the eyes of my parents, I am dead,” she said.
“The surprising thing … is that no one asked the question where I was. No one from education welfare. No one from social services and no one from the police.”
This sort of alienation and isolation is one problem that the “empowerment” scheme could address.
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