The Casey Review: Challenges faced by Muslim girls are not insurmountable

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By Bushra Nasir CBE, Mosaic Board member

Earlier this month, Dame Louise Casey published her review into opportunity and integration in the UK, commissioned by former Prime Minister, David Cameron. In her own words, Dame Casey sought to use the review to help improve “integration and the life chances of some of the most disadvantaged and isolated communities” in the country.

Whilst the review covers a wide range of issues, of interest to me is what Dame Casey suggests are “worrying levels of segregation and socioeconomic exclusion in different communities across the country and, a number of inequalities between groups; one of the most striking of which is the inequality of women”. She goes on to note that Muslim girls are not getting decent employment opportunities and in some communities, cultural practices are holding them back from achieving their potential.

Whilst the review has been viewed as controversial by some, I’m pleased that it does recognise the plurality of the Muslim experience; it’s too easy to assume that there’s a united mentality, a default Muslim perspective on an issue. This kind of thinking is as unhelpful as it is inaccurate.


 

However, there are indeed still challenges faced by many Muslim women looking to make a successful career in this country. As an ex-Head of a comprehensive school, I know first-hand some of the difficulties many young girls face; namely, being women, from a BME community and Muslim. I also know that these challenges are not insurmountable and raising the confidence and aspirations of young girls is key.

At Mosaic, a mentoring initiative of The Prince’s Trust, we’re already embarked on a diverse and effective programme of encouraging ambition and self-efficacy amongst young people. Since our foundation by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2007, we’ve been training our volunteer mentors to become positive role models to young people in both Primary and Secondary schools across the UK – and what an excellent job they do.

Many of our mentors are women from Muslim backgrounds and our Board, Regional Leadership Groups, and Ambassadors all feature successful, prominent Muslim women, all of whom have valuable experience that should be drawn upon when discussions about tackling inequality of opportunity occur.


 

Our Primary School programme in particular has a focus on mothers and daughters from Muslim communities. Mentors, again many of them Muslim women themselves, spend several sessions with these family groups guiding, nurturing and inspiring via both their advice but also the example that they themselves set as successful careers people.

If you’d attended any of the recent graduation ceremonies from the Primary School programmes then you’d be left in no doubt about their effectiveness, with all of the pupils talking with confidence and excitement about their future careers. We also know that the staff at the participating schools share their pupils’ positivity.

As with most charitable endeavours, we rely heavily on the generosity and support of our sponsors and individuals to make our work possible. And like many others, our reach is limited and there are numerous schools in which we could make a difference if we had greater resource. However, as a demonstration of the effectiveness of role models and mentoring, as proof that the barriers to success for young Muslim women can and are being overcome, I think we’re doing an excellent job.

If you’d like to find out more about or mentoring programmes, or volunteer as a Mosaic mentor, please do get in touch: www.mosaicnetwork.co.uk/

 

About Bushra Nasir CBE

Mrs Bushra Nasir was a secondary headteacher with 20 years’ experience at Plashet School in the London Borough of Newham before retiring in December 2012. She was the first Muslim female headteacher of a secondary school in the UK.

In 2003, she was awarded a CBE for her services to education and in 2005 won the ‘Asian Professional Woman of the Year’ award. She served on the General Teaching Council from 2000 to 2005 and was president of the Muslim Teachers’ Association for six years. In 2006, Mrs Nasir was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of East London for her services to education; in 2007 she received a Fellowship from Queen Mary College London.

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