Following the report in The Times, we, the undersigned, request a meeting with Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, to discuss the unacceptable rise of the classroom hijab in state-funded primary schools.
Female Muslim children as young as five are increasingly veiled and schools are sanctioning this by including it as part of school uniform policies. This is an affront to the historical fight for gender equality in our secular democracy and is creating a two-tiered form of non-equality for young Muslim girls. At a time of rising religious extremism (from all faiths) around the world, this is not a time for the state to diminish our collective rights but to robustly defend hard-won freedoms and progressive values.
To add insult to injury, Islam does not require children to cover their heads so why are our schools allowing this in the name of ‘religious tolerance’?
Islam is not monolithic. These beliefs are subject to interpretation and highly politicised. These issues have to be understood in a global Islamic context. The covering of women is a key battleground and part of a push for systematic regressive practices of gender inequality. As women, we would legally have to cover in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Aceh Province, Indonesia. We would be pressured to cover in most Muslim countries just because we are female. Women’s rights are the first to fall when religious extremists gain power. The image of brave Yazidi women burning their burqa should be a warning to us all. This is about power, control, status and regressive honour codes.
Veiling is highly controversial because it is about modesty, curbing sexuality and sexual curiosity. But these gender codes are not set in stone. Countries such as India and Tunisia are fighting back against male dominated orthodoxies and protecting women’s rights against cultural and ultra-conservative religious practices.
Our country has an abysmal record on protecting young Muslim girls who suffer under the pretext of protecting religious freedoms rather then gender equality. We duck from challenging so-called sensitive issues like female genital mutilation, child sexual exploitation and forced marriages. We are creating conditions that would be seen as abhorrent if transferred to other equality areas. By turning a blind eye when our schools are being politicised, Government contradicts itself when advocating for more inclusion and cohesion.
Fragmenting the education system is one thing. Turning our backs on equal rights for Muslim females is unacceptable.
Muslim women lead this campaign and we welcome support from fellow citizens who want to protect our secular progressive democracy. We urge you to write to the Minister of Education, Justine Greening MP and demand action. Our state-funded schools should be a place where children can be free to learn, dream, create and question without limiting their choices.
Give women the choice; give children the freedom.
Amina Lone, Co-Director of the Social Action and Research Foundation
Gina Khan, Spokesperson for One Law for All
Zehra Zaidi, Director of Stand up, social activist and former Conservative PPC
Aisha Ali Khan, Editor and writer at Asian Mums Network
Henna Rai, Director of the Women Against Radicalisation Network
Iram Ramzan, Journalist
Lejla Kuric, Graphic Designer and Writer at Left Foot Forward
Sara Khan, Director of Inspire
Yasmin Rehman, Women and Human Rights Activist
Afsana Lachaux #Bringlouishome Campaign
Ms Tehmina Kazi, Human Rights Activist and Writer
Amber Lone, Writer
Stephen Evans, Campaign Director – National Secular Society