Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Empowering Muslim women - Hazel Blears

Empowering Muslim women - Hazel Blears

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (015) issued by The Government News Network on 23 January 2008

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has today called on communities and local authorities across the country to look at what more they can do to improve the opportunities available to Muslim women to play a bigger role in civic society as well as in tackling violent extremism.

The Communities Secretary said we need to step up work and increase the number of projects which are supporting Muslim women to play a fuller role in their communities - such as projects aimed at increasing educational opportunities, employment, leadership training and civic empowerment. She said that if we are to create resilient communities we need get better at listening to Muslim women and work together to open the door for more women to get involved.

Hazel Blears will write to all local authorities across England with a copy of the first ever Muslim Women's good practice guide "Empowering Muslim Women: Case Studies". She will encourage them to consider how they might work with local groups already engaged with this hard to reach group and offer Muslim women the programmes and training they need to take on a wider role in the community and play a part in tackling violent extremism.

Hazel Blears said:

"Public debate about Muslim women too often reverts to stereotypes and preconceptions. We pay too much attention to Muslim women's appearance - with the perennial debate about headscarves and veils- and too little to what they say and do.

"Resilient communities can only exist where women are playing a full and active part. There are 800,000 Muslim women living in Britain today. They have a unique viewpoint on the challenges faced by the communities they live in and as such have a unique role to play in tackling the spread of violent extremism. That is why we are putting our work with them centre-stage - to give the silent majority a voice and make it easier for more empowered, confident women to play a part."

"I want to see more done in communities to build the capacity of Muslim women to shape their communities and to engage with disaffected groups. The projects I am highlighting today in the good practice guide are designed to support communities and local authorities in considering what more they can do to help Muslim women overcome barriers to greater empowerment."

"This Government is committed to ensuring that Britain is a place where people are proud to live and everyone can succeed. That means building on what we have already done to deliver equal opportunities and racial equality and giving people a greater say in way that decisions that affect them are made - It is vital that Muslim women share in these efforts to shape their lives and local areas. "

The case studies in the guide are grouped into four key categories: economic participation, education, civic participation, arts culture and sports. In addition a number of projects are focussed on directly supporting women in playing a pro-active role in preventing violent extremism. The document is designed to give a flavour of the breadth of opportunities available to Muslim women and provide information and ideas to local authorities and organisations thinking about setting up similar projects in their area.

Some of the case studies highlighted focus on:

* projects that promote opportunities for women and young Muslims to play a greater role in civic life such as becoming local councillors, school governors, getting involved in volunteering and having a greater say in local issues affecting them. These help promote equality and the skills that strengthen communities' resilience to extremism;

* leadership training courses for Muslim women and young Muslims, including work around boosting self-esteem, assertiveness training, citizenship classes, confidence building, communication skills, management and mediation;

* education programmes to improve English language skills, higher education courses alongside careers advice and increased employment opportunities.

* mentoring and advice programmes run by local businesses and advisors to support more Muslim women into work drawing on positive role models from the community.

* community-led programmes that break down the barriers to the progression and participation of Muslim women in mosques and wider society, learning from organisations who are working with community projects to encourage greater access to mosques and mosque committees for women;

£70m has been allocated over the next 3 years for Preventing Violent Extremism, of which £45m will be devolved to local authorities for local work on preventing violent extremism. Some of this money will go towards efforts to give Muslim women a bigger role in creating strong, resilient communities.

Some examples of the projects featured include:

* Following terror raids in High Wycombe in 2006, local Muslim women expressed their desire to get involved in the tackling extremism agenda but felt they lacked the skills, confidence and experience to participate. The Muslimah project was designed to empower Muslim women and girls to discuss and play an active role in tackling radicalisation and extremism.

* The FATIMA Women's Network has improved the ability of Muslim women's groups to network and have a say on local issues affecting them. Training is provided in policy development, financial management and funding to equip women with the skills they need to influence decision making and public policy.

* In 2004 almost a third (31%) of Muslims of working age in Great Britain had no qualifications - the highest proportion for any religious group and for many, language is a basic barrier to any further qualification. The Southwark Muslim Women's Association offers educational programmes in an environment that Muslim women find conducive to learning and provides on site creche facilities to meet the childcare needs of mothers. In many cases the women progress to undertake additional educational courses.

In the coming weeks the Government will also formerly launch the newly formed Muslim Women's Advisory Group. The specific remit of the group will be to:

* act as ambassadors for Muslim women at grass roots and represent their views and concerns to Government;

* provide leadership to communities and act as positive role models for Muslim women in society;

* empower Muslim women to engage on a wide range of issues, including a greater role in tackling the ideology spread by extremists, and help dispel myths around the role of Muslim women in society;

* meet in the form of a round table to discuss issues and concerns that are affecting Muslim women e.g. breaking down the barriers to the progression and participation of Muslim women in mosques and wider society.

Notes to Editors

1) The document 'Empowering Muslim Women: Case Studies' can be found at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/empoweringmuslimwomen

News Releases: http://www.communities.gov.uk/newsroom

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