“We are vibrant, diverse, we’re talented and we have opinions.”
Women across the UK have taken to Twitter to express their outrage at the revelation by a government source that British Prime Minister David Cameron feels Muslim women are “traditionally submissive”, also implying lack of English language skills within the Muslim community is related to the spread of extremism.
“David knows that the traditional submissiveness of Muslim women is a sensitive issue, but the problems of young people being attracted by extremism will not be tackled without an element of cultural change within the community,” the government source told The Telegraph.
Using the hashtag #TraditionallySubmissive, Muslim women are tweeting photos of themselves wielding placards displaying their achievements as a form of protest to these comments.
Creator of the #TraditionallySubmissive hashtag and author of the memoir Love in a Headscarf, Shelina Janmohamed told BBC Trending the Prime Minister’s remarks reinforce stereotypes about Muslim women.
“My heart just sank when I saw the headlines. It’s just making things harder for Muslim women,” she said.
“That’s just one stereotype about Muslim women, it’s not how we all are. We are vibrant, diverse, we’re talented and we have opinions. The Prime Minister is always saying we need to take up British values, so I responded in the most British way I could – with sarcasm.”
As a response, Janmohamed encouraged her followers to use the hashtag to tweet their achievements, be they professional or personal. Over 33,000 people tweeted using the hashtag over the next few hours.
In addition to the comments, the catalyst for the hashtag was Cameron’s announcement this month of a £20 million fund to provide English lessons for Muslim women. According to the government, 22 per cent speak little or no English. As such, the lessons are intended to tackle cultural isolation, though they also come with a warning attendees may be deported if their fluency does not improve.
Classes will be held in homes, schools and community centres. In addition, travel and childcare costs will be covered to encourage maximum participation.
“I’m not saying there’s some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist – of course not, that would be a ridiculous thing to say,” the Prime Minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today program
“But if you’re not able to speak English, you’re not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, that you have challenges understanding what your identity is and you could be more susceptible to the extremist message that comes from Daesh; so-called Islamic State.”
Whether or not Cameron’s comments were enlightened or stereotypical is irrelevant. What matters is the hashtag highlights the damaging effects of a cultural stigma attached to Muslim women in the Western world, and is a step towards eradicating it. The lives of Muslim women in the UK are separate from the way women are treated in ISIS controlled territories and other conservative Muslim countries. The West would do well to remember this.
Comment: Do you think David Cameron’s comments were out of line?