Science · Women

Women in Science

Blog Women In Science

Iffat Mirza, Raynes Park

When we think of women and science the most well-known names that spring to mind are Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, and Ada Lovelace. Each was a pioneer of modern science and they have continued to serve as inspiration for generations of girls and women who have expressed interest in the sciences and have overcome many obstacles to achieve their aspirations. However, the issue remains that the male to female ratio of recognised scientists rests in the favour of men. It is surprising to note that of all the winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, only 2.3 per cent are women, while in the field of physiology and medicine, only 5.3 per cent are women. (1)

The truth is that women have always been involved in the sciences but are only just beginning to be recognised for it. There is evidence of women in ancient civilisations contributing to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. The earliest noted female in a STEM profession is Merit Ptah, who lived between 2700–2500 BCE, during the Ancient Egyptian era. (2) She was known as ‘the Chief Physician’ and was greatly respected in the court, however, as one would expect, there are far more recorded instances of men’s contributions to science.

Since the Dark Ages, particularly in Europe, many women were excluded from higher education and therefore from scientific societies, yet continued to contribute where possible, and were indeed, pioneers in many theories and discoveries. Indeed, many fundamentalists in many parts of the world would wish to see a return to the Dark Ages where women are confined to the four walls of the home. Belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, I am grateful that I have always been encouraged to pursue an education. The fifth Caliph of the community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has reminded us that that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had placed great emphasis on the education of girls. However during the late 19th or early 20th century, girls and women had little access to education and particularly very few Muslim girls had the opportunity to pursue secular or religious education.

The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah (peace be upon him), revived the true teachings of Islam and encouraged the pursuit of secular and religious knowledge amongst all Ahmadi Muslims including women. Hence, Ahmadi Muslim girls have been excelling in education and outperforming boys in many countries. Indeed, many women of our community are pursuing higher education in the sciences.

Women such as Ms Naeema Ahmad are paving the way towards a number of breakthroughs in many areas of science. She is the Founder and CEO of Africa Alternative Energy Initiative (AAEI). She is also the winner of the continental-wide Gathering of Africa’s Best Award in 2017. It is so encouraging to not only see women such as Ms Ahmad leading projects such as alternative energy, but also being recognised and appreciated for their works. This is what inspiration looks like.

One is inclined to ask, ‘how do we improve this?’ Steps have indeed been taken, for example the UN have declared 11th February as International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Furthermore, there are plenty of organisations conducting admirable work in offering bursaries, scholarships, and training for women who wish to pursue the sciences. However, the fact of the matter is that this can be too late for many girls.

Particularly in the British educational system, children are made to think about their career paths from about the ages of 14-16, whilst they are choosing and completing their GCSE qualifications. Therefore, young girls must be inspired and supported before they reach this age. It is imperative that primary and secondary students be taught about the many women that have led scientific research – not only in previous centuries, but those leading the disciplines in modern society. Serving as inspirations from a young age, girls will grow knowing that ‘scientist’ is not a profession reserved for men, which unfortunately is a stereotype which is consistently reinforced. As a young British woman, who has only just left the British school system, I cannot remember being taught about any female scientists in my GCSE curriculum, three year ago. This confused me. I knew that there were plenty of accomplished women in science throughout history, so why did I only ever hear of the men?

As with any problem, it must always be tackled at the root. In this case that means portraying the sciences as a realistic and achievable dream to young girls. To do this, they must be taught about the fascinating breakthroughs that women have achieved through the years: from Merit Ptah to Anousheh Ansari, the first Muslim woman in space.

1 http://www.un.org/en/events/women-and-girls-in-science-day/
2 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Merit-Ptah
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Hijab · Islam

Statutory Guidance for Schools, Hijab and OFSTED

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Navida Sayed, London

The head of OFSTED Amanda Spielman announced earlier in the week that Inspectors would question girls who wear hijab in primary school to find out why they do so. She said ‘creating an environment where Muslim children are expected to wear the headscarf could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls’. If OFSTED inspectors go ahead and start policing the wearing of hijab in primary schools, this will have a detrimental impact on the social and emotional well being of the girls and it will be the gateway to intimidation and harassment of young Muslim girls. It needs to be stressed here that as far as the teachings of Islam go, it does not permit or instruct any individual to enforce the Hijab on women and certainly not on young girls.

There are far greater concerns for education authorities and they have stringent measures in place to protect children, the hijab has not been of concern in this regard. In the current turbulent times in education settings and at home parents from all backgrounds across UK are encouraged to talk to their children about keeping safe from abuse. The NSPCC launched an initiative ‘Talking Pants’ specifically created for parents to discuss the topic of sexual abuse with 4-11 year olds about their bodies and about keeping them safe.[i] This does not mean that children will become sexualised if parents dress them appropriately and talk to them in a child friendly way. Muslim parents adapt similar strategies explaining modesty to children from a very young age, to keep them safe from the harms of society in a child friendly and age appropriate way, this process does not include putting a young girl in a hijab but letting her know at the right age that she has the option to wear the hijab as a means to protect her from the harms of society.

Amanda Spielman should be pleased that Muslim parents are contributing in teaching their teenage children how to be safe from sexual exploitation and abuse after the age of puberty through the observance of hijab. Only recently ‘The Children’s Commissioner for England” has published a report looking into the current provision of education programmes related to the prevention of child sexual abuse in schools in England. Findings from 1,093 primary and secondary schools who responded to an online survey of head teachers show that: around half of primary schools reported that they teach topics related to sexual exploitation and abuse, compared to almost 90% of secondary schools; more than a third of primary schools and 15% of secondary schools do not hold specific sessions with pupils to allow them to raise concerns; 34% of primary schools and 16% of secondary schools do not have a confidential/secure place where pupils can disclose abuse; 20% of primary schools and 12% of secondary schools  do not have a designated person that pupils can go to if they have a concern.’[ii]

Bearing in mind the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield’s report [iii] surely schools should have no problem with girls who choose to wear a headscarf freely out of her own choice, because it will never pose a hindrance in their education in fact girls choosing to wear hijab have excelled in academic and professional careers.

The Department of Education’s statutory guidance for schools continuously works towards implementing policies and strategies improving education and even promoting children and young people’s emotional health and well being. In some primary schools the overall aim was to equip children with the knowledge and skills to allow them to ‘successfully navigate the complexities of the social world that they are part of’. [iv]  Furthermore The Department for Education framework for the national curriculum at key stages 1 and 2 and includes: Inclusion responding to pupils’ needs and overcoming potential barriers for individuals and groups of pupils.

If OFSTED start questioning young primary school girls about their hijab, it will alienate them and make them feel as if they have done something wrong because they are being questioned by an OFSTED inspector. This can have a detrimental effect on the social and emotional well being of Muslim girls. We hope that OFSTED can continue focusing on their prime goal to improve education standards rather than target the dress of Muslim girls.

 

 

[i] Nspcc.org.uk. (2017) https://www.nspcc.org.uk/globalassets/documents/advice-and-info/underwear-rule-guide-for-parents.pdf

[ii] Safeguardingkids.co.uk. (2017). Preventing child sexual abuse: the role of schools | Child Protection Training UK. https://www.safeguardingkids.co.uk/blog/?p=2837

[iii] Childrenscommissioner.gov.uk. (2017). https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Preventing-CSA-The-Role-of-Schools-CCO-April-2017-1.2-1.pdf

[iv] Ncb.org.uk. (2017).

https://www.ncb.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/attachment/NCB%20School%20Well%20Being%20Framework%20Leaders%20Resources%20FINAL.pdf

 

 

Hijab · Islam · Women

Young Muslim Woman’s Outlook

 

Khulat

                                                         Khulat Saqi, London

Having recently started at university, I reflected on how privileged I was to be able to have the freedom to study my chosen subject in a higher education institute. The right for women to study at a university in Britain was only granted after many years of protests by women, finally resulting in a change in legislation ensuring women a university education in 1877.

In today’s society the view of women in Islam is often misunderstood, with many western democracies still believing Muslim women are being repressed and deprived of their rights, especially in terms of education. In fact, since the advent of Islam, the importance of seeking an education for women was afforded to all Muslim women. The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) emphasised this when he said:

 “It is the duty of every Muslim man and every Muslim woman to acquire knowledge.”

And to the extent to “seek knowledge even if you have to go to China,” and to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”

 The Holy Qur’an also teaches us a short prayer, which says:

“O my Lord, increase me in knowledge.” (20:115)

Not only does this show that Islam supports women’s rights in education but women are actively encouraged to seek a good education. Furthermore, the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) encouraged his wives also to obtain knowledge, saying that “half the religion of Islam could be learned from his wife Hadhrat Ayesha (Allah be pleased with her)”. This clearly demonstrates the importance Islam lays on women’s education.

Like any new student starting university, I was unsure what to expect and anxious about making new friends and adapting to the new environment. I have noticed that a large part of university culture is centered around drinking but I haven’t felt that by not partaking in this, it has impacted my ability to make friends and experience other aspects of university life. I feel confident to dress how I choose to, including wearing a hijab without feeling this is inhibiting me in any way. In fact I feel empowered, whilst I may be covering myself, I am not covering my capabilities or character and it has never been a hindrance for me. I have been able to achieve and experience the same opportunities as other students, whilst preserving my dignity and demonstrating devotion to my faith.

I feel fortunate to be studying in London, a metropolitan city, a hub of different cultures and faiths where I feel difference is not only accepted but also appreciated and even encouraged. At university, there is a diverse student population with diverse needs however I feel represented amongst the student body, for example there are separate faith prayer rooms and also the option of ‘girls only’ sports activities.  I feel empowered to practice my faith whilst being an active member of the student community. As a Muslim I should not, and thankfully do not feel the need to compromise my values to fit into and be part of such a community.

Hijab · Uncategorized · Women

Ofsted and Hijabs: Truth Unveiled

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Sarah Waseem, London

I read with some surprise and concern that a group headed by former Parliamentary candidate Amina Lone, is planning to meet with Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Schools to discuss the “unacceptable rise of the hijab in state funded primary schools”.

In a rather convoluted letter, the group argue that primary schools, by allowing young girls to wear the hijab are in some way sexualising them and denying them gender equality. Interestingly, they seem not to have any concerns about the sexualising of young Jewish boys wearing the kippah, or young Sikh boys wearing the patka. Also, the fact that most primary school do not include dresses or skirts for boys in their uniform policy does not seem to present concerns for them regarding the ‘sexualising’ of boys.

It is correct that Islamic teachings do not require young girls to wear a head covering until they reach puberty, apart from when they are performing Prayers. However, the reality is that girls mature at different rates, with some starting menarche at primary school. Therefore, a general ban on hijabs in Primary School would hinder these girls from practicing their faith.

The covering of the head by adult Muslim women is clearly mandated in the Holy Qur’an, in chapter 24 verse 32 or in some editions verse 31. The group argue that some Muslim countries pressurise women to “cover up”. However, many of these countries have also allowed extremist versions of Islam to flourish. They have appalling human rights records including religious discrimination against other faiths, AND other sects of Islam, notably Shias and Ahmadi Muslims. This is nothing to do with the hijab or the suppression of women’s rights but is politically motivated to achieve the dominance of one group over another.

For the authors to refer to the horrific treatment of Yazidis by so called Islamic State, in the context of Primary Schools allowing the hijab as part of their uniform policy is just inexcusable. The majority of the Muslim world has repeatedly condemned the actions of so called Islamic State and distanced themselves from them. For example, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad has repeatedly warned about the dangers of international governments supporting extremist groups through their funding of weapons.  Wearing a hijab does not turn Muslims into terrorists and murderers!

The authors disingenuously link FGM to Islam when the overwhelming evidence shows that this practice is not permitted according to the teachings of Islam. Moreover, FGM is a terrible practice that is also prevalent in certain Christian and pagan societies.   The authors also disingenuously allude to an association between Islam, child sexual exploitation and forced marriages. I challenge them to produce references from the Holy Qur’an  to support any of these allegations.

I find it sad that once again, Islamic practises are being attacked in such a sensationalist way by focusing on women, the very section of society that the authors seem to want to ‘empower’.

Wearing the hijab does not disadvantage girls and women in any way. I invite the authors of this letter to meet with ladies from our Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, doctors, teachers, business women, health professionals, lawyers, all of whom lead fully integrated lives in society and wear the hijab.

 

* Edited for correction on 11/09/2017

 

Islam · Uncategorized · Women

Women In Islam: A Twenty-first Century Perspective

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 Munazzah Chou, Farnham

With the advent of Islam, the status of women in Arabia was raised from that of objects deserving of live burial, or as commodity to be treated or even traded as desired. Their rightful status was restored to the religious equal to their male counterparts and Islamic law made the education of girls a sacred duty and gave women amongst other rights the right to own and inherit property and wealth.

The status of Muslim women in the 21st century has not changed since the advent of Islam in the 7th century. God has pronounced in the Holy Qur’an,

‘But whoso does good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, shall enter Heaven, and shall not be wronged even as much as the little hollow in the back of a date-stone.’ (4:125)

Numerous other Quranic verses leave no ambiguity of the equal spiritual status of the sexes.

The spiritual status is the most important indicator of parity between sexes for Muslims as the Quran states that though different people appoint various objectives for their lives, the purpose that God Almighty has specified in His Holy Word is

‘…that they may worship Me.’ (51: 57).

According to this verse the true purpose of human life is the worship and understanding of God Almighty and devotion to Him.

21st century Muslim women cannot be considered a single entity. The Muslim woman is characterised by many as an oppressed victim deprived of the most basic rights. This might be the obvious conclusion on observing the treatment of women by ISIS, Boko Haram and some courts in Muslim countries. Yet at the opposite end of the spectrum, Muslim women have reached the pinnacle of political participation in countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The realities of Muslim women’s lives range from being powerless and deprived of human and religious rights, to enjoying equal and sometimes more freedom and legal protection than non-Muslim women in the developed world. The contradictory developments and diversity in practices among Muslim societies, must urge one to question the assumption that Islam is the source of oppression.

The spectrum of the condition of Muslim women in the 21st century mirrors the continuum found within and between all society. The universal reality is that women face a gender gap. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Index assessing health, education, economy and politics disparities has revealed that progress is ‘still too slow for realising the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.’

Unfortunately, Muslim women seem to be worst affected as Muslim countries make up 23 of the bottom 25 countries with the widest gender gaps. The challenges women face in the Muslim world are often enshrined in archaic laws and practices on ownership, education, healthcare, job opportunities and wages which are ironically in violation of Islamic teachings on women’s rights.

In education the gender gap remains large, relative to most other major religious groups, although some progress has meant it has narrowed in recent generations. Muslim women have made greater educational gains than Muslim men in most regions of the world, according to the Pew Research Centre. Illustrative cases include United Arab Emirates, where women enrol in university at three times the rate of men and Saudi Arabia, where the university gender gap was closed ten years ago, and university enrolment rate is higher than in China, India, or Mexico.

Studies to understand the gap in political participation in Muslim-majority countries show that major cross-national differences in the extent of the gender gap cannot be explained by levels of ‘state Islamisation’, modernisation or societal gender equality. We are well aware that even in developed countries such as the UK, there are many barriers preventing women from entering politics unrelated to faith.

Nevertheless leaders in Muslim countries might wish to remind themselves of the dictates of Islam prescribed to ensure equity for Muslim women. Just as in the 7th Century, modern day women have the right to and are expected to pursue education. As evidenced in hadith, the pursuit of knowledge is a duty on every Muslim, male and female and the contribution of women in theological learning was affirmed when the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said that half of faith can be learned from his wife Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with Her)

Fathers and husbands have been charged with responsibility for the adequate provision for females to a standard which is equal to their own. It ought to follow then that in patriarchal societies in particular, there is no scope for suboptimal provision of services for women. The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) said that the best amongst the believers are those who are best in morals, and the best in morals are those who are best in treatment of their wives. He has also said that taking good care of a daughter opens the door to Paradise for a Muslim. In his final sermon, he counselled

“O people, you have rights over your wives and your wives have rights over you. Remember, you must always treat your wives with kindness. Woman is weak and cannot protect her own rights. When you married, God appointed you the trustees of those rights. You brought your wives to your homes under the Law of God. You must not, therefore, insult the trust which God has placed in your hands.”

The 21st century reality is that Muslim women are fighting to overcome inherent, discriminatory attitudes prevalent in all levels of society just as all women are, within the cultural context they find themselves. Muslim women are doing this not on the grounds of the secular rally for women’s equality but based on a right Islam has given.

Yet her greater fight is the 14 century-old struggle to achieve her life’s purpose through the recognition of God. Every individual continues this struggle within the constraints of her society, financial situation, family and personal capabilities. As God has comforted –

‘Allah burdens not any soul beyond its capacity…’ (2:287)

Her definition of success is her personal relationship with God – she may achieve this whilst serving as a leader wielding immense political power, but equally as a daughter who discharges her obligations to her parents, or as mother who fulfils the dues of her children.

Motherhood is a relevant subject of discussion for women in every century. In the UK while 74% of women recognise motherhood as a full time career, over 70% of mothers work. The factors driving this picture are many of which economic reasons are foremost. The drive to get women in to work waxes and wanes in sync with perceived economic need by governments. But Islam assigns a position of great honour to a mother which is unchanging. The love and devotion due to parents, and especially to the mother, are repeatedly stressed in the Holy Quran:

“We have enjoined on man kindness towards his parents…” (29:9)

and by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him):

“Paradise lies at the feet of your mothers.”

The paradise mentioned refers to both the societal paradise that can be achieved and the heavenly Paradise. Islam recognises the unique position of women in their ability to nurture valuable future denizens of the world and in this recognition has placed mothers above fathers.

 

References

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/27/the-muslim-gender-gap-in-educational-attainment-is-shrinking/

Hilde Coffé, Selin Dill, The gender gap in political participation in Muslim-majority countries. International Political Science Review Vol 36, Issue 5, 2015