x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The Ali Column: Wearing the hijab can hinder women in the west

How stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed, uneducated and passive still persist.

When I was on a business trip in Germany, I met a Muslim lady who had just finished her Masters in sociology. She told me about the difficulties - in particular, discrimination - she and other Muslim women who wear the hijab are currently facing when trying to find a job.Sadly, her situation echoes the stories of many in Europe, and this was quite a shock for me.

After doing my research, it turns out that the continuing stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed, uneducated and passive still persists, unfortunately. This can sound like a stereotype in itself, but it's a reality that I've seen and observed that, in Europe, Muslim women - especially those who wear the hijab - do not generally hold positions that deal with the public. Despite their education, many Muslim women in Europe work behind closed doors.

This means that their chances in the job market are restricted. They are only allowed access to certain fields and this underestimates their potential.

Why is this happening? Germany's cultural concept has traditionally followed a homogenous concept and has not been as open to immigrants as the UK, the US or the UAE. Therefore, it has not always been too welcoming for foreigners who are expected to "integrate" and let go of their cultural values.

If I look at the job market for Muslim women in our country, it's clear that there are plenty of opportunities for women.

We have Muslim and non-Muslim women holding governmental and leading positions such as lawyers, teachers, doctors, administrators etc. However, the stigma that the UAE oppresses women is still out there, an idea generally found in Western societies.

Justifying discrimination with stigmatisations and stereotyping is not the answer. We need to question these and take that step outside of our cultural terrain with an open-minded attitude. We need to realise that everyone needs to feel appreciated, and appreciation of one's potential requires society to provide the space for it to unfold.

What surprises me the most is the fact is that we have more than 5 million international residents in this country; we even have many Germans here who are not required to work with a hijab, be a Muslim or even to speak Arabic. Why? Because we already know and understand that that is not a part of their culture, tradition or custom. We accept them and appreciate what they contribute to our society and economy with their unique potential here in the UAE. This is something we need to hold on to so we can continue to learn from each other as well as making those who want to live and work here feel at home.