by Nafisa Kiani

Muslim women in British politics face unique challenges. While more Muslim women are getting involved in politics, they often have to pay a high price, exposing themselves to significant risks. These women are more prone to violence and racist abuse, enduring sexist and misogynistic comments about their physical appearance, as well as death and rape threats and physical abuse.

Some female politicians, such as Zarah Sultana MP has to report her location to the parliamentary security department whenever she goes outdoors to ensure her personal safety. As a British Pakistani Muslim woman, she has faced online abuse and racist threats, with some telling her to "go back to her country", despite being British born and bred.

Being a British Muslim politician should not be associated with such unfair treatment and threats to personal safety.

In contrast, men do not typically face this type of abuse. Research by the Fawcett Society found that around 93% of women MPs in the UK faced online abuse or harassment, which affects their decision to stand for election. For instance, Naz Shah, a Muslim woman MP, has received racist, sexist, and Islamophobic abuse on Twitter for challenging the public domain, which is often seen as a "man's world." This abuse is meant to intimidate women and reinforce their perceived place.

To address this, governments and parliaments should make harassment and online abuse criminal activities. The UK Online Safety Bill is a significant step in the right direction [Perry, 2023].

Despite the increasing diversity among MPs and cabinet members, women’s progression into politics is still hindered by racism and other obstacles [Awan, 2022:120]. Muslim women councillors often face misogyny, racism, and abuse, which can be deeply hurtful and toxic [Awan, 2022:116].

Consider Faiza Shaheen, who was removed and suspended from the Labour Party for liking social media posts supporting Palestine. Despite Britain being a country that values freedom of speech, the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee refused to nominate her for parliamentary election as an MP. She is now standing as an independent candidate. Such toxicity from a political party can be psychologically damaging, especially for a new mother. However, support from local community members in protest can be uplifting.

Women who challenge traditional norms and responsibilities are often punished and pressured to conform. 

So why do British Muslim women have to struggle and face such negativity and penalization? The party selection process needs to be fairer and less discriminatory when Muslim women put themselves forward. If there is to be any justice for British Muslim women in politics, change needs to start now.

To capture the experiences of British Muslim women in politics, we are conducting research to understand the challenges they face and what measures can be put in place to enhance their representation in politics. For expression of interest to take part, please send an email to Nafisa Kiani, civil service:


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