Photo Credit | Muslim Women's Network UK
 

A new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Muslim Women was launched last week. At the inaugural event, held virtually on the 20th October, Conservative MP, Caroline Nokes, who is also the current Chair of the Women's Equality Committee, was elected as one of the first Co-Chairs of the APPG along with Labour MP Naz Shah who is currently Shadow Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The Co-Chairs agreed to lead the APPG because they recognise that Muslim women are one of the most marginalised groups in society, suffering from multiple disadvantage including barriers from within their own communities.

Other Labour Party MPs nominated as Officers included Jess Phillips, Apsana Begum and Afzal Khan. Conservative MP Nus Ghani and Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Hussein-Ece also became Officers. During the meeting Jess Phillips and Nus Ghani were also elected as the Vice Chairs. I am pleased that the national, award-winning charity Muslim Women's Network UK (MWNUK), which I Co-Chair, was appointed as its Secretariat. This support and the first research inquiry by the APPG will be supported through a grant from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

The APPG will help to advance social justice and equality for Muslim women by investigating, debating and scrutinising issues affecting them, which will use evidence to influence policy making, legislation and attitudes. It is hoped that the APPG will act as a powerful mechanism to ensure that the multiple lived realities of Muslim women and girls will be given the attention they deserve and that they will be listened to, not just spoken about, a point also highlighted by APPG Co-Chair, Caroline Nokes MP. She said: "It is so important that the voices of Muslim women are heard, and I know as the Chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, how hard we have to work to make sure a cross section of people have the confidence to provide evidence to our inquiries. When we have heard the voices of Muslims we need to also ask if that included a female perspective, recognising that it may well be different."

Some people have questioned whether this APPG is needed given that there is already an APPG on British Muslims and other ones covering issues relevant to Muslim women such as domestic abuse and on various health conditions etc. However, I would argue that it is important that Muslim women lead and shape at least some of the research that is about them and also decide which issues to priortise given the intersectional nature of the discrimination they face because of their gender, race, faith and their appearance e.g. wear the headscarf etc., something that the other APPG Co-Chair, Naz Shah MP agrees with. She said: "Muslim women are one of the most marginalised groups in society suffering from multiple disadvantage including from within their own communities as a result of cultural practices, patriarchal attitudes and misinterpretations of their faith. The APPG will be a more effective way to influence government decisions that impact on their lives and provide a more powerful way of making their case and help them to be heard."

Also, given the breadth of issues that need to be addressed, it is difficult for any single APPG to cover them all anyway. The APPG on Muslim Women will also be able to benefit from the expertise of its Secretariat as MWNUK will be able to provide statistics and information from its national helpline and membership. Although MWNUK already shares information through its Helpline Data Dashboard and by responding to consultations by other stakeholders, there is uncertainty on how much of this important information is considered or utilised at all. Co-Chair of MWNUK, Nazmin Akthar said: "MWNUK are especially pleased to be acting as Secretariat of this APPG because it will allow us to take our existing activities to new heights and allow us to have an even greater impact than what we have already achieved as the leading national charity working on issues affecting Muslim women and girls for over 17 years."

The APPG has also announced its first inquiry which will be to review Muslim women's experience of maternity care so that lessons can be learned to mitigate existing inequalities. Black women are 4-5 times more likely to die during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period, while South Asian women are 2-3 times more likely to die in comparison to white women. These disparities in maternity outcomes have been well known for a long time, which indicates the lack of effort made in trying to understand the maternity experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women despite health and social care providers having a legal duty to reduce inequalities between patients in their access to health services and the outcomes achieved. However, there is now an opportunity to shift the dial on this issue. The Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have shone a light on the disparities in health outcomes of BAME communities. Now that we have the attention of key stakeholders in the healthcare system such as the Department of Health and Social, Clinical Commissioning Groups and professional membership bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and Royal College of Midwives (RCM), it is important they are made aware Muslim women's experiences of what conscious and unconscious bias looks like. In fact, Consultant Gynaecologist Eddie Morris, who is President of the RCOG spoke at the Inaugural APPG Meeting and shared his plans to address this issue.

The research will be conducted by Dr. Suriyah Bi, CEO of the Equality Act Review, which she hopes to complete by July 2021. If Muslim women, who have given birth in England in the last five years, would like to contribute to the research by sharing their experiences, they should get in touch with MWNUK on contact@mwnuk.co.uk.

As the APPG on Muslim Women inaugural meeting was recorded, you can catch watch it here.

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