By Nighet Nasim Riaz
Nighet Nasim Riaz looks at what organisations like Women for Independence can do to engage women from ethnic minority backgrounds.
I would have to say that WfI has played a pivotal role inside the referendum campaign in further shaping my passion for social justice and equality. I became involved in the campaign around its inception and had the privilege of designing the first website, and can say with utmost relief, thank goodness for the following updated versions. The very first time I spoke publicly was at the launch of the group in Stirling. I smile as I recall how nervous I was at the time. The ideology behind the WFI campaign is to be admired, Women for Independence – especially the second part – independence for women. I found the campaign although with the best interests at heart at empowering women, found it difficult to understand a woman of colour’s perspective, and went onto shape my ethos in other pro-independence campaigns, of equality for all, valuing all that they bought to the mix. We were all united with a vision to build a better society for all who lived and worked in Scotland.
When I was asked to write this article, I think I hesitated for about 10 seconds before agreeing. Yes, strategies are needed to encourage women, all women of all backgrounds to engage on civic and political platforms. These platforms are not just the domain of those that feel that they have more right, or entitlement, or form a hierarchal structure that one has to climb before being seen as worthy. Funny enough, the very same things we dislike about patriarchal systems which have a hegemonic discourse has been transferred across into women groups such as WfI, where instead of listening when a woman of colour is pointing out there is a flaw in the group’s thinking, or that they harbour a conscious or unconscious bias, that even if we are only 1% of that 52% make up of women – and recognising that perhaps how mainstream society is inherently biased is a learnt cultural behaviour, because they don’t know any better. It is sometimes downright discriminatory when members within the group use snippets of a religion or ethnicity to ‘other’ another person, as to what a practising Muslim woman should look like and behave.
I happy to say that Pakistani and African women are some of the most feisty, vocal women I know – we do not constantly need to be rescued, we are not oppressed – this is a stereotype that is perpetuated by mainstream media. We choose to dress in any way that we choose to dress, in as much or less clothing as we wish, and many of us wear the hijab (headscarf) as a symbol of our Islamic faith and as a political statement, or not.
A lot of work needs to be done to encourage ethnic minority women. They need to feel they are valued for who they are, and even if different, that they are amongst their equals, and that their voice is just as important as everyone else’s. As women irrespective of our backgrounds, there is so much that joins us, our life journeys, our roles as women within our families, our communities, in our professional lives, that we can share to broaden understanding of the cultural contexts in which we play out our lives. We can start by identifying ethnic minority women in the community who run organisations such as AMINA, and have focus groups, with the very same questions we used in our listening exercises. We will get results and women will come forward when they realise they are valued for who they are.