By Grahame Anderson
The recent local elections in Bradford saw female candidates excel despite the low overall turnout. And despite a combination of Brexit fatigue and general apathy, Muslim women like Fozia Shaheen who held on to the Toller ward for Labour with a massive majority, were left celebrating at the end of a long early May evening.
Shattering The Glass Ceiling
She was joined on the role of honour by Labour’s Shakeela Lal, born and brought up in Bradford, and a servant of City Ward for more than 12 years. The hard-working councillor took a staggering 82% of the vote 74% ahead of her nearest challenger. Tribute should also be paid to Sameena Akhtar who managed to win over more than 89% of the local electorate. There are other female success stories of course, but all three of these ladies are positive proof the glass ceiling of the past has been positively shattered.
Challenges Still Remain
Historically, Muslim women in particular were not being put forward for political positions in high numbers. But almost 20 years into the new century this seems to be changing as Fozia Shaheen told me: “There are still challenges to meet and we need to keep striving, but there are lots of Muslims in the Labour group here in the city, and it reflects the work being done locally. It was a great honour to win a second term, and I’m told 88% is the biggest majority ever in West Bradford.
“I was the first Muslim councillor to win an award as ‘Young Councillor Of The Year’, and people have treat me really well both on the doorstep and in the ward as a whole. To be honest I’ve always just been myself. Council meetings have never been a problem, and it’s been a real pleasure to work for the community here.
“It does demonstrate people will respond if you serve them well. And yes, it was a truly wonderful, night for all of these hard working women.”
The Disappearing Stereotype
It was Bradford based anthropologist Urna Qureshi who said in her popular 2012 blog: “I don’t believe Muslim women any longer fit the stereotype of voiceless beings that aren’t allowed to leave the house – if anything, I think it’s us women that are making the greatest progress within and beyond our own communities.”
Recent developments would seem to fly in the face of the controversial Casey report findings citing Muslim women were being squeezed further from mainstream society. Their findings revealed many had given up trying to find employment or pursuing a career. In fact, a three-tiered system of discrimination was revealed: being a woman, being from an ethnic minority, and finally being a Muslim. The investigators even visited Manningham’s business centre, in an area engulfed by riots in 2001, shaking Bradford to the core. This well documented unrest prompted a Home Office report into it’s causes.
The Aim Of Casey
Casey’s aim was to help improve “opportunity and integration” for ethnic minorities who largely remain on the outside looking in.
Bana Gora, chief executive of the Bradford Muslim Women’s Council told The Guardian Newspaper at the time: “These are scary times, there’s a heightened fear and anxiety over what the future holds. The Muslim community feels it’s under a magnifying glass.
Proving The Doubters Wrong
Not only are Muslim women integrating at pace, but as the Bradford local election results have shown, they are playing a leading role in our communities. The work of Fozia Shaheen is clearly proving the sceptics wrong. In the past most Muslim councillors would have been male, and while the magnifying glass hasn’t gone altogether, it’s vision is shifting. If there was to be a success story overlooked by much of the media in place of the brexit stalemate this was it.
The Last Word
Perhaps the last word should go to Irna Qureshi: “As Muslim women, we don’t expect to be pandered to, but realistically, what faith can we have in a system that alienates us on so many levels? It’s not paper pushers we need, it’s articulate, passionate, committed candidates with fresh ideas, who respect diversity and equality, and who value our contribution. And believe it or not, just like the rest of Bradford, we also want jobs, investment, self-esteem and a city to be proud of.”