Muslim Women’s Council: ‘Naz Shah employs cheap publicity stunt that will divide communities’

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At ‘An Audience with Naz Shah and Salma Yaqoob’ last night, Naz Shah left shortly after arriving on the grounds that the Conservative candidate for Bradford West, George Grant, was discriminated against by the Muslim Women’s Council on the basis of his faith and gender, as he wasn’t given a platform to speak.

The event was framed from the outset as an audience with Naz Shah and Salma Yaqoob, never a hustings. Both candidates were contacted prior to the event and informed that the audience would be mixed. It was explicitly pointed out that the purpose of the event was to allow the constituents of Bradford West to engage with the two Muslim women standing for election. Naz Shah had the opportunity to decline our invitation in full knowledge of this. If she was taking a principled stand as she claimed, she should have declined our invitation. Instead we were bombarded with a barrage of calls from Naz Shah’s office and her male supporters, who eventually hijacked the event and were restrained by police and our own security. The heckling and tense atmosphere yesterday was reminiscent of the baradari clan politics that have marred Bradford for so long. Had Naz Shah sincerely believed this was a women-only event, she should not have invited her male supporters to attend, which leads us to believe she was intent on mounting insurmountable reputational damage on our organisation and by extension, on Bradford, the very city she claims to champion.

We have two prominent British Muslim women standing for the same seat, a first for this General Election which is worth celebrating. Rather than creating division on the basis of gender and faith, we wanted to reach out to an electorate often overlooked, and in fact to honour requests from these women to have an audience with the two candidates. Our decision to host an audience with two female Muslim candidates was deliberate. As an organisation that works at a grassroots level with Muslim women in Bradford, we wanted to mobilise them to exercise their right to vote. Muslim women have historically been sidelined in areas of political engagement. Recent findings that up to eight million women may not vote at the general election are incredibly worrying.

We take seriously any accusations of discrimination on the basis of faith or gender. We regret Naz Shah chose not to remain and participate in the event. The Muslim Women’s Council was founded on values of fairness and equality. This is evidenced throughout our work such as the Curry Circle which feeds predominantly white men, Bradford Women for Peace, the Great Get Together, and our head coverings book project which has brought together Muslim, Jewish and Christian women, to name but a few.  In the spirit of values of fairness and equality that are at the very crux of what we stand for, we will continue to organise events that promote inclusion and dialogue for the betterment of our community, not just during election time.

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