Muslim women‪ are the first to pay the price for Islamophobia in Europe

Muslim women‪ are the first to pay the price for Islamophobia in Europe. That was the finding of the first European research report to be conducted on discrimination against Muslim women by the European Network Against Racism, launched in Brussels last week.

The report, which covers eight European countries, focused on discrimination in access to employment, education and hate crime. It found that Muslim women face a “triple penalty” – suffering the same gender discrimination as other women, compounded by racial and religious discrimination on account of their background, skin colour and faith. These forms of discrimination intersect in complex ways – for example, in the United Kingdom, 1 in 30 white women said they had been illegally asked whether they planned to get married or have children, compared to 1 in eight Pakistani women – i.e. nearly four times more. One in four employers in the UK also admit that they would be hesitant to hire Muslim women on the basis of cultural stereotypes, due to concerns that childcare would be an issue for them.

Then, of course, there are the even higher levels of prejudice against Muslim women who wear the headscarf. Despite legal prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of religion or belief in employment, Muslim women are being regularly excluded from career opportunities across Europe. Forty four percent of Belgian employers state that wearing a headscarf can negatively influence the selection of candidates. In France, tests show that female applicants with a French sounding name and female applicants with an Arabic sounding name wearing the headscarf had a 71-point difference in positive responses for an interview.

For those who are lucky enough to secure a job despite the odds, many face discrimination once they are in the workplace including harassment, insults, discriminatory remarks, lack of career progression or dismissal. When Muslim women face discriminatory remarks, the reaction of employers is often to pressure, dismiss or penalise them, rather than stand with their employees.

A pending French case at the European Court of Justice is a case in point – a design engineer was dismissed after a customer complained about her headscarf, which “embarrassed” the company. Rather than supporting the employee, the employer demanded that she observe the principle of “neutrality” with regards to her dress when dealing with clients – although this principle has no legal basis in the private sector. When the employee refused, she was dismissed.

For those women who choose to challenge discrimination in the courts, the chances of success are pretty slim. While a strong legislative framework prohibiting discrimination in employment theoretically exists, companies and governments are using vague exceptions to justify discrimination against Muslim women.

Equality denied

In France and increasingly Belgium and Germany, states are using a particular interpretation of “secularism” or “neutrality” to exclude Muslim women wearing the headscarf from a whole swathe of public sector jobs. “Neutrality” and “secularism”, concepts originally intended to ensure states treat individuals equally, are being interpreted in ways that directly result in discrimination against individuals of different religions or beliefs.

Once “neutrality” and secularism are used by states to ban religious symbols in the public sector, they often begin to seep into the private sector. By imposing a discriminatory interpretation of these principles, the state thus opens the way for private employers to use the same language to justify discrimination across the board. This leaves the large numbers of Muslim women wearing the headscarf who graduate each year from French universities facing a brick wall of exclusion and rejection. When it comes to job prospects, Muslim women certainly do not enjoy the benefits of “liberté, égalité et fraternité”.

To cope with such discrimination, the report shows how Muslim women are developing a number of survival strategies. Some try to adapt themselves to employers’ discriminatory practices (“avoidance strategy”), requesting to be put in the back office to avoid customer contact, so as to keep their jobs while satisfying their bosses’ wishes for them to be invisible. Some are faced with the difficult choice between their personal convictions and their aspirations, and choose to remove the headscarf. Another strategy is to “opt out”, turning either to entrepreneurship and self-employment (a rising phenomenon in France), or give up on a career, leading to frustration and isolation.

Particularly disappointing is the position adopted by the European Court of Human Rights – as one legal expert commented at the report launch, the court has never upheld a Muslim woman’s right to wear a headscarf in education or employment. After years of legal struggle, women who have brought claims in the court have been denied their religious freedoms based on various grounds – public safety, ‘established social norms’, secularism, protecting the rights of others, or gender equality. The most powerful regional court in the world, charged with upholding the ideals of a democratic and pluralistic society, has repeatedly upheld bans on the headscarf based on government assertions about Islam and Muslim women, and mere stereotypes unsupported by evidence. By doing so, it is sending a clear message that Muslim women’s right to practice their faith has no place in European society and that, in order to “liberate” Muslim women, we must restrict their choices.

Muslim women targeted

The most significant finding of the report is that Islamophobia is a specifically gendered form of discrimination. It does not affect men and women in the same way – Muslim women are far more likely to be the victims of hate crime and speech than Muslim men, especially if they wear a headscarf. They are the primary targets of threats, hate speech, violence, assaults and online hate. In the Netherlands, over 90 percent of the victims of Islamophobic incidents reported to the organisation Meld Islamofobie in 2015 were Muslim women. In France, 81.5 percent of Islamophobic violence recorded by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France in 2014 targeted women, most of them wearing a visible religious symbol.

The statistics put forward in the report represent only the tip of the iceberg – as a 2009 survey by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights found, 79 percent of Muslim respondents did not report their most recent experience of discrimination to any competent organisation and an average 80 percent of respondents could not name any anti-discrimination organisation that could offer support or advice to people who experience discrimination.

Despite the clear rise in Islamophobic attacks documented by NGOs, most EU states do not register the religious affiliation of victims or disaggregate statistical data along religious lines. Without official statistics on the scale of the problem, it becomes easy to ignore it.

For Islamophobes, and for wider society, Muslim women (especially those who are visibly identifiable) are “boundary markers”, their dress not seen as a matter of personal choice, but as fodder for public debate, invested with meanings and prejudices imposed by society, by media representations and political exploitation.

Listening to the victims

While the public debates about Muslim women that flare up periodically in Europe are allegedly about their autonomy and liberation, they are often the last to be consulted. This report, for the first time, puts them centre stage and seeks to understand their experiences and realities.

It is time for us to take Islamophobia seriously. The discrimination documented by ENAR’s report is only a symptom of a deeper malaise that is attacking the very roots of Europe’s democracy. Hate and intolerance are becoming the currency of political discourse, used by governments to distract from their inability to offer social mobility and economic opportunity to a new generation.

Adopting the illiberal discourse of extreme and far right movements only serves to strengthen their appeal. It is time for European governments to assert their commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy, human rights and equality – principles that were adopted precisely to ensure Europe would overcome the horrors of conflict and genocide. It is time we listened to the voices of the victims, and not to those who seek to draw Europe back into the grip of a not-too-distant intolerant past.

– Intissar Kherigi is a Tunisian-British researcher and PhD student at Sciences Po Paris in Comparative Political Sociology. She holds a BA in Law from Kings College, Cambridge University and a Masters in Human Rights from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is a qualified solicitor and has worked in the UK House of Lords, the United Nations and the European Parliament.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.


Malia Bouattia Elected as President of the National Union of Students of the UK

The Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO) would like to congratulate Malia Bouattia in her election as the President of the National Union of Students (NUS) at the annual National Conference in Brighton.

The former NUS Black Students’ Officer is the first Muslim to be elected to the presidential position in the organisation’s 94 year history. Malia is also the first black and minority ethnic (BME) woman to hold this position and will be representing 600 student unions and over 7 million students across the United Kingdom.

The dedication of Malia towards supporting and campaigning for student rights cannot go unnoticed. She launched the NUS ‘Liberate My Degree’ campaign, led the campaign against Islamophobia on university campuses, hosted the national ‘Black Lives Matter’ tour, led the nationwide PREVENT day of action and founded the national ‘Black Sabbs Network’ and the Black Students’ Campaign regional network.

FEMYSO would like to once again congratulate Malia and all elected Vice-Presidents (Shakira Martin, Shelly Asquith, Sorana Vieru, Richard Brooks, and Rob Young) on their successful election campaigns and wish all the success in their roles in bringing real positive change to students across the UK.


Notes to editor:

1. For further information, please contact:
2. FEMYSO was founded in 1996 in Sweden at a time when Muslim youth from across Europe felt the need to come together to create a united body, to share ideas and experiences, help develop the capacity of Muslim European youth and represent their concerns and views to the European institutions. Since then, FEMYSO has grown into a wide network of 34 student and youth organisations throughout Europe, all working to benefit their communities and societies. The FEMYSO vision for European Muslim youth is proactive youth participation and service to humanity. We have trained thousands of young Muslims, contributed to the emergence of a strong confident identity of young European Muslims, and built strong partnerships with organisations across Europe.
3. NUS National Conference 2016 started on April 19 and runs until April 21 in Brighton. More information about the conference can be found at

4. Malia Bouattia’s full manifesto can be read here.

5. Shakira Martin election speech for Vice President can be seen here.

6. Shelly Asquith’s election speech for Vice President can be seen here.

7. Sorana Vieru election speech for Vice President can be seen here.

8. Richard Brooks election speech for Vice President can be seen here.

9. Rob Young election speech for Vice President can be seen here.
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Press Release Team

Launch of the ADVISE Project


Brussels, 21 March 2016

On the occasion of the European Action Week Against Racism, a consortium of NGOs from around Europe is pleased to announce the launch of the ADVISE project: Advocates Against Islamophobia in Education.
The consortium brings togetherFryshuset (Sweden), Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (EU/Belgium), International Alert (UK), Etudiants Musulmans de France (France) and Symbiosis (Greece), as well as theEuropean Network Against Racism (ENAR) as policy advisor.
The project aims toidentify and address gaps in national policies to protect against Islamophobia in education and to develop advocacy strategies towards stakeholders (such as education authorities, policymakers, student unions, educators and human rights NGOs) in order to make progress in introducingbetter protection for studentswho face Islamophobia in education, and mechanisms for reporting and recording of incidents as well as supporting victims of Islamophobia.

The project is taking place in 5 countries: UK, France, Belgium, Sweden and Greece. In these countries, the rise in far-right, the populist discourses activity and the increasingly hostile environment towards Muslims is a reality of daily life. Already, in 2009, the Fundamental Rights Agency— warned about the scale of discrimination against Muslims in Europe. “On average, one Muslim respondent out of three reported having experienced discrimination in the last 12 months. These respondents (…) said they had experienced an average of eight incidents of discrimination over a period of 12 months”.In 2015, discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin continues to be regarded as the most widespread form of discrimination in the EU, figures reaches 64% followed by religion or belief 50% (10/2015- European Commission, SpecialEurobarometer 437 discrimination in the EU in 2015 report).

The ADVISE project will train and empower around 60 young people between 16 and 35 on how to advocate against Islamophobia, with a focus on improving reporting, recording and support mechanisms in the education sector.

The project will have a strong cross-community element, by bringing together Muslim and non-Muslim youthto learn how to advocate against discrimination, as well as bringing advocates from different communities together to share their experiences and expertise on advocating against discrimination.
We look forward to working with our partners and local and national stakeholders towards better protection of young people from the harmful and damaging impact of Islamophobic acts.

More about the partners

Fryshusetis a non-profit non-political and non-religious foundation (NGO), founded in 1984, with its headquarters in Stockholm. Fryshuset is often referred to as the largest youth activity center in the world. It runs several schools, sports, music and dance activities, and a lot of different social projects in the fields of migration and community building. Fryshuset is established primarily in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö and some of its activities are also running in other parts of Sweden. All in all Fryshuset employs around 600 people and receives around 40,000 visitors every month, both in the cities and in the suburbs.

FEMYSOwas founded in 1996 in Sweden at a time when Muslim youth from across Europe felt the need to come together to create a united body, to share ideas and experiences, help develop the capacity of Muslim European youth and represent their concerns and views to the European institutions. Since then, FEMYSO has grown into a wide network of 34 student and youth organisations throughout Europe, all working to benefit their communities and societies. The FEMYSO vision for European Muslim youth is proactive youth participation and service to humanity. We have trained thousands of young Muslims, contributed to the emergence of a strong confident identity of young European Muslims, and built strong partnerships with organisations across Europe.

Symβiosiswas founded in 2011 in Thessaloniki by an international group of committed citizens grounded on common belief in the need for a new paradigm for global civics, European citizenship and social cohesion, in order to define, promote and establish new forms of binding democratic participation in political processes, free of discrimination and exclusion. Its mission is building social capital for democracy and develop civic awareness on institutional practices regarding rights and acceptance of diversity, based on the premise that practicing human rights protection equals democratic rule of law. Symβiosis focuses on intercultural and interfaith dialogue, information and political education, advocacy and awareness raising, marginalized citizens’ journalism, documentation and analysis, public debate and active civic participation, so that people and communities voice their needs and ideas.

International Alertis an independent peacebuilding organisation established in 1987 that works with local people around the world to help them build peace. We have over 200 staff in 12 field offices and our London headquarters. Our board is comprised of experienced diplomats, business people and peacebuilding and development practitioners from around the world. International Alert takes a broad view of peacebuilding, understanding peace as a situation in which everyone lives in safety without any form of violence, is equal before the law, able to participate in shaping political decisions with government accountability, and has fair access to the basic needs for their wellbeing and equal opportunity to work and make a living, regardless of gender, ethnicity or any other identity.

Etudiants Musulmans de Franceis an association created by students for students. EMF is designed to accompany the Muslim student during his or her studies in higher education, improve their lives, and help them to integrate into the campus. It facilitates the integration of students on campus, including that of foreign students, tries to fight the isolation that sometimes affects the student, and participates in improving their sense of wellbeing.EMF also organizes a range of activities regarding Islamophobia on university campus. It organizes seminars, conferences, exhibitions and other activities open to all.

ENAR is the only pan-European anti-racist network that combines advocacy for racial equality and facilitating cooperation among civil society anti-racist actors in Europe. The organisation was set up in 1998 by grassroots activists on a mission to achieve legal changes at European level and make decisive progress towards racial equality in all EU Member States.

@FEMYSO @Fryshuset @EMFASSO @intalert @SymbiosisOrg @ENAREurope
If you forward this release on social medias, please use the hashtag #Islamophobia21
For further information, please contact:

Press Release Team

FEMYSO is shocked and saddened about the hate crime against the Jewish Museum in Brussels 

The Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO) is shocked and saddened to hear of the heinous hate crime against the Jewish Museum in Brussels. This targeting of the Jewish community is yet another tragic sign of the rise of hate and xenophobia on the continent of Europe, the dangers of which are apparent from recent history. 


We stand in solidarity with the Jewish community and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. We call on European authorities to take immediate action to address, prevent and prosecute such hate crimes and send a strong message that an attack on one community is an attack on all. 


The European Union’s motto, United in Diversity, must be more than a mere slogan. It is time for Europe to stand up for its values of human dignity, equality and respect for human rights. 


26/05/2014, FEMYSO PR team 

Help the People of the Balkans Now

The Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO) calls for immediate support to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Eastern Croatia that have been suffering from the biggest natural catastrophe in a century. 


For the past week, floods caused by the torrential rains in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, resulting in significant human and material damage in the affected areas, including 43 people killed. 


Over a million people have been affected and thousands have had to leave their homes. According to the Bosnian government, a million Bosnians have been cut off from clean water and 100,000 buildings destroyed. In the Republic of Serbia, 24,352 people were evacuated and 2,260 damaged. Floodwaters triggered more than 3,000 landslides across the Balkans, damaging entire towns and villages and disturbing land mines leftover from the region’s 1990s war. 


The populations of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia now face the threat of the spread of infectious  

diseases and a clean-up effort that will cost billions of euros. 


In the name of FEMYSO’s Member Organisations from the region, FEMYSO encourages you to act in solidarity with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. People must be provided with basic goods, and many organizations are working on the ground and need urgent help. 


You can help in several ways, by providing either a financial support or donating goods directly. Our member organization, AKOS, is hosting displaced people in its center, Misbah and are delivering food directly to people in need, together with government organisations: 


You can help them to reach more affected people by donating money to: 


Transakcijski račun: 1410010001749560 

Bosna Bank International dd Sarajevo 

Devizni račun:1413065310095117 



FEMYSO congratulates President-Elect Abderrahmane Mouhaddab and the new New GMI Executive Board on their election held on the 31st December

As part of the 2012 GMI conference held several days ago in Lignano Sabbiadoro, bi-annual elections were held to elect the presidency and the Executive Board of Giovani Musulmani d’Italia (GMI). GMI is a non-profit association, born from young muslims and aimed at similar youth, to aid in forming their religious and social identities ( 


The GMI General Assembly elected Abderrahmane Mouhaddab as President for the 2013-2015 term. Abderrahmane, a 24 year-old Law student and member of the outgoing Executive Board is known for his diligent work and positive engagement within the association both at regional and national level. The Assembly approved his plans to continue strengthening GMI through more specific trainings opportunities that enable young people to participate positively in the development of their society in Italy and Europe through reform ensuring a greater decentralization within the organisation. 


Since GMI’s entry into FEMYSO as an MO*1, it has played a significant role in contributing to the aims of FEMYSO,  by showcasing their members’ full potential within European society and ensuring their contributions to the development of a diverse, cohesive and prosperous Europe.  


FEMYSO looks forward to working with the newly elected Executive Board and helping them achieve these aims throughout Italy. We are confident our relationship with GMI will continue positively towards a more active cooperation. We deeply commend the commitment and aims taken by the newly elected Board. 


FEMYSO would also like to pay tribute to the outgoing President Omar Jibril and his colleagues in the outgoing Executive Board for the great work that has been done over the past four years. The commitment and the hard work of Omar Jibril and the former Executive Board has been exemplary and we hope it will be a solid foundation in which the new Executive Board will serve Italian Muslim youth and wider society. 


[photo of new board] 

{photo caption: the New Board  Abdelhakim Bouchraa, Abderrahmane Mouhaddab, Bilal Daaou, Hareth Amar, Karim El Sayed, Mosaab Hamad, Nadia Rouatbi, Samah Emam and Sara Abram} 


The newly elected Board represent the plurality within GMI, due to the young age of the members and the diverse body made up of youth that come from all different cities and realities which encompass the whole reality of the Young Muslims in Italy.  


We extend our congratulations to the newly elected Executive Board and look forward to working alongside them for a better and more diverse Muslim European Voice. 






Notes to editors 


  1. For further information, please contact our FEMYSO Press officer Ms. Ola Himmat,


  1. FEMYSO was founded in 1996 in Sweden at a time when Muslim youth from across Europe felt it was necessary to come together to create a united body, to share ideas and experiences, help  develop each other and make sure Muslim youth’s concerns and views are represented to the European institutions. Since then, FEMYSO has grown into a wide network of 33 student and youth organisations throughout Europe, all working to benefit their communities and societies, and serve mankind. The FEMYSO vision for European Muslim youth is proactivity, ethical living and service to humanity. We have trained thousands of young Muslims, contributed to the emergence of a strong confident identity of young European Muslims, and built strong partnerships with organisations across society, Muslim and non-Muslim, all  motivated by a commitment to live by our principles and build a better future. 


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FEMYSO Honours Victims of Srebrenica Genocide

Srebrenica – NEVER FORGET


Today, July 11th 2012, we remember the 17th anniversary of the gruesome Massacre in Srebrenica, the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims by the Bosnian-Serbs army. 


It was a crime beyond any scale Europe has ever witnessed in the last decade. A crime that crushed humanity out of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The terrible events that occurred in Srebrenica are one of the most horrific and controversial in Europe’s recent history. 


On July 11th 1995, Bosnian-Serbs forces overran the UN protected zone, separated children and women from men, and then systematically inhumanely slaughtered and exterminated men in mass executions. Both the International Criminal Court and International Criminal Tribunal have clearly called the cruel crimes committed in Srebrenica as a Genocide, a crime against humanity. 


As FEMYSO we remember these horrific days, we honour and pray for the victims and we hope such crimes will never happen again. Let us not forget the suffering of the Victims by standing and watching in silence. Indeed the appalling silence of the good people hurts Victims more than the brutal cruelty perpetrated by the oppressors. 


Let us honour the Souls of the defenseless Victims by stepping up and let us speak out against the inhuman injustice that has occurred. 

Let us honour the Souls of the defenseless Victims by reciting the verses of surat Al-Fatiha.  


Srebrenica, never again! 

ENAR Director receives anonymous death threat 

The Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organisations (FEMYSO) is shocked and appalled at the news that Michaël Privot, Director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), received a death threat following his participation in a live web-chat on freedom of expression, organised by Belgian weekly magazine Le Vif/L’Express on 28 Februrary 2012. 


Sadly this is not just an ‘isolated incident’, but only one despicable instance in a consistent pattern of violence directed at representatives of ENAR member organisations in several countries, not to mention numerous ordinary individuals across Europe who face xenophobic and racist violence and abuse on a daily basis. 


This worrying proliferation of online manifestations of hatred and intolerance against migrants and ethnic and religious minorities in Europe, as well as the European inaction threaten peace and prosperity in Europe. We call on all European states and institutions to address online hate crime and to ensure that effective legal recourse and support are provided to victims of Islamophobia and racial and religious hate crime to tackle this growing problem.