FEMYSO representative participated in OSCE Conference on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination

FEMYSO had the pleasure of attending on 22 October in Rome, Italy the OSCE – The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe “Conference on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination, with a Focus on Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief: Towards a Comprehensive Response in the OSCE Region.”

Government officials and representatives of civil society and religious communities discussed good practices for addressing racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination, including on the basis of gender, and for countering anti-Semitism and intolerance against Muslims, Christians and members of other religions.

Hande Taner, our Head of Campaigns, delivered an insightful speech on the importance of cultivating inclusivity in the educational system: schools and universities should be the main place to teach respect for diversity and also protect students against any type of racism and discrimination.

Sumaya Abdel Qader, former board of trustees member of #FEMYSO and currently Vice President of the Commission for Culture, Fashion and Design, Municipal Council of Milan, delivered a key speech during a panel of addressing the role of communication, media and social media in addressing the increasing manifestations of discrimination and intolerance.

Check out the following link.


FEMYSO representative spech:

Honourable delegates, honourable ambassadors,

Good afternoon everybody.

I would first like to thank ODIHR and the Italian Chairmanship for having invited me on behalf of FEMYSO, the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Students Organisations, to be part of this panel. We believe that it is essential to have a youth perspective as part of civil society when discussing the role of educational programmes as a means to address negative stereotyping and stigmatization and promote mutual respect and understanding. My organisation is a forum of Muslim youth and students’ organisations from over twenty European countries. Thus, my approach will be from a European Muslim youth perspective. This perspective is crucial because the niche of youth and discrimination is something that is not focussed on often, and because of the continuing rise in Islamophobia.
First, allow me to explain that my approach to education will be two-fold: formal, and non-formal education. The first relates to official educational institutions, such as schools and universities, and the other relates to education in its broader sense that falls outside of the scope of formal education: e.g. youth organisations, which I will be specifically focussing on. Based on the expertise of FEMYSO given our work with European Muslim youth, we can conclude that there are both serious problems that need to be tackled, but there is also a lot of space to cultivate inclusive education with a safe environment for all. I would like to emphasise that FEMYSO has worked before with the OSCE, the Council of Europe and UNESCO to draft Guidelines for Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims.

The current context of our societies is that Islamophobia is constantly growing. This phenomenon is supported by research and statistics, such as those conducted by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency, the annual European Islamophobia report, but also the work done by ODIHR. I will not focus on such research, as this is not the purpose of this panel.
However, important to underline is that despite the given rise in Islamophobia, there is stillno coherent policy response to Islamophobia. As a result, this policy vacuum is used by racist groups to reorient their hatred towards Muslims, which is especially felt in the field of education by pupils, students and teachers. Islamophobia has become the acceptable face of racism.
Absence of detailed research on the experience of Muslim students in education has significantly affected the abuse of this policy vacuum. While there are many good practices in for example the United Kingdom and Canada when it comes to broken down data collection of religious discrimination, this is not the case in many OSCE Participating States. Collecting statistics on Islamophobia is key for the successful formulation, adoption and implementation of effective policies. It is key in order for governments to build cohesive, resilient and more peaceful societies.

Children and students spend a lot of time in educational institutions. This is where you form the way you think, your attitude and interaction with others. It is the main place to teach respect for diversity.Schools and universities thus have an obligation and responsibility to ensure this. Because the way in which schools deal with diversity sends a very strong message to the child, their family and wider society about the value society places on diversity.
First, schools and universities must ensure that they have effective policies against all forms of racism. They first need to acknowledge the fact that discrimination takes many forms, amongst which religious discrimination, and Islamophobia is the type that is rising the most, because it has become acceptable, a norm. Islamophobia must be reported as a specific form of discrimination and mentioned as a separate category in anti-discrimination policies. Thus, when students approach teachers to tell them they have been bullied or victimised due to their religious affiliation, teachers should not refrain from taking action or not recognising the pupil’s experience as discrimination, for the reason that it does not fit within the anti-discrimination framework in place.
Formal educational institutions must also ensure that there are safe spaces where students can freely enjoy their right to freedom of religion or belief. While this is very common in my home country, The Netherlands, and in countries such as the United Kingdom, this is unfortunately not the case everywhere in Europe, and I can tell from experience as a student in France. State values such as laicity should not violate fundamental human rights. And in the case of existing contemplation rooms, these should not be closed down.

Third, the content of educational programmes should be closely monitored in light of non-discrimination. It is crucial that young people are taught about other cultures and civilisations, and about the interdependence of these cultures and civilisations. Without this, young people will not be adequately equipped to contextualise their own place in the world or to deal with the reality and effects of globalisation. Current teaching does not adequately educate young people about the interconnections in history. This can lead to a very narrow and myopic understanding of our place in the world and in our societies. As a result, lack of representative history leads to justifying negative stereotyping and discrimination. In addition to history, there should be a move away from linking terrorism to religion when teaching about the former.

Fourth, the experience of Muslim students is severely affected by anti-terrorism laws.
A research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK which was based on a national survey of more than 2,000 students at UK universities, concludes that Muslim students feel ‘under suspicion’ on UK campuses and it finds that many Muslim students are self-censoring and disengaging themselves from UK campus life. The nature of distrust and insecurity amongst students based on mass surveillance is a severe problem, and should be a serious concern for all OSCE Participating States. However, due to a lack of research beyond the UK on the experience of Muslim students, governments are not aware of the actual experience of religious minorities on campuses, and therefore do not know what to do.

Educational programmes outside school and universities are equally crucial in combating discrimination and intolerance. Youth organisations, such as scouts, FEMYSO, EYP (European Youth Parliament) have a large role in teaching diversity, tolerance and empathy to young people. These programmes are important to develop safe spaces.
In a recent study of the FRA, the EU MIDIS II report, it is shown that when people with a faith background get in a single faith organisation that promotes civic activism, they increase their participation in society, they are more tolerant and have more trust in public institutions. Because of this involvement, through creating spaces in which people feel comfortable and in which they can develop their identity, young people are made better citizens with more social skills, including combatting discrimination and intolerance.
Governments should thus pay as much attention and give as much care to non-formal educational programs as to formal ones.

FEMYSO itself has various good practices. Our work with OSCE/ODIHR in drafting the guideline for educators is one example. Our campaigns such as ADVISE (Advocating Against Islamophobia in Education) and IMAN (Islamophobia Monitoring & Action Network) and the active participation in the Council of Europe’s All Different – All Equal Campaign and No Hate Speech Movement are successful examples of the role of non-formal education in tackling discrimination.
However, there is an urgent need for political, social and pedagogical responses to Islamophobia in both formal and non-formal educational programmes. The education system produces future leaders, policy makers, while also hosting current active citizens. It plays a vital role in shaping our views towards others in our societies.
This is why FEMYSO calls upon OSCE Participating States to:
1. Start broken-down data collection of discrimination, including Islamophobia as a specific form of racism;
2. To conduct research on the experience of Muslim students in educational institutions;
3. To diminish the disproportionate impact of anti-terror measures on surveillance of children and students with the example of PREVENT in the UK;
4. And to include young Muslim students in their policymaking processes instead of speaking on behalf of them.


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