A UK Analysis: Empowering Women of Faith in the Community, Public Service, and Media

This policy paper aims to extend our gaze to the group of women of faith, drawing on issues raised during our three-part Women of Faith panel series, and contributing a targeting focus on the barriers and challenge women of faith encounter in three areas of community, public service, and media.

ISBN: 978-0-9934258-2-0

FOREWORD

In the UK, belief, and faith are protected under the legal frame of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and the Equality Act 2010 (Perfect 2016, 11), in which a person is given the right to hold a religion or belief and the right to change their religion or belief. It also gives them a right to show that belief as long as the display or expression does not interfere with public safety, public order, health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others (Equality Act 2010). The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination, harassment and victimisation because of religion or belief. Religion or belief are mainly divided into religion and religious belief, and philosophical belief (Equality Act 2010, chap. 1). The Dialogue Society supports the Equality Act 2010 (Perfect 2016, 11). Consequently, The Dialogue Society believes we have a duty to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations within our organisation and society.

The Dialogue Society aims to promote equality and human rights by empowering people and bringing social issues to light. To this end, we have organised many projects, research, courses, scriptural reasoning readings/gatherings, and panel discussions specifically on interfaith dialogue, having open conversations around belief and religion. To encourage dialogue, interaction and cooperation between people working on interreligious dialogue and to demonstrate good interfaith relations and dialogue are integral and essential for peace and social cohesion in our society, the Dialogue Society has been a medium, facilitating a platform to all from faith and non-faith backgrounds.

The Dialogue Society thrives on being more inclusive to those who might be overlooked in society as a group. Although women seem to be in the core of society as an essential element, the women who contravene the monotype identity tend to remain in the shadows. The media is not just used to get information but also used as a way of having a sense of belonging by the audience. The media creates collective imaginary identities for public opinion. It gathers the audience under one consensus and creates an identity for the people who share this consensus. Hence, a form of media functions as a medium for identity creation and representation. Therefore, the production and reproduction of stereotypes and a monotype representation of women and women of faith in media content are the primary sources of the public’s general attitudes towards women of faith. In the context of this report, the media limits not only women’s gender but also their religious identity. The monotype identity of women opposes the plurality of the concept of women. Notably, media outlets are criticised for not recognising the differences in women’s identities. Women of faith are susceptible to the lack of representation or misrepresentation and get stuck between the roles constructed for their gender and religion. Women who do not fit in these policies’ stereotypes get misrepresented or disregarded by the media. Moreover, policymakers also limit their scope to a single monotype of women’s identity when policies are made, creating a public consensus around women of faith. As both these mediums lack representation or have very symbolic and distorted representations of women of faith, we strive to provide a platform for all women from faith and non-faith backgrounds.

The Dialogue Society has organised women-only community events for women of faith to have a bottom-up approach, including interfaith knitting, reading, and cooking clubs. Several women-only courses have informed women of the importance of interfaith dialogue, promoting current best practices, and identifying and promoting promising future possibilities. We have hosted panel discussions and held women-only interfaith circles where women from different faith backgrounds came together to discuss boundaries within religion and what they believed to transgress their boundaries.

Consequently, we organised a panel series to focus on the roles of women of faith within different areas of society, aiming to highlight their unique individual and shared experiences and bring to light issues of inequality that impact women of faith. Although women of faith exist within all areas of society, we chose to explore women’s experiences within three different settings to give a breadth of understanding about women of faith’s interactions within society. Therefore, we held a panel series titled ‘Women of Faith’, including three panels, each focusing on a particular area: Women of Faith in Community, Women of Faith in Public Service, and Women of Faith in Media.

In this report, following the content analysis method to systematically sort the information gathered by the panel series, we have written a series of recommendations to address these issues in media and policymaking. This paper has a section on specific policy recommendations for those in decision-making positions in the community, public service, and media, according to the content and findings gathered.

This report aims to initiate and provide interactive and transferable advice and guidance to those in a position. The policy paper gives insight to social workers, teachers, council members, liaison officers, academics and relevant stakeholders, policymakers, and people who wish to understand more about empowering women of faith and hearing their experiences. It also aims to inspire ongoing efforts and further action to accelerate the achievement of complete freedom of faith, gender equality in promoting, recommending, and implementing direct top-level policies for faith and gender equality, and ensuring that existing policies are gender-sensitive and practices are safe from gender-based and faith-based discrimination for women of faith. Finally, this report is to engage and illustrate the importance of allyship, the outstanding achievement through dialogue based on real-life experience, and facilitate resilient relationships among people of different religious positions. We call upon every reader of this report to join the efforts of the Dialogue Society in promoting an equal society for women of faith.

Executive Summary

  • Discrimination and inequality are real lived experience in the UK, in which women of faith report experiencing disempowerment.
  • Further research into the lived experiences of women of faith from all social and religious groups is urgently needed.
  • Patriarchal and biased representations of women and religion in the media lead to stereotypes that have a serious negative impact on public attitudes toward women of faith.
  • Through an intersectional lens, the mixed effects of cultural, religious, and gender bias can further disadvantage women of faith in the society and deny their access to equality in employment These combined negative effects further contribute to the disadvantaged position and underrepresentation of women of faith in society.
  • Trainings regarding religious literacy and regulations addressing discrimination and sexism must be conducted for every staff in the media, public service, and community sector. Rules and regulations against discrimination and sexism must be identified and provide women of faith with due process and ensure the pursuit of legal entitlement does not carry undue career risks.

Policy Recommendations

Women of faith in Media

  • It is essential to facilitate continuous trainings programmes regarding religious literacy in media or journalism industry,
  • It is essential to promote more depoliticized, de-sexualized, decolonized representation for the general society of what constitutes religion, and the value of religion as well as facilitating a decolonized, non-sexist, more inclusive and diversion narrative in media narratives regarding religion/ ethnicity/gender, etc.
  • Empowering women of faith with more opportunities to speak up for themselves on mainstream media platforms and social media and increase the accessibility of mainstream media to women of faith. In particular avoiding the publishing of content about women of faith in which they are not represented as authoritative commentators.
  • Fact-checking and careful editorial process to avoid creating symbolic associations that are harmful for women of faith (for example using photographs of women in niqabs to illustrate articles about terrorism).
  • Increasing the representation of women of faith in media both in terms of staff diversity and media content and help facilitating staff networks led by women of faith in the media.
  • Facilitating trainings on equal opportunities in employment (including rules regarding harassment). Rules and regulations addressing sexism must be identified and put in place that genuinely provide women with due process and ensure the pursuit of legal entitlements does not carry undue career risk.

Women of Faith in Public Service

  • Facilitating continuous trainings on religious literacy in public service.
  • Facilitating trainings on creating an inclusive and welcome environment at work, including trainings regarding equal opportunities at work, harassment, and discrimination.
  • Policy reforms should be initialed to stop discriminations against clothing, or other visible features that can be associated with an individual’s faith or beliefs. Rules and regulations must be clarified and put in place that genuinely provide women with due process and ensure the pursuit of legal entitlements does not carry undue career risk.
  • Facilitating interfaith network and dialogue among staff so as to encourage the forming of meaning interactions based on personal experiences and shared values.

Women of Faith in Community

  • Increasing academic studies regarding women of faith. There is a lack of investigation on the life and experience of women of faith as it is an area often being obscured by studies on ethnicity, gender, and diversity, which are major foci in previous studies. It is necessary to focus on disaggregated data instead of integrated data, as it would yield unique results about the individual experience of women of faith.
  • Using social media to promote an environment that welcomes friendly and inclusive dialogue related to religion and belief and enhance equal dialogue between individuals with (without) faith and beliefs to celebrate the shared value different people have regardless of religions and beliefs.