A national Muslim women’s organisation is aiming to dispel media stereotypes and reclaim women’s voices from secular narratives.

AVOW (Advancing Voices of Women against Islamophobia) is a community funded organisation founded by Farah Anwar-Bawany, Shenaz Bunglawala, Dr Siema Iqbal, Heena Khaled and Amanda Morris.

Siema, a doctor and a British Muslim opinion writer shared why she feels AVOW is an organisation that is relevant now more than ever.

“For me it is a time to be a Muslim woman without fear, compromise or discrimination. 

“The term ‘media generated Muslims’ describes the phenomenon of what people think about Muslims based on the media, not from direct experience of knowing Muslims. Most people know few or no Muslims but hold strong views about them based on the information they get from the media.

“For Muslim women, the problem of ‘media generated Muslim women’ is particularly relevant as the beliefs people hold about Muslim women will be based on the narrow contexts in which they are reported on in the press- as ‘oppressed,’ as lacking capacity to act for themselves, of being in thrall to a ‘misogynistic religion.’

“This results in Islamophobia in terms of direct, indirect and institutional discrimination based on grounds of religion. 

“It can be anything from women who wear scarves or people with Muslim names being denied jobs, institutional Islamophobia in terms of experiences of Muslims in the criminal justice system, in education or housing and direct attacks on the streets.”

Amanda Morris added, “There are too many voices speaking on behalf of Muslim women, but very few of those voices belong to Muslim women. This needs to change. AVOW wants to help push for that change.

“For Muslim women, the public sphere is of acute concern because of the number of instances where hate crime is committed against women who are visibly Muslim on trains, in streets, in shopping malls or high streets, at school gates, on buses etc.

“Whether Muslim women wear the veil or not, all are affected by stereotypes and prejudices which undermine their identity, agency and voice.”

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By engaging with Muslim women in the community and working locally with women’s groups and listening to their concerns, AVOW are hoping to empower women to take ownership of the narrative and to voice the challenges they are facing.

Manchester based Farah Anwar-Bawany, who works in the education sector, explained why she wanted to be a part of this organisation. 

“I joined AVOW because it is imperative that the voices of Muslim women need to be heard and listened to.”
AVOW launched last year in London and Manchester. The organisation is now looking to explore the impact of Islamophobia against Muslim women over the next twelve months.

This will entail an online national survey followed by listening exercises in Manchester, Cardiff and London to assess the widespread impact that Islamophobia is having on Muslim women.

Heena Khalid who works for an International Human Rights organisation said, “AVOW comes at a crucial time where Muslim women are the most disadvantaged as a result of Islamophobia and for me, as a Muslim woman, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than here to challenge and end that.”

Anjum Peerbacos, a senior teacher and co-creator of @Hijabihalfhour podcasts said AVOW were pleased to have received so much encouragement and support.

“We have had a great response from both men and women since our launch. There is a unanimous sentiment in wanting to advance the inclusion of Muslim women in gender equality struggles but on their own terms.

“We are a voice that is challenging all forms of Islamophobia faced by women by ensuring women are portrayed in non-binary ways.”

This special feature appears in the July edition of Asian Life here