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It's Time to Pass the Mic

By Talat Yaqoob, Equate Scotland

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to work with the Muslim Women’s Resource Centre (AMINA) to deliver workshops on media and public speaking. The workshops focused on supporting Muslim women across Scotland to share their stories and expertise and to identify the structural barriers in place which prevent them from feeling confident or welcomed into Scotland’s mainstream media. These conversations, in safe spaces, for Muslim women are crucial. During the workshop women shared their experiences of racism, islamophobia and sexism – but they also shared their areas of interest and expertise which ranged from higher education to housing.

Women’s voices are largely missing from our newspapers, online content and TVs, but Muslim women and women of colour are even further behind. We experience both hypervisibility (often being talked about) and invisibility (rarely invited to give our opinions or take on an emerging story). Muslim women appear in our media most often when we encounter another round of bigotry disguised as political debate on the burqa or hijab. Muslim women are talked about or on behalf of, but it is long overdue for the mic to be passed and for Muslim women to be given the space to advocate for themselves, as men have for generations.

When was the last time you watched the Scottish news or read a headline in a Scottish paper with a Muslim women’s name as the author? When was the last time you read an article with a Muslim woman quoted; that was not about the burqa but instead about all the other political debates which impact our lives; austerity, climate change, the gender pay gap or affordable housing? It is far too rare (or it ends up being the same very few women, which includes me).

Back in 2016, there was a controversy in a Scottish Mosque about the participation of women and the practices of the Mosque board. To cover this issue the article quoted two high-profile Muslim men. Aside from my normal eye roll, I was irritated enough to contact the newspaper and ask to write an opinion piece from the perspective of a Muslim woman (along with another anti-racism campaigner). This was agreed – but there are two things wrong here. Firstly, this was dependent on me doing additional (and free) labour to have a Muslim woman’s perspective on an issue affecting our lives and secondly, this was dependent on my privileged position of having the time, resources and contacts within media to do it. It should not be the task of someone to write a response to correct the error of silencing Muslim women, it is the job of media to look for relevant, diverse and expert voices.

Most in media would tell you they are keen to hear from diverse people, they want to see a wider range of voices giving their opinions and being quoted. But saying this and doing something about it are two very different things. If we are to change the face of media from being male dominated, middle class and largely white, then we need to be proactive in seeking out these voices. We cannot assume they will come to us, when everyone already within the system has entered through a tap on the shoulder, through those they already know or another unpaid internship they can afford.

We sometimes hear policy makers refer to under-represented groups as those who are “hard to reach” but what we actually mean is “easy to ignore”. The Pass the Mic workshops helped Muslim women to develop confidence and public-speaking skills, but this alone will not redress the massive imbalance in representation. If we want to do things differently in Scotland, to be a truly progressive society, then we need to take unapologetic and bold steps to amplify the voices of those rarely heard and lower the volume on the rhetoric of division that too often gets the headlines.

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