about the project
what does the project involve?
why Muslim girls?
This initiative expands Maslaha’s I Can Be She project which was launched in East London in 2011, seeking to raise aspirations among Muslim girls and change the way they are perceived in society.
Raising aspirations among Muslim girls is particularly important in the current climate in the UK where Muslim women face strong negative stereotypes and inequalities. Islamophobia has a strong gendered dimension with 58% of reported cases of discrimination in the UK concerning women. The government’s current counter-radicalisation strategies are increasingly under attack for disproportionately targeting Muslim students and further stigmatising young Muslims and alienating them from their peers.
As well as disenfranchisement, young Muslims in the UK also face disproportionate social inequalities in areas such as education, employment and healthcare; recent research shows that discrimination against Muslim women in the workplace means they are 70% more likely to be unemployed than their white Christian counterparts – even when their qualifications are the same. We believe that further alienating young people who already face multiple disadvantage, is dangerous and that practical alternatives such as this initiative are urgently needed.
 The tangled web of discrimination faced by Muslim women' (2015) https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/tangled-web-discrimination-faced-muslim-women
 'Schools face new legal duties to tackle extremism' (2015) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-33328377
When considering the ways that Muslim girls engage in sport, it’s important to recognise the complexity of how Islam, gender and sport intersect with family, school and communities.
Muslim women are commonly perceived as being disinterested or unable to participate in sport and physical activity, a misperception which fails to recognise the many ways that Muslim women across the world not only participate in sport but also act as pioneers, and are supported in doing this by their families and communities.
Young Muslim women have multiple expressions of religious belief; many will take part in sports with no particular requirements – relating to dress code or segregation. Yet dress code, public visibility, non-segregated spaces, as well as poor teacher understanding and inadequate teacher training, have all been cited as factors contributing to the reality that Muslim girls in the UK are less active than their non-Muslim peers.
Given this backdrop, fencing provides an exciting opportunity for the participation of young Muslim women; in terms of appropriate sports kit as well as lack of physical contact with fellow participants.
US international fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, has described fencing as ‘uniquely accommodating’ for Muslim women, describing how having participated in sports for many years, the fact that with fencing she could wear the same kit as everyone else meant that for the first time she ‘truly felt like part of the team.’
Fencing provides further potential to address the particular challenges facing young Muslim women, detailed above, because of its reputation as a sport that builds confidence, resilience and self-worth. Ibtihaj Muhammad’s mentor, former Olympic medalist Peter Westbrook, describes the strong potential of fencing as ‘a springboard to go to higher heights,’ in the face of religious or racial discrimination.
Sense of ‘community’ has been shown to be an important reason as to why young fencers continue in the sport, a factor we hope to build on in this project. This also links to British Fencing’s drive to make fencing more accessible and inclusive to young people of all backgrounds in the UK today.
Fencing has also been shown to attract young people who may not typically be involved in sports. Young women fencers in particular, tend to have creative interests that set them aside from their peers. This offers an interesting opportunity to open doors for participation in physical activity to young women who may dislike other sports.
PE teachers we have consulted with have noted the value of fencing to young women in general at an age when many struggle with expectation around body image and pressure to look certain ways.
 See Kelly Knez et al, Challenging stereotypes: Muslim girls talk about physical activity, physical education and sport, Asia Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education (2012)
 For examples of this see Tansin Benn et al, Muslim Women and Sport (2011) and http://muslimwomeninsports.blogspot.co.uk/
 See Knez et al (2012) on the ways that teachers and schools can better understand and accommodate the specific needs of Muslim students
 Routledge Handbook of Sport, Gender and Sexuality (2014) Part 1, Chapter 21
 Sport England’s Youth Insight Pack (2014) http://www.sportengland.org/media/359792/20140923-yr-insight-pack-fv.pdf
 Deloitte and Crowd DNA British Fencing (2014)
This website and campaign is part of the I Can Be She project:
I Can Be She is a group of Maslaha projects seeking to challenge misperceptions of Muslim women and change the ways in which society perceives them. The project has previously involved focused work around empowerment in Paris, East London and Parliament and an online education resource around Islam and Feminism.
Maslaha translates from the Arabic as ‘for the common good’ and this is the driving force behind all our work.
Maslaha creates new ways of tackling long-standing issues affecting communities. We combine imagination and craftsmanship to improve services, change attitudes and challenge systems of inequality. We work to influence practice, policy and public imagination. Our work ranges from health interventions to working with ex-offenders, to addressing gender inequality, to exhibitions that have toured 35 cities in 11 countries across Europe. Our work is rooted in locality but is used nationally and internationally.
In 2012, Maslaha was named one of Britain’s 50 New Radicals by NESTA and the Observer newspaper, an initiative to find examples of inspirational social pioneers. In 2014 Maslaha’s work in mental health was announced overall winner of the global Innovation Mindset Challenge, a competition run by Project Innovation in New York and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and Columbia University.
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