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Muslim Girls Fence

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Introduction: 

A campaign to challenge misperceptions of Muslim women and make fencing inclusive to young people of all backgrounds

Blog Introduction: 

A campaign to challenge misperceptions of Muslim women and make fencing inclusive to young people of all backgrounds

Muslim Girls Fence: an initiative seeking to challenge misconceptions of Muslim girls through fencing

'Muslim Girls Fence' is a collaboration between Maslaha and British Fencing  aiming to challenge misperceptions of and raise aspirations among young Muslim women, in the light of the complex discrimination experienced by this group on the basis of both faith and gender. 

The initiative will also break down conceptions of fencing as a white-dominated, elite sport that is not accessible to young people of all backgrounds.

For more information on the project, visit the Muslim Girls Fence website.

 What does the project involve?

  • Muslim Girls Fence kicked off with a series of pilot workshops at Frederick Bremer school in East London from December 2015 to March 2016.
  • Every school that works with the initiative receives ten weeks of weekly fencing sessions alongside immersive Maslaha workshops exploring identity, self-expression and stereotyping. Participants then have a range of opportunities to continue their involvement in the project — you can learn more about this here.
  • In our pilot at Frederick Bremer, the journey of our participants was documented by photographer Rehmat Ryatt and filmmaker Briony Campbell in a photographic series and trailer film, "Don't Fence Me In". This was exhibited as part of the Women of the World (WOW) festival at the Southbank Centre in 2016. See photographs of Muslim Girls Fence at WOW here!
  • Building on the insight we have gained from the pilot, we are now developing a national engagement programme for young Muslim women that will be scaled up across the UK.
  • With the support of Comic Relief funding, Maslaha and British Fencing will be delivering Muslim Girls Fence in six locations in London and Birmingham over the next two years. Support from an additional generous funder (watch this space!) is allowing us to expand our work in Birmingham and London and develop the project in three additional cities, including Glasgow, over the next two and a half years.

Why Muslim girls?

This initiative expands Maslaha’s I Can Be She (ICBS) 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.[1] 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.[2]

As well as disenfranchisement, young Muslims in the UK also face disproportionate social inequalities in areas such as education, employment and healthcare; following education, In addition Muslim communities also face multiple social disadvantage - 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.[3]  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.

Why Fencing?

Young Muslim women are broadly conceived as being less active than their non-Muslim peers, an issue that has been largely attributed to the issue of dress code, and non-segregated activities as well as poor teacher understanding.[4] 

Given this backdrop, fencing provides an exciting opportunity for the participation of young Muslim women; 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. [5]

[1] 'The tangled web of discrimination faced by Muslim women' (2015) https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/tangled-web-discrimination-faced-muslim-women

[2] 'Schools face new legal duties to tackle extremism' (2015) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-33328377

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-muslim-women-71-more-likely-to-be-unemployed-due-to-workplace-discrimination-10179033.html

[4] Routledge Handbook of Sport, Gender and Sexuality (2014)

[5] Deloitte and Crowd DNA British Fencing (2014)

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An initiative challenging misperceptions of Muslim women and make fencing inclusive to young people of all backgrounds

A campaign to challenge misperceptions of Muslim women and make fencing inclusive to young people of all backgrounds

A campaign to challenge misperceptions of Muslim women and make fencing inclusive to young people of all backgrounds