A Muslim women’s rights group has written to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, protesting the “open secret” of large numbers of male Muslim Labour councillors blocking Muslim women from entering politics. They called for an independent review and accused the party of prioritising votes and being “complicit at the highest levels”.
Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) singled out the Muslim-dominated Peterborough and Birmingham councils as of particular concern. The latter is already embroiled in a sexism row, after the Lord Mayor-elect and chairman of Birmingham’s Central Mosque was forced to step down because he said forced marriage was not a problem and lied about dealing with horrific cases.
The MWNUK urged Labour leaders to investigate “systematic misogyny displayed by significant numbers of Muslim male local councillors” and suggested that Muslim men within Labour had been allowed to operate under the “patriarchal ‘biradari’ system”.
“They don’t like women to be heard, to be empowered,” the group told BBC2’s Newsnight, explaining how in Labour dominated councils talented Muslim women had been harassed out of top positions. In the examples given, the party had effectively allowed the men to enforce Sharia principles; ensuring women could not act freely without the permission of male guardians.
Optician Fozia Parveen claims her efforts to become a Labour councillor in Birmingham in 2007-8 were scuppered by Muslim men in the party: “At the time, I was aware of a smear campaign against me, they said that I was having an affair with one of the existing councillors. I was quite taken aback. People were turning up at my family home trying to intimidate my mum.”
She claimed Muslim men who were members of the local Labour party were behind the efforts to prevent her from standing.
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Shazia Bashir was the first choice for Labour in a seat in Peterborough in 2007 but claimed that she was pressured “because I didn’t have my father’s consent and support, I had to step down”, adding: “I was pressured into stepping down.”
MWNUK’s chair, Shaista Gohir, demanded a full independent inquiry in her letter to the Labour leader. She said: “From our experience, Muslim women are most affected by Labour Muslim male councillors due to the latter’s number in certain towns and cities”.
Adding: “As this is an open secret and has been going on for decades, we can only assume that the Labour party has been complicit at the highest levels. How do men who do not want Muslim women to be empowered or have a voice remain in power unless the Labour party allows it?
“It appears that over decades senior Labour politicians have deliberately turned a blind eye to the treatment of Muslim women because votes have been more important to them than women’s rights.”
She claimed that “able, knowledgeable and independent-minded Muslim women have been undermined, sabotaged and blocked from becoming councillors”, with many selection “deals” stitched up behind closed doors.
“We would like the Labour party to hold an independent inquiry into how Muslim women are being marginalised by local Labour politicians,” she said.
A Labour spokesman said: “The Labour party’s selection procedures include strong positive action procedures such as all-women shortlists and rules to ensure women are selected in winnable council seats.
“We have the best record of any party in selecting women and BAME candidates, and we will continue to do all that we can to make sure candidates are representative of the communities they seek to represent.
“The Labour party has a fair, democratic and robust procedure for selecting council candidates. Local Labour party members select their local candidates within the party’s rules and guidelines. Those wishing to become Labour councillors are interviewed by an independent assessment team and unsuccessful candidates have a right of appeal to the regional party board.”