People need to be listening to the voices of Muslim women during the Birmingham school protests debate, according to a prominent activist.
Gay Muslim woman Saima Razzaq is the Co-Chair of Supporting the Education of Equality and Diversity in Schools (SEEDS), a campaigning group set up in light of recent protests outside schools in Birmingham.
The protests (led by the Muslim community) are surrounding the LGBTI-inclusive No Outsiders program.
Razzaq believes Muslim women are the key to breaking the ‘male choke hold’ of the school protests.
‘We as Muslim women need to find a way to detach ourselves from this continuous male choke hold of a narrative that sees men representing the British Muslim experience,’ she said. ‘When in fact they represent no one but themselves.’
She then added: ‘Women need to and should be at the forefront of the conversation on gender and sexuality in an Islamic context. Our bodies and our sexuality need to be defined by our voices.’
Muslim women are ‘leading the way’ on reform
Saima Razzaq believes it is Muslim women who are leading the way on implementing progressive reform within the community.
So why is it majority Muslim men ‘taking the stage’ during the recent protests outside Birmingham schools, she asks.
‘In this debate, our voices are simply being lost,’ she said. ‘We must not forget that historically, it’s Muslim women who have championed equality in our communities. That also includes LGBTI equality.’
But she warned it’s also important to keep the debate respectful.
She said: ‘I’m not prepared to stand by and watch the demonization of the communities who showered me with an abundance of love during my childhood and continue to do so to this day.’
Razzaq then added: ‘I think all parents will agree that we need to raise and nurture future leaders who will stand tall in society.
‘As people of color and as Muslims, we must continue to fight for proportional representation both in society and places of work. We must educate children to become model citizens who respect equality for all, which essentially will see them employed into positions of power where they can instigate change for the better,’ she said.
What caused the Birmingham school protests?
The school protests began at the start of this year when a parent at the Parkfield Community School complained her child was learning about LGBTI relationships.
This is due to the work of teacher Andrew Moffat, who led the charge on implementing the No Outsiders program to the 98% Muslim cohort at the school.
The protests outside several schools in Birmingham became a highly political and volatile situation.
Politicians, activists, and more began taking sides in the debate. The head of the UK school watchdog Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, came down in favor of the schools and LGBTI-inclusive lessons.
However, Esther McVey, a Conservative MP, said parents should have the right to remove their children from primary school lessons on LGBTI-inclusivity if they do not agree with the classes.
Fatima Shah was the first parent to pull her daughter out of lessons.
She said at the time: ‘We have said we don’t want children in reception to be shown books with same-sex relationships. It’s confusing for them.’
As a result of the disruptive school protests, teachers stopped the No Outsiders program to try to ‘re-engage’ with parents.
They tweaked the program, but parents were still unhappy.
They then staged a mass protest on Friday (12 July) by keeping around 500 students from attending school.
The school protests and debate rages on.