Leyton scheme to empower young Muslim women

A project aimed at helping young Muslim girls to gain confidence and skills, including those who have suffered abuse and hostility because of wearing the headscarf, has been launched.

The Young Muslim Women Professionals Project was given a grant of nearly £500,000 from the Big Lottery fund and was set up after women came forward to describe the abuse they suffered. Aimed at girls and young women aged 10 to 25, the scheme will include mentoring projects, “skills for life” such as ICT and counselling training and advice on how to deal with abuse safely.

Project director Zahir Fatima said: “We’re helping young Muslim women to build confidence regardless of whether they wear the veil. It’s about giving them skills and empowering them to become more active in the community.”

Set up by the Leyton-based Kiran Project, which has traditionally supported Asian women and children suffering domestic violence and abuse, the scheme is set to run for three years.

Fiaz Akhtar, who works for Kiran as a project co-ordinator and wears a head scarf, said: “I’ve experienced it myself on two or three occasions. After 7/7, I was in my car with my daughter and a guy came up behind me. He came out of his car and started swearing and saying ‘get back to your country’. It came to the point where I was petrified.”

Mrs Akhtar also had a lit cigarette thrown at her and said many women have been spat at, verbally abused in the street and even had their veils pulled off in the years following 9/11 and 7/7. She said: “My clothes almost caught fire – luckily I was sitting forward. I cried a lot – it’s something that could have been harmful to me.”

She described how her 12-year-old daughter, who also wears the veil, had been verbally abused in Walthamstow market because of the way she was dressed. Mrs Akhtar added that a number of young women had come forward to say they had suffered similar problems and the project grew from there, as a way to rebuild their self-confidence.”

Waltham Forest Guardian, 28 August 2009