Britain Asian Muslim women
All about taking part
A hidden explanation for Britain’s surprising jobnumbers: Bangladeshi and Pakistani women arefinally surging into the labour market
In an upstairs room at the Jagonari women’s centre in eastLondon, six women in colourfulheadscarves grin as an instructor enunciates simple English phrases from a whiteboard。 Thewomen are mostly new immigrants from Bangladesh, who are being taught English as part ofthe centre’s “positively integrated” programme。 In other classes they will learn how to deal withdoctors, police officers and council officials, how to use public transport and how to claimbenefits。 The idea is to help them find their way around British society—and eventually findjobs。
Britain’s 450,000 Bangladeshis and 1.1m Pakistanis, who began to arrive in large numbers inthe 1960s and 1970s, suffer from a huge penalty that is partly self-imposed. WhereasPakistani and Bangladeshi men have employment rates roughly comparable to black men, thewomen’s employment rate is around half that of other ethnic-minority women. Lack of asecond income is the main reason why more than half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani families livebelow the official poverty line, and why so many rely on welfare payments to top up theirincome. The broader cost to Britainof the economic and social marginalisation of so much of itsMuslim population is huge. Yet there are some encouraging signs of change.
A combination of traditional culture and modern prejudice keeps women out of work. Manystill feel that it is the husband’s role to provide for the family. Even if they want to work,Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are often expected to do a lot of cleaning, cooking and takingcare of children, which leaves little time for a job. Village habits die hard: married women stilltend to move in with their in-laws, who sometimes jealously restrict their freedom. Staff at theJagonari centre report encounters with women who are not allowed to learn to drive or even toleave home alone.
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