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How are black and Asian women faring? Read our online debate.

Humera Khan - At what price success?



Humera Khan is a British Muslim of Pakistani descent. She is co-founder of the An-Nisa Society, which works for the well-being of Muslim families. Women have paid too high a price for success in the workplace, she says.

Debbie Weekes, an Afro-Caribbean, divides her time between working as an associate lecturer and raising her two children. She says black women have too much to lose to stop working.

Debbie Weekes : Final posting 1728BST

This has shown the many similarities between our communities - not least the ambivalent relationship between home and work - but I do think we experience our lives as women differently.


We need to recognise that we cannot do it all

Debbie Weekes
Religion undercuts the way Muslim women make their career and family choices and, as Humera has noted, these choices are relative to the overall success of the wider community. Black women are also linked to their communities in seeking ways that both men and women can excel.

Despite these differences, black and Muslim women draw strength from the same source. The extended family is central to the success of Muslim women; and for black women our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters are essential.

Analysis
How are women from minority communities faring in the UK?

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We also need to recognise that we cannot do it all. To balance our lives we must recognise the value of both paid and unpaid work and the importance of affordable childcare and flexible work.

We need to demand the rights to choose how we experience our working lives and motherhood, the sorts of sacrifices we will make for our communities and the way we feel female achievement should be defined.

Humera Khan : Final posting 1639BST

I do agree with you, Debbie, that women are still slaves to both the domestic and work sphere but what do we do about it? Do we submissively accept this status quo or do we continue to work for something better?


I believe women do not need to become strong as we are strong already

Humera Khan
In traditional Islam womenís status is elevated because we are seen as guardians of the "human potential" - arguably more important than being financial providers. Womenís inner strengths of lateral thinking and nurturing is greatly undermined in todayís male-dominated and goal-oriented society.

Most women of colour come from both religious and cultural backgrounds that appreciate a healthy separation of roles to facilitate family, social and economic life. This can be a problem when facing white feminism, which has a completely different starting point.

I believe women do not need to become strong as we are strong already and there are many different kinds of strengths. So, I am not sure if I agree with you that we need to teach our daughters to be "better than everyone else" because by doing so are we not accepting that everyone else is right?

Isnít it better for women to find inner sanctuary and from that point take control of our lives and how we wish to shape it?

Q: from Aniz, London

As my black female friends and I move up the career ladder, the black men I went to school and university with are not having anywhere near the sort of success. This is bound to put a strain on relationships, with the frequent result of children of black parents living in female-headed homes.

As unfeminist as this may sound, it is time for black men to be pushed to the fore in terms of economic activities. If not, our success as black women will continue giving with one hand and taking away with another.

A: from Debbie Weekes 1524BST

You are not being unfeminist - black feminists in this country and the US acknowledge the results of discrimination on black males, and relationships do suffer because of the disparities you mention.

Black women do have difficulty finding black male partners of similar economic status.

There is a whole debate to be had about the variety of societal pressures which complicate these relationships, as well as why these gaps persist.

Q: from Annie Harper, London

There's an inherent conflict between having a situation where most women work, and where extended families are on hand for support. When we are grandmothers, but still working, where will that extended family be?

To have both independent working women AND happy, healthy families, the state will have to ensure flexible working options, security of employment, appropriate childcare facilities and much more.

A: from Humera Khan 1438BST

You're quite right, Annie - we can't assume all grandmothers are able or willing to be cheap childcare. But support from an extended family goes beyond childcare to shared domestic responsibility, child nurturing and essential emotional support for all ages and both genders.

I wholeheartedly support flexible working hours and improved childcare facilities but should the state take away all our responsibilities?

Q: from Hazel, UK

Your comments also hold true for the white community - where women who work in decent paid jobs are also expected to keep a tidy house, with their men folks' every comfort catered for.

A: from Humera Khan 1350BST

Men who are totally lost to any sense of social and familial responsibility transcend race, culture and religion. The phenomenal increase in women who are left to "hold the baby" or "hold the fort" is detrimental to society as a whole.

While it is definitely a man's world, women are more equipped to get society back into some kind of balance. But we cannot do this alone and need to campaign for a new kind of society.

Q: from Mark, Munich, Germany

To think it is a white person's privilege to be able to take a career break is insulting to the millions of white people for whom that is not remotely a possibility.

A: from Debbie Weekes 1253BST

I should have added that this is a class-based privilege. The difference is that for many black women - no matter their financial background - continuing work has as much to do with maintaining much-needed career identities as economic security.

I think this is historical. Our mothers and grandmothers have always worked and we continue to do so. My black friends and colleagues seem to return to work sooner after having babies than white counterparts.

Q: from Moggs, London

Why do you think Muslim women are so much less successful - it isn't because they are raised to be submissive is it? I am Muslim myself and have had to break out of this subservient mindset. I blame Muslim culture - and Muslim men - for the plight of Muslim women in the workplace.

A: from Humera Khan 1235BST

Muslim women are not raised to be subservient but to be part of a social and cultural group. Our cultural practices are not always perfect but this has nothing do with Islam. While Muslim men must take most of the blame for perpetuating bad practice, Muslim women should also take responsibility for their own actions.

Muslim women need to rediscover and reclaim their role and status within society: but it has to be true to the teachings of their faith and not to fashionable fads.

Islam encourages women (and men) to fulfil their potential and share their abilities with the wider society. Our past and present is full of women who have excelled in all aspects of life. But their "success" was attained within a balanced understanding that there's a point in which individual success can be detrimental to the well-being of the community.

Q: from Lynn Lala, New Orleans, US

I think it's twice as hard for a woman, and doubly that for a woman of colour or religion, to get ahead in the UK than in the US. The UK has a far greater length of history and tradition to break away from compared with the US.

A: from Debbie Weekes 1157BST

I completely agree, Lynn, and I imagine the relationship that black women have to work in the US also differs. There are also points of similarity - there seems to be more pressure to prove yourself both to your own community and wider society, and sometimes implicit assumptions that whatever you do in education or employment has implications for all group members.

Humera Khan : Second posting 1003BST

It is easy to identify race, religion and gender as barriers to employment. But as a Muslim woman I have more fundamental questions about how our current economic system impacts on women's lives and the price the family pays for economic success.


When I left full-time employment, I found that my economic status and self-esteem plummeted

Humera Khan
As implied by Debbie, women are "damned if we do and damned if we don't".

Isn't it an irony that Tony Blair's government actively "supports" women to get back into employment but then locks them up when they lose control over their children because they do not have an infrastructure to support them [such as Patricia Amos, the mother jailed for failing to curb her daughters' truancy]?

I have worked and supported myself from the age of 17 in various capacities, becoming independent and self-sufficient. When at the age of 31 I decided to leave full-time employment following my marriage and birth of my first child, I found that my economic status and self-esteem plummeted.

It was this experience that reconnected me to the importance of the extended family and community back-up. These support women as they nurture the young, carry out household responsibilities - and give us the freedom to participate in activities outside the home.

This system is familiar to most Muslim women where lone parents, orphaned children and the elderly are well protected.


To respond click here

Debbie Weekes : Second posting 0955BST

I agree with a lot of what you have said, Humera, and although all women face tensions between work and family, there seems to be greater similarities between minority women than across the gender group as a whole.


I worry about the way that black women's success is seen as a given, especially for girls

Debbie Weekes
But I do think women are still slaves to both the domestic and work sphere simultaneously rather than perhaps experiencing exploitation in one or the other.

And there are pressures on black women to exhibit those "strong" characteristics of keeping clean, efficient homes whilst excelling educationally and occupationally. I also worry about the way that black women's success is seen as a given, especially for girls. This glosses over the increasing numbers of black girls who experience school exclusion and truancy.

As girls, we learn how to become strong black women from our mothers and grandmothers. But despite changes in society, and the fact that many of us are second or third generation Caribbean, black girls still have to learn this role. We have gained professional status, but we continue to work harder than ever and teach our girls to be better than everyone else because of racism and sexism and to remain resolutely independent. A good thing, but at what expense?


To respond click here

Humera Khan : First posting

As far as mainstream society is concerned, our success has been slow and gradual.


We have gone from domestic slave to workplace slave

Humera Khan
These gains include a small but increasing number of women from minority communities succeeding in the work place, and significant representation in local government and the voluntary sector.

Despite this limited success, the difference between white women and women of colour is still extensive. And the success of Muslim women is phenomenally lower than all of the groups that make up the visible minorities.

Many of the barriers we face are similar to those of our male counterparts, as both men and women experience racism and Islamophobia.

And - just as with our white sisters - most women who succeed do so if they "fit in" to the manís world. Women are putting career before personal life, putting off getting married, having children and home-related interests.

This is particularly problematic for Muslim women who consider the home and family life even more important that what goes on in the world of work.

The price women have paid for success in the work place is too great and arguably we have gone from domestic slave to workplace slave. There must be an option better than these two roles?


To respond click here

Debbie Weekes : First posting

The perception that black women are high achieving in comparison to their male counterparts masks a wider issue - the high incidence of lone parenting in my community.


Black women are reluctant to give up gains so recently made

Debbie Weekes
This makes work a necessity, especially for the many women with relatively low-paid jobs in the public sector.

For many, taking a career break is seen as something only white women can afford to do. Indeed, this was exactly the response I got when I told friends and family that I planned to stop working full-time when my second child was born.

For those black women who are achieving in the workplace, there continues to be no real balance between work and family.

Perhaps they are reluctant to give up gains so recently made. There are more black women in professional and managerial roles now, but still too few of us who have made it as chief executives, managing directors, judges, barristers and university professors.

Those who have shattered the glass ceiling - and those with it in their sights - stay at work out of both financial necessity and the need to stick to their career trajectory.

It would seem that black women are more likely to not only continue working throughout their lives, but do so on a full-time basis.


To respond click here



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