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 You are in: Analysis
Women and Society

By Megan Lane
BBC News Online

Black women dominate in the public service sector

Black women are doing better than black men economically; those of South Asian descent are not. Yet such snapshots tell us little about how women of colour are faring in the UK.

It is impossible to generalise about the success - or otherwise - of women from minority communities in the UK. To even try involves dividing and subdividing again.

Thus British women of Caribbean and African descent are achieving educational and employment success beyond that of earlier generations. So too are many Indians and Chinese women.

But Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are the poorest groups in the country. Just two in 10 of these women are active in the job market, compared with seven in 10 black Caribbean and white women. And Muslim women (and men) are the least likely to be in paid work.

Black women have always worked - you can trace it right back to the slave days

Tracey Reynolds, of South Bank University
But that is not to say that these women are shackled to the kitchen sink, says Heidi Safia Mirza, of the Centre for Racial Equality Studies at Middlesex University.

"These figures don't record home-working, time spent on family-run businesses, and unpaid work, so the idea that they don't participate isn't very helpful. Yet still people make the assumption that they are stuck at home being oppressed by their men folk."

Despite campaigns to recognise the value of unpaid work, be it through wages for housework or applauding volunteers, there is still a perception that those who step off the career ladder are opting out.

Join the debate

Question: How do black and Asian women think they are doing?

Humera Khan, of An-Nisa, a group which works for the well-being of Muslims, says women do not have to be in paid employment to make a contribution.

"Women of colour are finding success in different areas. Afro-Caribbean women, for instance, have made it into Parliament; Hindus - especially those of East African descent - are getting top jobs in the public sector. In both you won't find many Muslim women - the few that get through do so by selling out on who they are.

"At the moment my priority is to campaign to give Muslim women a voice and work towards giving all women a real choice."

Doing time

When it comes to money, black Caribbean women (but not men) earn more an hour on average than their white counterparts.

In many cases black women's high earnings are due to the long hours worked rather than the salary grades attained.

Although Afro-Caribbean women are more likely to land a professional or managerial job than white women, they are over-represented in the low-paid service sector. Almost one-third work in fields such as health or social work, compared with one in five of all women.

BBC News Online survey

Question: Are things tougher for black women?

Tracey Reynolds, of South Bank University's race and ethnicity research unit, says about three-quarters of Afro-Caribbean women in the job market work full-time - more than other ethnic groups.

"Black women have always worked - you can trace it right back to the slave days. In the 1950s, they came over here as migrant workers - many of them nurses to work in the NHS.

"And just over half of all Afro-Caribbeans live in female-headed households. If a woman is the main breadwinner, she'll work longer hours."

Convention may also explain why black women are more likely to be in work than black men. While the NHS and other female-dominated service sectors have expanded over the decades, the industries traditionally favoured by men - transport, construction and the like - have shrunk.

Britons also believe that women from ethnic minorities face less discrimination than men, according to a BBC News Online survey. Of the 1,576 people questioned, 45% said men encountered more prejudice, compared with 37% who felt women fared worse and 18% who didn't know.

Holding the baby

For mothers, juggling the demands of home and work can sometimes be too much and thus they may not seek paid employment.

Less than half of all black children - including one in three Caribbean children - live with both natural parents

Office of National Statistics

Yet those most in need of childcare may not be able to find places. Research compiled by the Commission for Racial Equality noted that although the national average is 12 to 14 places for 100 children in a ward, deprived areas have no more than eight. The concentration of some Asian groups in such neighbourhoods could help explain why fewer women in this group work.

Perhaps given that Afro-Caribbean women are up to three times more likely to be lone parents than any other group, they are the group most likely to have used childcare in the past year.

In short, it is clear that equality across the races is no straightforward goal, with no one solution working for all the women of Britain.

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