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Nusrat Ghani Islamophobia scandal ‘could put ethnic minority women off a career in politics’

Muslim Women’s Network UK has warned that the MP's experiences highlight the additional barriers Muslim women face.

Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden Image: UK Parliament

Muslim and ethnic minority women could be put off a career in politics after ex-Conservative minister Nusrat Ghani claimed she was fired due to her faith, campaigners have warned.

Muslim Women’s Network UK says the Islamophobia scandal in Westminster highlights the additional barriers Muslim women face and could be hugely damaging in the fight for equality.

“Nus Ghani’s experiences may cause some ethnic minority women to reconsider whether they want to stand as candidates in local council and general elections in the first place, which is very detrimental for those of us striving for equality and social justice,”  Dr Iram Sattar, co-chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK told The Big Issue.

“It is a reminder that women should not just be encouraged to get into politics (or indeed any other workplace) but also be supported to stay there once they are successful.”

Nusrat Ghani was fired from her job as transport minister in February 2020 and told The Sunday Times that this was due to her Muslim faith. She alleges that the chief whip, who later identified himself as Mark Spencer, said that her “Muslimness” was the reason for the reshuffle, and that her status as a “Muslim woman minister” was making Conservative colleagues uncomfortable. 

A recent report from women’s equality charity, The Fawcett Society, found that the proportion of female MPs In Westminster increased by just two per cent between the 2017 and 2019 elections, and that women of colour are missing entirely from the highest roles in sectors across society.

Spencer has denied the allegations, tweeting, “These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.” 

Speaking in deffence of Spencer, Tory MP Michael Fabricant told radio station LBC that Nusrat Ghani’s Islamophobia claim was “lame” as she was not somebody who “is obviously a Muslim”. 

“If this is what is being said about Ms. Ghani, who does not wear a headscarf, it suggests that hijab wearing female members of the party are even more likely to face discrimination,” said Sattar. 

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Highlighting that not all Muslim women wear a headscarf, nor are they all South Asian, Sattar said that “it is frustrating that people will question Muslim women who do not wear the headscarf about their Muslim identity and ‘Muslimness’… They are diverse in terms of ethnicity and lifestyles.”

The prime minister’s official spokesperson has sought to distance Johnson from the comments, saying in an official statement: “The PM would not agree with the idea that someone’s religion determines what someone looks like.”

The prime minister has ordered the Cabinet Office to investigate Ghani’s claims, however The Muslim Council of Britain is calling for an independent Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation in to Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

“Nusrat Ghani’s testimony of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party is shocking, but not surprising. That she is experiencing this as a Muslim woman at the top of the party, only reinforces the deep-rooted nature of the problem. Institutional Islamophobia in the Conservative Party has gone on with impunity for far too long,” said Zara Mohammed, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

In May last year, the Swaran Singh report confirmed allegations that anti-muslim sentiment ‘remains a problem’ in the Tory party. The Conservatives formally accepted the recommendations made in the report, but the Muslim Women’s Network UK says the party is yet to implement them. 

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