Inspire welcomes the Government’s announcement last week regarding a new £22 million programme to provide English lessons particularly for Muslim women. This will mitigate against some of the negative impact earlier cuts to ESOL will have had.
The 2011 census confirms the Prime Minister’s assertion that 190,000 Muslim women (22%) are unable to speak English or speak it well. This means a substantial proportion of Muslim women are reliant on others in order to communicate and express their voice in our country. The inability of many women unable to speak English can add to and enforce a culture of gender inequality due to this reliance. Fluency in the English language will also make it easier for victims of extreme practices and oppression such as FGM, forced marriage, domestic violence to be able to speak out and seek help.
A drive to ensure all Muslim women are able to communicate independently and effectively in English is a good thing and will result in their empowerment, remove significant obstacles and increase the choices available to them about how they live their life.
Whether that choice is to be a housewife, pursuing a career (or both), having good English speaking skills will enable women to perform their chosen role more effectively.
There is no suggestion from the Government that not speaking English causes radicalisation. However, in addition to a generational gap, many parents in Muslim communities will also have a cultural gap between themselves and their children. A language barrier can compound it all. Having a primary caregiver (who in most cases is the mother) who can speak English can help build resilience against radicalisation by making complex and detailed conversations possible.
However we express some reservations about the Government’s approach:
Speaking English is an important skill for all immigrant communities- not just Muslim communities. It is also important for men- although we acknowledge the issue may not be so prevalent within the male population hence the focus on women.
Linking the ability to stay in the country with an immigrant’s fluency in English could be counter-productive. The Government may end up inadvertently punishing the most vulnerable and isolated. As our Director, Sara Khan, writes in The Telegraph- I’ve never met an immigrant woman who doesn’t want to learn English