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Where are the Muslim Women?

To mark International Women’s Month, Creative Equals #ChoosetoChallenge the lack of representation of Muslim women in advertising.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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To mark International Women’s Month Creative Equals #ChooseToChallenge, and to talk about who isn’t represented almost anywhere in our advertising or in our companies: Muslim women.

When did you ever see a Muslim hijab-wearing woman as a protagonist in an ad? Where are all the Muslim women in our businesses? Do they feel free to wear the hijab, if this is part of their faith identity? What are their experiences in the workplace? And are we missing out on the Muslim Pound, worth £20 billion and growing?

These questions and many others were answered by the panel, which was opened by the trailblazing Zara Mohammed, the first female head of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, who addressed the lack of visibility of Muslim women, both within agencies and ttheir creative output. The panel included Tahiya Chowdhury, Medical Student at Oxford University, Arif Miah, Creative Strategy Director at Mud Orange, Sufia Parkar, Senior Diversity and Engagement Specialist at McCann Worldgroup and Shelina Janmohamed, Writer and Vice President of Islamic Marketing at Ogilvy UK. It was chaired by Nicola Kemp, Editorial Director at Creativebrief.

The event was opened by Creative Equals CEO Ali Hanan and curated by Creative Equals’ Harjra Khan. Here, Sebastian Parker, writer for Creative Equals, shares six key takeaways from the event.

1. Muslim women represent a huge consumer market

Muslim women are not a niche market. They are part of the largest growing religious community, 12% of world population, and make up two million people in the UK. The value of the Muslim pound and the Muslim lifestyle is in excess of £20 billion in the UK alone, and more than £2 trillion globally. More than fifty million Muslim women entered the global workforce in just a decade in the Muslim world alone. To represent Muslim women is not a ‘good deed’ in the name of diversity, it is merely a reflection of the population’s experience. 

2. Outdated stereotypes and tropes of Muslim women have no place in branding

People within the industry, and wider society, forget that Muslim women are people with nuance. The same old tropes are reused again and again. The negative media representation of Muslim women has a direct negative impact on their lived experience. Ignorant and limited representations equal an ignorant and limited understanding of Muslim identities and impacts the way Muslim women are treated. The traditional stereotype of Muslim women as oppressed and victimised, with the Hijab as a symbol of their oppression, is harmful to the progression of inclusion and diversity. It’s also lazy, unimaginative and failing to deliver on real world insights. 

3. Not every Muslim woman wants to bear the burden of representation

When Muslim women are the only Muslims in work/education spaces, they often bear the burden of representing all Muslim women. Muslim women have diverse identities and experiences when it comes to race, ethnicity, income, families, religious observance, just like everyone else! They are not a monolith. This calls for deeper understanding, proactive education and diverse perspectives so, that it is not the only Muslim woman in her workplace that is constantly called upon to speak on behalf of all Muslims.

4. Allow Muslim women to feel comfortable in work/education spaces

Fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion will allow your workforce to tap into their complete potential. Providing Muslim women, and men, with adequate facilities to wash and pray, and be understanding of religious commitments, will ensure your Muslim employees and colleagues feel truly valued. The work they produce will inevitably be better.

5. Including Muslim women in your branding is important

When Muslim women have seen themselves represented in advertising and branding e.g. Nike they can feel that they are being catered for and that they are included, the way we all do when we see ourselves represented. For most white people it is unconscious as we are so used to seeing ourselves represented. There is only so much exposure to the ‘cookie-cutter’ tropes in branding that Muslim women can relate to so, producing creative work that speaks to all aspects of life and experience that is nuanced, complex and insightful is key. 

6. Strategy, not reaction

Brands often represent minority groups in reaction to cultural events. This means slotting minorities within a default narrative, usually white, hetero etc. Develop insight and strategy that include diverse identities and experiences, with a more inclusive start point. Understand that brand’s infrastructure is outdated and needs to be revised e.g. brand persona, target audiences. It's not about contaminating your existing brand for your dominant audience, but about extending your brand in clever ways to include all of its consumers. Change begins with answering a simple question: is Ramadan included in your marketing calendar? If not, why not.

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