Levelling the playing field for Muslim women

The importance of sport, and enabling all to participate in and enjoy it, was the focus of this research-to-practice study undertaken by the University of Birmingham’s Dr Haifaa Jawad, senior lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies, and Dr Tansin Benn, of the School of Education.

Dress codes

Working with officials from the City of Birmingham Education Authority, they explored how cultural traditions deny women the opportunity to take part in physical activity on the grounds of Islamic requirements for modest dress codes and sex-segregated environments. 

They found that educational barriers exist where teachers are unaware of students’ needs and that participation can be denied where inflexible rules and regulations regarding dress and gender organisation exist. The study concluded that the root of the problem is the tensions between fundamental human rights for religious freedom and for gender equality.

Guidance document

The authors worked with the local education authority to address the increased parental withdrawal of Muslim girls from physical education in schools where religious requirements were not met. 

Consultation took place, including with the Muslim Council of Britain and the Association for Physical Education. This resulted in a guidance document for all schools, promoting greater knowledge and awareness of inclusion strategies. The results of the study and the document have been shared internationally, with a similar document being produced in the United States, and has led to wider engagement of professionals interested in the subject.

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