Are Muslim Women “Really Dutch”?

Almost every day I come across a spectrum of negative and damaging stories about Islam and Muslims in Europe. Currently the main stories tend to include images of burqa-clad women reinforcing once more the almost medieval idea that Muslim women are poor, defenseless creatures who need protection from themselves, their menfolk, and their religion.

My attention was grabbed recently by something refreshingly different. A Dutch women’s organization, Al Nisa, launched a campaign aimed at combating prejudice about Muslim women, and at the same time giving a human face to the social debate about Islam taking place in the Netherlands.

Entitled “Really Dutch” (Echt Nederlands), the posters use humor and traditional stereotypes about being Dutch to counter negative stereotypes about Muslim women.

One of the posters shows a Muslim woman in a Delft Blue headscarf about to swallow a herring, a traditional Dutch delicacy. The tagline for this poster: "I like them raw"!

In all four posters, the women portrayed are from a mixture of ethnic backgrounds and, importantly, not only are they not all shown to be wearing a headscarf, there is not one niqab or burqa in sight. The image of Muslim women presented by these posters is refreshing, more accurate, and very much needed if we are ever going to shake off the view of Muslim women that various politicians, media, and other opinion formers continuously throw our way.

The chair of Al Nisa, Leyla Çakir, explains: "We want to make it clear, in a humorous way, that we are Muslims but we're also Dutch. And we want to break down the negative prejudices about Muslim women: that we are oppressed; that we spend all our time indoors; that we have nothing to say.” She adds: "We are Dutch as well as Muslim, so sometimes we do like herring or liquorice or a slice of cheese."

Thankfully, efforts to counter negative stereotyping of Muslim women seem to be on the rise. Diversifying mainstream representation of Muslim women in Europe is one of the aims of the European Muslim Women of Influence List 2010, which is sponsored in part by the Open Society Institute.

The list is designed to recognize the achievements of Muslim women in a plethora of social arenas. In celebrating their success, the list aims to raise awareness of Muslim women’s contribution to European life, diversify the current representation of Muslim women in mainstream culture, and inspire accomplishment and success across Europe’s communities. Such initiatives are important in countering the harm done by the persistent portrayal of Muslim women as victims.

Perhaps raising awareness of European Muslim women and their achievements will only inspire more women of Muslim and minority communities to stand up and be recognized for the integral members of society they are.

I only hope that initiatives such as Al Nisa’s poster campaign and the European Muslim Women of Influence List continue to grow and encourage other like-minded initiatives. Until then, I urge you to take a look at those posters, to make a nomination, and to start making a difference not just for Muslim women but women of all backgrounds.

6 Comments

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HiMs Erving:
I haven't read the topic fully yet. I guess before we defend or attack the stereotypes of Muslim women we need to fully understand what their status is in the pure Islam and then analyize what is going on right now because Muslims come from different races and cultures, Arabs, pharaonic, Persian, Chinese, European etc. Those cultures have coloured the stereotypes of female Muslims and it is hard for general readers to understand such fine issues.You really need to get back to roots to be able to understand, apply, analyize and judge.
Regards

hi.my name is ash and evry time see and read your news and sertainly im muslim but about some think in my cultuter i have a problem i live in iran and must do evry think they say to do i hope your work help the people like me.


with thank

ash

Hi, Ash ... hope you are fine, please let me know if there is any blog available about Muslim Dutch Woman regarding their contribution and their social activities in Netherlands ..
regards
Shafiq

You write here about a positive step taken by a muslim (or a human rights ) org. in order to defeat a hard stereotype about muslim women. Undoubtedly it is positive move we need and it reflects a truth of our life, to show that not all muslim women are kept at home by their husbands or fathers, or that not all are opressed, or that some of them can decide alone in matters concerning their persons, etc.

Sad is although that such a campaign hide the other half of the truth, namely that it is really yet an important percent of muslim women in the West that are treated by their male guardians as bad as frequently women are treated this way in the very Middle East or other islamic regions; moreover, some of these muslim women in the west harbor themselves religious prejudices and stereotypes that isolate them from the rest of the society.

In order to be really convincing, the "al nisa" activists should better concentrate and attack the real problem of women in their communities, i.e. figthing to promote respect and equality for the muslim women, and to promote inside these communities the values that could make them compatible with the secular and democratic western Europe; that has a lot to do with human rights and freedoms. Admittedly, eating herrings and looking cool, can reassure some (naive) dutch/europeans, but as long as these more important things above-mentioned are not addressed with honesty by the european muslims themselves, the results could be finally disappointing for the approach chosen by the "al nissa" ladies...

Excellent reply Marcela! You are in the know!!

This is quite revealing of the fact that social media is our main educational tool and con be used positively to combat stereotypes against Muslim women. It is important to note that Muslims should follow whatever is good and benefits Al-Islam as this seemingly does. Sensitivity is an issue in diversity that is not overlook able.

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