Womens interfaith work ‘more important than ever’

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper was addressing the Women’s Faith Forum


The Women's Faith Forum held its inaugural parliamentary event, where it looked at the issue of gendered antisemitism and Islamophobia. Women attended from the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh faiths

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has said that women’s interfaith work was now “more important than ever”.

Addressing the inaugural parliamentary Women’s Faith Forum event, the MP said: “Being here and being together is so important at a time when antisemitism is at a record high, and Islamophobia has trebled [since October 7].

“Because of the trauma [of events in the Middle East], interfaith bridges are feeling fractured at the moment, so your work is more important than ever.”

The MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said that she was often reminded of the words of the late Jo Cox, the Labour MP, who was murdered by a far-right terrorist in 2016. “Jo was a neighbour and a friend. She would say: ‘We have more in common than that which divides us.’ Sometimes, the work is harder than at other times, such as now, but we know that it’s possible.”

Also speaking on the issue of gendered antisemitism and Islamophobia was Amanda Bowman, who chairs the defence and group relations division at the Board of Deputies and is standing to be the next president.

Calling out the lack of condemnation by feminist groups over the sexual violence of October 7, Bowman said: “It took UN Women five months [to publish a report] and any mention of the atrocities until then was met with denial, disbelief or that the women deserved it.”

She told the audience how she was waiting at a bus-stop recently, without wearing any visibly Jewish clothing or accessories, and someone walked past her and said: "‘Dirty Jew’”.

Bowman added: “Before October 7, there was an average of five antisemitic incidents per month. There is now an average of 31 per day.”

According to a JPR report, 69 per cent of Jewish women felt that antisemitism was a problem, but that women were less inclined to report it than men, said Bowman.

A similar picture could be seen in the Muslim community, said, Julie Siddiqi, co-founder of the Nisa-Nashim Jewish and Muslim Women's Network, who said: “Statistics tell us that more than two-thirds of Islamophobic attacks are against women, but the reality is that most people don’t report things.”

Siddiqi said that according to Tell Mama, which records anti-Muslim attacks, the abuse included vandalism of property, online abuse and physical attacks.

“Headscarves have been ripped off women on the Underground,” she said.

Siddiqi, a former chair of her local standing advisory council for religious education, said that in the 25 years of working in interfaith relations, she had “never seen something happen in another place impacting people the way it is at the moment. There is fear and anger among Jewish and Muslim women and a hierarchy of victimhood. It’s a real shame.”

Speaking afterwards to the JC, Siddiqi said that the conflict had “been brutal” for interfaith work, but that “we have to continue to have hope.

“We can’t allow the politics of it all to get in the way of friendship. I know my Jewish friends are going through a lot. For me, what really matters is the personal side of it.”

Organiser Laura Marks, a co-founder of the Women’s Faith Forum and of Nisa-Nashim, said: “Women of faith communities are embedded in faith communities like no one else – in the preparation of food, the places of worship and combating poverty. Women are at the coalface.”

The aim of Women’s Faith Forum, said Marks, was “to ensure the voices of women are better heard amongst policy makers. We are uniquely placed to come together, regardless of our political affiliations or religions, to work for a better Britain for all, even as the world around us is in crisis”.

Labour MP Marsha de Cordova, who hosted the meeting, told the group that while “division is seeping across society, women of faith have a role to play in alleviating that. They can drive peace and solidarity in our communities. When global conflicts are worrying many people, that solidarity is needed more than ever.”

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