Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: Visual piety

In the third post from Dr Noreen Mirza, she discusses how her research challenges stereotypes about Muslim women, particularly around wearing the hijab.

Reflecting on my own upbringing and experiences of being a second-generation middle-class British-Pakistani Muslim prompted me to want to understand what was happening among other socially mobile British-Pakistani women in Manchester. I was puzzled by the growing trend in ‘visual piety’ – a public and evident expression of religious affiliation among British-Pakistani women, such as wearing the hijab (headscarf), to signify commitment to faith and Islamic identity.

I decided to speak about visual piety to two of the women in my research, Amber and Syrah, who both wore the hijab. Their friendship blossomed when they realised that they both shared a similar lifestyle and religious outlook. More importantly they share a love of fashion, and they exchanged ideas and tips with one another about how to combine style and modesty.

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Muslim Fashion. Source: Shawn Sun (www.flickr.com/photos/abayatrade) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: Being a native anthropologist

In her second post Dr Noreen Mirza reflects on the challenges of being a ‘native anthropologist’. 

It seemed a common assumption among the people I came across that studying my own society would be an easy task because of my familiarity in terms of language, customs and values. Many were also under the impression that people are more accommodating, open and trusting towards those who share a common background. These assumptions were greatly misleading. The fact of the matter was, in my case at least, that being a native anthropologist meant people were reticent about divulging information because of the fear of confidential information being leaked, leading to gossip in the community.

I began fieldwork in October 2012 in South Manchester which involved following the lives of a core group of twelve women over a period of fourteen months. These women became the participants in my study. Initially I had interviewed approximately 80 women, including friends and family of my participants, as well as other women who could not commit to participating because of longer periods of time involved.

Participating in my research gave the women an opportunity to express their views and concerns about issues such as prejudice and inequality, and to share their experiences of being middle-class British-Pakistanis in Manchester.

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Courtesy Noreen Mirza

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Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: My background

This is the first in a series of posts from Dr Noreen Mirza, sharing stories from her research into the experiences of middle class British-Pakistani women in Manchester. First, how her own formative experiences underpin her research.

Being a second-generation British-Pakistani and Muslim woman growing up in 1980s Manchester, in a predominantly white neighbourhood, I remember the deep desire to be the same as the other children I played with in my neighbourhood and at school. I was aware of the difference in my skin colour, heritage and religious background, as all the children I played with were white British Christians. The yearning to be the same stayed with me into my teenage years and later influenced the subject of my PhD thesis, on middle class British Pakistani women in Manchester.

As I embarked on my research, I felt that the image of British-Pakistanis in the media was a misrepresentation and not a true reflection of a lot of British-Pakistanis like myself. I wanted to explore class identity and show the diversity among British-Pakistanis. We are not a homogenous group and our experiences and upbringing has a profound impact in shaping who we are.

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Noreen as a child and her mother. Courtesy Noreen Mirza

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Dream big, aim high, fight hard: a call out to all rebel girls

This week we’re reblogging a review of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, from Jo’s new Floralia blog (well worth following!).

And if you like this book Jo also recommends:

Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997
Blues legacies and black feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Y. Davis, New York: Vintage Books, 1999
Michelle Obama by Robin S. Doak, London: Raintree, 2015
Malala Yousafzai by Claire Throp, London: Raintree, 2016

 

Floralia

Book: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo. First published in Great Britain by Particular Books, an imprint of Penguin Books: 2017

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women is a book that brings together stories of women’s lives spanning human history and traversing the globe.

It’s where someone like Astrid Lindgren, Swedish writer born in 1907 and author of Pippi Longstocking (a much-loved children’s story about an archetypal rebel girl) can occupy the pages that follow Ashley Fiolek, the 27 year old American Motocross racer who does not let the fact that she was born hearing-impaired hold her back.

Where an archaeologist, Maria Reiche, born 1903, who left Germany to study the ancient Nazca lines of Peru, rolls up alongside Maria Montessori, physician and educator, who at the turn of the 20th century developed a new…

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Book Review: Moving in the Shadows

This review is adapted from an original piece published in the Centre’s journal Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World.

Book review: Moving in the Shadows: Violence in the Lives of Minority Women and Children, edited by Yasmin Rehman, Liz Kelly and Hannana Siddiqui (Ashgate: Farnham, Surrey & Burlington, Vermont 2013)

Review by Jo Manby

Yasmin Rehman, a doctoral candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies specialising in polygyny and English law; Liz Kelly, Professor of Sexualised Violence at London Metropolitan University and Director of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU), and Hannana Siddiqui, who has worked at Southall Black Sisters for 25 years, bring together here contributions from a range of academics, activists and practitioners, examining for the first time in one volume violence against women and children within UK minority communities.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • Perspectives
  • Forms and Contexts of Violence
  • Interventions and Responses

It seeks to ‘explore both commonalities and differences in the lives of minority women – in the forms of violence they experience, their meanings and consequences’ (p.9). Continue reading

The Refugee Experience Book Reviews: Educated for Change?

With the Syrian refugee crisis dominating the news at the moment, Jo Manby has been looking back at her archive for reviews of books, available in our library, that look at the refugee experience. Read the others here and here.

This review is adapted from an original piece published in the Centre’s journal Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World.

Book review: Educated for Change? Muslim Refugee Women in the West by Patricia Buck and Rachel Silver (Information Age Publishing, Inc.: Charlotte, North Carolina, 2012)

An unexpected outcome of war and migration has been an increase in Somali girls’ and women’s educational opportunities, when historically their literacy levels have been ‘among the lowest in the world’ (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 1998) (p.xv). Authored by Patricia Buck and Rachel Silver, co-founders of Matawi, a nonprofit NGO that works to increase educational opportunities for girls and women from the predominantly Somali Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, this anthropological work examines the impact of ‘new-found access to schooling ….. in the everyday lives of Somali refugee girls and women’ (p.xvi).

Source: UK Department for International Development. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Source: UK Department for International Development. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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“I was coming out of brilliant sunshine”: Women’s stories from the Roots Family History Project #2

By Jo Manby

This second post in the two-part series on Elouise Edward’s and Marie Noble’s 1970s/80s oral history project, that became the Roots Family History Project, aims to give an overview of the women respondents and their experiences of settling in Britain during the 1940s – 1960s, covering discrimination, employment, housing and Black activism.

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Roots Family History Project: ‘A people without history is like a tree without it’s roots’

Varona Nurse, who we saw in the first of these two posts came originally from St Kitt’s, had experience of sewing clothes back home, and once she had settled in Manchester she took up work in a garment factory. She also worked as a house mother in children’s homes. She fostered for 19 years, and tells the interviewer some lovely stories about her wards:

I knew one, when it was my birthday, he used to rush out early and when I opened the front door, I used to meet a bunch of flowers… I went to a meeting one night and when I return home I met them painting the house.

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“I was coming out of brilliant sunshine”: Women’s stories from the Roots Family History Project

By Jo Manby

In the 1970s, the oral history project that became the Roots Family History Project was born out of a volunteer management committee, of which Marie Noble and Elouise Edwards were members. It originated in the need felt among Manchester’s Black communities to record for posterity the experiences and life histories of Manchester’s ongoing African and Caribbean diaspora.

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Roots Family History Project: ‘A people without history is like a tree without it’s roots’

This two-part post will give an overview of the testimonies of the women involved in the project. Although there is a fairly even balance gender-wise, it’s important to acknowledge the contribution of these women to Manchester’s Black communities as well as to the wider UK society.

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Autonomous Women at the Abasindi Women’s Co-op

8th of March is International Women’s Day (IWD), but like any good celebration it has started well in advance of the day itself, and will stretch out well beyond, with events celebrating the achievements of women happening throughout March.

We got in on the action this week by hosting a Spotlight session here in Archives+, looking at Black female activists from our collection. It’s got me thinking about the nature of specifically black and female activism – so often subsumed under the banner of either black or female – and prompted me to do a little research into the motivations and approaches of Black women’s organisations.

Abasindi logo - drawing of African woman in profile

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The Writing on the Wall

Our archive volunteer Helen has uncovered a fascinating story about women confronting racism in 1970s Manchester…

wall newspaper
Decades before Facebook and Twitter allowed people who had never met to communicate anonymously, a group of women from Manchester decided to use a real life ‘wall’ to gather views from local people on the subject of racism. The women, from Longsight and Levenshulme, were united by their opposition to the National Front, a right-wing, racist organisation that was responsible for preaching racial hatred and carrying out violent attacks on members of Britain’s ethnic minority communities. On discussing how to react to a planned National Front march in the city, the women came up with the idea of a ‘wall newspaper’ where they could get local people to air their views on the National Front.

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