Looking to amplify their voices, the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW released a report aimed at helping community service providers; understand how to support Muslim women better. These include offering social services, community services, and cultural and faith-based organizations.
The report shared the goal was to give voice to Muslim women in Waterloo Region and speak to service providers about their experiences, needs, hopes and wants.
"A lot of women that researchers connected with did not know about the programs and services that were available in the community. Even if they knew the name, I could go to the working centre for employment support. They didn't know how to reach them. Thirdly, they had a lot of fear and concerns about not knowing if there would be anyone who would understand me because of my language, my race," said Fauzia Mazhar, executive director of the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW.
The women in the region who participated in the study completed a survey, either online or over the phone. Mazhar says the aim was to gather information, experience, and ideas around six major themes: employment, young people, community harm and hate crimes, family harm, mental health, and financial independence.
It was important for researchers to survey Muslim women across various demographics, especially those who were isolated and unable to access or navigate technology. "During COVID times, the concern was how do you connect with people who require these services. We are now adding Whatsapp and Telegram as forms of communication because this is one way these women use communication forms.
The report shared many focus group participants indicated the importance of language skills training, vocational training, and support for highly skilled immigrants in having their qualifications recognized. One respondent says, "there is discrimination. We need to point this out for sure. I see this happen many times, where they get a good response on the phone, but in person, it was a different response."
A quarter of survey respondents prefer to use a Muslim-specific organization when seeking employment assistance. In contrast, 16% of respondents would contact an organization with some staff who shared their language or background.
To increase access and better support the language barrier, the report states service providers should clearly articulate their interpretation policy on their websites and program materials.
The majority of participants indicated that they would first contact the police if they were harmed in the community, followed by family or friends. Most participants stated that it was essential to contact the police, but that in the majority of cases, the main reason for not contacting the police was a lack of faith that anything would be done about it and not be taken seriously.
Mazhar adds this study was to primarily find ways to help the women in the Muslim community. She adds this is the first of its kind in Waterloo Region. "We are fortunate to have this in our community, and we hope that this will spark more conversation and ideas about how to reach out to the voices that we don't hear."