Insight from British Muslim Women on the burden of COVID-19

More than 1 in 4 Muslim women had their ability to work impacted due to additional caring responsibilities forced by COVID-19

Ethnic minority women have long faced economic and racial inequality in Britain; and now, as the UK plunges into recession, the inequality gaps are entrenched further by the disproportionate financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Muslim Census published a report titled ‘The Financial Impact of COVID-19 on the Muslim Community’, where 1000 Muslims living in the UK were surveyed.

There were many stark differences across the demographics in our sample, in particular that of gender. Thus, we are highlighting the key issues affecting Muslim women in the UK as a direct result of COVID-19.

In our report, 1000 Muslims living in the UK were surveyed, of which, 522 were Muslim women. Our report highlights that the biggest factors affecting Muslim women during these unprecedented times are job losses, significant increase in caring responsibilities and falling into poverty.

Caring over Working

With a Muslim household generally larger than that of the average UK household size (2.4 people), there is a greater potential for increased caring responsibilities amongst our community; especially with the added impact of school closures.

Of the 522 female respondents, 27% said they had additional caring responsibilities, primarily due to childcare or providing for the elderly family members. This is compared to the 15% of male respondents that said “Yes” to having experienced additional caring responsibilities. This then in turn made it extremely difficult for Muslim women to find or apply for work.

Quarter of Muslim women had increased caring responsibilities which impacted their ability to work

Many Muslim women voiced this concern in response to our survey:

“Schools being closed has made it difficult working from home or even job hunting, priority is making sure kids are safe”

Respondent 23

“My son who would’ve normally been at school has been home and we were unable to get our daughter into nursery. This has made it a struggle working from home full time whilst looking after my 3 young children full time”

Respondent 51

“Without childcare support I could not take on contractual work or apply for full or part time work”

Respondent 334

It is clear that the impact of COVID-19 has been exacerbated further with the limited support working parents have received during these difficult times. The lack of effective and efficient initiatives in the UK to tackle this issue is concerning. And therefore, as a community, we must work towards addressing them.

Women consistently worse off

In general, job loss amongst the Muslim community has been a significant issue during this pandemic. Our study found that job loss amongst Muslims is six times greater than the national rate. However, Muslim women lost their jobs at a higher rate than their male counterparts: 17% and 12% respectively.

A potential reason as to why Muslim women have felt the brunt of COVID-19 more significantly than their male counterparts, is due to them making up a larger proportion of workers in sectors that have been worst hit by this pandemic – e.g. International travel, non-essential retail stores, hospitality etc.

All these sectors made up a significant proportion of the, approximately, 700,000 jobs removed as a direct result of coronavirus – leaving many Muslim women in precarious financial situations.

According to a Runnymede Trust study, BAME women generally have a much lower level of savings and assets than their white counterparts. Coupled with our data that women were more likely to be furloughed, have their hours reduced at work, and fall into poverty, these are worrying findings that need a form of addressing.

What can we do?

As Individuals and a community, it is important to raise awareness of these issues that are disproportionately affecting Muslim women within our communities.

Muslim-led initiatives such as: education surrounding zakat and it’s eligibility, (check out the National Zakat Foundation), encouraging employability programmes for Muslim women especially for more secure job sectors, and support on effectively managing caring responsibilities with work.

When asked “What is your biggest financial concern post COVID-19”, the most recurring responses were regarding finding stable jobs and opportunities within the workforce as well as paying off any outstanding debts they incurred during this pandemic.

Actions beyond community level is critical.

As a community we need to raise awareness that the cascading economic impact of COVID-19 is significantly affecting Muslim women and that the nation-wide policies need to put those most vulnerable at the centre of their focus.