Episode 57: Connect with and nurture the next generation of Muslim women with Khadijah Khatun from Muslim Women Connect.
Today we have with us Khadijah Khatun director of communications for Muslim Woman Connect. Muslim Women Connect is a London based non profit organization, comprised of dedicated professionals who saw a need for these services and decided to deliver. The sole purpose is to aid growth and development of our sisters.
Khadijah talks to us about the services of MWC bringing together Muslim women from a broad range of careers and different walks of life in order to network, connect with and nurture the next generation of Muslim women.
In this episode
● The need for MWC services
● MWC Project services examples
● Social Networking through MWC activities
● Positive feedback from sisters attending MWC
● The behind the scenes work to make sure that people can benefit from the events and programs of MWC
● Discrimination Muslim women face in job seeking and on the jobs.
● MWC inspiring and enabling confidence.
● Becoming a mentor for MWC
● MWC school speakers program
Twitter @ muslimwomenc
Full Episode Transcription
FOUSIA: Hey, guys. So on today's episode is Khadijah Khatun, who is a director of communications for Muslim Woman Connect. Muslim Women Connect is a London based initiative bringing together Muslim women from a broad range of careers and different walks of life in order to network, connect with and nurture the next generation of Muslim women. They deliver a rich and varied program of events and mentoring sessions with the aim to bring women together and inspire confidence and guide career development. They are a not for profit organization comprised of dedicated professionals who saw a need for these services and decided to deliver. Their sole purpose is to guide growth and development of their sisters. So without further ado, let's get right into today's episode. I hope you guys enjoy it. If you haven't subscribed already. Don't forget to do that. And at the end of this episode, please don't forget to go and leave a positive review on iTunes so that other sisters are able to find this podcast. Thank you so much. Let's get right into it.
FOUSIA: Asalaamu Alaykum, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of The Nap Time, A Sacred Podcast. This is your host Fousia. And on today's episode, I have with me the lovely Khadijah from Muslim Woman Connect in the UK. I hope you guys are super excited. I know I am. Khadijah welcome to the show.
Khadijah: Hi,and thank you so much for having me. This is very exciting for Muslim Women Connect and no pressure, but I guess I'm also excited today. Thanks for giving me the platform and the opportunity to do this.
FOUSIA: It's my pleasure. So Khadijah tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us what Muslim Women Connect is all about.
Khadijah: Sure. Okay. So I'm Khadijah and I work in communications at UK Parliament, but I'm also the director of communications for Muslim Women Connect. So essentially, Muslim women connect we are a London based initiative bringing together Muslim women from a broad range of careers and different walks of life in order to network and connect with one another. And for us as MWC the organization to nurture the next generation of Muslim women. And we do this through delivering rich and varied programs, events, mentoring sessions, score speakers, programs. Socials, masterclasses, workshops with the aim to kind of inspire confidence and guide career developments toq those who are in need. So we are a not for profit organisation. We're comprised of just a bunch of dedicated professionals who have you know, we have our own careers and day jobs, but we're dedicated people who saw a need for these services and we decided to deliver in the hopes of just helping the next wave of struggling sisters who just needs to kind of get their foot in the door. So that's essentially what we do.
FOUSIA: That's awesome, Mashalla. I'm really glad that you brought up what you do during the day, which is communications in the UK Parliament...
Khadijah: I was nervous to mention that.. Yeah. So it's a big deal, you know, to work in such. It's such a complicated organization, one that's at the focal point of a lot of, you know, discussion.
Khadijah: And so as Muslim woman to be here, it's really interesting..
FOUSIA: To have a seat at the table. Right? However, whenever anyone thinks about the table, I always say it's better to have someone there than not. So tell us a little bit about how you got into communications and how that has been helping you and your role in Muslim Women's Connect.
Khadijah: Sure.. So I studied English and history at university. I always had a passion for writing, be it creatively. Be it like run T articles in the uni newspaper about whatever political thing that was like annoying me that week. But yeah, I've always had an interest for writing and my kind of dream was to do coms in the charity sector for, you know, something that really meant something to me. Life just so happened that that wasn't the case. No matter how many times I was banging at the door like you venture into the charity sector coms. It wasn't manifesting in paid work, but I was doing it on the side. So I built up plenty of experience there, but it just wasn't manifesting in paid work. And somehow life happened and I ended up at UK Parliament writing for them. But the beauty is I have my passion projects on alongside my day job and it allows me to use my skills in a meaningful way. Not that I don't find meaning in my day job. But this is something that is really close to me. I know the struggle of trying to access the labour market as a visibly Muslim woman. So to be able to be involved in something like MWC and use my skills and have purpose and meaning. It's just everything. Alḥamdulillāh
FOUSIA: May Allah reward all of you. Tell us a little bit about the events that you guys have done. You've mentioned several types of events. Give us some examples of some projects that you guys have worked on and some of the feedback that you've gotten from sisters in your community.
Khadijah: We do panel discussions whereby we invite speakers to share their experiences to an audience. Some of the speakers have been people who sit on sports boards, small liked renown sports organizations and visible Muslim women that they are very varied. We have your classic panel discussion whereby we have a panel of really inspiring women delivering to an audience and then at the usual set up Q and A's at the end networking. We also have kind of recently ventured into doing socials which are a lot more informal and we call them social networking opportunities. We call them those shows we did. So we'll do something fun like hiking can get out of the city a little bit. You just meet other must know women from a broad range of sectors and industries and careers and allow kind of that networking to happen organically. What what better than being in nature just connecting that way. So other events that we've done previously are pertaining around food. Have the social there where people come and listen here panel discussion. But we've put on we've collaborated with caterers that had food.
FOUSIA: What are some of the feedback that you've gotten from sisters and especially sisters who might be like first generation graduates of university or who are just getting into the work sector and they don't really have anyone their age that they can connect with on that level and they can find like a source of inspiration and help from. So what are some of the feedback that you got from the sisters.
Khadijah: So we went on a hike a few months ago in the summer and it was really designed like really crazy to me, like stand and physically watch this happen. So we had an elder just a few years older than a recent graduate. He was trying to break like a really niche market. I think it was journalism, but around economics. And they just happened to be someone who's already established in that field. So as we left the train station about its kind of venture onto the hike, these two just got talking. I listened to you. This is exactly what I want to do and heard you were like work. It was really incredible to see it manifest. And this connection actually happened in front of my eyes so quickly and instantaneously. So that was really special. Just seeing people hit it off and then take these connections and what they choose to do with them, it's completely up to them. But, you know, if there's a means for them to kind of build on that and help their own progression in their careers, then if we could facilitate that as most women connect, then that's part of our job done.
FOUSIA: That would be kind of one of those times where you kind of get all tingly because like your work, is just making a difference.
Khadijah: And the way we saw it was just we're just facilitating a hike. Yeah. You know, we're like inner city people just kind of going just a little bit on the outskirts of London off to go on a hike, but just to see good come of it and benefit and the benefits come so quickly, you know, to see people connects in certain sense I don't know if that's the beauty of just being Muslim..
FOUSIA: You never know Allah's plan for anything that you planned, like Allah has something else in store sometimes. So that's awesome Mashallah. So tell us about, you know, a lot of people come to your events, right? And they benefit from it. But not everyone kind of knows what goes on behind the scene and how those events and programs come about. So tell us a little bit about you guys, this process and the work that you guys do behind the scenes to make sure that people can benefit from the events and programs that you have to show.
Khadijah: So we have a small but really hardworking team. So we have an events coordinator who actually used to be a mentee from our first cohort of them on mentoring program. So she benefited. I mean, Ahamdullilah pleased to say she benefited from our program and she went on to work with us. So she is events coordinator, shout out to Fatima and works on events coordinator. And she works really hard to, you know, secure dates, location and speakers creating a guest lists and then opening up the event to our wider audiences and service users. But I think it's really important to touch on the fact that beyond events we do. We try and give really practical support to our service users. So two main focal points are our mentoring program and our school speakers program. Before I start discussing our mentoring program and our schools program, I just want to quickly touch on why the need is there and particularly in the UK. So Muslim women face a triple penalty in the labour market. This means that a Muslim woman is more likely to face discrimination when it comes to seeking employment based on her gender. Religion particularly. You are visibly missing women, so wearing a hijab and one's ethnicity and race. So with these three things combined, and due to biases and misrepresentation, we're finding that an overwhelming majority of Muslim women face barriers when it comes to accessing employment. And when it comes that finding relatable role models and accessing these said role models just for a little bit of context. A report published here in the UK by the Social Mobility Commission with Sheffield Hallam University found that Muslims experienced the greatest economic disadvantage of any other faith group in the UK. In 2016, the House of Commons Women's and Equalities Committee found that the women of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage paid 26 percent less than white British men, and that black women over the past two decades have had no progression in closing the gender pay gap between themselves and British men. Other kind of just quick figures I just want to put out there that most women are paid twenty two point four per cent less than their Christian counterparts. This figure just gets me every time. One in eight Pakistani women have been asked about marriage and family aspirations during job interviews compared to one in 30 white women with a quarter of employers admitting this. This is the World Cup, with a quarter of employers admitting to be reluctant to hire Muslim women due to concerns about family commitments being prioritized over their professional duties. And this report was commissioned by the House of Commons. So House of Commons dinner for American listeners is one of the houses in our parliament. So, you know, these figures are out there. The discrimination, it's a very, very real thing and one that most women still, you know, saw Brunton and the full force of it here. So that's just even trying to access employment. Once you're in employment, the kind of barriers and discrimination you face is. It's difficult to kind of articulate because it's a very real thing and it does kind of impact a person's self-esteem. And, you know, like finances, it's just it's just hard to make out here. As Muslim woman..
FOUSIA: I always tell people like the only way that I would be more discriminated against is of my sexual orientation. Right? As a woman, I'm black. A Muslim. Like literally all.. there is one more thing that they could use right?
Khadijah: Sexual orientation. Disability.
FOUSIA: Yes, for sure.
Khadijah: Ahamdulilah our accents are almost white passing or like, you know.
FOUSIA: Yeah you get through that phone conversation. That initial one really well.
Khadijah: That's it. I'm putting on my white voice right now because I don't want people to be like, oh, she can't talk to properly... you know?
FOUSIA: Yeah, it's hilarious because the other day I answered the phone next to my husband and he's like your white voice amazes me every time.
Khadijah: You need it be like that. And especially in a work environment. You know, if you were in a hijab and it's acting as a visual indicator of different. Yes, you know, we're facing micro aggression, but when there's something so visible, visibly different about you. You know, it's just opening the pathway for outright discrimination.
FOUSIA: Sure. And even after high afters, you find sisters find the job. They get the job. There's also ways like a little micro aggression.
Khadijah: Absolutely. So like little comments by anyone, you know, an alcohol fueled environment like the Muslim hijab being seen as like the killjoy. Well, like, anti-social. So you might not necessarily be seen as like worthy of that next promotion. You know, just progressing. It's just made so much harder. So our service users, the young Muslim women we've connected with and they've mentioned in our master classes and workshops about some of the issues they faced in employment or in previous employment, two examples. I've got three. One, when she asked about a prayer room, she was given a cleaning cupboard while another was giving a storage cupboard. She might be me. I'm just saying she might have been given a storage coverd. And this one truly hurts us. One was given a bathroom space.
FOUSIA: Oh, my God.
Khadijah: You know, obviously, she didn't take the space to pray but it's very demoralizing.
FOUSIA: So you guys mentor Muslim women and you have these events. What do you do to kind of I mean, because there's only so much mentoring and programs that you can have? Well, we also kind of have to figure out what to do in those places of employment. Are you guys planning on doing any workshops or sensitivity trainings or anything like that?
Khadijah: We haven't ventured there just yet. Right now, we are kind of focusing on our sisters and equipping our sisters with the skills, confident. First of all, get jobs and then kind of be comfortable in their work environment..
FOUSIA: And to have the confidence to say this needs to change when they have been in the environment for a little bit
Khadijah: Absolutely. Yeah. And what MWC has done to me... Obviously, I work in a very white institution,.
FOUSIA: A male institution,.
Khadijah: You know. And that's just politics as. So it's a wild game. I haven't been a service user. Obviously, I have benefited from listening to the master classes and being present and being around all these incredible, inspiring women. But it's given me the confidence to know what my rights are, to know what I'm worthy of and to know what's acceptable and unacceptable. And it's equipped me with the kind of courage to call it out. So I'm very proactive in the work, you know, in my work environment, in calling things out and making differences in the sentence. You know, I'm very vocal. I'll put on events so my colleagues could learn more. Our proposed changes in X, Y and Z. And, you know, if we're vocal and active. How much can this silence us all? Like if we ban together? How much can they silence us? It's only a matter of time before they have to listen to what we're saying.. To MWC Success looks like having more women working in underrepresented sectors. It's having women have more equal pay. Seeing more Muslim women in senior jobs, not just the junior ones or not. Just like your kind of classic catering or cleaning or, you know, those kind of jobs like teachers or nurses. The things that with her kind of condition thinking is it's okay for women. Why can't we go for like tech industry jobs or something creative, just or politics? The possibility it should be just as endless for us as it is for our white male counterparts. And what success looks like to MWC It's raising the aspirations of all your sisters. Giving our young sisters accessible role models, connecting them with one another. And just yet inspiring and enabling confidence. Helping contribute to the increase in the number of missing women in different sectors, and showcasing ethnically diverse Muslim women who otherwise don't have a platform. We've also noticed that a lot of the women out there who are doing incredible things. They're just so low key. They're very humble. They're not very like kind of screaming, you know, screaming and shouting for roofs, rooftops here. "Look what I'm doing here". They want to help. Like they're not kind of keeping their success a secret out of, like, spite. It's just they're very low key, humble people. So if we can act as a facilitator to connect these people with young women who might need that inspiration, confidence, then that's what success looks like to us.
FOUSIA: You mentioned getting them to connect. What's your process for finding mentors and what are you looking for in a mentor? I'm sure there's some sisters out there who are listening to the podcast who would love to take part in this. So gives you some steps to take and how to get in touch with you guys.
Khadijah: That's it. So obviously we are London based, which is great, but it's sad in the sense we can't help everybody and there's such a need for the kind of services we provide in like places that's further up north. I think you'd find with any kind of capital city, there's so many opportunities there. But cities that are further away from the capital, you know, there's more socio economic issues at play. So if all services were to exist elsewhere, it would be amazing. But just given the scope and capacity of what's possible, we haven't been able to venture that far just yet. But yeah. So it is very London based. But whether you're using our servers or not, I think it's really important to just look for mentors around you, whether it's at school or college or, you know, kind of building that relationship by yourself and approaching someone. So whilst we are London base for the time being, the way our process of recruiting mentors and mentees are and we have a application as we've venturing into our fourth cohort, we currently have received all applications and closed them. So it won't be until the fifth cohort that people can apply, but it is just a case of filling out a form and we're not looking for anyone incredible or, you know, like out of the ordinary, a mentor, the things we look for, somebody who is established, somebody who's in their career, somebody who has a genuine passion and want to help guide and support another sister. And what we look for in mentees is somebody who just needs that little bit of, you know, guidance and inspiring. So I don't think we're entirely very selective and exclusive with how we recruit. There aren't, you know, some kind of terms and conditions within a certain age group. All the information will be on our website. And when the applications open for the time being, we aren't in the process of sifting through our applicants for a fourth cohort. And the way that we pair our matches is to see if they kind of like minded in similar industries. If there's somebody who's looking to, for example, looking to venture into fashion, if we have like somebody who is working at fashion already and quite established, then it'll be like a natural kind of pairing. But there's somebody else back to that. They you know, it's not necessarily always the case that you find a good doctor or nurse. And that's what. Look at the personalities and skills and the things that people are looking for.
FOUSIA: So when are you thinking your fifth cohort will be?
Khadijah: We're still sifting, pairing our fourth cohort application applicants. So we're not looking to venture into our fifth until later in the year or possibly really early next year.
FOUSIA: For you guys who are listening, don't forget to check back in, I guess a year.
Khadijah: Check us out here we have some things going on all the time. So we also have left school speakers program. So in seeing the benefits of having a mentor and being a mentee, one of our previous mentees said the following. I thought it'd be really inspiring to share with anyone who might be thinking of looking for a mentor or anybody who isn't sure of what the benefits could be. It's really refreshing to know and have that representation that, yes, you aren't working towards the impossible. Your goals and ambitions on odd or laughable. I came into the program aiming to have a career plan, but I came out with plenty more than I could have imagined. My confidence, the ability to present and networking were hugely beneficial from being part of the scheme by the end of the scheme. I had created connections, built on my CV and had great encouragement to pursue my goals. All in all, it was a safe space. Talk about your plans, ideas and experiences with no judgment. With constructive advice and support from Muslim women who understood me and have had relatable experiences.
FOUSIA: So tell us about the school speakers and that program that you have going on as well.
Khadijah: Of course. So the school speakers program provides young people in colleges, secondary schools, youth groups, schools who might be faith based or just mainstream schools. So we're not just exclusively talking to young Muslim children. We go into schools and deliver kind of assembly style talks hosted and delivered by successful Muslim women across various sectors. And we're doing this. Our aim is to link young people with accessible, inspiring role models from all different backgrounds who can share their kind of experiences and journeys and insights. So I know for sure if I was to have seen a Muslim woman in a headscarf or not and he was a woman come into me to a school who, you know, said he looked like me or had a similar cultural background to me, it would have kind of sped up the whole confidence process or it would have.. it would have enabled me to know at a much younger age that I can venture into these into these industries or I can achieve what I wanted to do. The aim is just to kind of inspire that within young people. For doing this we have Ahamdulillah connected with and reached over 800 young people. And, you know, we have a demand of certain schools contacting us, asking us to come in. And it's particularly kind of a moving moment when we're asked to come in by a non faith based school. So an ordinary school with like little white kids and just to know that we invite it into those spaces to be able to share.
FOUSIA: That's great. That leaves a lasting impression t. And for the Muslim and non-Muslim kids to see you are in a position of power. And, you know, being able to do that in your community.
Khadijah: Especially in the kind of society we live in now where Islamophobia is so prevalent. If we can inspire that in a non-Muslim kid and if we can normalize and humanize ourselves like not that we should have to, but unfortunately, that's the reality. So if, you know, if our presence allows.. inspires that in another non-Muslim person, then I think that can only be a really beneficial and beautiful thing.
FOUSIA: That's amazing. So I know an organization like this takes a lot of work. Tell us a little bit about some of your team members and the work that they do. Just so everyone can understand the level of work and value that this show.
Khadijah: So we have two amazing co-founders. Usually when we have these discussions, they may share that sweet story on their own, but I'm going to have to repeat on their behalf. Muslim Women Connect came to exist when our two co-founders, Noureen and Amera sat in the cafe one day, frustrated at the lack of kind of representation of Muslim women and how hard it was for young list only to find employment. And between them, they could list dozens and dozens of women doing incredible things. But it's not out there. It's not readily available to people. So they fought for creating this. We can help connect Muslim women. Thus, the name Muslim Women. We have an incredible creative leader who creates all our visuals. She, too, has a day job, and our co-founder Amera lives abroad. So a lot of the work is digital, kind of skyping and meetings, booking and meeting months in advance when we know someone's going to be in the country. A lot of the work we do happens outside of the core kind of nine to five working hours. Definitely. At night, we have an events coordinator outside of her day job, is busy putting together these great, you know, really inspiring and successful events and the mentoring program itself. It's just a huge task to be responsible for connecting women and to kind of shaping a life changing thing. I know that sounds really dramatic, but it's essential that pairings are perfect in the sense that if it's done right, like somebodies, life could take an amazing twist and turn and their career could be really kickstarted. So these things take great. Do the math. And Ahamdulillah it's a passion project. We kind of... Our efforts are kind of fueled by just the passion of what we're doing and the cause and why we're doing it and who it's going to impact and whose life it could potentially change. So Ahamdulillah. It's tiring. We're tired or exhausted, but we're very proud.
FOUSIA: Yes. Your work is so appreciated. Because when I found you guys on social media and just like getting to know what you guys do and following the events and things that you do, it's amazing because I wish I had had that when I was in college, too.
Khadijah: Truly if this existed for me five years ago while I was trying to navigate. Like getting into my career, like it would have been so much like a weight off my shoulders, not in the sense of I had a mentor or if I had the school speakers, but just knowing that there's a network of on the women who are in the same boat or that or just the knowledge, it gets better. Yes. You know, because when you're in the moment, it's just like so bleak, it could be so hard. And I still see it to this day, like, you know, young, fresh graduates. Whom are just so lost. And it really does take a kind of negative impact on your confidence and your emotional state of mind.
FOUSIA: So you guys are here to change that.
Khadijah: Well, Inshallah, we would love to.
FOUSIA: So tell us where people can connect with you online and offline if possible. And what's your next program? What do you guys have coming up in the near future that people can get involved in?
Khadijah: Okay. So you can find us to connect with us digitally. You can find us online. MuslimWomenConnect.com where you could read more about our work, our services and forthcoming events to connect with us via social media. Please search Muslim Woman Connect on Facebook and find us on Twitter. Muslim Women C or via Instagram at Muslim women connect. Instagram is actually my favorite way to connect with everybody. Audience are always popping. We have this thing called the Spotlight Series where I actually was really fortunate enough to showcase you and your work. And that's how we first connected. Just kind of just scrolling and finding really inspiring women all over the world and connecting and forging these relationships. And then to see like a gem that somebody is part of or a gem in person and then be able to share that with our following, which comprises the women from all over the world. So it's such a special thing. So whether, you know, even if you can't come to our London based events or you can't be part of all schools speakers program or mentoring the community we have online is really, really special and something we're very proud of. So please do connect with inshallah. And I'll see you in the DMs. Or email us If you have a submission or if you'd like a blog post or if you're an aspiring writer and you want to kind of find some way, a way of kind of pushing your work out there, please do e-mail us this digital@MuslimWomenConnect.com. We also have on our Web site showcase other really inspiring stories that we can't necessarily put on an Instagram post because it's too long. So we have lengthy pieces there. You know, confidence, advice and things that we might put on in an event was what we're to let lengthier pieces for our wider community to benefit from. Inshallah.
FOUSIA: Fabulous Mashallah. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing all about Muslim Women Connect. I'm so glad that there is something like this for sisters in London. And I hope that this gives our sisters and other cities, not only in England, but all over the world, kind of like a spark, a light bulb, something that they can do in their own community as well and comes to lift each other up.
Khadijah: So even if it's like a small kind of like coffee meet up, just sit and kind of talk and say, oh, well, I know it so and so who's doing it and X, Y and Z and just kind of showcasing Allah like incredible, amazing talent and abilities like when I was small, new way possible. It's just about having that conversation. And I want to touch on the importance of sisterhood. A lot of what we've discussed today has been about, you know, employment, unlike these great big things, but just can strip him back to the what's at the core of MWCb and what should be at the core of all of our hearts and spirits is just faith and sisterhood and what Islam is best this way. And that unity and togetherness and that one to build together.
FOUSIA: That's a great way to do it. And you guys, thank you so much for listening to today's episode of. Don't forget to hit subscribe. Don't forget to go follow Muslim Women Connect all over social media and check out their Web site and the blog and do what you can pay it forward somehow. Go and participate if you can. And inshallah, I hope that we see bigger and better things as the year goes on . Thanks again, for coming on the show. We appreciate.
Khadijah: Thank you. Oh, thank you so much for your time.