Article by Cameron, liberated from behind the Times paywall for anyone who’s interested. Rather excellent stuff if it actually has any follow through. Been reading a bit of Hirsi Ali by any chance Dave??
We won’t let women be second-class citizens
Forcing all migrants to learn English and ending gender segregation will show we’re serious about creating One Nation
Where in the world do you think the following things are happening? School governors’ meetings where male governors sit in the meeting room and the women have to sit out of sight in the corridor. Young women only allowed to leave their house in the company of a male relative. Religious councils that openly discriminate against women and prevent them from leaving abusive marriages.
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is Britain. Last week, I chaired a meeting of a group of brilliant Muslim women role models. And while I heard great examples of so many women who are flourishing in our country, some painted an alarming picture of forced gender segregation, discrimination and social isolation from mainstream British life.
Of course, this does not describe the life of every British Muslim woman. Nor are these problems unique to Muslim communities. And it cannot be said often enough that the fear of Islamophobic hate crime — for instance, the disgraceful pulling of women’s headscarves in the street — is widespread and incredibly threatening, as well as being completely disempowering for women. But these problems are being consistently brought to our attention by Muslim women, and we have a duty to them to speak out — and to act. That must begin by understanding the root causes. Some are, of course, cultural. But the standing rebuke to our society is that we have allowed this to continue. All too often, because of what I would call “passive tolerance”, people subscribe to the flawed idea of separate development. Ed Husain put it brilliantly last week when he said that our political correctness stops us from identifying this separatist mentality — terming it “the racism of low expectations”. It helps explain why, for instance, some so-called progressive politicians see fit to host gender-segregated political meetings.
It is time to change our approach. We will never truly build One Nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, clearer about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together, and more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers. And this is a challenge that government cannot meet on its own. I do want every part of government to play its part — health visitors, jobcentres, nurseries, schools — but we all have a shared responsibility to tackle prejudice and bigotry, and help integration.
Why does this matter so much? Because we don’t just need a strong economy to thrive, we have to build a strong society. Segregation drives us apart, not together. And tolerating the development of parallel communities can also mean failing to get to grips with appalling practices such as FGM and forced marriage.
There is also an important connection to extremism. I am not saying separate development or conservative religious practices directly cause extremism. That would be insulting to many who are devout and peace-loving. But they can help a young person’s slide towards radicalisation. Think about the young boy growing up in Bradford. His parents came from a village in Pakistan. His mum can’t speak English and rarely leaves the home, so he finds it hard to communicate with her, and she doesn’t understand what is happening in his life. At the same time, as a teenager he is struggling to identify with western culture. Separate development and accepting practices that go against our values only emphasise differences and can help prompt the search of something to belong to. When that happens, the extremist narrative gives him something — however ridiculous — to believe in.
So what can we do about this? First, we need some clear thinking. This is Britain. In this country, women and girls are free to choose how they live, how they dress and who they love. It’s our values that make this country what it is, and it’s only by standing up for them assertively that they will endure. In Britain, men are not frightened of women’s success; it is celebrated proudly. So we must take on the minority of men who perpetuate these backward attitudes and exert such damaging control over their wives, sisters and daughters. And we must never again allow passive tolerance to prevent us from telling the hard truths.
We also need a clear and positive policy agenda. So we will review the role of religious councils, including Sharia councils. We’re teaching British values in our schools because I want every young boy and girl growing up here to feel proud of our country and properly connected to it. And we’ll end the forced gender segregation, as we issue clear guidance to local authorities to stamp out this practice.
We must also make more progress on English language. It is at the heart of solving this. Consider this: new figures show that some 190,000 British Muslim women — or 22 per cent — speak little or no English despite many having lived here for decades. 40,000 of these women speak no English at all. So it’s no surprise that 60 per cent of women of a Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage are economically inactive.
This has to be tackled head on. We’ve already introduced a language test for new migrants, but I believe it’s time to be much more demanding. Yes, we have responsibilities to migrants, but they have responsibilities too. At the moment, someone can move here with very basic English and there’s no requirement to improve it over time. We will change that. We will now say: if you don’t improve your fluency, that could affect your ability to stay in the UK. This will help make it clear to those men who stop their partners from integrating that there are consequences.
We’ll also fund a dramatic improvement in the way we provide English language services for women. With a new £20 million programme, we’ll make sure every woman from isolated communities with no English at all has access to classes, whether through community groups or further education colleges.
Britain has a claim to be the most successful multi-faith, multi-racial democracy on the planet. We got here because we fought and won those long struggles for liberty, equality and mutual tolerance. But the job of building a more cohesive country is never complete. With English language and women’s empowerment as our next frontier, I believe we can bring Britain together and build the stronger society that is within reach.