Thursday, 30 July 2009

Girls advised to aim low by teachers.

The new report by the Women and Work Commission is welcome. It highlights how careers advisors and teachers give different advice to boys and girls about the opportunities open to them. Boys are encouraged to aim for the top professions whereas girls are pushed towards careers that are less well paid.

There can be no denying that if a person in authority informs a teenage girl that she is worth less than a boy, this itself will become a self fulfilling prophecy. She will excuse herself from her own abilities, ambition and intelligence. This gender gap is prevalent in our society across class, race and faith.
The Committee's Chair, Baroness Margaret Prosser, is arguing for these preconceived ideas to be tackled. This is encouraging.

Perhaps one way of addressing the issue of low ambition for girls would be to give them their own space. I am a big believer in single sex schools. This is not segragation for segragation's sake but because research has shown that girls thrive in education when they are not marginalised in the classroom by louder, rowdier boys who demand a teacher's attention.
I attended a girls only school and I remember the teachers making it extremely clear that we, the girls, could achieve anything. Would it have been different in a mixed school? Would the boys have dominated discussions, taking valuable time, space and attention way from us girls?
My physics teacher is now the Headmistress of another girls school. Plashet School has for years been delivering some of the best GCSE results in Newham - not the most prosperous parts of London either. I did a book reading at the school a year ago and met confidant and empowered girls, the majority of whom were Muslim. Some talked about wanting to be doctors and others, lawyers. Fine, they were very typically Asian aspirations but at least the girls believed in their own abilities to achieve success.

Would that have been the case had they shared the classroom space with boys? And would the teachers have been supportive of this ambition?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Creative Writing Workshop in Bolton

Just returned from rainy Bolton after delivering the creative writing workshop.
Great fun and was given some fabulous ideas about what should happen to Zahra in the next book.

Apologies to all the boys and their Dads who wanted to attend. This session was just for girls and their Mums, but very happy to make trip up north again to deliver CWW in Bolton or any other town.

A big thank you also to the Bolton Council of Mosques for arranging the CWW. In my opinion they are one of the leading mosque organisations in the country for realising the importance of engaging with teenagers and children.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Luton's 'Zahra' competition and Islamic Relief

Busy week after getting back from the states.
Attended the Islamic Relief fundraiser in Marble Arch about turning the desert green. The inspiring evening was led by Imam Shakir who had just flown in after speaking at the ISNA event in Washington DC. He detailed Islamic Relief's project in Mali, Africa about bringing water to an otherwise poor desert region that always suffers food shortages and very low rainfall.

What struck me more is that households in Mali - headed by poor women - will have the chance to join a micro-credit scheme that lends them small amounts of money with which to start a small business. All repayments to the scheme will be in line with Shariah guidelines.
Helping poor women who have no other way to earn money features in my forthcoming book 'Zahra's Trip to Misr' which is going through a furious edit at the moment. I happily gave my charity to this cause. I can write about it, but it feels good to put my money where my pen is.
More details of this amazing project is on Islamic Relief's website.

Then after a late night, I got on the motorway the next morning to drive down to sunny Luton to launch a competition in association with the Creative Muslim Network and Luton central library.

CMN's Director Shemiza Rashid, a lovely sister with more energy than anyone I know, has organised a Luton Fictional Character Competition. The task is to create a character from Luton and the winning entry will feature in my fourth book of the Zahra series: 'Zahra's Second Year at the Khadija Academy.'
The competition is open to all girls and boys aged 6 to 16. The children must be from Luton.

The profile of the fictional character can be presented in either:
a form of an illustration, accompanied by a written profile
or a poem describing the new character & the friendship between her and Zahra
or a short narrative, eg, how Zahra meets her new friend from Luton.
All entries should include a short paragraph explaining why a character from Luton should be included
in the Zahra series and the deadline is 18th September. All Luton libraries are participating.

I should point out that we especially want non-Muslim kids to enter the competition. Community cohesion is a two way street and it would be interesting to have non-Muslim kids create a Muslim character.

Back at the launch, I did a reading and Q&A session with a group of girls from Beech School at the central library. As usual I loved every minute and was very surprised when a young grl informed me she was halfway through the first book, 'Zahra's First Term' in her local madressa. Apparently after Quran recitation, the class read from Zahra and then discuss some of the issues raised.
Would love this madressa teacher to get in touch!

Also had a very interesting conversation with one of the teachers about Muslim girls always drawing pictures of English non-Muslim girls in Art activities. She found it strange that Asian Muslim girls do not draw characetrs in their own image. Hmm, are our Barbie dolls from childhood to blame?
Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing the entries. It will be interesting to see what an 'ideal' Luton character will be like. Shall return to Luton for their Eid event in September to announce the winner, ia.