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New study on British Asian women and work

Press release issued: 9 May 2003

A new study from the University's Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship challenges stereotypes of British Asian women and work.

The diversity in employment profiles of British South Asian women is explored in a new study from the University of Bristol's Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship.

The study South Asian Women and Employment in Britain: The Interaction of Gender and Ethnicity by Fauzia Ahmad and Tariq Modood of Bristol University and Stephen Lissenburgh of the Policy Studies Institute, challenges the simplified contrast often drawn between 'educated' and 'uneducated' South Asian women in Britain.

The study finds that cultures which until recently might have been portrayed as opposed to the education and employment of women seem to be producing growing numbers of highly motivated young women, more confident in expressing their identities through gender, ethnicity and religion.

Earlier research has shown that religion plays the most significant role in determining a woman's employment profile. Pakistani and Bangladeshi women (who are predominantly Muslim) were found to have lower rates of participation in employment and higher education than women from India and East Africa.

However, this study highlights the increasing numbers of younger Muslim women with relatively high levels of education who are finding new ways of engaging with the labour market. As a result, religious differences between South Asian women in terms of employment participation and career advancement are gradually being reduced.

The study interviewed seventy London Asian women from a variety of age groups, employment profiles, educational, cultural and religious backgrounds about their attitudes towards education and employment. The interviews concentrated on a range of issues including family and educational histories, attitudes towards work and study, and views on domestic roles, marriage and identity.

Fauzia Ahmad, co-author of the study, said: "The vast majority of women identified the prospect of financial and personal independence and increased social status as significant incentives to continue studying beyond school. Improved marriage prospects, encouragement and support from the family, and positive role models were also considered important.

"Parental support was particularly significant in encouraging young women to pursue higher education and/or a career. Many older women without formal qualifications themselves were keen for their daughters to succeed academically and professionally. The positive role played by fathers was also stressed - a finding which challenges stereotypes of 'restrictive' Asian fathers.

"For some women and their families, a positive consequence of higher education and economic activity was improved marriage prospects and greater choices in issues of marriage. We found that younger women in professional employment are taking alternative approaches to marriage which result in a re-negotiation rather that a rejection of 'traditional' values."

The study also looks at the types of discrimination experienced by many South Asian women in the job market and suggests ways in which policy makers and employers could develop more culturally sensitive equality policies.

South Asian Women and Employment in Britain: The Interaction of Gender and Ethnicity was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The report will be presented at a conference on South Asian Women in Britain on Monday 12 May at the Nuffield Foundation, London.

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