SOAS University of London

Centre for Gender Studies

Gender, Fundamentalism & Racism

Georgie Wemyss (UEL) and Rebecca Durand; Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters); Rita Chadha (RAMFEL); Hana Riaz (LSE)

Date: 10 May 2014Time: 2:00 PM

Finishes: 10 May 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar

The event is free but space is limited so please reserve a place at

Voices from Adult Education
Rebecca Durand and Dr. Georgie Wemyss

Based on experience of over two decades of activism and working in adult education in the London borough of Tower Hamlets the paper draws on the narratives of women and men in English Language and Access to Higher Education classes who have challenged racism, religious fundamentalisms and sexism in their everyday lives in order to carve out diverse futures for themselves. Their stories highlight the heterogeneity of experience and opinions within ‘communities’ represented as homogeneous in both discourses of multiculturalism dominant during the New Labour government and in present day critiques of so-called ‘separatist’ multiculturalism. Their stories demonstrate conflicts and complex negotiations over their life choices in the context of racist state institutions and transnational political religious networks.

Rebecca Durand has lived in Tower Hamlets for twenty-two years and teaches in the community provision of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) at Tower Hamlets College.

Dr. Georgie Wemyss worked as a youth worker and further education teacher in Tower Hamlets for twenty-five years. She is currently Senior Research Fellow in the Research Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB) at the University of East London where she is completing  ethnographic research on the Schengen border and within London as part of the EUBORDERSCAPES project. Her doctorate, in social anthropology, examined competing discourses of Britishness in the context of east London and its colonial histories. She completed her monograph The Invisible Empire: White Discourse, Tolerance and Belonging (Ashgate, 2009) whilst working as ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey and as Visiting Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London.  More recently she has written about Indian seafarers’ littoral resistances during the colonial period and South Asian settlement in the UK.

Excusing the inexcusable: Some reflections on the place of gender in the politics of race and religion in the UK
Pragna Patel

Recent events from the sexual grooming scandal to the issue of gender segregation in universities have elicited a range of responses. At one extreme, there are those that serve to aid constructions of Muslims in particular as illiberal and backward.  At the other extreme, there are those that point to an 'Islamaphobic' conspiracy or attempts to derail 'western feminism'. I explore these responses and show how they subsume the voices and political struggles of feminists within BME communities in a regressive politics of "resistance" that in fact conflates race with religion.

Pragna Patel is a founding member of the Southall Black Sisters and Women Against Fundamentalism. She worked as a co-ordinator and senior case worker for SBS from 1982 to 1993 when she left to train and practice as a solicitor. In 2009 she returned to SBS as its Director. She has been centrally involved in some of SBS’ most important cases and campaigns around domestic violence, immigration and religious fundamentalism. She has also written extensively on race, gender and religion.

Faith the new Border Agent for Immigration: Perpetuating sexism and inter-community racism within faith based organisations – an East London case study
Rita Chadha

Following on from the Go Home Vans of the summer of 2013, this study will look at the impact and legacy of the campaign and specifically how it has impacted on the psyche and approach of faith groups in two London boroughs Barking & Dagenham and Redbridge. The study will specifically focus on the nature of faith based organising as it interrelates to issues of immigration and inter-sectionality drawing on RAMFEL's with sex workers, irregular migrants, street sleepers and those that are destitute

Rita Chadha joined RAMFEL (The Refugee and Migrant Forum of Essex and London, as Chief Executive in 2006. Rita has previously worked in a variety of roles, both as a front line practitioner and manager for a number of local, regional, national and international charities. Throughout her professional career, and within her voluntary work, Rita's focus has been on issues of equality across all the officially protected characteristics as well as income and poverty. Rita was born in East London and went to City University where she graduated with a BSc Sociology & Media Studies and MA in Communications Policy. In her spare time Rita is a keen charity event fundraiser and a bikram junkie.

The Woolwich Attack: The Racialisation of Islam and Muslim identity in Britain
Hana Riaz

When two British Nigerian Muslim converts murdered a white British soldier in Woolwich last year, much of the analysis following the incident centred on Islamic fundamentalism. However, this particular incident offered telling and complex narratives about race, gender and their relationship to a politicised Islam in contemporary Britain. As the War on Terror ensues, attempts to understand why Muslims in Britain are ‘susceptible’ to radicalisation have led Muslim to be nominally read as South Asian or Arab, and largely male. Here these particular types of brown male bodies reproduce anxieties about a hostile ‘otherness’, one that attempts to link fundamentalism as an externality or consequence of immigration and foreign policy. In positing their identities solely as ‘Muslim’, analysis on both the right and left, popular culture and policy, obscures complex narratives of  (un)belonging and inequality. At a time where the British state’s policies continue to use the War on Terror as a fundamental aspect of its neoliberal agenda, how then do we account for blackness, class, immigration and gender? And what might they reveal about Islam in Britain? Using the Woolwich attack as an alternative entry point to explore continuities and ruptures in racialisation processes in Britain, I examine the ways in which gender and identity are consequently configured for a heterogeneous body of Muslim women.

Hana Riaz has completed her Masters in Race, Ethnicity and Postcolonial Studies at the London School of Economics. She is a queer politically black, south Asian Muslim woman and feminist, a writer, blogger and believer in the transformatory power of love. She is the founder and digital curator of The Body Narratives.

For more info on CMRB:
For more info on Centre for Gender Studies: