Muslim women in Britain may still live in a male-dominated community - but they are increasingly asserting their right to higher education.
A new study suggests that it is the Muslim "matriarchy" that is propelling more young women into university, even though some fathers continue to believe that a daughter does not need an advanced education.
Dr Harkirtan Singh-Raud, a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, believes that British Asian women are increasingly beginning to take control of their own destiny. But his survey of 202 female Asian undergraduates (51 Sikhs, 52 Hindus and 99 Muslims) in the North-west, the Midlands and the South of England indicates that this change is particularly evident in the Muslim community.
Half the Muslim women he questioned were encouraged to enter higher education by their mothers, sisters or aunts. Almost one-third (29 per cent) received prompting from their fathers and 15 per cent by no one.
However, the Hindu and Sikh girls' main motivators were their fathers. Nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) of Hindu women said that their fathers encouraged them to continue studying, 15 per cent had received support from their mothers while 9 per cent named other sources. Among Sikh respondents, 47 per cent were encouraged by their fathers, 27 per cent by their mothers and 8 per cent by others.
The vast majority of the women said that no one had attempted to stifle their educational aspirations (92 per cent of Hindus, 78 per cent of Sikhs and 73 per cent of Muslims). But 13 per cent of the Muslim women said that they had been discouraged by either their father or an uncle, compared with only 4 per cent of the Sikh women and 2 per cent of the Hindus.
The majority of Hindu women moved to another city for their studies, along with just under half the Sikhs. But most of the Muslim women students (62 per cent) remained at home while attending a nearby university. One said:
"I had to get into Manchester Metropolitan or I couldn't go."
Dr Singh-Raud concludes that universities and careers advisers need to bear in mind that South-east Asian women are not a homogeneous group.
"Asian women undergraduates: British universities and the dangers of creedism", by Harkirtan Singh-Raud, School of Education, Liverpool John Moores University, I.M. Marsh Campus, Barkhill Road, Aigburth, Liverpool, Merseyside L17 6BD
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