The founder of the Inspirational Women Foundation (IWF), Fatima Patel, is calling on West Yorkshire leaders for immediate action challenging the culture of racism, misogyny, and Islamophobia in sports settings, providing safer spaces for women and girls.
The IWF, established in 2012, supports women who need guidance, advice, and support. Among many projects, the Foundation runs daily sports and activity sessions throughout the Bradford District for women who otherwise would not be able to play sports due to a lack of provisions in place to participate in sports and physical activity sessions.
Over the years, the IWF has also supported women through issues such as sexual harassment, sexual and domestic abuse, business support, legal support, discrimination, job help, and benefits advice.
The call to action comes after women attending a sports class at a venue in Bradford were subjected to racist abuse by a male sports team two weeks ago.
The incident, which has been reported to West Yorkshire Police, is not the first-time women from the IWF sports club have been subjected to misogynistic and racist abuse.
It is all too common that women from West Yorkshire are let down by a culture and environment that allows misogynistic and racist hate crimes to take place, which is why Ms Patel, is calling on West Yorkshire leaders to take accountability of the culture within sports settings and to make a meaningful change.
Ms Patel said: “We keep going on about the need to get women active and to get women playing sport, but since we launched our sports club, I have learned that getting women active isn’t the problem, it’s the environment created that’s the problem.
“Look at our gyms or sports facilities, heavily occupied by men, and what do women get a tiny room or corner. Not a single cricket, football or any other sports ground in Bradford is female-run. This then allows for a culture where women are seen as secondary citizens in such spaces, resulting often in boisterous, misogynistic, and sadly even racist behaviour.
“This needs to change and quickly. Our leaders, who are investing millions in sports facilities need to be more proactive and create better environments for women and training for behaviour change.”
Rashida Salloo is the founder and director of Ready Steady Active, a community-based organisation established in 2014 that provides sports and physical activity opportunities for South Asian women and girls in Kirklees.
Ms Salloo also supports the need for investment to improve spaces for women and girls and campaigns to drive behaviour change in Kirklees and West Yorkshire.
In the beginning, Ms Salloo had to fight for spaces within Kirklees to provide physical activity and sports sessions, facing hesitancy from predominantly male community centre owners and managers.
Things have changed since she founded the organisation in 2014, but Ms Salloo still avoids using new venues, parks, and outdoor public settings for her sessions for fear of harassment.
She said: “Going back around five or six years, it was quite difficult to get through the doors to secure the hourly sessions for women and girls’ provisions.
“I think partly, this has to do with, historically, a lot of the community centres being owned and managed by men and there has always been a focus and an importance put on men’s sports and physical activity.”
“The situation has changed. Now people are much more receptive and are willing to help us out. I think it is because we’ve proved ourselves, that we’ve done the work and got more women involved, and they’ve seen the impact and want to be a part of that change.”
The sports provider added: “I only use a handful of spaces currently to deliver my provisions as we need to get the right spaces. I suppose going into new venues, we will face some of these challenges again.
“I very rarely use public spaces such as parks because I don’t have confidence that I will be able to provide that safe environment for women and girls. I can see that if I had a session delivered in a park there could be situations where words are thrown at us, which is a real shame.”
A spokesperson from West Yorkshire Police, said: “All reports relating to hate crimes in West Yorkshire are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly following the victim’s wishes.
“The force works with partners to raise awareness of hate crime, to increase the reporting of incidents and to provide support for victims.
“The force also has hate crime scrutiny panels, where members of the public and police officers meet regularly to review how reports of hate crime and hate incidents have been responded to. This feedback helps the force to provide a better response to victims of hate crimes.
“As well as providing a robust response to hate crime West Yorkshire Police has invested into improving its response to incidents involving violence against women and girls – including providing training so that crimes where it is believed by the victim, they are motivated by misogyny are accurately recorded which allows victims who have been subjected to abuse and harassment are identified and properly supported.
“We are committed to creating an environment where women and girls in West Yorkshire can feel safe and be free of fear and harassment and our White Ribbon accreditation shows our dedication to this matter and to changing the culture and behaviour of men within our communities.”
Councillor Carole Pattison, Cabinet Member for Learning, Aspiration and Communities in Kirklees said: “Kirklees Council in partnership with Everybody Active are working on a number of initiatives to enable more people to be more active, more often.
“These include the ‘Physical activity group’ that focus on women and girls being more active across Kirklees. The group look to understand the barriers of participation and find new ways for women and girls to be active.
“Our fantastic third sector here in Kirklees, with the help of the council and Everybody Active, have organised activities aimed specifically at women and girls such as football, netball, rounders, and walking and movement activities.
“One of the barriers to women and girls’ participation in physical activity is safety. We’ve recently secured £46,000 worth of funding to enhance the safety of two of our parks in Kirklees. This money will be spent on improving the look and feel of the park but also working with local women’s and girls’ groups to increase their use of the parks.
“Yorkshire Sport Foundation supported by Kirklees Council has also commissioned research to help us understand how teenagers use parks in their local area and why so that we can influence the development of these spaces and ensure every teenager feels welcome within them and has opportunities to use them in a way that works for them.”
“The last two years have had huge impacts on people’s physical and mental health. The various lockdowns and periods of isolation will have meant many residents haven’t been able to enjoy the social and health benefits of physical activity. It’s important we do what we can to ensure Kirklees residents have the opportunity to be active without facing barriers to participation.”
West Yorkshire’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime Alison Lowe OBE, who is also a national policing lead for Inclusion and Equality, said: “The Mayor and I recognise the rise in Islamophobia and the threat this poses to achieving safer communities across West Yorkshire.
“We are committed to working with all of our Muslim communities to understand this, and with the police to tackle it.
“No one should feel threatened in their own neighbourhood, and it is important that we make a clear stand against any form of hate crime.
“This is why our Mayor, Tracy Brabin, made it her manifesto pledge to place the safety of women and girls at the centre of her first police and crime plan, which is soon to launch. We know from the statistics that they are disproportionately affected by crimes across the board and these trends cannot be allowed to continue.
“Our efforts have already led to misogyny being recorded in West Yorkshire for the first time ever, and we are continuing to campaign for it to be recognised as a hate crime nationally. Likewise, we have made some positive strides in bringing significant investment to our county through the Home Office Safer Streets Fund.
“This will see £46K spent to improving the look and feel of Eccleshill Park and Horton Park in Bradford, developing community assets for women and girls, with days of action and activities planned alongside.
“In addition, we are working with education establishments in the Bradford District on courses and workshops designed to promote behavioural change.
“There will also be four other distinct projects relating to safety in the district’s night-time economy, working with West Yorkshire Police and the local Community Safety Partnership.”
Councillor Abdul Jabar, Bradford Council’s Executive Member for Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, said: “Any incident of Islamophobia or hate crime in Bradford is shocking. We have a zero-tolerance approach across the district.
“Any incident needs to be immediately reported to the Police, no messing, as it is the only way to tackle these crimes as a community. Everyone in our district has a right to live their lives free from any such abuse – whether at work, home or during leisure activities.”