Guest Blog by Batool Abdulkareem : Unveiling Hostility Towards Veiled Women

Unveiling Hostility Towards Veiled Women

Several weeks ago, the story of Dr. Wolverson surfaced in the media and quickly gained traction on social media including doctor groups and pages. It had all the buzz words needed to make a story go ‘viral’ ; a white male doctor ( a noble profession of healing pain and saving lives, a person who holds privilege, a person who looks and sounds like 81.9% of the population ) a niqabi woman ( a vilified oppressed minority to some, an alien group to some, a detested group that does not belong in ‘Europe/Britain/The West’ to some, and a dangerous sign of creeping ‘shariah’ to some others) and the GMC ( a body seen by the public as protector of the their rights and a very much criticised regulator by the profession it regulates).

These players are guaranteed to evoke a strong emotional reaction in very different ways; the general public perhaps sympathetic to the doctor, they believe, about to lose his career for asking the child’s mother to remove her face veil simply so he could help her ill child, the doctors sympathetic-sometimes tribalistically- to a colleague they believe about to face the life-scarring horror of a GMC investigation for fulfilling his duty when he attempted to obtain an accurate history from the mother of the ill child, and the Muslims and non- Muslims sympathetic to a woman who they believed was subjected to a rude, racist, Islamophobic treatment by a white, male, possibly racist, doctor.

 Of course, no one had enough detail to verify any of these claims, but people believed and defended their views, regardless. What transpired on certain threads on doctors’ groups saddened and disheartened me that I felt compelled to write a lengthy post in response. It is only natural that our first reactions as humans are possibly biased, they follow our loyalties, are our loyalties with the doctor because we too are doctors who, despite our good will and intention, maybe subjected to similar one day or are they with the oppressed niqab wearing minority woman whom we feel we identify with because we too belong to an oppressed minority or another. It was very interesting to see where people felt their loyalties were, the doctors, the ethnic minority doctors, the European doctors, the ‘French niqab-ban’- supporting doctors, the practicing Muslim doctors, the non-practicing Muslim doctors, the doctors with Muslim sounding names but who don’t identify as Muslim, the militant atheist doctors, the liberal doctors , the conservative doctors…

But bias should not be allowed to last beyond our first reactions, those internal emotions should soon be replaced with a rational reflection before we come to declare our final judgements…this did not seem to be the case.

The flurry of comments on Dr. Wolverson’s article’s posts sent my phone into a notification frenzy that carried on for days. Many comments were balanced and reasonable but too many were sharply divided and quite concerning, the tribalism in some comments resolute about the doctor’s innocence, the rush to label others as racists and islamophobes, sometimes unjustifiably, but most concerning to me was what transpired of my fellow doctors attitudes towards Muslim women and towards even any suggestions by others that there may be an Islamophobic sentiment

The problematic comments revolved around the following narratives:


“A woman who wears a niqab must be oppressed “

*Her husband made the complaint so he must be controlling and coercive “

*How could the doctor identify a patient with niqab”

*The niqab is not Islamic and it is not there in scripture”

“We support Europe on the niqab ban”


Most of these are problematic in their own right, because, they feed into existing narratives of discrimination against Muslim women, however, they pose even more dangerous issues when they reflect doctors’ sentiments about patients. Of course, it is well within any doctors’ rights to hold whatever views they wish about niqab, Muslim women, Islam, or any set of beliefs for that matter. An article about an issue stemming from a doctor’s request to a patient, or in this case the mother of a child patient, to remove her niqab should trigger a debate about the etiquettes of asking patients to remove an item of religious clothing and how it can potentially impact the consultation, which it rightly did, but, when it triggers angry debates about whether women have the right to wear it, how we can demand they remove it, and whether we should follow ‘Europe’s’ suit and ban it, then ,this may imply that this about more than just how we optimise our communication with our Muslim niqab-clad women patients. The latter are perfectly legitimate debates, that we should be having but my contention here is twofold; firstly, having conversations about banning niqab under a post assuming a doctor is at risk of losing his career because he asked a patient to remove her niqab feels at best irrelevant and at worst vengeful against all niqab wearing women for putting a doctor through this grief, secondly, the language similar to our prime minister hopeful, Boris Johnson’s language in the infamous article comparing women to gangsters and letter boxes, is dehumanising and demonising.

Muslim women are one of the most targeted groups in Islamophobic attacks, according to Tell MAMA’s  2018 interim report, Gendered Anti-Muslim Hatred and Islamophobia:

“…at a street level women remain the number one victim of anti-Muslim hatred with 58%,(n=233) of victims being female, re-affirming previous findings over the years, that anti- Muslim hate or Islamophobia at a street level is also male on female abuse in addition to anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry.”1

This goes up to 59%- 90% in other European countries according to the report Forgotten Women: the impact of Islamophobia on Muslim women, a study done across eight countries by the European Network Against Racism.2


To then see doctors, one of the most informed and educated sections of society, and holders of power in consulting rooms, expressing such hostile sentiments towards one of the most marginalised groups in society is deeply concerning and reason for worry.

I'm writing this as a hijab-wearing Muslim doctor, as someone who has been the victim of islamophobia in the NHS, as an activist against religious discrimination, and as Equality and Diversity Lead of the Muslim Doctors Association.

My involvement in the struggle against religious discrimination came as a direct result of the injustice Hadiza Bawa-Garba suffered which many argue was a manifestation of the triple penalty for being a black, visibly-Muslim, woman.

I acknowledge that niqab may impact rapport between the doctor and the patient in the same way that perhaps large shades or pulled up hoodies would, and, I acknowledge that it may make us doctors more uncomfortable to ask patients to remove an article of religious clothing than it would shades or a hoodie, and much more so perhaps for male doctors and for non-Muslim doctors. But the only way forward is having mature, respectful, nuanced, conversations about this involving the women who wear it, not excluding them, and working on policies that enhance the quality of patient/doctor relationships whilst accommodating patient’s beliefs as much as possible.

Written By Batool Abdulkareem

GP and Equality and Diversity Lead at Muslim Doctors Association




2 https://tellmamauk.org/gendered-anti-muslim-hatred-and-islamophobia-street-based-aggression-in-cases-reported-to-tell-mama-is-alarming/

Guest Blog: Dr Jermaine Bamfo "Experiences of being a BAME medic"


Being a BAME (Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic) medic comes with its rewards and challenges. Having been raised in the cultural melting-pot of East London, my experiences of interacting with other ethnic minorities in my formative years provided me with a rich array of differing conduits through which I can form a rapport with a wide variety of patients. In saying this, there have also been challenges that I have personally faced in my medical journey, problems that my fellow BAME colleagues have experienced and many more systemic issues which have slowly become more apparent. And it is these challenges that I will be focusing on in this article…

Microaggressions are experiences which I’m sure most BAME doctors and medical students are only too aware of. There are stories about inappropriate anecdotes made during teaching sessions, the ‘politics’ of Afro-Caribbean hair and having to justify one’s appearance. Tales of having to confirm one’s role to a patient who can’t fathom that you could possibly be a doctor and feeling frustrated at how difficult it can be for someone to reconcile your ethnicity with your competency. Microaggressions are rife in our everyday experience and can easily leave one feeling drained, and demoralised.

There are further issues concerning equality. In 2016, the NHS Equality and Diversity Council released the Workforce Race and Equality Standard (WRES) report which surveyed the experiences of BAME and white staff and found that BAME staff were much more likely to be victims of harassment, bullying and abuse by staff or patients regardless of the trust’s location.  BAME staff felt more likely to be discriminated against and that equal opportunities did not exist in their place of work. A minor media storm arose in late 2018 when NHS Digital published findings exposing the pay disparity between black and white staff across the entire range of roles in the NHS. Black NHS doctors were found to be paid on average almost £10000 a year less than their white counterparts! Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) said:

“BAME doctors make up more than a third of the medical workforce and play a vital role, day in day out, delivering care to patients across the country. Yet these figures confirm that they…continue to face unacceptable barriers, penalties and discrimination in the health service.”

The BMA also highlighted that pay differentials are just one marker of BAME discrimination in Medicine, with BAME doctors having reported feeling they are at greater risk of harassment and bullying at work, and only 7% of senior managers in the NHS found to come from BAME backgrounds. The BMA also found that BAME doctors are more likely to face referral to the General Medical Council, more likely to be investigated and face harsher sanctions following investigation. Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba is a key recent case which comes to mind; a previously flawless doctor became the poster-child and scapegoat of systemic failure and the wider exceptional pressures most doctors are all too aware of. How much did her background influence the ferociousness with which she was initially investigated and sanctioned? 

Such inequalities should not exist in 2019, as everyone should have equal opportunity to reach their potential regardless of their background. Yes, there has been great progress in recent years regarding gender inequalities for example, but the need for change in resolving racial inequalities in Medicine have either for too long been ignored, or changes not seen to the extent or pace required.

Medical schools, the NHS and their affiliated management structures need to do more to empower BAME employee and student voices to inform change, while also addressing the unconscious biases and overt discriminations which exist. There needs to be practical support provided to aid race pay-gap reporting, so these discrepancies can be addressed. There needs to be work done to address the differential attainment in medical education and training, to widen access to the progression, to help secure a greater degree of fairness in fitness to practice proceedings and prevent disproportionate disciplinary action. These and more will go a long way in creating a more supportive and inclusive environment for BAME doctors and medical students.

For these reasons and more, I’m proud to be associated with Melanin Medics - a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the UK community of African-Caribbean aspiring medics, medical students and medical professionals, while also tackling the underrepresentation of African-Caribbean’s in the UK Medicine. Melanin Medics is focused on implementing practical, effective and positive solutions to help to overcome ethnic minority underrepresentation and the multiple socio-economic barriers which exist in the medical profession.

BAME doctors have cited a lack of role models as a barrier to progression, and they are more likely to feel that their background negatively affects their development opportunities. It is said that you cannot be what you cannot see, and this is why BAME representation in Medicine is key. Changes are needed to make Medicine more appealing to BAME youths, to engineer more support for BAME medical students and to strengthen the communal links of power between those already working on the frontlines and those looking to join them as they train. By increasing the exposure of young BAME doctors and placing the spotlight on those BAME doctors making major waves in the profession, and by creating a network between BAME professionals for the sharing of ideas and experiences, we can demonstrate what is required and what is achievable.

The demographic of our nation has changed significantly over the past 25 years. And while the numbers of BAME representation in Medicine have gradually increased, there is still more work to be done to further change the face of Medicine. As demonstrated in this article, there are many barriers standing in the way of a BAME medic. Despite this, we at Melanin Medics believe there is no barrier which is insurmountable. Despite the various adversities which lie in our paths, we must choose to pursue excellence!

It inspires me to see the recent influx of groups focused on increasing BAME representation in Medicine, groups looking to foster working relationships in those communities and shine spotlights on outstanding BAME medical representatives. It is great to have initiatives like the GMC’s BME Doctor’s Forum which aims to help the GMC’s regulatory work respond better to the needs of UK BAME doctors.

It cannot be denied that a great number of significant barriers to race equality in Medicine still exist – from the ‘cradle to the grave’ i.e. from the opportunity to enter medical school all the way through to the end of one’s medical career. We need to do more. We need to strive to do more. There are many roadblocks which need to be broken down and many more glass ceilings which need to be broken through; but having already seen much progress made over the last 25 years, it is entirely possible that with new movements in the offing the BAME community will get closer to parity in the near future. The NHS is held together by a rich tapestry of talent, with its various strands provided by people from all backgrounds and communities; for this reason, we must endeavour more to allow the facilitation and celebration of diversity at all levels of the NHS.

Written by Dr Jermaine Bamfo. Psychiatry Registrar.

Mentioned Links

Melanin Medics: Website https://www.melaninmedics.com Twitter @melaninmedics Instagram @melaninmedics

GMC’s BME Doctor’s Forum: https://www.gmc-uk.org/about/how-we-work/equality-and-diversity/black-and-minority-ethnic-doctors-forum