Australia

Women endure most Islamophobia in Australia, study finds

A mural showing the eyes of a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, painted on a wall in an inner city suburb of Sydney (October 2, 2014) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The study analysed 243 Islamophobic incidents in Australia

Hanan Merheb was walking along a busy Sydney road listening to music when she was punched in the face in what police said was an Islamophobic attack.

The university student, 19, believes the only reason she was assaulted was because she was wearing a headscarf.

"I felt pretty unsafe," Ms Merheb told the BBC. "I was pretty angry that this happened to me in my home country."

A study has found that women wearing head coverings are most at risk of Islamophobic attacks in Australia.

The report has been billed as the nation's first of its kind.

Intervention rare

The study analysed 243 incidents reported to the Islamophobia Register of Australia between September 2014 and December 2015.

Almost three-quarters of those behind the abuse were male.

The victims were 68% women - four in five of them were wearing a head covering. Of female victims, more than 30% were accompanied by a child at the time.

Despite about half of the incidents taking place in public, bystanders intervened in only 25% of cases.

The authors defined an Islamophobic incident as any act of "abusive hatred, vilification and violence inflicted on Muslims going about their daily lives".

The Islamophobia in Australia study involved several universities, the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia and the Diversity Council Australia.

Drawing conclusions

Ms Merheb said although her minor bruising and facial cuts had healed after the May incident, she remained uneasy about wearing a headscarf in public.

"Every person I know who wears it is always wary that something is going to happen," she said.

Study co-author Dr Mehmet Ozalp, from Charles Sturt University, said Islamophobia was often a reaction to anti-Islam political rhetoric and media coverage of terrorism.

"Over time people associate Islam and Muslims with terrorism and violence - and they lash out in anger at that," said Dr Ozalp.

"But it is these innocent Muslims - mainly women - that are visible in public."

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Media captionIs Islamophobia on the rise?

Dr Ozalp said that Islamophobia should be better researched and documented around the world.

"I think the first solution is that the problem has to be recognised at all levels including in academia and political circles," he said.

Reporting by the BBC's Greg Dunlop

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