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Language, Gender and Citizenship: Obstacles in the Path to Learning English for Bangladeshi Women in London's East End / Nilufar Ahmed

Sociological Research Online

Swansea University Author: Ahmed, Nilufar

Abstract

A key element of the Government's citizenship strategy is the requirement that all immigrants have a basic command of English. The lack of English speaking skills has been identified as a contributory factor to much of the social unrest amongst different communities in the UK. It has been argue...

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Published in: Sociological Research Online
Published: 2008
Online Access: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/13/5/12.html
URI: https://cronfa.swan.ac.uk/Record/cronfa24924
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Abstract: A key element of the Government's citizenship strategy is the requirement that all immigrants have a basic command of English. The lack of English speaking skills has been identified as a contributory factor to much of the social unrest amongst different communities in the UK. It has been argued that the ability to speak English will allow immigrants to integrate better, create more cohesive communities and reduce segregation. This paper will question the emphasis placed on language proficiency in reducing segregation and discuss issues around language and citizenship by exploring the experiences of Bangladeshi women living in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Drawing on qualitative interviews it will argue that while the ability to speak English may indeed enhance elements of women's lives and allow them to engage more actively in the community, there may be an over-emphasis on its role in reducing segregation. The paper also argues that learning English is not simply a matter of personal choice, multiple cultural and gendered factors intersect to sometimes limit individual's options. Within the Bangladeshi community, women's voices are the least heard, their opinions are rarely sought and it is usually the men from the community who speak on behalf of the women. This paper will show how whilst Asian men were denouncing policies to encourage learning English, women expressed a strong desire to be able to speak English, yet identified a range of obstacles preventing them from being able to learn. It is suggested that more attention needs to be paid to women's needs to help facilitate their participation in the community and aid them to achieve full citizenship status. This is turn can enable women to help create more cohesive communities
Keywords: Gender, Bangladeshi Women; Citizenship; Learning English, Tower Hamlets, Immigration
College: College of Human and Health Sciences