Veils and sails: Navy sets out to recruit Muslim women

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The Independent Online
The Royal Navy is to launch a recruitment drive to bring the first Muslim women into the service. Ian Burrell reports on how naval procedures are being changed to accommodate their religious needs.

The yashmaks are the outstanding problem. Naval chiefs are currently in talks with their counterparts in Pakistan and Turkey to see if the traditional Muslim veil could be incorporated into a naval uniform.

Otherwise, everything is in place to pipe aboard the first female Muslim recruits into the Royal Navy next September.

Potential Muslim Wrens are expected to undergo a two-week programme on naval life. in Glasgow next month.

Commander Keith Manchanda, who is supervising the recruitment drive, said that he was trying to overcome the beliefs that the Navy made no concessions for minority religions and was discriminatory.

He said that during the past six months a succession of changes had been introduced to make the Navy an attractive career option for Muslim women. "Once we get one or two coming through the system we can use them as role models and once we have that we will get an influx," he said.

The Navy is concerned that it is being ignored by Asian women, whose academic achievements have been highlighted in successive studies.

Muslim women would be allowed to take their swimming test without men present, he said. The Wren's winter "rig" of long-sleeved shirt and trousers could be worn all year round by Muslim ratings who are required to keep their arms and legs covered and would eschew the skirts and short sleeves worn by Wrens in warmer conditions.

Whether yashmaks are incorporated into the uniform depends largely on the advice from other Muslim countries. In the Turkish navy, female ratings do not wear a veil. Their uniforms are similar to those of Western servicewomen.

Commander Manchanda said that he had been able to reassure a Manchester- based engineering graduate of Bangladeshi parentage that she would be welcome. "I am hoping she will be among our September intake," he said.

Part of the Navy's difficulty will be overcoming family opposition. Fiaz Khan, of the Ethnic Minority Enterprise Centre in Glasgow, which will host the first induction course next month, said: "We will be equally targeting women as well as men. The problem is that Muslim females are not encouraged to seek careers in the job market in general."