“British Bangladeshi and Congolese young people in London: do their experiences of political participation differ and why?” Dimitra Pachi & Martyn Barrett University of Surrey, UK Paper presented at the Bologna PIDOP Conference 2011, “Engaged Citizens? Political Participation And Civic Engagement Among Youth, Women, Minorities And Migrants”, May 11th-12th 2011, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy.
British Bangladeshi community: • well-established community (’60s)– came to the UK for economical reasons • 283,063 Bangladeshis live in England and 118,346 (estimate) live in greater London • 60% of Bangladeshis have a low income, 20% suffer from unemployment; 2nd generation young women are doing better than their male equivalents (Census, 2001) • Muslim group
Congolese community: • New community (’90s)- came to the UK for political reasons • 20,000 Congolese live in England, the majority of which (15,000) live in the greater London area (Lukes, 2008; International Organisation for Migration 2006) • Lingala and/or French speaking community • The majority subscribes to different Christian denominations/traditions (Catholicism, Kimbanguism, Charismatic) (Garbin & Pambu, 2009) • Low socio-economic level, high levels of unemployment in comparison to other African groups
Introduction • Decline of political participation? The answer: Yes and No to voluntary and less direct activities using new means of social/political information and communication a shift from strictly institutional and traditional forms of political participation (Curtice, 2005; Zukin, Keeter, Andolina, Jenkins & Delli Carpini, 2006) Also happening amongst ethnic minority youth (Stepick & Stepick, 2002; Jensen, 2008) Existing research has shown that girls get more engaged with ethnocultural associations than boys (Dion & Dion, 2001)
Research questions 1. What is the role of discrimination in young people’s decision to participate? 2. What other factors affect young people’s political/civic participation? • Members of well-established vs new ethnic communities? (how they feel and how the society/state sees them)? • Boys vs girls? within Bangladeshi and Congolese traditional gender roles? • Young people below 18 years old vs above 18 years old?
Method • The same procedure followed by all of the teams of the project: • Snowball sampling method allowing us to move through different youth organisations and people with the characteristics of our target population. • 9 focus groups with British Bangladeshi and Congolese young people aged 16-18 years old and 20-26 years old living in London. • Most groups were gender mixed although for cultural and practical reasons some groups were gender specific e.g. the youngest Bangladeshi groups were gender specific; Bangladeshi youth centres have separate activity days for boys and girls
Analytic strategy • Due to the exploratory aims of the present study Thematic analysis was conducted to identify themes (Joffe & Yardley, 2004; Braun & Clarke, 2006). • Both semantic and latent themes were identified in the data (Joffe & Yardley, 2004) and analysed after repeated readings. • In this process, first categories were generated based on the elements of the data relevant to the present study, and then these were combined into themes (Braun & Clarke, 2006).
Results- Summary of themes: • Common themes to both ethnic groups: • Very limited civic participation • Political and social discrimination in terms of age • Immaturity- Lack of knowledge • Lack of effectiveness of one’s political participation: political and societal disinterest and unresponsiveness • Victimisation of young people – self-attribution • Lack of personal interest in other groups • Lack of knowledge of political/social issues • Local vs national opportunities for participation • Traditional gender roles: disempowered women confined in the domestic space
Themes specific to each ethnic group: • Congolese young people: • Racial discrimination - Stereotypes against “black males” in the justice system • Lack of “revolutionary” history in Britain (difference with France) • Lack of identification with Britain • Bangladeshi young people: • Discrimination in the contact with institutions such as the police –Discrimination not a deterrent for political/civic participation • Importance of individual action • Divided attitudes • Depends on the topic and the age • Confusion between religious and cultural traditions: Islam empowers women while Bangladeshi tradition disempowers them
Political and social discrimination in terms of age • “I don’t think there really is a way, I think like young people don’t have opportunities to like express their views and yeah people don’t really come to young people to ask their opinions, well now you are, but I mean like large scale decisions, they wouldn’t come” (Bangladeshi female, 20 years old) (Bangladeshi male, 16-18 years old, p.6) • “Cos the older people think they know more than the younger people…that’s what it is…you wouldn't listen to me if I was to tell you what to do and you are ten years older, you wouldn't listen to me” (Bangladeshi male, 17 years old) (PartB4.5, l. 514-516, p. 12) • “Congolese male 1 No… You talk to them and just ‘oh what are you saying, look he is a little kid, what he is saying, we don’t need to care about all that ….. Congolese male 2 Yeah, cos they think young people are immature…Not taken seriously, we are taken as a joke” (Congolese males, 17 years old) (Surma, p.18)
Lack of effectiveness of one’s actions “PartB2 I don’t intend to register, I think it’s a waste of time, I think it doesn’t matter who you vote for, it’s already done and dusted, they have already picked who they are gonna pick, it’s, I think, but I believe that the government doesn’t care about anything or anyone, they are gonna do what they are gonna do regardless, they went to the war on Iraq, that was one example, and as many examples, I personally feel it doesn’t matter Interviewer2 Ok, what about you? PartB3 Yeah, I agree with the brother here, yeah … PartB2 No, they don’t care PartB3 Yeah” (Bangladeshi males, 16-18 years old) (p.30)
Continued… • “I don’t think voting makes a difference… Cos in 2005, Labour got 35.2% of the votes, 66% of people voted… 26% of the whole population actually wanted labour… doesn’t make a difference…. It’s really the tyranny of the minority if enough people can come together and vote labour, then labour would come in… but I don’t think politics works, I don’t think governments work… I go there and really waste my time voting… I don’t think anything really changes…” (Congolese female, 20-26 years old, Barking, p. 45) • Political disinterest • Lack of effectiveness of the system • Lack of effectiveness of one’s participation in the system
Young people’s fault • “I think it’s because we don’t voice it ourselves if you know what I mean…If we did have an interest we’d just be saying among ourselves… It’s probably our own fault…” (Congolese female, 16-18 years old, p.14) • “Lets say like experience, we won’t know what to talk about…you’ve got to research that stuff up for years years to know what to say, what to do” (Bangladeshi male, 16-18 years old p.14) • “I don’t think that there is that many young people that come out and say look I want to do this about this and I want to do that about that, cause I’ve never done anything like that, anyone that I knew never done anything like that so that’s why I am like, that’s why I am thinking to myself there are some, …” (Bangladeshi female, 16-18 years old, p.11)
Young people’s fault • Lack of personal initiative • lack of knowledge • lack of personal experience and • lack of peer influence
Local vs national opportunities • Both groups emphasised participation at a local level, at a community level. They considered it to be more effective and more accessible to young people • “Maybe a bond between young people here and there, making more citizen-aware of what they do…even if they don’t care about politics...but just doing something locally, cleaning up the environment…if you want a job, just create little communities where you can work together and just try to earn money…but if you are waiting for politicians to do something I am sorry but it’s a waste of time” (Congolese male, 20-26 years old, l.1248-1263, p.32) • “When young people are informed, it’s mainly by the borough, the council, random…you get leaflets through your post or posters put up in youth …” (Bangladeshi male, 16-18 years old, l.656-660, p.16)
Traditional gender roles: • Disempowering women and confining them in the domestic space • “Yeah…like Turkish they have their own women something, something going on…in Hackney…we got this organisation for women only….In Congo we don’t really have anything like that, or maybe I don’t know about it…because I think women in a society, especially like in Congo women are always treated like ‘you should be a certain way’…like respectful…Women in Congo you should be a certain way…So I think there should be in this country really like a place where Congolese women can meet up and…Because of lot of us we came here when we were young and a lot of the times we don’t know much about our culture…Like we should show it to the youngsters [50.10]….like for example…Muslims for example” (Congolese female, 20-26 years old, l. 1075-1083, p.25-26)
Congolese young people: Racial discrimination - Stereotypes against “young black males” in the justice system “Congolese female 1 But the thing is you see, cos he’s black, and he’s a boy and he is youth… they didn’t even let him talk… they just put him in (in jail) straight away… And there was no proof… Congolese female 2 And the judges are so racist, cos his sentencing it has finished already, but they stopping him to come out…” (16-18 years old, Church, p.13)
History of the country • “The way… that way of expressing yourself through like… a person, you know, representing you and going to a certain path, you know… But, like in France, they are protesting, they use violence, they use emotions…, you know…” (Congolese male, 20-26 years old, l.438-440, p.11) • “It may be the culture, cos in France, when they had the revolution, it was through…[Interviewer1: violence]…violence and… I’m not saying violence is the way…but Malcom X said there’s no revolution without blood. He’s not completely wrong, but it’s not right at all, but there should be something” (Congolese male, 20-26 years old)
History of the country • Comparison with another European country- the country they know better • Reference to the culture of engagement in the public sphere of each country; Britain not identified as having a “revolutionary” past is perceived to affect people’s participation
Lack of identification with Britain • “…very hmm like ‘well, this is not my country’, [lingala] armo ya bandele tosa na biso no ngai … they (young Congolese people) think like that…”(Congolese female, 20-26 years old, l.489-490, p.12) • Participation is associated with identification. People who don’t identify with the country of residence will not participate.
Bangladeshi young people: Perceived discrimination: • 16-18 years olds:In the everyday contact with the police • Young boys described in detail numerous incidents of their daily lives where they are stopped, chased, arrested by the police, for no “apparent reason” • Distrust, perceived lack of responsiveness and lack of respect by the representatives of this institution • 20+ year olds talk about: - Police raids in their houses; it brings shame to the family - At the airport, they are stopped and searched due to their religious symbols (beard, dressing style) • Across ages, female participants talk about personal/family experiences of bullying - in the street, at work (Burka) • No relationship of discrimination with political/civic participation • Religious discrimination part of the “War on Terror”
Importance of individual action “I think mostly at school, they are spoon-fed as well. So they are literally giving everything to you and then when you get out of edu…like school and go to university, which is just independent. You think I’m not getting spoon-fed so you find it really hard. I’m talking from experience, but I came out of college and school where I was spoon-fed and I was given everything to me. And when I went to university, you have to do everything for yourself, so it’s quite difficult. Interviewer1 Intimidating? PartB4.4 It’s quite difficult as well, as in where to start, where to begin, how to start as well.” (Bangladeshi male, 20-26 years old, l.404-415, p.10) • Importance of individual action, but also no guidance by the state how to take individual action
Expression vs Bringing change • “Interviewer1 Yeah, why did you say that you can’t see any resources? PartBG4.3 Well if I wanted to make a change I can’t come to this youth centre, say I wanna do this and it is gonna happen PartBG5.3 Because it is usually adults that make the decisions” (Bangladeshi males, 20-26 years old, p.9)
Divided attitudes • Acknowledgement of existing opportunities and of participation amongst youth. Opportunities exist but they are not enough… • “I think that personally, that young people is a funny subject, because they are always, usually into two camps, either they are well engaged or they are completely disconnected” (Bangladeshi male, 20-26 years old, p.5) • “I think it’s 50/50 because you do have the youth mayor, and you have young programs, like internships and placements and stuff, for people who have been unemployed or people who haven’t gone into education, who stopped education to go in.” (Bangladeshi female, 20-26 years old, l. 137-144, p.4) • “Yeah, but not enough, but yeah they do (the officials give young people opportunities) ” (Bangladeshi male, 16-18 years old, p4)
Depends on the age and the topic • Depends on the age: voting age is a pivotal time • “….But there’s another side like, the voting is 18+ and youth and young people start from the age of 16 or probably even under, now they are more advanced. So sixteen year olds and under probably missing out on the whole voting system and understanding because they can’t vote or they’re not allowed to vote, they think this issue, politics isn’t important for me now, they don’t look into it anymore.” (PartB4.4, l. 137-144, p.4) • Depends on the topic, they have a say for issues affecting them directly • “I think topics that affect our life, the youths, the young people’s lives and their lifestyle and stuff. Those are the topics that we are allowed to sort of have a say in. I don think they can sort of decide for us…they think they know what’s right for us. They don’t think we have a right in saying, in what we think is right for us.” (PartB1.4, l. 466-469, p.11)
Confusion between religion and culture • “I chose women's rights ‘we can do it’ because it definitely combines my personality very well and I think that me coming from Islamic background, that people confuse culture and religion together…a woman has rights and I think that religiously, like people say a woman can’t do this and woman can’t do this…women should be at home…well they can do a lot of things actually… it’s just you just get confused with the culture…and the religion.” (Bangladeshi female, 20-26 years old, l.38-42, p.1) • “Yes, exactly what you just said, interpret their own religion because they mix Islam and they mix Bengali culture whatever culture you know, put it together with Islamic culture…which I think it’s stupid and ridiculous because in Islam it clearly says that women have all rights as men, as long as women are covered up and they wear the headscarf at school…that’s fine…who says Islam or Muslim, or Islamic culture that women can't work… it’s in Bengali culture…most families ‘no I don't want my woman to work’…it’s stupid!” (Bangladeshifemale, 20-26 years old, l. 824-830, p.19-20)
Conclusions • Racial discrimination at an official level e.g. judicial system, police is still a problem only for young male Congolese • Religious discrimination is a problem for Bangladeshi participants. • Only age discrimination is related to political participation: a very important factor of official, social and political discrimination and exclusion; it discourages young people to participate when they have the right to vote and get more involved officially Other important conclusions: • Points of reference: not only the country of origin, but also the former colonial power (i.e. Belgium), other countries of destination (e.g. France) vs the country of residence (history of each country) – Diaspora identity • Bangladeshi young people acknowledge the existing opportunities and they participate more using the official routes
General conclusion • Different issues need to be addressed when trying to encourage young people’s participation depending on the ethnic background of young people (integration levels, traditional gender roles) and the age of young people.
Acknowledgements The research reported in this paper was supported by a grant received from the European Commission 7th Framework Programme, FP7- SSH-2007-1, Grant Agreement no: 225282, Processes Influencing Democratic Ownership and Participation (PIDOP) awarded to the University of Surrey (UK), University of Liège (Belgium), Masaryk University (Czech Republic), University of Jena (Germany), University of Bologna (Italy), University of Porto (Portugal), Örebro University (Sweden), Ankara University (Turkey) and Queen’s University Belfast (UK)