A voice for newcomers in Sweden

'My hijab isn't about religion any more - it's about identity and I'm not taking it off'


Published: 05.Oct.2016 13:37 hrs

Some classmates mocked her Swedish and prospective employers disliked her veil, but Najat Benyahia explains why she’s proud of graduating from university and has no intention of shedding her hijab.

When 28-year-old engineer Najat Benyahia from Morocco joined her husband in Sweden in 2010 she quickly learned the language and started looking for work. 

Before starting her studies she applied for a cleaning job at Halmstad University, where she would later complete her degree. On the phone the recruiter was keen as mustard, but that was before Benyahia showed up for her interview wearing a hijab. 

“The interviewer told me they didn’t actually need anyone and had already received enough applications.” 

Some employers just won’t recruit veiled women, Benyahia believes. 

“Just to be clear: a veiled woman with a degree will find it easier to get a job. However, it will still be tougher for her than for non-veiled women with the same qualifications.”

Benyahia worries that many Swedes view the hijab as synonymous with the subjugation of ignorant, unthinking women. 

“A veiled woman is just a normal woman with a headscarf,” she says.   

“My hijab is not about religion any more. It’s about identity and I won’t remove it to gain acceptance.”

Frustrating though they may be, she doesn’t take these prejudices personally, and nor does she believe they are peculiar to Sweden. 

But what did hurt her was her university classmates’ mockery of her accent. 

“Sometimes when I had to present my work at the university I ended up astonished and shocked by the students’ murmuring and laughter. 

“Many students decided not to include me in group activities, claiming that my accent would deteriorate their grades,” she says. 

But Benyahia, who speaks Arabic, French, English and Swedish, redoubled her efforts and emerged from the university with a degree in renewable energy engineering. 

“Despite my harshly mocked accent I graduated with much higher grades than many of my native Swedish speaking colleagues,” she says. 

“I just wonder what to would be like for any of my mockers, if they were to study Arabic for example, and hold presentations at Cairo University in Egypt in just two years?”

Armed with a qualification, her job hunt bore fruit: Benyahia now works as an electrical engineer with the Swedish Transport Administration in Gothenburg. 

“Public employers are way better than private ones in employing headscarfed women,” she says.

Note: Najat's story is also featured in MIG Talks, a a joint communications effort initiated by the Swedish Migration Agency. Read more here (in Swedish).

 

More Stories

Anas Awad with his "Swedish family" told his story to The Local Voices

Sharing the best of The Local Voices

We told a lot of great stories in 2016. Did you get to read and share them all? READ
Sweden's ice hockey champs are set to enjoy a triumphant homecoming on Monday after retaining their world championship title with a dramatic shoot-out victory. READ
For British communications professional Georgina Varadi, moving to Sweden has meant being more engaged and also having a more fulfilling work-life balance. READ
The Islamic Cultural Center of Hässleholm was destroyed in a fire on Saturday night. READ
A four-month-old law banning the use of mobile phones in the car has not had much of an effect on Sweden’s motorists. READ
Photo: Erik Gerhardsson

'History will record how everyone reacted to the Syrian tragedy'

Erik, a 21-year-old Swedish volunteer, reflects on his experience helping refugees in Sweden and abroad. READ
Haitian-born Canadian Adonis Stevenson retained his World Boxing Council light-heavyweight title on Saturday after fighting Sweden's Badou Jack to a majority draw in which no judge scored him a winner. READ
Title-holders Sweden booked their place in the final of the world ice hockey championships Saturday with a 6-0 whitewash of the United States. READ
A technical problem at Stockholm Arlanda airport on Saturday caused the cancellation of a large number of flights in and out of the airport. READ
Things are looking good for Swedes’ beloved strawberries. READ

This Iranian teaches Swedish online to 10,000 followers

"I’m exporting Swedish to my homeland." READ