MADRID: In May 2019, Maysoun Douas became the first Muslim councilor in Madrid.
Born in Spain to Moroccan parents, she describes herself as a Muslim feminist, an entrepreneur, a social activist and an innovation expert. She has a doctorate in physics, and launched her career in politics with the Más Madrid (More Madrid) party.
Douas said she was invited last year to run for a seat on Madrid’s Municipality by the then mayor Manuela Carmena, who placed her 12th on a list of 25 candidates. She had no previous experience or involvement with political parties or movements.
“When I received the call….I agreed to join an open platform (developed) by politicians and professionals who want to leverage the positive effects of previous years, especially in terms of social budget expenses, good financial figures, fair taxes, innovative management of mobility, and civil participation in city governance,” she said.
“Previously, I was the ecosystem builder for urban innovation hub La Nave, so I was very aware of the city’s potential when innovation and entrepreneurship are encouraged.”
Douas, 37, wants to shake up the business community in the Spanish capital by encouraging a better environment for innovation.
“My aim is to make Madrid a city with a more innovative character by making it more welcoming to disruptive and technological startups,” she said.
Douas was the first councilor in Madrid to wear a Hijab; in fact it is unusual in Spain to see public figures wearing the traditional head covering. However, she said that the challenges she has faced at the start of her new job have more to do to with a lack of political experience than her Muslim identity.
“It is a new experience for all of us, for my colleagues in the party and also my colleagues in the city hall, and of course for me,” she said. “The challenges I faced were related to my political skills, which I am still developing.”
There had been an expectation that she would focus on issues related to ethnic and religious minorities, Douas said, even though some of her colleagues have devoted their political lives to such issues. She urged the people of Madrid to look beyond her appearance and religious beliefs and listen to her ideas and plans for the city.
“I consider myself more than just a Muslim woman wearing a hijab,” she said. “Like everyone I have my values, many of which are universal, yet my responsibility goes beyond minority representation; it is about loyalty to the city of Madrid and about serving my neighbors and advocating for their interests and welfare.”
Douas, who is married with four children, said that she relies on her diverse experience outside of politics to help her better serve the people of the city.
“My professional experience as a doctor of physics, entrepreneur, social activist and innovation expert is what really allows me to serve Madrid the best I can,” she explained. “Together, all these experiences make me aware of the issues affecting the city and citizens.”
People in Spain are still often shocked to learn that she is a Muslim and a feminist, Douas said, but she believes that what matters most is for women to support each other, regardless of their backgrounds. There is no single, definitive form of feminism but several schools of thought, she added, and the unifying factor is that each person “agrees to advocate for women rights.”
She believes there is a need for global society to embrace a more inclusive approach, especially with regards to feminism and women’s rights.
“It is time….to let everyone know that women are supporting women in achieving their rights regardless of religion, ethnicity, culture or origins,” she said.
It is natural to wonder whether Douas has shattered any stereotypes about Muslim women in Spain, but she said the real question should be whether the attitudes of people in Spanish society are starting to change as they engage more with Muslims.
“I was born in Granada (in southern Spain), and raised in Madrid,” she said. “Along the way I had had to break many stereotypes. I do not see it as a bad (thing but rather) the way to push diversity as part of our society.”
She added that it might be better to pose the question the other way around, by asking her friends and colleagues, and the wider public, if and how their thoughts about Islam, Muslims and Muslim women changed after meeting her or other Muslim women.
Some observers consider Spain to be lagging behind some other European countries in embracing diversity. It is still rare, for example, to see a woman wearing a hijab in the workplace. However, Douas said there has been a shift toward the acceptance of diversity as a value, and taking pride in it.
While many Muslim women might have struggled to gain acceptance at work and build a career, the challenges have made them more resilient, she said, and provided the motivation to push themselves to develop skills and abilities so that they are more qualified than their colleagues for promotions and career advancement.
“Hopefully, because of that they are more present in the labor market now,” Douas added.
She said young Muslim women in Spain with political ambitions should not necessarily view politics as a career but instead as an opportunity “to be a part of the social decisions that end with the political process.”
She added: “Political participation is very wide ranging, and there is room for many initiatives and social roles to be fulfilled.”