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08 March 2015

I am Girl

In May 2013, I watched The Stoning of Soraya M., and I started writing this blog post. 

Today, on account of it being International Women's Day and the discussions happening all around me, I will finish what I started writing. I must preface my post by saying that I am not a social expert. I am not a historian. I am only an observer in this life of mine, trying to make sense of what I've seen, heard and felt in my years on this planet. And you know what else, I must mention that perhaps my name - an ancient land in Yemen ruled by Queen Balquis, lends itself quite nicely to my determined, outspoken personality!
Within minutes of starting to watch The Stoning of Soraya M, I knew it would hit some very sensitive nerves with me. The theme of men controlling women and using religion as their justification made my blood boil. I cried so much, thinking of all the losses women must suffer on account of their sex and / or "religion". 

I will try not to let emotion get in the way, but I guess it's difficult when it's a subject so close to home.

I am a very, very fortunate person. I have a family who are kind to me and my dear father, may he rest in peace, never made me feel that I was worth anything less than my brothers or the people around me. There are women who are brought down their entire lives, told that they are worth nothing, until they believe it themselves, and worse, proceed to tell other women around them that they, too, are worthless.

I don't make out that I understand what these women go through, or know the kind of emotional abuse they, sometimes unknowingly, suffer. I do know women who have stopped going to school at the age of 11, because it was wrong for them to be in a class taught by a man. It was a'aib (shameful) or haram (against Islam). Imagine, generations of girls growing up uneducated, not being able to read or write. Tradition then stipulated that they be married off to a man whom they may never live with, who is in a different country sending them money, while they stay at home with their mothers and serve the males around them.

These women do not feel that they are victims, they feel that this is the norm and are usually grateful to be married rather than growing up a spinster. Which does make me realise that, what is happiness for me is not happiness for them. But that is getting off topic.

I get angry because I see men stopping women from advancing, using excuses like Islam prohibits it, or that it's a'aib or that it's "for their own good". And so all of these women believe that, indeed, these men are looking after their welfare by taking their salaries and marrying them off to men and taking their dowries and stealing their inheritance. It's all because these men care about them and, even if they disagreed, they wouldn't dare challenge them because they are men. I have seen sister grow up never challenging their brothers because they are the men in the house and their opinions, as women, amounted to nothing.

It's an easy trap to fall into if you live in a society like that. To believe that you are only worth as much as the men tell you are. You are disposable. If you do have an idea, a dream of bettering yourself, everyone around you, women included, tell you that you are crazy. That this idea won't work. That you will bring shame. And that you will be ousted from the family if you bring dishonour.

Family. The people who are meant to love you unconditionally. Instead, they hammer at your head, until you are at ground level and believe irrational things like your son is worth more than your daughter and you teach her this. And the cycle continues.

Of course all of these (depressing) thoughts made me think of empowerment. I don't believe that empowerment or liberation is acting recklessly without accountability. I also don't believe that empowerment is demanding to be equal with men. We are not equal to men. Men are not equal to us. That is why life is so wonderful - we are different and we are complimentary. But what we do need to strive for is having the same opportunities, the same options. That is equality. That is what this movement is about, has been about and should continue to be about.

And I think empowerment goes deeper than that. I don't believe it's telling someone that they are better than someone else. I believe it's telling someone that they throughout their lives, they will be presented with the same opportunities as everyone else around them, regardless of gender. Imagine if we began to instill this confidence in women. The world would change, for the better.

I have a real issue with the term "feminism" and the negative connotations attached to it. It seems as though when a man calls for equal rights for men and women, he is hailed as a liberal, as a hero, a warrior. But when a woman does the same, she is labelled a feminist. I almost began to think that feminism was only attributable to females, in the way that some people around me used the term to only describe women striving for their rights. So this morning, and before I came to hash out my thoughts on this forum, I looked up the word "feminism". Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster:

As I suspected, feminism did not call for a biased treatment of women. It calls for equal treatment. For those that think that feminists insist that everything should be divided 50-50 between men and women (for example, that out of 10 board members 5 must be women), you are missing the point. Perhaps men are better suited to the corporate world. Perhaps women are better suited to be teachers. But the opportunity to be either should be the same for both sexes. If you are telling me that men are getting certain jobs more than women are because they are more qualified for those roles (after, say, an interview process), then I have no issue with that. Currently, unfortunately, women are not given those opportunities. And even more sadly, women get paid less than men for the exact same job. The glass ceiling is real and it's time we eliminate it.

I started reading a book last night. It's called Men Explain Things to Me. I am not very far into this collection of essays, but the author said something that struck me. She said, 

"Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simple for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being."

Ain't that the truth? When a woman MP speaks into that mic, not only is she making the point she is hoping to make, she is also fighting against generations of people believing that she has no place in Parliament. She is fighting to validate her appointment, to give credibility to her voice. Her words are not always heard for what they are. They are marred by the niggling thoughts in some of her peers' heads. She is up there proving that she is worthy of being up there and trying to get her point across, at the same time. And without being too emotional, or passionate, or compassionate, or tough, or rude, or loud, or soft spoken. So many variables to keep in check, so that you can come off as "not an emotional woman".

These thoughts had to come off my chest. This topic is so close to my heart, it's so close to my upbringing, to who I am. The strive for equality for our genders, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters cannot be halted, suspended. Maybe it's time a new word replaces "feminism" to give way for positive connotations and actions to follow them. I don't know. I just know that this topic is real, that women around the world are mistreated and that we need to change the status quo.


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