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Archive for March, 2017

Happy International women’s day! To those of you who are unfamiliar, International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women all over the world.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has been observed since in the early 1900’s – a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. International Women’s Day is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity.

World-renowned feminist, journalist and social and political activist Gloria Steinem said, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights”. Thus International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – whatever that looks like globally and locally.

As a woman, for me, IWD is a day to celebrate the achievements of our gender, past and present. Whether it’s Ida B Wells, the African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist, Georgist, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement, or Ada Lovelace, Countess of Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer, or even the Egyptian Lotfia ElNadi who was the first African woman as well as first Arab woman to earn a pilot’s license. All these women have paved the way in their respective fields so that we have the rights we do today – The right to vote, to work, to represent others in government. And the rights we still fight for – rights to make decisions for our bodies that are unrestricted by taxes on female hygiene products, abortion laws or FGM practices. It is our responsibility not only today, but every day – to ensure we work to maintain our rights and that they are given to women all over the world.

As a Muslim woman, IWD means reflecting not on the turbulence of the past year but also on the greater history of Muslim women throughout time and the skills and qualities our role models have pursued and possessed in order to persevere. Muslim women are the visible targets for increasing islamophobia and angry outlets of ignorance and fear. Muslim women are required to navigate not only the cultural stigma of being female in whatever country she is from, but also the social stigma that is increasingly pervasive in our globalised society in its many forms online, on the street and in government policies. Muslim women navigate the patriarchal interpretations of the Quran to understand and abide by the rights afforded to them in Islam in the face of ‘well-intentioned’ men and sometimes women who feel a responsibility to subjugate them under the guise of religious instruction. Muslim women navigate the social stigma attached to their dress code and resist the western hegemony that believes it has the right to dictate what women should wear and how they should act. Campaigns, events and even trending twitter hashtags such as the #dearsister hashtag are crucial to enlightening and empowering Muslim women through the sharing of knowledge to dispel the fear that comes from ignorance.

As an Australian woman, IWD is a time to reflect on the prevalence and severity of violence against women in Australia. On average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia. One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15. One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence. One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. One in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives. Of those women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care. Eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year. Domestic or family violence against women is the single largest driver of homelessness for women, a common factor in child protection notifications and results in a police call-out on average once every two minutes across the country. The combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.7 billion a year, with projections suggesting that if no further action is taken to prevent violence against women, costs will accumulate to $323.4 billion over a thirty-year period from 2015 to 2045.

Australia – we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ourselves and our society to be better. To do better. Violence against women in any form is unacceptable, and the growing evidence that women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience both far higher rates and more severe forms of violence compared to other women is a sad testament to the state of our society. We must urge our government to take action and put in place measures to ensure Australia turns back from this alarming growth and stays on track to becoming a safer and healthier environment for women of all ages, ethnicities and abilities.

As a woman of Bangladeshi heritage, IWD is a time to celebrate the achievements of great women my country has produced such as Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a Bengali writer, educationist, social activist, and advocate of women’s rights who was and is considered the pioneer feminist of Bengal. It is also a time to reflect on the continuance of child marriages, the giving and taking of dowry, domestic violence, rape, acid attacks and sexual harassment. From the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, women in every strata of Bengali society whether at home or abroad face challenges as a result of being a woman. A working women, a thinking woman. According to a recent PwC report, Bangladesh’s economy is likely to grow at the fastest rate after Vietnam and India in the next 34 years. Let’s work to ensure our attention to developing security, education and rights for women grows at a greater pace.

International Women’s Day has been occurring for well over a century – and continues to grow from strength to strength. For International Women’s Day 2017, we’re asking you to #BeBoldForChange. Call on the masses, call on yourself and help forge a better working world. A more inclusive, gender equal world where every girl and every woman has the freedom to try, aspire and achieve.

Happy International Women’s day 2017!

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There is a very specific way in which our parents’ generation view gender norms, especially with regards to marriage for their children in western society. It is different to the culture they left behind when they migrated here (which has since progressed without them) and unlike the western culture in the country they now call home (which they find too ‘white’). Gendered hypocrisy in Bengali culture regarding marriage is a specific topic but its themes will resonate regardless of culture or marital status.

A while back, I was speaking to a friend about an arranged marriage prospect she was looking into, and she mentioned feeling the scrutiny of ‘aunties’ who wanted to know details of her life in order to find her a ‘good match’. These aunties do have a rightful place in Bengali culture where they effectively play the role of Tinder and the first few dates. Their detective work and CIA -like connections provide details of potential spouses that otherwise require multiple dates and a lot of ‘research’ aka online stalking – you know what I mean – who hasn’t googled a name and then looked into their FB, LinkedIn, Instagram etc etc.!

Anyway! These aunties are not perfect and many of them are a product of a socio-economic upbringing that reinforces Bangladeshi middle class stereotypes of gendered norms. So when these same women are tasked to ‘match up’ modern, young things living in a western country (or even modern young things from Bangladesh!) – There is a big discrepancy in what is acceptable and what they find acceptable.

Now that alone would be fine – everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when you hold the soft glossy paper of a beautiful young woman’s bio data in your hands and you have the power to shape how other people will receive information about her – your prejudices can do more harm than good.

Case in point – a young man and woman in our ‘community’ started seeing each other. Word got out and here are a few ‘rumours’ that were spread:

‘That girl is so modern. Too modern! How shameful for her parents that she’s dating so openly in public’

‘You know her dad works really long hours, doesn’t have time to teach her anything and her mum let’s her do whatever she wants.’

‘Who will marry her now if she breaks up with him? EVERYONE knows about them!’

Notice something? Not a single one of these ‘rumours’ is about the young man. Instead the aunties, the uncles and the community all spread gossip about the girl and even her family. First of all – it is none of your business what she does and who she does it with. You aren’t neighbourhood watch and even if you were this isn’t a kidnapping. Secondly – why bring her parents into this? If you are going to judge someone, judge them on their actions alone. Don’t bring in their family! And lastly – don’t you remember being young and single? Don’t you remember facing this same barrage of scrutiny and relentless criticism? Have some empathy!

When the couple broke up – the same aunties went on to say, ‘I told you – no one wants a fast girl, they will date her but not marry her. It’s not in our culture’.

Again, completely missing from these conversations is any comment directed towards the other 50% of the equation – aka the young man. The woman is to blame for being interested in someone, for dating them AND for breaking up with them because of course it was her fault.

When these same women sat down to discuss matching up ‘kids’, they bring these rumours to the fore and mothers seeking ‘beautiful, young, white girls’ for their ‘handsome, accomplished sons’ will look aghast at the prospect and move on.

Does it matter to these aunties that the ‘handsome accomplished son’ who is stated as ‘6ft and fair’ in his bio data is actually 5’8 and not (that fair)? Nope

Does it matter that he’s had a string of girlfriends that everyone knows about? Nope.

Does it matter that he has bad habits and his partying and spending is out of control? Nope.

Why? Because in our culture the man is ‘young and impressionable’ and ‘biye korle shob thik hoi jabe’ which means ‘everything will be alright after marriage’ Why? How? Is it because you are going to marry him off to a virginal young woman who will magically be able to reign him in and discipline him in a way you as his mother have not been able to? She has to be young enough so that you can mould her to your liking, pretty enough to entice your son, but also mature enough to be able to discipline him.

Add to that now she has to be accomplished (but not more than him. God forbid she has a PhD and he doesn’t), she has to be shorter and younger than him (yes our men (or at least their mommies) have complexes.

I feel that even young men and women raised in western societies are not as progressive as we would like them to be because of the sheltered communities they live in and the lack of intelligence and broad mindedness in those spheres. Parents need to stop being scared of their kids becoming ‘white’ or out of control if they mix with broader society. Even people ‘back home’ in Bangladesh have moved on from such narrow thinking!

It has been disappointing to see young men and women go through this embarrassing rumour mill process and yet, once they are through, somehow forget all about it and continue to propagate these same stereo types and play the same ‘aunty role’. If you adopt this mindset even though you’ve had the good fortune to be raised in a more open and tolerant society, then you will only end up teaching your kids the same thing and not breaking this vicious cycle. So to the young men and women out there who are being matched up and entering the world of parenting, please make sure you teach your kids about being more accepting so that we eventually phase out these old fashioned stereotypes within the next generation or two!

Why? Because this mindset is not only narrow and unforgiving, it’s also dangerous. There are women out there who have genuinely admitted they would stay in abusive relationships if it meant financial security. There are young women out there who see their dads beating their mums and not doing anything about it. That’s hard to listen to. It takes great effort not just stand up to your parents but to acknowledge that change begins within yourself and that sometimes even though you are younger – you have to guide your elders.

I know I might sound really mean and/or prejudiced towards men. I am not trying to be. There are great men out there and I know many of them. But men – it’s also your responsibility to correct this incorrect way of thinking and approaching gender norms not only regarding marriage but in all walks of life.

If your mother brings you a bio data of an 18 yr old and you are a 31 yr old man – allow it man! How much will you have in common with someone so young? Let her live! And make sure your own bio data hasn’t been spun to talk up your height and complexion!

If your father tells you, ‘there is no point pursuing this girl, she earns more than you.’ Stand up for her and let them know that financial parity is more than acceptable to you and you will live with it happily.

If the aunty at the party makes a snide comment about you being a stay-at-home dad, while your wife works, call her out and let her know that you were equally responsible for bringing your baby into the world and therefore equally responsible for its upbringing.

If your co-worker makes sexist jokes about the new girl in the office and her skirt, tell him off. Make sure he and others know it is not ok.

If they guy on the bus is staring at the woman sitting opposite him, move and stand in the way and make eye contact with him. I see you boy!

Girls – don’t put up with the judgement. Don’t let it get you down. You do you and you be you. Together we will outlive old notions of gender norms and encourage our children to be better.

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