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Posts Tagged ‘empowerment’

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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Like much of what we see on the news these days, the burqini issue was all consuming when it trended but ephemeral in its media shelf life. Media outlets would rather repeat what Donald Trump has to say over and over again. Given he repeats himself often, the double repetition serves as a hypnotic trance to which America and the world is slowly falling prey. But that’s another topic for another day. Right now I want to focus on the burqini – because as we’ve seen – the outrage was fleeting and victory was sweet. When the High Court of France overturned the burqini ban, everyone patted themselves on the back and got back to their daily lives, even though several French mayors said they will continue to fine those wearing the burqini despite the high court’s decision. David Rachline, the mayor of Frejus, called the court’s ruling a “victory for radical Islam” and said the city’s ban on the garment will remain.

What does this mean? Has any extremist group issues a fatwa that the burqini must be worn? How is a piece of cloth a representation of any radical faith? The answer is simple – It isn’t. But the concept itself is not so simple. Attached to this simple answer are socio-economic issues; racism, deep rooted misogyny and the male gaze and most of all Islamophobia. But I am not a stranger to complex and concurrent themes. I am a Muslim Australian born in Bangladesh and living in Canberra. My identity is rich in its history and known for its struggle. I am Muslim and Islam is known for ….well a lot. Google it and you’ll see. I am Australian and this country is nothing if not the land of the underdog. I am Bangladeshi and take pride in my county’s victorious independence after years of oppression. And I am woman – by virtue of that fact I am struggle personified. Struggling to be accepted, to be recognised, to be valued, to be free.

When I was 10, my school used to take us swimming and very soon I became the recipient of an award that authoritatively confirmed my floating skills. Then I moved schools and although my love for being in the water grew with each visit to the beautiful beaches of NSW – my aquatic skills did not. This was largely due to the fact that if I wanted to do anything more than dip my feet into the water I had to wear a swimming costume, Lycra tights or pants, a long sleeved shirt, a cap and a scarf.

Every time I went into the water dressed to the nines while bikini clad women swarmed around me – I was less conscious of people watching me than I was of the sand working its way into each and every layer and the dread building up inside me of have to wash it all out. It didn’t matter which beach I went to – no one cared what I was wearing. No one stared, commented or showed that they were offended. Everyone was more than happy to enjoy the beach in their own way. And so I stubbornly continued to layer up and venture out till the water reached my knees because I was too scared to go any further.

Then 2.5 years ago – I got married. And my husband, God bless him, started teaching me how to swim. First at the local pool, where he waited patiently before and after each session while I worked myself in and out of all my layers, and then at the beach. It was at the beach that my friend flaunted her Ahiida burqini and encouraged me to get one. I went online and made my purchase of a loose fitting green and pink suit with cap for $80AUD. A few weeks later my purchase arrived and I made my way to the beach. I cannot explain to you the joy of entering (and leaving) the water in this amazing creation. The material is light yet loose, the design is stylish yet thoughtful (shout out to the strings keeping the top tied to the pants so your top doesn’t float up and reveal anything) and the sensation of water against skin is not minimised at all. The best part – it dried on my body within 10-15 min of getting out of the water. No more strategically placed towels on the car seat, no more sandy wet tugging of numerous layers. This thing was a godsend. And everywhere I wore it people stared… and then smiled. Because they could see this piece of cloth I was wearing was making me radical…. Radically happy. I was ecstatic! My love of the water and outdoors was finally able to be expressed alongside my faith.  

Unfortunately not everyone has the same positive experience. My friends have been taunted and abused and akin to women in France – they felt humiliated and ashamed for no good reason. Thankfully, the need to isolate and radicalise a garment based on who wears it is being turned on its head as Burqini sales have skyrocketed since it’s been in the limelight and non-Muslim women are purchasing the burqini for various reasons including “skin cancer or body image, moms, women who are not comfortable exposing their skin—they’re all wearing it.” Asian women have been wearing face masks to the beach to protect their skin for years, not to mention nuns, Goths and other people of a race culture or creed who wear clothing or symbols of their faith or identity.

There is no good reason to stop a woman from wearing something they feel comfortable in – this is discrimination.
There is no good reason to prevent a woman from enjoying herself in clothes that define her identity – this is racism.
There is no good reason to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot wear – this is sexism. 

It saddens me that those in positions of authority that have been elected to serve and protect the people are the ones who greedily perpetuate the economics of fear. They who have been elected to oversee peaceful and harmonious societies are the ones sprouting hate speech and dividing communities with ignorance. They who claim to be democratic and stand for the freedoms and liberties of all, are the ones robbing women of their right to be and act as they wish without the diction of misogyny oppressing their actions. And so we women continue to be struggle personified. We continue to wear what we want and act as we do in physical protest of the ignorant rantings of men who neither understand the values of freedom and liberty nor wish to avail it to anyone besides themselves. Society can radicalise my burqini and lace my identity with its vitriol but it won’t’ dissuade me from enjoying what I love. To get in the water and appreciate the beauty and bounty God has provided us with… in my burqini.

burkini-ban

 

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Tell me do I look opressed, unhygenic or like a terrorist in these pictures to you? If you said yes to any of them above then please click here and check yourself!

Kudos to the creator of the Burkini – Ahiida designs.

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The ‘Other’ is not a new concept. As a society we have marginalised minorities and those that we disagree with or misunderstand for hundreds of years. It is a social construct by which we develop not only our own identity but shape the identity of others. And it is the group or groups with greater political and economic influence that have the greater ability to shape and represent identities. It is important to note then – that an identity, especially the identity of the Other is not something we are born with – rather it is a social construct we step into and live in by design.

Zygmunt Bauman said on Otherness that Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend (Bauman 1991: 8). This is an awareness that we form our own identity through the inclusion of an element of exclusivity. In order to define the self or society you must also define what you are not. Man identifies himself as a superior being by comparison to the animal in attributes that are similar but also attributes that are different or lacking.

Societies have advanced through time by defining identities of civility as opposed to barbarity, colonial as opposed to indigenous, black as opposed to white and free as opposed to oppressed. These same societies have wielded their substantial political clout to shape and re-shape the identity of the other based on characteristics that would be most economically beneficial at the time. When Colombus ‘discovered’ America, the marginalisation of the Indian as Other was economically motivated. How else would Columbus and the ensuing British colonisation have been able to usurp land and build profitable a profitable society? How else would Manhattan be bought for $24?

 

When the British colonised India, Africa and Australia, the characteristics of being poor, dirty and inferior were associated to the colour of their skin and Black became the Other to White. This too was economically motivated. How else could the Dutch East India company convince it’s men that Indian were slaves to be herded onto ships bound for the fields of Africa? How else would the British have been able to commandeer and mobilise large contingencies of colonised peoples to work on infrastructure and fight in wars that were of no material benefit to them? How else were members of the Pakistani Army and society convinced that Bengalis were not Muslim, not human and thus ripe for raping, looting and killing? Man identifies with Man till society finds an economically beneficial reason to distinguish differences and draw boundaries.

Societies of economic influence wield the authority of their social institutions such as the law, media, education, religion to hold the balance of power through their representation of what is accepted as Normal and what is considered Other. Organisations such as the UN are a prime example of a selection of powerful economies distinguishing themselves as leaders and thus authorises to interfere in the societies and economies of other countries. This is not to say the UN is bad – No. Rather it is to understand that our world is governed by a man made awareness of who we are and who we are not based on the economically motivated decisions of the politically and financially privileged.

When we understand and are aware of this concept and remember that none of us are born as the Other, our minds can awaken to the political hegemony being played out on a global scale. Our minds can awaken to the realities of being the Jewish Other in 1940’s Europe. Of being the Asian Other in 1970s Australia. Of being the African American Other in America … always. Of being the Muslim Other in America, Australia, Europe and Burma. When we understand that we have a choice to accept or reject the identity of the Other, we can explore and seek to learn about the so-called Other. If we only venture outside of the propaganda sold 24/7 on mainstream media we can come to an enlightenment on what Islam really is and who Muslims really are. If we do this we can strip the fear we associate with the tag other. We can remove the animosity that drives decisions like the Burkini ban in France and we can celebrate the diversity through embracing our similarities as well as our differences.

What kind of society have we become when a 10 year old boy cannot feel safe in his own front yard? When the very figures of authority that are sworn in to serve and protect are the ones that run down and gun down first and ask questions (or provide weak justifications) later. What kind of society exhorts the values of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and yet leads the way in dictating how a woman should and should not dress? If you ban someone from covering, is this not the same oppression and banning someone from revealing? What kind of society have we become when we spin bias on everyday actions based on the attire of the individual. Would these women have been singled out as ‘members of Isis’ (a horrible thing to accuse someone of!) for being on their phones if they were not in Hijab? Surely there is logic and common sense left somewhere in the world?! Thank God for Canada where Hijabs are not part of the official uniform of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Justin Trudeau who says the burkini ban has “no place in Canada,”

Allah swt says in the Quran, O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (49:13) We are encouraged to know each other for where there is knowledge and enlightenment there can never be fear and animosity no matter how profitable it is to the ruling elite. We are the masters of our own fate and we the masses shape the direction of our society. So don’t let an economically motivated Big Brother tell you who to like and dislike, don’t let faceless corporations teach you to hate – go out and talk to people who you don’t know, who you don’t understand and who you don’t like – you might just find you have more in common with them than you think.

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This speech, ‘The Empowerment of Women’, was posted on Yasmin’s blog on Dec 12, 2011. Today, it is still as relevant as it was then.

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When the companion of the Prophet, pbuh, entered a town to bring them the message of Islam, he put it very beautifully. He said, “I have come to free you from the servitude of the slave and bring you to the servitude of the Lord of the slave.”

Within this statement lies a powerful treasure. Locked within these words, is the key to empowerment and the only real path to liberation.

You see, the moment you or I allow anything, other than our Creator, to define our success, our failure, our happiness, or our worth, we have entered into a silent, but destructive form of slavery. That thing which defines my self worth, my success and my failure is what controls me. And it becomes my Master.

The master which has defined a woman’s worth, has taken many forms throughout time. One of the most prevalent standards made for woman, has been the standard of men. But what we so often forget is that God has honored the woman by giving her value in relation to Himself—not in relation to men. Yet, as some ideologies erased God from the scene, there was no standard left—but men. As a result the woman was forced to find her value in relation to a man. And in so doing she had accepted a faulty assumption. She had accepted that man is the standard, and thus a woman can never be a full human being until she becomes just like a man: the standard.

When a man cut his hair short, she wanted to cut her hair short. When a man joined the army, she wanted to join the army. When a man smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol, she wanted to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Often she wanted these things for no other reason than because the “standard” had them.

What she didn’t recognize was that God dignifies both men and women in their distinctiveness–not in their sameness. When we accept men as the standard, suddenly anything uniquely feminine becomes by definition inferior. Being sensitive is an insult, becoming a full-time mother—a degradation. In the battle between stoic rationality (considered masculine) and selfless compassion (considered feminine), rationality reigned supreme.

As soon as we accepted that everything a man has and does is better, all that followed was just a knee jerk reaction: if men have it—we want it too. If men pray in the front rows, we assume this is better, so we want to pray in the front rows too. If men lead prayer, we assume the imam is closer to God, so we want to lead prayer too. Somewhere along the line we’d accepted the notion that having a position of worldly leadership is some indication of one’s position with God.

But a Muslim woman does not need to degrade herself in this way. She has God as the standard. She has God to give her value; she doesn’t need a man to do this.

Given our privilege as women, we only degrade ourselves by trying to be something we’re not–and in all honesty–don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.

And yet, in society, there is another prevalent “master” which has defined for women their worth. And that is the so-called standard of beauty. Since the time we were little, we as women, have been taught a very clear message by society. And that message is: “Be thin. Be sexy. Be attractive. Or…be nothing.”

So we were told to put on their make-up and wear their short skirts. Instructed to give our lives, our bodies, our dignity for the cause of being pretty. We came to believe that no matter what we did, we were worthy only to the degree that we could please and be beautiful for men. So we spent our lives on the cover of Cosmo and we gave our bodies for advertisers to sell.

We were slaves, but they taught us we were free. We were their object, but they swore it was success. Because they taught you that the purpose of your life was to be on display, to attract and be beautiful for men. They had you believe that your body was created to market their cars.

But they lied.

Your body, your soul was created for something higher. Something so much higher. God says in the Quran: ‘Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is most righteous’ (Quran 49:13).

So you are honored. But it is not by your relationship to men—either being them, or pleasing them. Your value as a woman is not measured by the size of your waist or the number of men who like you. Your worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And your purpose in life–despite what the fashion magazines say–is something more sublime than just looking good for men.

Our completion comes from God and our relationship with Him. And yet, from the time we were little, we, as women, have been taught, that we will never reach completion until a man comes to complete us. Like Cinderella we were taught that we are helpless unless a prince comes to save us. Like Sleeping Beauty, we were told that our life doesn’t fully begin, until Prince Charming kisses us. But here’s the thing: no prince can complete you. And no knight can save you. Only God can.

Your prince is only a human being. God may send him to be your companion—but not your savior. The coolness of your eyes—not the air in your lungs. Your air is in God. Your salvation and completion are in His nearness—not the nearness to any created thing. Not the nearness to a prince, not the nearness to fashion or beauty or style.

And so I ask you to unlearn. I ask you to stand up and tell the world that you are a slave to nothing—not to fashion, not to beauty, not to men. You are a slave to God and God alone. I ask you to tell the world that you’re not here to please men with your body; You’re here to please God. So to those who mean well and wish to ‘liberate’ you, just smile and say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Tell them you’re not here to be on display. And your body is not for public consumption. Make sure the world knows that you will never be reduced to an object, or a pair of legs to sell shoes. You are a soul, a mind, a servant of God. And your worth is defined by the beauty of that soul, that heart, that moral character. So, you don’t worship their beauty standards; you don’t submit to their fashion sense. Your submission is to something higher.

Therefore, in answering the question of where and how a woman can find empowerment, I find myself led back to the statement of our Prophet’s companion. I find myself led back to the realization that true liberation and empowerment lies only in freeing oneself from all other masters, all other definitions. All other standards.

As Muslim women, we have been liberated from this silent bondage. We don’t need society’s standard of beauty or fashion, to define our worth. We don’t need to become just like men to be honored, and we don’t need to wait for a prince to save or complete us. Our worth, our honor, our salvation, and our completion lies not in the slave.

But, in the Lord of the slave.

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