There are times when I feel like a bit of an anomaly. My nieces often ask me why I’m not like mummy or other aunties, sisters ask why I insist in being so difficult (difficult being a synonym for feminist), often this arises after I walk through the door after a day of feminist fighting, whilst simultaneously reading tweets from feminist haters and a lynx advert comes on the TV. What else is a women to do but be enraged? But, particularly as Asian Muslim woman, it feels quite lonely out there in the feminist world. I’m not sure if, despite efforts, women in my family would describe themselves as feminists. It’s usually about the third word I use to describe myself, after sarcastic and unstable…
I’ve realised one of the reason I have been talking to my nieces about this is because, from where I am standing, there are a shortage of young Asian (especially Muslim) women engaging in feminism. It’s important at this point for me to admit something. I use Muslim in a loose sense. By no means am I a scholar or dedicated to the practice of the religion, I’m not looking for an influx of Muslim women discussing religious text and the meaning they have to gender equality. My focus has always been culture not religion. The culture is the problem, it is the culture that has created communities which question and judge a Muslim women and turn a blind eye to the actions of Muslim men, it is culture who tells Muslim that being single after 30 is unacceptable, it is culture that dictates what kind of mother, wife and daughter a Muslim women needs to be.
To be perfectly honest, all of the above can be translated to the women in any culture, any religion and any society. But, perhaps from my own experiences, it is more acute and more accepted in the Asian/Muslim culture. I find myself surrounded by strong activist women and very, very few of them are Muslim (or even Asian) women. This is a problem. It creates a polarized feminism. It creates a space where the perspectives of Muslim women aren’t included in feminism and means that there are a select few talking about women’s issues despite it representing billions of women in different cultures across the world. Of course, feminism in India, China, Pakistan and countless other countries will be mostly led, rightly, by women from those cultures, but the women leading the feminist movement in a country must reflect the women they represent (much like how are parliament needs younger, non-white, non-male representation to reflect our society). We live in a multi-cultural society, so we need a little multi-cultural feminism. It wouldn’t be ok if, for example, an atheist feminist talked about Muslim women ‘s experiences of in British society. But where are all the Muslim women feminists to talk about it? If they don’t come forward, then their issues won’t be discussed.
I’ve talked to Muslim women my age, younger or older, and I get the usual “I don’t need feminism, We all have equality, right?” (Not all of them!) But it’s not just the usual brushing off of feminism, it’s seeped in an even deeper cultural patriarchy. I know lots of successful Muslim women, ones who are mothers, wives but also educated professionals, business women and leaders. But there seems to be a big gap between the boundaries that I am proud to say they have pushed in the professional or external world, and the boundaries they are still accepting in their homes, their communities and their culture. I understand that it is harder to question and change things close to you, but if we don’t who will? The menz?!?!
Even checking the #Everydaysexism project or twitter feed, there are not that many Muslim women engaging – are they immune to everyday patriarchy, I can assure you they’re not. So why aren’t they engaging in this uprising? Do they care about reputation within the community? Is it saving face? Is it because they don’t feel it’s a problem? Maybe it’s not, but nobody is even having the conversation. There are countless Muslim, or defined as Asian, women’s organisations which exist to support women or sometimes simply to build a network, but what would be the harm if these groups started these conversations – simply asking the questions about equality, asking about each other’s experiences in the community and what injustices they see. These are the conversations which lead to change.
If you’re a Muslim women and you’ve read this and something in you has stirred, comment, tweet, email me and I’ll be happy to start this chat, in fact bring your friends, sisters, cousins. If you’re part of a Muslim or Asian women’s organisation get in touch, I’d LOVE to work with you.
Ciao (or salaam) for now.