To The Women That Never Were
It’s a brand new year, well it’s been a brand new year for 24 days, but lets say I was still recovering from the ‘holiday’ and attempting to get back into the real world. Admittedly I had to ease myself in by watching Mary Poppins and Elf twice a day for the first two weeks.
But I have entered the real world with a bang, and not a good one.
The purpose of these blogs is to create a feminist conversation by retelling the conversations I am having with my nieces, who range between the ages of 6 and 16 (there has been a lovely new addition recently, but I thought I would let her learn a few words first before I introduce her to feminism, although I’m hoping those words are ‘smash the patriarchy’).
There are many reasons why I decided to start this (2 years ago now!). Firstly, because schools don’t, secondly because of the conversations and feelings I heard them having and the things they were beginning to see in the world, and thirdly because of the culture they have inherited. Like me, they have all inherited parts of an Islamic culture.
Que utter outrage and utter heartbreak from me. In Britain, in 2014, in a so called progressive society, we have unborn children being aborted for being girls. Let me make one thing very clear; This is not about abortions or reproductive rights. Anyone foolish enough to use this as an argument for “pro life” argument, fundamentally misunderstands social justice. This is about infanticide and misogyny.
Usually, if something has had such an effect I will talk about it to my nieces. But this one I found myself stumbling over. How do I explain to young women (lets not even try to get to my younger nieces) that has the been born to different families, they may never have been born at all, simply for being women. I have had many conversations with my nieces, difficult ones, explaining that society has prejudices against them and there are some in this society that hate them for their gender. We’ve talked about rape, we’ve talked about harassment, we’ve talked about racism. But this one I found painfully difficult.
It’s for a whole host of reasons. But perhaps to understand the main reason, you need to know a little more about my life. I am the youngest of a family of only daughters, that’s something I celebrate, but not everyone thinks I should. I am also from a Muslim background and culture, which it would be naïve of me not to recognise, as a factor in this. Whilst *some* progress has been made, within the Eastern cultures (and in my case, specifically, Muslim culture) having a son is still more preferable than having a daughter. But, let’s not pretend that it’s isn’t an issue in all cultures, if it was a non issue, feminism would be much further progressed.
In Muslim culture, like most, having a son means having someone to carry on the family name, take over the family business, bring income and glory into the home. Forgetting of course, that I have an income, I can develop business skills and I can choose to keep my surname- but “its not the same”. When a daughter is born, a family may be happy but they won’t be publicly happy, when a son is born, it is expected you will give out boxes of sweets to your family and friends. That’s how vivid and ridiculous the distinction is. From birth. Your inequality and injustice starts from a box of sweets. This is gradually changing now, as generations move on, and thankfully every single one of my nieces births were celebrated.
Back to my situation, there are many daughters in my family, and of course, it’s probably due to the pressure on my parents to have a boy. I grew up with people asking my mother if she had any sons, after replying no, she would get a tilt of the head and a stabbing sentence: “well, I guess Allah didn’t have that planned for you”. No instead he “planned” for awesome, strong, intelligent daughters… sucks to be us…
Thankfully and rightly, this pressure didn’t cause what the front page of the Independent reports. At no point would it even have been a thought to not bother having a child if it turned out to be a girl. My heart breaks for the women that never were; the daughters, the sisters. The ones that could have been inventors, could have been public figures, could have made the world a better place just by being in it, but were denied the opportunity, simply for their sex. Equally, my heart breaks for the women who may be forced, often by men and misogyny to abort unwanted girls. The purpose of reproductive rights are choices for women, in cases such as these, the choice no longer exists and is abused by the very portion of society that would penalise them if they were to make the choice to have an abortion under any other circumstance.
It’s enough to make you weep, to make you exhausted and to make you wonder if there is any point in changing things, when this is how deep rooted and hopeless things are. Given that the point of these conversations on feminism with my nieces are about giving them strength, and given that this broke a veteran feminist like me (in comparison) for a few days, I think I worried whether I should put them through feeling this sad.
But it is of course necessary to talk about and to change, and when I find the courage I will talk to my nieces in detail about it (but first they can read this and gather their own thoughts).
Feminism can become stronger in the face of this, because we need strength to continue to fight for the women that never were.
To those women; the fights for justice are in your honour too and in your memory for everything you could and should have been.
*It has been pointed out to me that the Independent article is flawed – and of course it is, it is not written in the interests of women and choice, it is written as a method of instigating moral panic – but equally, it would be wrong for our movement not to be strong enough to have this discussion, because it does happen. But we must always ensure that at all times women have true choice; whether that is to give birth to a girl or not.