Today, it is International Women’s Day, which provides us a time to assess the state of women around the world, look at what we have achieved, but most importantly what still needs to be done.
Muslim women are often labelled as ‘oppressed’ and unable to speak for themselves, whereas for the most part, this could not be further from the truth. For me, the London Olympic Games held a few months ago was a real testament to the strength of Muslim women, who have had to overcome battles with misogyny, racism and often-poor training and facilities to get there. However these athletes were not just flying the flag for their respective countries, but also representing the aspirations of Muslim women around the world.
However, in light on these achievements, we must not forget the reality that faces women from all backgrounds across the globe. A vast amount of women still remain illiterate whilst those that are in war torn countries are at risk of rape and kidnap daily. There are women who are breadwinners for their whole families and have to face heartbreaking choices of which children they can no longer feed. These stories are real and raw. Then there is gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, child marriages and acid attacks which are rooted in deep cultural prejudices against women, which all see no sign of disappearing anytime soon.
There are also problems closer to home, here in London and the rest of the UK. The austerity cuts of the Tory government have disproportionately affected women, with single parent families struggling to work and pay child care fees. Women who are on the career ladder are often made to feel like they need to make a choice between a promotion and a family, while the glass ceiling means that women in the board room of the most powerful companies is still a rare occurrence.
Furthermore sexual harassment is a daily reality for women regardless of what you wear and how covered you are. This can include those who shout out disrespectful words coined with God’s name (often a ‘Mashallah’), to stalkers and to the worst kind, those who actually make you feel vulnerable and in danger
Additionally, there is the constant societal and community pressure about how we should look. You either need to be a skinny size 6 with no flesh to talk about, or you need to be ‘bootylicious’ and be able to flaunt your curves confidently, unfortunately, you can’t be somewhere in between. The point here is that either way, your body is for public consumption and approval.
On the flip side, we can often get this from fellow Muslim women. It can be the disapproving glares of those who make us feel that our path is inadequate, because our version of what is modest doesn’t quite fit theirs or those who feel that because you are wearing a headscarf, your actions are automatically up for judgement in the public domain in a way that non-Hijabed women are not.
We need to move away from reducing debates about women and Muslim women to clothing and start concentrating on the real issues at hand. Furthermore, we need to move away labeling these as ‘women’s issues’. Raising the next generation means these are problems for all of humanity, and affect male and female alike.
On a final note, there are a growing number of role models who we can take inspiration from. Whether like Tahmina, they have come from a country blighted by war for decades or Nour Tagouri, who is making waves wearing a Hijab on an American news channel, it is clear that the battle is on many fronts, which means we can all make a difference and even better, become role models ourselves.
To end, here is an old favorite of mine, a powerful video called ‘The Girl Effect’ enjoy!