Marching from my tiny room: Almost a day later!

The Women’s march movement strikes a chord of my soul. And since people from all seven continents (yes, including Antarctica) have participated in it, I thought there is a chance for me to speak my mind as well. Actually I wanted to vlog about this, but that would be hell of a messy and out of context boring video. So here you go.

I strongly believe (though it might just be my assumption), as human beings, our common goals for participating to this movement is making sure that we, both men and women, have the right to exercise our authority over our body and soul and to speak our mind and get paid for our work equally regardless our gender, race, color and religion.

Well, I believe this protest is against the common evil figure, the real agents of discrimination, who are always finding one way or another to rob these rights off from us. They are really creative, sometimes they are offending us right in our faces (e.g.: In KSA, they won’t let females drive cars or how they will charge women for not covering their head in public, the pay gap in countries around the world and what not) and sometimes they are really subtle, they cajole us into believing the faux complements they pay to give up our rights and mess with our choices (“Oh, you are a rather organized woman! You will do way better in desk and leave the field duties to us messy men!” (of course that would result in a smaller figure in paycheck than the “messy men”)).

These Trumps, Jawahiris and Saudi Monarchs are just a few faces. They will come and go. But the notion remained unchanged. As human beings, regardless our gender (yes, that is a remainder I always want to mention), our common enemy is the notion and not just the people who are carrying it.

Well, Trump LITERALLY is not my president, I don’t live in KSA, I am free to drive if I have a driver’s license, thankfully IS haven’t occupied our country – i) but are my rights as a human being is exercised?
ii) Do we get equal pay?
iii) Are we free from the objectification of women?
iv) Are we not judged for the outfits we choose?
v) Are all of us accepted to our families, society and country for our orientations?
vi) Are we not judged for the choices we make regarding our lives even if they are not “common” in our societal practice?
vii) Are we not harassed in our workplace anymore?

In case you are wondering, the answer is still NO. A huge, red, block letter no. Make that a 20 feet by 15 feet sign.

Let’s get a little personal here (actually a lot personal), I come from a middle class, Muslim, South Asian family. College education and employment are considered imperative for both male and female members in our family. From the surface, it can be easily assumed that a very peaceful equality exists (well, comparing to lot other families around, it is an advancement). But I can assure you it is not the same. Being “different” from “socially acceptable standards” is penalized with insults, threats and interventions. Having different opinions regarding life is considered as ungratefulness towards the parents, speaking own mind (well, if it contradicts the “tradition”, even if does not harm anyone) is almost a sin. So, the life of a woman in mid 20’s in families like mine, is really a challenge.

The other day, friend shared a screenshot of her facebook chat log with another friend. My friend was lamenting how weak and naive she feels for all the familial and societal pressure and not being able to do much (she is a chemical engineer, working in a rather good organization) about it and her friend replied, “You wake up every morning as a 20 something, girl from a South Asian Muslim family, you are by default strong”.

I know this is getting ultra personal, but I assert what my friend’s friend said. We are stronger by default. The crass treatment we receive from our society, family and culture has toughened us up. But even this cannot save our lives. Literally. We are still being assaulted, abused, murdered – every single day. Thanks to these evil forces.

I am NOT going to speak ill of the religion of my family (and also mine), but the cultural practice of it has changed dramatically in last decade. This might sound a bit off track since I am talking about women’s right here, but believe me, it makes sense in the end.

Well, the “hijab”, that piece of cloth covering a woman’s head has hardly been a part of our culture. I remember, when we were young, Hijab was a foreign concept to us, we would only see women in “hijab” in Iranian movies, when those were shown to our national television sometimes. Well, some women in our country would wear burqa, the long loose robe (usually black), and separate hooded veil for head, which could be tied using a ribbon down the chin. And generally women with strong religious belief (if not choosing to wear burqa) would cover their hair with the drape of their saree or that piece of cloth they wear over their chest (Orna/Dopatta) along with Kameez ( a long dress, usually with slits in two sides) and Salwar (trousers).

Until of course, around 9/11 (see, US reference). Well, that’s too specific. Well, let’s say, since the end of 90s. Since then the “hijab” scarves slowly made their way in our general culture. If you’re wondering, this is middle eastern influence, you’re wrong. The influence flew here from “progressive western countries”. I have seen many women from US, Canada and UK introducing these headscarves to the women around us. My mom had like a stack of headscarves as gift from many family friends of ours who live in UK. In school when I was younger I would see at most ten girls among  the hundred and fifty seniors wearing headscarves/burqa. When I was in sixth grade only four girls would wear headscarves and only one of them wore burqa. And it stayed almost the same till we were seniors. But now things have changed dramatically. The percentage of hijab wearing girls has increased really fast. The other day, I was passing by a military ran school (I went to one as well), I was startled to see that all the girls in front of the gate were tucked in hijab. I almost thought their uniform has changed, then I noticed one girl who wasn’t wearing hijab.

At this point, if you think I have started an anti hijab rant in the name of articulating women’s right, I only have myself to blame. I think I tend to express my opinions in such way that it easily misleads people into making different conclusions. Sorry about that. But believe me, it has nothing to do with anti hijab rant. I am NOT AGAINST HIJAB. I am against the way it was injected into our culture.

I have seen girls and women around me taking refuge in hijab when they were disappointed, horrified or threatened. My aunt, a then college lecturer (now a PhD student, living abroad), started wearing hijab when she broke up with her boyfriend. A friend of mine started wearing it when she was going through a very bad academic and family situations, another aunt started it when she miscarried her first child. Because they could not get moral support from the people around them. They were blamed for the mistakes (!!) they made and therefore they thought if they start wearing hijab, this would be the start of a new chapter of their lives, they would be forgiven for their wrongdoings (!!) and start over. Do notice that, I have only taken examples from the people I know, I have seen them suffering through their dark times, I know their stories. Though I tried to offer my support (which I did), but the societal expectations marred their hopes. My cousin, a medical student wears burqa since she was 11. Because that is the only defense mechanism she thought would work on the catcallers and her parents, both doctors, did nothing to change that. Again, I am saying, I AM NOT AGAINST WEARING HIJAB! I am against the reasons why girls are choosing hijab now. I am against the idea that girls are taking up hijab to be accepted socially. Which is weird because this “hijab accelerates social acceptance” is a very new thing, like the H1N1/09 virus! And people of our culture were easily gullible to it because it had a hint of religious acceptance in it.

And this is my point, I am not going to debate whether the religions are against the rights of women, I am against the social practice of using religion as a weapon to confound women into giving up their rights.

You might question, what is the connection between a mere piece of cloth on head and the women’s right? Isn’t women’s right (and in broader sense human rights) is all about having the authority of choosing whatever people (in this case, women) decide to do with their body and mind?

You have every right to ask those questions. And I have an answer for you.  It is not about a mere piece of cloth. This mere piece of cloth is a litmus paper that showed how distant and less than supportive people are to the women in general that once they found a piece of cloth would make them more socially acceptable, they took it up. I don’t think religious submission has much to do with it, because women have always been draping their saree or orna/dopatta to cover their head when they felt such strong spiritual submission to the higher power.

Fine, this is a cultural shift, but how is it violating women’s right?

Very legitimate question. Well, since women are indirectly forced to take up something, even if no direct law (like there is in KSA) is enforced, how is that not violation of right? Let’s say there are 100 women in this country who wear Hijab and 99 of them do it willingly due to their spiritual submission to higher power and only one does it to be accepted socially, to be supported and comforted for being a human being in distress. Even then it is a violation of right to me. Though she is choosing to do this, but she did not have to. We don’t need to “customize” people to let them have our support. As long as any human being is not offending or harming another person, there is reason to “customize” them to accept them among us, no matter how different they are from us. I believe  this Women’s march agrees with this notion.

I think I spent too much time talking about a recent trend in our country. I am again sorry about that. I could have focused on how females are being discriminated from the day their parents are getting the ultra-sonography report (and if they don’t get any, then since the day they are born), I could have focused on how teachers often discouraging girls, classmates making fun of the girls if they are doing better than them, saying teachers are going easy on them for they’re girls, how the other females around them are also pulling their legs when any girl wants to attempt anything beyond the social standards set from them, how their families would not support their endeavors and dreams if they are not conventional, how they are under-valued at work, how they are abused each and every day in more than one ways.

HOW EVERY TIME THEY GO OUT OF THEIR HOME HOPING THAT TODAY WILL BE A BETTER DAY, TODAY NOBODY IS GOING TO HARASS THEM JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE FEMALES.

We have so much to do, to fight for. As a South Asian female of mid 20s, these are the things I demand from the people around us:

  1. To be inclusive of people different from them, to be inclusive of opinions different from theirs. AS LONG AS IT IS NOT HARMING ANY HARMLESS PEOPLE.
  2. Regardless of gender, letting people decide whatever they want to do with their body and how they legally want to live their lives.
  3. Shed the stereotyping notions. The “good girl”, “bad girl”, “macho man”, “lesser man” and “wuss” are not our thing to decide. As long as they are not harming other people or shoving their opinion in other individual’s throats, a human should not be judged based on how they lead their life.
  4. (If my words regarding hijab did not do the thing, then this might lure all the radical terrorists to my head ) Leave LGBTQ people alone! If you’re not a member of LGBTQ community, then it is none of your headache what they are doing with their lives (well, unless they are harming you (you can (and you should) seek legal support if that is the case)), even if according to your belief, they are sinning, they will answer for it, it is none of your business anyway. In all seriousness, as a pious human being, you must have better things to do with your precious life.
  5. Stop having cranial expectations from people based on their gender and demographic. Stop expecting women to be weak at science and math and men to be weak at literature and communication! It’s 2017! For heaven’s sake! STOP!
  6. Get accustomed to be proven wrong. Anybody can be at fault, stop irrational rantings when you are proven wrong. It’s okay to be proven wrong. (See, that is why we need to be inclusive, imaging if you were wrong and to seek forgiveness or comfort you’d have to “dress up”, how would you feel then?)
  7. Equal paycheck. Not based on gender or race, we want paychecks based on our performance and work ethic.
  8. Let fathers be a part of the children’s life. Yes, this might sound weird, but this is the truth. Still now, almost at the end of second decade of this millennial, fathers are still not expected to be actively involved in rearing a child. Many men are breaking the mold, but the road is not smooth for them either. I once talked about how important their inclusion is to the life of their children.
  9. Stop ridiculing mental illness as trivial matters (believe it or not, this issue is very much tied to women’s rights, if not anywhere else, then at least where I live (having mental illness is already a taboo, seeking help for it is even more difficult, especially for women, families would not let them seek professional help as they think their reputation is on the line if a girl in the family has mental illness.))
  10. Stop objectifying human beings, especially women! And having “standards” for them.
  11. STOP TABOOING BREASTFEEDING, PMS, MENSTRUATION AND MENOPAUSE!

As a living human being of 21st century, as a person with utmost respect for all the religions, races and regions of the earth, as a woman, a daughter, a sister (and a girl-brother) and a friend – I want these demands of mine to be heard. I strongly believe these are the demands of a lot of people around us. I believe in protests as much as I believe in level headed discussions. Let’s not leave anyone behind, let’s not discard people because they are different, let’s reason and include people even if they are different from us as long as they are not offending us. LET’S PENALIZE THOSE WHO ARE OFFENSIVE TO THE HARMLESS PEOPLE AND OTHER LIVING BEINGS NO MATTER HOW CLOSELY TIED TO US OR SIMILAR TO US. Let’s establish trust in diversity once again, let people know that, we will  welcome people even if they are different but we will not tolerate their misconducts if they offend the harmless people taking them for granted, considering inclusiveness as a weakness of ours.

Because inclusiveness is not a weakness. It is one of the biggest strengths we can have. DON’T DARE TO UNDERESTIMATE THAT! DON’T DARE TO UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT EXPERTISE, DIFFERENT VALUES AND DIFFERENT STRENGTH! WE ALL ARE ONE, OFFENDING ONE OF US MEANS OFFENDING ALL OF US! AND IF SOMEONE DOES THAT, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE INCLUDED IN THIS DIVERSE GROUP OF WELCOMING PEOPLE, THEY SHOULD ALSO SEE THE PENALTY COMING.

BECAUSE, THAT WON’T BE A PENALTY AGAINST ONE, THAT WILL BE A PENALTY AGAINST ALL OF US.

Let’s make the world inclusive (again? (or maybe for the first time? (I’m not sure, didn’t get much chance to study the world history))).

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