And since I seem to be all about perspectives tonight, I can finally segue into a post about India that’s inspired by the Hijab. I first learned to wear one in Jolo when this kind teacher offered to arrange my scarf into one as a means to protect me from the sun. The tarpaulin behind us reads, “Help Portrait” and its a project spearheaded by some photographers that allows students from various public schools to have portraits of themselves taken. We took over 300 photos and printed them all in time to give them to each individual student. For the lot of them, it was probably the first time such huge cameras inched close to their faces to capture their radiance. It was also the first time they got to keep portraits–or any kind of photographic proof of their existence. However, despite being told this, I don’t really buy it. There are cellphone cameras these days so I’m sure they’ve had some prints developed.
Nonetheless, as I am digressing yet again, wearing of the Hijab has always been a contentious issue in the West and in most of the world that doesn’t practice Islam. We’re often told that this is so because by shielding your crowning glory, oppression occurs against women. I recall an angry Marjane Satrapi mentioning it in Persepolis (or drawing a panel or two where she does away with the headscarf completely once in the US? I may have dreamed this up so please remind me if you happen to remember.)
Anyway, in India, during a panel on Gender and Development at the youth conference, a new-found friend bravely stood to offer an unpopular opinion which earned her my deep and abiding respect. She’s also my first Syrian friend and I could not be more proud of her. I will attach what she wrote below and if it’s not too much trouble, I’ve opted to keep her anonymous unless of course she reads this and decides that she wants her name on it.
Reading this has been inspirational for me and I wonder how many of you feel the same?
Today there was a session on gender and economic empowerment. To be honest, I didn’t know how these two are related. The combination of the two seemed rather random. The session started discussing how women contribute to all levels of economy especially the managing a microeconomic unit which is their families. Things became a bit clearer to me as the panelist went on with their presentation.
Women are often recruited in things like agriculture and trade but the acknowledgment is lacking. Women are the invisible solders in the society. However it became very apparent that because of this lack of appreciation for women, women started opting out of the work force which encouraged the mistreatment by the society further pushing women out of the work force. What was interesting about the proposed solutions for this problem is that it didn’t only target women to empower them but mainly target men as they are the main perpetuators of a lot of women’s’ rights issues such as child marriage, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The conversation then progressed into giving examples on how inequalities for women develop. In a family with limited financial resources, boys are given the priority over girls in limited education opportunity and that’s how inequality starts. Less or non-existent education puts the woman in a disadvantage in terms of preparedness for the job market which ultimately gives women less opportunities for well-paid and recognized jobs. It was also brought up that in India, women need to provide dowry for the man. If the woman was educated, she needs to find a husband who is even more educated which means a bigger dowry that the girl’s family needs to pay which pushes family to not provide high quality education for their daughters.
Another example of how women’s rights are violated was given by one of the panelist. She mentioned that in Islam a woman’s testimony is not as good as the man’s and that women are not allowed to be judges. That’s when I felt this is my time! Being the only woman from the Middle East I felt the obligation to speak out and set the record straight. Before I know it my hand was up high and the microphone was coming my way.
Yes, I am Muslim, I am from the Middle East and I wear the hijab. None of these things mentioned oppress me or restrain my development. I am who I am because of them; I am a well-educated doctor in training with passion for education. I have done a lot in my life to achieve my dreams supported by my family. Yes, not many women in the Middle East are judges but it’s not because Islam said they can’t be [judges]. There are few who become judges and a thousand times more who became successful lawyers, doctors and other professionals in the Middle East. I don’t feel like my rights have been violated by Islam. Culture, governments and politics robbed some of my rights and tried to oppress me not my family or my religion. Islam allows me to pursue my dreams and protects me in the process providing me with a safety net to fall back on if anything goes wrong. If one day I woke up and decided I don’t want to be a doctor anymore and that I want to stay at home then Islam gives me all my rights to do so with no stigma or other consequences. Islam gave me a choice not given to a lot of women in other places. I wasn’t oppressed to wear my hijab, I wore it on my own as a way for me to express my commitment to my religion and my sense of responsibility and maturity.
I was glad this issue came up in the discussion because it gave me the chance to correct some of the misinformed ideas about Islam which get perpetuated without someone stopping to ask about where this information comes from. This is what’s called being in the right place at the right time.