gender


“Nice boots….”

I finished the final zip on my knee-high leather boots and stood up to an incredibly friendly smile greeting me in the middle of the regular post-Jummah shoe chaos. While being jostled and pushed, I smiled back and said thank you — vaguely distracted as women and children dove in between us to claim their shoes before rushing over to the community lobby for veggie samosas and hot chai.

With one eye on Ivy as she struggled to put on her shoes (on opposite feet, and emphatically by herself!), my new friend and I briefly spoke about where I got my boots and how they looked “steampunk.” Which, covered in rivets and a classic Victorian brass heel, is exactly the style I’m wearing these days.

Of course, the topic of my boots and the random recognition of my favourite neo-Victorian genre, made this the most exciting conversation I’d had at the mosque in a very long time. And was an instant spark of light after a previously long string of negative experiences.

Especially seeing as I was just about on my way out the door. Fully prepared to add this mosque to my growing list of places to which I’d never return.

pray

Ivy and Eryn just being kids in the mosque gym.

An hour earlier we were singing Eryn’s favourite “going to the mosque song” in the car and I was excited to be finally attending my first Jummah in almost six months. The last time we came to this location was for ‘Eid ul-Fitr, and my heart burst with joy and pride when the imam delivered an incredibly inclusive khutbah on mental heath. This mosque represented an island sanctuary in an ocean of disappointment and judgement.

And it was a harsh betrayal when I was asked to leave the main prayer hall.

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Sorry I’ve been a little absent from the blog. Eiding with a huge family means lots of obligations and we’re now gearing up to travel back home. TONIGHT.

But I was able to share some of my ‘Eid reflections over at Muslimah Media Watch in a small (and awesome) roundtable looking at ‘Eid celebrations and gender in four countries. I’m cross-posting my exert here as well.

Prayers for everyone as we fly over the Atlantic and things will be back on a regular posting schedule once we’re over the jet lag.

Enjoy and a belated very Merry Eid Mubarak!


Praying evening prayers in the mosque just before the 'Eid announcement was made. The ladies gobbled up Eryn and Ivy.

Evening prayers in the mosque just before the ‘Eid announcement. The ladies gobbled up Eryn and Ivy.

Eid for our small family usually means dressing in our finest, rushing to pray with thousands at an exhibition hall, patiently listening to elected officials remark on the amazing diversity of Canada’s mosaic, and delighting the children with bouncy castles for a few hours before returning home or going back to work.

This year, we celebrated ‘Eid in our pyjamas.

Many mosques in Kuwait start ‘Eid prayers at about 5:15am in the morning. So most of the household just didn’t bother going to bed — we stayed up all night chatting with extended family members, applying henna, praying Fajr and listening to several of the neighbourhood mosques chanting the takbirat, broadcast high above the city from minaret speakers. Then, bleary-eyed, we threw abayas over our pyjamas and carried the still sleeping children outside to pray in a rocky parking lot.

Carpets softened the makeshift musalla and a caterer distributed cold dates and water while the men sat in the open-air and women took their place in a special section behind them. To ensure “maximum privacy,” the women’s section was enclosed on three sides by a large beige tarp — which doesn’t provide much of a view, but beats staring at a paved road.

Admiring the henna.

Admiring the henna.

This year our speaker system unfortunately cut out just as the khateeb brought up the topic of women. A few people took the silence that followed as a cue to wish everyone a happy ‘Eid Mubarak, many waited patiently, and I peeked over the tarp to see what the men were up to. Later, the Hubby told me the sermon was very positive — telling everyone that women should be an essential part of the community, working and volunteering publicly. That women should be elevated, empowered and proud. A lovely sentiment, but pretty ironic without a game plan to change societal perceptions and when we’re peeking from behind the tarp.

The view beyond the tarp.

Peeka-boo!

An irony I largely ignored in favour of experiencing a fun and privileged ‘Eid day with friends and family in a city where the overwhelming majority celebrated as well. In Canada, the prayer itself seems to be the main event and I’ve always felt slighted at being told how empowered I am on ‘Eid, while mosque officials put me in a basement every other day of the year.

We later breakfasted with family at an aunt’s house — enjoying creamy and strong cooked tea, eating a sweet pasta dish called atriya and home made Yemeni bread, all lovingly cooked by the grandmothers in the family. Then we retuned home to sleep before finally dressing in new ‘Eid clothes and spending the rest of the day party hopping, gift exchanging with the family and wandering the hallways of a flashy and trendy mall with thousands of other families enjoying the same.

Eid Mubarak!

Eid Mubarak!

No, this isn’t a full review of the new pro-education, pro-women cartoon series out of Pakistan. I want to watch a few more episodes to see where they’re going with it.

I’m still a little unsure over the whole simplified let’s-make-burqas-look-like-really-cool-ninja-outfits and repackage-women’s-cultural-and-religious-complicated-identity-to-conceal-weapons and subverting-and-desexualizing-a-female-superhero-while-romanticizing-a-mode-of-modesty-often-associated-with-oppression and identifying-said-superhero-on-her-dress-and-not-on-her-actual-POWER and, well, all of the merchandise and marketing that’s going to go along with it.

Can you imagine all of the girls and boys who will want to go to school wearing their official Burqa Avenger costume? Definitely creeping shari’a. Right there.

I watched this tonight with Eryn (who insisted on seeing it twice). My initial thoughts? AWESOME theme song. I never thought I’d be jamming to “Burqa!!” da-na-na-na-na-na (I’m so glad this came out before Lady Gaga’s intended Burqa single). Fantastic comic book framing to the animation — which is visually phenomenal. Lovely characters. In every scene it’s women or girls who dominate in terms of being the first to speak or take action — and very reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki. Five stars!

But I was a bit overwhelmed reading the subtitles to Eryn. It seemed every scene tried to over-emphasize women’s rights to education, big bad men as being the cause of women’s disenfranchisement, women need to be educated because they’re the mothers of tomorrow *cringe*, and education is the key to success. Given this is produced in reaction to intense opposition to the education of girls, I completely understand the need to go over the top with these messages in the first episode.

Anyway, I’m still reserving my full opinion until I see more. But for now, check the badass Muslimah awesomeness of the Burqa Avenger:

Taxi in Yemen.

Taxi in Yemen via Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

In recent years, women-only taxi services offering convenient and safe transit have sprung up in major cities all over the globe. These “pink taxis,” driven by women for women, offer a variety of benefits — not only giving women the option of avoiding harassment by male drivers, but also offer employment opportunities, business ownership, and in some cases, empowered transit in funky, candy pink rides decked out with lady magazines, beauty kits, and alarm buttons.

In Beirut, they’re styled as fierce competition to the standard transit system, brought about by one woman’s entrepreneurial vision, and follows similar models set up in Dubai, Cairo and Tehran. In Kuwait and London they’re “women-run businesses” offering “secure modes of transit” helping female customers feel less vulnerable when riding alone with a male driver. Moscow’s taxis are all about girl power, while Mexico City’s pink taxis are fantastically “girly” while helping address the problem of leering male drivers. But Yemen? Yemen doesn’t have a women-only taxi service and that’s because Yemen is too tribal and slow to change, to even consider allowing women to drive taxis.

Well, that’s according to a recent article by Radio Netherlands Worldwide. While initially promising (and Fugees inspiring), the title completely mislead me into thinking a new, pink revolution had already hit the streets of Sana’a: “Pink taxis for Yemen: ready or not.” Apparently, not.

It didn’t take long to realize the point of the article was not to celebrate a new social and entrepreneurial opportunity for women — but to use the absence of pink taxis as a social commentary, highlighting gender segregation and the restriction of women’s employment due to “tribal tradition.”

The article leads by over-emphasizing Yemen’s culture of gender segregation. “Men and women practically lead separate lives,” with segregated weddings, women-only Internet cafes, and asks, “if so many places have separate facilities for women, then why are there no women-only taxis?” It’s a fair enough question. Taking a taxi with a male driver is awkward for many women and while not every male driver is a predator, there are many documented cases of sexual harassment by taxi drivers in Yemen. So in a country that is so obviously divided upon gender lines, why hasn’t segregation entered into the transportation sector?

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After becoming a parent, my life and perception of the world changed in ways I could not imagine.

I worry now — a lot more than I did before. When I’m not praying that my daughters will grow up to be strong, confident women, I’m begging that (if they choose to marry) they’ll find someone who will respect them, care for them, walk with them — and will never, ever lay an abusive hand on them.

I’m more suspicious now. While it’s pleasing to be told that my daughters are adorable, I’m wary when others comment that they’ll be “gorgeous” when they grow up. It’s impossible for me not to suspect that their tiny bodies are being sexually appraised. It’s even more jarring when a stranger touches my babies. Smiles and a “how-do-ya-do” are friendly. But intimate pats and tickles can reek of insidious, evil intent.

I have daymares. Driving the girls for the first time by myself will result in a car accident (it didn’t). Having our breakfast on the balcony will result in a terrible accident (unlikely). Someone will hurt them (insha’Allah, no). A fire, fall, crash, earthquake, meteor, tsunami, [insert irrational fear] will strike them down. My stomach clenches painfully when I think there may be a time when I cannot protect them.

The plight of other children now affects me emotionally. News stories of parents losing their children to abusive partners, senseless accidents, orphans, child hunger leave me sobbing, spurs me to action, but also makes me hold onto my girls tighter and with more fervent prayers for protection.

The idea that someone or something could whisk them away from me is my greatest fear.

So it is impossible for me, on the International Day of the Girl – a day about promoting gender equality and celebrating girls lives and opportunities across the globe — not to mark the work and bright life of Malala Yousufzai.

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I was standing in my closet, tears rolling down my face, a pile of clothes at my feet when I admitted something I thought would never come out of my mouth: I HATE hijab.

Moments earlier I was pouting and stomping around the apartment — feeling frumpy and ridiculously hot in a winter sweater. The Hubby, sensing that something was wrong, asked why on earth I was dressed for the second ice age when it was a balmy 30C outside. When I groaned that it was the only thing that fit my postpartum body, was breastfeeding accessible, AND comfortable enough to wear with the baby in a sling, he took me by the hand and proceeded to go through all of my clothes.

Unfortunately, the Hubby could not have known that a torrent of hormones and insecurities let loose by baby-blues and a negative body image was bubbling up inside me, just waiting for an excuse to explode.

He handed me a black nursing top: Too tight. It’s not hijabi enough.
A long blouse: I.am.too.FAT now. It won’t close over my chest.
My favourite cap-sleeve patterned shirt: I can’t! I have to wear a long sleeve shirt underneath to hijabify it — and then it won’t be breastfeeding accessible!

That’s when I stamped my feet and erupted into tears. It was a full-on adult tantrum — and I took all of my frustrations out on hijab.

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Pieces of tobacco sat bitterly on the tip of my tongue. I looked down at my shaking hand to see that the filter of my cigarette was broken and hanging by a sliver of paper – and it dawned on me that I must have taken a drag after I fell. That’s when I saw the new rough patches along the cuffs of my black leather jacket and the pieces of gravel sticking into my bleeding palms.

I fell. But was I pushed? Kicked? Hit? Yes, I was hit with enough force to throw me to the pavement. My hands shot out to brace myself against the impact – but the seconds before were a blank slate. I couldn’t remember. All I knew was that I was lying face down in a parking lot staring at a broken cigarette.

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