gender


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?

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

There’s no compulsion in religion and God has sent a message to everyone – so there’s no reason to find faults in the beliefs of others. Think about what you’re saying and how your words will be understood. How they can offend or mislead. Take fasting for example. If you say that we only go out to eat when the sun goes down… people are going to think we’re a bunch of vampires.

I never laughed so hard at Friday prayers. The imam was jovial, frequently engaging the women in constructive dialogue during his upbeat pre-sermon talk – which was easy, since we were literally only a few feet away from the minbar. We were in an “open concept” mosque, where women and men shared the same prayer space. It was segregated, but arranged so we could all pray side-by-side. A runner divided the room in half, giving space for people to move in-between the rows without disrupting the sermon or prayer.

Eryn and I chose to pray close to the Hubby instead of joining our friends at the back of the room, where two wings off to each side of the main prayer space provide privacy for both men and women who want seclusion. I’ve prayed in the wings once before and liked how they were built with shaded glass at the front – giving people a clear view of the imam and the main hall. I didn’t feel separated from the congregation at all – especially when I used the microphone for people to ask questions.

Now that Eryn is old enough to pray, we both prefer to be at the front near the Hubby so we can worship together. As a family.

(more…)

Caption from the TorStar: "At Valley Park Middle School, Muslim students participate in the Friday prayer service. Menstruating girls, at the very back, do not take part."

At what point does religious inclusion become too much for a public school board to handle? Apparently it’s when the menstrual cycles of 12-year-old girls become the centre of public debate.

Every week for the past three years, Valley Park Middle School in Toronto has held official Jumm’ah prayers in the cafeteria. For many Muslims, the Friday service, complete with sermon and congregational prayer, is obligatory. Others believe that it’s optional for women to attend, that it’s not compulsory for anyone, or that if men skip three Jumm’ah prayers in a row, it’s a sign they’ve lost their faith. Like many issues in the Muslim community, there’s a wide variety of opinion and practice – but many agree that Friday prayers is vital to the faith and identity of Muslims worldwide.

In schools throughout Ontario, Muslim students have organised themselves into unofficial, cohesive communities – fasting together during Ramadan, praying in groups at the library during their breaks, planning ‘Eid parties, skipping class to fix hijabs, gossiping in the bathroom and creating religious-fellowship student clubs.

The solution to provide full religious services for students was agreed upon by parents, stakeholders and the school administration to address the needs of the school’s large Muslim population – which apparently makes up over 80% of the total student population. (source)

Previously, large groups of students would sign themselves out, walk to a nearby mosque to attend Jumm’ah prayers, missing hours of instructional time by hanging out with their friends after services instead of returning to school. Some didn’t even bother going to the mosque – Friday prayers were used by some as an excuse to skip. When parents approached the school with worries and safety concerns that their children were missing classes, they all agreed to allow an imam to come into the school and hold prayers on school property. Keeping the kids supervised and minimising lost instructional time.

The program was a success, with about 400 students out of 1,200 (about 30% of the Muslim students) regularly attending prayers. Each week, community volunteers come into the school and help set up the cafeteria as a makeshift mosque. Clean sheets are laid down, tables create a barrier to maintain gender segregation, and an adult community leader acts as an imam to lead the students in a sermon and prayer. For 30-45 minutes, while other students finish their lunch period and start afternoon classes, Muslim students have the option of fulfilling a religious duty.

But last week the Toronto District School Board became embroiled in controversy, when a coalition including the Canadian Hindu Advocacy, Jewish Defense League (Canada) and the Muslim Canadian Congress announced their opposition to the school’s prayer service. Arguments against the program naturally hold firm to the idea that publicly funded schools should not facilitate religious services – not during official class hours, and certainly not by an outside religious leader who provides unsupervised and unmonitored sermons in Arabic. (*gasp*)

But what’s really got everyone’s hijab in a bunch is the menstruating children.

Oh, won’t someone please think of the menstruating children?

(more…)

What do you mean we have to sit at the back?

I stared incredulously at the mosque representative. About 10 men already sat on the bus waiting for an organized student trip to Montreal – and they were occupying the front seats. A group of six women were standing in the cold waiting for my standoff to end.

I argued that we had mixed classes together, that this was a social trip, that the bus was secular ground, that there was no religious reason why we had to be segregated on a bus, and asked why the women were being forced to the back. I was told that despite the trip being social, we should always maintain proper Islamic decorum, that I wasn’t being culturally sensitive to the needs of the bothers who were accustomed to gender segregated spaces, and that they would feel more comfortable not staring at women for the 4 hour trip. “And what about us? Do you think we want to be staring at you?

He wasn’t going to budge. The least I was able to negotiate was to get all of the men to disembark first so we could get on the bus without having to brush their knees as we passed. I was furious.

Sex segregation in the mosque made sense to me when I first converted. I was interested in learning about my new religion, and was not necessarily on the lookout for social inequities. I probably wouldn’t have been able to see them anyway, since I was still the starry-eyed new convert, and often celebrated the great rights and status that Islam affords women, over recognizing that things weren’t often practiced in the same way.

I did eventually start questioning more frequently when men and women also had to sit in different sections during lecture series, during community dinners, and even during movie nights at the mosque – but the reasons I was given seemed to make sense, so I didn’t argue further. Often I was told that Islam curtails interactions between the sexes to help decrease the chances that an unrelated man and woman would be left alone together. Also, that it discouraged physical touching between potential marriageable partners – which could lead one to temptation and the eventual transgression of pre/extra-marital sex.

Then when I put on the hijab, I accepted an even stricter understanding of the rules of engagement between the sexes, and self imposed a manner of speaking and acting I thought was expected of the truly pious. I avoided looking at men, rarely spoke to men directly, and if I did it was with downcast eyes and with a firm, no-nonsense tone of voice. I let men walk in front of me and stopped shaking hands. I cut off ties to many of my non-Muslim male friends and stopped frivolous, non-work related conversations with my Muslim male friends. My actions were applauded by many in the community, and like-minded sisters used me as an example of a model Muslim at women only events. Together we arrogantly argued that western modes of interaction were shameful — and the pain of socially isolating ourselves seemed to be worth whatever spiritual gains we were receiving for acting in the appropriate “Islamic” fashion.

My tipping point came almost a year later, when I saw a leader within the conservative community chatting up a non-Muslim female student. He looked her directly in the eyes, smiled, joked, laughed, and even touched her elbow. While the last time he spoke with me, for an event planning meeting at the mosque, he did so through a barrier. We never had interactions outside of the barrier, and if we passed each other on the street, he would look beyond me, never acknowledging my existence.

(more…)

I’ve spoken previously about my experience with token whiteness, but this takes the cake:

This is taken from a newspaper in Qatar.  I found it just after I heard that Kuwaiti firms hire white, tall, “good looking” people specifically to shake the hands of dignitaries, consultants and clients.

Any takers?  Not sure what constitutes a lady these days though.

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