Tag Archives: WomenEmpowerment

It’s Not About the Burqa

Mariam Khan, freelance writer, editor and feminist, has compiled essays from seventeen Muslim women in the UK, who challenge some of the stereotypical views we have about Muslim women and their communities.

How many of us look at Muslim women and think of oppression, silence, abuse and misogyny? I read this book because I wanted to hear from the Muslim woman herself, and It’s Not About the Burqa, though not representing ALL Muslim women, shed light on many issues I had never thought about. Issues that a lot of us do not care to consider. The women in this collection speak about feminism, racism, sex, sexuality, faith and other issues that concern Muslim women in the West.

Some of them take us through a journey of how they found their voice, and how they shed identities that were given to them by the communities they came from and the ones stamped on them by the rest of society. Sufiya Ahmed shares her experience of discovering Prophet Mohammed’s first wife, Khadija bint Khuwalid, who was not a silenced and oppressed housewife, but rather a successful businesswoman and the wealthiest merchant in Mecca at the time. Not only do you find such stories in the history of Islam women, but the essayists share how the Quran, contrary to the spread laws or rules of tyrannising women, supports and empowers women.

What I found the most interesting is how these Muslim women discuss the balance between identities, and how they’re expected to only be one thing, get rid of one to become the other. Things such as being queer and Muslim, being feminist and Muslim or being black and Muslim. I had never thought about it that much but it made me realise how mainstream feminism can be so damaging instead of freeing. For example, one essayist discussss how feminism talks about equality and liberation of all women, and yet will expect a Muslim woman to choose between her faith and being a feminist, which becomes pointless because it is doing the very thing it claims to fight against.

There’s also so much about how representation of Muslim women has gone wrong, in the way that it’s done by fashion designers, or on magazine covers, where what they are doing is representing a Western model and ideal of a hijabi. There is also the idea of representing only what Muslim women look like but when they have to speak for themselves, their vocal representation is not given a platform.

It’s Not About the Burqa also challenges members of their communities themselves, to stop doing things that give the rest of the world the wrong perception of the religion, giving them even more armour to attack their identities and their faith. They do not deny the existence of things such as misogyny, as they do exist in so many other cultures and religious communities.

I appreciate the honesty of the essayists in admitting their inability to speak for all Muslim women, because it’s impossible. They’re all different, from different communities and with different experiences and cultures. However, as Muslim women they should be able to create a platform where Muslim women are not spoken for. We cannot say Muslim women are silenced by their religion yet not give them a platform to speak.

This is a well written, edifying, enlightening and empowering book. It’s also light, you can breeze through it, it doesn’t burden you with complaints and noise. No, it’s bold and it challenges the narrative about Muslim women.

I want to say feminists will love this, which they’ll do, but I think anyone with good sense and who wants to see all people given a chance to be fairly represented, seen and heard will enjoy this.

It’s really not about the burqa, or the hijab, abaya or dupatta. It’s so much more.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I Am So into Women

Exploring Women in Literature

I recently visited one of my favourite bookstores (where they’re a quarter-to giving me a mattress and a blanket), looking for non-fiction books by women. Bookstores are usually therapeutic for me, but this time I left frustrated and disappointed. In 2020, a lot of books I find by women are mostly fiction books. I don’t know how the stats stand but I later went to a bigger store, that has way more titles and I had the same experience.

I was looking for female non-fiction because I wanted to hear the voice of someone whose experiences I can relate to. We know that historically women have been kept out of everything and have had to fight to break down walls and burn gates. We’ve been misled to believe that men are the ones who created and shaped the arts, and well, everything in this world. It’s not that women never had anything to contribute, they were just not allowed to do it, they were not allowed to even dream of doing anything but stand and watch.

I spent a little time in the Classics section and was surrounded by Plato, Aurelius, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Twain, Salinger, Orwell, Achebe, Mphahlele and many others. Yes, there was Shelley, Woolf, the Brontës, Rand, Dickinson, and a few more, but the gap was still big. Male authors still dominate bookshelves. Even when I moved to business and self-help, the highly praised books are from names like Kiyosaki, Carnegie, Hill, Gladwell, and a million others. This is also frustrating because as great as these books are, when we women read them we often have to find ways to alter the message to make it apply to us, and sometimes, given the challenges we have, it is close to impossible.   

So all this frustration led me to think about what it is I want to read, what kind of messages I want to collect, what kind of solutions I’m looking for, and who I should get them from. I do not disregard men’s work, not at all. I have read many books by men that have helped me improve my life in tremendous ways.

However, I love the voice of women. I want to hear women and I want to hear about them. I want to read women. Give me women, please! I have read so many books by men with families whose success stories show that they were able to do things, have the time and energy to do them because their partners were taking care of everything else. I want to read about that woman, with kids and a home to run, and how she did or does it.

It’s not just in self-development books or classics. Across genres, the same problem exists. And so, on my quest to find these intelligent, brave, successful women, I’m going on a quest to read more women’s books.

“Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I want to read their biographies, their poetry, their tragedies and achievements, their struggles, and their successes. But I will not limit myself to only those stories, I do believe that there are male writers who have supported the voice of women in literature and there are men who have portrayed powerful and positive images of women. I am for that.

I don’t want any of that damsel-in-distress bullshit. I want to see women characters who show real women who don’t need to be saved. I want to dissect this vexatious yet interesting area of literature. The world should be seen through the eyes of the very people who live in it. Women, as members of society, should be able to express their existence in the same way as men do. In this open and inclusive manner, we can fully understand the world and understand each other.

When I made this decision, I went through my own shelf and saw how male-dominated it is. I’m ashamed. Honestly.

So I don’t think I’ll be able to read or write about women in literature following historical timeline. It will be challenging to find relevant books if I do it that way and it will be boring. Instead, I’m starting where I am, and from the unread books I have, what better way to start with women from cultures, traditions, and religions that are known or said to be oppressive? We’ll figure it out through the readings. So my first part will be on Muslim Women in Literature.

I have, on my shelf:

  • It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila (I said I’ll include a few men who do justice to women’s voices
  • Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy
I have no idea how that book ended up upside-down 🤦🏿‍♀️

I’m starting with Muslim women because, I already have these books so it was an obvious choice, and also, because it’s so easy for the rest of us to look at Muslim women and conclude that they’re oppressed and miserable. I’d rather find out first, preferably, from them.

So, here we go.

I’ll repost the review of Infidel. I had already started The Chibok Girls and stopped because it was depressing, but it’s short and I’m almost done. And I don’t think there’s time to be depressed, if you go into something that talks about injustice, oppression, prejudice, discrimination, abuse…it will be depressing. It’s inevitable.

So let’s do this.

To women!

Examining Women & Power with Mary Beard

“We have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.”

― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

If we reach into the depth of mankind’s history we see how in many parts women and power have been two separate entities. Power has been seen through a male lens and when women have tried to take the power that belongs to them, it has raised such discomfort that men have often gone to great lengths to prevent it. Women have had to take a subordinate role and there have been laws, rules and social constructs to keep them there.

However, we have made a bit of progress although a lot still needs to be done. In some parts of the earth, she is progressively pulling up a chair and actively sitting at the table. Sadly, there are still many societies where women’s voices are still muted and women are completely excluded from power.

In this profound examination of these concerns, Mary Beard demonstrates how modern misogyny can be detangled and linked back to classical themes where women were heavily prejudiced. She revisits the classical Greek and Roman work of literature, giving examples of stories of women who are the embodiment of these prejudices. The parallelism of ancient literature to the modern times shows history often recurring in different spheres – politics, economics, etc.

Her focus on the silencing of women points out, amongst many, how public speech was one of the ways of defining masculinity, and so to have women speak in public has often provoked aggression. Beard strives to find answers to how women can be heard.

She also scrutinizes the gap between women and power and takes on an angle which surpasses simply knowing and laying out the stats. She takes on an analytical approach and forces you to think about the why and the how. How is misogyny embedded in history and in cultures? How do we confront these issues? She challenges the definition of power, by asking, “If women are not perceived to be within the structures of power, then is it power that we need to redefine?” Another example of power that she zooms into is that of masking inequality by placing women in so-called positions of power when those positions are possibly where power is not.

“I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.”

‘Women and Power’ is a sharp and illuminating read that matters, and should be read. I applaud her for her ability to knit so many important and agonizingly true points in a compact and stimulating package that leaves you with something crucial to carefully reflect on.  

You will enjoy this book if you want to hear a more pragmatic approach to gender inequality and sexism. Also, if you want more than the statistics, more than just calling out sexism but also explaining it.

Enjoy ✌


Title: Women & Power: A Manifesto

Author: Mary Beard

Publisher: Liveright, 2017

Hardcover pages: 128

Review: The Art of War for Women by Chin-Ning Chu

“It’s About the Art, Not the War.”

After reading this book I had to admit that I had not understood Sun Tzu’s The Art of War at all. Could it be that the original text had been written for a male audience and I had failed to interpret it from a female point of view? Whatever the reason I’m happy to have read Chin-Ning Chu’s version.

Whether you want to move up the ladder, get that senior position you’ve been eyeing, break the glass ceiling, deal with a difficult colleague or boss, be a better parent or homemaker, or become a successful entrepreneur, this book will help address some of the things that are holding you back and help you with the way forward.

Before you think that this is some raging feminist book, stop. It’s certainly not anti-men and I think that men can also benefit from reading it. Chin-Ning Chu takes all the principles from ancient text and breathes contemporary life into it, and addresses it to women. Something we need more of.

This book is about effective strategies and how we women can see ourselves as leaders, which a lot of times we shy away from because throughout history we have been misrepresented in a lot ways – too emotional and not built for leadership. A good example of how Chin-Ning Chu applies Sun Tzu’s principles is how with regards to this misrepresentation of women she suggests the art of deception and how we can use this illusion of weakness to our advantage.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, all of it. There are many gems she shares about repackaging womankind and selling the world a new image of womanhood. This encourages you to change the way you see yourself, how you see the roles you play in your personal life and in business. After reading The Art of War for Women you will change the way you think, the way you act and the way you manage yourself, people and situations.

I’d recommend this book to women who have been losing on the battlefield of career and home because they’re women and because they have been fed the lie that they can’t win. The book will teach you about taking a holistic approach to winning. I would also recommend it to people who, like me, have read the original The Art of War by Sun Tzu but couldn’t grasp it or apply it anywhere.


Title: The Art of War for Women

Author: Chin-Ning Chu

Publisher: Broadway Books, New York. 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-51843-7

Genre: Business & Economics

A Seat At The Table With Sheryl Sandberg in ‘Lean In’

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

-Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In

The workplace can be a battlefield for women, where they struggle with progressing and gaining access to top roles. Leadership roles are still dominated by men, and promotion and rising to higher positions takes place faster for men than it does for women.

Sheryl Sandberg unknots the underlying issues that have to do with these challenges that women face, and comes up with good solutions. In Lean In, Sandberg identifies root causes such as women’s personal attitudes and lack of confidence. Fear also influences women’s attitudes in the workplace, such as the fear that they don’t deserve certain roles as compared to men. There’s also the fear of failing, putting too much on their plates and the fear of not being able to balance home and work. Women still need to play other roles at home, wives and mothers and there’s also the fear of not succeeding in those roles.

Sandberg also confronts the issue of likeability – a woman being too nice therefore perceived as incompetent, or being competent but not nice enough. She suggests that women should feel they deserve the roles they want and accept the challenge. Wanting to do it all just won’t work, but doing most of it well enough will help.

Her other remedy is that women should seek out opportunities and ask for them if they have to. There are women who will hold back the reality of their personal lives, which can get in the way, and so she advises that they should be open about their personal lives as it is not separate from their work lives.

This book is a good contribution to the efforts of changing the system and achieving equality. The issues she addresses are serious and her passion for a call to make changes in a world that constantly makes it difficult to carry out that task, is commendable. The style can be slightly dull at times, therefore making it a bit demanding on the reader’s attention. However, it’s a necessary read for both men and women. It’s for women to recognize things about themselves that could be holding them back. It is for men because it will bring to attention some of the things that they do to hold women back and ways that they can help to creating equality. It can also advise women who stand in the way of other women, on how self-preservation only serves to inflame what is already wrong with the system.

Lean In is worth a read. It plays a good role in the fight for women’s right to get a seat at the table.

Talking about vaginas with Eve Ensler, and the freedom and power it brings.

The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play that has been performed all around the world. Eve Ensler interviewed a diversity of women, giving them a platform to talk about their vaginas. These are women from a wide range of backgrounds – different sexualities, young and old, from different cultures and religions. They’re also women who have been through different experiences; rape, consensual sex, genital mutilation and more.

This sharp, profound and hilarious gathering of female voices shows the desires, fears, and oppression of many women with regards to their bodies, especially their vaginas. It celebrates the vagina. It gives it its own voice. It allows the vagina to be revisited, to be looked at and for its owner to have a positive relationship with it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its power and freedom. I learned to question and to confront issues relating to my own body and my own experiences with myself and whom I choose to share those experiences with.

“The clitoris is pure in purpose. It is the only organ in the body designed purely for pleasure.” 
― Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues

I also discovered the global movement, V-Day, which strives to end violence against all women and girls. This non-profit organization was born from The Vagina Monologues and has so far done an incredible job to help women and girls around the globe.

I recommend this for all women and I challenge you to sit down and have a conversation with yourself about your body, and about your vagina. You will not look at it the same way again.

Enjoy!

“To love women, to love our vaginas, to know them and touch them and be familiar with who we are and what we need. To satisfy ourselves, to teach our lovers to satisfy us, to be present in our vaginas, to speak of them out loud, to speak of their hunger and pain and loneliness and humor, to make them visible so they cannot be ravaged in the dark without great consequence, so that our center, our point, our motor, our dream, is no longer detached, mutilated, numb, broken, invisible, or ashamed.” 

― Eve Ensler, The Vagina Monologues