As a child I was often bashed for being a little rebellious. Well, I was no angel, I have to admit that! But when I think about my work for women rights today, I am often reminded of some of the things I was taught at school; some of the remarks I would hear my class fellows make; and arguments over religion that I would have with my family.
At school, I clearly remember my Islamiat teacher unable to give satisfactory answers to the burning questions I had. Suffering from ‘I-want-to-be-a-good-girl-syndrome’ I often cursed myself for having an evil mind that dared ask questions about my religion. Luckily, with time, I found solace in the spiritual void that my religious affiliation filled and that today is my greatest strength and support system in life. For as long as I can remember about my teenage years, I was always either uncomfortable or ashamed of my gender. I felt like I wasn’t ‘good’ enough or that I could never go out and live my dreams because I was a girl. I remember the sexist comments some of my class fellows used to make: ‘God has given man preference over woman when it comes to brains’. Ironically, I was a position-holder and yet I allowed such chauvinist comments to be flaunted at me.
Then there were times when I would sit and wonder how we malign God in our daily lives and how blasphemous we can be, especially those who are self-proclaimed guardians of religion. Once a cousin of mine made a trying effort to convince me that the reason why a woman’s testimony is half that of man is because, simply put, women are less intelligent. I was horrified because this argument was coming from a girl, the same age as me, and studying Islamic jurisprudence. An uncomfortable thought kept nudging me in my mind: “if this is true then are you telling me that the God I love and worship so dearly is sexist? Are you honestly telling me that my mental capacity is prejudged on the body parts God gave me?” Of course, I did not voice this thought at the time, I was only 18, too young to be branded a ‘Kafir’.
If all my energy in fighting notions related to my gender were to be futile – that would have been the greatest regret of my life. But thank God I stood my ground for the things I believed in! Today when I go out to facilitate any session on women rights, I come back awed and energized. There is an inherent sacredness to the women of this land, we all experience their divinity in our personal lives, but even in their professional capacities women are making their mark. Only yesterday I was with a group of domestic workers and the amount of strength that these women had left me mesmerized. Even though these women belonged from an oppressed working class where their rights are not even covered under the labour laws of Pakistan, yet their smiles, their alacrity to learn and their positive attitude astounded me.
I wish I lived in a world where we celebrated being who we are rather than forcing everyone to conform to a single uniform identity and code of ethics. Is that too much to ask? Women should be celebrated whatever identity they possess or subscribe to. I think this holds true even more for working women who not only look after their families but also carve out an identity other than that.
Today is National Day for Working Women of Pakistan and I hope that all organizations take this opportunity to celebrate the women they work with and give them the space and support to create conducive working environments. I, for one, love being a working woman and I will definitely celebrate today with my friends, colleagues and fellow activists!