Today we celebrate International Women’s Day – a day which honours women’s achievements, their lives and the struggle for equality in this post-modern world. I’ve already heard criticism and grumblings though – some from women saying this day is full of hypocrisy, where companies cash in on a cheesy holiday, before going back to the uncomfortable reality where women aren’t all equal. I’ve also heard some from the men, who feel targeted, pushed out, marginalised and feel that it is unfair (to be honest, there is a International Men’s Day in November, but I’ve never seen it be celebrated.)
One of the reasons why I always like to talk about this day is because I know how much the women in my family have struggled in order for me to have the position, and privilege, that I enjoy today. My paternal grandmother spent her life looking after her husband, then her children, and then her last few years with her sons and grandchildren – but we all saw her as the matriarch, the Queen Bee of the family, and have such fond memories of her. We never knew our maternal grandmother as she died very young, but we have always held her in such high respect – the stories we grew up with about her focused on her being the jewel of her family, a much-wanted daughter and sister. One of the stories I remember being told was about her travelling in her ‘doli’ on her wedding day, and asking to stop so she could pray her salah – this for me was such a humble, awe-inspiring thing to do in the midst of a special day, and a reminder to not get too big for our boots.
And my mother. I could write pages about her. Whenever I read poetry about our roots, our struggles, our blessings, (“Our backs/Tell stories/No books have/The spine to/Hold” – Rupi Kaur), I always think of my mum and what she has taught us while she raised us, as well as what she has endured. My mother married young, and spent her life caring for others, where she never came first – her younger siblings, her husband, her children, her in-laws. I’ve heard a lot of stories from friends, colleagues, bloggers and many more about the relationships they’ve had with their parents, difficult or otherwise which all talk about how they impacted them as adults.
It’s harder to explain the more complex things someone who may not have the same upbringing as us – the emotional-blackmail, the cultural-family politics, the superstitions and the ingrained racism, misogyny and general random weirdness that seems to come part-and-parcel with Asian society. One of the things I was always grateful for was that my mother spared my sisters and I a lot of this headache – she realised the value of letting us be ourselves without forcing us to follow the route she had gone through. We spent our childhood running to the parks, riding bikes, dressing in boy-jeans (well, one of my sisters did anyway), wearing princess dresses (me), devouring books and jumping up and down to Bollywood songs (me again). Our parents were not well off, but my mother spent most of her spare time tailoring, and saved money carefully so that when we needed (or usually just wanted) something frivolous, we always got it.
And shall I tell you about my sisters? One is literally Superwoman – she blogs, works full time, raises five children and still has time for a good natter, to cook, to take her children somewhere fun or find something interesting to do, watch or read. Almost every person I know who also knows her ask me how she does it – I’m a little baffled myself. Then there’s another sister of mine – possibly the most humble person I know, and also the most reliable. I always take her shopping with me (because she lets me be rude to her when she picks out clothes) and she’s always my go-to person for taking photos, organising events or just generally random bits of handy-man advice. And lastly there’s the baker in the family – when we were younger we used to get asked if we twins (we look nothing alike but used to be the same height as kids), and she’s probably one of the few people who loves horror movies way more than I do. I often find that she’ll say something I was thinking, usually the more stupid the more likely! When I was in school, I got told by one of my friends that I talked about my sisters ‘too much’, which I found weird – I always thought I was lucky to have sisters and have always felt sorry for those who don’t.
Having said that, as much as I understand how important it is to recognise and acknowledge the bounds and leaps that women have taken over the years, I feel that it is just as important to understand the issues that women still have. In my workplace I’ve often come across women who have problems, and still have them now. I met a very sweet Afghani women a couple of days ago who broke my heart with her story – she was a teacher in Afghanistan who taught at a girl’s schools, but received many threats for doing so. Her son was abducted, his body found a year later. Her husband was injured in an explosion while driving to work, and she fled the country to Britain in fear of her life. When I went to visit her, her landlord took me aside and quietly asked me to be gentle with her – she had just found out her husband died the day before. Yet when I spoke to her I found her incredibly sweet, thoughtfully asking me if I wanted to sit, to drink anything. I found her strength of character amazing – she was in the middle of grieving yet had time to think of others. There are still countries where women do not have access to basic necessities – clean underwear, sanitary items, clean toilets and even basic rights and freedom. It’s things like this which make us realise how much we take for granted, and how far the world still needs to go before we can consider ourselves equal or fair.
Lastly, I also wanted to share some links for some campaigns and projects that have been brewing recently, in celebration of International Women’s Day:
I’m very proud to say that I know these two wonderful women – Zainab Khan and Maariya Lohar, who with their #trailblazingmuslimwomen campaign put a list of 21 successful women who aimed to make a difference to the world. Their aim, Zainab explained, was motivated by looking at Forbes ‘Under 30’ list and seeing that there weren’t many women of colour, and decided to show the younger generation that there are goals like this which can be reached.
Another campaign close to my heart is run by a close friend who has been showcasing for years a’Modest Fashion Pakistan‘ – the modest lifestyle of Pakistani women, both in Pakistan and around the world. As much as I love Pakistani fashion (and I have a whole blog dedicated to it!), we all agree that the media in Pakistan really doesn’t reflect the ordinary women, and that hijab is not represented as much as it should be. Pakistani fashion in the media is glamorous, exotic, beautiful but not always modest, and it rarely, if never has women in hijabs, and many socialites and bloggers would rather not go for the modest look. Thus the #modestfashionrevolution was born – a campaign to show modest, hijab-wearing Pakistani women around the world, to show beautiful, modest and stylish women who don’t compromise their values.
Finally is The Other Box, a friend’s company which is an award-winning organisation which promotes and supports creative people of colour. It’s a really great initiative, and their latest campaign is with the Skinnydip Sisterhood which showcases 12 amazing women.
This post turned out a little longer than I expected! But I’m glad that I’ve seen so many positive messages out there – one of the things I am glad about it that it gives women a chance to support each other rather than judge and compete with each other. The sad thing is, sometimes our biggest critics are our fellow women, and if International Women’s Day help to combat that then I will always celebrate : )