There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish...




I am a Women Empowerment Coach for Muslim Women. As much as I love this title, I have twice been laughed on introducing myself as the same. Women don’t need Empowerment one of them said. Women are already empowered said the other. And I was made to wonder, for a brief moment there, if I am in the right line of business (notice the self-doubt!)


According to a report by the UN, 750 women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18. 1 in 5 women experiences physical and sexual violence in the last 12 months. Women make up more than two-thirds of the world's 796 million illiterate people.


These are only a few figures stated in the reports of the UN. This makes me wonder if it is denial, privilege, or plain ignorance which led these two very educated, both Muslim persons to make such statements against the need of empowering women.


I come from a background where I was privileged enough to get the same education as men. Having said that I often see my schoolmates mates who were much better students than me, had better degrees than me, struggling to have a word, in their culturally set patriarchal family systems.


Before marriage, the life of most girls is dictated by the males of the household, and after marriage by the husband and his family. Such is the life of an average woman in the South Asian culture. I am by no means an advocate against social norms. It is great if it is held on the principles of mutual respect. I am, however, an advocate against the generational conditioning that women have to go through.


The generational conditioning that automates their responses on putting the needs of other people before themselves, letting go of their dreams and ambitions, and in the long term teaching the same to their children i.e. men are somehow superior beings than women; and that it is ok to let go of their basic right of education, privacy, or decision-making to keep the peace in their homes.


I don’t work with big organizations. I work with women. Your average every day, educated, domesticated woman. Who are so much more than the rotis they make in a day, but are made to think otherwise. I work with women with unfulfilled dreams turning bitter by the day. And I work with their daughters who in this day and age have to go through the same conditioning as their mothers.


Be confident but not so much, they are told - be educated but not so much that it threatens any upcoming proposal, have a mind of your own but don't say it out loud. And when these same girls join the workforce, they find themselves doubting every decision they make, scared to voice their opinions for the fear of being further marginalized.


A research by Emily Amanatullah, from the University of Texas, shows that women find it more difficult than men to negotiate for themselves, yet they are more comfortable and more effective in negotiating on behalf of others.

Somehow this doesn’t come as surprise to me.


It gets even more complicated if you are a Muslim woman. The cultural conditioning in such cases is much stronger, a double bind I like to call it. Even though Islam as a religion empowers women by giving them the freedom to work, education, the marriage of choice, and divorce, the generationally conditioned households ignore these rights, if not blatantly deny them.


To add more to the equation a report published by the Department for Work and Pensions in the U.K shows that Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage women have the highest unemployment rates (9.8%).


As if the generational conditioning was not enough, the few who are able to escape it are caught by the discrimination in the workplace.


And in such circumstances of sexism, racism, and gender discrimination those who say women don’t need empowerment and support, a standing ovation for you for being blind to the obvious. The fact that we have to pull out these facts and figures is proof that a lot of work has to be done not only for the empowerment of women but also for rehabilitating the mindset of the whole society, especially men.


“We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.” — Sheryl Sandberg
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