By Tania Saeed
IT’S International Women’s Day. Unsurprisingly, digital and day-light discussions are going to follow the ritualistic whataboutery peculiar to this day. While some will use the day to glorify women insisting that they are “goddesses” others are going to bash women who take such deification seriously and indulge in celebrating themselves. In Kashmir particularly, the discussion has never missed the, “every day is a women’s day in Islam” as well as “women are not equal but superior to men”. Such comments are stray and often overlooked. However, it is these comments which essentially delineate the mood of how every day discussions on women’s issues look like.
Every unnecessary comment has an inherent scope for reform. Each has its own element of truth. However, dominantly, both are deeply entrenched in biases. Women’s day is going to come again next year and nothing would have changed. This is because our society has not only failed to move beyond discussions but has also normalised the secondary treatment of women through such whataboutery.
When women’s education is being talked about, the naysayers speak of the hijab. It is almost never suggested that women should have more access to religious knowledge and guidance. It is never discussed that in Kashmir, women don’t even have access to mosques where they may have felt a sense of communion with the rest of the community. Such public spaces bring along a lot of knowledge, support and more importantly, inspiration. Yet, the Ahmads of the internet will not speak of such issues because the purpose of their whataboutery resides in sexism.
More and more women will come closer to religion, if only men acted as allies and opened up religious spaces and religious knowledge for women. Inadvertently today, a woman’s spiritual and religious character is reduced to her sexual morality. While sexual morality is an integral part of one’s spiritual character, it is not supposed to be the be-all and end-all for a practising Muslimah. Women should be encouraged to move towards and move beyond societal perceptions of “good women” and inspired to move closer to being “believing women” mentioned in Quran.
Additionally, it does no one any good to deify women. Let’s be honest, our society does not treat women as goddesses. The implied meaning of such deification should then mean that women should be absolved of all responsibility. They shouldn’t have to do anything. Is this the case? No. Should this be the case? No. We all have a set of responsibilities and roles. Those of us who follow Islam also follow a set of responsibilities which have been entrusted upon each one of us, including women. A more productive way of channelising your enthusiasm for women would be to recognise their labour, assist them and respect them. Women, working or non-working in the modern sense, all do domestic labour. Domestic labour is almost always ill-defined. We do not know the working hours, we do not know the resources used, no one registers the extra-time. This means that women are always at the risk of doing a lot of housework without being credited with anything at all. Instead of fighting about whether or not women need to work or can work or should work, it would help women if you would simply be empathetic enough to always offer your help.
If you truly believe Islam gives rights to women (and it does), show up as believers who have been directed to respect women. It helps no one when women are discouraged. This kind of virtue signalling is almost always restricted to women. Why can we not have haya when we put our point of view online? Why do we become uncouth in our responses to women? Why is it that if a woman verbalises her discomfort, it is almost always met with hate?
You cannot do any good to women or men by being insecure about women’s issues. Islam gives rights to women. We have Allah’s command and Prophet’s (pbuh) guidance. Why are we acting insecure then? Trust that each issue that a woman raises is an issue that has a solution in our deen. Look for it instead of raising false alarms. Yes, the modern age has a lot of fitnah attached to the question of women’s rights but the answer still is empathy. It is becoming increasingly difficult to stay on deen, especially for women. Do not drive women away by painting such an intolerant view of our religion. Our religion is strict but sensible in its approach to women’s rights. Have faith and show up as the torchbearers of this spirit of justice in Islam.
Women’s day whataboutery will help no one. We need to cultivate an atmosphere where women are heard and their experiences are valued. Kashmir has seen so much promise in women. Day-to-day examples exemplify the many ways we’ve kept the doors of ease and access open to women. We should take inspiration from this very culture and keep moving forward towards a future which is better and safer for women. The recent incident in Dalgate, where a woman being stalked took to the internet following which the stalkers were arrested, is a positive sign. The support she got, the acceptance and the love will only inspire more women from speaking up. It will create a conducive culture for women to grow and a society where women do not feel like their own are their enemies.
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