Before “Balance For Better”, We Need To Tackle This;
During the last few months of 2017, I worked with an NGO that focuses on eradicating early/forced child marriages, gender-based violence and reducing economic exclusion of girls and young women. That of course, meant that the “16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence Campaign” held in the month of December was of key interest.
“How about turning the celebration on its head by, instead of organizing a sensitization programme for young girls, we do so for the boys?” asked our Programmes Manager. The table stared at her in amazement. It sounded different. We liked the suggestion. And as she so suggested, we did exactly that; ‘turned the celebration on its head’ (metaphorically speaking…haha).
After the visit to the Asebi D/A Basic School in the ShaiOsudoku district (which had serious problems of teenage pregnancy, by the way) and our interacting with the young school boys on how they can help eradicate domestic violence against women and girls, we realised it was all worth it. After all let’s face it; how truly free is an empowered woman if some man somewhere still sees her as a ‘punching bag’? (emphasis on the “still sees her”).
And this is where my conversation begins.
How are a number of our men seeing a woman today? Like, when the name of a woman is mentioned, what is that first image that comes to mind? (fill in the blank, and I’ll tell you why that’s important).
In cultures that bear very extreme patriarchal traits, the woman is seen as a child; weak, naive, unreasonable and petty. The result? She is not engaged in any leadership position and her views of course aren’t sought either. Rather, she is to be tamed (and this where the almighty beating, AKA ‘punching bag syndrome’ emanates from). Borrowing a few words from Malcolm X, the woman is not at the table, but on the menu.
But here’s the other part of the story; the establishers of these cultures and beliefs have had children, grandchildren, great grand children and ‘four times over’ great grand children. And guess what happened alongside? The transferring of that view of what the woman represents. And so today, don’t be surprised if that male colleague of yours at work who appears so refined in his speaking, his Hugo Boss suit, Rolex watch and Jimmy Chooleather shoes loses all that sophistication when it comes to conversations of women and their role in society. And don’t be surprised either when your local Imam who speaks so mesmerizingly on issues in Islam gets your head begging for a pack of Paracetamol when it comes to talking about who the woman is and her role in society. They may just be a part of these ‘four times over’ great grand children who have unfortunately, not been able to part ways with such archaic views of women.
And so when such people are in influential positions and you talk to them about balance, it doesn’t register. Because right from the start, they don’t see you as equals, or better still, beings capable of bringing anything worthy to the table. You don’t expect a guy who thinks that women according to the Qur’an deserve a ‘Rambo style’ whacking when they go wrong or that educating your woman is an act so blasphemous it is tantamount to the sacrificing of a man’s ego at the altar (cough*, cough*…clearing my voice) to understand what the call for balance is about. To him, you’re speaking Greek (AKA, it’s not registering). And if such a mind is at the helm of affairs in an organisation, God save the women working there! The ‘menu’ is exactly where they’ll be.
Until we are able to work strategically to change how such minds see women (who appear to be in the majority), balance will take time, that is, if we will ever get there. And I hate to say this, but we have a lot of work to do in our Muslim communities on this count. What we have seen in very recent times; the case of Habiba who was beaten by her husband and the disgusting defense of her husband’s act, the heart-wrenching stories that appeared on the Facebook page of ‘The Iqra Show’, the social media banters that are going on about the rights of a Muslim woman over her husband and the very recent video of a man beating his pregnant wife (which I hear happened in a Zongocommunity) are just few of the proofs that we as a Muslim community need to wake up and face the realities we are claiming do not exist (and imagine the many other sufferings that have gone unheard! Yaa Salaam!). And the prime reason for this stems from how a number of our men have been made to see a Muslim woman; either by those men who probably were treated poorly by a woman and suffer from heavy doses of low self esteem, or by that young scholar who believes that being able to rattle Qur’anic verses and Arabic makes him knowledgeable about Islam (the cheek of it!).
I’m sorry to say this, but we are likely to be the last community that will achieve this balance if we don’t come to terms with the reality that ‘our actions are becoming so loud people cannot hear what our scriptures, classical scholars and Allah havesaid about women being beings who have dignity, reason,rights as well as passions and talents which are supposed to be used to make the world a better place’. They are not punching bags, unreasonable beings, untalented and impassionate or weaklings who cannot think for themselves talk less lead both men and women to take decisions that will benefit the society at large. (but Islam gave Muslim women rights 1,400 years ago so why are Muslim sisters nagging? Well thank you for that factual update, but, the reality on the ground is so ‘in our faces’ it’s almost blurring that heavy fact in our eyes). Visit your local mosque and see the gender balance of the Mosque Committee. See what roles the women are given to play and if you are the ‘dig deeper’ type, speak to some of the women in the mosque on if they are interested in working in such committees. Trust me, you don’t want know what Ghanaian Muslim women had to face when they began to appear on some of our Islamic TV programmes just as guests, talk less as hosts (and who can forget the issue of the gender balance of the Hajj Board some years back)? The proof is in the pudding.
Today, there are countless Muslim women groups that are working to empower the minds of young Muslim ladies to strive and aspire for greatness. Great! But there is still a problem, and my very close Muslim friends have heard me rant about this severally; we can’t empower the minds of Muslim women alone. There are still Muslim men out there who see an empowered Muslim woman more a threat than a woman who is not empowered. Allah save that empowered Muslim woman who marries that Muslim man who sees her as a threat to his ego. Still back to zero. In some Muslim ladies groups in which I have found myself, this view of mine has surprisingly been met with apprehension from sisters themselves (talk less the men). ‘InIslam, women are not supposed to mix with men’ has been the No. 1 response to my call. In fact, the very last Interfaith Dialogue we held under ‘Sisters HangOut’, I received a number of calls from persons who felt our inviting our males over to join us for discussions on Women Empowerment was flawed (we went on anyways). But they missed the point, and so do many others (especially sisters) who think that meeting together and discussing issues that bother us minus the Men will take us to that promised land (don’t get me wrong here either; I am not underestimating the role of Muslim Women groups. Of course, some issues are better discussed between us). The truth of the matter is we need to get Muslim men (especially those who see women as naïve little kids) to see and hear what we have to offer and the challenges we face because of some of the ways in which they see us. It is particularly important for them to hear us out because at the end of the day, they stand to deliver the Friday Sermon and they lead in most of our communal activities. They call the shots (yeah, reality sucks, but bend it to work in your favour). They will be the advocates in circles where we cannot. And most importantly, they will see that we aren’t just nagging to be on the table for the sake of it but rather, that we deserve to be on the table where the shots are being called. That for me, is when the ‘Balance Call” will really register.
Of course, there are Muslim males who see women as indispensable assets to the society and world at large. Like my good friend Murtala, a broadcaster at Radio Savannah (Tamale) who gave my friend Sayida, who’s currently the Deputy News Editor at Sagani TV (Tamale’s leading Dagbanli TV station) the space to moderate one of the sessions of the National Policy Summit held in Tamale last year. She was the only female moderator for the whole event. And there’s Abdul Samed Zurak, CEO of Zurak Cancer Foundation whose organisation has about 50.5% of women; a chunk of who occupy leadership positions. My own chance to be the first female host of ‘Islam in Focus’for three years on my University Campus was as a result of two Muslim male minds (including Irbard) approaching me to do so and with whom, I worked together with for a while (which makes me wonder what could have gone wrong, considering his views on women in these recent times). But well, there is still an appreciable amount of Muslim males who see women in a very enlightened way.
Yeah, it’s true, we may not be able to get all men to see women as human beings (old cemented thoughts die hard, you know). But even if in trying, we get just enough influential males in our communities, just a handful of them; even if that be our husbands, MPs, Imams and traditional leaders to see women under the correct lens, with time, ‘Balance 4 Better’ will follow when we least expect it.
And oh! Happy International Women’s Day!