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#IWD – Empowering or Erasing Women?

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Every year, International Women’s Day brings an outpour of feminist activism aiming to promote the role, impact, and value of women across the globe. In the latest episode of the Muslims Down Under podcast, we discuss these concepts and unpack the essential question – has feminism really empowered women? Or have the opportunistic waves that aim to restore women’s fundamental human rights all but erased the very understanding of what a woman is?

Listen to the full podcast episode below or read through an abridged version of the transcript below.

 

Bushra: Welcome back to another episode of the Muslims Down Under Podcast. In this current series we’ve been discussing topics roving around social justice. My name is Bushra and I’ll be your host today and joining me for this episode is Saba Janud, who is a mother of two beautiful children. Welcome and peace be upon you.

Sabah: Thank you so much for having me. I am really excited to be back and super super excited to be talking about this episode in particular. 

Bushra: So in this episode we wanted to discuss the concepts surrounding modern feminism and ask the question, has modern feminism failed women? We will unpack this, but also focus on motherhood and how the concepts surrounding feminism are failing this very important role in particular. 

Sabah: I mean, it’s about time that we discussed this I think. If not already, it’s so important for it to be brought to the attention of women and even men for that fact. It’s just really important to understand how the concept of feminism and motherhood work together. They are not separate entities. And you know when working together, I think it creates the ultimate sort of superpower. 

Bushra: Absolutely, and I think to start, let’s start with gender roles. You know there are fundamental differences between men and women, and I think that these differences must be acknowledged and honoured, but these feminist movements, over time they’ve attempted to blur the behavioural dichotomy of gender, I think, and you know, this has been a staple of modern feminism that has been relatively successful in getting people to question the reality or the validity of gender as a concept, and in turn, it has had severe consequences for society. And I think this has only created more issues that plague society because we’ve forgotten our fundamental inherent roles as men and as women. So in your view, what place do women have in society? What are the roles a woman should be celebrated for? 

Sabah: Well, OK, so firstly, to answer whether modern feminism has failed us. I think simply, it absolutely has. You know what their cause and what their fight is has truly underpowered, underestimated and it just hasn’t given women what they truly deserve. And it’s so sad because you know what they’re fighting for basically rights, right? They think that they’ve empowered women with choice and with rights. But have they, really, you know, by diminishing or blurring those lines? 

As you’ve said of gender roles, have they really done us a service or a disservice.? And I strongly feel that they have done women a great disservice, because when you blur those gender roles, you basically, especially with this whole feminist movement, you basically deny the existence of women eventually, because the standard that we’re living up to is men, we’re trying to follow man, we’re trying to follow in their footsteps. We’re trying to do what they’re doing and that is sort of the definition of ‘making it’, as fulfilling the purpose of the feminist movement, it is being right up there with the men and doing exactly what they’re doing, but in doing so, you’re erasing women, you’re, you know, you’re erasing women altogether. 

Men and women have been made differently. God has created us and given each of us innate strengths and honestly if we just stuck to those, I think overall, within ourselves, we would be so much happier and there would be so much more contentment which then also translates to an overall happier society, a more content society, a more fulfilled society. Because we’re fulfilling the roles that have been innately made for us. Which is, it’s filling our cup and it’s keeping us happy and content basically. But when we deny all of that, when we deny the specific purposes of what men and women have been designed for, then I think it just creates a whole myriad of issues within society. And I mean we can see those issues coming to rise already, some more so recently and some, you know, for generations now. We’ve been dealing with a lot of mental health issues, domestic violence, depression, suicide. All these things do stem back to not understanding our abilities as men and women, and trying to fight, trying to fight those innate abilities, I think. 

Bushra: Yeah, and I think modern feminism fails to be pro-women because it often brushes off those women who don’t believe that ‘smashing the patriarchy’ or ‘breaking those socially constructed gender roles, will solve any problems. And the idea that men have always oppressed women and that feminism had to come along and free us, I think is just overly simplistic. I think feminism created a landscape in which women could, to an extent, exercise choice and the pro choice movement is one of the most recognised slogans of modern feminism, and this is because prior to this, the many achievements of women’s liberation movements were actually defined by the absence of choice. But did women really lack choice and does modern feminism really liberate women, providing them with the freedom of choice? 

Sabah: In essence, I don’t feel like we lack choice, but I think that we have been made to feel like we lack choice. And it’s because of movements like the feminist movements and what they fight for, in the name of progression, like you were saying, in the name of liberation, the standard that’s been set for us to look up to is that of men. And you know, again, you’re denying the existence of God, which is the root cause of many of societies’ issues these days and because of that we don’t understand that men and women are biologically, psychologically, fundamentally made differently, and you know there’s reason for that, and there’s balance to that, and if we honestly just take, we need to just take a step back. We need to assess why we feel like this, and I think we need to stop, honestly we need to stop looking at what society is telling us to do. And we need to really take a step back and look at things from our spirituality level. 

You know there’s this huge cancel culture around motherhood, where it’s looked down upon and you know we’re erased of basically any value. When in reality, bringing up children is the most important responsibility anybody could ever have. And you’re exercising levels of intelligence that men just absolutely don’t have. And even as women, until you become mothers, you will never understand the roles that you play. If you are a mother, you’re not just a caretaker, you have to be a nurturer and a caretaker, you have the ability to shape minds. You’re there as a teacher, as a doctor, as a counsellor, there’s so many roles and responsibilities that mothers take. We are examples for our children, and I think that until we accept that, we won’t be able to commit to our role properly, because in order to teach our kids, it’s not a matter of just sitting there on the table and teaching them their Math and English. You need to set an example. Your kids are going to be soaking up and taking in everything that they see you do, and so, in order to be the best version of yourself and be kind of the best mother that you can be for them. You need to set an example and to do that we need to, look at the beautiful examples within Islam. You know they’re there, they’re there for us. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) wives, they embraced motherhood. They valued their identities, they embraced motherhood as their identities. 

Bushra: Yeah, you know, I was reading somewhere that a leader in the American Women’s Liberation movement once said that no woman should be authorised to stay at home and raise her children. Women should not have that choice. Precisely because if there was such a choice, too many women would make that choice. And I think this feminist movement that subsequently followed, these liberation movements, they ingrained in women from a very young age, from childhood, that girls must be taught contrary to their unique design as a woman. And that’s why today I think you’ll only hear it said that a woman’s highest calling and value is found in things like having a career or existing in the workforce or a vacation outside the home. But as you’ve explained, this is an inversion of God’s incredible calling of motherhood, which is to nurture, to protect and teach her children. To cultivate them, to educate and encourage them to goodness, and even more than that, it is to make a home, a sanctuary of love, of peace and safety for the entire family. And this is a full time 24/7 role that is not easy, because it is an act of complete selflessness, every single day. So, I think to only have a career, or a profession, and then barely enough energy to see your child, it’s not really a true choice, and anytime we go about dismantling traditional structures like family and motherhood and fatherhood, society has always led to many forms of social injustices that occur at every level of society. And then it’s then that we see the multitude of problems that we’re witnessing throughout society in this day and age. 

Sabah: In all honesty, you are actually a great inspiration for me and I’ve said this many a time over and to many people, and I pray that God enables you to continue doing all the work that you’re doing to the standard that you’ve been doing. You are not only working, but you run your home, your household. You have three beautiful children who are well taken care of. Your volunteer work for Muslims Down Under and also other departmental work for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as well, and you know that’s all volunteer based. So how do you manage it all and how have you been able to sort of tie in all your responsibilities and still be able to commit and you know give your time to all of these things that you do?

Bushra: So this is a hard question to answer! I don’t think I’ve done anything special or extraordinary in my life. I am very grateful for the opportunities that have come my way. I think for me, it helps me to remember the distinction between ‘have to’ and ‘get to’- if any type of work I’m doing, whether it’s as a mother, in my career, or in the volunteer capacities I work in, if that work feels like I have to do it all the time, I think that’s when it becomes a burden. It’s something that I then don’t enjoy doing, that I don’t get fulfilment from. So I am constantly trying to remind myself that this is something that I get to do, that I’m privileged to be able to do, that Almighty God has enabled me to do this, that He has given me the capacity and the capabilities and the opportunity to be able to do anything. 

And then, I think I also like to constantly evaluate myself as well, that although I have chosen to pursue a career, although I have taken on board these volunteer roles as well, ultimately, what are my priorities in life? What matters most to me? Am I giving those roles the justice they deserve? Am I making sure that the obligations I have as a mother, as a wife, are they being fulfilled? In my career, am I making sure that I am giving my career the due diligence it deserves, the hard work it deserves? In my volunteer roles, am I giving these roles my best effort according to the best of my abilities? And at any time, when I feel like I’m not giving, not doing any of these roles, the attention that they deserve, that’s when I need to change something in the way I do things, or the way I manage things as well. And I think sometimes I’ve experienced that there’s this understanding that you know becoming a mother has no value, that my profession or my career or other things in my life, are kind of more important, which I just disagree with and you know because I’ve tried to keep my priorities front and center as a mother, I think that’s also what’s helped me to get to where I am and hopefully to keep continuing. 

Sabah: You know this question has come and this topic I’ve been discussing quite a lot recently within my social circle, about the importance of motherhood and just that lack of awareness. I think that there is an innate ability that you’re given as a mother, your ability to love and care and nurture for your child. You know those are there with every mother. But, just like when you work and in your career, you know you can sort of mediocre your way through and earn money, and that’s fine. But in order to excel and to get promotions and to be the best in your job, you need to put in the time and effort in order to do that. And I think it’s the exact same thing with motherhood. You know you can, and you have to put in the time and effort to be able to raise your children as holistic, well rounded, good, decent people. And I think that it’s just not a matter of putting the TV on and or, you know, just sitting there and teaching Math and English. That’s not what defines you as a good mother. I think you need to self reflect and be a role model for them, and in order to do that, I strongly believe that motherhood is a lifestyle you have to live the way that you want to raise your child because they are going to pick up everything that you do and say. And you know you can tell them, ‘Hey, don’t speak like that, we don’t speak like that.’ But if you’re reprimanding them in that same way and yelling and speaking to them like that, that’s what they’re gonna pick up. They’re going to think, ‘oh, hang on a second’ and they’re not going to think ‘oh, OK, yeah she told me not to do that.’ They’re going to think ‘Oh well, you know Mum speaks like that, so that’s how I’m supposed to speak as well.’ Like it’s just little things like that. So I think that there’s a lot more work that needs to be put in. Paradise lies under the feet of mothers, it’s a saying in Islam and it doesn’t just happen. I wish that you could just become a mother and paradise is guaranteed. But in order to actually earn that paradise in the afterlife, we have to put in the time and effort to be able to really earn our spot. 

Bushra: Absolutely. And you know motherhood and the idea of being a stay at home mum has somehow become one of the lowest based callings in society for a woman, unfortunately. So, why do you think the role of a mother is important and essential for social equality and social justice? 

Sabah: I think that there is quite a deep rooted issue to this question, the devaluing of motherhood. I think that just on many levels, if mothers are sitting at home, they’re less people than in the workforce. So there’s the issue of greed and the people in leadership roles and just wanting money. You know, money and power in the wrong hands just fuels a whole myriad of injustices. Societies fall down and I think that when society is devoid of God and remembering that there is a greater purpose to our life and and when we try and take control of things in a worldly matter, then we lose sight of what’s important and like we’ve been mentioning before, not having God at the center of our lives and remembering that if we just put trust in Him, then everything else falls into place. 

And then all these materialistic goals that we want to achieve, we can very well run a household on a single income, but we want bigger houses, we want bigger and better, and more cars. We want, we want, and want and want and because of that we experience discontentment and unhappiness. We put this pressure on ourselves and feel like we have no choice. Both husband and wife have to work. We have to put our children into childcare, let someone else raise them, and let someone else spend most of the day with them. Like you mentioned before, you come home tired and you’re not able to give time to your children. They’re overstimulated and tired from their day. Not being around you. And then they might be cranky and whiny because they miss you. 

They need that time with their mother and there’s just so much science behind the importance of motherhood as well. And I recently read something, I can’t remember where, but they were talking about how years after a mother gave birth, there were still cells of her children in her body. That link is not just, like it’s just so much deeper than we think it is. The fact that she still had cells of her child in her body, that link just runs so deep and children need that connection. They need that connection with their mothers. There’s also research to say that when mothers aren’t there to give time to their children, that those children turn to become adults are a lot more aggressive as well. That was actually a study that I read recently, and so you know, they’re these things that we know where I mean, they’re out there, but it’s just not something that’s brought to our attention. I think social media just plays such a huge role in this, but we forget that that’s just not real life and. 

And you see women trying to do it all. It’s just not possible. There’s time and place and moments in time where you’ll get to have each of those things. But you can’t have it all together. Something will always give and it’s just so unrealistic to try and balance it all. And I think you know even with that, staying at home with their children, we need to change our minds, as opposed to thinking of it as a chore and really enjoy the time that we get with them, because honestly they grow up so fast. And I know people say that all the time, but time slips away and then you look back and you’re like I spent my whole time whinging that I wanted to get back to work. But, you know, for what, for what purpose? And now my kids are grown up and I didn’t get to teach them those values. And then you know they’re not there for us anymore because we didn’t teach them that, we didn’t teach them to be caring and nurturing and to look after parents and to look after elders and to look after your siblings and to be good decent human beings because we were too busy wanting to put them in childcare and too busy running after our own goals. And then the time comes when you’re now retired and sitting at home and your children aren’t there for you anymore because you didn’t inculcate those values within them. 

And again, that mindset shift where it doesn’t mean that you’re giving away your life if you’re staying at home with your children, that’s something that I’ve come to learn as well, that I now do things that I enjoy with my children. I’m filling my cup as well as filling their cup and spending time with them, whether that be gardening or other creative outlets that I enjoy doing. We know that sensory activities and all that creative play is the best way to teach children. And so I think we have to change our mindsets and there’s just so much information out there as well, and I think we also have to give credit to our instincts. I think if we just take a step back and we listen to ourselves, just listen to our instincts telling us ‘OK, this is what my child needs.’ This is what we need to give to them and it doesn’t need to be expensive. It doesn’t need to require a lot of things, a lot of resources. Use what you have at home. Use what you have and do the best that you can with what you’ve got around you. I think that there is just so much beauty in raising children and I just think that it’s so sad that we don’t see that. 

Bushra: Absolutely, and I think as mothers we shouldn’t put ourselves down. We should always think everything can always be done. Everything is always possible and we’re always capable of growth, of developing ourselves and progressing our values. Teaching these values to our children and making the best of our lives. And I think this is a wonderful place to end this conversation now. So thank you so much Sabah for sharing your insight, your wisdom with us today and for joining us on this episode. 

Sabah: Thank you so much for having me today. I’ve really, really enjoyed having this discussion with you. I could talk about it forever and, maybe we might have the opportunity to do it again at a future time, but I really hope that our listeners, you know our women get light and empowerment from this episode because there is so much beauty in our innate abilities and in being wives and homemakers and mothers. And I think that we just really need to take a step back and really get back to our roots now quite honestly.

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