Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For Women: Freedom of Body and Mind

Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men. (Marcus Garvey)

Dear Zayda,

If Garvey is right (and I think he is) we need to free our minds before our bodies can be free. So many of us have a long way to go to consider ourselves free.

Garvey was probably too busy fighting issues of race and class to consider gender. If he were alive today, he might rephrase what he said to include women. But no matter, we will include ourselves.

Let us not forget, however, that there are many in different parts of the world who still do not want women to be liberated in either body or mind. I had a conversation on a radio programme last Sunday with a Muslim sheik last Sunday, and was amazed that he favoured a world where people are not equal. He had a list of all who are better than whom. He thought, for example, that God sees people with university degrees as better than people who can’t read or write, and god-fearing people as better than the godless. The “god-fearing” were the Muslims, and the godless were the non-Muslims. Of course, he believed that God sees Muslims as better than everyone else. The Muslim sheik believed all Jamaica’s crime problems would be solved if we had Sharia law.

Well, grandniece, if ever you hear someone mention Sharia law, you know already what they think about women’s freedom. In Muslim countries with Sharia law, women cannot speak to any man who is not husband or relative, unless a male relative is present. So you can see what that would do to a woman who tries to have a job outside her home. If women give evidence in court, they are considered as half a man. Courts can rule that a woman be given 100 lashes or be stoned to death if she has a relationship with the “wrong” man. Women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, but nothing stops men from marrying non-Muslim men.

I told the Muslim sheik that, from the way he spoke, I probably needed to get myself a burqa. This is the Muslim outfit that covers women from head to toe, just allowing them room to see. Control of women’s bodies and clothes is a way of controlling their minds.

So, little girls in many Muslim countries have a far way to go. Some are not allowed to go to school, and they certainly cannot go to schools that any boys attend. If they like sports, men can’t coach them, unless by cell phone at a distance. If a girl from a strict Muslim country wants to be a runner, she must still be fully covered – legs, arms, neck, and head. In some Muslim countries, women are not allowed to vote or drive cars.

It is not only in Muslim countries that women have to liberate their minds and bodies. Countries in the West, who say they follow Christian values, may allow women greater room, except at the top. Christians will say that their God created all equal, but they will still insist that the man must be the head of the household. In some churches, women are not allowed to hold leadership positions except in the Mothers’ Union.

What the law does in some Muslim countries, ridicule and isolation can do in countries where women are supposed to be free. For example, women who hold or want to hold top positions can find all kind of roadblocks. They can be accused of acting like men, wanting to wear the pants, or neglecting their families. People will exaggerate the woman’s weaknesses, real or imagined. They can be criticized for their hairstyle of the clothes they choose to wear. The result is that few women aim for positions as powerful as President of the United States of America.

However, Muslim girls manage to find freedom even when they can barely show their faces. Women risk their lives to be themselves, to go to school, to wear designer clothes under dresses that look like shrouds, to marry whom they like, and to work in meaningful jobs. If their minds are free, they know they are free, Sharia law or not.

In our countries, Zayda, we can be free as well. We can take no notice of the pressure to let men tell us what to do, what to wear, what to say, what lower-level jobs to fill and leave the more profitable jobs for the men.

We have a way to go to free our minds, but only we can enslave ourselves.


Your shangazi

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