As a child growing up, with the strong presence of my father, at the time, I never held any notion of limitation to my ability to do anything I ever wanted to do in life, least of all because of my femininity. It thus became a very hard pill to swallow, several years later, my father having passed, realizing that most of the 'real' world operated along the very construct that the woman may be some form of 'lesser than' variation of the man and, consequently, need not feature as prominently in certain areas typically reserved for the man. For a segment that makes up half of the world's population, it is a shame that we do not witness gender parity and the appropriate levels of representation in every field of endeavor and at every level of society. The harshest bit of this wake-up call is to find that, sometimes, women are just as firm believers of this false narrative as some men, conveniently, are, and get, unnecessarily competitive with each other, not always genuinely supporting each other‘s drive for advancement.
I am sure I don't need to bore you with the scores and scores of examples in the world which prove that this construct exists - from the ongoing struggle to end female genital mutilation to the general fight to protect the rights of the girl child, including that of her access to education; from news about indiscriminate rape in both war-torn and non-war-torn countries alike to stories of domestic violence and abuse as almost routine occurrences in some households around the world. This is not even to mention the stark reality that we are still facing in the all-too-lauded 'free' world of unequal and discriminatory wage and opportunity gaps between men and women. Yes, indeed, the world has come a long way over time, what with the suffragette movement and the acceptance of a woman's right to vote (at least in most parts of the world), as well as the magnanimous and tireless efforts of the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Malala Yousafzai. The main question, though, is how many more women need to literally dedicate their whole lives and, at times, sacrifice it for the world to acknowledge something that should already be a universal truth: the equality of the sexes.
The role of religion in perpetuating the status quo cannot be discounted. And here, I am very careful about my use of the word 'religion' versus the more seemly term - 'spirituality'. The word 'religion' has almost taken on a more negative connotation throughout time due to its tendency to be manipulated by its organizational leaders for the sake of personal gain. This need not have been so, but, unfortunately, is another sad reality. Thus, I use the word 'religion', in this case, more so to reflect the common manipulation of spiritual texts to advocate a course of action, usually for selfish gain. We have seen how Christian texts were used to justify slavery in the past which has left racist structures in countries that were plagued by this, the dire effects of which keep re-surfacing and sending ripples around the world. In much the same way, religious leaders who have had a vested interest in 'keeping women in their place' have, in effect, found a way to tuck the responsibility of submission nicely within the quarters of the woman alone. However, any close study of Christian texts, for example, will show submission within the context of a marriage and not as a determining method of relation from any woman to any man. The texts also show submission as a mutual endeavor and not as the one-sided trope it has come to be.
As we continue to remove the layers, we realize that there is no real reason to discriminate, in any environment, on the basis of sex. Yes, men and women may look different, but, using a phrase from within my cultural context....'the quality is the same'. And as has always been the case, the key to female emancipation is really the female herself. Every female has to wake up to the reality, regardless of age, of her and her fellow’s worth, capability and right to equally occupy all the spaces that this world has to offer. Of course, in keeping with socio-economic theory and the apparent limited spots in already existing spaces, there is the tendency for the 'haves' to continue to want to 'protect' and thus territorialize these spaces at the expense of the 'have-nots'. And this is, perhaps, where our truly spiritual nature must rise up to overcome these carnal tendencies - to work to create new spaces if need be, or sometimes be willing to share portions of our own 'spotlight' for the greater good. This call goes both to women who may already occupy these seats of privilege, including myself, and the men in these spaces who can allow themselves to feel convicted enough to do better. And to our mothers, grandmothers, and every woman in the past who never had the opportunity or somehow bought into the limiting perspective that 'the man can do it better', we say, 'let's give ourselves the chance to tell a different story.'