The lessons I walked away with from the Women’s Symposium 2017 by PPIS Singapore Muslim Women’s Association – themed ‘Rediscovering the You in Yourself’.
As I sit here and try to put my fingers to the keyboard to expand on the topic of this discussion, I ask myself – who are my own female role models? The fictional Wonder Woman who exudes physical strength? The ever-quoted Mother Theresa? Or Oprah?
Well, as cliché as this may sound, I don’t have to look far to find my female role models. My role models were my mother and my grandmother. Two women who not only come from different times but different cultural backgrounds.
Before I go any further, I think it’s best for me to set the premise here. My mother is Malay and my grandmother (my father’s mother) is Eurasian. Very different cultures, very different religions, which made for a very different upbringing for me.
Aside from the obvious differences, the strength that each of them possessed were different as well. My mother was the go-getter. Never letting anything get in her way of her dreams, aspirations and her goal to provide me and my brother a better life than she had.
My grandmother, on the other hand, didn’t have much of an education. After all, she lived in the times of the Japanese Occupation and education for girls in those days were not a priority. Nonetheless, she kept on pursuing upgrading herself with whatever she could get her hands on in those times. As she got older and as technology evolved, she became very in tuned with other mediums of knowledge – the television, the internet…
Ok, I digress…the point I’m trying to make here is that women, or women’s roles for that matter, are multidimensional, multifaceted, multi-layered – essentially a woman wears different hats. We juggle different roles. Yet at the core of it, we are nurturing beings – leading from a place of love.
Today, we live in a time that is very different from our mothers and grandmothers. Whilst we as women have more opportunities today as compared to the times of the past, that comes with more pressure and ultimately more stress. Today, feminism is at the forefront of change. Voices for equality ring across all forms of communication. And women today, like myself, have to learn to navigate through the choppy waters of modern society.
Far too long, women have been seen as lesser beings compared to their male counterparts. This inequality was even glorified in 1950s commercial adverts in the West portraying women as less smart, less intuitive, lesser of a human being in some cases. Today’s women stand up and stand tall for who they are and what they want, and will not be told that they are lesser than a man.
But that got me thinking, whilst I am, and proud to say that I am a feminist, does that mean I am equal to a man? Before you sharpen the knife for my back, hear me out.
Let’s rewind and take it back to the times of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW). His love for his first wife Khadijah (RA) was immense till his dying day. And as the story goes, she was older than him, she was a businesswoman, she was wealthy, she was the epitome of today’s #girlboss. Ok at this point, I think religious scholars might want to come after me but hey, I’m putting it in to today’s context.
Khadijah (RA) is one of the most prominent examples of women in Islam. She was strong, independent yet possessed the natural vulnerability and femininity. And I guess that’s what we have to try to get back to today.
Feminism today, or should I say the more common form of feminism today, is predominantly the West’s version of feminism – where women are equal to men. I emphasize the word equal here because in the West’s version of feminism whatever a man is, a woman can be. But can we really?
And that was the topic of discussion at the Women’s Symposium 2017 by PPIS Singapore Muslim Women’s Association – themed ‘Rediscovering the You in Yourself’. The year’s theme took a step beyond recognising the numerous hats Muslim women hold and discuss more deeply on how this phenomenon affects them. The event focused on the effects of the quality of women’s different roles on their psychological, biological and physical states as well as to explain how women can play up the positive impacts and curb the negative effects.
The event which was held on 14th October 2017, invited notable speakers Dr Marwa Azab and Ms Oniatta Effendi.
Dr Marwa Azab - 'A Woman's Psyche: Understanding your inner emotions'
Dr Marwa Azab is a Lecturer at the Psychology Department of California State University Long Beach, who elucidated the multidimensional womanhood, its impact on women and associated stress. While Ms Oniatta Effendi is a Senior Lecturer (Theatre) at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts who shared about the importance of constant reflection and refinement in achieving our aspirations and the legacy that we wish to leave behind.
“Through this event, I hope to invite women in Singapore to find and strive towards a wholesome definition of womanhood, as well as learn about how the female brain contribute to it,” said Dr Marwa.
What I found extremely beneficial from the symposium was learning from Dr Marwa the psychological and biological (obviously) differences between male and female, and how these differences affect us in our daily lives. In a nutshell, the female brain is wired differently from the male brain but that does not mean that men are superior than women. We’re just wired differently. Our brains work at different levels, our senses are in tuned differently and as such our place at work, at home and in life in general, pan out very different. Again, this is not to say that we are lesser beings. We’re just different.
Equality is about sameness. Meaning, everyone regardless of gender, social standing, etc are treated the exact same way and given the same things. But equality can only work if everyone starts on the same level playing field. Equity on the other hand is about fairness. It is giving everyone what they need (in their specific needs) to be successful.
I’m pretty sure you must have seen the image below floating around the internet. A very good illustration of the above definition.
Now going back to the topic on gender differences, as women are wired differently, we ought to embrace that with pride and grace. Whilst fighting for your right to be heard is something I am all for, this should not distract us from the beauty of femininity that we all possess. Keeping along those lines, as we work towards better social standings we also have to accept the fact that our brains and bodies react very differently to the stresses of life than men.
According to Dr Marwa Azab, studies have shown that women live longer than men however, women are far more likely to live with chronic illness. Cardiovascular death rates are declining in men but increasing in women. Obesity is increasing in women and obesity increases heart disease. See how it all affects the heart here?
Ms Oniatta Effendi - 'A Woman's Legacy: Creating and Re(de)fining your identity'
These are alarming facts and something we should not take lightly as we navigate through life. It is important, as women, that we re-evaluate our position and the roles we play. A topic discussed by Ms Oniatta Effendi. It is important not to lose sight of the true feminism – standing strong and setting out to achieve your goals but at the same time, embracing the femininity and vulnerability inside us, taking time to take better care of ourselves emotionally, physically and mentally. Fighting for women’s rights is admirable, but we need to take care of ourselves in order to be able to better take care of others around us. I guess you can say following along the example of Khadijah (RA). After all, that is what Islam has taught us.
I would like to thank PPIS for the invite to this eye-opening, mind-opening, even soul-opening symposium. To know more about PPIS and their efforts in the Singapore Muslim Women community head down to www.ppis.sg.
Founded in 1952, PPIS (Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura or Singapore Muslim Women’s Association) is non-profit organisation focused on community services. We are dedicated to working with women of all ages in carrying out their multiple roles in society. PPIS runs three core community services namely Family Services, Student Care and Early Childhood Education (ECE). With 16 centres islandwide, the services work together to provide a quality and holistic support as well as developmental programmes for women and their families.