O humanity! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other. The noblest among you in Allah’s sight is the one who guards against evil [one with the most taqwa]. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Surat al-Hujurat: 13)
In the context of the death anniversary of Lady Fatima Zahra , leader of women in Paradise and the day after the South African State of the Nation address , it is apt that we discuss women and gender based violence.
Fatima Zahra A.S has left us a great legacy. Amongst her merits include being referred to by her father, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w), as “The Mother of her Father,” due to the unique care and love she showed him, as well as being referred to as the ”Greatest of Women of the Heavens and the Earth.” Additionally, she is held in high regard for her courage, bravery and sharp mind.
Lady Fatima remained a devout servant to the cause of Islam, sacrificing much and in the process teaching Islamic etiquette , values and human rights to many.
And so to the state of the nation address:
We are glad that President Zuma aims to eradicate inequality this year , but one wonders about the seriousness of this commitment when he only speaks of women twice in his entire SONA address? One mention went to the contribution of women to the economy but also in terms of inequality how only 32.4% of senior management are women and therefore 67.6% are men. He also encouraged more women to farm , one wonders if our President knows that more than 50% of farmers in the world are women and that women walk a distance of more than 3 times from the earth to the moon and back , each day , collecting water for their families. Interestingly, the Farmer of the Year is Ms Vanecia Janse from Koukamma municipality in the Eastern Cape.
He lastly mentions President OR Tambo as being a champion of women’s rights. We all wish that Our President would follow on with that legacy. The South African will continue to mainstream the empowerment of women in all government programmes. – we are very excited for this and then they will continue to prioritise women’s access to economic opportunities and, in particular, to business financing and credit.
Gender roles are learned within a particular social and cultural context and are affected by education and economics. In practice gender roles often affect women adversely impeding their self-determination in areas like their socio-economic status, status within the family, health, life expectation, independence, freedom and rights and the challenge of gender bias means that women often find themselves working twice as hard for the same recognition as men.
Central to the challenge of GBV is the issue of girl children who are less valued than boy children. This is indoctrination that takes place in the home where boys may lie around watching TV whilst girls are responsible for household chores and caring for younger children . It is also about what we praise our children for. Boys are often praised for being outgoing whilst girls are encouraged to stay indoors quietly. This perpetuates the syndrome of keeping women on their places.
In the context of the Ihata Shelter in Heideveld where I work ( the only Muslim run shelter in the country and 1 of 14 registered shelters for abused women) girl children already perceive themselves as less valuable than their brothers and may seek validation from men who are unhealthy and harmful to them and their well being. Here we witness the taxi queen phenomenon and girls in gangs who enjoy the ‘protection’ of these men. The girls are enticed into prostitution , forced sexual acts, drug smuggling and other social ills to ensure their ‘protection’ and safety from men who certainly do not have their best interest at heart.
Families are often held hostage by these gang members who will intimidate and even kill them should they interfere for the well-being of their daughters.
Unfortunately, in many societies and for many years women have been principally defined by their roles as sexual beings whose chief purpose is to satisfy the sexual needs of men; this perception contributed to maintaining women in positions of inferiority and often subservience to men. Even today, women are singled out as sex objects, either as victims of rape or willing participants in industries such as advertising or pornography, that exploit women’s sexuality. Demeaning cultural habits have no place in Islam and we are certain that should the Quran and example of the Prophets peace be upon them be followed, that women will enjoy equal and better status than men Women are revered as having Paradise at their feet.
Furthermore , because these young women are uneducated and their mothers often lack education and the wisdom to rear strong women, these young women are becoming vulnerable to diseases , HIV /AIDS and teenage pregnancy.
I want to primarily state that HIV/AIDS is a disease that has led to the death of many . It is exactly that, a disease ,not a moral condition.
Some young women , due to abuse which often leads to substance abuse which leads to prostitution so that they may support their families and often their habit which allows them to cope with their circumstances.
Some of our challenges are :
- The denial of the existence of such problems in our community
- Spreading of the truth impedes men’s comfort and pleasure in using women
- Hindrance of profitability of the industry, especially for those players who are politically connected
- Prostitution is too horrible of a practice, a highly stigmatized taboo subject, that people would rather not hear details about
The majority of us may have the idea that prostitution is a choice and the women enjoy what they do. The reality is quite the contrary for many of them. On many occasions, deprivations, conflicts, and difficult circumstances often lead to desperation, and desperation forces these women into the practice of prostitution. Many of the women I work with who have left sex work are uneducated women who live in poverty and possess few marketable skills.
Another challenge is that of discrimination based on religious teaching and values.
That some religious leaders perpetuate the systemic issue of the inferiority of women to men through marriage classes , sermons, unfair practices around the divorce and faskh and it’s process.
The Quran is clear :
Anyone, male or female, who does right actions and believes, will enter the Garden. They will not be wronged by so much as the tiniest speck” (Surat an-Nisa: 124).
While we criminalize and stigmatise sex workers for living in adultery, spreading diseases, disrupting family institutions, and giving birth to innocent, illegitimate children who suffer for having dishonorable mothers, we fail to see the other spectrum of the consequences of prostitution. The consequences that break down women who cannot function fully as mothers , daughters , wives and educators.
The vicious cycle then continues.
Allah SWT says in the holy quran : The reward of goodness is nothing but goodness. (Al Quran 55:61)