Happy International Women’s Day!
This International Women’s Day, our newly appointed CEO, Ridwana Wallace-Laher, shares her thoughts about the unique pressures women face and why we cannot remain silent in the face of gender injustice.
“Morgan Freeman was once asked how to tackle racism and his answer stumped the interviewer, he simply said, stop talking about it.
When it comes to gender justice and equality, for a long time I had a similar approach. Personally, I found a lot of the narrative around championing women and “feminism” just too confrontational, and I rarely saw women like me being welcomed into those spaces. I preferred to not make such a song and dance about it all, and instead let my actions speak louder than my words.
Except today, I’m on my way to Cardiff to speak about gender justice, equality, and the hijab too (!)
Since stepping into the CEO role and being celebrated so beautifully as a woman reaching this milestone, I’ve also felt the additional pressure of knowing that the decisions, moves and actions I make will be examined in a way that men will never really experience.
It’s similar to when I first started wearing a headscarf.
I was in my early 30s, married with two beautiful children, it felt like the right thing for me to do, an act of devotion to draw closer to Allah (SWT). What I didn’t expect was to become the Ambassador of Islam overnight. Walking hand-in-hand with my English-convert husband suddenly drew a new level of public shaming, even being interrogated on the street, being asked by strangers if my mixed-race daughters were really mine!
In the chapter entitled ‘Women’ in the Qur’an, Allah (SWT) opens with a beautiful verse that sets the tone for gender relations:
“Oh Humanity, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women far and wide; be mindful of God, in whose name you make requests of one another. Beware of severing the ties of kinship: God is always watching over you.” Qur’a4:1
It's a reminder that our lives, as men and women, are intimately intertwined and connected. God is recognising and honouring the fact that we are different, but we are also together, in pairs. Individuals, yes, but reliant on each other.
God also warns us not to cut those ties. It's so sad that so much of the work for equal rights and justice for both genders have been turned into an 'us vs them' mentality. We all know the talk: "men are trash" or "I don't need a man" – but, in reality, we need each other. You can drive a car with your feet if you want to, doesn’t mean you should!
This International Women’s Day, the challenge I am reflecting on is how to embrace the unique and critical value we each have to contribute, as men and women, in partnership with each other, not in competition.
So, I’m sorry to disappoint Morgan, the answer to a toxic confrontational response to injustice isn’t silence. Rather, we can start by creating safe spaces that ensure that women's voices are respected, heard, honoured, and valued - whether it’s in our homes, places of worship or workplaces.
Around the world, and here in the UK, women bear the brunt impact of poverty and injustice. Transforming small change into a big difference for those most in need means putting women and girls at the heart of all we do. We’ve come a long way, but we have a lot further to go.
Our work at Penny Appeal has shown us first-hand how supporting women’s empowerment and fighting for the rights of women and girls can change lives - for them, for their families and even for their countries.
Each of our appeals puts vulnerable women and girls front and centre. So every penny you give to help rebuild the devastated regions in Turkey and Syria, building wells for those facing water impoverishment or supporting vulnerable orphan girls through our OrphanKind appeal will help build a brighter future for all. Your generosity today is the answer to yesterday’s prayers of those in desperate need.
Keep giving, keep supporting and keep shining. Happy International Women’s Day!"
WEDNESDAY 8 MAR 2023