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Catcalling

By Samira Lourdi

In October 2014, a video of a woman who walked the streets of New York City and encountered ten hours of sexual harassment and catcalling went viral. The only thing more worrisome than the video were the comments that came subsequently. Some said she was “asking for it” and others thought she should feel lucky. This demonstrates anew that some people just don’t get it – but it’s not just that. According to some opinions, girls shouldn’t get upset about getting catcalled: It’s just a compliment, so why get upset? While I think that it’s okay that some girls don’t mind getting catcalled, I have to disagree with their reasoning. It’s not a compliment – at least that’s not the aim of the people who do it.

The belief that women should enjoy catcalling is pretty strange because it entails that catcalling is done with respect. It suggests that when a guy sees a girl walking down the street and shouts something at her about her body, he’s doing so because he thinks it will make her day better. That’s utterly false.

Let us take a specific example: catcalling in France. In recent times, street harassment of women in France has been highlighted as a huge problem. In a study done in France in 2015, 100% of the women surveyed said they had experienced harassment in the streets. Feminists in France are doing their best to tackle and lessen the amount of sexual harassment that happens in public spaces.

Walking home alone (late) at night is still a problem for women. Walking home alone in France (late) at night is still a problem for me. I am French and I live in a suburb of the Paris region. I came back to France after spending a few years abroad, notably in the United Kingdom.

I say good-bye to my friends before starting my walk home and my friends tell me to be wary in the dimly lit street. Shortly afterwards, a stranger approaches me attempting to get my attention. I don’t turn around, I keep walking as the man hurls insults after me. Feeling anxious and fearful, I finally get to my front door with the feeling of relief. Thanks to this man, I now don’t feel as safe in ‘my’ area as I did previously. I manage to stay very calm and collected. Why is it always the victim in these situations who must remain rational and in control?  Whenever I step out of my front door, I wear invisible blinkers as a survival strategy. The defensive bubble around me protects me from intrusive behaviour. Without this bubble I wouldn’t be able to face going outside alone. It’s a coping mechanism. It means not making eye contact with people, dressing in a manner that does not stand out from the crowd, etc. This is sad as it restricts women’s freedom. This happens to me. This happens to many women, to many girls – every day.

The following short film by French director Maxime Gaudet is called ‘Au bout de la rue’ (Down the Road). It’s a brief video that helps people understand how women feel when they find themselves walking alone on the street at night.

But why is this happening in France more than in the UK? This is not an issue specific to France. Yet, my French friends who have spent time in the UK and British friends currently living in France are all in agreement that the issue is much worse in my country.

Could it just be that attitudes towards women are different in France than they are in the UK? In the Global Gender Gap Report 2013 rankings, the UK came 18th and France came in 45th, Germany 14th and Spain 17th, so at a sociopolitical/policy level at least, France is way behind its neighbours. I’m not suggesting that street harassment is a thing of the past in the UK but the work of campaigns such as Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates has opened up a dialogue. In the UK, catcalling and other forms of street harassment can no longer be passed off as a little bit of fun or just lads having a laugh.

France is starting to have this conversation too. In May 2012, a Ministry for Women’s Rights was created in France. The French government has a responsibility to ensure that its citizens are safe – all its citizens.

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What Suffragette meant to me

Written by Estelle Ng, Change Maker

(This post contains spoilers for the movie Suffragette)

MakeMoreNoise2Opened in cinemas early this year, the film Suffragette depicted the beginnings of the suffrage movement in the UK – a pursuit of women’s voting rights. Set in the early 1920s, the film illustrated how women were considered less important than men and as a result, their voices were invalidated and disregarded. Granted, the fight for women’s voting rights was an arduous one. Having conducted peaceful demonstrations and submitted parliamentary testimonies, voices of the working class women were ignored time and time again. This left these women with no choice but to resort to violence – a language that man at that time presumably only considered seriously. After a series of violent destruction of public and private property and consequently numerous jail terms for the women involved, the film ended with the death of Emily Davison which attracted so much international attention that the King had to address. Historical records reveal that British women were granted voting rights in 1928.

Scene-from-SuffragetteAdmittedly, I only knew about the word “suffrage” through this film, and that only goes to show how much I have taken the suffrage movement for granted. From a young Singaporean woman’s point of view, this movement seems at first glance to be a distant one. Unlike the UK, there was no suffrage movement in Singapore because we have been practising universal suffrage since the start of democratic elections in 1947. Women are not banned from running for the elections and standing in parliament, though only one of the full ministers in the current parliament is female.

Yet, one only needs to search on Google to realise that in this time and age, women in other parts of the world only recently received the right to vote and the right to run for elections.

54bf34caf792ec66a6435815ae4f48e8In actuality, the suffrage movement relates to something close and relevant to societies today. Suffrage reflects merely one aspect of gender equality. Women around the world, Singapore included, are still fighting in many ways to be treated as equals. The gender gaps still exists in Singapore. Another case in point: Have you been shut off from a discussion just because you don’t serve in the army or just because you menstruate? Gender discrimination in Singapore is real and it is very much alive in everyday discourse. This rhetoric is also reinforced and legitimated insofar as the constitutional right to non-discrimination assured by Article 12 does not extend to categories such as “gender” and “sex”.

So, what does the movie Suffragette mean to me?

Though not an entirely accurate portrayal of the actual events that happened, the movie symbolised the strength that women have. I believe that women today have the power and capability to champion for gender equality. Gender equality does seem like a utopian and idealistic concept that no one can singlehandedly achieve. However, let us remember that as with any movement, this fight for gender equality begins with the individual. Be it debunking stereotypes about what women and men ought to do in everyday conversations with friends, or through writing letters to the parliament to amend legislature, every individual has a part to play.

The movie also made me realise how championing for gender equality is also men’s responsibility because gender discrimination affects men too. The limiting binary oppositions that demarcates the boundaries between what men and women can do affects men too because not every man wants to conform to these boundaries. Think about it: Gender discrimination benefits no one but the elite and gender-conforming  men of society.

As we enter the post-SG50 era, let us remember that the war against gender inequality today may differ from the suffrage movement of the early 1920s, but it doesn’t mean that the war is over.

estelleAbout the AuthorLiving by the motto permanent impermanence, Estelle realises that with every moment never capable of repeating itself, life is simply too short to be spent waiting for things to happen. She is currently a Sociology undergraduate who believes that the power of words and the arts can inspire conversations.

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Let’s talk about abortion

Written by Camille Neale, Change Maker

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 2.42.52 pmEven in 2015, abortion remains a taboo subject. Until more recently it was not a topic covered much in the mainstream media. So it’s no surprise that a considerable stigma, and misinformation surrounding the topic remains. Many people continue to think of abortion as some kind of shady procedure, but in reality abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women and is actually safer than giving birth.

As a feminist, I am pro-choice, but this post is not about why women should have access to safe and legal abortions – it is about why we need to create an environment where women feel comfortable being able to talk openly about the topic, whether it is talking about their personal experience with abortion, or whether they are seeking a safe place to talk about getting one.  

Sex education and reproductive health

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 2.42.59 pmIn a lot of countries, including Singapore, young women don’t get much of a chance to learn about their reproductive health. Like the topic of birth control, abortion is not well-addressed in many schools’ sex education curriculums.

I remember when I was in school, we only talked about abortion in the context of pro-life vs pro-choice debates. But these classroom debates did little to teach us about the actual experience of getting an abortion, the medical process, options available to women and so on.

Because no one ever talks about it it’s easy to imagine that getting an abortion is a rare occurrence, but it’s actually a lot more common than you’d think. In the US, by age 45, one in three women will choose to have an abortion.

Social attitudes about abortion

The idea of abortion being taboo and shameful is an idea that controls women’s sexuality. We live in a world that teaches young women to feel ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality. By not talking openly about abortion we are participating in this narrative that labels sexually active women as “sluts.” It reduces women’s social role to their reproductive function, and is a huge source of stress for women who do choose to have an abortion. Not talking about it makes it seem like more of a taboo than it should be.

There are many different reasons why someone might choose to get an abortion. Sometimes planned pregnancies have to be terminated due to health reasons and even these women find that there is little support. Women who have had abortions in the past fear others finding out.

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 2.43.11 pmWe need to address this culture of shame that prevents women from sharing their stories.  Abortion is all too frequently used as fodder for political debate by men who shouldn’t be the ones deciding what a woman does with her body. It’s no surprise that women are afraid to speak up about their experiences with abortion. When they do they have to face the possibility of being labeled a “murderer” by pro-life advocates. Women need to stop being threatened for wanting control over their reproductive rights.

A spectrum of experiences

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 2.43.21 pmThe absence of women’s realities in the public realm is something that we need to address, particularly when it comes to women’s health.

The medical paradigm is already based on a model that understands health through the experience of men. Women who have had abortions need greater access to mental health care and non-judgmental public forums for working through their experiences.

We can create a more empathetic dialogue where women can claim control over their bodies – this will help to humanise the narrative and move away from abortion stigma. Women should have the right to make an informed choice, and to be made aware of the kinds of options at their disposal if going through with a pregnancy is not their choice.  

I’m not saying to take abortion lightly. Like choosing to become pregnant, it is a serious decision. But women who choose to have abortions need to be given a space where they can share their experiences, whether they are positive or negative ones, without fear of their stories being co-opted by politicians to advance a pro-life agenda. While many women report feeling relieved after an abortion, some women do regret having abortions or experience sadness or guilt, and their stories should be heard too.

Access to abortion is an important part of women’s health care; by not talking about it we are strengthening the arguments of those who want to limit access to the procedure. Ultimately, the topic of abortion is about individual women’s choices.

About the author: Camille is a recent university graduate who is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. She hopes that whatever that is, she will be able to wear a power suit and be really intimidating. 

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Men’s leadership for gender equality

This post was originally published as a Change Maker newsletter in October 2015. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter for regular updates and tips, take the Change Maker pledge here!

I’m a guy, and I care about sexism. What can I do?

We’ve heard it before, many times, in different ways: men are an important part of the movement for gender equality. But how exactly can boys and men make a real difference?
Here are some ideas from us!

1. INTERRUPT: Sexism and “guy talk”

bigstock-hand-making-a-stop-signal-sign-162901311Catch-ups with your National Service buddies, soccer hang-outs, or just drinks with guys you like to hang out with – these traditionally “boys-only” spaces provide a lot of potential for allies to interrupt sexism should it arise.
What can you do if your best friend makes a rape joke? Or if someone makes an offhand comment about a girl’s body or dressing? There are many ways you can interrupt these instances of sexism, show that you don’t approve and get people to reflect. Humour, questions, sarcasm, or a sincere show of discomfort – any of these could work! How would you interrupt sexism in the boys’ club?
2. ENGAGE: With men, women and good ideas
other_conversation_review_comment_bubble_talk-512People aren’t always going to pat us on the back for speaking up. In order to spark real change, men need to be okay with starting conversations that nobody wants to have, and dealing with discomfort. You need to listen keenly to women’s experiences and take them seriously. Read about and follow broader discussions on gender issues that are happening now. Learning requires humility and willingness to unlearn male privilege. Speaking up is taking a risk. Are you ready for it?
3. ADVOCATE: For change, equal spaces and diversity
AdvocateNetwork-Tab1dThink about the communities you are already a part of and how you can make a difference there. In specific, think of the spaces where you have leadership and a strong voice. This might be at home, on an online space, in an interest group or a work team. For example, if an organising team you are in wants to invite a group of experts for a panel discussion, what are the factors you would consider? Is there equal representation of men and women on the panel? Are there people dominating the conversations and decision-making processes? How much of a role do women play in organising and participating?  How major are these roles and how much are women acknowledged or credited for them?
There are many strategies we can adopt if we want to shake up a system that benefits one group of people over others – so observe how these systems work in your own context, and work to dismantle them!
Get involved!
– Join Yes, All Men and SGRainbow in talking about consent in social and sexual settings. Register for the dialogue session HERE!
– Volunteer for the We Can! Arts Fest – email us at [email protected] if you want to RALLY with us on 6 December!

 

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When to speak out

Written by Aparna Menon, Change Maker

aparna2My first month of work, three years ago, was a traumatic one. After years of avoiding the shipping career, I inevitably ended up signing up for it due to financial pressures. While I can never relay in full detail the turbulent weeks of my first experience in the workforce, one incident stands out.

My supervisor was assigned to show me the ropes in the beginning. While I cannot deny his helpfulness, I also cannot condone his views. As weeks progressed, I started to learn more about him, mostly because he openly expressed his opinions. I appreciate candidness and honesty, and so this was refreshing. I listened with intrigue as he explained my job and responsibilities. Then one day he turned to me and told me that women should never be in power. I was taken aback.

That afternoon I heard more comments, such as ‘women cannot understand as much as men can’, ‘women should never be in politics’ and ‘men should protect women because they are weak and insecure’. Those comments were abhorrent and I felt I couldn’t respond as much as I wanted to. I listened in captivation and I interjected feebly with quiet comments about feminism and examples of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a female leader in politics.

aparna2My supervisor had three daughters. I was heartbroken to realise that these girls would be raised with the belief that they could not achieve their dreams because of the stigma attached to being a woman.

I used to believe that women’s rights (or women’s empowerment) was a redundant topic, something not worth mentioning. This is not because I disagreed with it, but because I assumed that equality of men and women had already been achieved, at least in the developed world. In the developed world where children are supposedly educated to understand that regardless of race, gender or religion, they are all human beings and should be treated as such. I now realise how much more work still needs to be done.

How can we achieve equality? Educate yourself and educate the people around you. We cannot progress, learn, impact and effect change unless we ourselves have the knowledge. If you find yourself in a situation in which you believe that a woman is unjustly viewed or denied privileges, your education is the tool that can make a difference. Three years ago, my fear of my career being taken away from me stopped me from speaking out. I will make sure that it does not happen again.

aparna3About the author: Aparna is a passionate advocate of international development and education.  She hopes to pursue it full-time. She believes writing is one outlet to express opinions on these topics and highlight the issues of today.

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“Those are the real problems.”

Written by Kimberly Jow, Change Maker

A common, almost ubiquitous comment in my social circle with reference to talks about feminism are stories about women in other countries who face brutal violence, followed by the words, “those are the real problems”, with the word “real” expertly italicised in real life.

First World Feminism.jpegI understand where this is coming from. They acknowledge the problems faced by other women in countries who seem to “need it more”, and apparently nobly recognises their privilege. The small problems we face here, rape threats on Twitter, stereotypes – they don’t hold a candle to the many girls being forced into child marriages, or the honor killing of women. What about those problems? Those are the real problems.

This “those are the real problems” argument, aside from the time taken to type it, is troublesome in and of itself. First off, it is dismissive of the problems faced by women in a first-world society. That argument essentially says that certain problems don’t matter because they are not all of the same magnitude.

Why do women have to have a constant fear of death before their concerns can be validated? Problems faced by women in the first-world continue to remain relevant. The oppressive structure does not get a free pass for its actions just because other people have it worse. Anyone using the hashtag “#FirstWorldProblems” have perhaps felt silly for complaining about their daily minor inconveniences, but there is generally no expectation for them to act like they suffer the same as those, for example, below the poverty line. One may expect them to feel empathy and help out, but not live according to the standards of everyone who has had it worse than they have.

Secondly, the “those are the real problems (TATRP, for the tired typist)” argument, derails the fight for equality in first-world societies, which is a problematic move.

For many people of my social circle, the “TATRP” argument and those of its ilk are commonly used to rebut discussions of feminism. The purpose appears to be to guilt trip women into not speaking out about their struggles. Even if it were unintended, the fact remains that a conversation like this will either be derailed or avoided. This affects everyone’s ability to understand the experiences of each gender, thus impeding our progress towards equality.

Tank top VS acidAt the risk of simplifying the issue, I would appeal to the users of the “TATRP” argument to stop. By using victims of violence to silence feminists, you are using real people, with real experiences and emotions as a tool, an object to get your way. They may not directly experience your flippant cruelty, but it shuts down any form of viable discussion with members of your own society. I understand that it may not have been your intent, but I would ask that you hesitate before you adopt a “TATRP” tone; devaluing one’s struggles does not help alleviate the other.

Such comments could have been said to express helplessness at the many anti-women outages all over the world. In which case I would recommend a donation at https://www.globalfundforwomen.org/, and encourage you to rest assured that we can still help to improve the world.

About the Author: Kimberly is a somewhat ambitious NUS undergraduate who has always dreamed of writing her own About the Author section. She retains much hope for eventual equality, and is willing to fight the currents to get there.

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A platform of sexism

Anonymous blog post

A while ago, I found out the most horrifying thing about a close friend of mine. He was using the fact that I was a legal adult but still able to pull off a schoolgirl look to feed his fetishes. We agreed to have a shoot and at that time, I thought it was only for artistic and photographic purposes.

That was, until my friends showed me a forum where this close friend of mine is a member. What I read in the forum filled me with utter horror.

There is a thread in the forum where men discuss their fetish for various secondary school uniforms in Singapore. They were posting pictures of them ejaculating on the uniforms, asking for suggestions on which school uniform they should cum on next and cheering each other on. This close friend of mine also posted some pictures of him ejaculating on several secondary school uniforms. The worst thing was that some users shared the photos of the girls whose uniforms they had ejaculated on. Those girls are just secondary school girls!

This forum is none other than Sammyboy Forum.

A quick glance at the rest of the forum made me understand why the moderators did not do anything about the thread. Sammyboy Forum is a place where discussion about any type of fetish and any topic of sexual nature is acceptable, regardless of how non-consensual the activity or hateful the discussion. There is even a place for users to share uncensored photos of girls they had sex or nude photoshoots with, with or without their consent. Users also share tips about how to sexually groom a girl into agreeing to take nude photoshoots.

Why is such a forum allowed to exist? A forum where women are nothing but sexual objects to satisfy the fetishes of the users. A forum where women are trophies and prizes in the eyes of those users.

I understand that we need a venue to share and discuss sexual fantasies because sexual freedom is important in our conservative culture. But there should be limits to that. Every party involved should be consenting. Every party involved should be treated as a person with feelings and needs, instead of being objectified as a fetish object. What would the impact be on a young person who happened to stumble upon this forum? What would they believe to be the norm with regards to sex and women?

I hope that something can be done about this forum, and its contents to be moderated. Sexual freedom should be encouraged in Singapore, but learning to respect a person and understand consent is important as well.

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RALLY: for art, music and conversations for change


WE CAN POSTER - 4 SEPT SMALLRALLY,
v. coming together for a common purpose.

Celebrate solidarity, support, collaboration and allyship at We Can! Arts Fest on December 6 – back for the third year in a row!

What does it mean to be an ally for gender equality? How can we support the causes we feel strongly about without overpowering the voices we want heard? How can we do this through art, music and conversation?

If you:

– love art and performances that provoke critical thought and empower your audience
– wish to showcase your talents to inspire action for change
– want to meet like-minded artists and activists
– have a voice or a story that you want to share with others

….then we invite you to be part of RALLY, and be featured alongside other artists and activists in Singapore! Band together for a day of art, music, films, performance and dialogue. Be part of the Change Maker movement towards a safer, inclusive, more diverse reality.

Submit a proposal for your performance, programme or exhibition to us!

More details on what to include in the proposal in the link above. Send your proposal to [email protected]


About the We Can! Arts Fest

10869589_884245438277055_5022304249781370802_oWe Can! Arts Fest is an arts festival by We Can! Singapore and its partners in conjunction with ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence’, an international campaign marked by the UN and other groups around the world. 16 Days of Activism starts on 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day. It aims to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional, and international level.

We Can! Arts Fest offers a platform to bring together arts, performance, and community-based events in solidarity with the international movement, and to make an impact locally. We Can! Singapore will also run a parallel social media campaign to build up towards the festival.

Read more about The Silence of Violence: We Can! Arts Fest 2013 here and take a look at our photo gallery here!

Read more about Breakthrough: We Can! Arts Fest 2014 here and take a look at our photo gallery here!

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Ask Before Touching

By Sahar Pirzada, Change Maker. This piece was originally posted on Beyond The Hijab

*Content Note: Post discusses rape and marital rape

It is common practice to ask before touching something that is not yours. The same rule applies to bodies. A husband does not own his wife or her body and must ask before touching it. She is the sole owner of her body and has the right to decide who can touch it, how, when and for how long.

hijabThis concept seems to have been lost on not only some Islamist groups such as Hizbut Tahrir in Malaysia, but some Muslim people in general who do not believe that marital rape exists in Islam. Rape is rape. Whether it is between strangers, friends, a dating couple or a married couple – the action of forcing a person have sex with them without their consent (or forced consent due to emotional coercion) is rape.

As a Muslim woman, I believe the rights granted to me by my religion are just and fair. I, therefore, have a vested interest in proving marital rape is forbidden in Islam because if it weren’t, then what does that mean about the worth of my sexual agency in a marriage? My passion to educate women about their sexual and reproductive rights became much more important to me several months back, when I conducted a workshop for Muslim women in Singapore.

One of the aunties approached me after my talk and asked “Can I really say no if he wants to have sex? Won’t the angels curse at me if I say no?” My heart broke as she went on to explain to me how she would ask her husband every night before going to bed if he wanted anything from her sexually, but she was rarely in the mood and was asking merely out of obligation as his wife. The conversation raised many questions about physical intimacy, sexual rights and consent in the context of Muslim marriages. The assumption in the room was that by signing the Islamic marriage contract, a woman has legally consented to engaging in sexual activity with her partner any time he demanded it. In the case of the aunty, she consented, even when she did not want to have sex, out of fear of a spiritual punishment. The question then remains- is this willful and informed consent? Making sense of this situation requires us to take a closer look at interpretations of religious texts and judgements about the expectation of women to have sex with their husbands.

First, there are certain hadiths one can refer to that are used to justify the requirement for women to say yes to her husband’s sexual requests. In Sahih Muslim, The Book of Marriage (Kitab al-Nikah), 3368, Abu Huraira (may Allah pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying:

When a man invites his wife to his bed and she does not come, and he (the husband) spends the sight being angry with her, the angels curse her until morning.];

Secondly, there are influential figures such as Ustaz Abdul Hakim Othman of HTM, who believe and openly decree that marriage legalises a Muslim to have sexual relations with a woman. “Your body is to be used by your husband, to put it crudely. When you marry a woman, there’s no need to get consent [for sex], no need at all,” he said.

It is easy to see how these messages can be read negatively by both men and women. For men, they may believe their wives should submit to their sexual requests. For women, they may believe that it is their religious obligation as wives to say yes.

rrrrrrrThere are, however, alternative understandings of Islam that support a woman’s right to consent to all forms of sexual activity within a marriage. Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa of the Islamic Renaissance Front is one such individual who is speaking out against the patriarchal interpretations of Islam. He is quoted in MalayMail Online having said “Any imposition without her consent is basically an assault on her rights as an independent human being. If this imposition without consent is termed marital rape, then marital rape it is.”

Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes during a lecture for Sacred Path of Love explicitly denounced marital rape and also noted that the hadith about angels cursing women was in reference to women who use sex as a tool to manipulate and control their husbands.

After finding less than satisfying interpretations of the angels cursing hadith online, I consulted with local Indonesian scholar Dr. Nur Rofiah who explained how the hadith can not be understood in a vaccuum. It should be understood as a part of a collection of verses from the Quran and other hadiths that discuss marital relations. In the Quran, you have a verse that notes husbands and wives being garments of each other – this indicates an equal relationship between them. She went on to explain that the hadith about the angels cursing women refers to instances where the husband is inviting the wife politely but the wife refuses arrogantly to have sex with him. Marriage allows men and women to have sex with each other but forbids cruel treatment and consent should be obtained actively and not assumed.

Another shaykha from the US provided me with a similar explanation of the hadith:

“It is her legal right to refuse and accept any physical relationship. If she uses her right abusively ( to manipulate him and use his sexual needs as a tool against him to get what she wants or out of a desire to punish him) the husband still has no right to force her. Rather, the hadith admonishes her and warns her of her punishment with Allah and His angels. If a woman is tired or sick or just doesn’t want to engage in relations and she is not using her refusal as a means to hurt her husband, there is no negative spiritual consequence to her refusal. Such a woman would refuse in a kind way (as opposed to abusive) and whether her husband understands or not, is not on her once she has communicated to him with ihsan. The hadith is meant for women who cheapen the marital bond and relations to a weapon they can use against their husbands. Even then, the hadith reminds them that they may have the worldly right to refuse in an abusive way, but they don’t have the ethical right.”

Her explanation presents a far more nuanced understanding of the hadith, as opposed to the literal reading that people are so keen to adopt, and therein lies the key difference.

In understanding any religious obligation, we are often confronted with numerous conflicting passages of the Quran and hadith, all of which are rooted in very specific contexts. We must constantly challenge ourselves to think the best of our religion and question interpretations of religious texts that promote injustice. If there is ever a situation where an individual is being physically, emotionally or spiritually harmed in the name of Islam, we need to not just brush it off as “those aren’t Muslims who say that” but work to understand their perspective and offer positive alternative perspectives. When in doubt – refer back to the character of the Prophet (S) and the core teachings of Islam that simply put, ask us all to do good in this world. In my Islam, emotional blackmail, coercion and rape are not part of those teachings.

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When I talk about feminism, I talk about my brownness

by Drima Chakraborty, Change Maker 

Racial Harmony Day is a dreaded day of the year forappropriating sari Indian girls in local schools. It seems like everyone who is not Indian decides to “wear” (or “sushi wrap”?) a sari. Don’t get me wrong, we love it when friends to borrow a sari or actually try to learn how to put it on. But it is disrespectful when they buy a 12-foot piece of cloth, wrap it haphazardly, and call that a sari; or when cliques of Singaporean Chinese girls take pictures with their hands joined and a leg in the air in some mockery of yoga. But they don’t recognise this is racist. 

To achieve gender equality, we need to think about how racial inequality persists.  People of the same gender are not equal among one another, because of race.  Yet, when I bring up racism and how it works together with sexism and other forms of discrimination, I get told to quit being a malcontent and keep it down. 

Singapore prides itself in being post-racial – I encounter the attitude that we were colonised too and therefore can do no wrong racially. Some schoolmates even claimed to be above all this pettiness and commented that feminism and activism was great, but how my too direct, too rough approach discredited everything I did – suggesting they were unwilling to hear uncomfortable truths. 

But for non-Chinese women in Singapore, the experiences of racial discrimination and gender discrimination cannot be separated.  Upon being crowned Miss Singapore Universe, Rathi Menon of Indian origin was bombarded with hate on social media and forums, by Singaporeans who felt that she was unrepresentative of Singaporean beauty. She was brown-skinned unlike everyone’s favourite Korean pop icons or the pale East Asian women in SKII commercials. 

holi-colorsI found myself on the receiving end of this when a well-liked girl in school made an online posting using an anti-black slur, and then continued reiterating that the slur in question was not racist at all.  When I challenged this, the responses were appalling: “You’re not black, just dark brown, so why be the defender of black minorities?” “Stop trying to be the model minority, there are no black people here.”  Who gave them the permission to use these words in the absence of black people?

Many of the women and girls who defended me, who were not East Asian, were subjected to insults on our appearances – a case where sexism and racism came together. 

We need more awareness of the reality of racial discrimination in Singapore.  Too many people hear “regardless of race, language or religion” and believe that all of us are treated fairly.  Questioning this belief is taken to be racist.  “Colour-blindness” means that the racial majority does not realise that we need equity, not equality.  Equality is seeing that the scales are unbalanced and then adding equal amounts of weight to both sides, while equity is adding more weight to the lighter side to balance the two sides. To balance the scales, policies and social studies needs to be more inclusive of race, and not “blind” to it. 

We have to look beyond this façade and critically examine our micro-aggressions towards other races, firstly within activist spheres, and then within our larger community. If not, it will continue to be the case that I get racial slurs hurled at me when I discuss gender equality or sexist slurs when I discuss racial equality.  We need spaces where we can be free of both sexism and racism – also known as an intersectional approach.  Race has to be recognised as a feminist issue.

About the author: Drima is a trash-talker and brown intersectional feminist. They suggest you not wear a sari by holding it in place and spinning in a circle about twenty times.

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