You are a citizen and your experience and life’s story are valuable. Be brave, make the journey from the personal to the political.
I just finished reading Sukhwant Dhaliwal and Nira Yuval-Davis‘s book, Women Against Fundamentalism. The book details the stories of several women and their work in gender, anti-racism and the struggle against fundamentalist religion through the network Women Against Fundamentalism. This group was born to unite black and white feminists in bringing about collaborative social change. “Our main demands inclined the disestablishment of the Church of England, cessation of state funding for all religious schools, and the creation of a truly democratic and secular society based on socialist, feminist, anti- racist and anti- discrimination ideals” (p.60). Rita Mahendru writes that “WAF provided me with an anti-oppressive, intersectional framework to critically challenge and analyze fundamentalist values. Their views resonated with mine. We could collectively find ways to extend our financial and social support to women and feminists in other parts of the world” (p. 284).
Sheila Jeffries defines fundamentalism as any religion that preaches a separation of genders. Mary Daly calls this encouraging “sex role socialization” (Daly, Beyond God The Father, p. 3). I would add that any religion that advocates prohibiting civil rights to any group based on skin colour, gender, sexual orientation or ethnic identity is fundamentalist. In her PhD dissertation Sukhwant Dhaliwal advocates for public pluralism, and that religions are good and promote healthy communities only when they acknowledge diversity.
I am resonating with Kenyan-Brit book contributor Pragna Patel, and how she was inspired by the character of Stephen Daedalus in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Daedalus’ mantra, “I will not submit” steeled her against young arranged marriages (including a trick “vacation” to India) and helped her to follow her dream of working in medicine. Patel was raised in Kenya after her family was forcefully displaced from India by British colonialism, and she later went to school in England. In Chapter One Patel writes that her “earliest memories of Kenya resemble photo snapshots. Some are blurred whilst others are vivid, but the memory which haunts me most is of an Indian woman being dragged into the streets and publicly abused by a man, presumably her husband,” while spectators gathered around to watch (p. 54).
Ritu Mahendru describes the term “badmash“, a derogatory word used for women who are bad for challenging male power. She was called this at a young age, and instead of making her feel ashamed, she secretly carried this badge with pride and it helped to form her identity. It reminds me of the negative stigma associated with the word ‘feminist’ in English. Rita went on to complete a PhD.
Ruth Pearson in Chapter Four notes that “some religious institutions can be progressive and we ignore this at our peril,” demonstrating that WAF is not an anti-religious organization, rather it is focused on targeting the fundamentalist ideologies which oppose civil rights (p. 111).
These are just a few bits that stuck out for me in passing.
It is a great academic read, with the added bonus of being incredibly positive and inspiring. The takeaway message for me is that even as women and/or POC facing a variety of systemically oppressive challenges, these women fought and succeeded: Never give up on your dreams.