This post first appeared on AWARE, 29 November 2018.
By Nurul Fadiah Johari, co-founder of Penawar
On Wednesday, 21 November 2018, Penawar Support Group organised their first public talk, where they shared their work and also launched their first zine and website. Penawar, which means “antidote” or “healing” in Malay, was established in 2015 for women who grew up in the Muslim community. They met up regularly to discuss their personal experiences dealing with patriarchy, body and moral policing, as well as religious coercion. Many of the members shared common experiences and noted that such a safe space did not exist in the community, and saw the need to create one. They found support and comfort through sharing their personal experiences and sought healing from such toxic experiences through community-building.
The event was thus dubbed as Penawar’s “coming out party”, since they have been private about the members and attendees, in order to maintain the safety of the support group. Penawar has always maintained that it is a space strictly for women and non-men, so that the participants would feel safe to share their personal experiences.
During the panel discussion, three members of the core team shared how the premise of Penawar is to affirm the validity of every woman’s experience, and to empower women with the ability to speak for their own experiences. It is empowering when a woman is able to name her pain or trauma and to claim that as her reality. Penawar also sees women’s struggles as collective. They aim to move away from individualising social problems, especially those faced by women. When a woman or a group of women share common experiences, it speaks a lot more about the society that we live in, rather than the individual herself. When asked whether Penawar would include men in their discussions, since men should be made aware of women’s trauma, the panel explained that they are open to engaging with male allies in public events, but not during the support sessions, so as to maintain the safety of the women and non-male members.
Penawar also launched their first zine which documents and showcase the work of Penawar over the past years. The zine contains articles which explain the purpose of support groups, how to live authentically for Muslim women, self-care, as well as some stories and testimonials by Penawar attendees. Guests were also introduced to the Penawar’s brand new website as part of their online community-building and outreach efforts.
The event concluded with a mingling session, where guests were treated to a few booths, which comprised an art therapy activity, one which promoted their first zine, and another which showcased books that the Penawar team recommends as helpful materials for their own healing and intellectual development.
The event was very well-received by its guests, many of whom had never attended the previous support sessions. The Penawar team is looking forward to seeing the community grow, and for more women in the community to come together and support each other in their healing. This quote by the renowned Black feminist scholar, bell hooks, aptly captures the spirit and work of Penawar: “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.”
ABOUT THE ORGANISER:
Penawar is a support group created for Singaporean women who are Muslims or are from a Muslim background, to share their thoughts on taboo and sensitive issues of religion and individual experiences of religious trauma. Their main aim is to reach out and build a strong peer-led support that enables these women to heal and find comfort via monthly support groups and other activities.