We had such an amazing start to the year during our first support session last Sunday. We felt that it is necessary to start the year by reflecting and questioning some of the pressures and expectations placed upon us as women raised in the Muslim community. This will be lifelong struggle for many of us, as we juggle multiple roles and identities, which often overlap and may be in conflict with each other. It affects how we seek to lead our best lives, in line with our truths and most authentic sense of self.
As women raised in this community, our sense of self is fundamentally tied to how we perform our relational roles in the family. It was heartening to see our participants sharing their experiences and struggles as daughters, sisters and some as a wife and mother. What was amazing to us, however, was the fact that everyone shared about their individual personalities (independent, introverted, warm, loyal etc) before they started delving deeper into their relational roles. It is important that we see first ourselves as individuals with unique personalities before we see ourselves in relation to others. In fact, we want to affirm this sense of individuality in each woman, which shouldn’t be at odds with our relational identities. Of course, the reality tends to be more complex because we are subjected to all sorts of pressures and expectations - from our sense of religious piety, to the pressure of dressing and looking a certain way, to even our aspirations in life. Not all women are validated in their decision to pursue their education or career. Some of the participants even noted that there are limits as to how much a woman should aspire, because at the end of the day, our value as women is still judged along the lines of our relational roles in the family.
We also discussed various strategies of negotiating with the pressures. Not everyone has the privilege to walk away from toxic family environments, since not everyone can afford to rent or buy a house, for example. For many of our attendees, it is truly a question of survival and making the most out of our existing conditions. We spoke about finding “safe spots” with a trusted family member (e.g. a parent or sibling) with whom we can connect and include into certain aspects of our lives. We also acknowledged that we can live authentically without having to share all aspects of our lives. Some also find that they are able to have multiple authentic selves, and be at ease with that. Regardless the strategies that we adopt, we affirm the need to create safe spaces where one can truly live her best truths.