Contradictions

Celebrating the South Asian Female, Celebrating the South Asian Female 💜, Deen â˜Ș Dunya, Life ♄ Lessons, South Asian Female 💜

Masculinity and feminism.
Individual and society.
Culture and religion.

Often, these terms are used in opposition; often, as contradictions.
Masculinity and feminism, in particular, are such clashing concepts that can’t seem to co-exist peacefully.

There are so many directions that we can take this conversation. I do want to steer it toward the designated gender roles as deemed by my South Asian culture, as this is my experience and what I have been most impacted by. But if this taboo conversation can become an open dialogue amongst us brown folk, I hope this conversation can be inclusive of other gender-related issues as well, such as gender identity and LGBTQ+ rights.

It is common practice in South Asian households that as soon as a woman is of “marital age”, she must begin to transform herself. She must mold herself into the ideal wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. She must exhaust herself mentally, emotionally, physically in order to please her new family. Meanwhile, a man is not expected to change at all; no efforts at maturity, percipience, tolerance, acceptance, humility. But all of this and much, much more is expected out of a woman. What entails is often an unbalanced relationship defined by miscommunication, control/domination, ego, and therefore, mistreatment and abuse. (Source). Of course, the harsh reality of misogyny/inequality is quite obvious in countries like Pakistan and India, but these disparities absolutely exist here in the West as well. With sexual objectification, rape culture, and inequality in the workforce, as a few examples.

This poem was in part inspired by the documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. I encourage you all to watch this powerful film as well. If anything, the film asks us to reevaluate and reflect upon our identities. It is of the utmost necessity to redefine what it means to be a Man and what it means to be a Woman.

This poem is written in a series of questions. I hope you  benefit and also find it to be an invitation for an open dialogue (please feel free to disagree, agree, or add onto the conversation).

(Note: The baby in the left image is me and the girl on the right is my sister. Still, these two images [hopefully] serve their purpose: to showcase that a woman’s identity is given to her at birth. She has no choice over her own self. Rather, a woman’s identity lies at the mercy of the society that she is born into.)

 

Contradictions

If we are from the same womb, the same home
Why then must I, the woman, leave mine
while you, the man, stay in yours?

You see, you and I, we are imprisoned. Behind the bars of society.
My punishment for being a woman is to suck up the hurt and bear the pain.
Your punishment for being a man is to express it through anger.

Why are daughters raised to be actresses,
performing in roles in which we cannot be broken or human?
Why must we pretend that these wounds do not exist?
For if we let you in and allow you to see past that Perfected Outer Shell,
Would you still stay?

Why are sons raised to be callous? Raised in a culture of
“Boys will be boys” and “At least he never hit you”.
Limited in their emotional expression
and denied the right to be vulnerable and kind.

Why has society taken away women and men and replaced them with
pink, dainty flowers and blue-wearing brutes?

Why is a woman feminine only if she is soft, beautiful, and fragile?
Why is a man masculine only if he is cold, controlling, and strong?

I am told that my greatest validation in life as a woman, is in becoming a wife and a daughter-in-law.
Why am I told that this is also my test?
To stay resilient and silent through the abuse.
As if I have nowhere else to go.
As if I am disposable,
replaceable.

You are told that your greatest validation in life as a man,
is in your career, your ego, your manhood.
“Don’t cry, you’re not a girl, are you??”
Words that you’ve heard since before you could even walk.
You were raised to be strong and stone: a mountain.

Why is it that a proud father will tell his daughter that she’s like a son to him,
Whereas it would be of utmost shame for a son to be likened to a daughter?

When did women stop becoming the daughters of Khadija, Aisha, Asiya
and instead became daughters of acid, sorrow, and shame?

When did men stop becoming the sons of the Mercy upon Mankind
and instead, became sons of privilege, abuse, and flame?

So you and I, we find ourselves here,
imprisoned by etiquette and customs.
In a society of superstition.
Upon a bed of acceptance.
And I ask, once again:
If we are of the same nafs*, the same Creator, the same womb, the same home
Why then, must I leave mine, while you stay in yours?

 

Nafs- Arabic term for the self/soul/person

-Amna ❀

Advertisements

I Am a Woman (Poem)

Celebrating the South Asian Female, Celebrating the South Asian Female 💜, Life ♄ Lessons, South Asian Female 💜, Uncategorized

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, I wrote this poem as a year-long reminder of what this month signifies to me. A life-long reminder, actually.

We all have our battles. We all have something that our hearts are attached to. From an Islamic perspective, Muslims believe that this has to do with the heart’s separation from its Creator. So our hearts are ever searching for something to fill this void, whether it’s money, or career, or status, or love.

Filling our hearts with love and acceptance, that’s something that we all want, but I believe it’s something that I and, to generalize, really all women struggle with the most.

Us  women, we know very well how to value others but we seldom know how to value ourselves. We wholeheartedly do things for others, but rarely for ourselves. We even show other people more respect than we show to ourselves. In doing so, we effervescently give others the love, honor, and acceptance that we do not know how to give to ourselves.
This only leads to a downward spiral of disappointment, loss, pain, and self-deprecation. And only further exacerbates the symptoms of this “separated heart”.

So my greatest battle has always been accepting myself.
A lot of this stems from my South Asian heritage where misogyny, male privilege, and other gender disparities have migrated to the West alongside the rest of my people.
However, some of this stems from my own personal experiences with self-acceptance and love as well.

But after years and years of struggling with the notion that I’m “not good enough”, I have finally come to the realization that when I… when we live with this mentality, when we think less of ourselves, we are denying our purpose in this world.

There’s the *Hakim (The Most Wise) who created all parts of us for a reason: our bodies, our minds, our personalities. Even our flaws were created with so much wisdom that we don’t even have the wisdom to comprehend.

Every one of us was created with precision and expertise and honor. We are all so valuable, so beloved, and so necessary for this world and for ourselves.

And you know, I’ve slowly learned to love all parts of me, even the parts that I wanted to change for the longest time. But it’s me. It’s all me and I love that. I love myself.

So this poem is an homage to….me.
To finally accepting myself as a Woman, as a Human, as a Muslim, as Me.

With these words, I wish to spread the love and honor that we don’t show ourselves too often. And through this poem, as I stand for myself, I hope to stand for all women.

I Am a Woman

I am a Woman.
My body is made of blades
and my mind, of steel.

I am Strength.
The spine that supports the weight of this world
and the womb that keeps it alive.

I am Wisdom.
I know now that time is not healing my pain, no.
Time, instead, is teaching me how to stitch those wounds
that I spent years ripping apart.

I am Love.
A manifestation of which can only be found in God Himself.
I am the proof that He is indeed “*Al Wadud”.

I am a Diver
and I will sink.
Hit rock bottom, as I have done before.
But I have found that only at the bottom is where I find pearls
and resurface with such precious gems,
rising higher than i ever have before.

I am  Beauty.
Not reminiscent of a flower, whose beauty fades with its age.
But an ever-lasting one,
as intangible as my soul.

I am a Nomad.
A product of diaspora.
I wander in search of a place to call home.
Only to find,
that home in me.

I am the Heart.
The kind that was created to be broken and torn
so that it could instead be mended
and given back to its Creator.

Today, as I speak for myself,
I speak for all Women.
I speak for Struggle. Ambition. Hope. Empathy. Life.
I am all of these. And so much more.
But most of all, I am mine.
And I am enough.
Because I am a Woman.
I hope you now know, too.
-Amna Haq

*Hakim- One of the 99 names of God in Islam,  meaning the “Most Wise” in Arabic
* Al Wadud- Another of the 99 names, meaning the Ultimate Source of Love

 

 

❀

Celebrating the South Asian Female: Samina Qureshi

Celebrating the South Asian Female, Celebrating the South Asian Female 💜, South Asian Female 💜

So one of my goals for this blog is for it to serve as a platform for the voice of the South Asian woman, for her to become more visible to the public, and for her to be able to speak on behalf of herself. One way that East Street plans to accomplish this is by celebrating the South Asian woman and focusing on her achievements, advances, and contributions to society.
Thus begins East Street’s Celebrating the South Asian Female series! 

12509570_10153816687285912_4630746168760371235_n

Samina and I at The Allis Soho House in Chicago

So we begin with quite an opener:  Samina Qureshi, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Health Coach, currently practicing in Chicago, Il. Not only is she saving the world through disease prevention and management (aka through nutrition), but together, Samina and her husband, Shadid have been able to give back to their ancestral village in Bangladesh by providing better access to health services, assistance to families, and promoting education as the key to success for children in the village.

12640291_10153827700835912_1452303933682919939_o

12698355_10153841850990912_7490807273753887485_o

Not the worst of meeting places 😉

12671820_10153841851135912_8176311250977289418_o
We met in the sumptuous and cozy lounge of The Allis in Chicago, where some illuminative conversations took place; we talked about everything from the diaspora of our South Asian American generation to the quality of our food at the Allis (because, dietitians/food lovers).
Samina inspired and enlightened me so much through her own experiences, volunteer efforts, and passions. I hope you all will benefit as well.

1. Tell us a bit more about yourself
Well, I am a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and am currently working in the field of corporate wellness.  I received my B.S. in Nutritional Sciences/Dietetics from the University of Texas at Austin. After undergrad I was accepted into the Coordinated Program in Dietetics at UT Austin where I completed 1200 hours of supervised practice rotations and prepared to sit for the RD exam (the necessary requirements for accreditation as a registered dietitian).

I grew up in a town with a pretty decent sized desi (Indian, Pakistani, and/or Bangladeshi)  community where I was well immersed into culture and religion. I was raised in a very family-oriented environment.  My parents and grandparents had a significant impact in helping me become the person that I am today. My paternal grandmother moved in with my family when I was 4 years old and I remember my brother and I spending most of our childhood with her. Unfortunately, my grandmother fell ill and needed assistance with daily to day living. My brother and I would often take care of her when my parents were away. We would feed her, give her company, etc. I believe having the opportunity to take care of a family member at such a young age helped me to become a more nurturing and compassionate person. So I desired a career that would also allow me to care for people, to educate them and to help them live a better quality of life.

2. What inspired you to become a dietitian?
I always knew that I wanted to do something related to health and wellness. And I noticed people in our community were predisposed to many chronic conditions that could have been prevented or delayed by taking better care of themselves. I found that aspect of medicine/healthcare to be particularly interesting. However, back then I didn’t know that there was a medical profession such as that of a registered dietitian. I did take my first nutrition class sophomore year of college and learned, not only of the profession, but also of the many directions that one can take in this field (clinical, community, corporate, sports, etc).

During undergrad I volunteered as a research assistant for a mindful eating intervention study with the Assistant Dean of the Nursing School. The mindful eating intervention was tested on perimenopausal women to assess the effectiveness of weight gain prevention. As this group of people  tend to have an increased risk for weight gain, increasing their abdominal waist circumference, which in turn increases their risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We conducted weekly sessions where we practiced mindful eating meditation exercises, discussed general principles of weight management, and coached participants on personalized weekly goals. Since I wasn’t a nursing student and was instead studying nutrition, I was able to answer the participants’ questions related to nutrition during the sessions and help discern between the evidence-based versus the media-based nutrition information out there.
One experience that was a turning point for me was working with a war veteran in this study. She went from being fed by the military for years and years, to having to figure out how to feed herself. She had no idea how to cook or even how to buy groceries. It was basically teaching her how to live a life again after the military. This experience was eye opening for me. I didn’t know that people had such little knowledge about nutrition, even navigating through a grocery store without feeling overwhelmed and confused. Working with her specifically was a turning point and helped for me to see my purpose and solidified my career choice. I realized that there is a dire need for someone to provide evidence-based information and filter out the vast amounts of nutrition-related material out there.

3. Where do you feel the role of a dietitian lies in the field of medicine and health?
The role is crucial in prevention and management of diseases. Not only for medical nutrition therapy but for day-to-day life as well. There is nothing more important in your life than your health. Dietitians address this notion directly and work individually with their patients towards better health, especially before they’re prescribed endless medications (which only increase the cost of living). Physicians only know so much about nutritional science and education, that realm can only be fulfilled by a dietitian.
People often believe that a prescribed medication is a “magic cure” for their condition. For example, if someone is diagnosed with hypertension and their physician wants to wait a trial period to see if the medication is necessary. Often times, the person will then go home and do absolutely nothing to change their lifestyle habits. What usually ends up happening is that the physician gives them their “magic cure” for the elevated blood pressure and they keep eating the same foods and living the same sedentary life. Medication can only do so much to treat a person’s high blood pressure and not learning how to include nutritious foods or physical activity into their lifestyle can increase their chances of other chronic illnesses.
People think prescription medications are magic because they take the pills and then believe that they no longer have hypertension which is completely untrue. All it does is treat the condition, it does not get rid of it. Making long term, lifestyle changes such as making healthful food choices, exercising regularly, etc will not only treat the symptoms, but actually prevent or delay the need for medication.
That’s where the role of a dietitian is really important. People should know that they can change their fate. That a diagnosis is not a death sentence nor a reason to rely on medications as a “quick fix”. Rather, it should be a motivation to change your lifestyle habits for the better. Yes, it does take a lot of effort and time, better health isn’t something that happens overnight. Quick fixes and instant results have really been glamorized by the media; but you have you ever heard of someone waking up one day and running a marathon without any training or becoming a lawyer overnight?  It all takes discipline, time, investment and effort.

4. As a female health care provider, particularly in the field of nutrition, how do you feel about the worldwide nutrition-related epidemic that is so rampant. especially for women in male-dominated social structures?
Women are the anchors of their families and are in a unique position that allows them to influence the health of their family. Often times women do the housework, manage their children, and cook meals all while holding down a full-time job. In a fast-paced world, family meals are the perfect time for everyone to spend quality time together and reconnect. Women, especially in desi communities, should take this opportunity to get their spouses and children involved! Young children can participate by rinsing or drying produce, setting the table, or pouring water into everyone’s glasses. You can have fun with it and designate your spouse to be the official taste tester. The more time you spend communicating together as family the better! Children learn about food habits, positive or negative, at a very early age. When the whole family contributes during mealtime, kids are more likely to eat the finished product, try new food and adopt healthy habits.

5. Tell us about your efforts in the village communities of Bangladesh
Shadid’s grandfather’s legacy is something that we want to keep alive. He was able to donate a large plot of his land to his village in Bangladesh. Over time many projects have been put into place to enhance the villagers’ lives  including a primary school, high school, mosque, free clinic, and a marketplace. These projects along with many others are done solely by donation from family and friends that we hold extremely close to our hearts. Most recently, Shadid and I implemented a tutoring program, since the village is behind Dhaka’s school standards, where the top students in the village tutor their fellow students. Our goal is to empower the younger generation of villagers through education.