Over the last few days, women have made headlines in the Courier and around the world. Two out of three were for good reasons, the other not so much. I’ll get to the latter later.
In today’s Courier, you will find a story by reporter Cheryl Rossi about Narinjan Kaur Mand who made local Sikh history when the membership of the Ross Street Gurdwara endorsed her and two other women to sit on the Khalsa Diwan Society’s executive two years ago. It only took 105 years. (The society was founded in 1906.)
Mand’s story went online Friday as part of our Vancouver Special feature on the Sunset community and generated a number of website hits. The comments from the 78-year-old society recording secretary were refreshing to read. She was gentle in her wording but honest. You could sense some of her frustration with the proverbial glass ceiling within her community.
As I read the quote, “As usual, it’s a man’s world,” I couldn’t help but think of my mother, who has repeated those same words numerous times over the years. (To briefly digress, my mother and her fellow nurses went on strike in Quebec in the early 1980s because the government planned to roll back their wages. The nurses’ efforts failed. But why did the government choose nurses’ salaries to roll back over other government workers? Nurses were almost exclusively women at the time, which is precisely why the government targeted them. On that I have no doubt. “It’s a man’s world,” I heard my mother say at the time, among some choice observations.)
I worry, however, that Mand’s frankness may cause some consternation within the Ross Street temple community. I hope no one gives her grief and she continues on in her role as society recording secretary. In fact, I’d love to hear other women and likeminded men rally around her if she ever faces any kind of blowback. Mostly, I hope Mand doesn’t regret speaking out. Hers is a voice that should be heard, not silenced.
Meanwhile, way over in Saudi Arabia, women of that country vow to keep up the campaign against a driving ban. According to the Guardian newspaper, activists are still asking Saudi women to go on driving in public and posting online photographs of themselves after doing so. While there is no specific law in Saudi Arabia that bans women from driving, women cannot apply for driving licences. Saudi women held a day of action Saturday to challenge the kingdom’s ban and their efforts seem to be paying off.
According to the Guardian, authorities appear to be willing to consider reform despite strong opposition by the clerical establishment.
Saudi journalists are offering potential support, wrote the Guardian’s Ian Black. “Now the mainstream press is getting involved too, a telling indication of a thaw on this issue. ‘It’s time to end this absurd debate about women driving,’ wrote Dr. Thuraya al-Arid in al-Jazirah newspaper. In another paper, al-Sharq al-Awsat, Mshari al-Zaydi said: ‘The time has come to turn the page on the past and discuss this issue openly.’”
May this little action grow into something bigger. A Saudi spring? Of course, I’d like all Saudi women to get behind the wheel. Police can’t arrest the entire adult female population.
While these two stories give me a modicum of hope, I was disheartened by the feminist “Janettes” march in support of Quebec’s charter of values on Saturday. As you know, the Parti Québécois government wants to ban public employees from wearing obvious religious symbols, including the Muslim headscarf, in the workplace. The concept is known in French as “laïcité.” Proponents believe it will lead to equality. I disagree. As a feminist, I don’t want another woman or man telling me what I can or cannot wear. That’s not equality. It’s oppression and a serious impingement on my freedom. And what it’s morphing into is a growing comfort among some French-speaking Quebecers to harass if not denigrate and discriminate against those who aren’t like them. That’s hardly a step forward in the feminist movement or for humanity.
I do however — and this might sound hypocritical — personally draw the line at the burka. Everything about that horrid piece of clothing screams oppression of women and does nothing to create a friendly encounter whether it’s at the park, the grocery store or on the bus. In the words of Malala Yousefzai: “Why should I cover my face? This is my identity.” But I doubt burka-wearing women are applying for jobs in the Quebec public service or any other level of government in Canada. So that becomes a moot point. But in the end, it’s a woman’s business to wear one I suppose. I dislike it as much as I dislike young girls in sexualized clothing.
As long as I can see someone's face, it’s all good.
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