100 years of women voting

Today marks 100 years since women in the UK were given the right to vote.

Actually they weren’t ‘given’ this right, they had to fight for it. Women who were involved in this movement were called the suffragettes and many made tremendous sacrifices for this cause. At its peak, a suffragette named Emily Dickinson died for the cause, prompting parliament to pass the People Act of 1918 allowing women to vote.

However the Act did not grant voting rights to all women, it only allowed women over 30 years old and who were home-owners the right to vote. It was a decade later, in June 14, 1928, that ALL women over 21 years old were allowed a say in the political process.

Sadly, Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the suffrage movement, was not alive to witness this monumental occasion. She had died just eighteen days earlier.


Today it’s easy to take for granted this right that women a century ago fought so hard to attain. The very thought of an all male voting system seems almost mythical to my imagination. Yet, it was real once upon a time.

I am so grateful for the women (and men) who sacrificed so much so that I too can have a voice. It’s now up to us to carry that torch forward, to dismantle more barriers that are in the way of full gender equality.

Don’t rest on past triumphs; we still have work to do.

Here are some interesting links on women’s voting rights around the world:

  1. A timeline of women’s voting rights around the world. New Zealeand was the first country to allow women to vote (1893), Saudi Arabia is the latest country to allow women to vote (2011).
  2. Suffregette, the movie.  My personal best quote: “All my life I’ve done what men told me. Well I can’t have that anymore.” Maude Watts
  3. Six amazing voting facts from around the world. The Vatican is the only country where women still can’t vote.




“I used to feel bad when women weren’t given their rights in court”…

I so admire women who never let age or circumstances define them; who use the negative experiences they’ve face to make life better for others, and who go on to leave a legacy of hope and triumph over adversity.

I’m inspired by Safiyo and I hope you are too.

The lady in black

As I walk down the street and I can feel what you’re thinking when you see me. “Who is she? Where does she come from? Is it someone I know? Does her abaya hug her curves? Does it swallow her whole? What about her hair? Can I see stray strands peeking through? Does she pray on time? Does she respond to men’s cat calls and suggestive whistles? Is she married or single? It looks the same as all other abayas so she must be like all other women. She probably gossips, causes fitna, and has nothing of value to contribute to progress. She is just another object to appease my carnal pleasures. She is just another person for me to pass judgement on. The next fashion trend could be all she ever talks about. Who knows with these Muslim Swahili ladies? Can they even think for themselves?”

And what I’m thinking then is this: I am wearing the abaya because I want to. I did it for Allah. I did not wear it to appease any man. 

I wish for once you could see me as I see myself – as just another person. I love the colour green, and sipping tea, and reading books. I love sitting in libraries. I am a lover of humanity. I want to listen to stories and to travel and to learn new things. I want to write a book and live on a farm. No, I am not working on seducing another man. I am working on creating a more God-conscious me.

I am a daughter, a wife, and mother. I am a community volunteer. I work hard and contribute to my family and to society.  I am just like the next person who wants to get head in life and take the occasional holiday break. I am all these things and more; a woman wearing the abaya is just one piece of the puzzle that I am.

I long to be a colorful bird, to take to the open skies and sing my own song. You can’t ignore my abaya when you see me, and you let it tell my story. Please see beyond my outer garments. Look at the person I am and let me tell you my story.

She died a thousand deaths, but lived nontheless.

She watched him shrug his shoulders, casually ignoring her pleas for acknowledgement of her existence.

Her heart beating fiercely, almost too violently. It might just explode right out of my chest, she thought to herself. That would be funny, her imagination wandering on, how people would look over my casket, “tut-tutting”, their tongues knocking their front teeth with sad amazement of how a person so young could literally die of a physical broken heart.

When her mind came back to reality, she was still standing in the same spot. By the doorway of the kitchen. The onions had been sliced, the meat diced, the tomatoes awaiting their fate on the chopping board.

She didn’t know whether to go back to the hissing pot of oil over the roaring flame of the stove, or to drop everything right there and then and just leave. Quietly. Without much of a fuss. She wondered if he would even notice her absence.

Each day-each day of this vicious cycle of love and war-she had died a few thousand deaths.

Yet she was still there, standing. On the very floors that held her solid body in place. Age might have given her a few more lines around her her eyes, but it had also given her wisdom and a constant rebirth that only the Lord could finalise.

She thought of her children. The pain of childbirth almost killed her, but she survived.

She survived to hold her children in her embrace, thus giving her a daily reason to live.

Slowly, she turned back to the stove and gently shoved the slices of onions into the pot. She reached for the wooden spoon standing defiantly in the chaos of the stainless steel cutlery holder. For a brief moment, she allowed herself the pleasure of feeling the worn-out grains, her fingers running carelessly against the magnificent organic knots of the warm wood. How wonderful this spoon is, she remarked to herself. Humble, yes. But oh, so beautiful and strong.

She stirred the onions, allowing them the pleasure of turning a golden caramel brown. In went the tomatoes, then the meat. In a half an hour, dinner would be ready. Family fed, children bathed, house brought back to equillibrium, she would drag herself to sleep.

Today, she had triumphed. Today, she chose patience. Today, she loved.

“In the last twenty-three years, from the day I was stripped of my judgeship to the years doing battle in the revolutionary courts of Tehran, I had repeated one refrain: an interpretation of Islam that is in harmony with equality and democracy as an authentic expression of faith.”
Shirin Ebadi, Iran Awakening

The Poison of Power

Our daily pursuit of happiness in the face of an increasingly violent world is hard enough for anyone.  However the struggle for survival is harder for women because let’s face it, this is a man’s world.  Workplace discrimination, lower pay, lower literacy rates (in most of the world at least), high maternal mortality rates, violence against women…….the list of gender inequity goes on and on.  Women do not want to be just like men, we just want to have the same rights for self determination and access to opportunities afforded to men.

Female empowerment is certainly not a novel concept.  From ancient times women have been struggling to gain equal opportunities that are available to men. In response to this need, scriptures have been revealed, laws passed, organizations formed, etc.  Yet, I feel like once we get over one hurdle, another quake comes along that creates a bigger ditch in the female empowerment movement.  Are we really better off than our grandmothers or is our modern freedom simply a superficial band-aid for age old wounds?

To be honest, I don’t think that men are the sole antagonists in the female empowerment movement and it is unfair to demonize them every time something bad happens to a woman.  No, men are not dogs.  In fact, most men I know are responsible, hardworking providers for their families, generous community members, and excellent spouses.  I know that many men are actually champions for women’s rights. Yes, some men are guilty of oppressing women for the sake of feeding their egotistical selves but so are some women. From the world stage to everyday households, there are numerous reports of women supporting female violence: the role of women in the mass rape of women in the Rwandan genocide, news pieces of mothers killing their daughters to protect the family honor, mothers-in-law so awful to their sons’ wives that they inspire blockbuster Bollywood movies.  So what is it that turns otherwise pleasant men and women into unrecognizable monsters of female oppression?  What feeds the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome that runs so rampant in humanity?  One word-power.

Nearly all men (women) can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s (woman’s) character, give him power…Abraham Lincoln.

When it comes to the struggle of ego-centrism vs. socio-centrism (service of others), Mr.Lincoln couldn’t have said it better.  History has proven time and time again that power in the wrong hands is dangerous. Without oversight and accountability, power only serves to feed egotistical self interests.  Remember the Zimbardo prison experiment at Stanford? Yes, the one that involved assigning test subjects to guard and prisoner roles (more details on this experiment in links below). Before too long, the ‘guards’ developed an inhumane sense of power and started to abuse the ‘prisoners’.  In what he would later call the “The Lucifer effect” (symbolizing the fallen angel who crossed the ‘good’ to ‘evil’ line),  Zimbardo successfully demonstrated that:

  1. Evil is largely circumstantial.  Power without accountability can turn men (and women) into monsters.
  2. While other people do not actively engage in evil-doing, their inaction also makes them guilty of perpetuating evil.
  3. Every evil event comes with the opportunity for heroism.  Heroes are social deviants; people who speak out and fight against evil are going against the social norm and often sacrifice their own comfort and security for the sake of the greater good.  Heroes are not necessarily the historical greats; they are you and me.

Women need more heroes. We need the everyday supermen and superwomen to advocate for better lives for women.

This is a man’s world BUT it would be nothing without women. When you become a hero for women, you are in fact becoming a hero for your sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and husbands as well. When you educate a woman, you are educating a village. When you nourish a woman, you are nourishing the future generation. When you protect a woman, you are protecting the community.

Women are half the sky.

The Zimbardo experiment: