I am Woman.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her wellbeing and dignity. It’s a decision she must make for herself.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

On Friday, June 24, 2022, six people, sitting in the United States Supreme Court, stripped away a constitutional right from the American people, which, for 50 years, provided the fundamental freedom for a woman to choose whether or not to put her body through the experience of childbirth… a move that happened for the very first time in American history.

I just began re-watching the Handmaid’s Tale again that night before (beginning the series for the fifth time), ironically as a way to “escape” from the woes of our current realities. In my heart, I could feel something was going to happen and admittedly I didn’t know the exact timeline for the ruling. This is devastating whether or not we all saw this coming. This ruling can potentially lead to many more injustices, moving us back decades of progress on women’s rights in America. This ruling negatively impacts women of color, women of more deprived socioeconomic backgrounds, the healthcare of women and children, among many other issues. It is an all-encompassing cross-cutting issue. A fundamental constitutional right was taken away from women yesterday. A predictable, yet devastating development on women’s rights in America.

I am deeply concerned for my sisters. The state is not practicing law, instead, a critical body in the United States government is imposing and prioritizing “religion” over constitutional precedent. 

I took the opportunity to participate in the massive protests (for a major historic and tragic moment in history), at the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC, precisely where the decision was made to overturn Roe vs Wade, which legalized abortion.  It was an empowering evening amid the horrifying news. I ‘took it to the streets.’ Because I needed to be with others in solidarity, in person, on that very day. And I’m so glad I made it out that same day. It was an incredible moment and an incredible turnout…hundreds of people showed up in unison against this devastating move. So many people from all walks of life were out in the streets, in DC around the entire country, on a tragic day in American… for women’s rights, for human rights, for social and racial and economic justice, to take back the power that we already have as free, liberated Americans, uniting with our clentched fists, and participating in peaceful assembly and community.

And I needed to be among a community. This particular community, in solidarity. A community that felt the same feeling, that we need to “be activated” and fight back for something that was ripped away from us. 

At the rally later in the evening, among hundreds of peopIe, I sucked up some courage to recite my recent poem, which was my very last post in this blog coincidentally, “the Radical Brown “Damsel in Distress”. It just happened to be relevant to this moment. I recited it pretty fast due to my anxiety and nerves…and then my father calling in the middle of the recitation, in front of hundreds of people, Twice!! That was hiliarious. Luckily people laughed. But some would tell me it was beautiful. For my purpose, it was just another voice, a voice that mattered in the conversation for womanhood, for women’s rights, for intersectional feminism, and more…. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people understood it…. but they cheered and encouraged me. They empowered me, and that was why that moment mattered for a woman. I felt, at that moment, my story mattered, and it was the right moment and the right audience for me to share such a “provocative” piece. 

That moment feels so surreal now. But I wanted to express that in person and I took the moment for myself if not for anyone else. I am sure among the crowd that it meant something to someone. For me it was special that I got to say the word “Revolution” in a microphone in front of the US Supreme Court in the middle of downtown Washington, DC, 11 times, because of this poem! 🙂

Provocative… That’s how society labels this, and perhaps what we say about ourselves as women at times, in this culture, simply for speaking our truths, for being authentic and real, for standing up for the rights we are entitled to as human beings in any system. Sometimes I feel the more we voice our problems, the more challenges we endure, the more unlikely we will be heard. So many people do not speak their truths, because it is even rare for people to be seen and heard from them anyway, or because they risk social and professional retributions, especially without the positively encouraging feedback or social capital.

Every woman I have seen, I cannot help but feel that connection right now, and just smile, at them and for me. I love my sisters, and I guess sometimes I wish women, my sisters, would feel the same for me. I have been critical of sisterhood in the past, but deep inside, and especially now, and especially from the purpose of starting this blog over 6 years ago, I crave and desire for a sense of sisterhood in my life. I don’t think I have ever felt connected to a community of sisterhood before. I love how my entire mission, purpose, and appeal both online, and offline has been for women, to make things better for women, but more men engage with my posts than women. It’s quite an intriguing phenomenon that I don’t quite understand, but sorta can speculate a reasoning for it. 

And I share this because I think right now, more than ever, women have to stand by women. We must stop with the jealousy, the intimidation, the resentment, the “buree nazar” or evil eye, I have never really understood this nonsense, but I am grateful I had the ability to recognize it, and the self-awareness to tame this natural emotion that would attempt to overtake me, as it is human, and unfortunately it is endemic and contagious. And I recommend and hope others do as well. And even now, if you have a feeling like this of any kind from this post, it is by far not my intention to cause that feeling and I plead to you, to please tame it.  It is a natural human phenomenon that divides us even more and makes sisterhood even more impossible. The truth is, that when you are a beautiful, accomplished, ambitious, over-achieving woman doing many amazing things and putting yourself out there in the world, people will get jealous, both men and women in different ways. People in your own family, community, and professional and personal networks will not always respond to it with support and encouragement and love and happiness that it deserves and that is truly sad and unfortunate. But it is a real phenomenon that most people don’t like to talk about, but we all know it exists.

The very dangerous thing about this disease is when it spreads to a collective level, and becomes an additional barrier for women to break barriers, defy expectations, smash the glass ceilings, and reach higher levels of leadership. 

I may not have a sense of belonging or community sometimes, having a foot in so many different places, or I am sometimes unclear about who I am, but one thing that is clear, is that I am a woman and my body is mine. My body, soul, and everything I do, does not belong to anyone, but me. Perhaps I may have written here or other places on social media in the past year, about this issue in my culture (Pakistani and Muslim).

In my culture, at times I hear elders and aunties often refer to me as a “bachi”, a “girl-child” or tell me to go sit with the kids at parties or gatherings, even in my late 30s. This is where the title, the apparently “provocative” title of this blog post comes from, because over the years I have grown sick of it.. There are many things I love about my culture, but this is definitely something I have trouble accepting. I also want to highlight that “period” after those words in this post is a significant qualifier of that statement, and for me. 

In our culture, the Pakistani/South Asian/Muslim culture, so to speak, marriage and childen is what makes you “deserving” of the title “Aurat”, perceived as an Adult woman. Perhaps this is universal in some ways. I remember sharing this on social media almost a year ago, while enjoying my 37th birthday weekend in Barcelona, Spain last year. I briefly noted how this can impact one’s psyche on so many different domains in life, and a women’s sense of independence, including economic and financial independence, and beyond that. I spent the majority of key years of my youth entirely focused on education, and chose to concentrate on that path over having a family, getting married and having children. And in my late 30s, I do consider that “a sacrifice”, a choice I am in gratitude to have had, even though at times I am made to wonder if it was the right choice, given societal and cultural norms that stigmatize “unmarried” women. 

Meh Aurat hu. I am a woman. Many other aspects of my intersectional identity can be taken away from me, but to be denied exactly what I am, an Aurat, an adult woman, simply because I am not bearing children or married, is pretty oppressive and hurtful, regardless of the intention around it. It is a psychology taken from our ancestors, and has extended even to our current generations. I share this because I have felt at times as if it is a denial of my “womanhood” simply because I have not followed and embraced the process of “reproduction” which includes marriage. It is just another reason why the ruling on Friday hit me at a very personal level.

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“As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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At this moment I was also reminded about my Masters and my PhD dissertation fieldwork. For one, I remember interviewing a group of women for my dissertation fieldwork and one of the leaders of the community-based initiative, which demonstrated rural women empowerment in northern Sindh, in a society which traditionally did not allow women to take leadership positions. The community leader stated something so powerful with a sense of confidence I could never possess, and I shared that line as the opening in my dissertation acknowledgments which I share here on my professional blog:

“Awaaz Diya Hai…” They gave us a voice…We have to do it ourselves. But we will follow the path they showed us, and “Inshallah” (God-willing) we will achieve success.”

Especially in the past few days, I had been thinking about those women, and all the women I encountered during my research endeavors and beyond.  I want to take this moment, a key “moment” of our times, to thank the many women that have empowered me. Thank you to the women before me who have given me a voice. This includes my mother and my sisters first and foremost. But many of these women are those I have encountered on my career and academic journey, many of whom I interviewed, from village women in poor impoverished situations, to CEOs of reputable organizations, to scholars, professors and practitioners.  And thank you to the women and girls who continue to empower me by anything they do…

And I hope that I can make a small contribution in helping pay it forward, and empower other women and girls, as I continue to elevate and amplify my own voice that I feel can easily be hidden and silenced. Because my voice matters too, my story as a woman with diverse intersectional elements to my identity, matters too, as does yours. 

There is indeed much more to write on this but I will leave it here for the moment. 

As a call to action, I just want to say:

Make your voice heard. It is indeed very hard to speak up, because no matter what issue or cause, it is natural to care about what others in our personal and professional networks would think of what we say or do. But whether it is screaming in your right to engage in peaceful assembly, in protest as an American citizen, or through a poem, or by voting, or by writing articles, or by “taking it to the streets,” or by knowing, producing, learning about, and sharing resources, or by donating to abortion funds or organizations like planned parenthood in the absence of government service and support…it matters. We know that more injustices will follow this one and I fear this is only the beginning, which is why we need to be there for one another in a stronger way. 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, that “real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” This does not mean we stop taking steps… … especially when it gets harder. This does not mean we get lazy, or sit back and let “incrementalism” handle it. RBG wasn’t a fan of “righteous anger” or reacting with anger towards a situation. I was reminded of this when searching for her quotes online. She also said at one point, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” … I only take issue with this because I do think emotion is necessary sometimes, if not all the time, for change, and it is natural and will be an important part of inciting revolution and/or social transformation, however you wish to term it. But I understand the importance of being strategic and I am open to reflecting on it.

Our voice matters even if “the algorithms” of our networks tell us otherwise. We shouldn’t stand down or feel defeated and be silenced by any type of systemic force. Our voices, men and women alike, need to be on loudspeakers like never before. Your voice matters. And I want to hear it.

In Solidarity, Sisters. Stay Resilient. Stay Empowered. Stay Connected.

And once again, Happy Pride Month. 

“She remembered who she was… And the game changed.” – Lalah Delia

Love, peace, warmth, and blessings,

Your sister, always

Dr. Elsa

Warrior KQueen

“She wasn’t looking for a Knight. She was looking for the Sword.” 

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