I wouldn’t say I am a feminist but I do think strongly about the rights of women in the Islamic/South Asian culture. I am a young Muslim/Asian women from the UK, who appreciates her cultural roots but also has a western way of thinking. As a South Asian women living in the UK, I am expected to live the ‘traditional’ way – such as not working outside the domestic space, not studying to degree level, expected to get married as early as possible, expected to act rather ‘fragile’ ‘timid’ and hide away from men and never ever stay out late, just because I am a women.
From a young age, I always had a passion for the creative arts. But working in a field like that is ‘wrong’ for Asian/Muslim women. I realised there were not enough ethnic minorities working in the media. Why was that? Because of the culture issue. I wanted to change that. So despite all the criticism I got; that I should either get a “real job” like a doctor, lawyer or not work altogether, get married and become a housewife – well, I decided to go against that and pursue my dream and inspire others like myself to try and do the same.
I think a lot of Asian women, do feel oppressed but do not like to admit it due to fear. I can admit that I did feel oppressed at certain times of my life. I feared that if I did something rather ‘westernised’ I would get looked down on. And of course, I have been criticised but my whole point is that – going against your cultural norms does not mean you are disobeying your culture or your religion. Of course not.
Regarding education, I studied what I wanted to study and not what is expected of me due my culture, like I have seen others do because they were scared. Going through college and university was hard. Not only did I get little support for the course I chose to study, but also going through depression, social anxiety and an eating disorder and being in hospital at the same time. It was incredibly hard indeed.
Finishing my degree and getting my dream job at the BBC was the icing on the cake. It was like all the criticisms I faced was so worth it. I got a job, I am earning and the family are proud – despite their lack of support and trust whilst I was studying. Did I just prove them wrong? I think I did.
Breaking cultural norms is one of the hardest things you could ever do but I did it. People used to sneer at me when I would say ‘I want to work in the media.’ Now? Well, they are shocked that I made it and surprisingly inspired just because I am women. If I was a man, this would not be a big deal at all.
My message to all young women, especially within the Asian/Islamic culture – if you have a passion to do something in life that perhaps is ridiculed by family due to cultural norms – please do pursue that passion and prove to them that just because you are going against that aspect of your culture, does not mean you are going against the culture itself.
I fought my way through this and made it happen.
Make equality happen.