My Mum often tells me, "When I was your age, I wasn't allowed to do that", and I think about a different time where women lived very different lives than the ones we live today. I think about how lucky I am to exist in a time when we can pick our own marriages, have easy access to education, build fruitful careers for ourselves, go on holidays, socialise, wear what we want, express our freedom of speech, and so much more.
Obviously, there is still a long way for us women to go, but things have changed, and thankfully, we have evolved.
Many women these days love to eat out, try new cuisines, and some even love the odd Shisha. In a previous time, it would not have been acceptable for a woman to do this so openly. Back in the days of my mother’s youth, women would often smoke what was called a “hookah”. This was done between women in secret, a little club of smoking feminists as I like to think of it, while the husbands were out, bonding over a smoke-filled drag. Although I do not encourage smoking, this was used as a socialising activity (and apparently, for digestion purposes - really!)
Nowadays, women don't only smoke the hookah openly (now more commonly referred to as Shisha), but they also openly smoke cigarettes (again, I do not encourage this!), which just shows how things have changed.
Other than passing the Hookah, women now travel alone, too. Yes, alone! Okay, with friends mainly, but we do it alone, too. My cousin recently did a trip around Asia alone, and I am really proud of her for it. A girl from an ethnic background that would never have been allowed this privilege many years ago wandered the world alone. She experienced new cultures that would have only been a myth to women back then, and she learned a lot about herself and the world. During my Mum’s time, it would have been unimaginable for a woman to travel without her husband or another man, unless it was in an emergency.
Travelling alone is one thing, but another step forward is living alone. More and more women are now choosing to live alone for many reasons. Our communities would never have accepted this before (and sometimes, still don't, actually), but it’s happening. I live alone and regularly get asked if I ran away from home or got kicked out (which always makes me chuckle), but the truth is that my family is fully supportive and proud of this, and I do it because I'm a grown woman!
Some women live alone after getting a divorce, some due to job commitments, some due to having no space in the family home, some due to their families being abroad, or because they themselves are working abroad, and some do it just because they can! Whatever the reason, many women from minority backgrounds are living alone, out from underneath the umbrella of their extended family. In some cases, it is healthier for the family.
We also have the right to a career and an education now. Way back in the days of yore (okay, Mum, you're not that old), women would be expected to stay home, whilst their brothers went to school or work. The place of the woman was in the kitchen and in the house. I simply do not have this attitude in my blood. This is thankfully something that my mother and her sisters did get to experience. My grandfather was a huge feminist, and fought against all odds, and against all the whispers in his community, to ensure that his daughters were just as educated as his sons and were given the same rights and opportunities in life as men. May he rest in peace, Insha'Allah, and may many more men raise their daughters as well as he did.
This was also a time when the birth of a daughter wasn’t as celebrated as the birth of a son. The birth of a son meant that the parents would be taken care of up until their old age, and a girl was seen as a burden, due to dowry and other factors. Now we (most of us, anyway) celebrate the birth of both sons and daughters.
Choosing a partner of your choice was a luxury in previous generations, and now we are encouraged and trusted enough to find someone that we feel we are comparable with. I couldn’t imagine women from my mother’s generation browsing through various online profiles on the internet or launching their app to see who they got matched with today. They were pretty much told who to marry, and some didn’t even meet their husband until the wedding night. Arranged marriages were all the rage. We are so lucky that we can now pick and choose. We can meet the man in advance and decide whether or not we wish to spend our lives with them, and if God forbid it doesn’t work out, we can leave.
There are so many more things, such as driving, clothing, and the freedom to speak and have an opinion that we can write about, as the list is never-ending and constantly evolving, but for now, I will leave you to be as thankful as I am for all the rights we have today. (Though, like I said before, there is still a long way to go. I won’t even get into gender pay right now.) I am also grateful to people like my grandfather and my parents, who have fought for us so that we may become the women we are today.