As a young student enthusiastic about literature my school’s curriculum although included great works, it was noticeable to my young mind even then that they were mostly by male authors, poets, and philosophers. Being a young Arab girl the only rare glimpses of female works came in the form of novels by the Bronte sisters and other Western greats, and while I drank every drop of their ink I was mostly left unsatiated and ever yearning for a familiar female voice. For all the genius of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights neither their authors nor their protagonists shared much in common with this young Arab girl, although the cultural restrictions of England’s 1800s might have slightly resembled some of the aspects we as women lived through at the time, neither the political backdrop of my surroundings nor the struggles of my region were reflected in their foreign works, these women had never even felt that distinct burning that only the Arab sun can leave on one’s skin.
I experienced first hand the drought that our school curriculums suffered from when it came to the female mind. It left me searching for it on the stacked shelves of my school library and making the effort to hunt for those names that were not being introduced to me by the system. It is an ongoing search for after the many great female Arab minds that I have read I am still discovering greater ones that somehow I have still not come across. Since then the number of female Arab minds who have contributed generously to the literature, political and philosophical landscape of the region has more than doubled, yet the eager young ears today are still oblivious to these voices.
The UAE has seen impressive, one could even say unimaginable, advancements in all sectors and has cemented its position as a cultural hub for aspiring thinkers, artists and musicians from across the region and beyond. The Emirati woman has been offered opportunities that other women in neighbouring countries can only dream of, worse yet have to fight for, but it is not enough to give the opportunity without cultivating the mind. It is essential for the young generation to not only know that women can do anything they aspire to they must also understand the mindset that brought them there. Let them interpret and critique the ideas that brought about change, teach them to compare the poetry, the language and the stories and arm them with positive female examples that counter the assembly line of clichés the media has to offer.
Impressionable young students must be given true examples of the Arab woman through her own words, and when I say students I do not mean young girls alone for in order to raise a generation that truly believes in gender equality it is the young boys that have to listen first, those boys who will grow up to have female rivals at every stage of their professional careers. In order to foster greater respect for their future interactions as equals at par with each other in every way we must introduce them both to those female thinkers, those female warriors who have fought to create a distinct voice, that voice that emanates from an agony, a sense of injustice and suffocation from years of silence, that no male thinker, no matter how great, can mimic.
This article was first published in The Gulf Today newspaper May 29, 2016 http://bit.ly/1NVNw90
Arabic version of this article was published in Al Khaleej newspaper http://bit.ly/1TNzCoG