Fully Liberated within Our Own Cultures

The South, West, and Central Asian Women’s Workshop started a couple of weeks before we got there, when Azi1 and Diane2 asked us to write about our backgrounds. The result was an amazing string of e-mails that helped us get to know each other, feel connected, and keep women’s liberation in the forefront of our thinking.

I am an Israeli woman of Yemenite and Moroccan heritage. I live in New York City, New York, USA. As a Jewish Israeli woman, I was terrified of going to the workshop. It brought up feelings of being attacked and hated. Going there with a Co-Counselor who was born in Israel, being in contact with a small group of Jews beforehand to plan the Shabbat,3 knowing that Azi was a fierce ally to Jews, and having Diane4 there made it possible for me to feel safe enough to attend.

On Friday afternoon at the workshop, Azi talked about how we as yet have no picture of what our lives can be, how much joy we can have. She encouraged us to use the workshop to find our voices and to fight for ourselves and each other.

Here are some of my other highlights from Azi’s talks:

  • Feudalism collapsed in Europe in the 1700s. It collapsed in Asia in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. In Asia people are only one or two generations away from feudalism. Many of our parents were born under that system. Landlords dominated the men, and the men dominated the women and children. Under feudalism men owned the bodies of women and children. Women had no right to education, divorce, or protection from violence or rape. Rape in marriage is still not illegal in most Asian countries. Often women cannot travel or have a job or a bank account without a man’s permission. However, under feudalism women did productive work. They got a sense of themselves as being capable and were deeply connected to each other.
  • Under capitalism, everyone can fight for individual rights. All of the rights movements have emerged under capitalism and have brought tremendous gains. However, we South, West, and Central Asian women have lost our connection with each other.
  • Whereas in Asia there is no pretence in regard to sexism, in the United States and Europe people are told that sexism no longer exists. However, a woman who is forced to wear a hijab5 is no more oppressed than a woman who feels compelled to have plastic surgery. Our direction is to be fully female and liberated within our own cultures.
  • We come from colonized nations. Our languages have been regarded as inferior. Many of us do not speak our native language. Women often spoke their native language at home and taught it to their children, while the men spoke the language of the colonizer. Because of this, the women were regarded as more backward.

Language interpretation at the workshop helped us to show and reclaim ourselves. I interpreted some of the talks into Hebrew. It was wonderful to share that part of myself and to hear all the other languages.

Many of us brought pictures of our families, including our parents and grandparents, and made a collage of them on the wall. There were pictures from our countries of origin as well as our present-day lives.

Azi’s talk about how our cultures are portrayed as backward touched me deeply. My Yemenite grandfather was a polygamist. My grandmother was “given” to him at a young age by her father when my grandfather already had a wife and three children. I grew up feeling ashamed of and hiding many such details about my family. The workshop was a safe haven in which to reclaim my heritage and see it as no worse than Western culture. I shared some Yemenite songs during the Shabbat and cultural sharing.

Rachel Kieffer

New York, New York, USA

(Present Time 171, April 2013)


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Last modified: 2017-05-31 15:32:03-07