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South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage Women

A South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage Women’s Workshop for North America and the Caribbean was held in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, in March 2018. Azi Khalili, the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People, led the workshop. Diane Balser, the International Liberation Reference Person for Women, led a class on sexual exploitation.

Six years had passed since the first workshop of this kind, and I noticed how we had moved forward in our re-emergence.

Here are some things from the workshop that I want to share:

  • Azi stressed the importance of caring about each other as females. She said to move in each other’s direction and ask questions. That made me think how capitalist society doesn’t want us to care about each other. We are supposed to put our attention on material needs. No wonder I feel a bit clumsy when asking questions and showing caring. I guess I’ll have to practice more and discharge the feelings of awkwardness!
  • Azi’s love for and commitment to every female at the workshop helped us dare to share our personal experiences—something I don’t usually do in my RC Community. After the workshop I felt I could be myself more fully and take more pride in being a female Indian Hindu.
  • The noises in our heads from misinformation about our human nature have left us quiet, permissive, submissive, passive, accommodating. At the workshop I noticed how much time I spend questioning myself. Clearly I have to be ruthless with the recordings and rage against the oppression. As I write this, I can hear myself roaring in my sessions.
  • When we were young we longed for another mind to be with us. Our minds were searching for someone else’s, and they were ignored. I have to go back and use my voice and talk to little me. That will help me re-emerge more efficiently. Azi talked about strategizing our re-emergence, and I see how that is important.
  • Sexism has touched every female, no matter how she identifies. Every area of our lives as females is drenched in it. At the workshop I saw how it has infested my every pore. But sexism had a start date, and it will have an end date. Azi said that people in the future will visit museums about sexism and laugh when they read about this thing.
  • To have close, trusting relationships with females we’ll need to work on our relationships with our mothers. Azi reminded me to discharge on my relationship with my mother even though she is dead—the hurts of internalized sexism are still there.
  • We South, Central, and West Asian-heritage women come from societies with the economic system of feudalism. Females are the property of males and are punished for wanting anything. When I was a young girl, I didn’t have any dreams. My father decided my future. My sisters’ and my choices for studies were limited to only three, and my father chose one for me.
  • Sharing our stories of sexism and male domination at the workshop reminded me that the oppression is systemic, not personal. The other females in my family and I have always blamed ourselves for so many things. I saw how this has drained and divided us.
  • Honour plays a central role in the lives of men of our constituencies, and because we are dominated by our men, this affects us in many ways. Men control what we wear and how we behave; and the more subservient we are, the better. This can make us critical of each other as females and create deep cracks in our relationships. I recall the women in my family talking, often in an extremely harsh and critical way, about the details of other women’s looks. I have memories of feeling deep shame, of feeling dirty. Sometimes I would stand in the shower for hours and try to wash it off. I was surprised that it didn’t work. Today I know that discharging is the only way to wash off the shame.
  • Violence and the threat of violence have kept us females preoccupied with safety. (This shows in RC when we want to be in the “right” support group.) We have to discharge on the early times we experienced or were scared of violence. I have to continue doing this. Oh my God, there was sooooo much.
  • For most of us, consent to sex didn’t exist. The role of females was to please men, including sexually. Sex in our families was decided by men. I have often wondered why I have struggled with sex. For generations, females in my family, including me, were raped and never spoke about it. Silence prevailed.
  • As females we are seen as the second gender. There was much shame in my family because the oldest child, a son, had died. Boys are viewed as the first and right gender. My brother’s death was a family secret for years. I was fifteen before I knew about it. I would fantasize that I could have saved my brother with my life. (Sacrificing myself for others has been a constant theme for me.) Some Indians pitied my parents for only having girls. That installed in me a feeling that I as a female didn’t matter as much as boys, which led to lots of discouragement and hopelessness.
  • Kismat (“destiny” in Hindi) shapes our lives as Indian females. It connects to karma, to life being predestined. The workshop made me think about why the women in my family had been divided. All of them were married away as children. My maternal grandmother was twelve. I remember looking at her and thinking that my kismat was not going to be like hers. I looked down on her. But what I really wanted was to ask her what it had been like for her to marry a man more than twice her age. She died before I ever got the chance.

From the time I was fourteen, when my family attended Hindu weddings other parents would approach my parents and ask if they’d be interested in marrying off their daughters to their sons. My parents would say no. My mother had taken a stand that her daughters would choose their partners out of love. Before she died, she shared how humiliating it had been for her when she was young to be looked at by different men and their families. The custom is that the potential husband and his parents come for tea at the girl’s family’s home. My mother would feel like cattle every time. It was deeply humiliating. She never wanted her daughters to go through the same. I am very grateful to her for this.

  • The workshop made me realize how much I’ve hidden my identity as an Indian Hindu. Growing up in a secular country in the global North, I was expected to leave my Hindu identity behind. Racism directed at our family, and male domination in our household, led my father to adopt an atheist identity and expect us four women to do the same. My mother was raised with lots of Hindu practices. There was a lot of shame and secrecy when she and her mother would practice Hindu ceremonies in our house.

With love and sisterhood,


Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of women

(Present Time 192, July 2018)

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00