On one occasion when asked by a follower to whom one should show the most respect and kindness, the Prophet Mohammad replied: “Your mother.” “And then who?” insisted the questioner. “Your mother,” Mohammad replied again. “And then who?” “Your mother,” responded the prophet for the third time. The questioner persisted: “And after that who?” “Your father,” Mohammad replied. — From the Price of Honor by Jan Goodwin
More than fourteen hundred years ago the Prophet Mohammad reminded us that mothers who are also someone’s daughter, sister, or wife should be respected and treated kindly. In his last public address to Muslims from Mount Arafat near Mecca the Prophet exhorted them: “Treat your women well and be kind to them.”
And yet for hundreds of years in the Middle East, far too often, this has not been the case as reflected in a poem written by Atiya Daewood, a Sindhi poet from Pakistan.
The journey of my life
begins from home,
ends at the graveyard.
My life is spent like a corpse,
carried on the shoulders
of my father and brother,
husband and son.
Bathed in religion,
attired in customs,
and buried in a grave of ignorance.
In the last decades the contradiction between what is and what should be, the experience of being pushed down, crushed and oppressed for far too long has driven women across the whole spectrum of belief systems and life-styles to come out of their various degrees of bondage and unite in the call for a change. In Israel, over the last decades there has been a dramatic increase in women’s groups and circles where women become empowered to change their lives and the reality in which they live.
The Together Beyond Words programs are an example of this. For almost 30 years, we have supported this process. Feeling that the “feminine energy” of both women and men is sorely missing from the political and decision-making realm in the Middle East, we have empowered and trained women to use an innovative multi-disciplinary approach that undermines prejudice and helps women reconnect with their inner strength.
After so many years of struggle, we know that a different path than the one we inherited is imperative for all people on the planet. We believe empowered women are best prepared and able to pioneer this new path.
For many years we attempted to create a place for ourselves as women in a male dominated world by competing with one another and forgetting the similarity of our challenges. For almost 30 years we have heard from women that one of the most difficult obstacles for them when they have tried to forge their way has been the criticism and judgment directed towards them by other women in their community.
We have been taught to compete instead of cooperate and we ourselves are sometimes the ones holding us and one another back. We often struggle alone and find it difficult to ask for help. We feel we must do everything — children, homes, careers – alone.
As a result of our work the idea of what it means to support each other’s growth and leadership is shifting. Many more women now understand that we are together in this struggle and that there is so much more that unites us than anything that can separate us. During the process women realize that while society has often tried to keep us apart, one of our biggest strengths is our ability to work together, beyond political lines and sectors and stay connected even in times of conflict.