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In search of sisterhood

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The search for real feminism or sisterhood in a genuine form does not lie in the over sexed celebrity or the power dressing business women, it can be found in the micro ways women try to support and ease each other’s burdens. To me it is presented in the form of community groups.

(BSMG) Roseanne Looker – Real sisterhood brings to mind notions of effective collaboration and working together to support the needs of women. Sisterhood helps you [as a woman] to accept your true femininity and embrace this both in a physical, spiritual and emotional sense. True Feminists are, in my view, those who make positive change to society either in micro or macro fashion. It may seem cynical to suggest that sisterhood or feminism today is perceived as a dead word. For the evidence, one only has to turn to consumer society’s constant false representation and objectification of women.

Media outlets present women as unrealistically ‘over beautified’ and over sexed creatures. Images which continue to be incredibly damaging to women who are constantly striving to look a certain way and will go to great lengths to achieve the so-called societal image of ‘beauty’. Women have become utterly subservient to the system, unable to accept their natural beauty, causing destructive harm to their bodies. These images also cause psychological effects for men who develop certain expectations of the way women should look and behave. The rise of social media has arguably done more harm than good, fuelling the ongoing beauty contest of Facebook encouraging competition for the wrong reasons among women.

Even women in the work place whether in the public or private sector face a battle in the race to the boardroom where you must think like a man and ‘be like a man’, devoid of all emotion. Today, women who have children and who choose to have a baby are less desirable for companies to employ them due to the issue of child case and maternity leave. It seems all of the real ‘feminism’ has been sucked out of us women.

The search for real feminism or sisterhood in a genuine form does not lie in the over sexed celebrity or the power dressing business women, it can be found in the micro ways women try to support and ease each other’s burdens. To me it is presented in the form of community groups.

Women’s groups have always existed to provide a support network for the needs of women. By women for women. Women’s groups are cross-sectional and exist in different communities in society. Both on a global and international scale each women’s group has its own agenda to cater for its members. Although they face [obstacles], struggle with themselves, I like to think that such groups portray the real needs of women today and allow for an environment where women can feel comfortable to be themselves.

My experience of working with first generation Somali women and mothers who face a struggle, difficult for most to comprehend in terms of the journeys taken to arrive in their host nations, the barriers which present themselves in terms of adapting and integrating to a new culture, language and people cannot be easy. Many face social isolation, exclusion and relative deprivation.

Despite this, Somali women stand tall with a resilience and determination. This is the true spirit of feminism. These women are the true matriarchs of the household, pushing for the education of their children and themselves and also playing an active role in key decision-making. Trying to access the services available which help them to understand the system better. Historically Somali women played a fundamental role in stabilising the society and their communities and families during [the] civil war in Somalia. This feeling is ever-present today. The Somali community cares a great deal for its mothers, positive treatment and regard has strong influence from the religion of Islam. The prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings upon him) said in a famous narration ‘paradise lies at the feet of your mother.’

Somali women are aware of opportunities especially here in Britain and are keen to utilise them. Although they face barriers to full inclusion, they must continue to combat negative perceptions and racism from wider society and, furthermore, recognise negative perceptions they may hold of people from other communities and cultures as barriers to integration.

Somali women know how to organise themselves effectively in terms of supporting one another. I have found that in areas of Bristol where Somali population is high, women’s groups exist. These groups are support hubs for women to come together in a way Somali women know best. St Jude’s Somali Women’s Group in Bristol established in 2006 by a small group of women who using their own resources and joint efforts have created a space where women come together. It helps women escape the confines of the home and gives them something to feel part of. The chairwomen of the St Jude’s Somali Women’s Group said in an interview “Our main focus is to always support our sisters and encourage them in terms of education and how to support their children in the best way. We do fundraising and community events which help bring the community together.”

Other difficulties that Somali women’s groups encounter is becoming fully mobilised and recognised in terms of their relationship with wider agencies. Liaising with the local authority in particular is key to gain funding. Additionally, for the wider society to understand their specific support needs, issues and concerns. This heeds the process of integration and helps agencies become more culturally competent and aware. On a more personal developmental level, women’s groups must encourage relationship building among different cultures. This is the real essence of strengthening sisterhood, the coming together of women from all backgrounds.

Not all women’s groups, however, are responsive or representative to one another and this is a key challenge which must be addressed and an issue which I encountered when attending a women’s group meeting in Bristol; a group whose agenda is to promote full inclusion and active participation of all women in the city. It seemed to be achieving the complete opposite. Demographically speaking this group was predominately white and middle class and its agenda followed suit, much dismissal of ‘stay at home mum’. It seemed there was not only an ethnocentric one-sided approach, but a reluctance to communicate effectively with its members from BME and working class backgrounds.

On speaking with a woman in the audience who was from Hartcliffe, a predominantly white working class area of Bristol which faces severe relative deprivation, who said “I feel like I can’t really relate to the women in this group, which is a shame because what I’m lacking is that support network, you know”. For me this reflects how women’s groups claiming to fight for full ‘inclusion’ and equality of opportunity do the exact opposite and push members away as a result. Empowerment of women is of uttermost importance. The term empowerment, however, is received differently from person to person and due to each person’s subjective view accumulated through their life experiences and culture. Education and employment are high on the agenda in terms of empowerment but let’s not forget the importance of motherhood being valued. Isn’t that how we came to be alive today?

To conclude, the wider women’s community and society can learn an abundance about Somali women in particular and the way they live their lives. This is key to strengthening sisterhood across all sectors of women. It helps women make friendships with other women who they may merely pass by in the street. Through dialogue, different experiences and cultures can be shared in a positive way and sisterly support gained. This is something to be celebrated and helps strengthen the true essence of feminism and sisterhood. Accepting one another as fellow sisters can be strong enough to overcome negative societal notions and false portrayals of how women should be.

@roseannalooker

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