My Education: A Right, Not A Privilege

Flickr: GAC | AMC, Creative Commons

My education is a right, not a privilege. This does not mean I am not privileged to be sat in my university bedroom, typing away into the blogosphere on my laptop. But my inherent right to an education cannot be rescinded; it’s indivisible, and it’s mine.

I have viewed myself to be lucky to have had such a brilliant chance at education in comparison to many others. The postcode lottery of being born in Britain, next to an outstanding school (Ofsted’s words), did me good. I got to go to school to do ‘important things’ like become a prefect, or try for university, and now I am on the cusp of graduating with my BA in Politics with International Relations. Don’t get me wrong. My situation could have been a lot worse. I only have to turn around and look at my cousins in rural Pakistan to know that I’m lucky to be here. I understand the value of education, and a good one at that, but every day, society reminds us that we do not ‘deserve’ to study or make something of ourselves.

Let’s break this down.

  1. We have the right to go to university. This means that we do not have to gain the permission of my parents to go to university. The inherent right to go to university or pursue any type of education has been, and always will be, ours.
  2. Just because society controls us, doesn’t mean they own us. A human being is not a commodity to be warped to personal benefits. We are in no way a luxury good to be paraded in front of ‘lesser beings’, or to be promoted for being ‘above’ everyone else. Society may coerce us into agreeing with them and making promises for the sake of surviving until the next day, but that does not mean that society inherently owns us. We are our own. No amount of emotional blackmail or guilt-tripping from society can take that away from us.
  3. Society degrades all women to being playthings. It is not for society to decide our future. It is not for society to deem what is suitable for us in terms of career or prospects. It is not for society to remind us, again and again, that they can click their fingers and a bewitched ring shall appear on a woman’s finger. It is not for society to exercise that power in order to coerce women into doing your bidding. It is not for society to dangle the carrot stick of education in our faces, and use it to make us conform. How dare society cite marriage in any scenario, except for one where we consent to it happily and freely? How dare society dangle marriage as a punishment for those women who do not submit; as something to steal women’s independence? How dare society tell us that marriage makes women submissive, and that it is to be used against women in every situation? I do not stand for such a crass attitude to people, where marital status is decided at society’s whim. Women must never, ever submit to these demands, no matter how much society threatens us. Regardless of the body parts women have, women are first, and foremost, human beings with human rights. Women are not society’s in any sense of the word, and neither is anyone else.
  4. Don’t congratulate yourself on not forcing women to get married. Yet. It’s rich for society to be able to imply that they are for equal rights between men and women. It’s preposterous that, through the three words of “But I didn’t” society can insinuate that it should be applauded for not physically stopping women from going to university.
  5. A woman’s life is not a trophy for society to show off. Society repeatedly tells us not to work, to not get a job, and to not bother doing anything extra.

Tomorrow is a new day, and I am determined, moreso than ever, to achieve everything for myself and everyone else.

Education is my right. It is your right. It is not a privilege. Every time someone decides education is theirs to administer or judge, stand up against them. When they say those things, they negate everyone’s ability to be educated to the standards they wish to be educated. Every time someone decides it’s a privilege, we dilute the right of billions of people worldwide, and tell them that we do not care about their fight for education. I am lucky that my parents are so positive and so encouraging of my educational pursuits.

Education is a right. Don’t let anyone tell you, or anyone else, otherwise.

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The rhetoric of hair

Flickr: konka*, Creative Commons

Disclaimer: I am no expert on hair politics. I’m tired and am always happy to be corrected.

Body hair is natural for most people. It grows fine and thick, and just about everywhere. Your face is covered in tiny little hairs, and no matter how hard you try and shave, laser, epilate, wax, or thread, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Growing up, I was faced with conflicting ideas of what kind of hair is good or bad, and how your gender presentation affects the kind of hair you’re allowed to have in different places. It’s interesting how we find it difficult to balance removal versus appraisal, and how both can be taboo simultaneously.

Culture and Body Hair

Being a person with Pakistani heritage, hairiness is accepted, by doctors and the public alike, to be in my nature. Whilst I grew up around women who were naturally not very hairy, and men who were really hairy (my family is like that), I felt isolated when I looked at that beard and moustache in the mirror, wondering why I couldn’t be like my mother or my sister and have a “normal” face. I was allowed to try and remove it were herbal remedies. One such remedy involved crushed seeds mixed with water to be put on the affected areas overnight, and scrubbed off. It never worked, except for painfully tearing out the odd hair.

At the same time, I was praised for having long, flowing locks of head hair, and when it started to fall out, many remedies including nightly oil sessions were sought out to stop me from losing so much hair.

There are a lot of confusing messages surrounding hair. It depends on the culture, but there are strange dynamics in play. One cannot have hair in the wrong places, but is also discouraged from changing it. Similarly, if one does not have hair in the right places, one has to encourage it to grow. It’s interesting that when I search for “body hair” on Google images, the photos are predominantly of men with hairy chests. Too much hair is considered a sign of an untidy, unclean, and unkempt person. Yet, a lack of hair is considered equally taboo.

Balding is generally conceived to be a problem between the binary genders. Male balding, so to speak, is considered to be both a natural part of life, yet also a topic which is less acceptable among younger men, who are often affected by it. Similarly, a lack of chest hair or facial hair is considered to be a regressive sign, pointing out that man has not reached puberty, or is somehow “less masculine” for the lack of hair.

It seems to me that, in conceptions of “male” and “female”, we have similarities in that there are areas considered to be acceptably hairy for both, but they are often the reverse of each other. However, this stereotype is harmful and damaging.

Hair Politics and Mainstream Media

I was never a fan of dyeing armpit hair, because firstly, when it’s dark hair, that takes a lot of effort. Secondly, it felt like an exclusive campaign which limited participants to being objects of fashion magazines, rather than making a statement on body hair politics. I do however wish I didn’t feel self-conscious about my hair to the extent where I felt confident enough to let it all flow gently in the breeze. However, hair politics this year has been dominated by the interpretation of cultural appropriation and fashion trends.

When I saw images of the Kardashians and Jenners sporting cornrows, my first instinct was not moral outrage. It was to see what members of the black community felt about the trend that was popping up all over the Daily Mail, and in other newspapers. Some reacted favourably, saying culture is there to be shared. Others stated it was appropriation, and played back into the image that #whitegirlsdoitbetter, and a few said that this was not a battle to choose in race politics. Whilst that is a huge generalisation of the array of opinions on this matter, and I cannot purport to be an expert of any kind on black hair, it’s not difficult to see why hair politics is fraught with problems.

It’s no secret that it’s difficult to maintain black hair if you want to conform to unrealistic beauty standards set by a hair industry which mostly caters to caucasian hair. Relaxing and straightening is a pain, and afros are seen by some to be a sign of laziness. Furthermore, weaves are political in that some shun the idea outright, and others believe it’s a great way to be in control of how your hair looks. All of these ideas boil down to one collective thing: hair is political because of conformity being seen as a means to erase or cover up identity.

Fashion turns hair into an objective thing to look at. That’s fine, and I can’t pretend that I don’t buy into glossy magazines on occasion and think about how beautiful people’s hair is. But when there is a history of oppression due to the way people’s hair looks, it’s difficult to ignore the stark difference between how reality differs depending on your culture or background. It is predominantly because of a consumer culture, where the desirable is the unattainable. We are sold the idea that we should have that which we do not already possess; as though somehow, we are not good enough, because everyone else has more than we do.

The same can be said around the politics of hair. It is seen desirable to imitate the hair of others for the ability to simply fit in with current trends. Yet, what these magazines and photoshoots fail to acknowledge is the political significance of hair. For some, their hair is a means of expression which can stand up against the stereotypes they are told to conform to. For some, their hair is a means of showing that natural hair is beautiful, and that a history of oppression and degradation need not reduce them to changing their hair for the sake of fitting in. For others, it’s simply an opportunity to take charge of how their hair is portrayed.

Hair and Identity

No matter what you think about how people should wear their hair, put it away. Because that is not a decision you or I can make for someone else. If there is anything to be learned from hair politics, it is that people have the right to have the hair that they naturally possess, and that no amount of changing, waxing, dyeing or chopping can allow you to take their identity away. You can be black and have a weave. You can be white and have cornrows. It doesn’t change the fact that you’re subject to entirely different beauty standards and pressures.

In each community, regardless of the background of that community, there are people who oust each other for not being “something-enough”. By doing this when it comes to hair, we isolate people from the outset and cause the debate around identity to become convoluted.

I am not my hair, but at the same time, I am. I think hair politics needs to move away from how people treat their hair physically, and focus on the inherent mental effects that cause people to view themselves as inadequate in the first place. That can only really begin to happen if our own communities stand up and accept the people who are different for whatever reason, and celebrate them as being enough by virtue of being alive.

 

Don’t force children to get married

Flickr: Marian, Creative Commons

I can’t laugh about it anymore. Not a day goes by when I’m not gripped with anxiety about the future of Pakistani children. I do not wish to use this as an opportunity to compare my situation to another’s, or to belittle the horrible grievances so many have to suffer through in society. Forced marriage is no laughing matter, and neither is the physical and emotional abuse which often feature where forced marriage is concerned.

According to Plan UK, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by her 18th birthday. The Forced Marriage Unit, led by the Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office, published a report on their findings from 2014. In it, they establish over 88 countries where forced marriage was a concern, and 23% of all the cases were domestic (i.e. in the UK), involving “no overseas element”.

Whilst the majority of campaigns against forced marriage understandably focus on underage girls in developing countries, there is something to be said for the fact that at least 46% of last year’s cases were with victims aged 18 or over, and a further 32% of adults’ ages were unknown. That is potentially 78% of cases with victims aged 18 or over. Whichever statistic you choose to consider, that is still a huge portion of adults finding themselves forced into marriage with few avenues to explore.

All things considered, there must be a proportion of adults in the UK who are suffering from abuse related to forced marriage, many of whom will be students at university, worried about their future. Whilst I do not wish to belittle the experiences of those outside that demographic, I think that my insight as a university student should allow me to focus in a little on university students.

Within my region from Pakistan, I am acutely aware of cases where people have been forced to get married to someone they barely know, ending in divorce, running away, domestic abuse, and at worst, murder.

These individuals were bright, had their whole futures ahead of them.

 

Intrinsically, we need to challenge the authority of the community and the parent. No matter what religions or diktats say about the power of the community, it’s not good for anything unless it’s tolerant and accepting.  A community where people are looked down on for not being married or for choosing to marry someone they want to wholeheartedly marry, is not a healthy community. It’s an animosity-filled, hateful environment which people need help to get out of, and fast.

If only it was easy to get communities where this is considered the norm to change their attitudes. Arranged marriage is also often synonymous with forced marriage in the eyes of many. The pressure and guilt associated with each rejection mounts until someone cracks. If one is found out to have someone else in mind, then immediately, an intervention is called with religious leaders and family members to convince the person otherwise and to choose an appropriate person.

Even if there is no direct threat of violence, an arranged marriage can still be a forced one. It can be a marriage of convenience, to help you leave home, or to help you find some financial independence. It can be a means to escape your temporary situation and hope for the better, because you can’t think of an alternative. An arranged marriage where it wasn’t truly out of choice, but came with heaps of pressure and guilt is certainly not, in my opinion, a free marriage. A free marriage is one where you have wholeheartedly chosen to marry someone, without having to think about the consequences in the community. A forced marriage is much more like one where the only way to go is to say yes, for fear of repercussion or isolation.

I can no longer be an apologist for my community when it comes to arranged marriage. I know in certain cases, people consent to having matches found and would happily marry one of their family’s choices. If that works for you, that’s great. But lots of people in this world do not have the right of choice.

Marriage should not be something to trade your freedom for.