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Muslim women tackle stereotypes head on through diverse stories

This evening, AWARE, Singapore’s leading women’s rights and gender equality advocacy group will be launching its latest book, Growing Up Perempuan, where a mother of two, talks about trying to break out of the cycle of poverty and domestic violence she had been in since she was a child.

“It was like I could never escape this vicious cycle. When we moved out, I had quit my job to take care of our children and had to depend on (my husband) Amir for money. It was always because of money issues that he got violent.” said Shiqah*, the mother featured in the story.

Her story is captured in an interview with Zubaida Ali, a writer, facilitator and women’s rights advocate. Shiqah’s story of strength and courage through adversity is among the 54 compelling and thought-provoking essays and interviews in the book.

Growing Up Perempuan will be launched in conjunction with a panel discussion featuring Ms Rahayu Muhamad, President of PPIS (Singapore Muslim Women’s Association); Dr Nuraliah Norasid, winner of the 2016 Epigram Books Fiction Prize and research associate at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA); and Ms Sya Taha, a feminist writer and one of the contributors of the book.  The speakers will be sharing their thoughts and experiences on growing up in the Muslim community in Singapore.

Growing Up Perempuan is the sequel to Perempuan: Muslim Women in Singapore Speak Out, published in 2016 under AWARE’s Gender Equality Is Our Culture (GEC) project. The first book, Perempuan, comprised 31 essays and poems by Muslim women on the topics of sexuality, body image and culture.

This second book is broader in scope, and features stories of women from varying socio-economic and family backgrounds, and age groups, capturing the diverse experiences of Muslim women in Singapore.

Said Filzah Sumartono, Project Manager of GEC and one of the editors of the book, “Muslim women are not homogenous, and the stories we have collected clearly show this. We set out to include voices from different generations of women.

“This was done through our "In Conversation" essays - interviews conducted by the writers with older relatives or women who are more comfortable narrating rather than writing their stories. We also have the "Stories" series - produced at writing workshops in welfare homes in Singapore. So the voices in the book range from those of girls as young as ten to women in their senior years.”

A major theme running through the stories is that of stereotypes - the pressures faced by women to conform to restrictive rules of what it means to be a Muslim woman. Many of the writers speak of how these stereotypes have kept them from embracing their true selves and reaching their fullest potential.

Said Ms. Sumartono, “Stories help us to connect to ourselves and each other. Being a woman is hard, and being a Muslim woman is harder. These stories make us feel less alone in overcoming the struggles we deal with in our daily lives. By writing them, the authors have taken a brave step towards empowering themselves and others who are going through similar
experiences.”

Said Margaret Thomas, President of AWARE and co-editor of both publications, “As AWARE works to improve the lives of all women in Singapore, we are alert to the unique struggles that ethnic and religious minority women face. We are glad to have been able to provide a channel for Muslim women to share their stories.”

Some of the highlights from the book include:

  • A Muslim woman’s guide to the workplace, part II - Raudah continues to fight against negative stereotypes of women wearing tudung in her workplace with her wit and humour.
  • Horror stories for little girls - Ham loves horror stories, but wonders why so many seem to confine and belittle women.
  • Do you want to switch lives with me? - Lisa hopes for respect in place of judgement when she tells someone that she engages in sex work.
  • From the lens of a Shia’ minority in Singapore - Sakinah encapsulates her journey towards self-acceptance, as a Shia’ minority in Singapore’s Sunni Muslim majority.
  • Letters to you - Q pours her heart out in a series of letters to her parents, making peace with herself in the process and focusing on her mental health.

Growing Up Perempuan wraps up AWARE’s 5-year GEC project, which was funded by a grant from UN Women. The book is published by AWARE and is available in all major bookstores and online at www.ethosbooks.com.sg from 31 Aug 2018.

Book launch details:

Date : Friday, 31 August 2018
Time : 7pm – 9pm
Venue : Wisma Geylang Serai, Level 4, Project Studios, 1 Engku Aman Turn Singapore 408528
Light refreshments will be provided.

*not her real name