Hi! My name is Sumaya and I’m of Somali descent living in Canada. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to become a teacher when I grew up, and that’s exactly what I became in the end. My mom would always call me “macaalinta” (which translates to teacher in Somali) and ask me to teach her whatever skill or fact I claimed to learn that day or discovered on TV. It finally became a full circle moment when my mom, days before my convocation, remarked how she never would have thought calling me teacher would lead me to become one. However, my path to teaching wasn’t always a linear one. I almost did something related to the sciences, but soon realized that it wasn’t for me. The reason for this is that I felt like the structure of a lot of science-based careers as well as the classes/ labs I was taking at the time made me feel boxed in and limited with the theories, structure and approaches. I honestly felt like I didn’t fit in that science circle. That moved me on to love teaching because it allowed for a lot of creative freedom and I knew teaching ESL especially could eventually open doors all over the world. Because I have always wanted to travel, this seemed like the perfect career choice for me.
It finally became a full circle moment when my mom, days before my convocation, remarked how she never would have thought calling me teacher would lead me to become one.
Back in Somalia, culture allows for women to have an influence on what goes on in the inside of the house, while fathers and men have more of a say on errands and work. This sort of a structure resided in my home in Canada as well. While my father was the head of the house, my mom had significant influence of the decision making and direction of how the household should go. In my young eyes growing up, my mother was an empowered member of the household— it’s very heartening for any young girl to see her mother as such a strong woman.
What’s even more inspiring is my mother’s story of coming here. My mom was studying in Italy when the Civil War in Somalia broke out and she eventually got immigration papers to Canada. My grandparents soon followed to Italy and my mom did everything in her power to bring her parents over since they were under refugee status. My mom was successful in bringing her parents over to Canada, all the while finishing her education here, raising a family, and more. It really does make one realize —mothers are truly superheroes.
She was an incredible entrepreneur and started her own business before and after she fled Somalia during the Civil War.
On the other hand, my mother was not the only powerful woman in my life. My grandmother lived with us before she passed (Allah Yerhama). She was an incredible entrepreneur and started her own business before and after she fled Somalia during the Civil War. Her business was the production and selling of cultural garments made from embroidered and colourful fabrics. These garments ranged from skirt and shirt sets as well as dresses for women, to shirt and pants sets for men— all handmade made with our distinctive cultural fabrics. Growing up, she always used to credit the start of her business to my birth, because as she claimed, it began to blossom and thrive after I was born. She told me that my birth was the catalyst to when her luck would change and her business finally took off. Those words, as well as the legacy she has left, are still with me to this day.
There is an ideology in our society that depicts and illustrates women as each others competition. I feel it comes from the standards of greater society placed on us in what they consider desirable and undesirable filtered through the eyes of men. Every culture throughout history has in some way placed these limitations and restrictions on women, ultimately taking away validation and empowerment away from them. Indirectly through the different forms of media messages as well as cultural upbringing, this narrative of competition has seeped into the subconscious of women which have led to some to act in ways at the expense of others. It’s almost like we need to rewire our ways of thinking and filter it through a different lens to become more aware of just how much of our day to day preferences, decisions, and dislikes come from a male informed perspective. For instance, we see Kim Kardashian as a notable woman in society now with a huge influence over millions of young women. She branded and created an image for herself that fits into a particular narrative and ideals of beauty all dictated to us through the lens of what is deemed attractive to men. Women like her are mass producing images and ideas that harm our psyche as it plays into this harmful rhetoric developed by the patriarchy. In the ways we are not like these “supermodels”, we internalize our differences and it affects not only how we view ourselves, but how we view other women around us.
Growing up as a child of the diaspora, maintaining and understanding of the notion of self worth in my culture and experience was something that even tied to religion. Becoming someone who had a strong connection to her deen was something women thought as desirable or coveted. In a way, that became a form of policing women and in turn, women were expected to conform to those standards. Somehow religiosity became a measure for a woman’s worth and that’s how they were ultimately compared in that sense (i.e. a woman who was not covered up and did not display piety is less likely to find a suitable partner). Something personal and heavily intrinsic like religion has been warped by the patriarchal lens and continues to perpetuate harmful notions that has in some subtle ways pitted women against each other.
I have had comments made to me with regards to the topic of being desirable to men. There have been occasions where I felt bad about how I looked because of what someone else thought a man would find “desirable”.
I have had comments made to me with regards to the topic of being desirable to men. There have been occasions where I felt bad about how I looked because of what someone else thought a man would find “desirable”. I’ve had a comment made to me from another woman saying “If you’re teeth were straighter or you didn’t have a gap, you’d be more attractive to men!” It was honestly a really damaging thing to hear as I was just coming into myself and accepting myself as a young adult, my self worth was once again tied to my desirability to men. This really upset me now that I think about it much later because it is really sad how so much of who we are is for “men” and how we have internalized such a harmful way of thinking. No one really notices the work and accomplishments women do – such as my being a teacher or in my mother’s case, handling an entire family, taking care of her parents, and going back to school. People only ever see and focus on what men want which then causes rise to more competition and envy among women. We begin to seek validation from sources that cannot provide it and that is where the problem inevitably lies.
I feel like it is time to change that narrative. There are a multitude of things that can be changed in regards to the interactions we have with each other. Starting with social media —sometimes with social media we forget that the content we are consuming and engaging with is put forth by a real person, someone who also has their own struggles and identity. We need to utilize some sort of critical thinking strategies when it comes to what we choose to consume and how we let that in turn affect us.
By celebrating our differences and accomplishments, practicing mindfulness, counting our blessings instead of our “undesirable qualities” and “things men want”, we will overcome the definitions and limitations placed on us Insha’Allah.
We also need to stop the harsh criticism we dish out on others; often this is disguised as advice, but rather it being empowering it leaves you feeling worse and often times resentful. Lastly, one of the things we can also avoid doing in our shared spaces is judgement. Commonly, judgments come from a negative place. These harsh thoughts we project unto others creates a hostile environment and only makes it easier for negativity to spread. These are small steps in the bigger picture which will inshAllah help chip away at the notions that all women are rivals with one another. By celebrating our differences and accomplishments, practicing mindfulness, counting our blessings instead of our “undesirable qualities” and “things men want”, we will overcome the definitions and limitations placed on us Insha’Allah.