Remona AlyTuesday 05 March 2019 BBC Radio 2
Laddoos and Suffragettes
This Friday, people all over the world will be making some noise for International Women’s Day. I’ve already started with a kerching when I splashed some cash for a book about Sophia Duleep Singh – the British Asian suffragette who was a leading figure in the women’s voting rights 110 years ago, in 1909.
Like me, Sophia had Indian heritage, like me she believed in justice, and like me, she had royal blood. Okay, I take back the last one.
But when I was born, my dad did announce it to the world like a royal proclamation. At a time when celebrating the birth of a daughter wasn’t the done thing with many South Asians, my dad gave out twice as many laddoos – the traditional Indian sweets normally only distributed when it’s a boy.
Fast forward 18 years, and dad was driving me to the polling station so I could cast my first ever vote. I felt goosebumps as I paid tribute to women like Sophia Duleep Singh, whose sacrifices literally put that ballot paper in my hands.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I think of my parents when I read the words of Prophet Muhammad – that whoever raises daughters and gives them the best will be guaranteed Paradise. He said this at a time that daughters were regarded as a burden.
Some attitudes die hard, but I won’t let them filter down. I once asked a little girl if she played football at school. ‘No’ she giggled, ‘Girls can’t play football’! I promptly showed her clips of the England women’s football team. ‘Girls’ I said, ‘can do anything’.
It’s tough when the world tells you no, but that’s when I fling back a mighty yes. Whether it’s 1909, or 2019, for me the struggle goes on – from the highest echelons, to everyday sexism.
The Sufi Muslim educator, Camille Adams Helminski put it perfectly when she wrote: “Women and men need to stand together in the Light. As we look to see the Divine in each other, encouraging each other to rise to fullness, we push against our own limitations until those limits dissolve and a gift unfolds.”
I think of all those laddoos dad dished out, and tell myself, we can only get equality, if we do it together.