On the 6th of June, the UK Guardian published an article under the title, “The rise of ‘breadwinner moms’ is less a win for equality than it looks”. It was in relation to statistics from a recent report by the PEW Research Centre that in 40% of all US households with children, mothers are the sole or primary breadwinners. The employment rate of married mothers in the US is 65%. Fifty years ago, the American feminist Betty Friedan claimed in her well-known book, The Feminine Mystique that if American housewives embarked on lifelong careers, they would be happier and healthier, have better marriages, and their children would thrive. The underlying message, echoed by the voices of many feminists over the years was that it was employment rather than motherhood that could offer women true self-fulfilment, value and success in life. However, such predictions could not have been further from the truth.
Firstly, it is important to understand that the drive to push women out of their homes and into the workplace did not have its origins in the ’emancipation of women’ or in improving the quality of their lives but rather it was a vision of Western Capitalist governments, born out of securing economic gain. This capitalist agenda of striving to increase female employment, for the sake of financial interests rather than the betterment of women is exemplified by the words of the former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who stated in a speech at a conference in Peru last October entitled, “Power: Women as Drivers of Growth and Social Inclusion” that, “Restrictions on women’s economic participation are costing us massive amounts of economic growth and income in every region of the world. In the Asia Pacific for example, it’s more than $40 billion in lost GDP every year”. Capitalists exploited the language of feminism and equality, as well as promoted narratives such as ’empowerment through employment’ for pure financial benefit. This narrative has been nothing but a capitalist and feminist lie that has cheated women of motherhood, robbed children of their rights, and had a heavy cost on the wellbeing of women.
Firstly, the feminist ‘gender equality’ narrative that the roles of men and women in life should be the same, and that the value of women comes from work and financial independence from men, has created societies in the West where women no longer have the choice to work but are expected to due to social or economic pressures. This has resulted in many women delaying or avoiding having children in order to pursue a successful career, or even keep a job. There are now more women than ever having higher risk pregnancies by having their first child at 40 years old or more from fear that they would face a reduction in their earnings or lose their career for taking time out to have babies. For many women, delaying having children to such a late age often means losing out on children altogether due to reduced fertility, and increased miscarriages and pregnancy-related complications. Secondly, this drive to push mothers into the workplace has not only impacted the quality of marriages due to the limited time spent with their spouse but also led to many women feeling a deep sense of guilt over the lack of time spent with their children. In the PEW survey, almost ¾ of adults said that the increasing numbers of women working has made it harder for parents to raise children and ½ said that it has made marriages harder to succeed. In 2011, UNICEF published a report that warned that British parents were trapping their children in a cycle of “compulsive consumerism” by showering them with toys and designer clothes instead of spending quality time with them, blaming this for contributing to the riots and widespread looting which gripped the UK in the same year. Others have also attributed the lack of time spent by working mothers in nurturing their children to some of the delinquent and anti-social behaviour amongst the youth that plagues many Western societies. Thirdly, the strain of having to struggle the pressures of work with the responsibilities of home and family life has caused a significant rise in anxiety and depressive disorders in women. In a study of 30 European countries, published in 2011 by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers found that depression amongst women in Europe has doubled over the last 40 years due to the ‘tremendous burden’ of having to juggle family duties with the demands of work. And finally, as a consequence of capitalism and gender equality that has pushed women to adopt the roles of men and simultaneously accepted for men to forsake their role as maintainers of women, many mothers have been left with no financial security, abandoned to fend for themselves and their families with no one – not the father of their children nor the state – to provide for them. The Guardian article above states appropriately, “For single mums in particular, the reality of primary breadwinner status feels less of a feminist victory than simply being overworked, under-supported.” In truth, capitalism has placed money over motherhood, and gender equality that places the man, his rights and roles as the gold standard that women are expected to aspire to has been its hand-maid.
In contrast, Islam permits the woman to work and pursue a career, and does not deny her economic ambitions, for the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, إِنَّهُ قَدْ أُذِنَ لَكُنَّ أَنْ تَخْرُجْنَ لِحَاجَتِكُنَّ “O women! You have been allowed by Allah سبحانه وتعالى to go out for your needs”. However, it does not define empowerment based on employment, nor value or describe the success of the woman according to how much tax she contributes to the economy. Rather the successful woman in Islam is the one who has the most taqwa and obedience to her Creator. In addition, Islam prescribes the woman a primary role in life as a wife and mother that is in accordance with her nature as the child-bearer of societies, rather than in contradiction with it. It bestows great value upon this position of the woman and gives great importance to her duty as the nurturer and educator of children and the future generation. And finally, it obliges that she and her children be protected and provided for always by her male relatives or by the state, ensuring that she is financially secured always for Allah سبحانه وتعالى says,
الرِّجالُ قَوّٰمونَ عَلَى النِّساءِ بِما فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعضَهُم عَلىٰ بَعضٍ وَبِما أَنفَقوا مِن أَموٰلِهِم
“Men have charge of women because Allah has preferred the one above the other and because they spend their wealth on them.”
All this ensures true value, happiness, self-fulfillment, and empowerment for the woman where both she and society embraces and celebrates her nature as a woman rather than denying, sidelining, or even despising it. This is alongside securing the rights and effective upbringing of children, and relieving women of the burden of having to struggle to earn their own living or to be abandoned to beg on the streets.
Dr. Nazreen Nawaz
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