"It is time to spread the word and challenge these oppressive societal norms which greatly attribute to violence against women."
Salwa Abdul Hadi
In honour of International Women’s day 2021, a Muslim, female coach from West Yorkshire is excited to be leading a campaign to Celebrate Strong women in Islam, setting out to highlight and celebrate the female leaders and the rising stars within Islam, to showcase what is possible, and to encourage women to find their own way within the challenges Muslim women face in their communities and wider society.
International Women's Day 2021 (March 8) campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge, and is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.
Salwa Abdul Hadi, 41, was born into a patriarchal society and had it ingrained from birth that she was inferior based on her gender. Her normal changed when she was 15 years old, when she escaped Saudia Arabia with her mother and siblings to the UK, – this was the first time ever she had experienced not only a different country, but a different world! She realises now that what she was taught as a child in terms of gender limitations was ‘a version of Islam’ - not the truth, and she is passionate about showcasing the empowering stories of Islam women to show others like her, what is possible.
With speakers ranging from Salma Arif a local councilor in Leeds to Dr Gihan Fouad, Head of National Institute in Cairo, Salwa is hosting a 7 day long event in her Facebook group - https://bit.ly/strongmuslimwomen- and hopes this is the start of bringing like-minded Muslim women together to celebrate what is possible.
Geographical statistics show that they are 1.7 billion Muslims worldwide residing across all countries- yet they are often wrongly stereotyped as the same person facing the same challenges.
Salwa said: "They are many successful Female Muslim Leaders and politicians working within their communities, yet very few are asked to be part of national discussions neither are they seen in the public eye. This translates to an absence of hope, inspirations and role models to young Muslim women. Many Muslim women, not all, also face challenges within their communities, where the culture is infused with patriarchy and deeply reluctant of female independence. This combined with the absence of Muslim female role models results in many women, not even attempting to dream and stand out of their oppressive gender role expectations." Launching a campaign to highlight and celebrate Muslim women trailblazing and thriving in society whilst challenging the distinction between traditional and cultural norms over the true status of women in Islam is an integral part of her advocacy for Gender Equality. EMCC accredited Coach, Mentor & PHD researcher in Philosophy, Salwa Abdul Hadi, has herself risen, after years in a patriarchal and oppressive society where she was taught her gender role was to be passive, obedient and second class in complete opposition to true Islamic teachings.
Together alongside many Muslim female leaders and local councilors, Salwa will be sharing historical examples of strong women in Islam and sharing inspiring stories of overcoming adversity, overcoming societal expectations of them and the role they were ‘supposed’ to play towards their journey to Authenticity and Confidence.
As this year's theme and conversations around International Women’s Day is around Challenge, Salwa said “It is time to spread the word and challenge these oppressive societal norms which greatly attribute to violence against women.”
United Nations figures reveal 1 in 3 women face violence globally, this figure is higher in societies where women are neglected and thought to be inferior with NICE (2020) stating the figures are not all encompassing as many women do not report the violence. In recent research, Salwa found that an overwhelming number of both genders accepted and justified violence against women within patriarchal societies and that this was mainly attributed to non adherence of gender role expectations.
She said: “This is something that often can be confused as Religious expectations when it is traditional and cultural expectations passed down through the generation -and this is dangerous for the women of our future. Many women from these communities are taught guilt, shame and honour to be values to hold above anything else and so often this traps them in a life they do not want”.
She added: “It is imperative we all recognise that this is our forefathers version and interpretation of Islam. Many who have never taken the time to actually study the true Islam, spout teachings passed down and use it to maintain male superiority.”
"Islam is a beautiful peaceful religion which advocates Gender Equality and celebrates the gifts both genders bring. It promotes the necessity of education and personal development to all humanity and expressly forbids oppression and judgement of anyone. Yet Unfortunately, it is common for Muslim societies to mix culture and societal norms which regress to pre-Islam’s teachings and use religion to justify it and it is used as a weapon and a threat to keep women oppressed.”
Having lived within a patriarchal home and a country, Salwa has first hand lived as an inferior woman where she was consistently met with messages as to her ‘place’ and inferiority for no other reason than the gender she was born. This was her normal and she knew no different until she came to the UK when she was 15 years old. Suddenly her normal was turned upside down.
Salwa went on to have a long successful corporate career in banking in leadership roles, successfully taking underperforming branches to top performing branches through cultivating a culture of value, motivation and heart-centred leadership. However, in a bid to impress and ‘fit in’ to please her bosses, she overworked in a very. ‘male driven’ way and this un-alignment and corporate pressure along with her past demons, led to Salwa experiencing a breakdown leading to anxiety and long-term depression.
It wasn’t until Salwa was in her late 30’s, that she finally fully started to overcome cultural and patriarchal oppression values – and finally felt proud of the strong independent woman she has become, and she has since broken down so many ingrained beliefs of feeling; invisible, worthless, voiceless, feelings of shame and guilt and weakness to rise up and for the first time in her life.
Her own transformation through working with a life coach has driven Salwa to share what she has learnt with other women who may have experienced similar struggles or been trodden down.
She left her corporate career and gained a degree in Counselling and Mentoring and is continuing her studies as a Researching Doctor of Philosophy within her PHD Research into social entrepreneurship.
Her social passion lies in her alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Goal of Gender Equality and her fight against oppression and violence against women. Salwa also recognises the way to truly impact change is to bring a balance to the scales of Leadership, whilst challenging the definition of leadership and celebrating the power of harnessing feminine leadership. Subsequently, Salwa works with emerging and aspiring female social leaders, empowering them to discover and step into their unique power and become Authentic Social leaders of the future, making necessary, bigger impacts of social justice and change. She combines her personal experiences and her corporate skills and lessons, to lead, coach and mentor future female role models.