The Secret Life of the Muslim Sistah

Did the title catch your attention? Good! Please keep reading, I really think that this entry is the one closest to my heart.

So here goes: I don't think that we (as a community) are doing enough for our girls. I don't think we are giving them the tools they need to be resilient and successful Muslim-Canadian citizens. I don't think we give enough attention to everything that girls have to face these days. I think we tread dangerous waters when we treat Islam as a shield and don't recognize that we need to SUPPLEMENT Islamic education with mental and physical health promotion and prevention. And our girls are for the most part not getting that type of balanced education.

We don't want our girls living a secret life. We need to reach them now.

The community as a whole is not recognizing that the ages of 5 to 10 are critical for educating girls. If you think that girl relational aggression (i.e. as in 'Mean Girls') issues start in junior high, think again, we're seeing it as young as Kindergarten. Girls who do not play with other girls unless they deem them as 'pretty' and 'cool'. Pretty sick. I think we underestimate kids as a whole, and don't realize how extremely perceptive they are. Friendship cliques are formed as early as Kindergarten. Girls start thinking they're too 'fat' by Grade 3. Pre-teen girls feel the pressure to fit in even more and forget about academic pressures, they're busy vying for the attention of the opposite sex. And we think that focusing on teaching solely Islamic knowledge is enough to help girls get through these situations. It's not.

What about teaching these girls what the term 'self-image' means? Or 'confidence'? Or teaching them assertive communication skills? Or teaching them about valuing themselves as an individual? Or teaching them that you'll catch the WRONG kid of guy by wearing skin tight jeans and cleavage revealing tank tops for pictures that you send to your male friends on Facebook?! Yes, this is happening, yet it seems that either (a) the girls are really good at hiding what they're doing; and/or (b) parents and the community alike aren't even aware of these issues to begin with.

We are no better within the Islam realm either. Have you seen the cover of the publication 'Muslim Girl'?! Check it out...perfectly complexioned girls, teeth all white and aligned, highly couture clothing, etc etc. And we think that the ideals Hollywood put out there aren't reaching our community. We're naive if we think that. And it's not even with Muslim-based publications like this example, everywhere girls go they are bombarded by media's ideals and misconstrued images. We need to arm them with the tools they need to stand firm against this.

And it's not just mental health concerns that face these girls, but physical health issues too. Not enough girls are getting their recommended daily physical activity dose of 90 minutes. Many girls don't understand the concept of a group activity/exercise class. Many girls can't tell you how to balance a healthy meal. They also don't understand all the physical changes they are going through and how they need to stay healthy (physically and mentally AND spiritually) during this time. I wonder how many mothers tell their daughters that physical activity can actually REDUCE the occurrence of PMS, cramping during menstruation, and fatigue? A simple concept that would do wonders for any girl.

Another observation I have is how parents talk to their young girls about marriage. It's none of my business if parents want to bring this up with their girls from a young age, but I do have a question: would you rather have your daughter marry when they are unstable and unaware of WHO they are as a person, or when they have a strong sense of self and can stand up for what they believe in? In order to achieve the latter, we need to actively work towards it. Girls do not become this way through osmosis.

So, what do we do about all of this? It's pretty simple, here a few starter ideas:

1. Encourage girls to attend all-girl day-long camps and weekly extracurricular activities offered within Calgary. There are many programs focusing on self-developmental, leadership skills, and building identity.

2. Girls groups should be formed in schools and in the community (both Muslim and greater Calgary) targeting the concerns mentioned above. It doesn't take a genius to run these camps, and it's an AWESOME way for professional women to give back to their community.

3. Mentorship programs could be created, pairing Muslim women with pre-teen and teen Muslim girls. Resiliency studies show that the more stable adults a child has in their life, the better the outcomes are for those girls who experience adverse life events.

4. Encourage volunteerism, leadership opportunities, pursuing hobbies and interests, as a means to develop a well rounded girl! I know from experience that focusing solely on academics is not the optimal route to go. We all need moderation and balance! :D

It's not easy being a girl in this day and age, and the way things are going, times are only going to get tougher. If we can start addressing these issues in a holistic and supportive way, there's no doubt that we'd see better outcomes as girls mature into happy, successful, STRONG, and balanced women!! :D

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