“In this country, we treat women as equals”.

“In this country, we treat women as equals”.

This phrase is thrown at my community, which includes me and many other Muslim women, as a hurled insult, a statement of contempt.  We apparently treat women as equals in this country as long as they aren’t women like me.

Women like me are presumed to be submissive, brainwashed, alien, less than. 

Stereotypes and assumptions swirl around us, denying us access to jobs even when our qualifications are better than our peers; subjecting us to harshness and barbed jibes as we interact in various ways throughout society.

I’m different.  Is it an inherent part of human society that we, as a collective, must punish those who fail to conform?  When we ask for any accommodation to make life more comfortable for us, to make things more accessible, that’s frowned on.

Expecting us to be the same as everyone else means no room for equity, little value for inclusion.  We’re too much trouble, it’s seen as a burden.  For example, having an alcohol-free event in a country that has ads on television telling us “how we’re drinking” is a problem, is made to seem impossible.  Allowing us space and 10 minutes off for prayers is “pandering”.

Equality is not about treating everyone exactly the same, because that leads to unfair outcomes.  Equality is about ensuring that everyone is able to participate in society in ways that make them feel valued.  It’s about ensuring all women have the opportunities and abilities to achieve their aspirations.

How about this: if you want to claim that we treat women as equals in New Zealand, then prove it.  Treat me as an equal.

By Anjum Rahman

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