January 29, 2017 4:05:37 am
SHE could easily be mistaken for a stand-up comic and put to shame all those comedians who use misogyny as a prop to get their audience to laugh. Yassmin Abdel-Mageid is a feminist of Sudanese origin from Australia. Currently on tour in India, her lecture at the National Centre for the Performing Arts as part of Tata Lit Live! Evenings on Friday, proved that talk on gender and ethnicity can come laced with humour.
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At the event, the 25-year-old shared her experiences as a young girl from “the second Sudanese family to move to Brisbane”, as a means to address subjugation as a woman and a Muslim of African descent. “Once, in the early days after they had moved, my mom stood in a queue with henna on her legs. A man walked past her, his mouth gaping. He literally bent down to look at the henna and wondered what the hell is that. At that time, people in Australia didn’t even know Sudan is a country,” she recounts, eliciting laughter from the audience.
This, she uses to draw a contrast with the reactions she received when she started to wear a headscarf. “It was a few weeks after 9/11. People started to ask me if I was making a political statement. I was 10 years old! I didn’t know what political meant,” she says, pointing out the bias Muslims have been facing post 9/11.
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Her decision then was rooted in the fact that all grown up women around her were wearing a headscarf and she wanted to feel one among them. However, that has since changed, says Abdel-Mageid. While she still sports a headscarf, it is now a part of her identity. “It’s fashion, but it also allows me to tell many stories through it. And sometimes, it helps me piss people off a bit.”
A mechanical engineer, Abdel-Mageid also draws upon her experiences of working at the oil rigs, typically a male-dominated sphere, to throw light on how very few women get the opportunity to break into male bastions and all-boys clubs. As she points out, it often means that the woman has to become “one of the men”. Through these anecdotes, the activist, who penned her experiences in a book titled Yassmin’s Story, bats for a space that will allow equal opportunities to women, especially those of colour.
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