Tribute to female literary heroines

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From Maya Angelou to Fahmida Riaz, a number of female writers and poets have championed the cause of women using the power of the pen.

Women have fought patriarchy using the power of the pen throughout history. Their novels, stories and poems testify to the suppression of women and the gross inequality between the sexes.

Unfortunately, patriarchal societies still exist. It’s only been in the last century that there have been progressive changes for women, but the gender pay gap and the #metoo movement suggest there’s still a long way to go.

The problem for all women is that patriarchal societies operate around male dominance and keep women repressed and submissive. In Islamic societies where this occurs, it has nothing to do with the law of God, but with the persistent patriarchal culture and self-interest of men.

The treatment of women was suffocating and oppressive. Luckily for us, some women writers and poets chose to write about these conditions, giving us a sense of how these women felt and lived. Some initially had to write with male pseudonyms, or had their works repeatedly rejected for posthumous publication or recognition.

For Women’s History Month, I’ve chosen to celebrate female literary heroines around the world who, in their own way, are championing the cause of women and playing a part in our journey to liberation.

In this they are connected on a deeper level that transcends borders, religions, races and language. They have been united in their call for freedom and justice and testify to the ability, strength and intelligence of women against all odds.

Maya Angelou

Dr Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was a writer, poet and civil rights activist. She used the power of her words to highlight injustice and speak out for those without a voice.

His most famous work was I know why the caged bird sings which she wrote in 1969. It is the first of seven autobiographical books, in which she talks about her childhood, including being raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was just seven years old . This trauma left her mute for five years, but sparked a love of reading and the ability to communicate in writing.

Angelou’s poetry and writing address important socio-political topics and issues, as well as positive portrayals of the black community and women’s empowerment. She has used her art to advocate for others and challenge inequality.

One of my favorite poems is I’m still rising, because it resonates on a multitude of levels. It is one of his best-known poems and was used by Nelson Mandela in his presidential inauguration speech.

Still I Rise (excerpt):

You can write me in history

With your bitter and twisted lies,

You can walk me in the same dirt

But still, like dust, I will rise.

American poet and author Maya Angelou during an interview at her home in 1978. (Jack Sotomayor/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

Beatrice Potter

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was the much-loved author and artist of timeless children’s tales, the most famous of which, The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck.

She was an independent and headstrong woman who followed her passion, defying what post-Victorian British society expected of her as a woman.

After being rejected by several editors, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was finally published by Frederick Warne and Co in 1902, and it became a bestseller. Her first book was actually self-published because women writers weren’t taken as seriously as men; an attitude that reflected the times well.

Potter moved independently from London to the Lake District and later owned 15 farms.

She was a conservationist at heart and bequeathed 4,000 acres of her farmland to the National Trust, which helped conserve the Lake District National Park. She finally married William Heelis in 1914, when she was 47.

Fahmida Riaz

Born just a year before partition in Meerut, India, Fahmida Riaz (1946 – 2018) was an acclaimed Urdu poet and writer. His family settled in Hyderabad, in the new nation of Pakistan.

Unafraid to speak her mind, Riaz tackled controversial topics in her work and was often the target of government harassment and silence attempts under Dictator General Zia ul Haq.

After criminal charges of sedition were brought against her, she fled to India and spent seven years there. In recent years, she has also expressed sadness over the rise of anti-Muslim sentiments under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India.

Urdu writer, poet and feminist Fahmida Riaz at Jaipur Literature Festival on January 27, 2013 in Jaipur, India.

Urdu writer, poet and feminist Fahmida Riaz at Jaipur Literature Festival on January 27, 2013 in Jaipur, India. (M Zhazo/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

As a women’s rights advocate, Riaz has been called a feminist. On this, she said, “Feminism has so many interpretations. What this means to me is simply that women, like men, are complete human beings with limitless possibilities.

Leila Aboulela

Award-winning Sudanese author, Leila Aboulela has written a host of highly acclaimed books that deal with themes of belonging, identity, women and Muslim cultures.
Leila was born in 1964 in Cairo and grew up in Khartoum. She moved to Aberdeen after marrying in her mid-twenties. This uprooting from her life and the alienation she first felt in the UK is reflected in her stories and characters, these experiences and emotions come through in her writing.
The main draw for me in Leila’s books is her unapologetic Muslimness and the role Islam plays in her stories. She tells the stories of normal people, who happen to be Muslims. Their faith is part of them and is well integrated into the telling of his stories.

Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela at the 2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland.

Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela at the 2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland. (Massimiliano Donati/Awakening/Getty Images)

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is an African-American writer, poet and activist. She was the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The purple color.

Walker wrote the novel in 1982, and it is his best-known work. It was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.

The book is set in rural Georgia, America in the early 1900s, with themes of sexism, abuse, racism, identity and strong female relationships. The main character Celie, a young black woman, faces many hardships and traumas, her father sexually abuses her and impregnates her twice. He then forces her to marry where her husband also abuses her.

Celie’s outlet for all of this trauma is the letters she writes to God, pouring out her inner feelings. It’s the only place where she has a voice and is free to speak her truth. It is through her connection with God and building strong feminine relationships that Celie is able to find hope and freedom from pain and oppression.

It is an inspiring read and a powerful representation of this post-slavery America, and is presented as a celebration of black feminism.

Source: World TRT


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