When I think of the most badass queer, Muslim (yes, queer and Muslim), coloured woman, last week’s Feminist Lunch Hour guest speaker, Farrah Khan, comes to mind.
The latest Feminist Lunch Hour on Thursday focused on the recent federal elections and how women would (still) not benefit from the changes that are (still) not being made.
And a pretty large audience turned up.
Khan began her talk with a photo of two otters holding hands. “Otters hold hands when there [are] rough waters,” she said. “I don’t know about you but I feel like this election has been [like] rough waters. It’s been really hard to see how as communities of colour […] sometimes we’re pit against each other. When we’re thinking about this and when we think about how to move forward—I want to think about how we can work in solidarity and struggle together.”
Khan began advocating for women’s rights after living through hell in the form of childhood sexual abuse by her maternal grandfather.
Today, Khan has become a renowned, successful, and passionate public speaker on violence against women. She is a counsellor and advocate for the Barbra Schlifer Clinic (“one of the only feminist legal clinics in Canada”), the coordinator of Outburst! Young Muslim Women’s Project (a space “for young Muslim women to speak their truth from a place of strength”), and an editor of the graphic novella “Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project”. Khan is also an award-winning short film creator and a highlighted woman in The Toronto Star’s “People to watch in 2011”.
Alongside her many achievements, Khan is also the epitome of a survivor.
She knows the feeling of being attacked well to this day, as sometimes even Muslim communities “don’t accept her for her sexual orientation”.
She isn’t a typical “visible” Muslim—a petite “light-skinned” woman of Dutch and Indian descent—yet she still faces the same institutionalized discrimination that any woman of colour suffers from.
Khan repeatedly referred to this discrimination in her talk, stating that while she is a Muslim woman talking about Muslim issues, all women of colour are under attack. All women of colour are institutionally made to look like they are “the other”.
Khan talked about how society discusses the issue of “saving” (but really, oppressing) Muslim women more than “saving” indigenous women or black women—when in fact all kinds of women deserve help and the right attention too. Khan’s example of the issue of wearing a niqab while taking the oath of citizenship in Canada pointed this out explicitly.
“[Do] you know how many women wearing a niqab tried to take the oath of citizenship in Canada?” she asked. “Two.”
“[Do] you know how many missing and murdered Indigenous women there are in Canada right now?” she continued. “One thousand two hundred.
One thousand two hundred. But what is the issue you hear about the most? The two women wearing a niqab.”
Khan then talked about Aqsa Parvez, a young woman of colour who sought safety to escape her abusive household, only to be murdered in an honour killing by her mother, father, and brother in the end. Parvez had barely been in Canada for more than two years, but news of her honour killing spread immediately—mostly attacking Canadian Muslim women. Khan displayed an image of Parvez on the cover of Toronto Life, photoshopped and chosen specifically to sexualize and objectify the young woman of colour. This disrespect to a young woman who should be honoured and mourned, not mocked and trivialized, is what sparked the creation of AQSAzine—a magazine made to honour Parvez and the issues around honour killings—by Khan and a group of furious Muslim feminists.
Khan states that politics and bills such as the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Acts” sends a message to women of colour that says, “We don’t want you here. You don’t belong, and we have a right to police you.” To me, and Khan, this is not okay. This is why strong-minded, determined, and powerful women like Khan exist—to bring awareness of the injustice that our “justice” system does for women.
The talk was titled “Our Bodies Are Not Your Battleground” because Khan believes that “as a Muslim woman—and [like] many of us in this room who are racialized—[we] have a feeling that this election and this time period […] makes us feel like we’re under attack”.
Khan’s advice to anyone who chooses to “ally” with struggling women of colour was simply this: “Don’t turn away.”
Don’t be a bystander. If you see abuse against a woman, speak out. If you read about a bill targeting women that you disagree with, make it known. Take on the job of helping your fellow sisters, mothers, wives, girlfriends, teachers, and best friends, and create more survivors like Farrah Khan.