Who coined the term "the weaker
sex"and made reference to the women of the world? Women are anything but weak. On the contrary, they are able to shoulder
the burden of child bearing, child rearing, housekeeping, of being a child’s first teacher, a mother, a wife, a corporate
being. They are multi-skilled. For what difference is there between a woman who mentors her protégé in the boardroom and a
mother who counsels her teenager across the dining room table? They are also occasionally objects of abuse by their peers,
husbands, bosses, and possibly even their own children. Unless they harness immense inner strength, they would not be able
to weather such a storm.
At the helm of this debate is
the fact that Islamically, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not abuse anyone. He did not hurt people’s feelings. In fact,
he held his wife, Khadija, in high esteem. She was his companion, his friend, his boss and his wife. He often sought her advice
and took direction from her. According to Western values, Khadija may be perceived to have been what is known as a liberated
woman, but she merely fulfilled the duties of one spouse towards another. Muslims should certainly strive to constantly follow
in the footsteps of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, (pbuh).
Chauvinism is a cultural ingredient.
Amongst the African tribes in South Africa, men are seen to be weak if they talk respectfully and with refinement and finesse
to a woman. For this reason, they treat them as chattel and bark orders, which must be followed at the drop of a hat. Muslim
and non-Muslim men in the South East Asian subcontinent have also adopted a similar attitude. They exercise and wield their
power over women. The situation is changing, but not fast enough. When the men realize that the manner in which they treat
women is not in line with the Qur’an and Sunna, they change their behavior to comply with the Divine laws. They still
have a great challenge ahead, however. Domestic violence is a global phenomenon, which has existed since time immemorial.
It is only recently that the frequency and magnitude of the occurrences have been highlighted. This violence also surfaced
during the Bosnian war and the war in Afghanistan, where women and children were the targets of sexual, political, and social
This was no different from the
treatment that women received during their detention by white Afrikaner captors. For that matter, colored farm laborers were
constantly being raped by their masters. The result: a blue-eyed, blond-haired infant - the offspring of an illicit and forbidden
union during the dark Apartheid years.
For the past 20 years, more and
more women have entered the working world on account of changes in the social and economic climate. This aspect has mobilized
women in the direction of equipping themselves with the necessary academic and technical skills. Thus, we see the demise of
a patriarchal culture where men were seen predominantly as the breadwinners, as heads of families, and women were functioning
in the vulnerable position of dependants. Women are occupying the predominantly male domain. Their female counterparts are
now usurping their functions in the workplace. Males view this as intrusive and threatening. The chauvinistic attitude of
men cannot accept that these women have taken charge of their lives, are buying their own cars and apartments, and are traveling
abroad - all this without consultation with or the sanction of their partners. The Qur’an is very clear on the issue
of educating women. It clearly states that all mankind must seek education from the cradle to the grave.
The abovementioned survey has
shown that these changes have led to uncertainty and turmoil in family dynamics. The family starts fragmenting as the woman
moves up the corporate ladder. It is therefore important that the husband is included in the corporate growth of his spouse.
As the corporate status of a woman increases, men who have not been able to keep up start losing their self-confidence, and
instability sets in. The children start carrying a strenuous burden. Often they also share the abuse. It reflects adversely
in their performance at school. A child psychologist has said the strain shows in their playing and interaction with other
children. They know no better and act in the same manner displayed by their role models, in this case the father. Conflict
resolution is dealt with in an aggressive way. It is this type of reaction that perpetuates the cycle of violence.
The aspect which needs particular
attention is parenting. No matter how capable a father is, children naturally derive comfort from the laps and bosoms of their
mothers. Parenting is anything but easy, and very often parents do not achieve the desired result. You may do everything the
literature on parenting skills tell you to do, but do not be shocked when the product that you churn out is not a socially
correct and proper one. The mother is often blamed if there is a problem with the child, for mothers do spend more time with
their offspring. Had it not been for their jobs, one could ask whether men would have spent a great deal of time with their
children, bar that of wielding the stick.
Initially, research on the topic
of how domestic violence affects productivity in the workplace was sparse. Companies were not at all keen to even address
the fact that their productivity had become leaner on account of the increased rate of absenteeism by females constantly taking
sick leave, seeking legal advice, counseling, or alternate accommodation. For domestic violence does not stop at home; it
follows women to the workplace. Occasionally, their spouses make threatening phone calls to the workplace, and constantly
harass them. This disrupts their work. They take time off to nurse their battered bodies and their wounded egos. The additional
workload then has to be carried by their colleagues. All this creates a stressful, and consequently, non-productive environment.
This affects a woman’s chance of being promoted, as she is constantly moving from one job to another. If she is on the
run, the only place where she can be located is in the workplace.
With the advent of the Domestic
Violence Act, a greater focus has been placed on this issue. A survey conducted by an American-based company showed that women
who have been abused usually arrive late for work once a week, and stay away at least two days a month. Normally this is at
the beginning of the workweek, the assaults having taken place on a Friday night. On an average of three days during the month,
the employee takes time off during the workday for consultation with professional support, such as a psychologist, lawyer,
“Companies are well advised
to start investing in employee security. Failure to do so would result in both direct costs where the company loses out because
the stressed employee is not performing to her full potential, and indirect costs,” said Francois Hanekom a psychologist
involved in assessments and recruitment. “The latter relates to medical aid costs which are incurred and which is usually
subsidized by the company,” said Hanekom. Company policy must be put into place where line managers and staff support
teams must undergo training which will enable them to recognize signs of abuse. Too much emphasis is placed on employees that
are incompetent and incapable. “Managing employee incapacity and absenteeism must be preventative and not punitive,”
said Hanekom. Coupled with domestic violence, sexual harassment has also reared its head in the workplace. Women are often
too scared to report issues of sexual harassment, for fear of losing their jobs.
For this reason, the hijaab is important.
Far from wearing it to hide the unsightly scars of physical abuse, it protects a woman’s pride - her aura. In terms
of the South African constitution, social freedom does not bar anyone from donning the hijaab in the corporate environment.
The hijaab is elegant, graceful and simply beautiful, but most importantly it adds to a woman’s dignity. Companies would
greatly benefit by addressing issues of domestic violence and sexual harassment instead of passing the buck and saying that
they cannot intervene, discharging the matter as personal or private, or keeping silent about inequalities in the workplace.
Companies must have an Employee Assistance Program in place. Far from being costly, it will in fact reduce latent costs unnecessarily
incurred. They must demonstrate social responsibility regarding issues that need to be addressed. More importantly, men must
commit themselves to show respect to their mothers, sisters, wives and peers. Far from showing them up as weak, it will earn
them the respect they so rightly deserve. For does not Jannah (Heaven) lie at the mother’s feet?