Seat at the Table
By Najat Hassan

As a woman, most of us have asked men to include us in one closed group or another. But how many of us stop and think, “Why do we need to ask men for inclusiveness?”

It’s a topic far too vast to cover in one piece- so my argument is not about falling victim to this unjust political, cultural, social and religious system of unfairness set by men, for men, and fueled by women; it is about how I define it.

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I can speak to my experience as an Oromo woman of Muslim faith. If we look at religion, specifically Islam, we find that the first person to accept belief of Islam, was a woman. We also know that the first martyr of Islam was a woman; not to mention courageous warriors and defenders of the faith from the beginning of time until date. Even though this is the reality, we are made to feel as though the contribution offered is secondary to that of men. Similarly, in a society such as the Oromo people, culture plays an important role for gender role assignments and how men and women define themselves. If we look at Oromo culture organically before the pollution of colonization, we see the balance it had handling both genders, the roles each as in respect to one another. What we see, witness and live now as culture, is the hybrid of men’s injections of patriarchal ideologies to give themselves unfair and unjust advantage using these pillars as means to an end.

If any woman questions any part of these clusters of systems to call attention to frame of patriarchy operating from behind the curtain, she would be accused of heresy or falsifying the word of Allah in respect of religion. If she questions the culturally infused system of patriarchy, she would be accused of disrespecting her identity or worse- her ancestors.

We are left in a paralyzing space where we tiptoe around eggshells all of our lives, in order not to upset or cause an uproar in the “honey jar of patriarchy.”

When we as women, fear to speak up and correct the wrong, not only do we fail ourselves, we fail men as well.

Men benefit just as much from an equal and balanced world as women do. The time is now to save us both. Metaphorically, we talk about shattering a glass ceiling when measuring a woman’s achievements in the West. What if we no longer needed to set limits and distances between the floor that is patriarchy and the ceiling as an achievement to soar over it? What if we roamed in the galaxies instead? What if sky is no longer the limit? And it is not the limit. What if we stop accepting the limitations patriarchy sets for us as women and define our own distances with or without limits? We can and we are.

If our goal as women is to shatter the glass ceiling, we are not being ambitious enough. Our mantra as women should be, “we do not need your glass ceiling to shatter, we already have the most coveted seat at the table.” We gave birth to humanity, we nurtured and educated it, we taught it to walk, we taught it to speak and unleashed it on the world. It has no place to come back and tell us we have limits. Sitting around, waiting for men to open a door of opportunity for us, waiting to be given space and a seat at the table, is like asking your own child permission to sit down in your own home.

Men may like/dislike who I am, they may agree/disagree with my ideas, and they may learn/unlearn from me. Perhaps, I could do the same. However, what men cannot do is give me a voice, a space or a seat. I already have my chair at the table of existence. I am here for a purpose and my purpose is defined for me and I am the master of it.