On Sunday, March 7, the Maktab Tarighat Oveyssi (MTO) Shahmaghsoudi School of Islamic Sufism hosted a virtual roundtable discussion in honor of International Women’s Day. The discussion brought together several female leaders and activists from around the Bay Area. MTO Shahmaghsoudi is a global non-profit organization with locations across the world. Their local affiliate group in Berkeley hosted the event on Sunday.
The event featured several guests, including the Executive Coach at Positive Impact, LLC, Donna Stoneham, World Arts West Executive Director Anne Huang, Executive Board Member of the American Public Health Association, Nasim Bahadorani, and Ameena Jandali, a founding member of the Islamic Networks Group.
Mina Karimabadi, who facilitated the discussion, began by asking the panelists about the importance of International Women’s Day. “It’s very meaningful to actually have a day that acknowledges all the work we’ve done that so often goes unacknowledged,” Stoneham said. Others echoed this sentiment, and Jandali expressed some ambivalence about the day and its implication that celebrating women is not the norm. “But it’s a good start to center and give priority to those groups that have not been given priority,” Jandali said.
In discussing the challenges that women face, Jandali acknowledged that while women have made several gains in recent years, “we’re still doing more than our share of work. The price of those gains has been having to be ‘super women,’” she said.
Stoneham added on with her personal experience, recalling the sexism she experienced starting her career in the ’80s. This harrassment led her to become inauthentic and project much of her oppression onto others. In addition, “I worked so hard to try to keep up that I ended up getting very ill at the age of forty, and I was bedridden for almost three years,” Stoneham said.
“Make sure you take care of your physical health, your mental health, your emotional health, and your spiritual health,” Bahadorani advised. “Don’t lose yourself as you accomplish everything that you want to accomplish in this world.”
The group also discussed the intersectionality and diverse cultural experiences of women. “For many Muslim women, religion is liberating and allows them to go out and move freely in society,” Jandali said. “And for other women, it stymies them in a certain place.”
Not only did Jandali emphasize the diversity of women’s experiences, but also, “coming to a place where we can all feel comfortable without stepping on each other’s religious or cultural toes.”
Huang reflected on her traditional upbringing in Taiwan, and the historic oppression of women in her family, many of whom had their feet bound. However, “I have realized that traditions are always evolving, traditions do not stay static, and traditions continue to evolve with passage of time,” Huang said.
“That leadership, guidance, and that mentorship, can come from religion or culture if it’s really what’s right for you,” Bahadorani said. She emphasized constantly asking questions in order to “build your confidence so that you are able to speak your truth, even if it’s in respectful disagreement.”
For final words, Karimabadi asked speakers to give advice to future generations of women. “Who you are is just as important as what you do,” Stoneham said. “Never lose sight of your qualities and behaviors and why you want to shine in the world, and everything else will work out.”