"The hijab crystallizes the struggle between feminism and religion"

  Photo: ngels Doate

Photo: ngels Doate

ngels Doate
Mriam Hatibi, spokesperson for the Ibn Battuta Foundation


Miriam Hatibi is the personification of joy, kindness, pride, energy and conscience. She is a young woman, an activist, a Muslim, a feminist and a university graduate. The daughter of Moroccan parents, Hatibi was born in Barcelona and grew up in Bellpuig. She works as a consultant for a communications agency, she gives talks and she is the author of the book Mira'm als ulls (Look Me in the Eye), published by Random House Mondadori, as well as a spokesperson for the Ibn Battuta Foundation. But for some she is just the hijab that she wears out of personal choice. She talks almost without pausing for breath, all the while emphasizing her words with hand gestures, perhaps attempting to sweep away that and all the other prejudices and labels put on her by others. She likes to laugh, and does so often, all the time aware of the opportunities she has been given through the efforts of her Moroccan mother and grandmothers so that she could be where she is today, aware of all the work she has to do to leave a better, more just and egalitarian world for all the future generations of daughters and granddaughters. Retrospection and responsibility. Commitment and struggle. All subjects she touched on when speaking at the latest UOC Alumni conference, titled ‘Tuning in to gender realities', which took place at Palau de la Msica on 11 June.

What does feminism mean for you?

Not having to ask myself whether, because I am a woman, I can or cannot to do something.

How many types of feminism are there?

I couldn't tell you because I don't know the realities of all the women out there. There may be as many kinds of feminism as there are women, as well as women who identify with one specific kind of feminism.

You talk about hegemonic feminism. What are the realities that are excluded?

A kind of feminism exists that represents the stance of a privileged social class: white, upper middle class, western women with stable employment. It is also often associated with breaking away from religion. It could therefore be said that it does not take into account women who follow a religious faith, or those who are poor or uneducated... Maybe it is done unintentionally or in the belief that these women are not sufficiently qualified to understand feminism. But they are and they fight too.

We ignore them or ignore the merits of their struggle.

White women think that they are the leaders of the feminist movement. Your position is legitimate because you are lucky: you have the privilege of not having to explain yourselves as much. "I am fighting for women who are like me. Those who are not have other problems. Maybe the action I am taking will help some of them, and not others." This privilege must be acknowledged. We spend a lot of time talking about the rights of women in Saudi Arabia, for instance, and often it is based on Islamophobia. We exploit these women to criticize the way men in their country treat them, but they're not important to us. And when they battle for things like the right to drive we fail to acknowledge it or take their victories as being almost our own. Do you know how many Arab women were put in prison for that struggle? When it comes to black female activists women such as Desire, their feminism doesn't seem to be important. Desire has a beauty blog with tips on caring for afro hair, the Negra Flor (Black Flower). She speaks out so black girls will stop wanting to whiten their skin or straighten their hair... We have to acknowledge the fact that there are other people taking action and that they are important.

Rich or poor, educated or without formal education, western or otherwise... these are all factors that differentiate us as women. What are the things we have in common?

Throughout history, and in general in the present day as well, we are governed by patriarchal structures that put us in a position of inferiority in relation to men in the areas we live. Do western women enjoy privileges that aren't available to women from other places? For sure, but it does not take away from the fact that they are being subjugated. Our need to break free from that is the thing that unites us. It's a matter of survival, not a fanciful notion. We have to break free from that which has no functional or biological base. It is a historical vestige. In the case of Islamic feminism, they say that it is the fault of religion. You don't think atheism is sexist? Communism is sexist, as is capitalism. All the ideologies are based on sexism and that's how they will stay unless we break free of the sexism of the past.

How do you define yourself? This is Miriam. This is how I am.

Identity is a highly complex issue. You define yourself in many ways. I'm a Muslim, I'm Catalan, I'm Moroccan, I'm a communications consultant... it depends. If I'm in an environment that puts me down for being a woman, I will identify with being a woman. If I'm put down for being from an immigrant family, I will identify with that. When I get up in the morning I don't say "I'm such and such."

What do you see in people's eyes when they look at you? A young, educated, Muslim woman wearing a hijab...

I see surprise. And sometimes, people approach you and you see respect. That's a great feeling. But it's even better when they look at you and don't react in any way. Normalization. That's much appreciated.

We're all different. We're all unique. Why are we so preoccupied with classifying ourselves into groups?

Humans develop prejudices to save time. We group people together to say, "if they are part of that group, there are labels that apply to that group and that will make it easier for me to relate". Let's put an end to that. When we think of groups we miss the details. The question is not what kind of society we have. The question is what kind of society we want. We need to remember that singularities and vulnerabilities exist in every group, as well as in each individual. If we forget that we will never attain the society we want.

I have the freedom I enjoy, I am privileged, I am where I am because of the efforts of numerous women who came before me and who fought for that. Do you feel the same?

My mother is like a hurricane blowing me in the right direction and all I have to do is let go and fly. My mother has moved heaven and earth to give me the opportunity to study. She always knew, and my dad as well, that education was a gift they could give me. It's a fact that going to university, beyond the general obsession with academic qualifications, will grant you access to a better job, which in turn will provide you with more free time and more energy to do other things. And I will have the self-confidence to do them. There is a poem by Rupi Kaur that I really like. A woman on top of a mountain says, "i stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can i do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther". You have to recognize that you are where you are as a result of what those who came before you have done, whether you know them or not, and recognize the responsibility you have to work hard so that those who come after you don't have to do so much.

When did your interest in gender issues begin exactly?

I remember looking at my mother and her friends and thinking, "they are very strong, hard-working women. Why don't they receive acknowledgement? Why aren't they where they should be?" When I was at university I had access to an incredible library and I was able to read and read. For me, the construction of identity is linked to the construction of religion. I am a Muslim woman. The debate about Islam is associated with gender and I adopted that identity.

You identify with being a person of faith. How do feminism and religious beliefs coexist?

You have conflicts as other feminist women do in relation to other life philosophies. At the end of the day, religion is a set of beliefs and ways of looking at life and the way you relate as part of society. It's a constant search: working out the kind of Islam path you want to follow. If you strive for equality among all human beings, that has to also apply to gender equality. All women have a different way of viewing life and that's why equality comes in different forms. For me, submission to God is not an issue in terms of my quest for gender equality, which has nothing to do with submitting to any man. There are women who say that feminism is a rejection of everything, of female subjugation by a man, god or economic system. Other women submit to communism....

You don't see any conflict between being a feminist and a follower of a religious faith. Or with wearing the hijab?

There isn't any conflict. The hijab crystallizes the struggle between feminism and religion. But there are many reasons for wearing it. For me it's a question of spirituality. If viewed as a faction of society forcing you to wear it, it cannot be a feminist veil. If it's a veil that you choose to wear of your own volition, for a myriad of personal reasons, out of conviction and, if one day that conviction changes, you will take it off, that's another decision. It's neither feminist nor anti-feminist. We are living in times when there is a great deal of focus on women's bodies and what they do with them. The hijab is a piece of material with many connotations.