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CANADA: Muslim women’s conference tackles taboos of sex, intimacy

CANADA: Muslim women's conference tackles taboos of sex, intimacy

Sex and intimacy are topics that are difficult for many to talk about. But at Saturday’s Being ME (Muslimah Empowered), a conference for Muslim women, they were on centre stage, along with other taboo issues like mental health.
Dr. Farah Islam was one of the organizers behind the seventh annual Being ME conference and said she spoke with many women ahead of the event who were excited that the focus this year was on sex and intimacy.
“We got this incredible groundswell where people obviously — it was a silenced issue and people really wanted to talk about it,” she told CBC Toronto. “So we met that demand, and we brought this workshop to the floor because we need to know about how to have [a] better family and have a better married life.”

Islam said many Muslim women don’t get “the talk” from their parents, but soon find themselves in a marriage with sex suddenly becoming a part of their lives.

Dr. Farah Islam was one of the organizers behind the seventh annual Being ME conference. (Paul Smith/CBC)

She recognized there are some Muslims who are looking for a safe space to discuss sex and intimacy, she added, and Being ME provided that space with a counsellor on hand and a group of engaged women.

“We have a professional, we have our community around us and actually start talking about something that’s important in our lives,” Islam said. “It’s 5,000 women in this room altogether, so what a wonderful thing to really build those bonds of sisterhood and really feel that energy in the room.”

Being ME also takes inspiration from the Qur’an. According to organizer Islam, the Prophet(PBUH) had uncomfortable conversations and encouraged people to ask questions.

“He never shied away from answering these questions, so it’s sort of an example that we need to sort of revive in our communities,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to do in this conference, come out and talk about taboo topics: talk about mental health, talk about sexuality, talk about all of these things that are part of our lives.”

Having ‘the talk’ with kids

Nadira Yasmin agreed that frank talks are important. She attended the event with her children and said that discussions about sex and intimacy should happen between parents and their children so children can grow up having the right information at hand. It’s a discussion she has already had with her own kids.

“You don’t want them to get it from somewhere else because you don’t know what the source of that person is or who that person is or their goal or intention might be,” she said.

“Even within our friend circles, we say, ‘Please talk to your kids.’ It’s a discussion they should have with you and you should not say, ‘No, we cannot talk about it.'”

#MeToo not off limits

One of those topics not off limits was the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which brought the issues of sexual harassment and assault to the forefront. The conference had a session specifically on how to deal with harassment in the workplace, mosque or elsewhere in the community.

“It happens to all of us. It has nothing to do with how you dress, or what religion you are or what colour or background you are,” she added. “All women face sexual violence in their lives, and so it is such an important topic to bring to the table.”

Shukri Abdullahi says that Muslims also need to talk about about workplace harassment. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Shukri Abdullahi said that as Muslims are part of the Canadian community at large, they need to talk about workplace harassment. NISA, the first helpline for Muslim women in North America, was also at the event.

“As sisters here, we created a beautiful network of sisterhood to have those discussions, people to call. There’s phone lines that are going to be available to young girls or sisters who joined the corporate world,” Abdullahi said.

“A lot of workplace harassment happens after working hours in private spaces, so don’t subject yourselves. If you feel the environment is not right, just get out.”

While Being ME has wrapped up in Toronto, another conference is set for May 5 at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre.

NISA, the first helpline for Muslim women in North America, was also at Saturday’s event. (Paul Smith/CBC)