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  • Erica Ponder

Where Culture and Religion Collide: Sanayya Sohail’s Story


Sanayya Sohail is a young woman from Karachi, Pakistan, that has been embedded in the Islamic faith her entire life. Enjoy the free knowledge Sohail gives as she talked to Empowered Expressions about experiences being a Middle Eastern woman in the United States and persevering, no matter the circumstances.

Q. How does your culture empower you as a woman?

A. My culture doesn’t empower me as a woman. My religion does. My religion gives women the right to work but places the financial responsibility on the male figure. It gives me the right to get educated and take care of children. However the domestic responsibilities are to be carried out as an option. The male is equally responsible. My religion also gives me the right to inherit property but I don’t have to share my inheritance with anyone. The male has to share his with his wife and children. My culture actually weakens women by putting an unnecessary burden on the woman to complete all household chores with minimum help and try to work as well. Additionally, culturally many men don’t respect women in their families. A lot of families have to pay a high amount of dowry to the husband’s family.

Q. Do you find it hard living in this country and trying to embrace that empowerment?

A. I think there are many advantages such as education and being able to practice freely. However, it is a bit hard to get a job in liberal arts or education if you wear a scarf. I would get looks from people while subbing. A lot of the times at interviews, people think that I’m from a foreign country just because I wear a scarf and ask subtle questions about. The scarf is a religious practice that can be worn by anyone not just Muslim foreigners.

Q. How are you able to persevere in spite of those things?

A. Excelling, not giving up and doing more than required. Perseverance is key!

Q. How have your experiences shaped you to be the woman you are?

My experiences have made me more intelligent. I don’t feel as naive anymore. I understand the world better and that preferential treatment is present everywhere, including the U.S. I feel that being in such a situation makes you strive harder, to learn more, accomplish more. It might not give you success right away, but you are more successful in the end as you learn more skills and gain more knowledge. You acquire more skills and knowledge as you that you are required to have more to be offered the same position.

Q. How does it make you feel to see women in your culture that are at a disadvantage?

I think it is a bit sad to see women in my culture at a disadvantage. However, I think is more sad for the people who don’t give them a chance. These women are knowledgeable, hardworking, honest and dedicated. However, their external appearance prevents them from getting many positions since a normal dressed person is preferred. We are so used to living in a box and accepting the norm that anything outside scares us. This is more saddening for a country that claims to be so advanced and broad minded versus the individual who is turned away. The individual who wants to be successful will find a way to do it.

Q. What are your hopes for women in your culture?

A. I hope that they don’t quit or get discouraged. We should stay true to ourselves. Everything in life is relative and changes, depending on the situation. But your principals should be absolute. They should change every time you need to please someone or get some advantage.


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