Many of you knew Martha Farrell – as a friend, a colleague, a relative and as a confidante. We (Tariqa, her daughter and Suheil, her son) had the unique privilege of knowing her as a feminist mother. Growing up, gender was always on the agenda, intertwined with the other values that we learnt. We hardly realized what invaluable lessons we were learning during our childhood, and perhaps it is only in the last year that we have really started to reflect on what she taught us. So, on Mom’s 57th birthday, we remember her fondly as a strong woman, a practical feminist, a fantastic teacher and the most loving and caring mother.
Equal opportunities for all genders – such a simple concept, yet so far from the realities of societies and cultures today. This was perhaps one of the earliest values Mom instilled in us. For Mom, whatever was good enough for her son was good enough for her daughter. When some questioned her decision to send her daughter to the same co-ed boarding school as her son, she defiantly stood by her choice. Equal opportunities were not limited to our education – even outside of school, we had equal opportunity to partake in the extra-curricular activities of our choice, and even had the same play time in the evenings, where we were both encouraged to go outside to play with our friends.
From an early age, our mother made us challenge the various gender stereotypes and gender norms prevalent in our male dominated society. Our parents made sure that no activity was gendered – whether that meant our father participating in housework or both our parents playing sports with us. We were always encouraged to question societal norms around gender, and to break the stereotypes that did not fit us. Perhaps that is the reason I (Suheil) took a fancy to cooking and am a better cook than my sister! Moreover, Mom helped us develop critical and independent thinking, encouraging us as adults to reflect and analyze all aspects of our lives through a gender lens.
At the heart of feminist parenting lies empathy – something that our parents, especially Mom, were acutely aware of. This is the bedrock of all the values we have learnt.
That of being understanding of others feelings, and being open with our own emotions. This meant that it was okay for Suheil to cry and it was not considered un-ladylike for Tariqa to laugh loudly in a group.
That of having respect for others, understanding others’ worldviews and trying to see things from different perspectives, especially that of gender. We have been fortunate enough to live, travel and meet people from various parts of the world, and this has helped us accept and connect with those different than us, and defy perpetuating stereotypes in various societies and cultures.
That of respecting and embracing diversity. Our parents being from different religious backgrounds, and us being brought up to enjoy the best of all religions and festivals, is a wonderful experience in diversity.
Mom’s feminist lessons have had a profound impact on our lives. For me (Suheil) these lessons have manifested in my work in sport development, where I feel the need to promote sport equally among children of all genders. Setting up my own organization, I have strived to create an environment that is welcoming for all, and a workplace that is safe for the participating girls and female coaches. As I (Tariqa) navigate my path through life, Mom inspires me to strive to critically analyze my life and the society I live in from a feminist perspective.
Setting up the Martha Farrell Foundation is a manifestation of our upbringing. The lessons that Mom has taught us are some of the core values we would like the Foundation to take forward, through its commitment to gender equality and prevention of violence against women. Today, we hope that Mom is proud of the two feminist children she raised.
Happy Birthday Mom, and thank you for your feminism!