By Tariqa Farrell Tandon and Suheil Farrell Tandon:
In September 2015, Martha Farrell Foundation was started in the memory of our late mother, Dr Martha Farrell, a passionate civil society leader, who was committed to women’s rights, gender equality and education for adults. On May 13, 2015, she, along with 14 others, died in a terrorist attack in Kabul, where she had been leading a gender training workshop with the Aga Khan Foundation.
Martha Farrell was known as a friend, a colleague, a leader, 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 an agenda, which was intertwined with the other values that we learnt. We hardly realised what invaluable lessons we were learning during our childhood, and perhaps it is only in the last one year that we have really started to reflect on what she taught us.
Equal opportunities for all genders. Such a simple concept and yet so far away from the realities of societies and cultures today. This was perhaps one of the earliest values that our 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 away from 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 analyse all aspects of our lives through the lens of gender and diversity.
At the heart of feminist parenting lies empathy – something that our mom was acutely aware of. This is the bedrock of all the values we have learnt. Her empathy has made us empathetic and allowed us to own ourselves and our emotions. It is okay for Suheil to cry and it is not un-ladylike for Tariqa to laugh loudly in a group.
She also made us understand that being a feminist means being against any manifestation of oppressive power relationships. This has enabled us to value, understand and analyse diversity and different perspectives. 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 from us, and defy perpetuating stereotypes in various societies and cultures.
Our mother never limited her feminism to her immediate professional circle of civil society organisations. She helped in developing a training module on gender sensitisation for the Indian navy; advocated working with boys and men to learn new attitudes that support gender equality; continuously worked towards ensuring pro-women and anti-sexual harassment policies in all the organisations that she worked with and eventually pursued her PhD on the same. She is the one who taught us that no matter what the sphere or the scope, we have to practice our feminism in everyday life, which starts with us, when we start viewing ourselves as fully human, as subjects.
Setting up the Martha Farrell Foundation is a manifestation of our upbringing and also our way of thanking our mother for the feminism and empathy that she has instilled in us. We have started the Martha Farrell Award for Excellence in Women’s Empowerment, where we are inviting nominations from individuals and organisations from all walks of life. We wish to take forward what our mother had always taught us and practised in her own life – that no matter where you are, who you are and what you do, you can always stand for gender equality.
So we call out to all of you – that no matter your profession, your gender, your caste, your class, your language, your city or your village, your commitment to gender equality matters to us. This award, like our mother, celebrates the every day, the real and the lived. It celebrates all those ordinary people, who in their own way, despite numerous constraints, are doing extraordinary things, so that gender equality can become a reality.
To read more about the award, visit http://marthafarrellfoundation.org/award.html