After almost 30 days of fasting, community, charitable giving, and spirituality, for many people who practice Islam, the last few days of Ramadan are a time to reflect on their faith and deeds. As the month winds down, all over the world, Muslims enjoy Eid-ul-Fitr, a day of feasting to celebrate their commitment and devotion. In the spirit of this reflection and celebration, this is a prime opportunity to consider how women's visible and invisible labour benefits Muslim communities.
on Ramadan & gendered labor. I remember my guy cousins showing up for iftar, eating & leaving to play cards & pray taraweeh & then coming home to play video games until they're served suhoor & they turn in & sleep half the day, rinse repeat. pic.twitter.com/dNxI3oV94b
— ر ت ت ت (@raniawrites) March 22, 2023
Rania El Mugammar, a Sudanese-Canadian Toronto-based writer and activist, has been posting about this and asking Muslim communities how they benefit from the labour of women around them during Ramadan. Speaking to Yahoo News Canada, El Mugammar says she has been sharing a post for four years to bring awareness to the socialized and cultural norms of gendered labour.
In general, I think there's been a normalizing of an unjust economy of labour when it comes to our homes, and that becomes so much more exacerbated during Ramadan and leading up to Eid.Rania El Mugammar, a Sudanese-Canadian writer and activist
Where most families are concerned, women contribute the most to ensuring Ramadan runs smoothly. Alongside fasting from sunrise to sunset and their spiritual obligations, mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters are the ones who do most of the cooking for Suhoor (the meal before sunrise), Iftar (the meal at sunset to break fast), dinner, and communal events. They write the grocery list, stock the fridge, and plan meals. They buy clothes, gifts, and sweets for Eid. This labour begins long before the start of the fasting period. Preparation and coordination for Ramadan gets underway weeks before the crescent moon appears in the sky.
These acts of service for their families are an additional workload on top of the daily routine of going to work and contributing financially, household chores, children, and other priorities. Even in progressive homes where couples and family members divide domestic tasks, someone usually has to take charge. One group study published in Sage Journals finds that women carry more of the mental load of taking care of a household. So, it's no surprise that women take on the mantle of visible and invisible labour during Ramadan.
Like many women, El Mugammar finds pride in taking care of her family but stresses that too often, the additional labour during Ramadan goes unappreciated and unseen. El Mugammar explains that she was incredibly frustrated by the responses she got the first time she tried to bring attention to this issue, and her post went a little bit viral.
People lost it on me. [They] were like it's a good deed to feed a fasting person! Yeah, but that doesn't mean you can't do the dishes. Your mothers, wives, sisters, and cousins are also fasting. We’re not just observers of the process from the outside.Rania El Mugammar, a Sudanese-Canadian writer and activist
While there may be pride in stepping up, the ten-fold increase in duties eats into a woman’s space for peace. If men spend less time making meals and cleaning up and taking part in the preparation and coordination of Ramadan, post-Iftar it’s easier for them to relax, spend time with the community, go to the mosque, and practice their faith.
“Maybe I want to be able to spend one of the last ten days of Ramadan in the masjid,” says El Mugammar. “I wouldn't be able to do that without coming home and realizing nobody got up for school, and nobody sorted anything out for Iftar. I don’t want to [go to the masjid] and pay the bill later. I want you to take on some of the work.”
While it's important to acknowledge the visible and invisible labour women shoulder during this time, men need to take a more active role in the physical work and mental load.
“Young men and boys in our communities need to start paying attention to our labour in Ramadan and understand what it takes. The only way to do that is to participate in it,” says El Mugammar. She adds that easing people’s burdens, especially during Ramadan, is also an aspect of duty and spiritual worship.
Ramadan is ending, but it’s never too late to show gratitude and support for the women in your life who have helped in providing a blessed month for your family, especially with Eid around the corner. Short-term, there’s a feast to be made. There are gifts to be wrapped. Clothes to be ironed. Sweets that need to be ordered and picked up. A home that requires gleaming counters and sparkly floors. After a long and exhausting month, anyone will appreciate gifts of self-care. El Mugammar suggests the best way to begin is to play to your strengths and to take something on without asking 50 clarifying questions.
Long-term, it’s about reflecting and self-examination. While there were meltdowns over her post, El Mugammar says addressing woman's visible and invisible labour in Ramadan has had a meaningful impact too. She says that some men wrote to tell her of their commitment to taking care of more around the house, and she also received notes from women who sent the post to their husbands and were able to have conversations about it and daughters who raised the issue with their fathers on behalf of their mothers.
I've heard from men who [reflected] and [thought] back to their childhood… [They] have these "aha" moments of how different kinds of labour unfold to make their sweet, rosy Ramadan memories possible.Rania El Mugammar, a Sudanese-Canadian writer and activist