Feminists believe in equal rights for men and women. But many among us are afraid to identify as feminists because a good number of people in our societies thing beings a feminist means hating on men. Because feminism is a threat to patriarchy, which is a cause of the systematic oppression of women many deem it a bad. Gender disparity has been so deeply ingrained in our collective thinking that we have internalised it. Such is the state of our conditioning that even the question of women’s equality seems to shatter the fabric of our society.
I carry the knowledge that there have been times in my own life where this work wasn’t even permissible to do…
I’m proud to say that I know quite a few feminist in my circles of friends though my work. One such person in my next guest at #MeetAtTribe interview series. Dear reader, meet Kainat Javed.
Who is Kainat Javed?
Kainat: Women’s rights activist, British-born Pakistani, music lover and dog mother. Constantly trying to do better and be better as a friend, daughter, ally and member of our great North East community.
Growing up, who had the most influence on you and why?
Kainat: Growing up the majority of my influences came via music as it was a big part of the way my household shared joy and love and so my early years are marked by the sounds and words of Sade, Dione Warwick, Tina Turner, Lisa Stansfield, Madonna and other women who sang of the pain of being a woman in many different contexts, but also the joy in being unapologetically yourself – my mum being key in all of that learning! I’ve carried these influences throughout my life and they’ve taught me to always be hopeful and true to self even in the darkest hours. As I grew older and increasingly curious about why women’s lives are as challenging as they can be, I found sense in the works of Angela Davis, Gloria Steinham, Kimberle Crenshaw and Toni Morrison. Now I find influence and a sense of solidarity in a generation of women in a range of different fields who shed light on the challenges of the world we live in today such as Deeyah Khan the documentary filmmaker, Ali Wong the comedienne, Lily Singh the YouTuber, all of the Spice Girls and significantly the rapper Lisa ‘Left-eye’ Lopez.
My best friend Sophie who passed away in 2018 was a huge influence on me and I miss her every single day but she was a person who knew the value of being silly and playful as well as brutally honest sisterhood. Both the women and the men in my family had the greatest influence on me in the ways they walked in the world, not being born not in the UK but staying entirely true to themselves living and breathing a range of cultures in communities with people from lots of different backgrounds. I think how I saw my family stay true to their own varied and unique identities, learn from others and take those traits into the world which has been the greatest inspiration for me and where I draw my confidence from. We were quite isolated as a family because we didn’t follow traditional South Asian cultural norms, but in the home I grew up in my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins brought worlds of Eastern and Western culture together and for me I felt the positives of a range of identities being visible to me.
In what ways are you a different person today because of of your upbringing?
Kainat: I get this a lot where I’m told that I’m ‘different’ or not like other South Asian people, mainly by people who identify as White, but as a child I used to want blonde hair and to be called Anne, so I inherently knew I was Brown and felt less accepted outside of my home early on because of it. I think a lot of South Asian women my age and Gen X who were born in other parts of the world whether it’s the UK or East Africa and the Caribbean are ‘different’ in that we grew up with an amalgamation of cultures and influences and many of us don’t ‘fit’ the stereotype of South Asian identity that is widely understood. Being aged 13 when 9/11 happened, I knew distinctly who I was and how hated people who are Muslim or thought to be Muslim became.
That event is etched in the fabric of me and has taken me on a personal journey around identity from rejecting that aspect of myself to being proud to be Muslim, in the face of the atrocities that have been committed in the name of Islam and the racism people have faced because of it. Now I embrace my name, Kainat (which means the universe) and I love the clothes, beauty regimes and the jewellery of my heritage but I’m really not about the films or food, preferring Japanese or a Sunday Roast! Having a dad who is a veterinary surgeon is also something people find really unusual, but being an animal lover is a huge part of me which means you’ll catch me at my best in trainers and leggings running around fields with my pooch.
How did you end up working in the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner?
Kainat: Since returning to the North East in 2019 I’ve been contracted to work on a range of projects that concern women’s rights and access to supportive safe spaces and my previous experience in law and in hospitality placed me well to oversee the range of activities the Women’s Safety in Public Places project delivers. I applied for the post and got to join an incredible team of talented individuals all committed to ensuring we place our communities at the centre of all of the work we do to enhance public safety and prevent crime. I’ve admired Kim and her work since she ran for the position in 2019 and I’m proud to work with her on the VAWG initiatives she drives.
What difference has your role played in making women feel safe in public spaces?
Kainat: I hope that when the project is evaluated women feel increased levels of safety in the spaces where work has been carried out with their needs addressed and that above all, a diverse range of women’s needs have been represented and acted upon by the teams delivering the work in our parks, night time economies and other public places. A part of my role that I feel most passionate about is ensuring that women are not homogenised in their needs and that the initiatives that we deploy are developed and delivered with an understanding that varied barriers to safety exist for women with different identities and I hope that the work I have done has placed a spotlight on those differences and the need to understand them if we are going to succeed in this work.
How important is it for women to feel safe?
Kainat: It’s a fundamental right we have never had and in doing this work I’ve had my eyes opened to the perspectives that male allies bring to this work, acknowledging their privilege at how they don’t consider their own safety from sexual violence and harassment on a daily basis as well as their ardent commitment to being a part of the solutions we create. It’s challenging and still a very long road with a lot of development and investment needed, but to feel that there is a collective outside of the women’s rights sector of our region that supports, respects and is listening to women’s needs in how we need to feel safe is a starting point. I feel very optimistic to see and enable this to move the dial forward towards greater safety.
What are you proudest of in your career?
Kainat: I feel like I am just getting started to be honest! Although I graduated in 2010 my own journey has been long, under-paid (often free) in the early years and full of hard lessons but I’m proud to have been able to work with some amazing organisations in the North East and learned from inspiring leaders who continue to mentor me on my journey. I have had the immense privilege of a paid for education and I know this has given me a starting point that has propelled me into spaces and experiences that are completely out of the ordinary. I used to be told to ‘play down the feminist stuff’ by men and the fact that I’ve made a career out of being a feminist is probably the thing I am proudest of – that skills I’ve developed and knowledge I’ve acquired is all channelled into fighting misogyny. And to earn a living from it as well(!) is something many of us have been told is unrealistic, but I’m proud that I didn’t give up.
So I am honoured that I get to do what I do it at all, although a successful class-action challenge against a police force on racism when I worked in law is definitely something I reflect on with pride and any anti-racism work I’ve done whether in advisory or other work always feel like the greatest wins.
Are there any negatives in your job?
Kainat: Anyone who has done women’s rights work will tell you that it is HARD and often feels quite isolating so in every space where I have applied a feminist lens to my work I’ve endured some challenges as the work overall addresses the core of some of the biggest problem our society faces, and it can definitely wear down even the most collaborative of optimists. But I would never want to do anything else and being given a mandate to deliver change in spaces through systems that have started to strategically operate with a feminist lens will always be a privilege to me. I carry the knowledge that there have been times in my own life where this work wasn’t even permissible to do, so with the challenges there is an overarching determination to support those I work with to apply intersectional principles to the activities they deliver.
The hardest work has been vested in the movements far greater than the work I am doing that have paved the way for this to happen and be taken seriously. So I really can’t complain when people like me have been imprisoned and many killed in years gone by for merely saying the things I get to say today.
If money was not a factor, where would you travel to and what would you do there?
Kainat: I honestly am a home bird and love being close to my family so if I look forward to a day when I can ‘retire’ that would look like long beach walks with my dog and probably more massages and self-care! But I do occasionally fantasize about living in a beach hut in Bali or the Maldives and spending days swimming and being a pescatarian. Perhaps adopting a dog-dad for my fur-baby Chrissy, but that isn’t essential 😊
If you could have dinner with five famous people from history, who would they be?
Kainat: Conversation is the ultimate joy of my life and I love a good dose of humour with wisdom, so I imagine people I could listen to forever would be Deepak Chopra, Maya Angelou, Erykah Badu, Princess Diana and J Dilla.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Kainat: ’ve had a 5-year plan since I was 21 years old and I’ve just recently come to accept the adage, God laughs at our plans and gives us things we never could have imagined were for us. So now 15 years later I’ve stopped thinking about what’s next and I’m focussing on being grateful and present here and now as well as being open to what’s for me. Whatever it will look like, I know it’ll teach me lessons I need to learn and that can only lead to growth.