The leaders who are not yet risen
Dr Ayesha Ahmad
Today I told a medical student that it should be her who is authoring research articles, and that it should be her who is the professor leading and governing the directionality of pioneering health interventions to address the nuanced suffering that is absent from the literature because the bearers of such injustices are hidden in the margins of our societies. Indeed, it should be her whose name is occupying such spaces; yet, she is a young woman from one of the world’s harshest socio-cultural and political contexts to be an educated woman and aspiring female leader in healthcare. Coming from different trajectories but similar stories, we both reflected and recalled the ways that we are consistently, systematically, silenced by the shrouds of other people’s perceptions and assumptions.
I am a woman working as an academic in a teaching hospital, with a Philosophy PhD specialising in ethics from a medical school, and as a member of a Clinical Ethics Committee in a specialist hospital. My academic home is in global health and my specialisation is a lifelong commitment to carving humanities methodologies into a discourse dominated by a medicalized and scientific language. Often, I am presenting at conferences where I try to convince my audience that traditional storytelling is significant for the ways we understand suffering in war and conflict, and that the stories that are gifted to me through my work are the essence of our health.
As a woman who beholds the name of one of the most famous Muslim women leaders of the Islamic world; the Prophet’s last wife, Aisha, who initiated women’s rights movements and versed herself in philosophy, poetry and medicine, I sit comfortably in my calling/ jurisdiction.
The efforts are tiring; to respond to the investigative questioning about my origin and my education, to being asked to spell my name letter by letter because it is “so difficult”, to the assumptions that either I have escaped and overcome oppression or that I am still oppressed and need saving, or sometimes, even the battle against my own acts of self-silencing when I withhold my thoughts and views because sometimes my voice is wanted to add a “diverse” contribution but my words are not welcomed unless they represent the narrative of my pre-scribers.
Yet, in my daily, determined, life, I strive to develop new critiques borne from the lived introspection of the concepts that I sometimes feel trapped within; yet simultaneously, I continue to take another step closer to the firing-line to prove that I can withstand the weapons of those who try to push me down. I do not take my eyes off my goals—to create the space for stories of suffering and to deconstruct our silencing. I search to see, and I see to search, and always before me I find the leaders who are not yet risen. I am sure the student of today will be the bearer of the words that will bring a fresh tomorrow for the story-sufferers she told me about, the suffered stories that she will treat and heal in her medical career.
The leaders who are not yet risen, I hope they can see I tried to stand for them.
Dr Ayesha Ahmad is a lecturer in Global Health specialising in mental health and gender-based violence during conflict. She provides expert reports in culture and mental health for the use in asylum cases and publishes in both academic and journalistic forums. She is working with colleagues on developing a trauma therapeutic intervention using traditional story-telling for women who have experienced gender-based violence in extreme settings: www.shaercircle.com. Dr Ahmad is the co-editor of an edited volume on Humanitarian Action and Ethics, published by Zed Books (2018).