Disclaimer: I read Quran in the light of science, philosophy, ethics, and public policy. This is not a theological discussion, but some rational thinking shaped by the Quran.

When we talk about feminism, most of the time we confuse between equal and same. Equal rights and same rights for men and women are not the same things. I have one girl and one boy. It is said that boys are good at abstract thinking and girls are good at visual and spatial thinking. How general is this assumption, I don’t know? Indeed, my girl is relatively better in language and weak in math and my boy is the opposite. As a father I want them both to be good in fundamental literacy and numeracy. So, I’m taking them to some extra tuition; math for the girl and English for the boy. This is a very small example but a fundamental one when developing the equal access to opportunities between men and women in the public policy. You will not get same results from two different groups of people if you don’t provide them resources according to their specific needs.

When my children were very young, both were very fond of the British children’s undersea exploration TV series Octonauts. Surprisingly their liking resided on two different things of the same Octonauts. While my daughter wanted to know about all the sea creatures, my son was only passionate about all different types of boats and submarine gears, and their pirate fighting capabilities.

I was curious about how much is true that gender is a cultural construct. In their early days, I used to buy them gender-neutral toys. But it did not work once they started to choose themselves their Octonauts’ toy. One wanted all the miniatures of sea animals and pink Octonauts’ T-shirt, while the other going for all the hard-wires. I remember one day we went to visit an aquarium. I was surprised to see how much my daughter knew about all those marine animals, which made me grateful to Octonauts.

In my professional life, I’m a marine geologist. Those days I used to go to sea often for marine surveys. One day my daughter asked me what we would do during our upcoming survey. I replied without thinking we would collect sediment samples from the seabed. Then she asked why we called the bottom of the ocean the seabed. Honestly, I did not know the answer. It was rather semantics than scientific question. While I was thinking what to say, my daughter answered, “I know why, because all the sea animals sleep in it”. That was the best answer I could have ever imagined.

Many times, I have used her definition of the seabed in my professional lectures. We always talk about global warming and less about its evil twin, which is ocean acidifications. For example, if we disturb the seabed too much for corals to sleep well and damage the bottom source of our food chains who live and sleep there, soon it will haunt us back in our food table. Waiting until then will be too late.

If we adult can think like children sometimes while making our public policies, may be many of our global problems would be solved rather easily. It is all about our boys and girls and how we prepare them for the future and what future we leave for them.

Thinking more about the different preferences and tendencies of my children, I found out that these have been coming from very far back in the time. During our hunter gatherer past, which was almost 85 percent of our human history, men were hunter and women were gatherer. In the food table, men brought proteins and fats and women brought carbohydrates and vitamins. In terms of labor division, men and women were working in different things but in terms of home economics, they were providing the same value. They were equals.

Then comes agriculture. Before machination, significant parts of agricultural production lines were at around home premises and women used to have significant contributions. Same things went for cottage industry. The manufacturing was at home premises and women had big participation in the production. However, with the advent of steam engines and industrial revolution when our food processing and manufacturing went to the mills and factories. The roles of women become a mutually exclusive choices; home making or bread wining.

One role requires home stay and the other wants them away from home without any effective arrangement for their children. Since then, it has been a continuous struggle for women between home and away. Meanwhile, to find out the solutions for the national negative birth rate, many raise the questions, why women want to have it all? Cannot they stay at home, if the State welfare or their husbands provide them the money to buy the very bread they wanted to buy with their own money. The problem is altogether in a very different place.

We have created an individualistic market society, where the person’s worth be it man or woman is defined by his or her own buying capacity. Our social status depends on how much we can sell ourselves in the labour markets and how much we can buy from the commodity markets in return? Millions of people leave their higher offices in their poor country of origins and become a day laborer in the foreign land simply to have more purchasing capacities.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, when the economic activities went away from the home, women in the western world went to the mills and factories at the cost of their traditional families. Whereas the women in the Muslim world remained at home at the cost of their personal economic dependencies.

In the Muslim world, we have not been able to create an alternative to the market-society paradigm. As a result, despite the enormous success of the Muslim women to keep the national birth rate positive, their housewife status becomes the symbol of their backwardness. While losing the femaleness of the western women become the symbol of their advancement under the slogan what man can do woman can do too.

The market society gave them birth control pills and machine powers to take over the men’s muscle powers and simply asked them to become a man or act like a man. In the process, before many social vices had been only male problems, now it became female problem too (i.e., alcohol and drugs). Meantime, it looks like the motherhood and their very biology, which sustain the motherhood are only women’s problems.

Personally, I have seen the struggles of many of my western female friends to find a right man to become a mother, when lately their biological cycles were closing in. I’ve some friends who do not want to be a mother. I’m not talking about them.  The unpaid motherhood is not included in our national accounting of economic development (GDP). In those countries where prostitution is legal, the services of a prostitute appear better valued than motherhood in the national GDP.

Our religion tells that man and woman are equal but not the same. Their primary roles are different but of equal values. They are supposed to contribute and complement each other in the family and society. However, if we don’t find an alternative to the market society paradigm for our economic growth, our theology alone will not be enough to solve the real cultural and economic problems that our girls are facing and will be facing in their day-to-day life.

Instead of thinking about the alternatives, our theological scholarships seem very busy with how they can better adapt the market society and reaps maximum benefits from it. Adaptive theology will fail. Because economic reality is far stronger. For example, the market society will never tell you NO to the headscarves of your daughter. Instead, it will ensure that their headscarves become one more commodity of the market. In the process of marketing and advertisement, it will lose its original purpose which supposed to be a dress of modesty.

We need a transformative theology, which will be able to deliver an alternative value-based society for both men and women and for our sustainable oceans and environments. The problem of a materialistic world is far bigger than any one group. The whole humanity must come together to find out the solution.