Karachi style: the spirit of celebrating Ramadan

Karachi – Pakistan’s biggest, most cosmopolitan and certainly its most complex city – is always in trouble. To many it’s the same old story:  Some 25 years worth of bloody tales of ethnic rivalries, politicised crime, sectarian tensions and a bulging population that keep going under only to remerge over and over again to keep this maddening metropolis’ economics, politics and culture afloat.

Described as having the potential of becoming the “Asian New York” – the city of Karachi continues to uphold its long-standing tradition for offering the Ramdan Iftare meals to travelers commuting to and fro the busy traffic rush hours.

This is a my city, that despite all this problems and chaos lives on with the  joy of giving and sharing.

Come Ramazan and no one will go hungry – for the God’s little troopers are out on the streets, offering dates, cold drinks and crispy samosas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samosa) to the exhausted weary travelers stranded in the traffic jams so common to Karachi.

Free Iftare on Road SideAs the sun sets, these troopers come out of nowhere really, they park their hi-roofs at signals, bus stops and busy thoroughfares. Then they start handing out dates to whom ever stops by including bikers,  pedestrians, people returning from a busy day at work and sitting in-car at a traffic jam desperate to reach home, rickshawalas, and many times entire public transport buses full of passengers.

 If this sight is not enough, you should drive by Shah Rae Faisal Road when the fast is about to break, there too are crowds of troopers gathered to hand out dates and the classical drink Rooh Afza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooh_Afza).

Just this little thought tells me that my home, my city is still alive and that amidst all the Talibanization of my homeland, humanity still exists with the simple joys of giving and sharing this month.

Outside Saddar, the central business district of Karachi the famous Sabri Nihari, continues to serve hot naans (bread) with spicy beef gravy. The cook confirms that “During Ramadan, we never stop serving till late night to poor as we have set aside a portion for the needy all year round.”

Even public hospitals like the city’s  Jinnah hospital are taken care of by young social workers. The United Youth of Pakistan, group of Pakistani youth volunteers that collaborate annually during Ramadan to serve Iftare mean to some 400 people every day and are also planning to increase the number in coming time. mass-roadside-iftar-arrangements-in-karachi-5149

While all this goes on, shame on the Government institutions that have not been able to control “price hike” that annually forces Pakistanis to pay more for food items during this holy month in comparison to other months.

“Most of the people who come to eat are attendants of patients who are waiting for doctors to pay them some attention,” said Raza Minhas, a volunteer.

By the grace of God, Allah or whatever you might want to call the Supreme Being up there, most of these activities are able to take place because of zakat given by the people of Karachi or those overseas but making sure to pay zakat on time.

Some of you might be wondering what is zakat, it’s simply the alms-giving  practice of charitable giving by Muslims based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all who are able to do so.

It is considered to be a personal responsibility for Muslims to ease economic hardship for other Muslims and eliminate inequality for followers of Islam and what better month then Ramadan to make sure that to reach out to those who don’t have the means to eradicate their hardships.

Such is the story of my city Karachi and its spirit of celebrating Ramadan.

 

Jailed for Reporting Rape, Where is Justice?

“It’s difficult for me to talk about what happened to me, from rape to prison and from prison to deportation,” says a traumatized 16-year old Pakistani Isma at the rescue trust office in Karachi where she was present with her elder sister Muna, who was also deported.

Her crime is grave: Isma was raped by a Saudi man. For her crime, Isma served six months in shackles handcuffs in a prison in Saudi Arabia and finally arrived to her country of origin, Pakistan.

Isma’s situation of being a stateless Pakistani can be traced to her trafficked parents, originally from Southern Punjab province city Multan, to Saudi Arabia around 20 years ago.

Muna and Isma were born into Islam’s most important country, Saudia Arabia but remained stateless and senza rights. The country is home to two of the holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Madinah. In 622, the entry of Islam’s Prophet’s entry into Madina ushered in a new phase for the divine message.

Yet last year, Isma was raped in Medina because of her vulnerable status.

In her own words, Isma said “I was raped and molested without my consent but I was named as the accused, and the man who committed the crime was not touched. He first kidnapped me, dragged me into his car. Initially he asked for sleeping with him and offered a huge sum. When I refused and tried to get away, he warned me of dire consequences and raped me in the car.”

The alleged rapist that we are told to be presented as the “unnamed man” went on to warn her of the consequences if she reported it to the police and threatened her that she would face imprisonment in case she went to police as the Saudi sponsor who brought her parents to the country through a Pakistani agent would have them all expelled. Both Isma and Muna were threatened by the Saudi sponsor and they have asked to not provide details as to spare their still stuck parents any additional grief.

Isma and her sister did report the incident to the Saudi police but after few hours of filing the report the police changed it. Isma’s parents were pressurized by the Saudi sponsor, for withdrawal of the report. Her sister Muna seeing no other option, tried to intervene and help, but was also thrown into the jail because she spoke to Isma.

According to Isma, their nightmare had only started once they landed into the jail. Once in jail, their nightmare began in earnest. It was the darkest time of their life to see the cells full of countless innocent women prisoners from Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Nigeria who were brought to Saudi Arabia through trafficking networks and were charged with prostitution.

Recalling her horror, Isma said that “When I used to protest against the ill treatment they would beat me on my back, also I was chained throughout my time there. The chains were removed during lunch or in need of toilet or at prayer time.”

“Once a jail official offered me help and assured me I would be released if I agreed to sleep with him. It was totally degrading. I also saw a middle aged Pakistani woman who had developed AIDS while being in prison, but she remained in chains until her deportation to Pakistan.”

The NGO Ansar Burney Trust which is run by Pakistan’s dragon human rights lawyer Mr. Ansar Burney has taken both Ism and Muna into their care. With a career spanning 35 years of activism, human rights and justice, this type of rescue operation has become a daily order of the day. Ansar Burney previously has rescued some thousands of girls from sex- trafficking networks across Middle East, Europe and others.

When contacted to comment, Mr Burney said, “It’s pathetic that all this happened with Isma at the hands of a fellow Muslim.” However, he pointed that many women and girls from poverty stricken South Asia are lured with promises of good money working as maids or nurses, but their Arab sponsors and Pakistan agents later force them into prostitution.

Saudi Arabia has been the subject of intense scrutiny from the human rights groups over the years as it remains a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of various form of slavery. A country where prostitution and sex out of marriage is strictly illegal, it is interesting to note sex trafficking continues to rise.

More over, rape is dealt is outrageously unjust and complex manner.  It targets both the defendant and the victim, and in some cases, the victim can be sentenced to even harsher punishment than the assailant. Many reasons force the victims to refrain from reporting the rape. These include loose trial rules, problems within physical evidences, that are not presented or declined due to the 4 witness rule of Sharia Law. It is interesting to note that defendants are also provided the Sharia law provision to deny any signed confessions at the trials.

Where as the real teachings say that Rape is completely forbidden in Islam, and is a crime punishable by death. In-fact, it capital punishment is reserved for the most extreme crimes which harm individual victims or destabilize society and rape falls in both of these categories.

Prominent Islamic scholars have said that rape is a crime of violence, and is not “caused” by a woman’s actions in any way so blaming and punishing the victim is out of question. If that is the case so, why was Isma blamed and jailed?

Bloody Nasreen|The female antihero of Pakistan

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Female fictional characters conceptualised in the Muslim world are either veiled or portrayed as meek and oppressed in the public eye. However, Lahore-based Shahan Zaidi’s debut superhero can finally help combat these stereotypes.

The main character of Zaidi’s English-language graphic novel Bloody Nasreen is a 27-year-old girl from Karachi who wears skull-printed kameez with churidar and sneakers – none of what girls her age would wear. She’s an anti-hero you’re not supposed to like. Her smoking habits and aggressive nature are aimed to p*** you off.

Zaidi doesn’t think cool names can make a character cool. Hence, he chose to give her a common name that everyone can relate to.

53b28025f1f33Ruthless but not cruel, Nasreen fights a war against terrorism, human trafficking, corruption and injustice, and thinks that stupid is more evil, than evil.

With exaggerated action and violence, Nasreen fights without super-powers.

“I’m always more into humans than mutants or aliens,” said Zaidi. “I like Batman for that matter. How can I connect to a hero who is not from my planet? Or who has super powers beyond my thoughts?”

Born in Zaidi’s sketchbook, Nasreen was one of his many characters that he planned to make a graphic novel on back in 2009. It was only recently that Zaidi shared the idea on social media forums, which led to Nasreen going viral, and finally getting a chance to live outside of Zaidi’s sketchbook.

Zaidi hopes to publish the novel by October this year, while the film is already in the pre-production phase.

Zaidi grew up reading Tarzan, Mandrake and Phantom comic strips, and was later introduced to the world of comic books. His core interest, however, has always been in movies. He further added that this thought was the beginning of his interest in comic and graphic novels.

Unlike Burqa Avenger, Pakistan’s first super-heroine who wears a burqa as a disguise to conceal her identity while fighting villains in the animated television series, Nasreen is oftentimes seen without a dupatta.

“Nasreen has nothing to say about this, its her own choice to go without the dupatta,” Zaidi said, smiling.53b280267ad49

This has led to mixed responses on social media, but it doesn’t seem to bother Zaidi. He feels only a true comic book reader will understand the value of “exotic, hard boiled full of action girls in comics.”

As a feminist I’m no so sure about the creator’s analysis but hey I love firebrand women for sure! :-P

When asked what he expects his readers to pick up from the novel, Zaidi said the story is only meant for entertainment.

Illustrations Credits –  creator  Shahan Zaidi

Source courtesy — The Dawn Pakistan

My Pakistan should be terror free

“Ordinary Pakistanis are desperate for the world to understand what it is that they go through every single day. They really want a more sympathetic audience than they feel they have.”

Navin Naqvi (Pakistani journalist, co-founder and executive director of Gawaahi organization) 

Change makers sat down with Navin Naqvi to discuss her work in Pakistan’s turbulent and often violent environment, where she uses citizen media as a tool for political engagement and raising public awareness. Her organization, Gawaahi, which means “witnessing” in Urdu, is a Pakistan-based citizen-sector organization that produces digital stories of survival and resistance. Through its online platform, they share stories about women’s human rights, child sex abuse, unfair labor practices, terrorism and religious persecution.

Post 9/11, and the militarization of the region,Gaawahi’s advocacy campaigns that relate to religious persecution, for instance, work towards increasing tolerance in a society that is fast growing radicalized society.

Today’s video is from the series of “My Pakistan” montages, a project that was aimed at getting young Pakistanis to think politically. We talked to kids from private schools, government schools, and universities. Despite media curbs, Sharia craps being dolled out and threats to journalists, Pakistanis are really looking at the new media right now as something they want to explore– the future of online media activism is very high. People are so very excited about it. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, – it’s unimaginable the world that these sites have created for ordinary people to tell their stories.

Through this series, Navin Naqvi and her team asked the young Pakistanis what kind of Pakistan they wanted, what they thought of Pakistan as it was now. 

Naqvi says, “I think it made the students feel that their voices mattered. It made them think politically.” Further she adds, that for international viewers its showed that young Pakistani  have dreams just like any others elsewhere. But for Naqvi, personally it has revealed how traumatized kids are by the violence that surrounds them.

Please check out the video to see a glimpse of Pakistan’s valuable future talking on their concerns, their dreams and their lives.

To view more of My Pakistan, featured young, everyday Pakistanis speaking out about their vision for their country, for people interested in more, please log on to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jrwV6HNdBI

 

 

Source: http://www.changemakers.com/blog/%E2%80%9Ctelling-story-form-activism%E2%80%9D-interview-naveen-naqvi

The Civilised Man’s Dehumanized Colored Bodies

Happy Feminist Friday to All!

The fetishization of “women of color” by western imperialists, is an ongoing problem—and plenty of otherwise perfectly nice people are guilty of it. Not that they seem to care about it. More ever, they feign affront when any colored person would dare called them out to examine their “privilege.”

And this privilege revolves and centers around on: WHITE MEN, that we have been repeatedly told, are the Civilized Man of society.

If you research the very term “white man” you shall find that most western literature American, Euro-centric or Australian portrays the white man no less then an honorable white knight who has the grand burden of saving the world on his shoulders.

Time and again, in my interactions, relationships that have been in professional or personal ways formed with white men, and I am lucky indeed to have known some great white men, but it has not escaped my notice as to how their whiteness is assumed and accepted as civilized as opposed to the native brown men or for that matter, black men.

Does it not strike you, that how come color has anything to do with how “civilized” a man could be. There was a time when I too suffered this delusion that told me that world without the “white man” would be a hellishly uncivilized one. Internally I was confused as what exactly is going on, because I detested the whole idea that non-white men are animals, monsters and or worse off, savages.

Until little by little, in ways insignificant and profound I went through dismantling the whole racist rhetoric, as a journalist that focuses primarily on human rights stories with a people’s centered approach, listening on to people’s situations and experiences and also going through my own.

Today’s tale maybe offensive for many, but this is a real-life account of one WoC, but resounds countless others.

So here is this brown woman in her mid-thirties brown and she has had the fortune to raise her class and jump the ladder to work with white people in a largely white people’s dominated company.

Not a day passes by, when she hears on or becomes a silent spectator to these type of conversations lead by civilized white men colleagues, she dare not intervene because she has been told in ways subtle and blunt that she been afforded the honor and allowance to be part of that sitting. Sometimes she  hear them saying that they want to sleep with a black girl just to “have” her. Or sleep with a Latina girl because she is “spicy”. Or get on it with an Arab girl because its “tempting and forbidden.” Sleep with an ethnic honey colored ( yes- a brown like herself) just because she is “exotically ethnic” and not because any of these are just women themselves.

Several times, she found it impossible to stay silent because it was way too offensive and walked away, or said something like can’t be talk of something else apart colored women bodies or their features etc etc.

She did the impossible. Because those civilized white men looked at her with sheer outrage dripping from their dilated eyelids. She was immediately reprimanded for her follies. 

Worse off, she became the target of white men’s displeasure and soon the office grapevine deemed that they had a within an “aggressive mean woman.” Her female white colleagues with tall claims of feminism never stood up for her (these tactics of white feminism are common) morever they refuge behind white supremacy-patriarchy by ignoring her and soon she was an solitary figure eating her sandwich at her desk.

As she spoke to me, she said, “Saadia I was made to realize that I have to be “GRATEFUL” that white people allowed me to sit in during their “usual bashing around of people of color” times? I walked out of that job because I couldn’t take this toxicity any more.”

Frankly I tried to console her and express my solidarity but I don’t think I really did much, but out of this ugliness reared this anger on behalf of PoC. Because it was just NOT her, but stuff like this is a daily life event happening to millions of women of color (WoC) that when raise their voices get “POLICED”  and reprimanded severely for it by you and I know who.

On my finger tips I can recall how many episodes I had to go through with savior Imperialists wanting to make me their pet project.

Calling me a tan girl ( for God’s sake am 30+) to die for-Muslim who does not wear the hijab is not really a f****** compliment, ok.

Or those times when I am on international travel trips and interact with white civilized men who say “Oh, you are not at all like most Pakistani women.”I mean really? Who the f*** are you? A person that never ever set foot in my homeland but has the “WHITE PRIVILEGE” educated gall to teach me what a Pakistani woman looks like.

One of the most ridiculous and downright insulting compliment I have been dished out by white men is that I am true rebel, a radical because I’m a Pakistani Muslim and what’s most “hot” or “happening” about me is that am a Muslim gone bad —which is hilarious, because I’ve been told that I’m in danger of being a martyr for my cause, recall please all those critiques on Islamic fundamentalism, militancy, western war policies etc etc.

I also know one cold, harsh and bleak truth. And that is.

I sincerely doubt this would happen if I had blue eyes, light hair with freckled nose and the cause I was fighting for was organic food for children in public schools of so-called Third world countries.

But at the end of the day, as  I was born out of the sperm of a “brown savage man” I will continue to serve as a “fetishized dehumanized body” for the white civilized man who will never really let me or other WoC forget this accident of birth ever, ever.

The Street Harrasment Reality in Pakistan

Street Harassment is a global phenomenon that is largely overlooked, and even considered acceptable despite their being laws against it in many places including Pakistan.

Street harassment includes making sexually explicit comments, ogling, whistling, following and groping.

In the making of these videos, we found that many Pakistani women, especially from the lower-middle classes began wearing burqas because they found the additional garment enabling in many ways.However, they find that the problem of street harassment has worsened, and even in burqas, they are harassed as they wait for buses, rickshaws, taxis, or walk down the street. We all know this well, stop living in denial please.

The women spoken with in the video had experienced intimidation that crossed class, age, religion and ethnicity.

It is wonderful to see this Media for Awareness and Advocacy project done by the organization Gawaahi that focuses on making videos for awareness and advocacy campaigns, enabling other nonprofits who work on causes close to us. Further more, Gawaahi invites voices from Pakistan and the world to speak out against injustice, using videos, photographs and words.

Check out eye-opening and alarmingly factual videos a their website http://gawaahi.org/campaigns-projects/stop-street-harassment or http://www.facebook.com/Gawaahi.com.

And please, say NO to STREET HARASSMENT!

Otherwise this message should be clear “Pakistani women refuse to stay silent and bear all sorts of nonsense in the name of street harassment. If men’s mother’s have forgotten to teach them manners and know-how of respecting women. Rest assured, we are OUT here and can do their JOB EFFECTIVELY.”

We Sinful Women|Pakistan’s most powerful feminist poet

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

The grass is really like me

The grass is also like me
it has to unfurl underfoot to fulfil itself
but what does its wetness manifest:
a scorching sense of shame
or the heat of emotion?

The grass is also like me
As soon as it can raise its head
the lawnmower
obsessed with flattening it into velvet,
mows it down again.
How you strive and endeavour
to level woman down too!
But neither the earth’s nor woman’s
desire to manifest life dies.
Take my advice: the idea of making a footpath was a good one.

Those who cannot bear the scorching defeat of their courage
are grafted on to the earth.
That`s how they make way for the mighty
but they are merely straw not grass
-the grass is really like me.

Kishwar Naheed, the Pakistani Muslim feminist Urdu-poet of the international fame with her “Hum gunahgaar auratein hein” translated from Urdu to English as “We Sinful Women” by Rukhsana Ahmad published in London by The Women’s Press in 1991.

A pioneering feminist poet born in 1940 in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh India, Kishwar was a witness to the violence  including rape and abduction of women associated with the partition of sub continent into Pakistan and India and during her experience of migrating to Pakistan. In 2000, I met this wonderful woman at a literary gathering and since then, I have of and on tried to showcase her powerful poetry through my own feminist stories and women rights campaigns. To me, she is Kishwar Apa ( Urdu word Apa means elder sister), a person I have great respect for and who has been unknowingly been my mentor  to the ideas of feminism as well as the kind of poetry that goes beyond Aestheticism.

I cannot express the absolute joy I feel, every Kishwar Apa has honored to recite her poetry in person.

With Kishwar Naheed listening to We Sinful Women
With Kishwar Naheed listening — “We Sinful Women”

The protagonists of her poem, so-called “We sinful women” are neither ornamental wives nor prostitutes, both of whom lament the inevitability of selling their lives to husbands or pimps. This is a direct play on the word sinful and the normalization of  prostitution as an immoral act, rather than the fact that there continue to be customers (presumably male).

And the historical reference can be traced from the times of British India when the profession of singers and dancers in true Victorian sense became the “social evil, read at transgresslit.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/hum-guneghaar-auratein-transgressing-temporality-and-poetic-form/

Her “Sinful Women” are a testament that South Asian women would not bow in front of the “white British colonialists” and that they stand up against the woman-as-ornament and woman-as-prostitute categories that were placed on women. Her sinful women refuse to let others become “exalted and distinguished” and princes or gods in the material world by their selling female beings- both literal female bodies and ideas of womanhood that are impossible to attain. Women do not follow male-defined dictates are stifled, their tongues severed and their paths blocked.

Yes, we women are free from the shackles of patriarchy, societal, religious oppression and labeling. Truly, “We Sinful Women” refuse to be slut shamed by western and eastern standards.

For it is we sinful women who come out raising the banner of truth…

 

 

Ainee Fatima’s talks about the Pakistani “The Burka Avenger”: Denying the Western Gaze

Recently, Pakistan has emerged with the first animated female superhero of its own, “The Burka Avenger.” And this creation has been discussed by Ainee Fatima who needs no introduction, but still. Fatima is a nationally recognized slam poet, social activist, public speaker and someone who is willing to be a part of the bigger representation of Islam. Her goal is to help others learn more about the religion on a personal, rather than a political, level. She is currently studying Islamic World Studies and International Relations at DePaul University.

Ainee writes that some might say she is inspired by 15-year-old activist Malala Yousafzai, who was the victim of one of the many attacks on hundreds of schools in the northwest region of Pakistan — simply due to the fact that Taliban militants oppose girls’ education. While appropriately dressed in a concealing and ninja-like burka to hide her true identity, the Burka Avenger is a passionate schoolteacher named Jiya by day, who also happens to fight the town’s thugs and politicians who are on the prowl to shut down the girl’s school in which she works.

Unlike the costumes we normally see on female superheroes in the West, the choice to dress the first female superhero in a black burka is sure to raise questions and oppositions due to the history and stigma associated with wearing a piece of clothing that has been forced upon women when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in the 1900s.

Creator of the show, Haroon Rashid comments, “It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes.”

It is obvious that the targeted audience is not a Western one but it caters to specifically Muslim/Desi and mainly Pakistani audience. This refusal to cater to the Western gaze makes this show unique due to the fact that this is meant to inspire and encourage Pakistani youth, especially young girls to fight for what they believe in and their education in a time where Taliban members have went as far as shooting young women for attending school.

Through this family friendly cartoon, it is made obvious that many citizens in Pakistan do not agree with the extremist ideas and fear that the Taliban instills. Hell right, we don’t  and hope imperialists are listening on!!!! 

This narrative challenges the presumptions under which imperial feminism operates because of how Muslim women are often portrayed in the media and through Western feminist groups such as FEMEN.

The fact that Muslim Pakistani women are empowered and able to take matters into their own hands means that they are able to find strength and their own feminist ideals by turning a piece of clothing that has been used to oppress women into a source for their own empowerment.Millions of Pakistani women wear the burka and hijab because this empowers them to go out in public, attend educational institution, work in male dominated professions or be a politician for the country.

FEMEN types should not presume colonialist racist ideologies, thank you. Burka does not necessarily save from harassment or unpleasantness, its a “tool” to negotiate the terms of  their lives and its scopes.

It also dismantles this nothing of a foreign savior or intervention being needed in order to liberate these women because the Burka Avenger is able to save herself as well as inspire young women in her city by helping take back the young girls’ school.

“Don’t mess with the lady in black, when she’s on the attack.”

And finally although its hard  to this, but please no more of this  “MUSLIM WOMEN NEED SAVING” nonsense.

Oh run!!!
Oh run!!!

 

Source: http://muslimgirl.net/6932/the-new-pakistani-cartoon-the-burka-avenger-denying-the-western-gaze/

Lady Gaga|Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, white feminist Pop Icon, Lady Gaga’s leaked track “Burqa” created yet another controversy, this time in the Muslim camp with her nonsensical efforts at expressing solidarity with women of color and Muslim women across the globe.

It was hilarious to observe the continuation of yet another white women solidarity initiative (pop icon-feminist) proceeding with the usual patronization manner by using the problems faced by millions’ Muslim women on hijab use or non-hijab use to sell CDs and get cheap attention on the backs of women of color.

Is this sounding familiar to some people?

Many Muslim women have rightly asked why didn’t the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s song say do you want to see underneath the burka, it’s a PhD woman, but no.. Lady Gaga brought forward a lot of hyper sexualization to a garment that some women across the globe for whatever reasons in particular to feel safe, empowered, or negotiate their mobility in public spheres ( not that it helps anyone from NOT being harassed or assaulted, we are enough evidence of that) and so now that we walk on the road to get to our university, work place or simple supermercato visit to be called out “So what are you wearing underneath this, exotic chick”, by men.

Seriously I do hope you are getting the POINT here?

Absolved as always, oriental-ism by white people continues to refuse taking responsibility for their naive, condescension and racist attitudes.

Yes the hijab has been around the world in some form or other in different with al frescos of Madonna with a head covering, Church mass gathering with western women and etc etcs. But the narrative is seemingly unfair, when we do its all-right but when you do it, we have problems… Errr. Didn’t Iraq got bombed on this lame pretext?

I really love Lady Gaga’s music and her erratic fashion sense, like many other Muslim or colored women or people do. Also I truly appreciate her attempt at expressing solidarity in a way only she knows best to answer for, but yes some Muslim women blasted the pop icon for appropriating and sexualizing hijab.

Is hijab off-limits for non-Muslims? Is it ok to use it as symbolism? Lets examine the song and the politics around it.

HuffPost Live’s Dena Takruri hosted a panel of Muslim women to get their take on the track. Among them was Keziah S. Ridgeway, a fashion blogger and high school history teacher who said Lady Gaga is walking a dangerous line by fetishizing a culture that she and, more importantly, her fans may not fully understand.

“It’s very similar to black-face,” she said. “You don’t have the black experience, you don’t know what it’s like to be African-American in society, but you’re going to cover your face in black paint and wear your cap turned backwards and your pants down low and make fun of this entire culture, and you don’t live it. You have no idea what it’s about.”

Hind Makki, a blogger for Patheos, added that “there is a thin line between artistry and appropriation and between appropriation and solidarity.” Makki said Lady Gaga’s song takes the significant political charge out of the issue of burqas and women in Islamic culture.

“This is real life issues that are affecting women right now, today, and what she’s essentially saying is, ‘I’m going to use this conversation about power and sex and sexuality and women of color and kind of just use that ironically so I can sell some CDs, and that’s the thing that’s offensive to me,” she said.

While all this is said and done, there is no word about the fact that these type of media portrayals are responsible for the Western White People’s “Your Race is my Fetish” stereotypes and such other nonsenses.

Again and again, I cannot fathom as to why western people feel outraged by the reactions of certain angry Muslims who have come out in severe criticism of Burka Swag and Lady Gaga’s overtly sexual lyrics.

Why don’t they understand this plain and simple. People of color are used to viewing the world as raced whereas; White people perceive race as something that doesn’t apply to them because Whiteness has been constructed as neutral. Enough said.

While Burka Swag and monster parties went in full swing, WoC feminists couldn’t help but notice yet again that white celebrity feminism continues to support indirectly the narrative of “We need to Save Native Women” through military interventions like Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

We are all testament to how women  in these countries post liberation of sorts didn’t give up the burka — yet another sign that West needs to actually engage in meaningful dialogue with native women, Women of Color activists and WoC feminists on how to help them instead of this bullshit solidarity in the form of “Do you wanna see me naked, lover?”

Crush The Taliban, Long Live Pakistan

Airport Staff injured in Sunday Attack at Quaid e Azam International Airport, Karachi
Injured Airport Staffer, Day 1 at QAU International Airport, Karachi
As the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the terror attack at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport which began on Sunday night and continued till Monday afternoon. At least 26 people were reported to have been killed.
And it has been confirmed that these barbaric militants including suicide attackers were ethnic Uzbeks fighting with theTTP. Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27790892

A grief-struck mother, she can never see her son in this life time
Grief-struck mother wont ever see her son alive

We the citizens of Pakistan want the government of Pakistan too crush the Taliban & all related groups.

The Taliban have not only attacked vital social, political & economic institutions of our society, they have attacked and committed the most heinous crimes against the very people of Pakistan.

Hence, this is a war of liberation for the people and the future of Pakistan. No one can sit on the fence anymore. We want immediate action against these criminals. The culture of impunity must end.

They can be defeated and they must be defeated. Enough is Enough!

In addition, TTP is responsible for the ongoing atmosphere of intimidation and violence against human rights defenders and journalists, harassment and use of violence against articulate segments of Pakistan’s civil society. More than often, we have to operate underground and take each step in a manner as if we are in enemy’s camp.

This has GOT TO STOP NOW.

I request my readers and critics,alike, please do support us from wherever you are and can, by clicking on this link and signing the petition. I cannot individually thank you, but I say my heart felt thanks here.

http://www.change.org/petitions/government-of-pakistan-crush-the-taliban-long-live-pakistan?fb_action_ids=10152495443228638&fb_action_types=change-org%3Arecruit&fb_ref=__lzUmwLNbLk

CRUSH THE TALIBAN, LONG LIVE PAKISTAN! NO MORE TERROR, NO MORE TEARS, NO MORE TREASON!

Pakistan Zindabad!

Sources:

1. Change org/ Taimur Rahman, Lahore.

2. ASF, APP 

Lahore, Pakistan

Free West Papua| Trailer “Forgotten Bird of Paradise”

The heart breaking eye opener documentary “Forgotten Bird of Paradise” provides a rare and moving insight into the forgotten struggle for independence that has gripped West Papua for the last 50 years. Dominic Brown, the British filmmaker is not unheard of and time and again he brings real life stories of human beings caught in oppressive cycles.

Catch the trailer here, which brings never before seen footage of Papuan freedom fighters at their jungle stronghold, interviews with human rights victims of the Indonesian regime and a secret interview with political prisoner Yusak Pakage who for raising the Papuan flag in 2004 is serving a 10 year jail, thanks to Indonesia authorities.

Above all, this documentary tells us of the inspiring resilience of a people who have suffered so much under occupation, but whose determination for freedom burns stronger now than at any time in history.

Let’s stand together with West Papua in their fight to self determination and liberty!

I say FREE WEST PAPUA and you?

Source:
1. http://www.forgottenbirdofparadise.com/film/

Still I Rise| Saluting Maya Angelou – The Icon

When Maya Angelou died Wednesday at age 86, she left behind a legacy of resilience. The Jim Crow South – which raised and shaped her – held terrors so fathomless as to render anyone’s capacity for love inert. But hers survived; it even flourished.

Documents of her struggle spoke to generations of admirers, yet despite their universality, they stayed rooted in singularities unique to her existence: Always distinctly black, and impossible to separate from her womanhood.

Perhaps no greater testament to this exists than her 1978 poem “Still I Rise.” 

The message of “Still I Rise” is especially important in a social environment where violence against women remains pervasive, and where racial inequalities relentlessly poison the status quo. Although it speaks to systemic problems more broadly, the poem also emphasizes the individual strength needed to rise above these efforts to oppress, obscure and dehumanize. In today’s  inhumane world, it’s an important message to hear.

Rest In Peace, dearest Maya Angelou. Thanks for being the eternal inspiration for me and million others…!

Maina, the little bride: a story by children for children

This is the story of Maina, a child bride, told through the eyes of teenagers.

“The little bride” follows the story of young Maina in Uttar Pradesh, India, as she becomes a child bride, a wife and a mother. Drawn and told by adolescent boys and girls, Maina’s story delves into the struggles girls face when they marry as children.

Plural + is a joint initiative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAoC) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It aims to empower young people to speak about what they think of migration, diversity and social inclusion and be heard by others all over the world.

This video was originally published by Plural +.

Support the cause for ending CHILD MARRIAGE, join hands in the global campaign to safeguard our daughters, sisters, friends, and other young children!

References:

White Feminists, you disappoint me beyond words

So, I have resurfaced from the aftermath of being virtually attacked and maligned, and I think it’s highly appropriate that this Feminist Friday Dairy should list down some of mainstream issues that have angered, hurt and disappointed most Women of Color (WoC) feminists including myself.

My dear White Feminists, please listen carefully for these are cold, ugly facts created, instigated and allied by yourselves and others that associate with white feminism.

Yes, white feminism that I know is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of color. It is “one size-fits all” feminism, where middle class white women are the mould that others must fit.  It is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always. The type that I don’t ally with or identify with as it negates what it stands for.

So hang on, before you force a defensive onslaught insisting that I should refrain from making generalizations, please read on.

 Fact Sheet:

1. When I talk about “white feminism,” I’m talking about the feminism that misappropriates womanist thinkers like Audre Lorde to declare that keeping white women’s racism in check is “bashing.”

2. Yes, the feminism that trashes women of color in the quest for body diversity and new parallels within beauty.

3. The shocking feminism that defends The Onion when it calls a little black girl a “cunt”.

4. The type of feminism that cheekily denounces “twitter feminism” as useless, without considering that twitter is the main medium through which less economically privileged women (usually women of color fall into this category) can put their feminism into practice and gain access to and engage with like-minded women.

5. I’m talking about the feminism that pats itself on the back, but doesn’t apologize after supporting a known abuser of WoC feminists and additionally confessor of serious transgressions. Most of you actually defended him. Additionally, you did something that was very typically whitesplaining…. along the lines of “I demand that you show me evidence of what you are saying in order for me to decide whether or not it is valid.”

6. The white feminism that publishes an article advocating for forced sterilization, completely disregarding the way in which forced sterilization was used as a tool of genocide against black and native women.

7. The white feminism insistence that Muslim women need saving and refusal to acknowledge that cultural differences mean different, culturally specific approaches to feminism and equality. In Europe, most white feminists actually patted themselves on their backs, with the “better naked then the burka” topless jihad from Femen group.

This did not go down well with most Muslim women and Muslim feminists because the point is that white women think they know what is best for Muslim women and their culture without bothering to understand what Muslim women actually want to change.

8. Then, the feminism that decided that holding a writer’s retreat at a former slave plantation was a fantastic event location.

 9. White Corporatist feminism that is fundamentally conservative; those mind-set that not “leaning in” is the only thing standing between women and economic success.

 10. White feminism at its most ugliest and low was witnessed by all, as the physical damage and trauma of gang raped Congolese women was compared to the cancer surviving experience by white feminist Eve Ensler. And yes, as a intersectional feminist, I do have a problem with “Ok, you’ve been raped, but you can overcome it if you come together and dance for 20 minutes on Valentine’s Day” as Eve Ensler says so. It’s patronizing and it denies not only the causes of violence, but also the devastating and long-lasting effects.

Do these facts make you feel upset on behalf of the women of color feminists that were bashed in recent years? From what was dolled out, it is quite clear to us WoC feminists where your real priorities lie. We also understood how you disregard the very fact that whiteness is a privilege that is not afforded to all women. Let me make this clear, we acknowledge that white women have been oppressed by White men, but let’s not forget that White women have also gained from their association with them.  When White men like some self-declared male feminists that we all know about have rallied against Women of color feminists, what did you do?  The facts speak for themselves.

Women of color feminists, did not fail to register that the White men and White women colluded for their common purpose, despite the whole ya ya sisterhood is equal for all routine. And one big reason is that self identified White feminists aren’t really interested in equality for all women; they are interested in equality with White men.

The above fact sheet tells WoC feminists that “This is not really sisterhood.”

Nor this is the kind of sisterhood that we need from you, and probably as we have done so far, we will continue to rally on as WoC feminists even if we get sidelined, abused and attacked by white feminists.

 Because we believe that if feminism is not intersectional, its just plain bullshit.

 

Pakistan|Men’s “Honor” Continues to Lie in Women’s Bodies

“I ask so many times when people talk about honor and when they bring religion into the discussion about honor: When do they ever raise their voices when women are openly sold in the sex market? When is this an honorable thing to do?

The concepts of women as property, and of honor, are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the government mostly continues to ignore the regular occurrences of women being killed and maimed by their families.

Expert sociologists deem that honor killings do not necessarily have to do with religion, but rather the cultures in different regions stemming from patriarchy and the complete failure to consider women as human beings. Pakistan, like other South Asian countries such as India, Bangladesh etc in region continues to fail its women.

Have you ever stopped for a second and rethink as to. Where Is The Honour In Honour Killings?

Blasphemy|Muslim Human Rights Lawyer Murdered

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), together with its 47 member organizations from Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Timor Leste, strongly condemn the killing of Mr. Rashid Rehman, a prominent human rights defender AND lawyer in Pakistan and a coordinator of FORUM-ASIA’s member organization in Pakistan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

Human Rights Activists Outraged over killing of Mr. Rehman
Human Rights Activists Outraged at Killing

Mr. Rehman was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Multan, Pakistan on 7 May 2014. The gunmen entered his office and opened fire indiscriminately, resulting in his death and severely injuring two of his associates. Mr. Rehman had received threats over his defense of a professor of a university against charges of blasphemy. Mr. Rehman’s organization, HRCP, has repeatedly warned of reprisals against Mr. Rehman and threats he was receiving. HRCP had particularly pointed out that the opposing counsel in the said blasphemy case had made threats in the presence of the judge. Despite this, he was denied any protection by the security personnel.

There has been an extremely worrying trend of steep deterioration in the security of human rights defenders in Pakistan over the last one year. The Government’s inaction and unwillingness to address attacks by extreme forces and non-state actors has severely compromised the security of human rights defenders.

Journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders working on issues such as democratic space, blasphemy and human rights violations by security forces are particularly targeted. The growing intolerance towards dissent and rising impunity has created a climate of fear, making it impossible for human rights defenders to carry out their legitimate work.  Earlier this month a senior journalist was shot by unidentified men.

Pakistan has long faced breakdowns in its democratic institutions and processes. If the media and human rights defenders are unable to contribute towards building a tolerant society, any progress that has been made will only be reversed. FORUM-ASIA and its member organizations thus urge the Government of Pakistan to immediately investigate into the killing of Mr. Rehman and and ensure that all those involved are held fully accountable with the full force of law.

Pakistani nation condemns the cold murder of human rights defender Rehman
Pakistani nation condemns this cold murder

Released by: Asian Forum for Human Rights of Development (FORUM-ASIA)

We, the peace hungry Pakistanis urge the Government of Pakistan to immediate arrest of the killers of Rashid Rehman.

His  life was a testament of true courage in face of threats and harassment. Prior to his death, he had made a formal written compliant to the police and the district bar association, this was also copied to all civil society organizations. It contained the details of the chilling threats and intimidation that he has received by five people during past days that urged him to drop the blasphemy case.

Note: At the time of his death, Rehman was defending the Bahaudin Zakaria University lecturer Junaid Hafeez,  accused of committing blasphemy. Previously, he also defended many minority community including Hindus and Christians and was an avid critic of the Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law problem.

Waves and Echoes Project|Amira Elwakil speaks at The Human Lens

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this truly fascinating story about an Egyptian woman and while googling further I stumbled upon this project Waves and Echoes. Needless to say I contacted the person behind it, and today we have Ms. Amira Elwakil, a British-Egyptian who’s lived most of their life between Egypt and the UK.

Currently, Elwakil is an English teacher and has previous experience of working on grass roots and communities projects. In her own words, she confesses to be very passionate about diversity, different people,  and inter-cultural dialogue. Today we have the pleasure of having her with us to discuss her brain-child project.

Saadia Haq: Amira, so Waves and Echoes project is your brain child? Tell us, how and why?

Amira Elwakil: From a very young age I became interested in what it means to be a woman. This, in turn, led me to becoming passionate about women’s rights. Over time, this passion grew as a result of exposure to sexism on a personal level, but also through stories of other women I came across.

Initially, the idea behind Waves and Echoes wasn’t a gender-specific one, however, with my growing interest in how Egyptian women perceive their gender, and with exposure to a lot of attacks on women in Egypt, I decided to focus it on women. The project aims to highlight diversity in background, something rarely appreciated by Egyptians themselves, and also diversity in definitions of what it means to be a woman.

Saadia Haq: Your focus is Egyptian women; tell us your experience of conducting one on one interviews’ with women?

Amira Elwakil: It really depends on the woman in question. I’ve had many women ever so nicely reject having an interview conducted. On the other hand, I’ve had women who were extremely enthusiastic about being interviewed and even pushed for the interview to take place sooner rather than later.

Then there’s the in-between, where some women were willing to take part but not be identifiable in the published story. Overall, it’s been easy, as it’s the nature of Egyptians to open up to you. It makes it easier that I’m a woman and I speak their language, of course. Some women that I’d never met before the interview cried to me, some told me about their deepest worries.

These interviews took place in these women’s houses or in cafes, and on most occasions it was combined with hospitality you expect from Egyptians. Many of these women appreciated being chosen for the project and thanked me for that. It’s been an amazing experience.

Saadia Haq: If you can share briefly the various diversities within Egyptian women that have come out of this project?

Amira Elwakil: The main one would be in defining what it means to be a woman. If you’re a highly educated Egyptian woman, then the answer is likely to be that the difference between men and women is purely biological, and, that life’s about complementing each other.

Whereas if you’re less educated, you’re more likely to believe that women are weaker than men and they’re limited with what they can do. Factors like having your own income and being able to move around freely help with shifting that perspective, though.

Saadia Haq: I have read your stories and its very evident that you yourself have been inspired by these women. Do you wish share some particular realization, conversation with any of them?

Amira Elwakil: The project title Waves and Echoes kind of captures this.

From a very early stage I realized that each woman has her own ‘feminist wave’ (if we think of feminism in terms of waves). For some women it’s education, for some others it’s work. It can also be equality, fighting female genital mutilation, or a peaceful household.

All of this taught me that in the discourse of women’s rights I need to remind myself of how what each woman wants in life and the changes (if any) she’d like to have can be different.

Saadia Haq: Egypt is fairly a traditional society, have there been some problems that you faced while trying to access their women to get their stories? If so please tell us how you were able to solve them

Amira Elwakil:  Oh yes! I’ve been refused a few times on the grounds that the women were scared of how they would be judged, or that their husbands disapproved of them being interviewed by a stranger.

I’ve managed to get some compromises in which I did not take photos, made stories anonymous, etc.  This is all part of what I’m trying to showcase through my project, of course.

Saadia Haq: What has been the readers’ response to the project, to women’s stories? Tell us what’s the current project activity keeping you busy?

Amira Elwakil: I’ve received a very positive response, and it is growing. For many women in Egypt, they see stories they can relate to, and I believe this is part of what I’m doing with the project (this is what ‘Echoes’ means in the title; women echoing each other’s problems or answers to problems). I’ve also been told that some of the stories aren’t representative of the particular group in question (e.g. Siwan women).

I understand that this is possibly the case, nevertheless, my project isn’t aimed at creating a full representation of one group; it’s about doing that for Egyptians as a whole (as best as I can, of course!) and recognizing that each individual story, regardless of how odd it may be, holds full significance.

I’m currently working on the remainder of the stories, and looking into the possibility of expanding the project further to include more stories from Egypt, or have a similar project for a different country. We’ll see! :)

Amira, its been a great pleasure to have you with us at the The Human Lens Blog! We wish you the very best in your endeavors. For those who wish to read about these amazing women captured through the project, please visit https://www.facebook.com/wavesandechoes

Western Women’s Ethnic Fetishes; seriously annoying cultural appropriation

Feminist Friday Dairies VI.

Bindi – a traditional Hindu symbol emblematic of female energy and clarity of the third eye, has become one of the leading fashion accessories among the Western music industry. Artists from Madonna to Lady Gaga (also suffering from Burka fetish), and Ketty Perry have all rocked this glittering accessory. The exotic look has been an attraction of appreciation as well as controversies. The “exotic look” has also been an attraction of appreciation as well as controversies. But, why controversies?

The issue of cultural appropriation pops up every time POC (people of color), including WOC (woman of color) watch music videos or gossip rag covers with white celebrity sporting a bindi, like Selena Gomez’s bindi sporting performance of the song “Come and Get It.” I mean, really, come and get you, at the expense of a religious symbol like bindi? In my work I listen to people, and I do listen when to people fuming and venting on such things.

For the most part, most westerners respond back saying, “Oh only POC can see something wrong in this” or” aren’t you glad that we are promoting your culture.”

Seriously. Shut Up.

Secondly, I never said this before, but I always had my inner reflections about this problem I have long faced while working with Western women that think that dressing up in Pakistani clothing at a party in Islamabad and gushing aloud “I am going ethnic and exotic as the same time” is really going to make me feel very nice. Over the years, my inner self start cringing at observing these type of scenes, for most part Pakistanis are very appreciate of westerners wanting to use our dressing, feet wear etc but not most know that most white westerners are doing it, while looking down upon us.

Don’t take me wrong, I don’t want to judge, as that’s not my job, but this type of behavior leaves me at unease. I don’t have any problems with people wearing whatever they want to wear, but I sincerely dislike this “mannerism and snobbery.” It sounds as if a white woman is telling me, “Hey Saadia, see I am endorsing these colorful ethnic clothing.” I don’t want to translate, but it does kind of sound more like, “I-white-endorse-brown-clothing-to-exaltation.” Umm?

Western celebrities and Western women (have to clarify – white) really need to learn the difference between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation. Seriously, please refrain from this type of nonsense and do not expect that your blatant condescension will make either myself me or other WOC, happy.

Using bindi, the skinny bodies doing belly dancing (another cultural appropriation, but will address this another time) clearly shows the Western attempts to colonize a particular object or religious artifact for their own purposes. Attitudes like those of Western women clearly show the white privilege exacerbation by making people feel entitled to westernize non-white cultures. 

And no, please be clear that none of your need our validation and none of us asked for your stupid mockery of bindi, belly dance, semi-nude sari clad bodies either.The problem is clear in white people’s brain whose appropriation of eastern culture, comes across as a supremacy tactic to validate our backwardness, our lowliness.

I am so thoroughly fed up of it, I never asked to be on the receiving end of this nonsense so please don’t jump on your high white horse to write me hate messages and mails.

I also understand that a big reason why cultural appropriation would seem something from far far far from this galaxy because the reality is that Westerners are used to pressing their own culture onto others and taking what they want in return. A majority of Western people think this is cultural exchange. In reality, this is the typical behavior of westerners who while pressuring us to adopt their ideals will make away with stealing ours.

What cultural exchange is not is the usual process of “Here’s my culture, how I will have a piece of your’s.” There no mutual understand and fairness in that, or is there?

So called ethnic hairstyles of long braided hair are stigmatized as unprofessional but international models from time to time appear in those on ramps and the covers of fashionistas rags. Using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy personal needs of self-expression and gains is an exercise in privilege. And you know, am calling you on your own shit, the white privilege here.

In corporate world, ethnic clothing is forbidden, but wearing their bastardized versions on parties are fun. I want to see where the exchange, understanding or respect in all these cases is – I see only taking.

Anyways I want to draw my conclusion here, so this is it. Women of color representing diverse countries are I repeat are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not mere bindis, burkas and waist bands on saris. We are human beings. And, ultimately, my question is this: Why does a white woman’s need to look exotic have to happen on the backs of Women of Color?

 

In conversation with an American Convert to Islam, Part II

Thanks for joining us back, with Theresa Corbin; the founder of Islamwich blog-site and an American convert to Islam. We continue our conversation on her life as a Muslim and in particular women rights in Islam, her rights as a Muslim American woman and use of hijab etc. 

Saadia Haq: How easy or difficult is for you to take on certain aspects of practical life as a Muslim, e.g. the daily prayers, fasting etc.?

Theresa Corbin: Since I converted in the beginning of Ramadan, I was instructed to begin fasting right off the bat and that was extremely hard for me considering my untrained stomach did not take it well. But luckily it was in a month where the days were relatively short, so I didn’t die lol. The salat was only difficult for me to institute in my life because in most places in the West, if you are away from home, it’s difficult to find clean, safe space for praying and not get noticed by curious onlookers. A new convert, I was naturally shy and felt I was not strong enough to just pray wherever I was and not care what people thought. So I did the best I could and made up my salat when I missed.

Other stuff like thikr and not eating pork and so on, were bit easier as I was already implementing them into my life way before I took my shahada, so it wasn’t hard at all to live the Muslim life. I think the slow and steady implementation of religious duties is integral to steadfastness. Islam was not revealed in a day and no convert should be expected to hit the ground running when they have just recently learned about the concept of walking.

Saadia Haq: If you don’t mind me saying this, I do think that whoever suggested fasting right off the conversion did a huge injustice to you and to the real message of Islam through Ramadan. My knowledge off-course comes from teachings of progressive scholars tells that new coverts should spend minimum a year or so settling into their new faith before starting to observe fasting. But coming back to my next query, On Muslim Attire? Usually American converts have been facing backlash in particular if it’s a woman convert, throw in the fact that many new Muslim covert women choose hijab. Please elaborate the struggles you’re facing in this regard.

Theresa Corbin: Many American people just assume that I am an Arab women, and treat me as such. When I tell people that I am actually American, they will still not believe me. They say yeah, we are all American, but where are your parents from?! And then I have to give them my ancestry (I am half French and half any other kind of European you can imagine). For most people, when you tell them you converted to Islam and wear the head scarf, this blows their minds.

Many Americans cannot fathom that you have chosen a religion for your life that is not a part of your culture. So it is jut easier to let people assume what they want about my ethnicity or race and give them a card to my blog. I can blow their mind more effectively through my blog. ;)

Because of my choice to wear hijab and to be identifiably Muslim in the West, I have had some pretty rough experiences. When I lived in Savanah, Georgia, perfect strangers would curse at me; call me names and spit at me on a regular basis. There was an atmosphere of hatred. The masjid in Savannah was even burnt down.

When I lived in Mobile, Alabama, I had an egg thrown at me while I was walking in my neighborhood. I would also get lots of snide, passive aggressive comments and hateful stares daily. At one point there was a rumor spreading through the city that it was legal to shoot (yes, shoot with a gun!) a Muslim if you saw them in public!

Now that I am back home in New Orleans, Louisiana, people are super chill and accepting.

Saadia Haq: Oh dear, I can only be awed at your courage to withstand such negativity from your own community. Tell me, post conversion, you would have also borne the racist and superiority complex attitudes of Muslims born into the faith. What do you have to say about this?

Theresa Corbin: For sure, there is the suspicion that any convert is actually a FBI or CIA spy. And then there are a lot of Arabs who consider non-Arabs to be misappropriating Islam. This issue not only affects converts but also Muslims who come from any other part of the world, and causes a great division amongst Muslim communities. Then there are those who cannot disentangle their cultural from their Islam and think converts are not really practicing because we don’t wear their ethnic dress or cook the kinds of food cooked “back home” in their countries!

Then there is the whole all white people are evil complex some people who come from previously colonized nations have. Not to mention how some born Muslims treat African-American converts like something they found under their shoe!

It can be an incredible maze of racism, history, politics and nationalistic pride for even the most educated converts to find their way through right away. It took me years to understand why so and so from India never returned my Islamic greeting “salam” or why some sisters from Palestine always looked sideways at me. As a community, the Muslims have SOOOOO much baggage. We need to let it go, assume the best of each other, and forget racism and nationalist pride or we will continue to hold ourselves back.

Saadia Haq: You have chosen to wear the hijab, but there are many Muslim women who don’t wear the hijab either in America or in Islamic countries. What’s your reaction to that, would you have a problem with being around and interacting with the non-hijab wearers?

Theresa Corbin: I absolutely have no problem with women making a choice to or not to wear hijab. Why would I? To me, it is just a detail on which many Muslims and non-Muslims fixate. Everyone has their opinion on how a woman should cover her body, but no one’s opinion matters except that woman’s. It is between her and Allah. Lol, am talking with one right now too.. ;-)

It really makes me mad that some communities treat non-hijabis like pariahs because of their choice to not wear hijab; this is another way to control women. I feel that this is totally illogical to shun member of community over a piece of cloth.

Saadia Haq: Since I am not a convert whose neither in your shoes and neither will I presume that I know how it is for you. So please elaborate on what you think can help bridge the gap between Muslim converts and those born into the faith?

Theresa Corbin: Extricating our various cultures from our practice of Islam will help bridge the gap. This is not to say that we should get rid of our cultures, there are wonderful practices within culture that we should totally keep. But there are also practices that we need to banish from the face of the earth. We need to know the difference between culture and Islam and put Islam first.

We must take a page from the first hijrah. We need to look at how the Ansar and the Muhajirun treated each other in Medina, and model our lives after these sahabee.

Saadia Haq: How are you translating this learning and empowerment into your work, please share with our readers.

Theresa Corbin: As I said earlier, I considered how the reader might take it. It is easier said than done to extricate culture from religion. And it sounds like a fairy tale to ask 25% of the world’s population (the Muslim population) to be critical of their culture for the betterment of their faith and to bridge the gap with other Muslims. But in the blog, Islamwich my contributors and I try to show our audience how we have done just that and how other converts do it every day. So if we can do it, we hope to show others that they can too.

However, Islamwich has way bigger goals that this! We, also hope to bridge the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim sides. We try to show, though our experiences, that being Muslim doesn’t mean being evil or impossibly rigid or angry. And similarly we try to show that not everything and everyone American is evil, loose or hedonistic. We offer a door between two worlds that (spoiler alert) turn out to be the same world.

Saadia Haq: Considering that you are amazing strong Muslim woman yourself, what is in store in the future, for Islam in particular Muslim women? Where you see yourself within this?

Theresa Corbin: There is a new generation of Muslims that are educated; social, politically and religiously aware; motivated and interconnected. It is my hope that this new generation takes it in its hands to change things for the better and in particular rid the Islamic world of the oppression that women face. You see, a better future for Muslim women means a better future for the Ummah.

And to that sentiment, I have been working on a series for my blog entitled “Take Back Islam” in which I discuss oppression of women that goes on under the name of Islam. I hope to make people aware that these practices such as rape punished as zina, female circumcision, honor killings and so on have nothing to do with Islam and in fact they are culture that has been pawned off as religion. I hope that if more and more people can become aware of these human rights disasters are un-Islamic we can take the legitimacy of religion away from those who institute these oppressive customs. And wherever and in whatever capacity this takes me, I am willing to go.

Take Back Islam Series can be found at http://islamwich.com/2014/04/10/its-time-to-take-back-our-religion

Theresa, thanks so much for taking out time to speak at “The Human Lens” we have thoroughly enjoyed having you here. Here’s wishing you the very best in the future endeavors!

 

In conversation with an American Convert to Islam, Part I

Native New Orleanian and Muslim convert Theresa Corbin, is an established author and social media practitioner. In her literary work, the focus is strong on themes of conversion, integration, societal stereotyping, bridging gaps between cultures and religions. Additionally, she is a well established blogger and you can visit her site for more: Islamwich

Saadia Haq: What religion were you affiliated with before your conversion? How practicing were you in this faith and how much did it mean to you?

Theresa Corbin: I was raised Catholic and as a child I took my religion very seriously (I was a serious kid). I went to mass every Sunday. I participated in the choir, the church youth group and was sincerely concerned about the state of my soul. But as I got older and learned more about the world, I began to wonder if Catholicism was the end all be all of truth. I had suspicions that the divinity of Jesus was a lie and at the age of 17 I became an agnostic on a search for truth.

Saadia Haq: What was your perception of Islam before you began studying more about it?

Theresa Corbin: I hadn’t heard of such a thing, even history classes missed out imparting information about the Islamic world, modern and ancient. Later, I realized I was not the only one to have this unique experience; this was and continues to be a part of public school policy that considers Eastern history is not part of “our” history here in the West as if one doesn’t affect the other *rolls eyes*. The media portrayal bordered on Eastern things to be exotic – as if worthy of a zoo exhibit—or backward—especially that which pertains to women. I felt pretty angry and brainwashed once I learned about the other half of humanity.

Saadia Haq: What actually sparked your interest in Islam? And the process of converting to Islam?

Theresa Corbin: Loaded question! I cannot sum it into a few words, as it was a long and twisting road spanning several years, at University my roommate and I began a series of soul-searching debates about religion, culture, gender, universal truth, and the reality of life and death. We talked/argued about what it meant to be white, American, female and Western.

We became critical and resentful of all that our society told us we had to be and all the negative ways our society viewed the “other”. These discussions included a lot of research into culture, religion, gender roles, etc. After about a year of searching and debating and learning and taking classes, my roommate’s path lead her to Islam, and I considered Judaism as a way to get back to the original revelation of God. As she learned about her faith she shared her knowledge and experiences with me. What I learned about what a Muslim man should be really appealed to me in the face of so much male disrespect, objectification, sexual harassment and assault of women that goes on. I saw my roommate’s life change and saw how she lost friends and struggled with family, but stayed firm in her belief. I was very moved by her conviction, strength and dedication to her faith.

As months and years went by she continued to explain Islam to me as she learned it. Until one road trip to our home town, a two-hour drive from the university, she explained the lineage of the Prophets (AS). She described how God sent Prophets and people kept changing their message. She described how all the Prophets came with the same message: worship One God, do good works, and so on. And that the last Prophet, Muhammad (SAWS), came with the same message as Jesus, Abraham, Moses etc.

This one conversation about prophet-hood changed my life. I realized that Judaism wasn’t getting back to the original faith as revealed by God. It had been too long and people had changed the religion beyond recognition. Christianity had the same problem, and I had long since rejected the doctrine of Jesus as God. It all clicked. Islam was the most recent correction of mankind.

As she talked about the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) I flashed back to a time in grammar school when we were being taught about the people of Noah and how they rejected his message and were destroyed. It was in this lesson that I made a very sincere prayer to God to allow me to follow his prophets when they came to mankind because I feared that I would be like the disbelievers in Noah. It seemed too easy to write off a man of God as insane. I was about 8 years old, but I prayed with my whole little mind, body and soul as hard as I could to be guided if another Prophet came. Flashing forward to that point in that conversation in the car with my roommate, I realized that Prophet was Muhammad (SAWS). The prayer I had made when I was 8 was being answered.

I then lived as a closeted Muslim, fearing the backlash I saw my roommate go through. I believed in the message but I don’t take the statement of faith publicly. I finally said my shahada in the beginning of Ramadan of 2001.

Saadia Haq: How did your choice to become a Muslim affect your relationship with family and friends?

Theresa Corbin: Most relationships were strained. Only knowing what the media had told them about Islam, my friends and family were concerned and confused by my choice, especially since this was post 9/11. But—with the exception of a few disowning me, which has been very painful—they have learned and been very open, accommodating, and all around amazing.

Saadia Haq: Learning to live as a Muslim is a life time process regardless of being born into the faith or converting, but if you could share how did you learn to live as a Muslim?

Theresa Corbin: This was a time when YouTube and online support for converts was nonexistent. Children’s books on salat, wudu, the sirah, the quran, etc. were really the only source of info for new converts at the time (at least that I knew about). But I had my old roommate (who had moved by this point, but was a phone call away) to ask questions as they came up and the sisters in my community to teach me wudu, salat, fatiha. It was a slow process, but every time I prayed alone I had my salah book with me and tried to bend my body to match the pictures. I read nonstop, mostly books that were over my head. But I didn’t let that stop me. When I moved to Mobile, AL shortly after I converted, I was given total access to a library of Islamic books and I read and read and read.

I had no idea that becoming Muslim would turn into a new quest to figure out what kind of Muslim I was going to be. I was influenced by many different groups of people and many different books. After years and years of wading through culture, politics, history and sects I realized that I was just Muslim, no fancy modifier needed.

Saadia Haq: Who or what was most helpful to you in this?

Theresa Corbin: As soon as the word spread (like lightning) that a new convert was in the area—I lived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the time where I attended university—I received emails and messages on my voice mail from sisters in my town welcoming me and inviting me to the masjid, to lunch and the Muslim Student Association.

I was brought into their circle with open arms and taught many of the essentials. I thought I had a pretty good base of knowledge about Islam from my lessons with my former roommate, but I was wrong. I really owe a debt to these amazing women. Once I moved to Mobile, I clung to books. I devoured sirah, tafser, hadith. Any book translated into English, and any book teaching Arabic to English speakers, I read it.

Keep look out as the “Human Lens” brings the Part II of Theresa Corbin’s journey to Islam and self discovery in the coming days.

Its time to Bring Back Our Girls, together we!

#bringbackourgirls, a global campaign demanding the immediate release of over 200 kidnapped school girls that were taken away from the Chibok secondary school in northern Nigeria by the militant group; Boko Haram.

The Nigerian government and world powers have been slow in taking action for the recovery of the girls. And once again, its time for human rights defenders and common people to pressure these stake holders. Let’s engage our solidarity to stand together in this very crucial movement to #bringbackourgirls.

As many human rights groups have come together in these past days, I urge you to please  take action NOW. One way to go about it is by doing this work  keeping the Nigerian people’s dignity and democracy in tact. The mission is simple: #bringbackourgirls, NOW.

We don’t need war, we don’t need military bravado, imperialism or political agendas, we need restorative justice and long-term solutions that are Afro-centric.

  • And those interested in engaging social media networks can express their solidarity and support at the twitter handle: twitter.com/ifenkili20.

To you, the person reading this, we thank you for signing AND we ask you to share AND encourage networks and friends to sign and share. Everyday until they are home. Those girls are our girls too.

LET’S GET THEM HOME!

 

Pakistan Women Battle on; Sexual Harrasment at Work Place

“Where are you, mere ‘jan’? I am still waiting for you.”

This Sms is not from a fiancé, husband or boyfriend. My female colleague received this from her another male colleague at our department.  A couple of minutes passed with disbelief but it turned into anger and she replied, “Dimagh thek hai (Are you in your senses?) What is this nonsense?”

His utter astonishment was reflected into…. “Err… Is mein kya ha?’(What’s wrong in this SMS?)

This irresponsible response indicates the casual behavior depicted by most Pakistani men towards women, in particular their female colleagues. A country where thousands of working women are harassed on a daily basis by their male colleagues, such incidents are part of the women’s life struggles. Let’s not kid ourselves and deny that none of us have been through it, it’s just that for a variety of  reasons we don’t create a ruckus.

Pakistan, where sexual harassment like many other issues in a huge taboo within the society and even today gathering authentic data is difficult. According to national non-governmental organizations approximately seventy percent of working women face sexual harassment at work places, ranging from minor to disturbingly major incidents.

Mostly women prefer to stay silent and bear such difficult workplace situations. This is due to many reasons. In Pakistan, working women who do not properly cover their head and chests with a shawl are considered “easy to approach” and “broadminded,” a male prejudice which will still take decades to change. But on the other hand, the so-called modest dressing and covering of head is no protection against incidents of sexual harassment. All this is said and done, repeatedly.

Then there are bizarre stereotypes of the types of work, women choose or end up doing. For instance, even today female NGO workers and women in media/ and journalists (including myself) have to listen that we are “loose women” carrying out western agenda etc etc. Those in  teaching and nursing profession are considered more respectable, like those in agricultural fields but frankly its just way too complex.

All of us are well-aware how our own society allows in letting men get away from taking responsibility of harassing an innocent. Most of the times, the affected woman fear that reporting the crime would end up badly, as “she would be blamed for luring the man.”

Come to think of this, most of my own conversations with my female colleagues on this topic focused more on attention on our dress and attire as compared to what a sleazy pervert ending up doing. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I say this, but this happenes becayuse we all knew how important it was to “publicly confirm that we were modestly covered and not sending out any suggestive signals.”

When faced with harsh society as ours, what else can women do?Rest assured we are not exactly silent; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fouzia_Saeed

Recently, there has been some attention drawn to this long-standing issue that women face at workplaces and at other institutions. The oddity highlights that the mainstream working society in Pakistan is still not accustomed to working with female colleagues. Be it working in a restaurant, a multinational organization, an advertising agency or in a newspaper, women are usually the butt of jokes.

However, the issue is not just that men are estranged from the concept of having to work with women but their blatant mentality that clearly endorses the harassing of women. This problem is deep-rooted and nearly every third man working with women considers it a form of recreation rather than a crime. This goes deeper in male psyche for sure.

“I was 22 when I did my first internship at a foreign bank in Karachi. My first work experience in the corporate world included a boss who would pass sexual remarks at me in front of all the colleagues. At the most, some people giggled at him”, says creative executive *Soofia Asad. Last year she was forced to quit from her position as a Creative Director from a well-known advertising agency for reporting against the harassment she faced there. Moreover, her organization failed to take any action. All she got was a lame apology and to add injury to insult she was told to apologize for instigating this incident.

Shamefully, the legislation to protect women against harassment at the workplace is only three years old, as  previously Pakistan royally ignored the problem. Finally, in 2010, after much debate and opposition to protection of women through enacting of anti-harassment legislation, Government of Pakistan finally got its act together.

Nonetheless, now that the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 by parliament is in place, those in the corridors of power, as well as employers and institutions, should work to make the law accessible to employees in the workplace.

In a historic move, the previous Government also amended the section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code. Now it clearly defines harassment and includes harassment at workplace as well. It has also raised the maximum punishment for perpetrator from one to three years.

Further more, under section 509 of Pakistan Penal Code, insulting the modesty of women or sexually harassing them, is a crime. The perpetrator of this crime may be punished with imprisonment, which may extend to 3 years or fine up to PKR 500,000 (5 lakh) or with both.While critics lament that this  crime is still bailable and compoundable (parties can settle the case between themselves even when matter is in the court, after permission of the court). I would say this is still a victory of some sorts for the Pakistani women and all those who have lobbied and struggled for it, including men and women rights groups. This all has become a reality thanks to Pakistani icon Dr. Fouzia Saeed and rights activists.

A journalism-student 21-year old Saman* says that “This is a good move on part of government to secure women safety in public spheres.” But this does not help her situation much. She adds that her “family won’t permit her to join media industry because wahan ka mahol acha nahi hai (the media industry atmosphere is not good).

Saman’s family has a valid point because pursuing a career as a journalist would mean letting her work night shifts, using public transport to come home after sunset and being in a male-dominated profession.

Myself whose been in journalism for some 15 years  working in and out of field, many a times late nights or staying away from home for days and days, understand very well the fear of her parents. I, twice also quit my job in two organizations because none of the managers (some were women) would take any action against those corporate sleaze. But this story is not about the unpleasant harassment that I face in my journalistic career, so lets come back to the issue.

In all this, it would be unfair to not tell you what the general Pakistani men think about the  tabooed problem of harassment faced by women?

Musician and instruments’ mentor Imran Elahi Malik feels the need of a secure compliant system that is easily accessible as compared to the old-age solution of seeking police assistance by reporting the incident. He adds that, “It’s futile to expect that an affected woman will walk into a police station to report an incident that occurred at work, because the mind-set of men at her workplace and at police stations is the same.”

With stronger legislation into place and the realization that working women’s security is not a given, in November 2013, the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat (FOS) for Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace has launched the official website and Complaint Management Information System (CMIS). The inaugural ceremony was organized by FOS with its partner International Labor Organization (ILO) in Islamabad. At the occasion, Federal Ombudsman against Harassment Justice (R) Yasmin Abbasey said “We should think how the harassment could be eliminated from the institutions to foster a culture of respect, raise the comfort level of all working persons and ensure healthy environment.”

Workplace harassment is an issue, which is suffered by many women but is not reported amid fears punishment by the employer, resulting in loss of job for the woman. But with the new CMIS system, working women can report their problems to FOS and can get justice within days.

With a background of music industry, Imran Elahi Malik is aware of the tabooed issue of harassment women are faced with, on a daily scale. He like many other responsible young men in Pakistan have come out with full support of the newly launched system saying “Finally mistreated women can register their complaints in a confidential manner in a country where sexual abuse and harassment is widespread and usually ignored, where women are often too embarrassed or shy to point out such criminal behavior, and where blaming the victim is commonplace. Hopefully this will be a good first step towards helping victims of such abuse.”

I don’t want to sound like am whining about the big bad wolves, because not all men are alike. For each sleaze that women encounter at work places, most women have also had full-scale support from men like Malik and thus I cannot finish this blog without thanking them for standing up for us, or listening to us or giving us advice and just being a great big  to women at their workplaces. And yes, I too have my share of having some great men that have been instrumental in walking the path that I walk.

Although Pakistan has a long way to go, but stricter legislation and establishment of a secure complaint system will surely ensure increase of women in working spheres. And like other rights activists I feel that the real battle is to change the over-all attitudes in Pakistan’s male-dominated society.This is slow, but not impossible.

* Names of the interviewed women have been changed to protect their privacy.

Papuan Voices| Letter to a Soldier

 

The Human Lens Blog is having a “Solidarity Week with West Papua and Papuans”, earlier we spoke with rights activist and film maker Wensie Fatuben, about his video advocacy project and today we bring you the story of a West Papuan woman.

Love Letter to the Soldier is a video letter from a Papuan woman to an Indonesian soldier who was once based in her village on the PNG-Indonesian border, begging him to return to meet their three-year-old daughter. Samsul had courted Maria Goreti Mekiw, visiting her house every day and giving gifts of biscuits and milk until the two started a relationship.

Back then Maria was a high school student and the TNI soldier seemed “polite and kind.” Samsul left when she was five months pregnant and now their daughter is three years old. But, alone — Maria continues to wait to hear any news from Samsul, while people seek answers about her daughter’s father.

It has been produced by Director Wenda Tokomonowir as part of the Papuan Voices project. Let’s watch this very sensitive and powerful video with its English sub-titles.

For more, please log on to the Papuan Voices website link at http://www.papuanvoices.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/english_love2.pdf

Let’s support, Free West Papua campaign!!

Sources: http://www.papuanvoices.net

Free Papua CAMPAIGN| In conversation with a Papuan Activist

WEST PAPUA - Province of Indonesia
WEST PAPUA – Province of Indonesia

More than often, Indonesia is referred as a peaceful paradise on earth. The Republic of Indonesia is a sovereign democracy, but let’s divulge deeper to see what ‘democracy’ looks like in modern-day Indonesia? Behind closed doors, in reality Indonesia is – committing genocide in West Papua. Since more than 4 decades, over 500,000 innocent people have already been killed.

West Papua continues to stay under the horrific Indonesian colonial rule of a land that has been the paradise and playground for the West. This genocide continues with international backing from the Australian government that trains Indonesian military, in order to carry out a more efficient genocide in West Papua.

The international media and human rights groups are barred from entering West Papua and those who raise voices and fight for freedom are at a huge risk.

But this does not stop the daring filmmaker Wensi Fatubun, from West Papua from informing the world about these atrocities.

In his own words, Wensi says, “I am often called a separatist, an enemy, but that does not stop me from raising my voice against the injustices.” Before he even became an activist, Wensi lost several friends who were tortured and interrogated by Indonesia army personnel on suspicions of their involvement into the separatist movement.

Wensi also trains young people to make documentaries and use audio-visual techniques to advocate for the rights of the Papuan people.

Saadia Haq: Please tell us about your video project the Papuan Voices and your own role in making documentaries through it?

Wensi Fatubun: As you are aware, that West Papua is fighting for its independence – but what else goes on there? How often do we hear directly from the Papuans themselves about life in Indonesia’s most secretive province?

Papuan Voices project is a combination of empowerment and production. I teach Papuan activists new video production and distribution skills so that they have the means to tell their own stories to the world. The most unusual aspect is that the stories we tell are not just framed around West Papua’s political struggle for independence. Now, you would be wondering why this is important. It’s because of the simple fact, that when a Papuan man punches an Indonesian soldier who has assaulted his sister, more often than not that man will be branded a “separatist” by the press and Indonesian authorities. The assaulter-soldier will walk free while the Papuan will be charged with serious offenses against the State. These kinds of injustices occur daily in Papua and a lack of understanding about the issues affecting Indonesia’s poorest citizens works to entrench the problem.

The Papuan Voices overcomes political, geographical and financial barriers – as well as lack of technology – to bring important Papuan stories to the world. In doing so, it shines light on the injustices that regularly occur behind the closed doors of this resource-rich and restive province.

Saadia Haq: What’s the importance of Free Papua Campaign and what it could mean for the people of West Papua? 

Wensi Fatubun: Free West Papua Campaign is an initiative of young intellectuals Papuan for support a liberation movement of oppression Indonesia. For Papuans, this campaign is a movement to share the experience of living in oppression and occupation by Indonesia. This conflict remains largely concealed from the global attention, despite decades of hostility and violence, the West Papuans’ demands for justice received very little global attention.

Papuan Voices: Video shoot with activists
Papuan Voices: Video shoot with activists

Papuan Voices aims to bring the everyday stories of West Papuans to a wider audience. These are not isolated to just conflict issue, rather they bring to the surface the human stories, the faces, the voices, the unheard screams of the people who are caught within this ongoing conflict. As I said, the stories show how the affected people are struggling for their rights for education, environment, equality and most importantly – dignity.

Saadia, you also have to take into account that our stories are not framed around the political struggle of West Papua, they show the importance and need for an end to this conflict so the coming generations can have what we didn’t have till now. Additionally, we also cover a wide-scale of local injustices occurring in Papua and trying to inform the audiences’ the complexities affecting Indonesia’s poorest citizens.

I cannot stress more on the very fact that “Papuan Voices is a cultural struggle.”

We want people to see Papua through the eyes of the Papuans themselves.

And I want people know about Papua through the eyes of Papuans.

Saadia Haq: What are some of the problems in Papua you would like to highlight?

Wensi Fatubun: I would like to highlight “right to self-determination and right to freedom of expression and opinion issues.”

The international media and humanitarian organizations are barred from entering West Papua and in the absence of humanitarian support on ground; Papuan Voices is trying to remedy the gap by giving a platform to the people’s voices and their demands for self-determination and right of freedom.

This project is a multifaceted project covering a range of political and geographical barriers – as well as lack of technology – to bring important Papuan stories to the world. In doing so, it shines light on the injustices that regularly occur behind the closed doors of this resource-rich and restive province.

Saadia Haq: Why do you keep continuing this (fight) despite the dangers?

Wensi Fatubun: Because this is a humanitarian struggle, I work with the indigenous Papuans to speak the truth of their lives, to bring their issues and problems that are unknown to the outside world.

The struggles of indigenous Papauans keeps me going on, I see this on a daily basis and I know that I have to continue doing what I am.

Saadia Haq: How can we support you, what advice you would give to our readers?

Wensi Fatubun: I want you to come join this fight with the Papuans. I will appreciate you and others to join our efforts and struggles, make a choice to stand with the most vulnerable people of today’s times and find together we can pave a path for freedom.

Wensi Fatubun, thank you so much for joining us at “The Human Lens” Blog. We wish you the very best and ensure you of our solidarity.

For the readers interested in knowing about the Papuans Voices project, please visit: papuanvoices.net and http://www.engagemedia.org/Projects/papuanvoices

Yemeni Political Activist Najla Alshami fights on

A political science graduate of the Sana’a University, Yemen, 23-year old Najla Yahya Mohammed Alshami is a unique young woman. She spent her earlier life in United Arab Emirates and returned to Yemen in 2009. Since  then she’s been fighting a mufti-faced battle on several grounds. Currently, she’s working on women’s political rights and participation in the electoral process.

Saadia Haq: Najla tell us how you did you evolve into women rights issues, was it a combination of your personal experiences that promoted you? What would you say has been instrumental in your work?

 Najla Alshami: Well, I didn’t think much about this topic before arriving to Yemen, but things changed overnight as it was a huge shock and I felt that I was fighting with everyone I met on women’s status and right… finally violation of my rights in name of traditions led me to join the women rights movement. My family was immediately affected by societal pressure to marry me off (then I was only 19), they were brainwashed to  think that giving me freedom of choices was against Yemeni society. I struggled to attend college, not cover my face, my right of choosing my spouse, to think differently from my family, even to read political and literal books. I then chose political science as my major in college to learn more about the country’s politics and human rights history and to gain the knowledge needed for my future job as an activist. I was and still determined to make a change in women and human rights in Yemen.

Saadia Haq: In 2009, the US launched missile strikes against Al Qaeda in Yemen, followed by the 2011 unrest during the Yemen Arab Spring. Did you take part in these protests?

 Najla Alshami: Initially I didn’t know of them, because freedom of speech was restricted and media worked in sporadic ways, but then I started learning more. Public reactions were mixed, some people welcomed the strikes while had no choice but to stay silent. Yemeni government justified the death of civilians during these strikes with the excuse of terrorism and fighting Al Qaeda. I recall one famous story about Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who was jailed in 2011 for doing a report on the truth about an American missiles strike claimed to be Yemeni strike on the village of al Majala in Yemen’s southern Abyan province which took place on 17th Dec 2009. Shaye was charged with working as a media adviser for al-Qaeda. It was confirmed later that US President Obama called former Yemeni president Saleh to “express concern” over his release. President Hadi released him in 2013 after rising tremendous public pressure.  http://www.pri.org/stories/2012-04-06/prominent-yemeni-journalist-lands-jail-us-wants-him-stay-there

The protests of 2011 I recall vividly I was able to participate in only two of them, because relatives found out and I was locked inside home for 8-9 months.  My father was also in Yemen at the time, for his reasons, he was against them. The hype around women’s participation in the protests were scandalized, people spread rumors that women and girls were raped and deserved it for they were morally corrupt to come out on roads in particular at Change Square (the protesters’ center) so families would forbid their women from participating. My fiance was there but I didn’t have any news of him. I was abandoned from TV channels and newspapers that supported the protesters against the regime. However, my mother managed to smuggle some papers from time to time and my grandmother would let me use her phone secretly sometimes to check on my groups to stay updated with ongoing revolution. It was psychologically the roughest time of my life especially with the complete absence of electricity, oil, gas and water.

Saadia Haq:  Having faced these harsh circumstances and events, do  you feel that they have affected rights of Yemeni women?

 Najla Alshami: These events have affected the rights of Yemeni women positively. Now, stakeholders can’t exclude women from any activity or position because women have gained the courage and the knowledge required to fight for their rights. The situation is much better for women from elite classes, but generally Yemeni women have a historic opportunity to fix their position on political, economic and social levels. Still there a long way before we defeat the deep rooted-traditional mindsets about women in our society which limits us to certain domestic rules and classifies us a taboo subject and a source of shame.

Saadia Haq: Do you think that the continued unrest in your country is due to the deadly combination of poverty, militancy and bad governance? Do you think there are also external factors affecting Yemen’s progress, if yes how so?

Najla Alshami: Yes, I believe that it’s a blend of internal and external forces that are at work for the slow progress in Yemen. The most dangerous factors in my opinion are the economic and military supporting internal terrorism which supports Saudia Arabia and western States to cover up their real intentions of interfering in Yemen. Also, the Iranian existence through Al Houthi group is destabilizing security and affecting negatively on the political process. You see, Yemen’s Geo-political position leaves it vulnerable to external attempts for controlling its resources way too easily.

Unfortunately, I can confirm that there are national parties complicit with the outside world to achieve foreign agenda at the expense of Yemen’s interests.

 Saadia Haq:  One of the biggest women rights problem is the child marriage issue,  even now the “Legal marriage age of 9 for females” holds true?

Najla Alshami: Yes, it’s true, however it is now done without alarming NGOs and activists, like underground ways. Government has not done anything to legally stop it because Islamists officials and Islamists parties are aborting any effort to issue a legislation that aims to determine a certain age of marriage. But more people are aware of the dangers and have started reporting it. The most recent activity on this subject is a campaign called “The national Campaign to Save Wardah: Underage Marriage” which aims to claim the implementation of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference outcomes and constitutional recommendations on Underage Marriage. (PS: Wardah means Rose)

Saadia Haq: Tell us what in your opinion is responsible for the challenging situation of women and the reasoning behind marrying little girls off? Is this due to tribal custom or Islam and or if it’s a combination of both?

Najla Alshami: Islam has absolutely nothing to do with any human rights violation done under its name. Yemeni people use Islam as an excuse to justify their actions and they customize Quran verses’ interpretation to serve their interests. So, the real reasons behind marrying little girls are tribal customs and poverty.

Tribal customs say that in order to preserve girls’ honor they should be married at early ages. Girls are still considered a shameful burden in mist tribal and rural settings. Also, girls are a source of wealth for poor families which use the customs of bride price and dowry to marry off their girls to rich men even at very little age in order to gain money. Instead of giving this money to their daughter, its goes  directly to the girl’s father, brother or uncle and it’s taboo for her to claim it.

Saadia Haq: As we are on the topic of Muslim women in Yemen, is veiling a political issue in your country? You don’t cover your face and observe a head scarf right? What are the reactions of people around you?

Najla Alshami:No, I wouldn’t say that veiling is a political issue in Yemen. It is a huge issue but not really political. I don’t cover my face, I just wear a head scarf and people reactions are not positive at all. It is hard enough to walk the streets while you’re veiled and it’s even harder to walk it with your face uncovered. People think I’m an easy target just because I’m not putting a veil on my face and many think that an uncovered face means a lack of morality. My family receives criticism all the time about the fact that I, my mother, and sisters have all uncovered faces.

Saadia Haq: Has this choice created problems in your work, or when you are in public during field visits, do you feel intimidated or harassed by people?

Najla Alshami: At work, it’s very easy for men to approach and speak to me because am uncovered. They see I or other uncovered faced women are easy prey so they allow themselves  to violate all the drawn lines by Islam, traditions and work environment. Work verbal and sexual harassment’ rates are high between women who don’t cover their faces.

These harassment reach a point where the victimized woman is blackmailed by her harasser. However, a harassed woman can’t spell a word to her family, her employer or the police because traditions will never consider her a victim and society will ruin her reputation, but mainly because law doesn’t protect women from sexual and verbal harassment.

For me, it’s always hard and uncomfortable in work and in the field. I feel unprotected, targeted and judged. But I am way too strong to let this get in the way of my ambitions.

Saadia Haq: Why do you think this attitude exists not only in Yemen, but also most other Muslim countries? How can this change?

Najla Alshami: Yes its true, this is a huge problem with the Islamic world, my logic says it’s the lack and absence of moralities and virtues. Unfortunately, our Muslim societies became corrupted which affects families, the base of any society. Values and good manners don’t matter to our people anymore. For example, because of poverty a person can kill and rape and the same applies on rich people who live for their lusts only.

How can we change this? It is difficult if not impossible. People say that in order to stop harassment women should not wear attractive clothes, mingle with men or even go out their houses. They never say men should be more civilized and mannered! I believe that the only solution is to find methods and ways to re-implement values ​​and ethics among our young people or else every generation will continue passing its moral corruption and its stereotyped thoughts of women to the next generation.

Saadia Haq: Please tell our readers what are you currently working on?

Najla Alshami: Currently Yemen is going through a critical process in which everything is re-shaped: country’s form, constitution …etc. Thus, I’m focusing on the Equal Citizenship subject to be enrolled in the upcoming constitution. It includes women political, social rights, minorities’ rights and others. I’m also working on my writings process so I can  express my country’s human rights issues through social media. For readers, please do check out her blog at http://najlashami.wordpress.com.

Najla, I wish you the very best in your future plans and thank you very much for talking to us at The Human Lens Blog!

Tête-à-tête with Egyptian Author Dina Porell

The only thing Aliaa did for women rights was protesting naked. She didn’t help women who are in need, for their real issues- Dina Porell

Dina Porell was born  and grew up in Cairo, Egypt. She graduated from business school majoring in business administration and went on traveling and exploring the world.

Soon, she evolved as a unique writer, an expert cook of Egyptian food and her first two books are about Egypt, because she is passionate about her country. Today we are in conversation with this emerging feminist from Egypt on a variety of issues.

Saadia Haq: Dina, tell us how you did you evolve into writing, was it a combination of your personal experiences that promoted you? Has traveling been instrumental is your literary work?

Dina Porell: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I used to write stories about our neighbors as a child. Also I’m a fan of black and white Egyptian movies, most of them had a message to society. And that what I wanted to do, to write a story that might help someone someday. Traveling helped me in every way. I met my husband and fell in love while traveling. I wrote three short stories about abused animals that I’ve met while traveling. And of course traveling made me smarter and stronger.

 Saadia Haq: So far you have written four or five books. I would specifically like to talk about “Egyptian Street Culture That No One Will Tell You About.” It sounds thoroughly intriguing; please tell us what kind of topics do you cover through it?

Dina Porell: Actually I wrote five books on amazon and one short story on one of my blogs. Two books about Egyptian food. One book about Egyptian culture and three short stories about animal’s rights.

When the idea of Egyptian Street Culture That No One Will Tell You About came to my mind, I was an expat in Korea for about two years.  I was struggling with my Korean and on occasions, when a Korean person said something, of course I didn’t know what it was. I recalled my own foreign friends in Cairo who were clueless most of the times in the streets of the big city, especially women. So I wanted to write a book that covered holistically aspects of what happens on streets of Egypt and also highlight the old  and new culture.  This books talks about cursing, stupid pick up lines, old proverbs and superstitions. Its bilingual in English and Arabic and has phonetic spellings, that would help expats and travelers understands the language use by locals in daily life.

Saadia Haq: What kind of reactions have you received on it? Has there been difference in feedback from Egyptians and westerners please specify.

Dina Porell: To westerners this book is a short guide to a new culture and new language, something to help them to have better understanding for what is happening around them. laundry. To Egyptians, the book is airing their dirty laundry publicly. One of the worst things we do in Egypt is denying what’s happening in the streets. For example, we have a serious problem with sexual harassment in the streets and some people deny it and say that the streets are very safe for women, which is a lie.

Saadia Haq: This book has touched on harassment issues faced by women in public spheres, do they reflect personal experiences too, and I will be interested to link it to hijab use. For instance you don’t wear the hijab and does this make you be more of a target?

Dina Porell: Women get harassed all the time in Egyptian streets and that has nothing to do with wearing hijab or not. I have a lot of friends and family members who wear hijab and they get harassed a lot. I don’t think there is a woman in Egypt who doesn’t get harassed.

Harassment comes in different types, with a touch, with a look, with a word. Even driving. When a woman drives, men cut her off, push her car over and sometimes curse her.

Saadia Haq: Since women came out in scores to protest and Egyptian women were on the forefront of Tahrir square protests but since then they have been pushed back during the turbulent democratic transition. As a feminist, what do you think about this?

 Dina Porell: There have been a lot of setbacks for women’s rights in the last three years. After Mubarak stepped down, there was violence and chaos. During that time, rape cases increased 100%. And it got much worse for women when we had a Muslim brotherhood dictator as a President. During the one year of Morsi’s presidency there were a lot of recorded cases of female circumcision, which was illegal in Mubarak’s era. On June 30, 2013, when Egyptians protested against Morsi, I was in Egypt and I saw millions of women going out in the squares all around Egypt and protesting and their voices were heard. Muslim brotherhood thugs targeted women at those protests, raped them and stabbed their vaginas, but that didn’t stop women going out everyday. I think Egyptian women are smart, strong and capable of anything.

Saadia Haq: Do you believe that globally media portrays Arab women in a stereotypical manner. How do these portrayals harm women like you’re self that do not cover with hijab or the complete jilab.

Dina Porell: I think Western media always show Arab Muslim women in one way and it’s unfair. I met some people in Korea who think I’m not wearing hijab outside Egypt and when I go back I cover my hair, which is untrue. I don’t wear hijab in Egypt and it’s okay.

 Also Western media show Arab Muslim women who wear hijab as weak women, or forced to live a type of life against their will, which is so untrue in the majority of cases. And the second stereotype is women who wear hijab are terrorists. A network like Fox News knows the harm and the damage they do and they don’t care, they get paid to spread hatred. Also, Western media always show Muslim women covered in black because they sell fear, they want people to be scared of Muslims. When I was in college I remember wearing hijab was very fashionable and they were available in a lot of beautiful bright colors, and there were countless ways to tie hijab.

Saadia Haq: Not veiling has been a personal choice with you? Did you have domestic conflicts upon your decision and what are you reasoning for not using the hijab.

Dina Porell:  Yes, not wearing hijab was my choice, I tried it, it didn’t suit me and I took it off. My family never interfered with any of my decisions. Actually I have the best family in the world. They’ve always supported me, and they’ve never forced me to do anything that I didn’t want to do.

Saadia Haq: We will link the hijab use to the recent protests done in favor of Arab women throughout Europe by the group FEMEN. What is your position on Femen protestors including the young Egyptian Aliaa Elmahdy and others?

Dina Porell: I think FEMEN is a very hypocritical organization. I think they should help women who really need their help, not women who wear hijab. I’m not saying that there aren’t women who were forced to wear hijab, but then there are women who also choose to wear the hijab of their own free will. Those forced cases are rare, especially in Egypt. Abusive men are abusive because there is something wrong with their mind-sets and not because they are Muslims! 

A while ago FEMEN protested naked in front of a mosque and the protesters wore towels on their heads. They were being offensive to millions of women who choose to wear hijab and to believe in God. I have one question to FEMEN: how are you a feminist group if you deny the rights of other women to cover their body or to choose to believe in God?

If FEMEN really believes that all Muslim women are forced to wear hijab, that is just very stupid of them. They don’t even do their homework to know that the majority of those women wanted to wear hijab. And it’s very ignorant of them not to admit their mistake. As for Aliaa El-Mahdy, she absolutely has the right to protest the way she wants. She protested naked, that’s okay. However, to call Aliaa a women’s rights activist makes me laugh. The only thing Aliaa did for women rights was protesting naked. She didn’t help women who are in need, for issues like domestic violence, women’s health, women in poverty, etc.

Aliaa protested naked in Europe and wrote on her body, “religion is slavery.” She has the right to be an atheist, but why is she offending other people? Calling millions of women slaves because of their beliefs is just wrong.

I’m a Muslim because I choose to be a Muslim and my religion has given me human rights, and I love my religion. I was raised as an equal to the men in my family. I’m well-educated, I’m a world traveler. And I’m not a slave.

What makes me sad is that some Arab women who do nothing to help women who are really in need, just post a naked photo of themselves and in the blink of an eye they become famous women’s rights activists. The media focus on the naked protesters not because their causes are worthy, but because naked women sell airtime and advertising time. Other causes that are more important than the hats people wear, but are not being supported in the loudest, racist way, aren’t talked about. 

Saadia Haq: Do you think Muslim women or for that matter Arab women need saving or this is a classical white savior syndrome?

Dina Porell: As you are aware not all Arab women are Muslims. As an Egyptian woman, I lived most of my life in Egypt I can say women don’t need to be saved from their religion. Maybe other issues, but not the hijab. Also, I wish I could understand why the West wants to save Muslim women from wearing hijab while no one talks about saving Christian nuns from covering their hair and bodies and choosing to live that lifestyle. In Italy and Greece old women cover their hair, not for religious reasons but just tradition. So why not go and save the old ladies from their old traditions? Women all over the planet have the right to choose which god to believe in or even to not believe and they have the right to wear what they want.

Saadia Haq: Do you think protests like FEMEN will help the cause of Muslim women or it can be counter-productive?

Dina Porell:  I think FEMEN should help themselves first by educating themselves, and know that it’s okay to have a different culture and different religion. And don’t deny anyone’s right to do what they want. Being a hypocrite doesn’t help anyone.

 Saadia Haq: So before we end, Dina please tell us what is keeping you busy currently?

Dina Porell: I’m writing a short novel about Egypt in the 1940s. It’s a fiction story based on true events. Readers can also find her at http://theangryegyptiangirl.wordpress.com.

We wish you the very best in your future endeavors and a big thank you talking at The Human Lens Blog :)

Thank you for having me, I enjoyed talking to you!

Afghans Vote with hopes for a peaceful tomorrow

Today, is a historic day for the people of war-torn Afghanistan as they went to vote in numbers and scores across the country. Despite the widespread violence done in name of stopping the “plot by Western invaders”, as deemed by militants, the elections of 5th April has given way to resurgence in violence by the Taliban.

During the previous weeks, militants’ attacks took place at an American NGO, an electoral organization building; the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), a Kabul based hotel and at other places. For militancy, elections are a threat to their ambitions and contrary to opinion the Taliban have not been weakened as previously thought. The recruitment of members to the Afghan rebellion continues and their motives remain intact: retake power and set up an Islamic regime once again.

After calling for a boycott of the elections, the Taliban have warned that they would do anything to prevent them from being carried out and we all saw the aftermath. The violence continues to rage across the country, it’s a somber reminder that as the first democratic handover of power with today’s election has come at a high price.

What elections means to common Afghans

For millions of ordinary Afghans, they hope the end of elections will see a decrease in sectarian violence in their cities and some very hopeful Afghans hope for nothing if not peace in coming time. Most Afghans I spoke to said that “Most of us still aren’t sure if the elections would have taken place as they actually did.”

Afghans remain unsure about the efficacy of these elections and whether they will pave the way for the country’s first ever democratic transfer of rule. “In the presence of a visible Taliban force, will it really be possible?” questioned the elder.

“And what about the Afghans in Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan? The Afghan government still can’t decide whether they want to hold elections there.” While the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan were able to vote in 2004, no arrangements have been made this time around.

“We’re frustrated, we’d like to have a say about the future of our country,” said Haji Jumaa Gul, an elderly man at a refugee camp in Peshawar, who says the situation at home is still too volatile to return.

Afghan Elections; a double ended sword for Islamabad

Pakistan’s struggling economic situations mean that it has to swallow some pride and try mending it’s already troublesome relationship with Afghanistan. Islamabad also needs a trade access to Central Asia and that is impossible without friendly relationship with Afghanistan.

On the other hand, lumped with unwanted refugees since the advent of Soviet Fall in 1980s, it is clear that the country spending on Afghan refugees’ exceeded the spending on its own poor citizens. Most Pakistanis have become hostile, because most have been part and parcel of the 30 years of “lets welcome our brothers from Afghanistan” campaign.

It was also not fair on part of Pakistani establishments as they doled out funds to millions of refugees on the expense of tax paying Pakistanis.

Today’s election was a concern for Pakistan as its feared a new Afghan refugees, and lets not forget that officially some1.6 million Afghans are still living in Pakistan and under international pressure, repartition process is already slow. Then there is the problem of some 2 million illegal Afghan refugees that alone live in Karachi, sea-port and whose activities are going unchecked.

But for what goes in Afghanistan today, much responsibility also lies with Pakistan. Pakistani analysts advised Sharif’s government and other neighbors to stay out of Afghan elections.

Pakistan had more to lose now than it did in 1989; it also has a responsibility towards Afghanistan. According to Pakistani diplomat and military strategist, Maliha Lodhi Pakistan must prepare for the worst. She said it was a tragedy that “a promising peace process” that could have taken place in Doha was thwarted by Karzai, leading to the US abandoning it.

A hope for tomorrow

The international troops, election observers and all stake holders involved have ensured that today’s election has taken place. For international media, like Fox, France 24, Rai Italia, etcthe main news of importance to be reported has been the burka-clad Afghan women who came out to vote in as they called “segregated polling booths for women” and the refusal to be videoed or photographed by their channel representatives. Probably, because probably NATO has future plans to stay put with their saving Muslim women card in Afghanistan.

But for millions of Afghan people, their reservations are more profound and remain the same, it has all happened after a US-led military campaign which has radically changed the country, but failed to defeat the Taliban

If the democratic transition tomorrow does not go as hoped for, then this election will go waste, as will every drop of foreign blood spilled here in 13 years of violent Western occupation.

Women’s empowerment|In conversation with Mudita Tiwari

Mudita Tiwari was born in India and has an extensive career of working in the international development, research design and program management. She has worked extensively within India on Financial Literacy, Financial Inclusion, microfinance, agricultural financing and informal and formal banking. Prior to working in India, she worked as a global health researcher, and private and public sector business analyst in the US. Currently, she is overlooking the “The Sewing Project” in India.

Saadia Haq: You have been working with grass-roots NGOs working on financial inclusion and education of women in India. Tell us how did you start working on women rights issues, what prompted you?

Mudita Tiwari: In India nearly 40% of the population has no access to formal banking and a large portion of women are left out of the financial inclusion initiatives because of sociocultural reasons. In certain conservative sections of the country, women are mostly women are homemakers, with limited access to education and employment opportunities. They also have restricted mobility outside their houses. Early marriages and childbirth further disadvantages them. The result being, they are dependent on their husbands and in-laws for finances.

The women within our community explicitly asked for a chance to learn skills that could help them find employment and to supplement the household income for food and children’s education. The motivation to start “The Sewing Project” was strongly rooted in the desire for the women in the community to move forward with their lives and improve their situations. Readers should check out more at http://www.thesewingproject.org.

Certificate Ceremony, post trainings
Certificate Ceremony, post trainings

Saadia Haq: How did you end up developing an idea like “The sewing project” in rural India?

Mudita Tirawi: We had been volunteering and teaching women to sew and embroider within the community for a long time. Our chairperson – Mrs. Kiran Tiwari has long been a champion of women’s issues. She worked at the Zila Sehkari Bank (a local co-operative bank) and always helped women open bank accounts, and informally counseled them to improve their economic well-being.

Sewing and embroidery are important and ubiquitous skills women could use to earn a living. The skills also helped women to work from home bases and avoid any domestic conflict. It was in 2005 that we decided to formally register a Society and hired a teacher with our personal funds for conduction of training classes.

Now we have grown in numbers, currently we offer classes in two locations to ensure better access to trainings within communities. Though there are other government-sponsored programs offering such trainings, the quality of those programs was not optimal. We have seen that more and more girls started joining our program because of its multi-faced approach.

Saadia Haq: Tell me where is this project running and how many beneficiaries does it support?

Mudita Tiwari: The project is running in the small semi-urban town of Unnao, Uttar Pradesh. Unnao is a populous town nestled between the large cities of Kanpur and Lucknow. The program hosts approximately 60 girls per session. Each session lasts for 3 months and at end of session, we conduct the ability test. Upon completing the session, the girls are awarded a completion certificate from our Society.

We offer 3 classes per day (5 days a week) and approximately 20 girls attend each class. The structure of the program is very flexible and we allow women to attend whatever class suits their schedule. All classes are offered for free, though we charge a nominal registration fee to cover the costs of materials in the class. Women from all age ranges are a part of the program, though the majority of girls are between the ages 18-25. They want to augment their existing skills with sewing, embroidery and beauty skills so that they can earn additional money working for themselves.

On-going training session
On-going training session

Saadia Haq: More than often, challenges are faced on initiating women focused projects in South Asia or India due to continuous patriarchal societies. What sort of problems was faced during setting up this project and how did your project overcome them?

Mudita Tiwari: Because we are a small community based society focused on women only, we have a distinct advantage. Our chairperson is well-recognized and trusted within the local communities. Also we maintain transparency within our operations and do not partner with other organizations that don’t share same values as ours.

That said, women in our community recognize our commitment and value our approach. Because we are an all women’s project, being managed by women, families feel comfortable sending their daughters, sisters and wives to our project.

Saadia Haq: Coming to the project, please tell us what the Sewing project offers to local community women in terms of capacity buildings and trainings? Are marketing skills also taught for assisting the trainees? Please describe one training for us.

Mudita Tiwari: We offer 2 skills based training programs:
The Sewing Project – This project helps women learn sewing and embroidery skills. With these skills women are able to start their own sewing stations at home and are able to stitch for their community. They are able to earn approximately INR 20-INR 50 per garment and are able to quickly earn additional money for their sewing services. Do take a look at our facebook page – TheSewingProject

In addition, we are offering financial literacy trainings, The Finance Project. In order to equip our trainees with the financial aspects of their work, we impart information focusing on key areas such as basic finance management, investment in savings products, and the importance of long-term and short-term financial goals. Additionally we also assist them into opening bank accounts, if they don’t have one. We also work with women one-on-one to determine their savings needs and ensure they save for their own sewing machines and materials.

The training manual for the financial trainings have been developed with the help of the World Bank and have been previously tested in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in randomized control trials. The financial literacy trainings are provided once at the beginning of each session, and the teachers work closely with the women towards their financial goals.

Training Class - The Sewing Project
Training Class – The Sewing Project

Saadia Haq: This project is unique in offering women opportunities to work from home and avoid the domestic conflicts. Please tell us more about advantageous socio-cultural component with an example.

Mudita Tiwari: The best features of our livelihoods trainings are – low-start up costs, easy skills to learn and the option of working from home. Many girls in our project are full-time students, or full-time homemakers, and have a few hours in a day to focus on sewing. These skills help women set their own schedule and work-load. Some women are actively sewing and are able to earn INR 50 per day (INR 1500 per month). Other women are able to pick up ad hoc work as needed.

The project also provides women a safe space where they can also share their domestic live issues and act as a support group for themselves. This has led to a holistic empowerment as well as skill based support they receive from the project.

Saadia Haq: What is the life cycle of this project? Do you see this project as a sustainable entity in coming time?

Mudita Tiwari: The program is fairly sustainable in its current form. For now we prefer to have a small manageable size, however in future this can all change by collaborating with organizations having similar value systems such as our’s.

Currently, we are contemplating to introduce computer literacy trainings for girls and exploring options for infrastructure, computers and hiring of certified teachers for this endeavor. I feel there’s much to hope for in coming time.

Saadia Haq: Please tell us, in what ways can volunteers support this initiative?

Mudita Tiwari: Well, Saadia, us the core team are basically volunteers and we totally believe in volunteerism. We are open to hosting also external volunteers who would be interested to come and stay at Unnao and teach the women sewing or financial skills. (pinterest.com/sewingproject). And another way to support the project is through mutual beneficial partnership assistance in infrastructure and materials, like supplies of scissors, needles etc will also be very helpful.

Best of wishes for the future and thank you very much  for taking out time to speak at the Human Lens blog!!!

 

 

 

Girls Not Brides|14-year old Hosna Decides No to Child Marriage

Girls Not Brides:

Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 300 civil society organizations from over 50 countries committed to ending child marriage. It works on the grave issue of child marriage in many different ways – by working directly with girls and child brides in their communities or focusing on research and advocacy to bring greater attention to this neglected problem.

By coming together in partnership, Girls Not Brides members are raising their voices to call for action on child marriage locally, nationally and all over the world.

Hosna’s Inspirational Story

This is a story of a 14- year old Hosna from Bangladesh  who find out that her father has arranged her marriage. She is shocked, because she has heard so many stories from her friends that get married at an early stage. Moreover, Hosna does not want to get married because she wants to continue her studies.

Luckily, Hosna find out about the “GIRLS DECIDE” project of the international Ngo, Family Planning Association.

Watch this inspiring video of how a young girl managed to save her future with positive assistance from the The Family Planning Association of Bangladesh. The organization mitigated to help her by  organizing a meeting with her family to explain her fears and the illegality of child marriage.

Join hands with Hosna and many other courageous girls for their efforts into eradicating the menace of CHILD MARRIAGES from this world!

References:

1. http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/

2. Family Planning Association of Bangladesh

Pakistani Christian Women Heros Dominate Mainstream Media

Sara Alfred with co-host during morning-show, Pakistan
Sara Alfred with co-host during morning-show, Pakistan

Pakistani Christian Hero I – News Anchor Sara Alfred

With a Bachelor’s Degree in B.A. in English Literature, Sara Alfred is the first Christian news anchor and morning show host of Pakistan.  She started her career in 2002 with a leading national television Aaj TV as an anchor-reporter and there has been no going back since than.

Sara has worked with all leading channels during the span of her career including AAJ TV, Dunya News and Geo News. During the course of these years, she has evolved further and emerged as a strong producer for sports and current affairs programming.

She got married in January 2005 and has one daughter and a very supportive husband. A media mummy, she has been able to find fulfillment in both work and motherhood. Its a challenging combination that keeps her on her toes but with the support of her loving husband and her mother, she continues to step up the ladders of success.

Sara Alfred presenting  Budget during telecast bulletin, Pakistan
Sara Alfred presenting Budget during telecast bulletin, Pakistan

She has also produced and anchored a successful morning show known as “Salam Pakistan with Sara Alfred” that focused topics  ranging from politics, elections, beauty, nutrition and common man’s interests.

Within Pakistan, Sara Alfred is deemed as one of most energetic & famous female news anchors. She is also in the “top-10″ anchor-hosts due to her higher ratings and popularity with people.

Pakistani Christian Hero II – Desiree Francis (DJ DEZ) & Journalist

DJ Dez and musicians at  her popular radio show SMALL WORLD, Karachi
DJ Dez and musicians at her popular radio show SMALL WORLD, Karachi

A journalist by profession from the metropolitan city of Karachi, she has a solid background of working with various leading publications including the media groups; The News International of the Jang group. Her writings are a mix of social issues and focus on common man’s issues like water, vulnerable communities without access to electricity, climate change, peace process and so on.

However, it does not end there. The vivacious and resourceful Desiree Francis also tried her hand at radio jockeying that has become like a rage-craze in Pakistan, both in urban and rural divides.

Considering that radio listener-ship in Pakistan is 64% , figures from national media research, 2012 and Pakistan while being reported the most dangerous country ad nauseum for journalists, Pakistan has a total of operational 120 radio stations including public and private airing different transmissions.  Desiree’s radio career took off when she joined the Radio Pakistan 101 way back in 2010.

Since than, there’s been no stopping and today most people know her to be the famous “Dj Dez” with her bubbly and youthful style.  Her special radio show is called the “SMALL WORLD with DJ DEZ” on FM 105. This one-hour show is all about  western and English music. With the theme “Get the beat of the globe right here from the heart of Karachi”, the show typically includes English music of various genres. From the 80′s to RnB to Hip Hop, she does it all.

The show also includes music from other language and countries while blending these themes with significant time frames, and till now has chimed  Persian, Arabic, as well as Spanish music — all quite favorite amongst Pakistanis. The show is broadcast Monday-Friday from 7-8pm PST across Karachi and Sindh province.  And yes, off-course, it is available to international viewers on http://www.hotfm.com.pk.

DJ Dez on Live Music Concert Coverage, Karachi, Pakistan
DJ Dez on Live Music Concert Coverage, Karachi, Pakistan

Desiree juggles between her print and radio career with much zeal and enthusiasm,  she has made Pakistan immensely proud for being the recipient of  2006′s Star Award (South Asia Publications).

Her efforts also earned her a Presidential Recognition in Pakistan by former President Pervez Musharaf, in 2004.

Pakistani women like Sara Alfred and Desiree Francis  continue to make airwaves across an other-wise male dominated media industry.The message is clear, gender not religion will stop us. We women are here to stay! :)

Pakistan|Every Woman Counts by Wendy Marijnissen

With fast growing militancy, Pakistan has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world. It struggles under a corrupt political regime and a system that largely depends on feudal customs. The women face an array of problems and gender discrimination that stems from birth. Even today, most families welcome the birth of a son as compared to a daughter. More than often, cultural practices hinder women from making the choice in partner and having any say on sexual reproductive rights. Most pregnancies are unplanned and women face live and death during child-birth.

Wendy Marijnissen visited Pakistan for the first time in November 2009 with the intent of addressing these different women’s rights issues. Soon after meeting Dr. Shershah Syed, a gynecologist and women’s rights activist, she decided to focus her attention on the maternal mortality and childbirth alone.

Seeing the challenges that these women were facing with her own eyes, affected her deeply and she understood just how important it was to tell their story. This photographic-essay is a collection of the women that Wendy met and was able to capture in this heartbreaking entourage. The saddest thing is that most of these complications surrounding childbirth are treatable, but most women face deep-rooted neglect even during this very special time when they would bring a LIFE in the world.

Every Woman Counts has also received an honorable mention at the Photocrati Fund grant, 2011. Please check out this video and support women’s health rights issues in whatever ways you can. Every woman counts!

Pakistan: A view from within by Wendy Marijnissen

Pakistani wedding, Lahore 2009© Wendy Marijnissen
Pakistani wedding, Lahore 2009© Wendy Marijnissen

“That is why I was in Pakistan. To tell the stories of its people and hopefully make people care” – Wendy Marijnissen

Wendy Marijnissen is a Belgian documentary photographer and has worked in the some of the world’s most conflicted countries. Her work has focused on themes of natural emergencies, rights of women, violence and religious minorities. She has traveled and worked in Europe, Middle East, and Asia.

Q1. Tell us how you got into evolving as a documentary photographer. Also you have been in challenging areas, do you enjoy traveling for your work and being part of new cultures that are so different from your own?

Wendy Marijnissen: I started photographing in the music and theater world in Belgium, but I always had a great interest in news and loved to travel. After photographing many musicians, and artists, I decided to try to combine all these interests into a project and I traveled to Israel and Palestine to use music as my guide there to show daily life in a different way and show how people live in this conflicted region on both sides. That was really the start of my documentary path.

I love discovering new places and new cultures, but I mostly love meeting new people. A common thread that runs through my work or what I attempt to show is how similar we all are. Our religion, our clothing, our landscapes, our customs, our languages might be very different, but in essence we are all the same and we all want the same things out of our lives and for our families.

Q2: Of all the places in the world, how did you end up into Pakistan? What was the reaction of your family, did they stop you from going there?

Wendy Marijnissen: Well, Pakistan sort of was my second best choice at first but later became like a second home really.

I always wanted to go to Afghanistan instead of Pakistan and somehow I was never able to manage and get the right contacts,…But I met a friend of a friend who lived in Pakistan and was marrying a Pakistani man. After talking to her, I started researching and learning more about the region and its history, I became very interested in exploring it. Some of my friends were rather worried, but most members of my family maybe didn’t really realize where Pakistan lies and what happens there. Also they are aware that I won’t go anywhere if I’m not prepared or feel ready to leave. So I didn’t really get much opposition for going besides expressed concern and warnings to be careful.

 Q3: Before you arrived to Pakistan, what were your thoughts? Mostly, only negative images of Pakistan are portrayed in the international media, so were you prepared to work in the most dangerous place in the world for women, as quoted by most western media?

Wendy Marijnissen: I had prepared myself well and was aware about the violent history and reputation of Pakistan. I knew about the Taliban and how the journalist Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered there. But as with my trips to Palestine, Iran and now Pakistan, I also knew that there is much more to a country and its people then what we hear and read about. How are regular people living there, what are their lives like? That is what interests me.

I usually work for a longer time on my projects, so the first time I came to Pakistan for 3 months; I spent time getting to know it, its people, and exploring and absorbing how I felt here. I don’t consider being a little bit afraid a bad thing. I think it keeps me alert and aware. And of course I’m lucky that I can always return home to Belgium when things would be really dangerous and bad.

Refugee Hamida's Pregnancy, Karachi 2010 © Wendy Marijnissen
Refugee Hamida’s Pregnancy, Karachi 2010 © Wendy Marijnissen

O4: You lived and worked for three years in the country, at a time very challenging and heart-breaking for common people with floods, war on terror and forced internal displacement. How did it affect you?

Wendy Marijnissen: It’s really all affected me in a big way, being there for 3 years I started having post traumatic stress syndrome symptoms and then it was time to take leave and distance myself. When you spend so much time in a country and really get to know people, it doesn’t leave you cold. You want to show people what is going on and get distressed as well when you see a disaster like the flood happening, affecting over 20 million people.

It still is mind-boggling to me how huge that was…

At the same time, it made me think about how I can show this story and hopefully make people see it’s about real families and not just numbers. That is why I was in Pakistan.To tell the stories of its affected people and hopefully make people care.

Q5: Your photography has been part of the ‘End Fistula campaign’ of the UNFPA Pakistan. Please tell us more about it?

Wendy Marijnissen: As I did my research and found out about the magnitude of the maternal health problems in Pakistan, I really wanted to work on this issue and found out about fistula in that way. Fistula is almost entirely preventable and a real sign that maternal health care is failing, and raising awareness on this became really important to me.

A Pakistani medic, Dr. Shershah Syed became my guide and is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met in my life. Learning from him, seeing him do fistula repair surgeries, getting context of what I was seeing and hearing, made me understand the country and customs better and helped me in my photographs. Readers can watch her slideshow at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxTv2dZtlAs

Q6: Your work in Pakistan has more and less been focused on the very dark sides such as rape, child-birth, acid-burn victims and women’s plights. What do you have to say about it?

Wendy Marijnissen: As a woman I really was drawn to documenting stories on women in Pakistan and sadly the reality is that many of them are suffering various ways of abuse or neglect. But I try to not only focus on the dark side of these issues.

With the flood, I’ve tried to show the resilience and strength of a family like Hamida’s. In the rape story, I show strong woman who, against all odds, defy a system and culture that wants to hide this problem.So for me it’s not just hard dark issues, but about beautiful strong people in it.

Rehan and Wendy, Karachi 2010© Wendy Marijnissen
Rehan and Wendy, Karachi 2010© Wendy Marijnissen

Q7: What were the reactions of the people photographed by you?  Were you able to communicate with them through help of local translators?

Wendy Marijnissen: I mostly worked with the doctors that I was traveling with. They translated for me or helped explain to the women who I was and what I was doing there.

In Hamida’s case, I had a midwifery student that came along often to help me talk to Hamida and her family, and one of the doctors repeatedly explained what I was doing so they knew exactly what was going on.

But I also just spent lots of time there by myself without talking, just observing, interacting with the children and basically hanging out. I don’t come in a labor room and straight away take intimate pictures.

I spend hours and hours and days there, just being there often not taking any photo’s at all. This way the women in the room see who I am as well and what I’m doing. Sometimes you just hold the hand of a woman delivering a baby who let me know she didn’t want to be photographed and that is very ok too. It’s all about earning trust and I want to take my time for that.

Q8: Mostly, Pakistanis have resigned to be portrayed by international media in negative light, many people resent western media’s presence for capturing only the dark side of stories. Do you feel there is a huge divide between how Pakistan is being portrayed or there is more to the story that remains untold?

Wendy Marijnissen: I understand people have this idea, but I do think things are changing too. In my own case, my work in its entirety isn’t negative at all I feel. I show the huge problems women face but at the same time show inspiring female doctors changing the situation.

The internet and the availability of information will also change this I hope and are a wonderful outlet for bringing stories out into the world that the traditional media isn’t interested in. I also hope that lots of young Pakistani photographers will slowly change this image themselves. They know the country and their own people best; also have the greatest access and can tell a nuanced story better than anyone else. They can use the internet and other platforms to get these stories out.

And after meeting some incredible photographers I know Pakistan has some amazing talent of its own.

Q9: Did you find something positively interesting, out of the ordinary here, any example of a meeting, interaction or work experience.

Wendy Marijnissen: I really love Pakistan and it has a very special place in my heart. I’ve made some incredible friends there who made me feel at home and part of their family, who have inspired me and without whom I wouldn’t have been able to make the work I did.

And Hamida and her family have touched me in the biggest way work wise and have reminded me why I tell stories and what kind of photographer I want to be. The first moment I saw her in her tent in the refugee camp outside Karachi, we made a connection and I was deeply honored that I got to know them, be present at the birth of her baby and became like a special aunt for this little guy, helping them choose a name out of a selection of names they had.

Q10: What are you currently working on?

Wendy Marijnissen: Well, after Pakistan, I went to Afghanistan two years ago and last year I worked with Doctors without Borders for the first time and went to Tajikistan with them to work on a story on children that have multi-resistant tuberculosis.

And while I was in Belgium, I started the project Us/Them on Muslim women in my country. This work with a special focus on the burqa ban and headscarf issue in my country has become part of the ‘Rise of Populism in Europe’ project, where together with 10 other photographers we highlight various issues of populism in our own respective countries.

I’m still working on the Us/Them project at the moment, but I am also preparing to return to Pakistan next year. Stay tuned for that I would say :) 

Thanks a lot for your time. We really look forward to welcoming you back in the coming future!

You’re very welcome!!

Media Sources:

1. wendymarijnissen.wordpress.com

Women of substance: Pakistani Peacemakers against all odds

At just 16, Pakistani, Gulalai Ismail set up a local NGO “Aware Girls” with her sisters and their small group of school friends to in order to change young women’s lives in Pakistan. They started with awareness raising on women’s rights, and as their membership has grown, they are now training young activists to become local peace builders, challenging violence and extremism.

It should come as no surprise that the militancy in the Northern west region of Pakistan, shaped the whole live purpose of Gulalai. She hails from one of the most fragile provinces where rampant religious extremism has spilled into a national threat to the sovereignty of Pakistan.

Here, militant groups have been known to incite extremism and violence, increasingly amongst young people. Pakistani armed forces have struggled to maintain control in the region. For women especially, extremism has led to growing insecurity – many fear kidnap or worse. Extremist groups, displaced populations and continued drone strikes add on the existing to anti-West sentiments.

Amidst this all, local peace-builder Gulalai Ismail is working with women and young people to create real change.

In 2013, she was honored by National Endowment for Democracy (NED) with the Democracy Award for her commitment to a democratic future in Pakistan. She is also featured in NED’s “30 Under 30″ campaign with her sister Saba. On receiving the award, she said, “Young women in Pakistan are taking their roles as active citizens, as voters, as politicians, and as critics of the political processes.  I want to dedicate this award to all those young women who have always spoken for the empowerment of young women, for change, and for sustaining democracy in Pakistan. I believe that democracy, and sustaining democracy, is a slow process. We have to be patient about it.”

Please check out this inspirational video to know more about her on-ground work.

Gulalai, Saba, and Salma Ismael’s mission makes me really proud to be a Pakistani and a woman. Indeed their spirit, courage and determination is changing Pakistan, peace is possible!

Source:

1. Videos on vimeo

2. http://www.ned.org/30years/gulalai-and-saba-ismail/

Pakistani Muslim Feminist Malala Yousafzai on Women Rights in Islam

Pakistan Youth Peace Prize Winner, Malala Yousafzai, 2011
                Pakistan Youth Peace Prize Winner, Malala Yousafzai, 2011

Malala points out, is in her favor: “Islam tells us every girl and boy should be educated,” she says. “I don’t know why the Taliban have forgotten it.”

“I believe it’s a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear and if a woman can go to the beach and wear nothing, then why can’t she also wear everything?” 

There is no freedom, but still there is hope,” Yousafzai said in reference to the limited opportunities of young women in Pakistan. “We are not toys. We are not stickers you put on magazines. We are not puppets. We are human beings with capabilities and potentials.”

“When God created man and woman, he was thinking, Who shall I give the power to, to give birth to the next human being? And God chose woman. And this is the big evidence that women are powerful. Women are strong. Women can do anything. Come out and struggle for your rights; nothing can happen without your voice. Do not wait for me to do something for your rights. It’s your world, and you can change it.”

“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha.”

——- Malala Yousafzai, the girl who changed the world.

FEMEN Akbar|Is that branding feminism?

Feminism, in my limited understanding and please correct me if am wrong is a transnational, internationalist movement that stands in solidarity with women, workers, and the oppressed throughout the world. It’s the liberation of women not from patriarchy, but also the liberation of all oppressed people.

Feminism Muslim, non-Muslim, Eastern and Western are quite clear that persons within the feminist movements should not be vilified for using whatever methods to impact social change and send a strong message home that women will not sit meekly, and let the world walk over them. Having said that, let’s be clear that Femen and their European, Egyptian and Tunisian activists are not to be attacked, threatened and dealt with fatwas from Islamic fundamentalists. No activist. Ever. Under no circumstances.

Yes, I know that their tactics angered thousands of people, including Muslims, but there are non-violent ways of expressing and we must not forget that we are above all, humans and can show reactions in a civilized and coherent manner. Islam, as it is, was and continues to be the favorite topic under scrutiny and critique in the western world, its easy to deflect attention from the perils of western internal problems by going on an Islam-o-bashing drive. Acknowledged that these boob shows and burning flags fueled anger amongst millions of Muslims.

But hold on your horses, have you forgotten that Islam’s Prophet stressed in these very words, “The strong man is not the one who wrestles, but the strong man is in fact the one who controls himself in a fit of rage.”

So whether many Muslims are not feeling peaceful at these events, Muslims should acknowledge that Quran says time and again to maintain peace amongst people, as it considers the sanctity of human life is accorded a special place.

Al- Quran 5:2 quotes: Do not let your hatred of a people incite you to aggression.

Al- Quran 2:256 quotes: Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God heareth and knoweth all things.

The principles of human rights, that also quoted within Islam makes it a duty to not react in violent ways to the tactics of this group,  regardless of personal and religious beliefs. Let it be said that humanity is above all, so there’s no confusion.

Now coming to the fiasco of this FEMEN AKBAR. No one put it better than American Pakistani Muslim blogger and satirist, Mehreen Kasaana, @mehreenkasana.

FEMEN's call to prayer outside Tunisian embassy in Paris
FEMEN’s call to prayer outside Tunisian embassy in Paris, 2013

The protest “FEMEN AKBAR,” shouted the naked white feminist while mocking the Muslim prayer by kneeling on the ground. Thus, in this way all Muslim women were, thus, emancipated, patriarchy was dismantled globally because in this logic patriarchy is only of Islamic form, tits shown for shock value were effective because there’s no such thing as catering to the male gaze, everyone believed in the goodness of secular, liberal, white feminism, there was no evil in the world. We all lived happily.

Amina Akbar, protest at Paris, 2013
FEMEN’s Amina Akbar, protest at Paris, 2013

Muslim women rights activists and feminists responded with “We understand that it’s really hard for a lot of you white colonial ‘feminists’ to believe, but- SHOCKER! – Muslim women and women of color can come with their own autonomy, and fight back as well! And speak out for themselves! Who knew?

Lebanese-American writer, Roqayah Chamseddine said ” I loathe the premise that people of color should be ‘grateful’ that others are taking notice of their subjugation, or that they should bite their tongues and clench their fists and instead show gratitude because their varied plights are being in some way ‘acknowledged‘ by others.” 

For better or worse, the “self-proclaimed naked soldiers” of feminism are here to stay. The mind boggles on one other thing… basically we are told that prettiest of girls are  hand-picked, then sent to ‘leader’ Inna Shevchenko, who ‘mentors’ their path as political activists, on the command of a man.

Err… So Femen, the anti-patriarchy and self-empowering women’s group, is governed controlled by a domineering man.

 

 

 

Patronized Imagery of migrant women within the European media

In today’s times, immigration is topically tempestuous across the world over but in overcrowded Europe its perceived as a grave threat. In this battle, the European media plays an important role in forming opinions about the shaky relationship with foreigners or the “other aliens” “living on the European soil. People living here whether it’s the real Europeans or “extra-communitario” are bombarded with news related to immigrants from  print, radio, television and other  mediums.

This is a huge topic to tackle, so we will start off with “image of migrant women within the European media.”

Media reporting on foreign women; examination of three common case studies. Let’s take a look shall we?

1.  Post Communism fall, most of Europe still has a very-bitter relationship with the East, that’s  clearly still reinforced into the east European women’s portrayal victims of poverty, sex trafficking and a highly sexualized identity.  An enthusiastic-eagerly accepted stereotype by most educated audiences in North like those in Germany,  Holland as well as the south like Spain, or Italy. A review  of their print media shows  weekly basis time slots are allotted to “Eastern migrant women” stories related to trafficking, as well as  advertisement pages to be full of events including the dance shows, adult-only events with photos of the heavily made up faces, and in many cases even tattooed breasts and female butts in titillating lingerie. Most of these photographs show a peculiar resemblance to Eastern European women.

2. The anti-Chinese sentiment existed in Europe long before the gold rush. It was born of a European belief in superiority over other races as well as stereotypical symbols of Asian women. Social media in Sweden, Greece, and others; i.e print magazines and virtual websites are full of messages reinforcing silent, docile and impossibly tiny Chinese women that probably serves as a fetish kick for the so-perceived civilized European men. Today, news about local beauty industry in Europe is somewhat dominated by cheap saloons offering beauty treatments and most importantly the “erotic massages” by Chinese women.

3. The Great Britain, France and countless other European countries actively promote media messages like “Islam is a threat to modern-day Europe” with typical depictions– a bulky hijabi-Muslim woman wearing a skirt down to her ankles, having two or three children at each side.  Deeper analysis of main-stream media reporting shows reinforcement of the oppressed, unskilled woman who continues to have children, in reality a financial burden on the European republics. European journalists seem fixated on “what the Muslim women are wearing instead of who they are and what they are doing.” Across Europe, there is prevalent, the trend of deliberate under-reporting on Muslim migrant women’s achievements, especially those who do not fit a veiled and victimized stereotype.

Conclusions:

Finally,the migrant women in her dismissive identity of being a wife or mother, mainly ignorant and poor, subordinate either to her life circumstances, her family, or her culture, plays a prominent role. On the whole, migrant women are widely represented as being victims of their own cultures and traditions.

Within a patronizing frame, migrant women are mainly described as ignorant, poorly educated, culturally driven and subjected to patriarchy.

When reporting “positive” examples of migrant women’s empowerment, there is an superior-angle highlighting their initial disadvantages and self-congratulatory narratives of Europe has served them in opening doors to newer horizons.

Aspects of gender portrayal in media

  • Traditional roles: often migrant men are seen as aggressive, drunk and shady characters, as opposed to migrant women that are unseen, unheard victims, mothers or housewives in a silent background: in short, in the positions dictated by their physical aspects.
  • Camera angles: applies to photography and television reporting of migrant women are more often filmed from a higher position so that we as the viewer look down on them. This emphasizes their lack of authority and viewers nod at the migrant diminutive statures. Please note a modern-day Europe where 94% of camera operators within television industry are men.
  • Interview techniques: Interviewers often use different approaches in the way they address men and women as well as another set of approach when they interview migrant women and men. Usually migrant women are less likely to be given the floor and they are interrupted more often. There is also a tendency to address a migrant woman by her first name without Miss, Senorita, Fräulein. Heavens help, if the migrant woman’s a hijab-wearer, in that case, a ridiculous expression is sported by most television reporters.
  • Settings: Migrant women are often filmed and photographed in settings like an isolated mother with a baby in her lap at some refugee center, a hijabi cleaner outside a hotel, a skimpy clad African sex worker standing next to a trash can, a-dyed blondie dragging a cigarette puff at a piazza.
  • Story angles: The migrant women’s integration within European society is demeaning under the human rights frame-work as it’s based on mostly hostile elements like a migrant woman who lured an Spanish because she wanted to get her hands on the Spanish citizenship, Jus sanguinis which does not allow a child born to Cigani in Oslo to become Norwegian and so on.

What’s often missing from the media reporting is a simple  consideration that most migrant women have no other choice. Without having the proper language skills of their new country, migrant women are immediately categorized as unskilled workers regardless of their academic laurels (educated migrant women are forced to re-validate their educational degrees with their home country consulates and sit for fresh examinations as per requirements of their host country), which many are unable to do so. Many have no options but to accept the exploitative labor niches such as menial labor, domestic work, and sex work. 

And the local media plays a “not-so-subtle” role in the demonization and degradation of  migrant women. It is time to stop regarding migrant women as a problematic threat to European nation’s wealth and citizens’ rights, but to start viewing them as a source of inspiration. It is hoped that the “continental denial” of the migrant women’s strength and resilience will happen sooner than we think.

Feminist Raheel Raza’s how do you think I should look as a Muslim woman?

Few days ago I received a call from a producer at BBC World Service asking if I knew of a Muslim woman who would comment on a news story about the bikini being banned at the Miss World pageant in Indonesia. I promptly responded that I would and the producer asked me some questions which I answered (I think) quite intelligently; she said she was very impressed.

Then she asked, “Are you a Muslim? Your website photo doesn’t really show that you are.”

To say that I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. I fired back: “and how do you think I should look as a Muslim woman? Should there be a tattoo on my forehead, maybe I should have been in a niqab or a burka?”

The producer said she would call back. Half an hour later I received an email from her saying that while she is very taken by my comments, the editor has said they are not doing that particular story right now because of some breaking news that came up.

Was I surprised? No. This has happened before and as Islamism grows faster than grass in the West, so do the rules about what a Muslim should look like.

I suppose it’s not the producer’s fault. I imagine the conversation taking place behind doors at the BBC probably went something like this:

Editor: There’s a breaking news story about Muslim women in Indonesia. I need you to get a comment from a Muslim woman right away

Producer: I’m on it – actually I was just googling Muslim women activists and I came across this woman in Canada

Editor: Speak to her – we need this like yesterday

Producer: I just called her and she sounds really on the ball. She made some very interesting comments on the issue

Editor: Find out more about her

Producer: Well it says here she’s been an activist for women’s rights for more than half her life. She’s educated, eloquent, is accredited with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva and has spoken about similar issues before. She sounds good.

Editor: Good work. What does she look like? What’s her website? Let me have a look.

Producer: Her website photos have her in short hair, very modern with make-up, and she’s wearing Western clothes

Editor: Let me see – Oh this won’t do – we have to have a Muslim woman who looks Muslim

Producer: Umm what exactly does that mean? What are we looking for? Aren’t Muslims extremely diverse in their ethnicities and way of dress?

Editor: Yes but you know the rules. We have to have an authentic Muslim voice so you have to find someone who wears the hijab or at least a burka, preferably no make-up, ethnic dress, intersperses her conversation with Inshallah and Mashallah, has an accent and should be well versed in the Koran.

Producer: But what does the Koran have to do with this story?

Editor: Doesn’t matter – quoting the Koran and Hadeeth just makes them sound so much more credible than someone who quotes from the UN declaration of Human Rights

Producer: So what they say is not as important as how they look?

Editor: Yes you got it so please get on it right away

Producer: In that case we don’t need to bother looking too far. We will find our authentic voice right here in Londonistan!

*Source: Canadian Muslim, Raheel Raza was born in Pakistan,and she’s the President of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow. Additionally, she is the author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad: a Muslim Canadian woman speaks out. She is an outspoken adversary of what she has called “inequality toward Muslim women and opposes terrorism committed in the name of Islam. As a result, she has received death threats. More at http:www.raheelraza.com

Pakistan joins One Billion Rising to fight abuse

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While all of Karachi was bathed in red on Valentine’s Day, more than 1,000 people had collected in an open air theatre at the Arts Council to protest against the blood and tears of women that have been flowing for years all around the world. The event itself took place in connection with similar events taking place simultaneously around the world for the campaign One Billion Rising (OBR), the initiative of playwright and activist Eve Ensler, known for her celebrated play The Vagina Monologues. OBR has been launched by Aurat Foundation in Karachi, which organized a seminar and theatre performance by renowned artist and activist Sheema Kermani of Tehrik-e-Niswan.

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The name of the campaign is based on the statistic that every third woman is beaten; and with a total of seven billion people in the world, this translates into a grave reality of one billion abused women.

The seminar began with short speeches made by Pakistani women working for the rights of women and a performance by Kermani and her protégé. It seemed like the perfect way for women to express their outrage against abuse, demand change, rise against the injustices women suffer all over the world and play a role in ending violence against women.

Pakiusani Women rights activists and strong feminists voiced their concerns and made strong arguments for ending violence against women in the country. The beautifully orchestrated performance Aao Raqs Karo (Come and Dance), based on the poetry of famous thinker and poetess Fahimda Riaz sung by Gulshan Ara Syed and Tina Sani, started right on time and delivered a strong message — it more than made up for the seminars’ misgivings.

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The event wasn’t just held for the elite and privileged women of Karachi. It was free and open for all and the diverse audience consisted mostly of working women, factory workers and their children who need this information and knowledge.

Kermani took the audience on a visual journey back to the Stone Age, when a woman was integral and played a key role in most activities. From there on, the performance settled on the Neolithic Age when farming became popular. Through dance, she showed the ways women helped mankind with progression and survival. But as humans advanced and time passed, some men became arrogant and made women their victims.

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The sequences in which men were shown physically abusing women were so well-acted by the male performers that they almost became hard to watch. All the female performers, especially the younger ones, had a grace which was uniquely their own.

Like all writers, poets and creative geniuses, Kermani through her dream-like performance and art demonstrated her interpretation of the reasons behind the abuse of women. It seemed that to Kermani, abuse came down to imprisoning a woman under a chaddar. This was evident when three women were shown writhing under a black cloth.

The question then to be asked is, are women who are not under a chaddar not being abused? Are Western women who were not buried under dark layers safe from rape or molestation?

But like all visionaries, whether or not one agrees, Kermani has delivered her message, in a colorful and meaningful escapade.

FEMEN: The Solidarity of Boob Barings

FEMEN. Self-described as a “radically feminist” organization, FEMEN’s roots are in protesting against sex trafficking of Ukrainian women and demonstrating for pro-choice legislation in Ukraine. That’s great. But during the period of 2012-2013, FEMEN’s increasingly racist offensive stunts like “Topless Jihad”, “Better Naked than in a Burqa” and other bizarre stunts sparked an international debate which further divided the global feminists and caused much damage to women rights cause on a holistic scale.

With strong grounds of cultural alienation depicted in FEMEN’s white, paternalistic radical narrative thereby providing yet another opportunity to feed the modern negative stereotypes of Westernized feminism instead of furthering the progress that feminism is supposed to strive for.

Topless Jihad In Front of Mosque

Problems with FEMEN

During these years, a silent spectator on the side-lines I managed to observe FEMEN’s activities and have heard accounts from both their supporters and opponents, as a result the following conclusions have come forward.

1.There is a huge reason why millions of Muslim women across the globe were incensed after firebrand FEMEN activists offensive public protests outside of mosques across Europe last year.  This “topless Jihad” protest and the discourse packaged with it denigrate Muslim women and their belief system — the same women Femen claim to defend.

As a Pakistani- Muslim woman, I totally support Femen’s right to protest whatever the hell it wants and however it chooses to do so. However, the reason that I and other Muslim women were turned off by Femen, however, was because their motivations and methods reeked of a pervading and deep-rooted ignorance of Islam itself.

2. I feel that FEMEN like many other misguided group with a similarly disengaged and seasonal interest in “saving” Muslim women from their personal monstrous culture and beliefs will continue to  met with a collective groan of frustration and dissatisfaction. Yes, FEMEN was the first group to come forward in large numbers to demand the release of  19-year old daring, Tunisian feminist Amina Tyler (Amina Sboui) and finally Tyler was released from a Tunisian jail. But on the note, the good of FEMEN finishes. As within days of her release, Tyler left the radical group citing multiple grievances quoted in her own words here.

“I do not want my name to be associated with an Islamophobic organization. I did not appreciate these actions like ‘Amina Akbar, Femen Akbar’ nor did I appreciate the Islamic flag burning in front of a mosque in Paris. That offends many Muslims and many friends of mine. We must respect everyone’s religion.”

Islamic Flag Burned in Paris: All hail french freedom of expression

3. Thirdly, Femen did not spark a much-needed discussion on human rights violations against women in the Muslim world.  Instead, it ignited a number of incendiary attacks on the beliefs and autonomy of Muslim women; first in Muslim-majority countries, and later, the global community. FEMEN prompted Muslim women/feminists to come out in large numbers to show their anger  — not just because they took particular offense to the tired notion they are gagged into silence as mute dolls , but because they felt the need to defend their faith and their right to choose how they practice it.

4. In Europe, the iconic piece of cloth, the hijab is overall thought to be a ISLAMIC symbol of oppression. The hijab wearing practice by Muslim women is both voluntarily and under duress.Again this was completely ignored by FEMEN protestors. In a sorely misinformed and cruelly inimical statement, Femen’s leader Inna Shevchenko equated the hijab with “the blood and all the crimes that are based on your religion,” and called for Muslim women to remove it in solidarity. And what if the Muslim woman she was debating had complied? She’d be doing it as an act of coercion. Ironically, Femen’s “free speech and misguided ideology of women’s freedom” thwarts a woman’s freedom of religion, and I feel FEMEN is no better than the Muslim male abusers they are protesting against.

5. Unfortunately FEMEN protest do not extend into any grander aspirations to understand all Muslim women, Femen may have stood up for one Muslim woman’s right to bare her body, but they denounce the right and choice to cover of many whom may see it fit. The discourse that Femen brought to the floor is not one that will allow us to progress as a society, but it is one that will pigeonhole all Muslim women as oppressed victims, frame the discussion within the bounds of the stereotypes that exist about Muslim women, and will relegate Muslim women to constantly defending their faith rather than discussing the larger issues at hand.

6. The reckless activities of FEMEN resulted in a backlash against the bob barring mob i.e FEMEN protestors. The second good thing that came out of this aftermath, was the speed with which Muslim women mobilized to demonstrate that Islam is not oppressive and that they have the right to choose to wear the hijab. In response, Shevchenko told Huffington Post U.K., ‘They write on their posters that they don’t need liberation but in their eyes it’s written ‘help me.’ As supposed trailblazers in initiating a discussion on women and religion, it is tragically ironic that when Muslim women spoke up, Femen didn’t care to listen. This demeaning response  showed that Femen’s core presumptions about Islam are flawed, because they believe Muslim women are oppressed because Islam is inherently oppressive. To defend Femen’s protests, then, is to defend this line of thinking — a dangerous, caustic, and inept approach in tackling issues of gender inequality in the Muslim world today.

7. If at all, Femen had aimed to shed light on many grave injustices against Muslim women like child brides, honor killings or gender-related violence, they would have been better served putting their shirts back on, rolling up their sleeves, and supporting Muslim rights issues through social service campaigns and lobbying across the Muslim majority countries. But probably going naked in front of a Mosque in Paris, or walking across a street in Milan is much easier and provide more media fodder to the anti-Islamic aspirations of these countries.

When in Rome, do as Romans do: FEMEN protestors at Tunisian consulate, Milan Italy

8. Femen group negates the more progressive areas of Islam and Muslim cultures and it depicted a clear ignorance of the fact that within Muslim countries there are differences in traditions and cultural beliefs. One cannot help wonder why exactly FEMEN group has never tried to establish contacts with progressive Muslim feminists on the European soil.. women like Malika Hamidi of European Muslim Network, Souad Sbai and others.

If at all Schevchenko were a true feminist, she would have established links with them to discuss how to support Muslim women’s problems. One cannot decipher the exact location of this “FEMEN cocoon” because they clearly seemed to have missed the strong Muslim voices of scholars such as Yemeni Habib Ali of Dar al Mustafa Islamic University quoted “Islam’s Prophet (PBUH) said the best of you are those who are best to their families’… Enough of this talk in defense of Islam, that it was Islam that gave woman her right and it was Islam that freed women. Yes, Islam did that. The question really isn’t whether Islam did that or not; the question that should be asked is why we’re not implementing Islam in that regard.”

9. Last but not least yet again, the lives of Muslim women are to be judged by European feminists, who yet again have decided that Islam – and the veil – are key components of patriarchy. Where do women who disagree with this fit? Where is the space for a plurality of voices? What about Muslim women who don’t “WEAR HIJABS.” And the most important question of all: can feminism survive unless it sheds its Eurocentric bias and starts accepting that the experiences of all women should be seen as legitimate? Nudity and aggressive sex-symbolization of women’s bodies is a norm for liberated Europe and FEMEN, but push your totally opposite values to other groups such as Muslim women within Europe and globally. Frankly speaking, a bob baring woman has not to teach me what is feminism all about!

  10. FEMEN tries to imitate fascist behavior by imposing  their ideology and this resulted into more rifts to existing  an East-West divide. Their brazen attitude of absolute absolution from taking responsibility of their own created mayhem goes on showing what in reality FEMEN think about Muslim women. They use the removal of clothes in public to promote women’s rights. This reinforces racist discourse and causes damage rather than supports the struggles of the women they call their sisters. Thanks to such public stunts the good that Muslim women feminists could do and already are trying is in jeopardy because the message becomes, like…see, Western women are naked and they want our women to also become naked. Clearly Femen protestors are brave women, but their anti-Muslim Rhetoric is dangerous in the post-9/11 world and its feeding the raging flames of Islamophobia.

Contrary to what Femen would have you believe, it is possible to practice Islam and champion women’s rights at the same time. Many Muslim feminists, including myself can give evidential proofs of how we are working in our countries using innovative strategies of  progressive Islam and Eastern tradition in our women rights battles. FEMEN may bare its body parts or whatever for whatever the hell they may wish for, as its none of our business anyways, but it is requested to kindly refrain from going on the bandwagon of “Oh lets protect those poor Muslim women with our titillating bob shows.”

Muslim women are just as sophisticated and their needs just as diverse as women anywhere. Enough said.

References:

Photo credits: Alessandro Garofalo/Reuters, Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images and Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan| Saluting Todd Shea’s Humanitarian Services

Seven years ago, an American volunteer Todd Shea landed in Pakistan to help the earthquake-hit people of Muzaffarabad and adjoining areas just for a couple of weeks. However, his stay extended from weeks to months and then years.

Shea – a musician, father and humanitarian – founded Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) to help the affected people of the northern region in 2005. His services later on benefited flood victims and internally displaced people.

Explaining his dedication towards serving the people of this foreign land, Shea said during his initial days in the country, he saw the side of Pakistan which was rarely presented to the rest of the world. 

Emphasizing that every effort counts, Shea said the population is growing day by day and the number of people he can help is just a drop in the ocean but he said “we should not see our success against the backdrop of what is needed because then we will rip our hair out in frustration. We have to look at each individual we can help.”

Watch this short video showing a glimpse of Todd’s valuable services and responding to the disaster affected people’s needs. This film is part of Pakistan Calling, a UK and Pakistan project.

Todd Shea, thank you for being with us. We, Pakistanis salute your compassionate heart and your sincere services!

Pakistan|Daring Media Refuses to be Silenced

Although reported as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists and freedom of speech, Pakistan continues to have the most uniquely outspoken media. Time and again we have proved it and broken the shackles of global stereotyping.

Today, in the latest attacks on three journalists, we have lost the lives of three media personal,  but we the grieving media are united for denouncing the killings and have called for countrywide protests against the deadly attack. The national media body, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) said in a statement that journalists stood united throughout the country and would not be ‘bogged down by such cowardly acts’.

As we speak, the Pakistani media groups are staging protest demonstrations across the country. The PFUJ will participate in a sit-in outside the Parliament House, in Islamabad to voice the anger against the failure of the government to arrest the culprits involved in these killings.

It may be noted that many journalist bodies, political and religious parties have strongly condemned the attack and demand the Government to do its job by provision of security.

Pakistani media continues to move forward despite being targeted by local and international threats including the radical organizations like Al-Qaeda and its local partner TTP.

It may also be noted that several Pakistani media persons have had a three-year old “Islamic fatwa” against itself which goes on along the likes of “media promoting secularism and western values in their coverage of the war on terror, media may then be pardoned if they end their hostility to Islam and their anti-Muslim propaganda.”

“They think that bullets will silence us, but they forget we are fearless and possessors of great strength that is the pen.”

                                                                           images

Stop Pakophobia| Wake up to Facts

racial-tolerance-map-hk-fix

Pakistanis ranks among the most racially tolerant people in the world, despite limited economic development, high illiteracy ratio and being located in the hostile conflict region housing some of the least racially tolerant populations.

Facts do speak louder than words, these results are a reality check that Pakistan was, is, and will remain an ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with multiculturalism depicting its many shades and hues.

The statistics are taken from World Values Survey, conducted by Washington, USA.

Shit Muslims Say to Non-Muslims| Duh?!

After the amazing response to the earlier post “Shit People Say To Muslims! Duh?!” I bring you the other side of the story that Muslims are very well aware of.Yes you got it right.

Please check out the video depicting “Shit Muslims Say to Non-Muslims|Duh?

This genius is the production of the sheikbake group that focuses on the funny and awkward things Muslims do. The point is to loosen up the human divide and also serve as a soft reminder to Muslims to not take everything in obsessive absolute terms.

Remember, above all and beyond only ALLAH or God is absolute.

No offense intended to any color, race, nationality, gender, ethnicity, religion or so on and so forth. I bring it forward for over the years, I am tired of being embarrassed to witness awkward situations that my non-Muslim friends and associates encountered in social interactions or at work places.  Seriously 21 century is already here, can we all join it?

P.S: Muslim brethren time we take a good look within ourselves to loosen the rigid stances and recall Islam as foremost to be a message of peace.

Peace to all! :)

 

Shit People Say To Muslims! Duh?!

The new year kick-off with an amusing yet disturbing video showing global attitudes towards Muslims. Check out what frustrating this young woman or for that matter, numerous others!

The following list is a recollection of the most stupidest comments I get to hear (and no your wrong, mostly have been said by self-styled modern Western societies and generally liberated westerners).

1. Did you ever meet Osama Bin Ladin?

2. For being a Muslim, you speak pretty good English!

3. Its happy hour, until a giggly “oh you are not really into Islam are you?”

4. So Pakistan is Muslim but you guys don’t speak Arabic… eerr!

5. You have such exotic looks, how do men cope? Duh?!

Hahahaha… :-D

There’s no excuse for garbage, next time please shut your mouth. Thanks!

Human Lens| In Review – 2013

The Human Lens blog was viewed about 12,704 times in 2013.

In 2013, there were 44 new posts, covering a range of topics including conflict, gender based violence, human trafficking, child education, racism, Sharia Law, Muslim women status and citizen activism.

The busiest month of the year was May with 1,549 views. The most popular posts that month include:

  • Inside the Brothel| An Aziz Sanghur’s documentation
  • Kohli| A bonded laborer’s engagement in governance
  • GAINING MOMENTUM| Women’s Day Special, Part I
  • About me

In 2013, the Human Lens, total number of new followers include 40 word press users and 8 email followers.

In 2013, the Human Lens was shared immensely using the following top five virtual mediums:

  • Email
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Press This
  • Pin interest

In 2013, the Human Lens’s top five viewing countries include:

  • Pakistan
  • United States
  • Italy and India
  • Canada and United Kingdom
  • Australia

In 2013, the Human Lens was viewed by a total of 120 countries across the globe.

It may be noted that in media restricting countries including Russia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan as well as Syria the readers managed to view the Human Lens posts.

In 2013, the Human Lens continent wise viewings include:

  • Americas
  • Africa
  • Asia and Europe
  • Australia and Oceania

 In 2013, the Human Lens received a total of 46 comments that were publicized, followed by 15 emails, 10 organizational level acknowledgments and numerous in person feedback.

In 2013, the Human Lens post receiving highest number of comments includes:

  • Curbing Human Trafficking| Bangladesh
  • Veeru Kohli| A bonded laborer’s engagement in governance
  • Trafficked| The Child Slaves riding Camels
  • Slavery| A Childhood stolen by a Carpet
  • Amsterdam| Harassed for being a Pakistani woman

In 2013, the Human Lens blog reviewed a total of 50 likes and 88 comments.

Saadia, Haq via the Human Lens blog thanks all her readers, critiques and supporters for making this year as wonderful as it has been.

Without your time, interest and keen support it would not have been possible to get the word out on humanitarian issues, considering the jump from extreme  to scandalous to controversial and bordering on down-right heart-breaking!

See you in 2014

Thanks for flying with WordPress.com in 2013. The Human Lens is looking forward to continuing its public service journey in 2014!

May we have world peace, ameen!  Happy New Year!

Pakistan| Celebrating Christmas with Christians

The Christmas celebrations will begin with special prayers, commonly known as the ‘Midnight Mass’, in all churches on Friday night, December 24 or Christmas eve. But unlike my childhood days, the celebrations are marred as this has been the worst year for violence against minorities in Pakistan.

Sadly, there is a pervasive sense of fear. But I will not stay silent, that’s not right. Here wishing the Pakistani Christian minorities and our fellow brethren a very warm and blessed Happy Christmas!

Christmas is a time that I choose to spread amongst us tranquility and hope for a peaceful Pakistan, tomorrow. Amen.

P.S: I’m Muslim! :-D

Amsterdam| Harrased for being a Pakistani woman

As I climbed the stairs to my apartment, I could feel my legs giving up and my heart throbbing in my throat. I did not know if my friends realized what damage I had just incurred as we exited the bar nearby our apartments. The experience rendered me silent in shock, which is why I only walked away, hoping to reach home safe and sound, instead of smashing the faces of those two men who stereotyped, harassed, heckled, and belittled me in broad daylight.

After dinner, two of my American friends and I left the bar for home. At the doorstep, two guys (one in his late 20s and the other in his late 30s) stopped us and added, “Hey girls, the weather forecast is bad, so be safe.” It had been pouring all day and it was obvious that the weather was awful, but we took their warning as a kind gesture and thanked them before we began walking out again. That is when they attempted, once again, to start a conversation with us. This time, they asked my friends where they were from. Although something about the people’s behavior seemed off, it is not unusual to strike conversations with strangers in Amsterdam; hence my friends casually answered the guys.They were delighted to know my friends were American students studying abroad in Europe for a semester, and now they directed their attention to me.

I do not wear a hijab, but yesterday I happened to have my head covered with a pashmina shawl to avoid getting soaked in the ruthless rain. One of them assumed I was Muslim and said “salaam”, which is an Islamic greeting. I smiled and answered their greeting. Their next question was where I was from; to which I replied, Pakistan. I think my answer further sparked their interest in me. Surprisingly and rather rudely (because my friends couldn’t understand Urdu – native language of Pakistan), the men switched from English to Urdu and noted they were from India. I politely nodded, but did not say anything. While the older man asked my two friends (in English) where in the US they were from, the younger man asked me (in Urdu) if I, too, studied in the US. I said I study in Massachusetts and I, too, am here for only a semester, just like my other friends.

The younger man mocked me because I drew a comparison between my American friends and myself. He stepped closer to me and derisively laughed, saying (in Urdu), “Hah, you don’t study in Massachusetts or even here. You are seeking asylum because you have run away from your home you were locked inside by your parents.” His words pierced through my ears and hit me like stones before I went numb. My friends of course did not understand a word of what he had said. My voice failed me in that moment, I stepped back and uttered a feeble “No.” This time, the older man stepped forward and tried to present me with his business card. He added (in Urdu), while disgustingly smiling and scrutinizing me from top to bottom, “We have hotels worldwide. Recently, we opened a hotel here in Amsterdam as well. You should definitely come over. We need people like you.”

I flushed as blood gushed through my veins. I had done nothing wrong yet I felt filthy, embarrassed and dizzy. Puffing at his half-smoked cigarette, the younger man spoke again, “Come with us or take us to your room. That’s what you do, don’t you?” My legs quivered and eyes welled as I hastily turned away from them. My friends followed in confusion. The younger man forged ahead and grabbed at my wrist to stop me from leaving. I hurriedly pulled my wrist back and started walking toward the bicycle stand really fast. I could hear them in the back laughing as one of them yelled (in Urdu), “Come back! We are just kidding.”

By now, my friends had realized something was awfully wrong and I was not just killing homesickness by conversing in my native language to people I met from my part of the world. One of my friends put me on her bicycle’s carrier and we drove away. During the small five-minute ride back to the apartments, I could only feebly attempt to deconstruct what had just happened and why it had happened to me. I also kept looking over my shoulder to make sure none of those men were following us or monitoring our route back.

After being home, I told my friends what had happened and they were greatly shocked and sympathetic. Still when I tried to sleep last night, I could only get flashbacks – not just of this one time, but of all other times I have been in similar situations where I was gawked at, grabbed at, cat-called at or worse, masturbated at in public. Not just in Amsterdam or my hometown Karachi, but several other places regardless of their geographical, cultural, religious or other confines. Sometimes I retaliated, like that one time in Karachi this summer when I literally threw a stone at a man who licked his lips while gawking at me from across the street, while I waited outside my internship office to leave for home. However, countless times such experiences left me frozen and stuck in moments and disallowed me to think or normally function for days. Before I traveled abroad in 2008, I always thought that it is only the conservative societies like Pakistan that are plagued with harassment targeted at women.

However, it was only after having traveled across the United States for high school and college, and here in Europe that I realize that sexual harassment extends beyond geographical and cultural boundaries.

Recently I read a heartbreaking account of Michaela Cross about being perpetually targeted as a sex object in India because of her white skin, blue eyes and red locks (a brown man’s dream). I concluded that Cross’s dilemma was not drastically different from mine. While she was categorized as “promiscuous” for being a white woman in India. I was targeted and harassed by those two Indian men for being Muslim and Pakistani hence vulnerable, oppressed and good for nothing but their sexual pleasures in the most liberal city of Europe.

The truth is, women are stereotyped and harassed independent of their religion, culture, skin color and sexuality. Women are harassed for being women, and the sooner we realize that and raise our voice every time we become victim of harassment, the sooner women will hopefully cease to be second-class world citizens.

Will it?

Source: Tribune story: a-pakistani-in-amsterdam-sexual-harassment-has-no-geographical-location

Pakistan| The complete story

Pakistani illustrator Usman Tariq and his team at the College of Art and Design Lahore have produced this video showing the complete story of Pakistan.

A country that has been used and misused by many in power, leaving us in a desperate situation. In fact everyone who has some power has used it against the national interests.

Our politicians have caused Pakistan a tremendous harm and their international policies have only brought a bad image to us. Please watch this sensitive video based on facts, before making up your mind that we are all Talibans and should murdered.

While you do that, I pray to God to save my beloved, Pakistan!

Europe to Act Against Rape| Use the Istanbul Convention

Europe feels the strong need to reassert that women’s rights are human rights and this is backed by the latest research that reveals that only between 2% and 10% of rapes are reported. This situation is highly alarming and needs to be addressed.

This year, Council of Europe and the European Women’s Lobby have joined forces in this project to promote the Istanbul Convention as a concrete tool for change to eradicate all forms of violence against women in particular, rape.

Under the common slogan “Act against rape|Use the Istanbul Convention” a series of public events are taking places in 33 countries all over Europe.

It is hoped that this campaign can seek the attention of European Parliament’s member states on the gravity of persistent violation of women’s rights.

In solidarity! Promoting Human Rights, Lets Act against Rape!

Rome| How come you don’t wear a Burqa?

It was our last day in Rome. My friend and I decided to spend it at our two favorite places in the city – Piazza Navona and the Trevi Fontana. It was almost noon on a pleasant day with the brilliant autumn sunshine warming the cobble-stoned square and illuminating the magnificent Roman sculptures in the center of the piazza (city square in Italian).

It was as if both of us wanted to take a part of Rome away with us in our hearts as we sat quietly on the stone bench simply absorbing the relaxed Italian life around us. I had my camera in my hand and was finding it difficult to put it down since every other moment I would spot an interesting play of light, shadow or colour to capture.

All around the square, there were various artists displaying their skills with color and I was quite taken with the utterly beautiful collections some of them had.

Just then I spotted a middle-aged Italian artist who was trying to convince an American tourist of the mastery of his piece. He looked at me and I lowered my camera and smiled at him. I asked him to wave while I took a picture; he good naturally obliged and I clicked.

Ten minutes later, while we were still enjoying the warm sun on our faces he ambled over to us and asked in heavily accented English,

“Where are you girls from?”

We squinted up at him and replied that we were from Pakistan. He looked surprised and said,

“Oh! I thought you were from South America!”

My friend and I looked at each other. Neither of us looked remotely South American but we deduced that South America for him was the country where non-white and non-Indian looking people lived.

We shrugged and smiled, and he walked away to entertain another potential customer.

He was back five minutes later with a list of questions for us,

 “So Pakistan, eh? How come you are not wearing a…what do they say… a Burqa?”

We both burst out laughing at his innocent question, then, regaining my composure I replied,

 “ Not every woman in Pakistan has to wear a Burqa. We wear what we like mostly. The Pakistan you see on your TV is not the only Pakistan there is.”

The poor man still looked a little confused and then he asked,

“So they let you study?”

He was really on a roll. However, I could understand his confusion given the way we are portrayed in the media and so I replied,

“We are both working women.”

The man now just looked dumbfounded and he asked,

“And your parents let you do this?”

My friend and I were thoroughly enjoying the conversation by now.

We tried to explain to him the paradoxical world that resides in Karachi – the melting pot of ideologies, of schools of thought (or lack thereof), of the way of life, of culture and of that most encumbered word ever to grace any language – religion.

We also tried to explain that Pakistan and Afghanistan are two separate countries; that the bearded Taliban that he sees on TV as our ‘representatives’ were in reality the bane of our people’s existence – for both, people who agree with their ideology as well as those who are horrified by their arrogance.

He nodded, looked away for an instant and then turned back to us. His eyes lingered on the headscarf I had on and then shifted to my friend’s beautiful, straight hair. Drawing an imaginary circle around his head, he asked,

“How come she doesn’t wear that?”

I shrugged and replied,

“Because she doesn’t want to.”

He looked at us completely perplexed by now and asked,

“But you both follow the same religion? You are both Moslem?”

We were really cracking up now and his sheepish grin indicated that he also seemed to realize the stereotyping he had subjected us to.

However, this little encounter did make me think. We have managed to compartmentalize everything – liberals, fundamentalists, conservatives, chauvinists – the list is endless.

I could easily make this piece all about how Muslims and especially Muslim women have been put into a box and how difficult it is to explain to someone from another culture that a Muslim woman wearing a burqa is not just a ‘woman-wearing-a-burqa’ — she may be completely different in her thoughts and beliefs to another ‘woman-wearing-a-burqa’.

In fact, she may actually have a lot in common with a woman who is not burqa-clad.

I could do this but I would rather not.

Deep down I know that the stereotyping that this Italian gentleman subjected us to was no less than the stereotyping I receive every day in my own city of Karachi. In fact, I am not innocent of this evil myself and often end up stereotyping people based on my limited knowledge of them.

Most of us are guilty of picking the most visible trait in a person and defining the person simply on that one quality. In essence, we try to capture an entire ocean in one tiny drop; paint an entire rainbow in monochrome. We pick one piece of cloth and make it into a Chinese screen.

We unfold it in our heads, sit back and watch the entire theatre from behind it.

In doing so, we forget that humans are beings of movement. In our attempt to make sense of the world around us, we structure and compartmentalized everything around us which leads to judgement, and then we let this judgement define our attitude and consequently our behavior.

Although this compartmentalization helps us formulate a response to people and situations, must we not also grant the freedom of fluidity to ourselves, the people around us and even the situations that we find ourselves in?

Some of these compartmentalizations are harmless and in some cases even provide comic relief. However, most of them simply serve as chains rather than ropes. Someone takes one step outside the little box in our heads and we waste no time in terming it as ‘uncharacteristic’, ‘unlike them’ and consequently take it to mean that ‘something is wrong’ – either with the person or with the situation.

With this very categorization, we imprison people into ‘was’, ‘is’ and ‘will be’. In this prison there is no place to simply ‘be’ for if we were to allow people to simply ‘be’, how would we know which box to put them in?

Just we always be held accountable to how we are or were at a point in time?

Must I not be allowed to feel one way today and another tomorrow?

Believe one thing today and discover something new tomorrow?

Is this not the vital sign of a ‘constant flux’? Must not the mind pulse to its own rhythm and the soul vibrate to its own music just as God gave the heart its own beat so that the blood in our veins may flow?

After all, the day it stops is also the day we die.

So, must we not ensure that the death of our mind and soul does not occur before the death of our body?

In this process, must we not also let flourish the freedom of another’s mind?

Source: Tribune story, 19565/in-italy-i-was-asked-why-i-was-not-wearing-a-burqa/

Urdu; the language of Resistance & Poetry

Talking about Pakistan without an introduction to the national language Urdu seems incomplete: so here are some fun facts that might be of interest to The Human Len’s readers.

1. Urdu is spoken and understood by most Pakistanis and is the dominant second language in the country. According to national statistics, the Pakistani regional languages include Punjabi, Pushto, Sindhi, Sarakai and Balochi dominate as first languages (madre lingua, mother tongue spoken as per provincial ethnicity as first languages in Pakistan.

2. When Pakistan was carved out of British controlled India in 1947, Urdu was part and parcel of the freedom movement and hence it was decided that Urdu would be the national language of this diverse country to unite all the different Muslim ethnicity in the new country, although it was only spoken by 10 million people at the time.

Today it is spoken by some 67 million across the world. P.S: Review this map to view the official status of language Urdu in Pakistan, 6 states in India and its Union States etc.  Urdu_official-language_areas

3. Urdu language has been derived and has strong roots from the languages of Sanskirt, Persian, Turkish and Arabic.

4. While everyday spoken Urdu and Hindi are intelligible with one another, but the written alphabet is completely different.

5. The origin of Urdu is disputed by linguistics. One popular story, which many dispute, is that Urdu was created as a “camp language” by soldiers of Mughals who ruled the South Asian region, the armies spoke Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hindi so by this formation of Urdu they could communicate amongst themselves. The use of certain Urdu words is reserved for Muslims only because it was created for unification of Muslims in the British controlled India and served a strong role in the separatist movement.

6. Urdu is written in right to left alphabet. It is a modification of the Persian alphabet, which itself is derived from the Arabic alphabet.   Urdu language might shock people because it has 38 letter alphabets that are typically written in the curvy calligraphic Nasta’liq script. While Arabic is commonly in the Naskh style.

7. Nasta’liq is notoriously difficult to typeset. The only hand written newspapers in the world is in Urdu and continues to be so.

8. Urdu’s Nasta’liq is also difficult to code, so that is why Naskh has started replacing Nastaliq off the web. Most credible Urdu sites including - Dawn.com Urdu, Geo.tv Urdu, Urdu Voice of AmericaAlarabiya Urdu and BBC-Urdu, - use Naskh rather than Nastaliq. The same is true for social media sites -Facebook, Twitter, and most blogs – all use Naskh.

Lastly, Urdu was the language of my forefathers that took active part in creation of this country. I am proud that Urdu is my mother language because to me it represents freedom that was achieved by the uncountable struggles and martyrdom.

Indeed, I was born free because thousands died for an idea this world knows as Pakistan. 

Deliberate Genocide To Save a Nation

Dying humanity

Burma, where nationalists argue that crimes against humanity, even the Holocaust, are justified “in defense of national sovereignty” and “survival of a race.”

The systemic genocide of Rohingya is a chilling reminder that Nobel Prizes and teachings of Gautama Buddha are not enough to save humanity.

Support the cause, to end the barbaric genocide against the stateless, Rohingya people.