Remembering Sep 2010: Silent Screams Live On

SEPTEMBER 2010-PAKISTAN: It seemed that nobody was spared anymore. I entered the Ummah Camp tent site almost two months later after Pakistan  was hit by the worst possible flooding the country had seen since its birth. I was met with a deafening stillness that chilling me to the bones, strangely I sensed something very profound and don’t know how and why, but I didn’t  bring out my pen or notepad.

This camp was full of young children aged between ages of four and sixteen. None of them had any proper shoes or feet wear. Their dirty appearance and unkempt condition spoke volumes. Something inside me started hurting, so bad. The thing that hit me the most hard was their complete silence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany were going about doing chores that elders had instructed them to do so. But if approached none of them moved a bone, it was as they were not really in this world.  I sat on the ground next to eight-year old Kiran who was busy cutting grass.

She did not register nor did she acknowledge my presence. Some half an hour later, an elderly man (flood affectee) walking up to his tent found us in this state. He said “Bibi (means lady), what do you want with her, she will not speak, we havent’ heard her voice since two months now.”

Upon hearing our voices, little Kiran finally looked up to watch me squarely in the eyes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But this silence could not be broken. I understood her somehow, I got up respecting her decision and walked away to another direction where few more children could be seen doing similar chores.

Here I met eleven year old Rizwan trying to pile together dry grass shoots. I learned his name from the women washing dishes in dirty water beside their badly damaged tent. He had just finished three rounds of cutting grass and carrying the load back to camp. This chore is taxing even a strong adult man’s energy, it was simply too much for a child.

My heart screamed again, but I willed it to stay silent. Now I see Rizwan feeding his young goat with grass. He looked extremely tired, but nevertheless he continued his job. The women told me that he had watched the flood waters swallow up, bit by bit, his home and family members.

 He is now an orphan, thanks to these horrifying floods. An affected family from his village took pity on his state and gave him a home.  But what home? Their tent was barely able to keep four inhabitants and I wondered about the sleeping arrangements. I was informed that the family members take rounds to provide him space to sleep inside the tents during night-time. This little boy who was wearing a light cotton local dress and had no shoes nor socks.

During the daytime, he makes do with staying outside and keeping busy with menial chores. I debated whether to try initiating a conversation or not with him. In the end, I sat down near him and his goat while he fed her.

As God is my witness, Rizwan didn’t budge. Few minutes passed in silence. An inner voice told me to continue sitting near the children. And so I did, like I have done since long these years.

Being a disaster reporter is not piece of joke, I can tell you that I do posses strong nerves otherwise I wasn’t today where I am. BUT.

Ummah Camp visit had an extraordinary effect on me.  It made me question my own self and my involvement in the development world. This disaster made me angry, very very angry.

I was really really upset that high-profile dignitaries from UN (international celebrities like Angelina Jolie etc), International organizations, local government officials were keen to pose for cameras on their visits and humanitarian tours at really much better-provisioned camp that had been set beside this sad-looking tent site. But these people were deliberately ignored.

Why were Kiran, Rizwan and other little ones ignored in Ummah Camp???

The silent treatment from the children here was speaking volumes to me. However the women and men residing in this camp fumed at the appalling response from Pakistani  government and international community.  The only support observed here came from the local branch of the Ummah Welfare Trust, a U.K.-based Islamic charity.

It’s quite crustal clear crimes against humanity continue to be done by the very people and institutions that boast of human rights. This is not the first time and won’t be the last either.

It was quite shocking to hear camp residents say that the only time government representatives have talked to them is when the local police needs verification whether the banner”Ummah Trust” could be some militant faction initiative. Just because the words Ummah are coming from Arabic language. I was lucky to speak with the Ummah officials present on site and they confirmed to have managed mostly through soliciting but small donations from their networks.

Honestly, 2010 floods made me realize that I’m terribly exhausted. I have tried to rationalize my fears, I tried to compartmentalize my fears, distract myself by reporting on other lighter aspects, but there is no escaping this central conflict in my life. After the challenging flood assignments came to an end, I started feeling strange. I was more than the usual tired and losing interest in everything around me. My insomnia returned with a vengeance. I spent almost several months going about doing my thing, I traveled to Bangkok to deliver a training on human rights with my mentor to Burmese peace activists. I returned back to Pakistan and worked like a dog finishing other projects and so on. Basically I did what was my job, training, mentoring, editing and whatever. The one thing I couldn’t do was writing as I used to do before going to Ummah Camp.

I keep watching Kiran and Rizwan in my dreams.

I keep thinking of little Pakistani children stuck in lives of misery and struggle.

I keep imagining that one day children in my country will have a better future.

I keep hoping against hope and against all odds.

 – PRIVATE JOURNAL ACCOUNT: 29 September 2010

* All photographs have been taken with consent from Camp Officials and refugee families.

Road to Intersection|Islamic Feminism in Europe

A Muslim woman in Europe is considered emancipated if she takes off her headscarf – Malika Hamidi, Director General, European Muslim Network

The integration of European Muslims is the subject of intense debate across the EU and within Europe’s Muslim community.  At the very heart of this matter lies perhaps the most spoken of entity: European Muslim Women, migrants and second generations.

The clash of East and West is devastating, with both sides taking rigid positions. index

On one side Western  feminists feel that the headscarf is a glaring symbol of male oppression and on the other, hijab is seen as a strong political identity by most European Muslim women.

I have many times publicly stated that am not a hijab wearer. However, I do beg to differ from mainstream feminism that believes hijab as a symbol of oppression. This is  very disrespectful to hijab wearing women. I can tell you that they are just like you and me. To dehumanize them as if they are objects with no voice and agency is not on.

In an era, where this world continues becoming more unfriendly towards women and violence against women is rising at a faster pace, why are we so hung up on a piece of cloth is something I am unable to fathom.

The idea that Islamic Feminism exists is ludicrous for many, a fantasy of Muslim women’s minds, I have been told this to my face many a times.

But Muslim feminists existed throughout history and we still do. In Europe, many Muslim feminists who abide by hijab and the non-hijab wearers are exaustingly trying to struggle in penetrating the societal fabric and political classes that are still finding it difficult to accept that many Muslim women who wear a hijab but stand out emancipated as leaders, human rights activists, democrats and feminists.

Check out this video where, Ms Hamidi shares her viewpoints on the discourse of Islamic feminism and issues that affect both European society and in particular Muslim Women within this continent.

The assumption that several billion Muslim women wear the hijab because they are controlled by their men, really needs a huge reality check, but not all of us Muslim women are forced to wear it, as hard as it might be to believe, some do it on their own.

As Muslim feminism  continues to perpetrate within the European society, it is hoped that the Popular feminism will embrace it soon for a better tomorrow for women themselves.

Sooner or later, Europe has to come to this conclusion that “To Veil or Not To Veil” is private and it should continue to be.

Intersectionality| Not Your Erotic, Not Your Exotic



don’t wanna be your exotic
some delicate fragile colorful bird
imprisoned caged
in a land foreign to the stretch of her wings
don’t wanna be your exotic
women everywhere are just like me
some taller darker nicer than me
but like me but just the same
women everywhere carry my nose on their faces
my name on their spirits
don’t wanna
don’t seduce yourself with
my otherness my hair
wasn’t put on top of my head to entice
you into some mysterious black voodoo
the beat of my lashes against each other
ain’t some dark desert beat
it’s just a blink
get over it
don’t wanna be your exotic
your lovin of my beauty ain’t more than
funky fornication plain pink perversion
in fact nasty necrophilia
cause my beauty is dead to you
I am dead to you
not your
harem girl geisha doll banana picker
pom pom girl pum pum shorts coffee maker
town whore belly dancer private dancer
la malinche venus hottentot laundry girl
your immaculate vessel emasculating princess
don’t wanna be
your erotic
not your exotic

Those Akward Feminist Moments

The Human Lens’s visit in Malaysia ended, now we are back with Feminism, Intersectionality, Race and Color issues for the next coming weeks. Here’s the first installment. ENJOY.

Do you remember when you first became a feminist? Do I remember the moment I became a feminist. Was it as awkward for you as it was for me?

Does the whole feminism debate still have the ability to drive you nuts, frankly some times I do feel like banging my head on a wall and get thoroughly  exhausted but I admonish myself and continue to walk forward.

So coming back to the point. Let’s relive our feminist lives awkward moments, shall we?

1. Feminist brains = Machineries that Analyses Infinitely!:-P


2. When white feminists let the “white savior syndrome” do their job for others, Ouch!

Not again?

3. When explaining privilege is like banging the head on the wall forever. Most PoC/ WoC feminists would know what I am talking about.

Why don't they get it???

4. When you receive bullshit comments and get attacked from  mainstream “white feminism” for calling out and critiquing their shit. Every day issues faced by PoC/WoC, Black, Latina, Muslim feminists

5. White woman feminist, outraged, “How dare she tell me off, she’s just a cleaner. Does she even know the meaning of feminism and all that we have suffered to come here.” Oh yeah baby, here we go again…


6. When people use the term “FEMINAZI”  that should be banned globally *facepalm.* Please read this:


Hope you enjoyed the post, have a good weekend and see you at the next Feminist Friday !!! :-)



SALT| Empowering Youth For A Better Tomorrow

KUALA LAMPUR: Youth are back bone to the nation.They can change the future of the society with their well being and courageous behavior. They are here to show us that which we have not been willing to look at within ourselves. Recognizing and involving youth in a community’s decision-making processes is about more than engaging young people for the sake of inclusivity. It’s about recognizing the measurable benefits youth offer to organizations and whole communities.

In Malaysia, critical thinkers like Ms. Ann Beatrice Jacob and Dr. Fr. Jojo Fung S.J. took the initiative of founding an academy for youth empowerment, known as  The School of Acting Justly, Loving Tenderly and Treading Humbly (SALT).  It was found in 2008 and has successfully conducted four youth based programs since then.

Ms. Jacob, a diploma holder in I.T and majors in software engineering, but she decided against joining the field of her specialization for the passion of working with youth took over. Her ability to reach out to young people and be able to inspire, draw their attention and communicate in a patient manner is definitely a force being SALT’s success.

Overview of SALT Youth Based Programs

1.  In 2008, the first  SALT 1 program was held in 2008 at Melaka, and youth participants took part into exposure/immersion trips including 2 nights 3 days visit to various refugee communities in Kuala Lumpur,Selangor and Pahang.

2. In 2009,  SALT 2 program was organised at Miri, Sarawak to enable the students to understand the controversial issues of Native Customary Rights (NCR) lands of Sarawak IPs in relation to the construction of Bakun Hydroelectric Dam, logging activities and cash crops plantation.

3. In 2010, the third SALT 3 program was held in Belaga, Sarawak and it maintained its focus on environmental issues faced by indigenous people and the construction of the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam. The participating students and youth spent time in 3 different villages in Long Lawen, Uma Apan and Long Bangan to understand the effects of forced relocation  faced by local villagers and indigenous communities.

  4. In 2011, the fourth SALT 4 was held in Penampang Sabah with a extremely hardcore objective of inculcating social critical analysis and understandings of the Indigenous people’s struggles and fight against the mega-Dam projects.In this program, university students participated with much enthusiasms required to take forward their role as human rights activists.

Noteworthy Activities

There are some of events / activities that affiliated with SALT:-

  • Solidarity in protest to the Power – Gen Conference  in Kuala Lumpur. As part of the corporate “Power” Conference being held at KLCC in September (promotion of big coal, hydro, turbine corporations and tech in Asia), there is a panel happening on September 11 afternoon, featuring Torstein, CEO of Sarawak. Please check the link at Sarawak Energy is one of the sponsors of the entire conference and the event features prominently now on their website.
  • Save Ulu Papar exhibition – During the Seminar program “dan Berdoa untuk Gereja & Negara” organized by one NGO called Borneo Care in collaboration with Church, SALT took this opportunity to open a booth about Kaiduan dam.
  • Solidarity Hike and Visit 2014 – SALT/ Sabah team joined together with youth of Terian Village to celebrate their “local festival Kaamatan” with a group mountain hike at Kinabalu

SALT Future Programs:

In 2015, SALT Movement is gearing up to conduct the SALT 5 program for youth in Baram. The location of  Baram has been strategically chosen in relation to the development projects that will significantly affect indigenous peoples in the area via the construction of the Baram Dam.  Moreover, SALT 5 will be “Training for Trainers” camp where student and young leaders will be trained based on a holistic approach in trying to stop this Dam project.

During The Human Lens’s visit in Malaysia, it has been inspiring to observe movements like SALT Malaysia that are providing a much needed platforms for these rising youth to take forward the mission of the society’s betterment and a better future in coming time.

Malaysia| Campaign: Rivers Are In Our Hands

1622649_694607487244089_1406272857_nMALAYSIA: SALT Movement’s members have been keeping quite busy with their activities focusing on the land rights and environmental concerns of indigenous Malays whose lives are getting affected due to the mega-Dam projects.

SALT Movement’s Coordinator Amanda Leonie reports on this year’s event held in collaboration with grass-roots initiative SABAH Save Rivers in conjugation with the International Day of Action For Rivers. Further more, SALT is part of the coalition together with other 8 NGOs that are working on this campaign.

A successful campaign called “Rivers Are in Our Hands” was launched with the following objectives:

1. To create awareness among the public to protect rivers from pollution due to development projects.
2. To raise public awareness about the need to appreciate the water and use it wisely.
3. To celebrate the river that has sustained us.

In West Malaysia, SALT reports  that SALT team collaborated with Save Rivers, BaramKini, JKOASM and TaskForce against Kaiduan Dam to hold an event focusing media activism. The event’s audiences during the film screening,  viewed  three films namely Save Tasik Chini, The Sunken Grave and Stop Baram Dam.

These documentaries represent the grave issues from Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. After the film screening, audiences proceeded towards a public space for participating into an innovative activity of “Ballon-Giving” that focused on raising awareness within people about the importance of the rivers.

In SABAH: A a coalition called Sabah Save Rivers which SALT Malaysia is part of, celebrated the Action for Rivers by launching ‘Rivers Are In Our Hands‘ campaign. The event was able to draw a crowd of approximately 60 people from other districts like Kota Marudu, Kota Belud, Pitas, Tenom, Ranau, Kudat, Tongod, Keningau and Penampang.

Yet again, the goal of this campaign is to penetrate the message about the importance of rivers on environment and for protection of rivers from the industrial waste pollution due to the development projects such as Dams, to raise public awareness about the need to appreciate the water resource, to use it wisely and to celebrate the river that has sustained Malaysians.

Please check out the gallery of the events,  Malaysia: Rivers Are In Our Hands

Reporting credits: Amanda Leonie, SALT Movement Coordinator, Malaysia.



Malay Indigenous Voices on Environmental Concerns


In Malaysia, there is a surging wave of indigenous protests since the 1990s is underway in Sarawak, on the island of Borneo. Here, both indigenous people and on ground environmentalists are deeply concerned about the government’s plan of building the 12-mega-dam series.

The majority of indigenous communities demand that the government should stop the whole dam project as it is going to adversely affect their lives. Moreover, there are huge concerns on the already changing biodiversity of the rivers and the fishing industry.

The local rights’ based association; SALT Movement has been closely following the situation due to the exposure and immersion visits conducted during 2010’s capacity building activity. During the training, youth participants spent days with the locals and grasped the understanding of indigenous people’s lives and cultures. Please check out their latest at

Over these years, SALT Movement has developed a synergy and trust within the local villagers, they are now committed partners with the indigenous communities that live around the controversial Bakun Dam in the campaign “SAVE ULU PAPAR” with a clear aim to STOP THE DAMS.1526689_550668171712643_1355452801618469719_n

The people’ apprehension is justified as the State does not appear to value indigenous peoples’ traditional lands, heritage and livelihoods, and is overlooking issues of biodiversity and eco-tourism industry in this area.

Also, the proposed dams have already been part of the several controversies including “forced evictions” indigenous villagers were forcefully relocated to other areas.

Independent experts have also conceded that the dam flooding and infrastructure will probably bring irreparable damage to the whole environment. And that is can destroy a heritage for which all Malaysian or human race should respect and harness.

The strongest criticism is that the whole mega-Dam issue lacks a transparency and accountability.

The proposed mega-Dams will destroy hundreds of square kilometers of tropical forests. Sadly, these grave human rights violations are done to the rights of the indigenous people who have called these lands their homeland for generations.


Tête-à-tête with Malaysian Activist Lindu Livan II

Kuala Lampur: Lindu Livan, environmental activist and human rights defender in a conversation at The Human Lens Blog.

Earlier Ms. Livan shared her work with indigenous communities of Malaysia over the land rights issues arising from the mega Dam controversies. She is part of SALT Movement, an academy which works with youngsters and youth to empower them into the critical human rights issues within the society. Without a do, let’s continue..

Saadia Haq:  So Lindu, tell me is it dangerous or not to be an activist and woman at same time?

Lindu Livan: Personally, Saadia I have never felt that it’s dangerous to be an activist and women at same time. I really appreciated what I have now. I never thought that I would be going through this kind of life.

Also I feel that it would be become dangerous when one starts to have negative thoughts in the mental process about their work.  I cannot emphasis more on the very fact that most of the time I would always keep myself into a positive mental frame work as it empowers my journey in this life and in particular my mission.

Haq: Recently you have also won national recognition, the “Huminodun & Sindak Pangazou Award”, tell us more about it?

Lindu Livan: Huminodun & Sindak Pangazou Award is an award initiated by the  Youth-PREP Centre since 2012. It celebrates the  contributions and achievements of the young people who have been working with the communities as a positive role-model for other aspiring youth. The young people are acknowledged for their success and struggles through the  Huminodun and Sindak Pangazou title. The award name itself has been inspired by our local mystical legends about love and sacrifice to the community.

tumblr_inline_n8c9aoEGNr1r3u92uThe objective of this award is to encourage youths in playing their part as an important component in their community. Basically, young age is the best time when one can start thinking about making constructive contribute to the society, be creative in generating new ideas and are critical in addressing issues. Through this award, YPC hopes to highlight our youths’ variety of skills and capability in realizing their dreams and goals.

Readers please check out more details at

Haq: Despite keeping busy, you are also a Coordinator at SALT Movement that builds capacity of indigenous students from various tertiary institutions of Malaysia into human rights frame work. Can you shed light on this movement and your own role?

Lindu Livan: Yes, my role in this movement is comprised of multi tasking activities including sharing ideas, perspectives and ideology and basically the knowledge I gain from on ground work. We don’t have a main leader as such within our movement, we are all leaders in our diversities and we share power for decision making.

Most unique aspect is that we have no hierarchies, or differences in terms of power.  One of my contributions also is to continue my  journey and accompaniment to all our members in the movement. I see, that this kind of formation is really helpful and strengthens the sustainable of the movement. Although movement building is not easy and there are lots of difficulties when working with many  different young people. 1601269_723075387730632_1930262441091442630_n

But for me, how do we really understand of struggles is the most important thing in the movement and liberation would meaningless without struggles. To see our current most activities please see our website:

Haq: Before we finish our lovely conversation, Lindu tell me, what continues to inspire you? Where do you see yourself in the future? Any new projects you wish to share with us?

Lindu Livan: As long as I l can breathe and have passion inside me, I will continue with my mission and struggles. I have always find my omen that give advice and guidelines to me. I would imagine myself in the community and share the struggles with them in future.

There is always hope for justice and peace and you must struggle to search for it and to be ONE with them. I will continue with my work, as well as the campaign for anti-Kaidun Dam continues to grow bigger. We hope to mobilize more support for the rights of indigenous people and environmental protection.

Lindu, thanks for being with us at The Human Lens and on behalf of the readers and myself, here is wishing you the very best of luck for your mission.

Readers please continue to stay tuned for more stories, updates from The Human Lens’s visit in Malaysia!

Tête-à-tête with Malaysian Activist Lindu Livan

“After finishing the program, I decided to take this path of social justice & human rights” – Lindu Livan


This week “The Human Lens” is flying out of Pakistan and headed to the lush green valleys of this beautiful Asian country, Malaysia.

Currently, the human rights situation in Malaysia is controversial as there have been numerous allegations citing human rights abuses in the country. It is with great pleasure that I would like to introduce my readers to meet an enthusiastic and passionate activist on environmental issues, Lindu Livan. She is a member of a group called SALT (SALT stands for School of Acting Justly, Loving Tenderly and Treading humbly with God), which is a bible verse taken from Micah 6:8.

This  School of Acting Justly, Loving Tenderly and Treading Humbly (SALT) is an academy conducted annually to empower youth using the Spiral Praxis methodology. It  focuses on strategies of exposure/ immersion experience, human rights training, advocacy skills building and critical analysis.

Today’s conversation will cover Lindu’s on ground work of being associated with various networks and campaigns related to indigenous people’s rights, water and Dam issues as well as freedom of expression in fast radicalizing Malaysia.

Saadia Haq: Welcome on “The Human Lens” blog, Lindu. So tell us, at your young age, how did you get into activism? What prompted you?

Lindu Livan: Thank you Saadia for giving this opportunity to share my experiences in your blog. Well, I have been involved in the social works since I was young; I participated in few programs in my university. We conducted trips to interior villages in Sabah (Sabah is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo). There we spent a week’s time with my foster family and learned different cultures and environment. These exposure trips were a beginning of my life when I started getting more interested in working with people and communities. However my analysis came bit later.

In 2010, I participated in a two weeks program organized by SALT where we had with us community members of Bakun, basically they were Dam victims. Through the program I learned skills of social analysis, capacity building and theology. In a way this program had a profound effect on me. As I started to question like why all this happened, why authorities are doing this? Where is the right of these people? This realization came after we did some of analysis and I really felt immersed with their struggles that time. After finishing the program, I decided to take this path of social justice and human rights.

Saadia Haq: Did you have difficulties in becoming actively engaged into this work, what was the reaction of your family and peers?

Lindu Livan: Yes, initially it was really difficult for me as I could not spent so much time with my family during my semester break. I remember that I and my friends were busy with SALT program activities, I was home only for one week. The rest of my break was spent in the work. My family started to asked me to stop to doing that and when I went back, they started to tease me by called me “activist”. I was saddened but kept telling myself to be patient and strong. I also shared my work activities with my family so and as time goes by they are slowly understanding and also showing interest in my work and what I do. Some of them also became involved with volunteering with NGOs, so I feel that I can take moral support from them.

Saadia Haq: Per se for issues arising out of becoming an activist, how did you overcome them? And who was/were instrumental in helping you grow?

Lindu Livan: I managed to overcome or control it by doing a lot of reflections. In-fact, I ensure to have my quiet time to do my reflection on a daily basis. Besides that, sharing with comrades is very important for me I have my space where we exchange ideas, ideologies and learn from each others.

Haq: Tell us what exactly means being on-ground environmental activist in Malaysia? What do you do?

Lindu Livan: I am part of the people campaigning of the environmental issues that our group Taskforce is focusing on. I should tell you that its against the Kaiduan Dam in Sabah. After our program in 2011, we drew resolutions and one of them is the contribution towards the villages that were part of our exposure visits.  Since then, we were building the relationship with the villagers and keeping updated with the events surrounding the dam issue.

Besides that, our group also helping do the campaign among youth by targeting the students through dissemination of a movie screening about dam issues and distribution of CDs. Within this campaign, we also designed and printed the t-shirts with the campaign slogan “Save Ulu Papar.” You can find latest updates at our facebook page:

Readers, please stay tuned for the second part of the Lindu Liva’s interview that will be featured at The Human Lens trip in Malaysia!

ICMICA Pakistan|Role of Youth in Peace Building

Youth can play a crucial role in positively transforming conflict situations and building peaceful societies. In countries like Pakistan, where peace and stability seem a farfetched idea for most, investing into young people to build their synergies and unity is the need of hour.

Moreover, the current turmoil calls for youth in Pakistan to become prepared to shoulder the responsibility to respond to the situation with understanding and ownership.

Peace is all about understanding each other’s perceptions and learning to find common grounds. This year “Role of Youth in Peace-building” a series of discussions took place across cities with the collaboration of Youth Development Foundation YDF and ICMICA Pakistan.

It comprised of panel experts that highlighted motivational skills for peace awareness, urged youth to accept followers of different faiths, think above school syllabus and understand the true message of every religion.

Last year, this activity was organized by the Youth Development Foundation YDF/ Interfaith Youth in Action where the youth participants hailing from different religions interacted and took part in a diversity tour across Lahore to visit a historic mosque, two churches and a gurdwara, the place of worship for Sikhs.

The discussions started off with a slideshow showing the grave consequences Pakistani people suffer on hands of religion based discrimination and sectarian violence.

Different panel experts spoke on various topics and youth participants were able to clarify many misconceptions about different faiths. Participants learned more on reasons why Pakistan is radicalized. A myriad of complexities including the distorted education, prejudice against religious minorities, hatred towards non Muslims in school textbooks are the main elements that create disharmony and conflict in society and derail peace in Pakistan.

But, the discussions’ main focus remained the ways through which  the nation’s youth mobilization could help in eradicating the national scale religious intolerance. The young participants of all religious communities were present and sensitized “to welcoming religious diversity”, and for rejecting violence.

These programs concluded with Q/A session, some of them quiet, other very heated on issues including religious discrimination and war on terror, and a candle lighting ceremony.

Our country is is witnessing a rise in fanaticism, as never before and with no state control of their activities. But Pakistan is not an exception.The whole of South Asia is in the grip of right-wing ideas.

However, Pakistan’s case proves that a religious state cannot deal effectively with religious fanatics. Therefore, religion should be separated from the affairs of the state.

Overshadowed by an economic, social and humanitarian crisis in the wake of a bloody war against terrorism, Pakistan’s sole hope lies with the youth. It is time to let them pave a path towards a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.

 Pakistan Zindabad. Long Live Pakistan!

Why so much intolerance in Pakistan?

Will Pakistan continue to be a country where Ahmedis and Shia Muslims will continue to be slaughtered, where Sikhs are prevented from entering their places of praying, where shrines of patron saints are destroyed by suicide bombers, or where a common man go out to work and ends up end on the street.  Or will it be a country where religious pluralism, as was envisioned by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, would flourish?

To many, the crucial question remains same. Why is Pakistan filled with such intolerance?

I: State Educational Curriculum

Human rights experts blame the twisted religious teachings and hate material in textbooks responsible for prevalent unrest in the country. Moreover, experts pinpoint that incorporating the concept of religion in wars was the biggest mistake; and that its effects won’t wear off that easily.

“Before the arrival of cable TV in 2001, my school going daughter thought Hindus are demons. We grew up learning that our faiths will fade if we eat with non-Muslims. Such ideologies will not help us anymore”, says a concerned rights based activist.

Imagine sitting in a class room of an ordinary Pakistani public school where the teacher reads from the book out aloud: “Caravans that were on the way to Pakistan were attacked by Hindus and Sikhs. Not a single Muslim was left alive in trains coming to Pakistan.”

This is highly misleading information to be imparted to under-fifteen years of age children.

Across Pakistan, government-sanctioned school textbooks contain blatantly anti-religious-minority material. Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a well-known historian and activist, says “it is time to abolish all such hate material from text books as these try to create and define Pakistan in a narrow sense, of having just an Islamic identity. Whereas in reality, Pakistan is much more.”

Why does Pakistan’s curriculum contain hate material?

To answer this, we need to go back to partition 1947. This current curriculum came into use following the end of colonial rule and bitter break with India, which was considered an enemy. Later, during the rule of Gen. Zial ul-Haq, the curriculum was further radicalized, introducing the Soviet war in Afghanistan as “a new front for jihad.” His vision was to Islamize Pakistan, inspired by we-know-whose- strict interpretation of Islam.

The curriculum was amended under such patronages highlighting the extreme vision about Dhimmis or non-Muslims; it is embarrassing to note that it contains many excerpts citing Hindus as “gangsters” and Christians as “violent crusaders.”

II: Terrorism and Economic Failures

Out of 180 million populations, three quarters of Pakistanis live in abject poverty and are disheartened by the inaction of the government to improve their lives at any level. Pakistan spends less than 2.5 per cent of its gross domestic product on education. Almost half of Pakistan’s population is illiterate and only a third of all Pakistanis have spent less than two years at school. In many areas no government-funded schools exist and only the rich can afford an education.

In others areas, Islamic schools called madrassas (another evil genius of Gen Zia with patronage of S.A and U.S.A) operate but are controlled by religious extremists. These though no longer officially linked to terrorism, still serve as the only source of a free education in a country where a ten-year old is forced to sell his body to eat a meal instead of having a dream to become a doctor when he grows up.

With the spilling U.S led “war on terror” and repeated military crack downs on madrassas, the reality has been exposed. Reportedly, many Pakistani parents now keep their children at home in place of sending them to madrassas. But in the end, those children remain illiterate.

The rotting governance in the country is also responsible for becoming a state increasingly under the influence of extremists. This is not a thought that keeps me calm. Almost all tired and tested political parties continue playing their promise cards that stay undelivered.

A nation that could have had a great future is slowly crumbling at the hands of growing terrorism. Leader of Pakistan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan blames this on Pakistan’s support for the war on terror, stating it has created a perception by ordinary Pakistanis that the government is a “puppet of the U.S.” Armed Forces. The U.S led drone attacks have also assisted in this perception, that non-Muslims are enemies.

The future would look brighter if for one; Pakistan would focus on solving its internal mess in particular restructuring its educational curriculum with specific emphasis on interfaith harmony, peace and unity. Additionally, the State must deliver its promise of free school education for its children, considering it has ratified most international conventions.

There is still no overall political or military strategy to combat Islamic extremism, but in classical idiotic fashion, there is overtly solidarity for Palestine.

Seriously? It breaks my heart and boils my blood truly….. Pakistanis are getting killed around the block on a daily basis, but we are to chant slogans for Palestine. Truly, such cruel negligence of a nation’s people could only happen in my homeland, Pakistan.

Then, moving on political leadership has to change. For now, there is much resistance to the extremists from political leaders. But, because of either fear or opportunism, there isn’t. All this has to go.

Its time to save Pakistan now, it is time to get back on the track of sanity.

The right hour has come to save Pakistan from ‘Talibanization’s radical Islam otherwise this obsessive love affair will destroy us all.

Pakistan| Condemning “Forced Conversions” of Minorities

“What do children as young as Jumna and Pooja know about Islam and their own religion, for that matter, that they’d want to convert? This is the height of injustice. Can you accept your daughters being forcibly married,”complained a Pakistani Hindu named Raj Kumar, whose niece Rinkle Kumari was allegedly forced to convert to Islam by marrying a Muslim man in 2012.

Kumari Rinkle’s saga received massive media attention and even came to the attention of the nation’s Supreme Court. At the heart of this ugly matter lies, perhaps one of the greatest shames for Islamic State of Pakistan that continues to fail to protect and preserve minorities in a spectacular fashion. It is not really a secret that minority communities in Pakistan have long had a raw deal. The deal gets doubly severe for women hailing from minority religions.

And let’s get real. Pakistan was, is and continues to be an anti-women friendly state fast traveling back to the second century *face palm.*

In recent years, thanks to the Talibanization and presence of all sorts of lunatic militants teaching fundamental Islam, the crimes against minorities have seen as increase in the “forced conversions” of minority hailing girls to Islam.  Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, chief patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), says that “The situation is extremely grim. About 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are abducted in Pakistan every year. They are converted to Islam through the use of forced marriages.”

The forced conversions happen in a relatively similar fashion, girls are kidnapped, pressurized to convert using societal shaming techniques of taboo and then go through arranged marriages to Muslim men.

Tracing the anger and hatred against minority religions can be found in the way, Pakistan was born out of Hindu majority British India. It is no secret at-least to us Pakistanis, how rape was used by Hindu and Sikh men during the Partition of India into two independent countries Pakistan for Muslim majority and India for Hindu majorities.

In the anger that Pakistan was finally born out of the freedom movement, violence against women was an extensively promoted and instigated by Indian Hindus. No this is no propaganda as the estimates show that between 75,000 and 100,000 women were kidnapped and raped.The rape of Muslim women  during this period is well documented, as is the rape of Hindu women on hands of Muslims. But you know what, we must MOVE past all this anger and hatred against each other.

Pakistani minorities are our own brothers and sisters born on same land as us, and its time to actually start acknowledging them in s constructive manner.

I. Minority Politicians Using Positions to Furthering their  Career

Most religious minority members sitting in the assemblies are selected, as opposed to elected, and to stay in power they often toe to the party line. Most of them are not really true representatives of their communities. They are quick to lament that main political parties pay lip service to minority problems but have little to say of their own efforts. Most find it easy to go abroad for sponsored trip on tax payers money to “The Vatican” to reinforce how bad Pakistani Muslims are, etc etc instead of doing something while being in power.

Minority Media Personnel Offering a Stake

A Pakistani Hindu journalist Guriro has a different take on the issue of coerced conversion. “There are cases where girls have converted of their own will or have eloped because, unless their parents can pay the heavy dowry that is demanded by the groom’s side, they cannot be married off,” he said.

II. Pakistani Judiciary All Talk, No Action

Pakistan’s Chief Justice (CJ)Tassaduq Hussain Jillani has called for celebrating 2014 as the Year of Religious Tolerance and Harmony amidst all this nonsense being doled out to minority members. The Supreme Court and CJ continue to ignore the real source of this evil barbarism, the infamous blasphemy laws.

The reality is that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are problematic both in their form and their application and have been the source of much debate and harm since the 1980s. Its time to send mullah factories and hardliner ideology followers on a “Titanic destination Arabia” and reinstate our Pakistan of before 1980s where we played, worked and lived with members of other religions in peace. ( Hard for you to believe it, but my childhood was such a memory).

In one sense, the drama is an old story in South Asia, where the contours of society have been shaped by waves of conversions over the centuries. Since the founding of Pakistan, most conversions are to Islam, the state religion.

III. Pakistani Rights Groups Offer Solutions

Pakistan United Christian Movement Chairman Albert David has appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani to take notice of the increased ‘forced’ conversion of non-Muslims and a specific ordinance to stop this illegal practice, and said that lawmakers from minorities should work for a law in this regard.

Pakistani well-known minority rights activist, Tahira Abdullah (she is Muslim, note that) says, “We pray for the day that there is no forced conversion and forced marriages. ”

Abdullah said the division among the people on the basis of faith, language, creed and cast was a tragedy. The government should take steps to ensure equality and social justice to all citizens. “The white portion on the national flag deserves to be represented with pride,” she commented.

The country’s rights groups have come together time and again to support abolishing of the discriminatory laws and statutory measures, so that minorities can be safeguarded. Because, as long as minority girls will continue to face this terrorizing menace of “forced conversions”, it will be a cue for that we have not acted enough to protect our minorities.

Say No to Forced Conversions. Reclaim the Republic, Reclaim the Real Pakistan.



In conversation with Romantic Muslimah Writer P. Feauxzar, II

With much glee, The Human Lens brings its readers the second part of the Romantic Muslim writer, Papatia Feauxzar’s interview, in which she will focus on sharing more about her fiesty and strong headed-heroines.

For many, the ambitious Founder of Djarabi Kitabs Publishing, Feauxzar is a testament that “Saving Muslim Women Syndrome” needs a reality check as she breaks the stereotpyes both within her own culture and otherwise.

Carrying on, our conversation. novel1

Saadia Haq: So last month, your book Fixed Up came out in the markets. This focuses on “arranged marriage” issues that are very common within many Muslim communities. Tell us more about it, what made you choose this subject?

Papatia Feauxzar: It did! Its success came at a great surprise. I tallied over 200 downloads, Masha’Allah!

I chose to write on arranged marriages because the story is loosely based on true events in my family. Arranged marriages do work and sometimes flourish into amazing love stories and that’s captured into my writings.  There are always two sides to a story if not more.

 You will also notice that on my blog I have other short stories that deal with real issues such as children, young adults, skin color, etc. Moreover, they all have a common denominator; Islam and love. I don’t write just to write, I write so that people get something out of it; a morale, new data without me coming across preachy.

Saadia Haq: Your heroine “Najoua” is a strong willed woman, who do you see in her? Is it perhaps your inner reflection, as well as an unbiased character that in today’s times does not exist in the globe?

Papatia Feauxzar: Haha! You’re sneaky! Yea! Najoua is a little extension of me. In fact, all my characters are extensions of myself. Najoua in particular shares sides of me, sides of my sister, and sides of a fictional character. My stories are inspired on my own life and they all have tidbits of info on myself. In real life, I never really have one point of view on critical matters. I always stand in the middle and study both side of the spectrum and go from there. That said, a person dedicated to know who I am will not be able to know the real me because these info I incorporate in my stories aren’t enough to read my personality and truly know who I am. I just give a little at a time to connect with my readers since I am an anonymous writer.

Saadia Haq: Previously your first book, including Between Sisters, SVP focusing on the two female characters Aïda Mubarak and her best friend Nellie Diouf-Kofee included sexual content that kinda of threw any audiences Muslim and otherwise. It was reviewed as “a little surprising in a Muslim fiction book.” What do you have to say about it?

Papatia Feauxzar: To be honest, sex is very taboo in our Muslim community (Ummah) and I don’t even know why. It was never that way in the early times of our religion. This creates a lot of unresolved issues between couples that lead to molestation, cheating, and the list goes on. I tried to tone it down a little bit by carefully choosing my words to avoid the shock factor but it still did because my book is really one of its kind. If we agree with the simple fact that we have to be lawfully wed by Nikah people before we can consummating the union is Islamic I don’t understand the curve-ball the Muslim audience experienced when it came out.

Furthermore, if we agree that we have say a dua before having sex is Islamic, why do people still have issues putting sex and religion next to each other? They come hand in hand. Muslim people do that anyways behind closed doors but the whole thing is shushed I read somewhere that sex is the opposite of sports. While sports is widely talked about and barely practiced, sex is taboo when we know everyone is doing it. And it is true! Having said that, there is a difference between my work here and the sharing of bedroom secrets which is a no-no in Islam. People will know the difference if they decide to read the story ;). My novel is just informational. Like I said earlier, I don’t write just to write. I write to teach something bigger.

Saadia Haq: Lastly tell us, what continues to inspire you to write? Where do you see yourself in the future? Any new projects you wish to share with us?

Papatia Feauxzar: I want to see less frustrated Muslim couples. I want to see less cheating and molestation going around under our families’ roofs. And I want to see better practicing Muslims and less overbearing spouses. This is what continues to inspire me to write.

Hmmm, in the future… Well, I am still growing religiously, I also wish to become a great Muslim scholar one day and turn my little boy into a greater one insha’Allah.  There’s a lot coming up,our website is up, please check out am also working on  releasing two more stories before the end of the year. These include “The Hazardous Life of Nilüfer”-novel 2 and “Change of Shoes”-short story 2. Next year, it will be “The Dream”-coming out. One of the novels is dealing with the sensitive issue of “intersex individuals” in Islam and a way to connect the two without committing a major sin in my opinion.

 Oh my my, looks like you have a heavily committed schedule ahead of you, we won’t take more of your precious time, or who else will bring us those naughty dreamy heroines :).

Thanks a lot for being with us at “The Human Lens” from my and the readers side,  we  extend you our warm wishes and  best of luck for the future; it has been truly a pleasure.

Same here. Thanks a lot for having me! :-D

Partition 1947| The second class Pakistanis called “Muhajirs”

“There are four provinces in Pakistan and likewise there are four ethnic groups also. The Punjabis speak Punjabi, the Sindhis speak Sindhi and in Sindh you have Karachi also. So how can we identify ourselves to others? When friends are sitting together in school or college they call themselves Punjabi and ask us who we are. Then we feel a lot of hesitation because we don’t know what to say and who we are. It is the tradition that Sindhis must know how to speak Sindhi. Then the others say that if you are no one then you must be Hindustani (meaning belonging to India). We say no we are Urdu-speaking so then they say that we are Muhajirs. Then you can see in most jobs there are Punjabis and Pathans. If we go to them and ask them for jobs, they are not ready to accept Muhajirs.” – An Urdu Speaking Muhajir Pakistani Woman (Source reference The Partitions of Self by Rubina Saigol, 2002)

Post August 1947, a large majority of Indian Muslims start arriving in caravans and big groups from big cities and towns (especially from North Indian regions), to settle in their new homeland, Pakistan. Unlike the country’s other major ethnic groups, Muhajirs are not ‘people of the soil’. Their roots lie in areas that are outside of what today is Pakistan.

Muhajir or Mohajir in Arabic means immigrant, as Urdu-language derives a large content from it, therefore in Urdu language it too means immigrant as well as refugees.

One big feature was the high rate of education found in the Muhajir community, both men and women. Socially, the Mohajirs were urbane and liberal. But politically they had the strong alliance to Muslim political party’s struggles that led to birth of Pakistan.

So what went wrong where? But before that. Who are the Muhajirs?

The migratory people from India, who sacrificed two million lives for the Independence of Pakistan, are called Muhajirs. Also known as Urdu-speaking people commonly used especially by Pakistanis to describe the Muslim immigrants who chose to settle in Pakistan and shifted their domicile after partition of British India. A large number of Muhajirs participated, died and survived in the movement for creation of Pakistan in 1947.

Some 50,000 Muhajir Muslim women were abducted during Partition riots and only half of them were recovered, others were presumed raped and killed.

Why were they discriminated against?

  1. The Urdu speaking people of Pakistan (there is large Diasporas still in India) have diverse roots ranging from Persia, Middle Eastern Sufi to Central Asia. This led to severe backlash from the “so-called natives.” The ethnic natives Sindhis, Punjabis, Balochis, Pushtuns etc are all based on feudal and caste systems, where as the Muhajir community does not have either.
  2. Muhajirs found it had to mix well with the locals due to contrasting cultural and religious habits. The process of integration was non-existent in Karachi (where the largest majority had settle down) and by 1990, the city became a living Beirut where thousands of Muhajirs were targeted and killed in street wars, until the Government of Pakistan sent in the ARMY. 1964, 1972, 1986, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2007, 2011, 2012 and so on massacre of Muhajirs continues with target killing, extra judicial imprisonment, street gang warfare and never-ending ethnic violence.
  3. MUHAJIRS came to Pakistan with almost a proprietary sense because they felt they were going to their country – a country where Muslims would not face political or religious discrimination. In this sense, many migratory didn’t consider themselves as outsiders.  Many historians and political commentators often draw an analogy between Israel and Pakistan, as in both cases the migration was to a Promised Homeland.
  4. They also had formidable experience of political activity, enjoyed a strongly mobilized  identity based on group interest politics. There was also a feeling among the Mujahirs that they shared a common experience of displacement and some of them even had a mild disdain for the culture of the nativists who were not letting them integrate and settle down.
  5. Mujahirs initially supported political parties with religious background because these parties were part of the Freedom Movement for the liberation of Pakistan. Later, some Mohajirs formed a political party MQM (it is now seen as a controversial corrupt party) and surprisingly does not enjoy support from majority Muhajir community.
  6. Unlike the country’s other major ethnic groups, Mohajirs are not ‘people of the soil’. Their roots lie in areas that are outside of what today is Pakistan and this fact discriminates them badly, applying for identity card, passport and other legal documents, they have to comply filling the forms which specify place of birth of parents, grand parents and lineage. From there on, the statutory discrimination commences.
  7. Muhajirs are also discriminated for the color of their skin and having a somewhat more open culture. A distinct feature is their brown or olive-skinned skin and dark eyes.
  8. Pakistan’s four provinces, tribal areas and their people enjoy the reserved provincial/tribal quotas in politics, education, health care and other services. Where this right of reserved quotas is not provided to Muhajir community.
  9. As Mujahir people had no ancestral lineage, history within Pakistan, this became a huge source of reasoning behind  the social stigma with attitudes like they are just hungry, naked dark beggars, brown rats from Hindu land,  bloody Indian agents,  loose character referring to their educational achievements.

Muhajirs Today:

Today, the Muhajir people continue to discriminated, but to a lesser degree. Ethnically they are a minority even after many mixed marriages. Many older Muhajirs who migrated from India do not refer to their children and grandchildren as Muhajirs because they were born in Pakistan. However, the social stigma and discrimination face by these second and third generations have made most young generations to choose to consciously identify themselves as Muhajirs.

 Some famous Muhajirs include:

1. Muhammad Ali Jinnah – Founder of Nation, 2. Fatima Jinnah – First Lady of Pakistan, 3. John Elia, Urdu-language poet, philosopher, biographer, 4. Ishrat-Ul-Ibad former Governor of Sindh province, 5. FahmidaRiaz – Feminist poet and writer.

Let me tell you a story I heard from my grand father in his conversation with a Punjabi neighbor. They were discussing the hardships Muslims had to endure in the pre-partition days. Most restaurants were out-of-bounds for Muslims. Thus when he and his friends desperately wanted to eat at such a restaurant, they would walk in and ask, “You’re sure Muslims are not served here?” The owner would reply, “Muslims and dogs are not served here.” And so, my grand-father and his friends would then eat at such eateries, pretending to be non-Muslims.

Today, Muhajirs are defined by education, urbanism and Urdu-language and continue to be discriminated against these very reasons.


(Please note, that this post is not insinuating thatMuhajirs are saints on earth: its factual information with voices from the Muhajir community)



Recalling Partition 1947| Religion, Rape & Women

When the British Empire left the Indian Subcontinent in 1947, their colony, “the jewel in the imperial crown,” was partitioned into a “Muslim” Pakistan and a “Hindu” India. August 1947, this great subcontinent after freedom movements’ success was divided into two countries. This partition was a traumatic event of historical proportions. The exact number of casualties during the Partition violence will always remain a matter of debate.

As caravans of people immigrated across randomly drawn borders, millions got killed in sectarian violence, this within the space of a few months, while 10-12 million were displaced. Violence was not just a marginal phenomenon, a sudden and spontaneous communal frenzy that accompanied Partition.

20140315103648-map_of_india-1-flat-jpgIn-fact much of the blame lies on the haste and mismanagement of the then British establishment. After Lord Mountbatten quickly became aware if Britain were to avoid further problems, there was no alternative to partition and a hasty exit from Indian subcontinent. The civil war was looming by the time Mountbatten became Viceroy and  Great Britain was left with limited resources after the Second World War so leaving nationalist leaders to settle the accession was an idea that appealed the most. What followed is still remembered as one of the most horrifying ethnic cleansing this world has ever witnessed.

The most frequent form of collective violence was the gang attack upon villages, trains, refugee camps and moving migrants. It generally took the shape of tit-for-tat mass murders, raids on villages and train stations, abduction, loot, arson, derailment of train and stabbing of the passengers, castration, mutilation and rape.

Sexual molestation of women was deliberately meant to emphasize the vulnerability of the community and the incapability of men as protectors. Moreover, sexual violence against women primarily occurred in Punjab and Bengal and involved venal criminality on the part of all parties concerned: Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Women of all ages, ethnic groups and social classes were subjected to various forms of sexual violence of explicit and extreme gravity. Fathers fearing that their daughters would soon be raped (and converted to another faith), pressured and coerced the girls to commit suicide lest such an event “taint” their family’s “honor” and standing in the community — or they killed their own female relatives themselves.

Bapsi Sidhwa a twentieth century Pakistani Parsee woman and feminist writer has captured this sexually violent history of the partition days in her novel Ice-Candy Man. It brings some of the years of the pre-partition period during which the human consciousness was tossed across some barriers like religion and hatred in human life.

Stories (some unconfirmed, others proven) abound of husbands, brothers, nephews and sons killing their female relatives to spare them the shame of rape and forced conversion. But some women voluntarily killed themselves (as well as their female children in some cases), often by self-immolation or by throwing themselves into wells. On the whole, most women who did survive these atrocities could not live with their dark realities and committed suicide.

Aside from the sheer horror of sexual violation, some rape survivors had to literally wear physical signs of their shame — rapists frequently mutilated and disfigured the girls’ skins with markings and graffiti that reflected the violators’ political or religious affinities, including tattooed phrases like “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan”) or “Jai Hind” (“Long Live India”) or symbols like the Hindu trident or Islamic crescent moon.

Many women had their breasts chopped off; others suffered the abuse and torture of their genitals — in most cases leading to death. Mass rape of women hailing from other religious community was another stark realities through which were born Pakistan, India and later Bangladesh.

South Asia’s pride, the Pakistan-born Indian novelist and lawyer Khuswant Singh authored the famous “Train to Pakistan” a historical chronicle that brings the tales from 1947. In a chilling narration, Singh writers, “Muslims said the Hindus had planned and started the killing. According to the Hindus, the Muslims were to blame. The fact is, both sides killed. Both shot and stabbed and speared and clubbed. Both tortured. Both raped.”

In these days both Pakistan and India turn 67 years old, while birth of Bangladesh is of 43 years old. Setting aside the independence celebrations fervor, it is a reminder that this partition especially the sexual violence that women endured impacted at least three generations since 1947, many elderly many survivor women today are beginning to come with terms of what they suffered.

Many people played a part in this chaos and everyone was equally worthy of blame. The partition is long gone, but the trauma continues even today.

As somber as it gets, today this troubled conscience is unable to take in that my freedom came at a price that was paid by my female ancestors.

On Being a Sex Worker in Pakistan

 “What’s a few hours job for a few thousands rupees. Yes, I am a sinner, but am better then those who hide the very fact that they buy me for their lust. “

Pakistan, a turbulent country, where Taliban militants have waged guerilla war against the civilian population and government for enforcement of their Sharia, 26-year-old Heena*, clad in full-face veil, reaches in front of Jinnah Garden everyday in the evening.

As soon as she arrives, there is a bustle of cars and motorcycles at the entrance of Model Town Park, Lahore. She spends nearly 15-20 minutes in negotiations before embarking in her chosen client’s vehicle. The pick and drop is the responsibility of her client.

The first time Heena* had  sex, it was a horrifying experience but in these ten years she has finally over come her misgivings.  Today. She says that, “What’s a few hours job for a few thousands rupees.”

This mother of two says she had no other source of income to feed her kids. She eloped with her boyfriend at the mere age of 15 while studying in school but was tricked by him into being raped and fell pregnant. Her lover boy then left her stranded in an unknown city.  “Baji (sister) I left my studies and family for him, but he left me. Afterwards, I returned twice to my parents home. My mother pressed some money in my hand and told me to have an abortion and never ever come back because the men of the family where upset at my running away,” says Heena*.

Left alone to her devices, she opted out of having an abortion but was blessed with twins in labor. It was big shock that made her face many realities at the same time. Finding a job with two babies was not going to easy and leaving them alone was also not possible.

Sex work suddenly seemed a workable option. Further she adds, ” it was a good lesson for me to learn, men don’t do love. They do sex and now I give them that for a price.” 

Her income is keeping a basic roof above her family and her children are studying in a nearby school. She has great plans for them both and worries that the rise in inflation and cost of living might rob her children from having a brighter future.

Prostitution in Pakistan is a taboo that exists like an open secret and is considered as immoral. Therefore many sex workers like Heena* operate underground in the country.

Time and again many political economists acknowledge poverty coupled with high-inflation as a crucial factory in driving women towards prostitution. One analyst commented: “In this institution, the body is that of the women and the pleasure derived from it is totally that of men.”

There are many places all over the provincial metropolis where hundreds of women are doing this job of sex workers. Apart from brothel business, prostitution thrives in Lahore as call-girls are available on the roads round-the-clock.

In Pakistan, the law and order authorities are part of the bigger problem faced by people working in the sex industry. Because prostitution is illegal, it is easy for police and other authorities to harass and extort “batha” ( a token amount for doing illegal activities and buying silence of police officers) fees from the sex workers or others involved in sex industry.

Heena* says that she has lost count of times that she served some police men with free sex to buy their silence in order to avoid being reported. More ever on a national scale, many sex workers have blamed the police for harassing them for money, apart from being abused themselves by the police

But when contacted, a police officer from who wishes to remain anonymous said, ” That is a slander against us, besides there’s no prostitution in Model Town Lahore. It’s not allowed under Islam. I’ve never seen such activities, and I certainly don’t know any call girls.”

She is also not really interested in dealing with the debate whether sex work is good or bad, and she does not want to get into the semantics of what is Islamic or not. Her main concern is giving a prospective brighter future to her twin children.

Everyone has their reasons for selling sex. “It is very easy to criticize women like us, but nobody looks into our souls… yes, we are sinners, but our life is like an open book,” she said.

Needless to say, poverty and women’s low status in society is a lethal combination that is marginalizing women and ensuring many new Heenas to enter this profession. While in the past, prostitution was associated with dark alleys and small red-light districts.

Now, it is fast seeping into many neighborhoods of our so-called hypocrite Islamic State.

Somehow every street has become a rendezvous for a potential client and provider where women continue to sell their bodies to earn a livelihood; caught in a vicious cycle from which few escape, it renders them even more vulnerable to exploitation and victimization.

To be frank, is time to stop living in denial and admit that prostitution is doing a roaring trade within our own borders. This is not only the story of just one miserable Heena*, there are hundreds of Heenas out there serving men’s fantasies, strange and inhumane.

Perhaps through it all what does not surprises me the most is the psychological fabric of the moral brigades in our country. The so-called thekedaars of izaat ( upholders of honor) continue to hold women responsible by declaring sex workers as dirty women, sinners and perpetuate institutional violence against them.

Where as we see a deafening silence on the people who go to buy sex. Most people will tell you inane things, like her husband was lured by a clever sex worker,  my son was enticed by that cheap dancer and so on and so forth.

Let’s keep it simple, shall we? People sell sex because people buy sex, literally.

Honestly, what right do we have as a society to judge sex workers that sell their bodies to men who can’t keep their pants zipped up and need an outlet for their dark fantasies?

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of the interviewed.



2. Dawn Newspaper

An Open Letter to White Non-Muslim Western Feminists

This was originally written by Iranian-American Fatemeh Fakhraie, an editor-in-chief of Muslimah Media Watch a website that was her own brain-child and dedicated to critically analyzing images of Muslim women in global media and pop culture. She writes about Islamic feminism, Islam, and race for several online and print outlets, including CNN, B*tch magazine, and AltMuslimah. 

In 2009, Fatemeh published her first book, Effects of Socioeconomic Status on Hijab Styles in Urban Iranian Women, a textbook version of her master’s thesis. In 2011, she contributed to the anthology I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim.

An Open Letter to White Non-Muslim Western Feminists

We need to talk.

Having the economic privilege to spend a few summers in Cairo or to study abroad in Dubai does not give you the authority to speak about Middle Eastern culture.

Dating a Saudi guy does not give you the authority to speak about Islam. Or about Muslim men.

Knowing some Muslim women through work or as friends does not give you the authority to speak for them or the rest of Muslim women.

There are those of us who suffer. But don’t speak of us as victims if we are not dead. Don’t deny the agency with which we become survivors and active shapers of our lives. Don’t ignore the fighting we do for ourselves.

We can—and do—speak for ourselves. So stop speaking for us.

I notice a lot of condescension and arrogance when you talk to us or about us. Let me be clear: you do not know more about us than we know about ourselves, our religion, our cultures, our families, or the forces that shape our lives. You do not know what’s best for us more than we do.

So please check yourselves.

Being an ally does not mean speaking for us, making choices for us, or figuring out what’s best for us. It means supporting and defending the choices we make and the voices we use.

If we want help, and ask for it, then do only what you’re asked. Don’t invent new ways to characterize us as oppressed or agitate for the solving of problems that aren’t pressingly important. Case in point: if we want better divorce laws in a particular country, don’t agitate for the abolishing of mandatory clothing policies.

If you can’t do that, then don’t bother. It’s better to just stay out of our way. Passing judgment on and mischaracterizing our choices, our religion, or ways of life does us more harm than good; with friends like that, who needs enemies?


An Islamic feminist who has met one-too-many white non-Muslim feminists that assume that they know better.


From Gaza With Love

“Muslim Palestinians pray in the Messiah’s Home, a reminder to us all that people still have the capacity to love”

After Operation Protective Edge started on July 8, Palestine once again became the land with over spilling blood of the innocents caught in this bizarre conflict. For many, the month of Ramadan became difficult and carrying on the rituals an impossible task, considering any time was as good as any to meet the Creator.

Civilians from northern Palestine territory had to flee the bombings, in order to save themselves. This is how Mahmud Kalaf ended up in Gaza with his family and is now a refuge with unexpected hosts,the Saint Porphyrius Church.

The Muslim refuges weren’t denied their religious rights in God’s sanctuary.

“They let us pray. It’s changed my view of Christians — I didn’t really know any before, but they’ve become our brothers,” said Khalaf, 27, who admitted he never expected to perform his evening prayers in a church. “We (Muslims) prayed all together last night,” he said.

Never expecting himself to actually be living in a Church, Kalaf and scores of Muslim refugees are prostrating for the daily Muslim prayers beneath the gaze of an icon of The Messiah, Jesus Christ. “Here, the love between Muslims and Christians has grown”, says an awed Kalaf.

As one walks into the  Saint Porphyrius Church courtyard in Gaza City, visitors are greeted with a “marhaban” by Christian helpers, but now also with a more Islamic “peace be upon you” (Arabic: al-salamu aleikum) by most of its current residents — displaced Muslim Gazans who have made it their shelter for almost two weeks.

Kalaf, the refuge leader is relieved to have  found safe haven alongside some 500 other displaced Muslims. The events of the previous days have affected this young man greatly and in ways that makes me hope against hope for humanity to rise again.

“This is a terrible time for us and the Christians took us in. We thank them for that, for standing by our side,” he said.

Khalaf says that by now he has become accustomed to worshiping on the premises of a so called “alien religion” — a particularly acute contrast during the fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.Every day he faces Makkah, whispers Quranic passages and prostrates himself, as he would in a mosque.

Pastors and parishioners have been respectful to their Muslim guests during Ramazan.

“The Christians aren’t fasting of course, but they’re deliberately avoiding eating in front of us during the day. They don’t smoke or drink around us, “Khalaf says. However, he is not observing the fasting ritual because he is too scared and nervous of what will happen in the coming days. human

In the next 48 hours, the Holy Month of Ramadan will end and Muslims will end fasting with the festival of Eid Ul Fitr.

However, with hundreds dead and thousands homeless, on going bombardments, the normally joyous occasion of Eid, this time has set in somber.

Kalaf and the other 500 refugees at the Saint Porphyrius Church will probably celebrate this festival together.  Sabreen al-Ziyara, a Muslim woman and staffer at the church administration is very excited at this prospect. “But this year it’s not the Feast of Breaking the Fast (Eid al-Fitr) – it’s the feast of martyrs,” she said, in respectful reference to the dead.

It is a harmonious and tolerant atmosphere, but in the middle of a battleground, tension is still felt.

As food provisions arrive, scuffles nearly break out when women and children lunge for the plastic bags containing bread and water, distributed in as orderly a fashion as possible by church helpers. A pitched argument between the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Alexios and a local helper, apparently over who is allowed to enter the premises, heats up against a cacophony of loud explosions a short distance away.

The adjacent church cemetery was hit by mortar shells Tuesday, with shrapnel peppering surrounding buildings. These bombs do not discriminate as a separate shell fell into the adjacent Muslim cemetery on the other side.

The Christians in Gaza have dwindled in number to around 1,500 out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million. The religious conflicts and unemployment are responsible for this stark minority.

But this time, the helpless civilians have been abused in a the deadliest possible way by both the Hamas and Operation Protective Edge’s warfare tactics.

The only ray of hope that appears to have come out from this shared experience of severe terror is the feeling of brotherhood witnessed at the Saint Porphyrius Church.

Indeed, they follow the teachings of the Prophet Jesus Christ (Peace Be Upon Him) who said to love one another. Incidentally, these teachings are not far from the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) whose message through Quran remains resolute  “And do not forget to do good to one another.” (2:238)

* Source: AFP News


Sex Slaves on Sale in Dubai

The first time, she herself was present in the room and made us do what the clients wanted. We were raped in front of her, with her assistance” — trafficked teen, Kanwal.

Pakistan has long been an important source of cheap labour for the Gulf state, particularly its booming construction sector. But there are growing concerns of another type of labor, forced sex trafficking of the under age girls that goes on as we speak.

The rights campaigners and reluctant officials say that hundreds of young Pakistani women are trafficked every year to supply the thriving sex trade in the brothels and nightclubs of Dubai. Innocent girls stuck in poverty cycles at home get tricked into lucrative jobs such as working in beauty and cosmetics industry, saloons etc.

Sana and her sister Kanwal were two such girls hailing from the southern Punjab province.

It all started when a “city lady” Shabana visited their town and met with many family elders sharing the details of this attractive offer to work overseas in the Middle East. Shabana’s job agency handled all the paper work, which in reality were just getting fake papers to help the underage Sana and Kanwal to leave Pakistan.

All was set, it was before the actual take off at the airport, that Shabana broke the news about the real jobs to the sisters. A distressed Sana said, “We started crying and then she told us that we travelled on fake documents and if we said anything we would be handed over to police right there.” In their naivety, the girls boarded the flight thinking they would try to get some help on reaching their destination.

Things fell apart soon after they arrived to their new apartment where they were kept as prisoners. “The first time, she herself was present in the room and made us do what the clients wanted. We were raped in front of her and with her assistance,” says a weary Kanwal. After that, Shabana told the clients to keep their cell phones connected to her number during the intercourse so she could hear what was happening — and if they were refusing to cooperate.

The sisters confirmed that they were subjected to torture and beatings upon refusal of certain type of sexual acts and blackmailed by Shabana with threats to kill their whole family in Pakistan.

They weren’t alone in this nightmare. The illegal brothel apartment housed some twenty under-age girls from various parts of Pakistan. None of them were allowed to go out or even speak to one another freely. They could speak to their family in Pakistan by phone occasionally, but under duress. Kanwal says, “Many times I felt like trying to give a verbal sign to our parents, but we held back knowing how dangerous it could be.”

They found their opportunity upon returning to Pakistan for the visa renewal and told their elder sister about the life they had been tricked into.

Their freedom came at a heavy price and much upheaval as the gang members of traffickers broke into their home in an attempt to kill them. It finally dawned on the family that they would have to seek legal help, but that too came at a cost.

The court ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to act but the case has since made little progress. The defense lawyer who is fighting Sana and Kanwal’s case, says the trafficking gangs often have influential connections to politicians and the police.

“Several gangs smuggle dozens of young girls from Pakistan to Dubai for prostitution every week. Nobody takes action against them,” says, a migration department official who requests to remain anonymous.

But the FIA which has recently been under severe fire has an altogether another take on this whole issue. “It is true that hundreds of girls are being taken to Dubai for work in beauty parlors, in music and dance troupes, but there is no proof that any of them has been smuggled for prostitution,” Syed Shahid Hassan, deputy director FIA Faisalabad.

The indifference of the FIA in the matter is quite telling within itself. The department has been alleged on many occasions on the charges of trafficking, smuggling in persons and provision of fake visas to unsuspecting Pakistanis within the country and those stranded abroad.

For Sana and Kanwal, their ordeal has abated but not ended. Shabana, has surrendered to a court but been freed on bail.

The traumatized sisters now live in constant fear that one day a gunman will come back for them.

  • Names of the two sisters have been changed to protect their identities.

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 ( 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 (

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


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:




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 or

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

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!!!



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?”

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?


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!


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

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

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:

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.



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;

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

Let’s support, Free West Papua campaign!!


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: and

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.

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

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

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

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. ( 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!



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

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! :)

Pakistani women team win Gold in Asian Games

INCHEON-SOUTH KOREA: Pakistan has defeated Bangladesh in Asian Games’ women’s Twenty20 cricket final.

Pakistani Women’s Cricket Team defeated Bangladeshi Cricket Team in the final match played in Incheon, bringing home the Gold Medal for the Country. Previously in the series, the green team has beaten China and Thailand before stealing the Gold Medal from Bangladesh.  

Many felicitation to the whole Pakistan women’s team, captain Sana Mir, manager Ayesha Asher and PCB women’s wing chairperson Bushra Aitzaz on retaining gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games.

767575-image-1411731367-675-640x480On this occasion, Pakistan Cricket Board Chief said: “Pakistan women team’s victory is a matter of pride for all of us, especially because it is our first gold medal in the ongoing Asian Games. This is an important victory, in the sense that it shall provide great encouragement and boost to women’s cricket in this country.”

This is the second victory in row for the green team to retain the Asian Twenty20 cricket gold medal at the Asian Games.

This also shows tat women’s cricket is not just a pastime for the girls and that our women cricketers are working hard to maintain their standards.

In a country where women related sporting events are seldom held and sportswomen all but face a daily battle to realize their dreams, this is yet another victory for us- Pakistani women. 

Women sports lag behind due to myriad of issues including scarcity of proper venues, trained coaches and the conservative mindset of society, all strong impediments and yet again this victory tells us that we shouldn’t underestimate women of Pakistan. 767575-image-1411731077-134-640x480

Most times, Pakistani women sportswomen are not given any coverage or public applause for their successes, their events are neglected on State television or mainstream media which are totally engrossed into reporting about mens’ sports.

This team not only defended its Gold Medal, but also secured the first Gold medal for the country Pakistan in the Asian Games, considering the lacking performance in other sports.

While you may think I am biased to report this story, but believe me while on that crease, when a Pakistani women plays cricket I know exactly very well that she is not just playing cricket but she is fighting for gender equality, justice and acknowledgment.

At an emotional but impressive presentation medal award ceremony, Pakistan national anthem was played and their flag hoisted as Sana Mir’s team received the gold medal.

President of Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) and Vice President of Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) Syed Arif Hasan garlanded the gold medals to Pakistan team amid cheer of modest crowd.

Hip Hip Hurray!! Go Go Green! Here’s to Pakistani Women Power :) :)

Imposing Western Feminism on Third World Women

The crisis in development is paralleled by the crisis within global feminism. Both have reached an impasse, of sorts and we only have to review the developmental work to see what I am talking about. Lets face it, the East and West have hardly been at unity with each other, considering the world history. More over, western feminist discourses continue its operation modus with the classification of ‘third world women’ as ‘powerless’, ‘exploited’, ‘backward’, ‘illiterate’, and ‘sexually harassed.’

In other words, we, the third world women are “helpless” and “powerless.” Without an “agency” which by the way is Colso untrue.

This has given mainstream feminism a handy excuse to continue fighting the “war for the oppressed women rights” by provision of advanced countless project assistance. Now now I do know what am talking about, having worked in this sector for more than 15 years. For many of you it be of keen interest to know that mostly these projects are imagined, carved out and written inside offices that are in New York, Brussels, Sydney and elsewhere.

In this way, I am sorry to tell you the blunt truth, but western feminism took away the “AGENCY” of third world countries as if they/we have no voices of their/our own.

Take for example this promotional poster by a German Ngo. Here an Afghani woman clad in blue burqa becomes the symbol of oppression — objectifying and reducing women to garbage.

This is problematic not only because “universal oppression of women” is being represented by a very specific culture, but also because extremely empowered Afghan women do in fact, exist. The dignity of whoever was under this blue burka didn’t seem important to the German Ngo.

German NGO photoThe photo caption translation reads as, “Oppressed women are easily overlooked. Please support us in the fight for their rights.” The question begets: how dare First World country as Germany calling itself highly civilized can justify this sort of nonsense while speaking of women rights? 

I will be very frank, even if it offends people but it seems Western feminism is unable to get over the colonialism, because it’s not only about the imposition of colonizing power’s structures and values; it is more than that. The white man’s need to control the bodies of women of color is not new, so let’s not pretend otherwise.

For someone who has been associated with the development sector,  like myself, see clearly how rampant is this suppression of the native voices.

Another disturbing factor is the narrative that  “white western” feminism is all about human rights or liberalism as opposed to the brown/black/yellow ones. I simply don’t get why we need to deal in absolutes.  Aren’t human rights universal, isn’t that the whole point?

The whole debate of white, black, brown, Muslim etc etc feminism is not really helping women on a global scale, and why we are unable to address race, color and power structures within feminism as a whole.

Now moving towards Africa, check this promotional campaign about Save Motherhood & Neonatal Health in Niger, by an international Ngo Save the Children.A child lies in a bed at Save the Children’s clinic for severely malnourished children, Aguie, Maradi, Niger.

Yes, Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries, where women die in child-birth on a daily basis. But the portrayal of a black pregnancy is again labeled within structures of  weakness, struggle and poverty. Moreover, the promotional campaign is focusing on motherhood in a very narrow approach.

How so? By floating the idea that motherhood is the root-cause of poverty and that child spacing/ birth control is the only answer to Niger’s poverty. Honestly, it’s not that simple nor can be put into black and white absolutes.

The First World uses western feminism to regulate and control bodies of women of color.

Western Feminist discourse has a tendency to construct a singular monolithic image of the ‘Third World Woman’ where the representations are not just inaccurate but also having long-term consequences to the  collective psyche of all non-Western women.

This need to establish Universal Savior versus the Universal Victim helps to strengthen the western feminists’ perspectives about Third World women as helpless victims in need of rescue by the able-bodied women of the First World.

The First World campaigns focusing aid and development reinforces such notions in many ways. For example. It is not uncommon to see third world women depicted with toddler in lap, face half covered in clothing, teary eyed women lying on the ground, a woman in burka holding a little starving child, Muslim woman holding her jihadist son’s dead body, and so on and so forth. It is also very interesting to note that most of these “type” of images are made by western photographers who land into different cultures with their preconceived notions and ensure to get what they think or are told.

This also clarifies some grave points like; the photographer, interviewer, aid worker feels him/herself to be above the third world women and assists in further establishing the image of a timid, silenced, almost invisible character.

The whole point of making such sort of photography and media content is to feed into the western feminist discourses.  Dignity of people being projected and responsibility of own’s work does not come into the equation, simply because such people are operating on the Universal Savior versus the Universal Victim notions.

The term development is frequently used in third world countries as a normative concept to imply improvement done through western aid regulations.

And there is no doubt that there are some excellent projects under way for women’s issues, I have been part of few such myself, but the question remains same.

Who defines what is improvement and for whom?

Take note, it’s not the third world. Therefore First World and Popular feminism have to bear the third world’s critique on these type of parachute developmental progress.

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