Gender Disparity| South Asian Women Fight On

Indian Women Paving Paths

Indian Women Paving Paths

In recent years, the South Asia region has made some progress towards gender equality. The ratio of female-to-male life expectancy in South Asia, while behind East Asia, is now ahead of sub-Saharan Africa.

There is still a long way to go in about bringing the much-needed positive change towards the existing patterns of patriarchy that afford men privileges over women’s minds, souls and bodies. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that millions are still stuck in the dinosaur age, suffering acute Neanderthal syndromes.

A development organization, IFAD through its Gender and Development Division has decades spanning contribution in making head-ways to counter patriarchy and gender gaps.

Through their work, IFAD reports following noteworthy progresses and areas of concern: 

1.South Asia has also seen women’s increased political involvement, with their parliamentary participation rates higher than those in East Asia.

2.The 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) shows that South Asia raised its position from the lowest ranked region in 2009 to the fourth ranked region in 2012 in overall discrimination against women.

3. However, the report also notes that the changes in ranking between 2009 and 2012 should be interpreted with caution and that better quality data − rather than an improvement in discriminatory social institutions − could also contribute to an improved score.

4. This culturally diverse region has typically lagged behind on gender equality issues. Boys still outnumber girls in primary school enrollment in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Furthermore, across the region, girls are more likely than boys to drop out of school and almost half of all adult women are illiterate. In 2005, 48 per cent of young women were married before the age of 18.

5. Out of the nine countries in South Asia, only Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka have laws that prohibit domestic violence.

Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto record on women rights, debatable

Pakistan’s Daring Benazir Bhutto

6. The region is confronted by skewed gender ratios owing to the continued preference for boys in society, at least in part because of the dowry system. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, patriarchal norms isolate women in their homes by placing restrictions on their mobility and prohibiting contact with the opposite sex, especially in rural areas. This has significant implications for their employment, voice and representation in public life.

Despite challenging circumstances, IFAD and its many partners working in South Asia have made significant strides in improving the lives of women and girls in the region, as evidenced in the stories that follow.

Economic empowerment: South Asia has one of the lowest rates in the world of women’s participation in the labour force. Women earn less than men and have limited economic opportunities, often toiling as self-employed laborers across all sectors.

 Voice and participation: Inequities cannot be addressed until there are more women in decision-making roles in the public and private domains. It is true that some countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have had women heads of government. Others have used affirmative action, such as quotas, to boost women’s participation in decision-making bodies and change the focus of development agendas. However, there is often a large gap between representation and voice.

In Pakistan, for example, women are virtually absent from water user associations even though they own some agricultural land. And if they do attend meetings, they have little influence over decisions.

Women’s decision-making power in the household is also low compared with other Asian regions, but it does increase with wealth and economic empowerment.

Workloads and benefits: In South Asia, the widespread disparities can be observed from the most insignificant to most significant important issues, women work longer hours on domestic chores in comparison to men. Their work overall is benefited by men, most agricultural laborers and workers are women but they earn less and have no decision-making power over their limited incomes and its uses.

Srilankan women in workforce

Srilankan women in workforce

South Asian patriarchy continues to feed into the cycle of keeping women poor and in vulnerable conditions, so that they can be controlled within the heinous societal roles set out for them.

IFAD’s on-ground work has also resulted into many outcomes that can help to continue addressing women’s inclusion and empowerment within the region.

LESSONS LEARNED AND GOOD PRACTICES

IFAD’s Asia and Pacific Division has implemented projects that address gender equality and women’s empowerment in different ways. Some of the lessons learned and good practices implemented in South Asia include:

- Self-help groups. Self-help groups are an effective way to strengthen the decision-making and economic power of women in South Asia’s patriarchal societies.

- Women-specific value chains. Supporting women-specific value chains by providing micro-credit coupled with technical and social training has improved household-level gender relations. It has helped increase women’s mobility and their participation in family decision-making, and brought them greater control over their profits.

-National gender coordinators. Country-level gender coordinators, such as in India, have improved gender outcomes by providing direct support to project design and supervision.

The region is known world-wide for its non-friendly attitudes and traditions that continue to threaten women’s lives. At the center of the rotting core — South Asian women themselves and  have taken it to task to work on improving their lives and continue to display their positive interest and enthusiasm  progressing towards their rightful places in the societies. 

Agents of Change |My Dream For Every Little Girl

 

The Girls’education progress has remained marginalized in the political and general discourse of Pakistan. There is no denying the very fact that there are parts of the country that have the lowest literacy rates in the world, this fact constantly pinches me with passing times.

As a nation, we are falling and failing behind due to two main issues POVERTY and EDUCATION.  

The time has come to stop denying the very fact that education lifts whole communities out of poverty forever. Inside turbulent Pakistan, Oxfam is doing whatever it takes to get more children into class by lobbying with governments, training teachers and also building schools in rural areas, which will provide little children and girls opportunity to attend school. Watch this sensitive video on girl’s education, this is my dream for every little girl and let’s work towards making it a reality.

After-all, educated women are agents of change and Pakistan is in dire need of a social change that empowers its women.

Pakistan, do we want to be the CHANGE?

Exposee I: Westerners Attack On Muslim Feminists

Anti-Muslim bigotry is on the rise in this world and it’s a big problem for Muslims like myself who time and again are attacked and vilified on public forums for raising their voices on issues affecting human rights, women’s status and so on.

Being a Muslim feminist that has declared herself publicly an advocate for women’s rights cause , each day passes with one or other unpleasant and horrible experience that I have to endure just because there are certain “white western groups” refusing to accept that I a Muslim woman can also a feminist.

This dismal of women of color on hands of westerners is not new and it won’t end. Yet again events happened that reiterated the very fact that I am right in calling out those that disregards the fact that whiteness is a privilege that is not afforded to all women. Certainly I haven’t been afforded this. Then there are those that insists that Saving Muslim Women is their most important mission that is done without acknowledging that cultural differences and applying culturally specific approaches to feminism and equality. Then refusal to accept that there are countless Muslim women feminists that are fighting for the women rights issues. The exact same type of people also justify bombings, drones, illegal invasions and the virus — “Savior versus Invader” is something the world bears.

Exactly on November 10, 2014 (four-day ago) I wrote and posted the “Trying to Understand Journey of Glasgow Girl to an ISIS Bride”.

As usual, some unknown people used my work without permissions, see here:

Whute Lady

I see people reading my work and dismissing me credentials and jumping on the bandwagon of bashing all Muslims.  Was I wrong to think that White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of color. Probably not. After I came to be made aware of this above scenario,I wrote a very candid and angry response thereby requesting the blog to remove my work that was used without my permissions and also telling the misguided lady that Muslim feminists exist and I am enough proof of it.

The comment was not approved obviously but I received an email from the person who posted my work on their blog and probably found my comment awaiting moderation. Just for public knowledge I did not reply to the message. Please see the email now:

EMAIL

So. I have to justify and been taken to task, vilified and attacked by such civilized white men and women who think attacking Muslim women and deliberately silencing our voices is all good and part and parcel of the saintly values only they claim to own, quoting some here the myths of “freedom of expression, speech and liberty.”

Don’t dare use my work and try to slap me down.

This attempt by the “civilized first world” myth shall be continued to be exposed at The Human Lens. 

 

 

The Persecution of Muslim Feminists

Do you believe that respecting Muslim women feminists and their rights is a fundamental human right that you would afford to all OTHER FEMINISTS REGARDLESS OF THEIR RELIGIOUS IDENTITY?

Got that right.

Got that right.

Or shall I continue to face your white privilege that forces me to face your ugly persecution for being a MUSLIM FEMINIST?

Tell me, will you?

Trying to Understand Journey of Glasgow Girl to an ISIS Bride

With the recent surge of ISIS terror spreading across the globe, yet again we are left to pick the pieces after the chaotic collusion of the rising religious fundamentalism. Before I go further, let it be clear that I DO NOT, REPEAT DO NOT support any form of terrorism in particular that which is done with the name of anybody’s God, Allah, Bhagwan and Superior Being.

Be it the historical bloody Crusades waged by Christianity or the current futile Jihad trolling by Islamists, all this is wrong and let it be understood once and for all.

As a Muslim feminist, the news that many sisters are leaving their lives to join ISIS as recruit brides is extremely depressing and equally disturbing. When I heard of this 20-year-old British woman of Pakistani origin, left her home in Glasgow to move in Syria where she joined the ISIS and got married to an and ISIS fighter, I was really stunned into silence (something that doesn’t happen very often, I am told).

What made Aqsa Mahmood do what she did? What made her choose what she has chosen?

I want to comprehend this. I tell you I am just trying to understand her reasoning.

Why Did Aqsa Mahmood Go to Syria?

According to reports, Aqsa was reported missing in November but contacted her parents after reaching Syria and had maintained the connection through social media until stories of her involvement with the ISIS came out. It is understood that she traveled with a Canadian Muslim woman known only as Umm Haritha.

I fear that like Dr. Shams, Aqsa Mahmood too have had led different lives had they not set out on a never-ending path of violence and militancy. Did this young woman fall into the trap of helplessness that is being experienced by many angry Muslims on behalf of the wrong doings that are going on against Islam in this idiotic war of terror?

I fear much more greatly that Aqsa Mahmood too has ended up wasted her precious life for fake words and false promises. Her new life is leading into nothing but what she probably set out to change: death and destruction.

The parents of Aqsa Mahmood have been public is voicing their concerns and making a plea for her return. They say that one day Aqsa was home and next she was gone, in a poof. There was no involvement of recruiting tactics, no such organization brainwashing their daughter to do this. Yes, coming from a Muslim family, she was practicing usual religious norms and studying Islam at home.

Her peers too have come out to say that she was normal fun-loving woman, well-integrated into Scottish society and a remarkable college student.

In short, Aqsa Mahmood’s future looked as bright as the sky stars on a clear night.

SO. Why a young bright woman like Aqsa left Scotland to become a Jihadi bride?

In a recent press meeting, her father Muzaffar Mahmood, said that “Our daughter is brainwashed and deluded and helping those engaged in genocide. She may believe that the jihadists of Isis are her new family but they are not and are simply using her.”

Further more; they have made an emotional appeal recently stating that Aqsa’s actions have not just betrayed them, but also Muslim community and the whole people of Scotland. They have urged their daughter to come back from the path she has chosen. The path she chose leads to destruction and despair only.

Aqsa Mahmood’s family members were of the opinion that like many other young Muslims, their young daughter was naturally angry and frustrated at the loss of innocent life in the Middle East and the Syrian conflict. But, they are at a loss to fathom her choice of path for lending a helping hand.

It is heart breaking at so many levels, because Aqsa Mahmood was someone who might have ended up with an opportunity to achieve so much constructively, including helping war-struck Muslims, through volunteering, emergency assistance work or refugee aid with some humanitarian organization. The possibilities were endless, but only if we had no lost Aqsa to the ISIS.

In my mind, there is no doubt of the depth of compassion and strong will of justice that made the very fabric of Aqsa Mahmood’s character.

To me, the whole case of Aqsa Mahmood points at a bigger more unspoken of issue at global level. Aqsa is one of the countless recruits that are young, disillusioned and yearning for a better change.

Only God knows how many more Aqsa’s will be lost to this irreversible destination before the we the world will really wake up. Wake up to the fact that our global youth are forced through a feeling of political and social hopelessness to embrace extremism and fight.

And that we all have our role in forcing them towards this darkness and destruction.

Islamic Rape Laws Couldn’t Save Reyhaneh Jabbari,Wait.Why?

Dear Sholeh, don’t cry for what you are hearing, before my death I want something from you, that you have to provide for me with all your might and in any way that you can. In fact this is the only thing I want from this world, this country and you. Please don’t cry and listen. I want you to go to the court and tell them my request. My kind mother,  the one more dear to me than my life, I don’t want to rot under the soil. Beg so that it is arranged that as soon as I am hanged my heart, kidney, eye, bones and anything that can be transplanted be taken away from my body and given to someone who needs them as a gift. I don’t want the recipient know my name, buy me a bouquet, or even pray for me. I am telling you from the bottom of my heart that I don’t want to have a grave for you to come and mourn there and suffer. I don’t want you to wear black clothing for me. Do your best to forget my difficult days. Give me to the wind to take away. The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embrace the death. Because in the court of God I will charge all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it. 

—- Reyhaneh Jabbari’s final words before execution

Rape is an ugly reality that exists in societies we live in; recently a devastating rape case has made world-wide headlines and given somewhat an excuse to many for jumping on the bandwagon of Islamophobia and the “Evils of Those Muslims.” Yes, you got it right. I must speak about the heartbreaking execution of this Iranian young woman and Interior Decorator Reyhaneh Jabbari.

Today, Reyhaneh Jabbari is no longer with us, as she was executed by hanging on 25 October 2014 in Iran. Prior to her death, she had written to her family requesting to offer her organs to some needy person anonymously. No words to pay tribute to this woman who at the darkest hours of her life acted selflessly and courageously.

Who was Reyhaneh Jabbari executed? What’s her crime? Is it Islam? Is it bad Muslims? What’s really going on?

For what we all know, her crime was self-defense for she stabbed a potential rapist to get away with raping her. After escaping the crime-scene her ordeal didn’t end and within hours she was charged with murder. Throughout these years, her pleas were never properly investigated because the alleged person was an influential man with former government service backing behind him. The court proceedings were unfair, like usual rape trials where “the alleged rapist” is someone influential with backing. Jabbari repeatedly explained she acted in self-defense by stabbing the rapist. Still the Judiciary dismissed her because she had no witness.

Being a Muslim woman and on top of that, a feminist I find my self at logger heads, at this sort of nonsense being doled out by distorting Islamic laws.  Like Reyhaneh, rape cases continue to be treated into this manner in most Muslim countries.

It’s not surprising that majority of the masses immediately start blaming Islam straight away. Let’s get real, it’s become a trending norm to be spiteful towards one particular religion. After Reyhaneh’s execution I observed also the gleeful manner of many civilized communities who bashed Islam for this recent incident.

Off course most of these ignorant haters, have really no idea what Islam really is. Or for that matter the Islamic laws governing rape issues.

If at all, the real Islamic teachings were applied to Reyhaneh Jabbari’s case, today she was alive. For she did not need even one witness to prove she was raped. Continue to be shocked because nowhere the entire Quran or the ahadith has it been mentioned that a rape witness requires four witnesses.

Rape Matters in Islam

Islamic jurisprudence interprets rape as a crime in the category of hiraba and it means “unlawful warfare”, promoting terror or highway robbery. The person who commits hirabah is a Moharebeh.  Moreover Hiraba does not require four witnesses to prove the offence; circumstantial evidence, medical data and expert testimony from the evidence used to prosecute such crimes.

Islam deems hibara crimes are basically the spreading of corruption in this earth. It’s also interesting to note that in Iran, often charges of hiraba are used against people who commit acts against government. However, Islamic law of hiraba is applied against armed robbers, kidnappers, and rapists.

Wait what? How come Reyhaneh Jabbari was executed when she was a victim of hibara? Shouldn’t by actual understanding, her rapist the “Moharebeh” been punished for the heinous act?

Why were witnesses asked for, when the law says that there is no need of witness for a matter like rape. Did all this happen because unfortunately, she was a Muslim woman in a Muslim country and as usual most of our countries continue to make headlines for the brutal treatment of women. All in the name of Islam, heavens sake.

Do we Muslim women first have to organize a group of 4-5 men to carry out rape us, where four of them would act upon as witnesseses and then post deed is done, saunter into Court proceedings?

More ever, the Islamic response to rape is not just confined to criminal prosecution. Islamic jurisprudence also provides an avenue for civil redress for a rape survivor in its ‘law of jirah’ (wounds) whereby the state has to provide compensation to the victim.

Islam is completely logical, clear and rational in dealing with rape and there is no place for claims like the requirement of four witnesses to prove the crime.

What compensation was provided to Reyhaneh Jabbari? A cold-blooded execution?

Seriously, there needs to be rapidly growing enlightenment within Muslim countries and others around us on this issue to stop the unjust murders of innocent women. Muslim feminism has taken a blow, but we are not beaten yet. True, we have lost Reyhaneh Jabbari but we will continue with our fight for other sisters in need.

It is a shame that Islam’s false interpretations and ambiguities are still going on. Whereas in reality Quran teaches to treat women with kindness and fairness. Islam deems rape is “waging war against society.” Now the question is,  thatfor how long religious obsessed countries will ignore this?

Note to All Feminists, Western, Eastern, Muslim, Buddist and whatever: There is so much to do and so little time.

P.S: One compassionate activist and if I may call her ally feminist has joined in raising the voice against the injustice, see //wp.me/p3dLl7-lG

An American Muslim Feminist’s CNN Experience

I’m a feminist, and I converted to Islam” by Theresa Corbin was published in CNN OPINION on October 14, 2014. In the hours that followed, some three hundred people hailing from inside America itself and abroad joined in the discussion and comment boards.

Suffice to say, Theresa Corbin’s journey into Islam and her identity as a Muslim feminist has managed to provoke really strong reactions. Yet again, the events hint a brutal reality that Muslim women continue to face increasing hate attacks for well — just being follower of Islam.

In these weeks, the article has been republished and discussed on many social media forums and caught the attention of media in Europe, Jewish media in Israel, Middle Eastern and academics at prestigious varsities. In this follow-up, we will try to address both the after-math and reactionary experience felt by her.

The lady behind this storm is here with us today at The Human Lens for a better understanding of what really happened after the publishing of “I’m a feminist, and I converted to Islam.”

Thanks for joining us Theresa; we can see that you have been really busy.

Saadia Haq: “Islam is not the religion that one would equate with women rights” as deemed by many academics who have discussed your CNN article. What do you have to say on that?

Theresa Corbin: I would have to assume that the academics in question are Westerners who have an Orientalist understanding of Islam that is mixed with an understanding of some Majority Muslim countries’ treatment of women.

I would ask these academics to do the due diligence in understanding Islam as they would any other academic topic. And take a closer look at women’s rights as they are presented in ISLAM and not as it is presented in the media, in Orientalism and not or as it is presented in some Middle Eastern and Asian cultures.

When I say that I appreciated what I saw in Islam as far as women’s rights go, I was talking about the religion and not what some Muslims superimpose from their culture on the religion.

When these academics do not equate women’s rights with Islam, they must ask themselves is if their reading of Islam is superficial in nature. Is their understanding of Islam within historical and textual context? Or do they take verses and traditions out of context to prove their own confirmation bias?

When they talk about the women’s testimony being only half of that of a man’s as proof that women are thought to be lesser than a man, do they understand that is only in cases of witnessing legal documents and any litigation that come out of the document. And then only so that the woman can have a second chance if she does in fact purger herself- something not afforded to men.

When they talk about inheritance of a women being less than that of a man as proof that Islam is somehow oppressive, have they also understood that a woman has no financial obligation toward her family as a man does and therefore can be free to do with her inheritance as she wishes where a man must spend on his family?

When they talk about Muslim men being allowed four wives as “definitive proof that Islam hates women“, have they also understood that the there is no other religious book that instructs men to have only one wife. “Marry woman of your choice two, three or four, but if you fear that you will not be able to deal justly, (with them), then only one. That is more suitable that you may not incline [to injustice].” [Al-Qur'an 4:3] And that Islam did not invent polygamy, but restricted (men used to marry hundreds of women at a time) and regulated it so that women in these polygamous relationships would be treated equitably. And that in some instances polygamy can and has been beneficial to women.

I recommend that they read Asma Barlas’ “Believing Women in Islam”.

Saadia Haq: Well, said and a lot of points to ponder. America, a country where it affords its citizens to have freedom and equality, some critiques have pointed that as an American citizen, you could do it because of your privileged position. Do keep in mind that many within Islamic countries have really no choice or say for choosing a different religion, then what they were born into, this within itself is appalling. What is your take on this?

Theresa Corbin:I think this is, as you say, appalling. Without a doubt, 100% appalling. And it saddens me to know that my fellow human beings, my brothers and sisters in some parts of the world and specifically in Muslim majority countries are having their basic God-given human rights taken away.

I have done some in-depth research on the topic of apostasy in Islam and have found significant evidence that it is not at all what majority Muslim countries who apply the death penalty for apostasy will have you think. There is little evidence to believe that this particular application of “Islamic law” was ever really Islamic. Check link at http://wp.me/p37ZvK-8q

Furthermore, many majority Muslim countries who wish to claim that they apply Islamic laws only do so on those whom they wish (the poor and weak) without even first building the proper foundations of society. These countries cling to harsh interpretations and mercilessly apply these interpretation of Islamic law on countries of people who are still trying to find the most basic of life’s necessities. All while those in power excuse the rich and useful to them of the most heinous of crimes. To me this is a sign of insecurity in faith or insecurity in the right to rule. Either way it is a farce.

I would have to agree completely with the latest research coming out of George Washington University that says, “[...] the Qur’an’s teachings are, in fact, better represented in Western societies than in predominantly Islamic countries. The reason, is that countries with significantly Muslim populations have overtly failed in embracing the values of their own faith in the spheres of politics, business, law and society [...]” http://politicalblindspot.com/report-western-countries-are-more-islamic-than-middle-eastern-ones/

As the researcher, Hossein Askari- an Iranian-born professor of International Business and International Affairs- himself says, “Muslim countries used religion as an instrument of state control. We must emphasize that many countries that profess Islam and are called Islamic are unjust, corrupt, and underdeveloped and are in fact not ‘Islamic’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

Haq: Some haters said Islam has nothing to do with feminism and that feminism is a contradiction to Muslim women’s feministic ideals, what advice you have for them.

 Theresa Corbin: First, I like how you called them haters. But really I think the term should be those in need of illumination. My advice to them would be to check themselves. If you call yourself a feminist and say that someone else cannot, by way of their religion, be a feminism, you have failed to grasp the concept of feminism. And I would direct them to read our recent collaborations on diversity in Feminism at see part I and wp.me/37ZvK

Haq: Many of your sisters living in Islamic States are not so liberated and suffering from the traditional Sharia understanding of Islam that continues to affect their lives adversely. What sort of reaction if at all, have you got from those groups?

Theresa Corbin: I have only heard solidarity and support from these women after my CNN article. While writing my “Take Back Islam” series, I have had some different reactions from my sisters living in majority Muslim countries. They voiced concern that writing on topics like honor killing, rape punished as adultery, FGM (this article is coming soon) and denial of sexual rights under the guise of Islam, falsely portrays their lives as if these statistical outliers is the norm. Which it is not.

One bright, young Middle Eastern woman called my attention to the fact that many Middle Eastern women living in many of these countries are highly educated and do not suffer from oppression. There is so much diversity in these countries that is unfair to say that what happens in some parts of Afghanistan as to denying rights to education and what happens in Saudi as to denying the right of mobility and so on is representative of the lives of all women in the Middle East or in Muslim majority countries. Because it is not representative of the whole.

But the reality remains that if some women are being oppressed and Islam is being used as the tool, we MUST talk about it. We must stop it. And we must take away the legitimacy in doing so because there is nothing about oppression that is Islamic. And for this, the Middle Eastern women completely agreed.

Haq: What has been the reaction of Muslim audiences? Was it all negative or you have been made welcome and supported? Tell us more.

Theresa Corbin:Many Muslims have contacted me to thank me, congratulate me, or just to say they liked what I said. By and large I have received a huge amount of support from the Muslim community. There have been a couple of Muslims who were curious as to how feminism could be claimed by a Muslim, but upon speaking further with them they came to understand that women’s rights are paramount to establishing successful societies and that we must work toward ridding barbaric cultural practices and misogynistic readings of religious texts in order to prosper as a community. Alhamdulillah.

Thank you so much Theresa Corbin for agreeing to be with us today, on behalf of The Human Lens and its readers, our very best wishes for your future journey, amen to that.

The Muslim Woman’s Struggle: Diversity in Feminism Part II

Written by Theresa Corbin an author at Islamwich, co-authored by Saadia Haq

A Voice from the West:

Recently I have gotten a lot of heat for identifying as feminist and a Muslim. I did it very publicly so I am not surprised at the response. I am however, surprised that purported feminists had such a problem with my identity they have gone so low as to call me- a fellow woman they have never met or spoken to- a stupid cow (because having and exercising my basic human right to choose my religion makes me a farm animal), a moron, an attention seeking … fill in the blank …

Aaaand these “feminists” have even perpetuated a harmful female stereotype, by saying that my identity is the result of daddy issues, as if everything a woman does must have something to do with a male- relationship there is no emoji that exists that can express how massively I would like to roll my eyes at this.

But the lack of support-and virulent abuse-I received from my fellow “feminist” was so hideous that it made me wonder what exactly they think feminism is. I know for sure they had no idea what being a Muslim meant outside of what they hear about Muslims and Islam on the news, stereotypes, or from Islamophobic talking heads and reductionists (terrible sources, y’all!).

Then I realized that these ladies (and some men) were only upset because I challenged their misconceptions about what it means to be a Muslim woman, what is means to be a feminist, and by doing so I challenged their very identity (we often define ourselves by negation and not being validated pisses insecure people off). I realized this because I understand the rhetoric in American society and Western culture at large that Islam = bad for women.

The reason I realized this was because I too had many of the same misconceptions about Islam that these people have. That was before I knew what Islam is. You see, it is hard not to carry around these misconceptions when on a daily basis you are receiving messages from everywhere that hijab is a tool of oppression, that Muslim men are somehow more violent and domineering than their Western counterparts and that Islam is just more oppression of women under the guise of religion.

While there are problems that women face in terms of dress, male dominance and religion being used as a tool for oppression (that Muslim feminists are addressing), it is a fallacy to think that these things are only Eastern or Muslim problems as we see them play out daily among non-Muslims in the West. But the stereotypes persists and are amplified of late.

The roots of these stereotypes come from Orientalists’ intentionally mutilated understanding of Islam. And it’s feminist roots were planted by women like Carrie Chapman Catt and Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, who traveled the world to unite women in the cause of equality-and should be celebrated for their efforts. But these ladies and many women like them couldn’t get over their own superficiality and arrogance. When they saw Muslim women dressing modestly in hijab they took it as proof that men were using all they could include clothing to control women.

They clung to their Orientalist understanding of Islam (some say it was only propagated to create reasons to colonize the Muslim countries. i.e Christianity good/Islam bad therefore, the more “advanced” Western Christians must “rescue” people from their “backwardness”) and they never once thought to ask the Muslim women why they cover their bodies the way that they do. Or even if it was something that Muslim women wished to do of their own accord. No, they just assumed it was because Muslim women were too weak or feeble-minded to even see how they were being oppressed. (See Unveiling Scheherazade)

These early feminist completely ignored the fact that these Muslim women used the public space and political forum to fight for their causes. These efforts were ignored because Muslim women weren’t fighting for the causes Western women thought they should be fighting for (removal of the veil). So they took it upon themselves to free these “poor” women from the things they didn’t need saving from and ignored the real struggles they faced. This was par for the course in Western colonial dealings with indigenous peoples.

Some are still at it

Some are still at it

I have felt this attitude and its far-reaching effects through time and place in my own life. When I compare how I was treated as an identifiably white women to how I am treated now that I wear hijab, the difference is striking. I was, previous to my Islamic identity, treated like a competent, actualized, thinking human being. I was listened to and even sought out for my opinion. The story is totally opposite now that I am recognizably Muslim. Now I am often treated like a child, talked down to and even flat-out ignored. So much so that I often wonder if I am invisible or on mute. I suffer from the legacy these first feminist left to future generations as to how to treat the “other”.

Sure, I know what you are thinking, feminists have moved past this type of thinking and acting. And I would have to agree with you that many modern, Western feminists have gotten past this. Some of my best friends are third-wave feminists. These ladies understand that each women’s struggle is her own and should be heard and dealt with in the way she wishes for her life.

And third-wave feminism arose partly or largely, depending on whom you speak with because of the failure of former feminists to understand that women are diversified and that women of all ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds are also entitled to equality and agency in the ways they see fit for their lives.

So why are so many feminist still stuck in first and second wave feminist thinking? It all goes back to what the media is selling and what the masses are buying. Stereotypes that is (definition where a few cases are taken as representative of the whole. Thought it would be better to clear that up now instead of in the comments.)! They are sold fresh and hot of the presses daily. And this creates a weirdness where feminism is growing and supporting women in their choices, but many still cling to colonial mind sets that says to be actualized you must first be Western, White, and Christian (today that translates to: if not Western then at least westernized, if not white then at least whitewashed, and if not Christian then at least not Muslim). And if you “fall short” in any of those categories you will be dismissed. It will be assumed that you are not capable.

In the Western culture we have done little to address this arrogance in our thinking and we see it acted out by groups by the likes of FEMEN who wish to “save” and instruct the Muslim woman on what feminism rreally is. It is this idea that somehow someone else (here: FEMEN-style feminists) has a better understanding of what is best for you (here: Muslim women) than you do, that has a distinct smack of patriarchy by way of feminism.

Muslims women are not now and have never been interested in being told what our struggle is. We are not interested in being spoken for. We are not interested in being rescued.

Because the thing is that Muslim feminists have been doing a lot in terms of bettering our sisters’ lives, the lives of oppressed minorities and humanity at large, from within the frame-work of our faith. The thing is Muslim feminists have a lot more work to do in terms of being heard, gaining rights and ridding our lives of barbaric cultural practices. We just choose to do so in a way that WE see best.

Our struggle is real. And we understand it better than anyone else. We don’t need anyone adding to our struggle by judging us incapable based on the religion we choose, the hijab we wear or don’t wear, or the color of our skin. We don’t need to be reduced to nothing more than our scarves or dress code (a form of objectification and a huge obstacle within feminism). It makes our efforts ten times harder.  How can we engage at all if you treat us as lesser beings? Respect is critical and for all.

So if you are interested in supporting us in our struggle ask us how (see part I). If you are a non-Muslim who wishes to “enlighten” us as to what our religion is, we are not interested in your superficial reading of Islam or your condescension. If you are interested in telling Muslim women we cannot be feminists, understand that you have no right. If you are interested in telling Muslim women how to be feminist, know that you missed the point of feminism.

 

The Muslim Woman’s Struggle: Diversity in Feminism Part I

Written by Saadia Haq, an author of The Human Lens, and Muslim Feminist. Co-authored by Islamwich’s writer Theresa Corbin

Pakistani Feminism Getting Stronger Despite Hurdles

Pakistani Feminism Getting Stronger Despite Hurdles

 

I find it very enlightening when Non-Muslims are frequently shocked at my ability to laugh loud, shout in public protests and say outlandish things, and be who I really am – Pakistani feminist Saadia Haq

A Voice from the East:

Women across the world are still fighting for rights, as basic as the acceptance that women too are human beings. Be it American women, Ethiopian, Pakistani, and Cambodian and so on. Yes, white women are fighting for equal rights, likewise Muslim women are fighting for equal rights; but why can’t we work together?

We haven’t been able to work together because of the corrosive history within feminism itself. A big issue is mainstream feminism enforcing the one-size-fits-all feminist narrative on us all. (See part II for more on this history)

Now most dominant mainstream feminists enjoy a luxurious position that makes them feel a responsibility and in some cases-gulp- the right to speak for the silenced and oppressed women where a lot of focus is placed on “Muslim women.” The saving of Muslim Women syndrome is very much alive. And policing bodies of the “OTHER” that is “Muslim Women” is not new.

This I tell you from my own experiences of being a woman of color (brown), Pakistani, Muslim woman and feminist. To begin, with women of color feminists are quite rightly exhausted with the mainstream feminism’s tactics of controlling our bodies and life choices. Given the reality of this dismissive behavior of leading mainstream feminists towards what we have made in bringing positive emancipatory changes in Muslim communities is a sign of arrogance that we can do without. We have been vocal with withering criticism for this “deliberate silencing” of our voices.

Secondly, it would not be wrong to tell you that many women of color and Muslim feminists are aware that love and respect is for white women only. We aren’t white and therefore we aren’t meant to be worthy of love and respect. We are relegated to fetishes and see all sorts of stereotypical imagery and media portrayal telling us so.

As a feminist that has been associated and struggled with several initiatives, I realized the nuances of religion, race, color and citizenship within feminism. There have been times when my Western feminist colleagues totally disregarded my opinions as if I had no mind of my own. And the icing on the cake has been the repeated dismissal and disbelief in my gender based research work, just because I am not white and I don’t have a fancy degree from Harvard.

Let me narrate an incident from 2008 while in Jordan where I represented Pakistan on a global assembly of ending violence against women. My paper focused on how cultural and sociology-economic issues work behind honor related crimes in my country. Now this was an event where extremely distinguished and visionary academics were also a part of the panel.

After my successful presentation, which was applauded by dignitaries and academics and followed by an equally interesting Q/A round, things went down hill for me personally. I was questioned and interrogated on my research paper by several Western feminist participants. It was as if I was in a court hearing for some unknown crime that I had committed. At the end, I was made to understand that if this work had been presented by a white, Western feminist, it would have been acceptable.

This was not the first time this sort of thing happened to me and it wasn’t the last. But I did start thinking about the mainstream processes through which white women are created as social actors primed to reproduce racism within the feminist movement.

Another issue that comes across very strongly is the sleeping elephant known as “Third World Women” syndrome that systematically makes feminism bound within class and privileged. How so? The feministic theory all women are equal and all women deserve equal rights and benefits only works well for equality amongst white feminism.

I know for a fact that in all my time within the movement, I’ve worked with a variety of white-dominated feminist organizations where most white feminists held power and decision-making positions. That also meant following without questions the campaigns decided by those in power, again a brutal reminder that we as Muslim feminists co-workers weren’t supposed to think and voice suggestions. I can safely say that the days of meekly following a dictator have long gone.

Then there are those who want my “token presence” in campaigns designed by them, and all I am supposed to do is fit in where they tell me. The fact that I don’t wear the hijab is another gleeful moment for my Western comrades. But after calling out FEMEN’s topless hijab “solidarity” controversy, I was dished out toxicity for months and remained a target of hate messages. But, you know I do have a mind of my own.

Honestly, I have sidelined myself from such “solidarity” because it doesn’t treat me equal and a lot of it does happen because of the color of my skin, even if people want to negate that. Mind it, Muslim women have a history of our own and this is ignored by many Western eyes.

Within the whole debate of “Leaning In” towards the mainstream feminism doesn’t settle well with Muslim feminism because despite being the same gender, there are other diversities at work. And how can we engage if we are treated as lesser beings?

Respect is a two-way street.

I no longer feel comfortable to work with people who view me and other Muslim women as backward, helpless, and useless. It’s time we become more sensitive and inclusive of women to continue this battle for equal rights.

If Islamic Feminism and Muslim feminists are lagging behind and have short comings, this void is NOT going to be filled by mainstream feminism. One has to take into account that Islamic feminism is certainly reacting and broadening its horizons with critiques and the needs of Muslim women across the globe. It’s within itself too diverse to be lumped into one frame-work.

Muslim feminism is continuing to react towards the traditional, non-historical understanding of Islam, which is refusing to recognize the more diverse, progressive and alternative understanding of Islam on women issues. And that is not all; Islamic feminism is also reacting to popular dominant Western feminist trends, according to which to be a feminist you have to be secular.

While we are battling on all turfs, home and globally we also acknowledge that there is a long history and current exclusion of the Muslim woman in feminist spaces.

Being a Pakistani feminist and outspoken critique on issues related to women and religion, I can give you what I think means to be an ally to us.

  1. Number One: Do not pity me or construct me as a victim and refrain from doing this to other Muslim women too. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s early portrayal was made to look like she was a victim of the bad religion Islam, and that she was provided “wings of freedom” in the West.

  1. Number Two: Let us, Muslim women define what liberation means to us, instead of coming down with the usual heavy whitesplaining and condescending. You see us walking away from FEMEN’s topless jihad for those very reasons.

  1. Number Three: Don’t at any stage of time assume that you have the right to speak out on some one else’s behalf. Yes, if I and others asked you to speak, please do it keeping in mind what we feel is best for us, instead of what you feel is best and right for us. Recall the problematic “the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa” – Afghani Sharbat Gula’s photograph.

  1. Number Four: And I cannot stress enough on this. Accept me as an equal despite the differences in our colors, religion and citizen-ships. Think again, authors Patricia Reott and Martin Reott’s book; Sharia Law: How to Control Women is quite an eye opener.

  1. Number Five: Again there is no compromise on this one. Please don’t force me to accept your arrogance and objectification of my body because it suits your purpose and because you have the power to get away with doing so. Shuddering at Lady Gaga’s “solidarity” in the form of “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?”

  1. Number Six: Finally, don’t take away my agency and presume to dismiss my credentials because I am not into mainstream power positions. Recently, atheist academic Richard Dawkins spent devotional feminist energy in his white knight crusade against Islam and not allowing a Muslim feminist to be equal to him. After all, he comes from a world, where Muslim women “need” Richard Dawkins to “rescue” the damsels in distress.

Pakistan| Facilitating Child Dreams Through Creative Arts

 

A country where a lot is going wrong at many levels, let alone the record on child rights is down right bleak. Though GoP, our State continues to play mere lip-service to the protection and empowerment of children, that make a large chunk of our population. The void left by them is picked up by many local organizations,  activists and human rights defenders who are trying to improve the lives of little ones.

As always there is always a silver lining,  and recently I had the absolute privilege of interacting with a wonderful local organization that focuses on children and art. “Little Art” is a registered non-profit arts education organization. And the person behind this beautiful reality, is Mr. Shoaib Iqbal. He has an experience of near 13 years of working as teacher, theater director, workshop trainer, festival director, youth performance facilitator and inter-disciplinary artist. He taught first “Theater in Education” course in Pakistan at Ali Institute of Education, Lahore for near 3 years.

Poverty a huge obstacle in the lives of most Pakistanis and indeed an organization like Little Art is struggling to make a tiny difference in just some children lives, I hope in time this can truly grow into something big.

Engaging children through arts is a totally new phenomenon in its transformative role in education in Pakistan. Please watch this inspiring video where Little Art’s dedicated team in engaging the emerging rising pillars of my country.

To know more of their amazing work, please check at facebook.com/thelittleart | @tlaorg | thelittleart.org

SAY YES TO CHILD EDUCATION THROUGH INNOVATIVE ARTS!

Those Camel Jockeys of Rahim Yar Khan

“I only remember death was dancing on all sides, the children were falling down and the cars following the race were taking away the bodies of those who were killed or injured” —ex-camel jockey Pakistani boy

According to the a older report by International Ngo SAVE THE CHILDREN “Camel Jockeys of Pakistan” the barbaric game of camel racing and its negative effects was exposed in a shocking manner. This research has focused on three key areas: child jockeys, parents and the “agents” involved into the whole process.

The country has a failing record at protecting of its own citizens against all forms of violence and child trafficking is at the forefront.

Most Pakistanis if you speak with will express two type of sentiments at their governments: anger and helplessness.

After 67 years of becoming an independent nation, we boast of great war weapons while half of the population is living under the poverty line, without access to electricity, clean water and instability. The poor state in which people live makes an excellent factor for the exploitation by the richer states.

This research report was conducted into collaboration of a Bahawalpur-based NGO Pakistan Rural Workers Social Welfare Organization,in the district of Rahim yar Khan in the southern Punjab. It traces the historical aspect of camel-racing, a dying Arab tradition which was revived by the Gulf States governments to sponsor camel racing and soon became an international high stakes game.

The research is the first ever of its kind, where amongst respondents included parents, 46 children who went through the trafficking and exploitation trauma. All of them have been trafficked at an average age of five years, the youngest being three and the oldest eleven. On an average these children spent about four years on the camel racing tracks and fifteen of them had spent seven years. Twenty nine children had been sent back to Pakistan by the age of ten, and the remaining seventeen between the ages of eleven and fifteen. They had been repatriated because of their racing injuries or their weight exceeding 20 kg.  All had been trafficked to the UAE.

Camel Jockeys |Profile

The little Camel jockeys lived very hard lives. They were put in azbas or camel farms, in the desert where they lived for 24 hours a day. The only time they were taken out was when they were needed to race the camels. They were mostly without any caregiver, in the company of adult workers and treated exploitatively. They were physically and sexually abused, made to work from dawn till dusk and poorly fed to keep their weight under 20 kg level. They said they were terrified when put on the camel’s back but they were even more afraid of their masters.

Story of Imran

Imran fell from his camel while racing. When he landed on the ground, he was trampled on by the other camels in the race. He lay unconscious and no one bothered about him till the race was finished. After the race he was thrwn into a pickup van and brought to the azba by the masool and the mudhamer. He was not provided with any medical treatment except a pain-killing spray which is used for treating all sorts of injuries. Imran’s brother who was also working as a camel jockey in one of the nearby azbas only came to know about Imrans’ accident after one and a half month when he secretly visited him in the night. When the masool of the azba where Imran’s brother was working came to know about this visit,he beat him with sticks.

Imran was sent back to Pakistan after two months as the lack of proper medical treatment had left him with a disability.

Parents of  Former Camel Jockeys

The parents had no idea of their real situation and only learned about it when their child was sent home. In some cases, it was too late because children like Imran now have to live the rest of their lives as disabled.

“When the people see other people wearing an expensive watch and silk clothing, they also develop a greed to have the same. If they see with their eyes what happens to their children, they would die of crying”

Abdul Shakoor, Parent of a disabled child camel jockey

Most parents said they would not send their children to the Gulf again, even if offered millions in cash. Another parent mentioned the lack of educational and job opportunities which has pushed them to take this drastic action; it had seemed an easy way to make money.  To their naive and illiterate minds, this seemed to be an answer to their economic hardships and seemed like any normal work opportunity.

On the whole, parents were shocked as they they had no idea about the inhuman, exploitative and abusive situation their children would face in UAE.

Protecting Children from Trafficking into the Trade

The report also summarizes how the participants suggested that effective measures are needed to reduce poverty, promote education and implement laws against child traffickers. Recommendations for the needs of international commitment to implement existing legislation and stop cross-boarder trafficking were made.

The Government of Pakistan needs to take appropriate legislative, administrative and diplomatic measures to control trafficking inside Pakistan and offer the education and training which could give real options to families trapped by poverty.

Child rights activists like Mr. Sabir Farhat of Pakistan Rural Workers Social Welfare Organization, of international acclaim Ansar Burney and many others were able to pressurize the “ban” on using of children as child jockeys. But a decade after being banned, those working on the camel jockey supply chain end in Pakistan have yet to close up shop.

As Pakistani slid further into deep-lasting economic doldrums, there are many desperate people still willing to sell their children.

And where there is a seller, there is always a buyer. To see vulnerable children being exploited is heart breaking on a level that I cannot express into words. It is hard to stay sane when one knows out there are poorly treated children in need of our help.

Kailash Satyarthi & Malala Yousafzai Win Nobel 2014

 

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Indian and Pakistani children campaigners win 2014 Peace Prize. This alone tells us that within both nations there are people striving for a better and prosperous educated future.

 Is it not ironic that both nuclear power states have been engaged into 67 years of hostility and warfare, yet two of its citizens win an award for peace.

Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, what can I say about this great man whose valuable work on eradication of child slavery in India has been instrumental in great changes for children rights. As long as there are human rights defender such as Mr. Satyarthi, we can be sure that children issues will be on the forefront on every government, however corrupt or ineffectual.

The genius with which he has made possible the inclusion of child labor to global social and political agenda is a testament to a visionary who thinks beyond the box into the realms of impossible to make them possible. Over the span of a great career, he has been the architect of the largest civil society movements Global March Against Child Labor, later he founded  the Global Campaign for Education that works to end the global education crisis.

Within India, his grass-roots movement Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) boasts of three decades of valuable contributions for the protection and rehabilitation of children victims.

Now coming to the second prize winner, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

The world is quite aware of Malala, the young girl ready to take a bullet to attend school is a testament to her courage and bravery. Since the news broke out yesterday, there have been mixed reactions. Quoting B. Ahmed a free-lance writer at the World Reporter on the Pakistani people’s reaction to Malala’s winning of Nobel is something like “They are dancing on the tunes of West. And. But Pakistanis do have something of a track record for defaming those of their compatriots who seem to be otherwise universally lauded. “

Rightly said, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves shall we. In Malala, the white savior syndrome lives and so does the societal division amongst local Pakistanis.

A Pakistani feminist like myself wants to see children education flourish in my homeland.  And I think that Malala Yousafzai if you say that you want to see every child go to school, here’s is the opportunity to use the MALALA FUND to make it happen inside Pakistan.

We in Pakistan are not interested in the western troupe of using your profile for their dubious agendas. Yes this world is hypocritical to ignore  the plight of many countless  innocents targeted by western drone strikes and invasion forces. Many little girls were exterminated because they were in the way of sinister motives.

But Malala, in you there is a huge hope. Remember this if nothing, that we in Pakistan are immensely proud of you.  

We were, are and will always support you in the campaign of child education and do try regain your trust in us if you can,  because we will do what ever it takes to make your dreams come true even if we have to personally labor on building schools and teaching for free in its class rooms.

This dream that you dreamed of children education is exactly what will save Pakistan to come out from the dark void of illiteracy and militancy.

Many heart felt felicitations to both Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai!

Pakistan|Child Soldiers A Growing Asset For Radicals

The phenomenon of “child soldiers” is not new to this globe. From the far western shores of Americas, to Africa and Asia, the world continues to witness the rise of soldiers that are mere children.  The world is stunned beyond limits to see that humanity has fallen to this level in the exploitation of young innocent children as child recruits for fundamentalist agendas.

The use of child soldiers has spread to almost all the global armed conflict. Though an exact number is impossible to define, thousands of child soldiers are illegally serving in armed conflict around the world. According to Do Something Org, many countries are allegedly reported on use of under-age soldiers, these include Afghanistan, Colombia, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Mali, Pakistan, Thailand, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and more.

 I am sure many are already geared up with the anti-Pakistani stereotypes that deem that whole of Pakistan is a terrorist country and on this list,  I get this hatred towards Pakistan is a global trend but not many of you know the dynamics of child militia here. And am taking this opportunity to shed some light on various important areas.

Pakistan|Trending Local Child Soldiers issue

The growing phenomenon of child militants in Pakistan is a horrific reality, one mirrored in various conflicts throughout history. Young innocent children are targeted because they can be easily brain washed by militant groups.

 The cycle of poverty, large family size and economic hardships are factors that leave vulnerable parents little choice but to send children in local madrassas as they are free of cost.   The constitution Article 25-A says the State shall provide free and compulsory education to children between ages of 5 to 16. However that’s not being followed as millions of children are out of school and our literary rate is appalling low at 48%.

Most people have no choice but to send their children to religious schools or madrassas as. Moreover, there are huge discrepancies because education in Pakistan is heavily influenced by religion and in recent times Wahabi agendas.

The main source of funding for these madrasa groups is coming from Saudi Arabia. In fact, this whole phenomenon that we are confronting, which Al Qaeda is a part of, is very closely associated with Saudi Arabia’s financial and religious projects for the Muslim world as a whole. Its in greater interests to keep Pakistani children stuck into poverty cycles as they serve a greater agenda, shame on Pakistani government for colluding against its own.

Local madrassas cater Pakistani children as well as international students who avail the lucrative scholarship fundings  from Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. 

However coming back to Pakistan, the different militant groups including TTP, LeT and so on have been able to harness the young Pakistani children in scores through enticing tactics.

Local Militant Recruitment Mechanism

The militant have sinister agendas however on the forefront they are able to cajole and manipulate young children by reminding them the sufferings of the Muslim world and that they have to play a role in eradication of misery; through this jihad.

Upon meeting some under-age boy militants in Swat, I found out that for years they have attended the madrassas whose lecturers and mentors taught them things like ” The Pakistan Army is the ally of the Western capitalist world; they the  imperialists are all the enemies of Islam. The fight against them is justified; they are apostates, the friends of the infidels.”

The second message drummed into them is one which the world is facing today. The increasing intolerance towards Muslims and followers of faith Islam within their own regions and in the western world. Sadly this is capitalized upon very well by the militant groups. The young recruits are taught that they have to stand up against the helplessness of Muslim women, daughters and sisters that are getting dishonored by non-Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine etc.

They also watch videos purportedly showing the killing of Muslims by non-Muslims in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Instructors tell them that a war is being waged against Islam.

That the western world is at war with Islam has given a trump card to Pakistan’s militants for this sort of radical enticement of vulnerable children.

These main themes in lectures are taught to in both the senior recruits camps (ages 16 and older) and junior ones (ages 7 to 15), all are centered on vengeance and the need to do something for the wronged Muslims.The children are completely isolated from the normal outside world.

The young would-be suicide bombers are also persuaded by the promise of Paradise. This is, I repeat a huge blasphemy against the real teachings for if have to view from Islamic point of view; suicide is strictly forbidden along with the killing of innocent persons. Allah, God is the author of life that has granted us the gift of life and we mere humans don’t have the authority to take it.

This using of innocent children by militancy has to stop now. But. The inability of the Pakistan army to meet internal security challenges effectively is a particularly worrying factor. Three generations of Pakistani children are suffering due to the impact of this futile jihadi indoctrination.

It is time to seriously put an end to this madness, before it consumes us within the dark abysses of hatred and destruction.I am so exhausted to waking up in the mornings with the first thought in mind, What the hell happened Pakistan? And then trying to fix it some how in my way.

Though, we can’t bring back the already dead Pakistani children militants and can hardly ease the misery of the grieving parents, it is time for Pakistan to asses the complex root causes behind this phenomenon and design solutions for protection of children from becoming part of militancy.

Say No To Use of Child Soldiers. NOW.

 

Sources:

https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-child-soldiers

Pakistan|Poverty Leading Towards Child-Trafficking

credits @Michelle Chen

Pakistani girls stitching the Fifa World Cup Balls credits @Michelle Chen

Pakistan is a country with abject appalling records in human trafficking of people, in particular its citizens. On a fast rising pace, trafficking of persons including people of all ages and sexes is going on, sadly its children make a huge number too.

While Pakistan is hardly alone in this dismal picture, the global trafficking problem is now deemed to be the greatest growing phenomenon of “modern-day slavery”. The main aspect of human trafficking in Pakistan is that of forced labor and “child-slave labor” is a huge issue within my homeland.

It is common to observe that in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab, young children are working in industries of brick kilns, carpet, sports goods, agriculture, fisheries, mining, leather tanning, and the production of glass bangles.

Children have become goods to be bartered and negotiated with and as abhorring as it is, Pakistan’s ineffectual government is really not doing enough for the eradication of poverty. Most government departments lament lack of funds and strong will power for curbing trafficking related problems.

But on the other hand, not a minor command from its Saudi and American masters goes unfulfilled with wasting of money on fighting some one’s else war that has now full fledged become an internal war at many levels. And believe you me, we are paying for it in ways foreigners won’t ever imagine or comprehend.

I can tell you very easily that walking on the road and bumping into a seven-year old child sex worker telling me that he has no other option but to sell his body to get food is not my idea nor my vision for my homeland. Or to see a under-age child in the clutches of militants because his parents cannot afford his keep.

The past decade or so has been the most toughest on the Pakistani nation, where the nation has been left stranded to assist themselves on their own, some how right way or wrong way because we continue to slide further into the darkness abyss. The Asian Development Bank recent report as highlighted the fact that the cost of food has increased by 10% reducing 6.94 million Pakistanis to poverty. Further it added that the overall prices are too high, the wheat has increased by 10% and rice by 13.1%, and people cannot afford to provide their children even just one meal a day.

Countless parents have resorted to selling or looking to sell their children for many reasons.

The innocence of a child seems a difficult thing to preserve in Pakistan, suggest findings of a report by a non-government organization working for child rights. Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) resents a dismal account of the deteriorating state of child rights and offers recommendations for the promulgation of laws to improve their well-being in the country. (www.sparcpk.org)

Child Education

The report stated that almost 25 million children and adolescents are out of school in Pakistan. Of these, seven million children aged between three to five years have yet to receive early education.

Child labor

According to the report, 12 million child laborers were reported to be working in the country. The report also highlighted the ineffectiveness of existing legislation on child and bonded labor, and also emphasized the lack of concrete measures towards enacting comprehensive child labor legislation in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment within constitution.

It recommends legislation on child labor laws, which should ban child labor in the formal and informal economic sectors, something which already is part of 25-A Constitution.

All said and done, it gives me no pleasure to report that mothers  are seen in streets trying to sell their children because they are unable to feed them, but hope that the buyer would give them a better lives. Many such women are married to drug addict husbands and the need to feed their next fix sometimes comes in the form of a child’s sale. Mostly sold children work in different industries and die to become bonded labor victims.

Pakistan is a nuclear state, it also has a huge defense budget owing to the never-ending conflict with India and the mighty Islamic militants, a gift from the past history  of playing like a puppet into the hands of our tacky masters but we don’t have the money for ensuring child protection and controlling poverty.  Is this a joke or what? pakistan-world-day-against-child-labor-2009-6-11-8-52-12

The mess we are in today, thanks to wide spread terrorism, instability and poverty, the time has come to create a social safety net for the poor, where creating employment and controlling inflation is  of fundamental importance.

Trafficking of persons, in particular children is a growing global concern, and Pakistan could certainly do more to curb it. In recent times, there are some significant efforts on the state levels, but even so obstacles like government officials’ complicity and lack of strong will hinder the progress.  Yet we can control both.

Also western importers and retailers should be made accountable as they are responsible for making profits out of the third world children labor too.

The “Oriental Carpets” are a rave across the globe, but do the western buyers care that the carpet adorning their floors was possible because a trafficked victim’s little fingers worked to create it for their pleasure. Rest you may decide.

 

A Little Girl’s Dream of Education

Local boys walking back from school, Nurpur Shahan, Credits Ghulam Rasool

Local school boys walk home, NurpurShahan, Credits @GhulamRasool

“My name is *Kiran; I am nine years old; and when I grow up I will become a doctor,” began the young girl. “But we are poor, we belong from traditional caste where girls do not get educated. I have never seen the inside of a school, but I always think what it would look like.”

A glance at the hillsides nearby Nurpur Shahan Village immediately tells you why – they are not allowed to come out in public. However, an on-ground investigation unveils that young girls may not go to schools, but are frequently seen in the market area for buying groceries. While walking through the market I could see many like Kiran assisting their family members in dragging the bulky shopping bags to their homes. This is where I saw Kiran, outside a small departmental store trying to balance several bags in her two little arms. In few minutes, her mother relieved her of them and handed over the little sibling to carry.

I greeted her and asked if I could join them for a chat while walking to their home. Bibi Ruqaiya* said, “yes why not but beware my daughter speaks a lot,” and burst out laughing. That was just perfect for me and hence we started off.

My little friend, Kiran, credits @Ghulam Rasool

My little friend, Kiran, credits @Ghulam Rasool

Kiran the chatterbox (:-D) needed no motivation and started asking me questions about myself. It was afternoon time and the bell of nearby boys’ school rang. This led to a large number of male students coming out.

Kiran gazed longingly at the school and then me.

“How to explain to my father, who himself did not study or got a proper education in his life, the importance of education and also my interest to become a doctor. He would go in shock to hear that I want to become a doctor someday!”

“While I am doing kitchen chores with my mother, I feel so sad. She knows that I and my other elder sister would also like to study, but what to do. Our father has a small fruit stall near the Bari Imam shrine and he has a meager income. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bari_Imam). My mother sews clothes at home for neighbors to try and support our family. Many times, I and my sisters asked her to get permission from him to study at home, but he shouts at her and then the idea is temporarily forgotten.”

Kiran suddenly stops and watches away.

I felt she recollected her thoughts and went to telling me, “Once I heard him tell my mother, that if any of us were a son, he would do something for going to school, but it is immaterial as girls don’t need education for they stay at home and do house chores and it seems foolish to spend money on them.”

Bibi Ruqaiya* was silent throughout our conversation and after listening on this emotional outburst of her child, stopped for a minute and said,  Bibi ji (Miss) you know how the usual thinking is, moreover the issue is that we don’t have enough money to send them all to school and my husband’s mother also keeps telling her son to not spend on daughters as they are just burdens.”  She further added that she wanted to give them proper schooling but has no money, hence no negotiation powers within her household.

I realized in that moment, that given a chance and with better financial options, Bibi Ruqaiya* would not hesitate to ensure her children, Kiran and siblings attended school.

It took us half an-hour to reach up to Kiran’s home in the upper hills. Her younger sister came running out as she saw us nearing and warned Bibi Ruqaiya* that their father was home for lunch. They exchanged looks that spoke volumes and turned apologetic eyes towards me. I took my cue,  thanking them all for their time and a nice walk.

The daughters followed their mother inside the home.  And I was left with thinking, what home?

This home that had three little beautiful little girls living with their parents. But they can never be valued as our society values “sons.” And wives that are considered less worthy because they had daughters.

Given the South Asian penchant for the nonsensical “birth of male sons” I wonder what is worse, giving birth to a girl or being born as a girl?

Little Kiran’s dreams of becoming Doctor. Kiran are doomed because such is the sorry state of girl child education in Pakistan.

So many socioeconomic issues; striking of them most poverty and the prevailing traditional mind-sets within our society.

Anniversary Note: The Human Lens turns 3

3-years-of-blogging

The Human Lens has come a long way as today it turns 3 years old, in wordpress blogging sphere.

Never thought I’d get this far along. There were times when I wanted to completely give up on blogging and close down my site.

But. It’s thanks to the encouragement from so many people across the globe that kept making me continue what I do. I am immensely humbled and truly grateful.

Thank you so much for your support, comments, reblogs, critiques and suggestions on improving, spreading and voicing rights of humans. The journey continues..

I will leave you with a favorite quote from a great PERSONALITY whose helped shaped me in many ways.

“There is a field somewhere beyond all doubt and wrongdoing. I will meet you there” – Jalāl ad-Dīn Rumi

With best wishes,

A Writer from the East

 

 

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

 

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

Argh!!!!!!

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…

tumblr_m1q81oZQd31rsg0t8o1_400

6. When people use the term “FEMINAZI”  that should be banned globally *facepalm.* Please read this: http://lipmag.com/opinion/why-i-hate-the-term-feminazi/comment-page-1/

 

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

 

Source: http://awkwardfeministmoments.tumblr.com/page/20

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 http://www.powergenasia.com/index.html). Sarawak Energy is one of the sponsors of the entire conference and the event features prominently now on their website. http://www.sarawakenergy.com.my
  • 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.

Source:

1. http://www.icmica-miic.org/about-us/2013-06-04-16-36-42/asia/malaysia/275-activities/ext-campaigns/other-campaigns/776-rivers-are-in-our-hands-celebration.html

Malay Indigenous Voices on Environmental Concerns

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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 http://saltmovement.tumblr.com/post/87520846229/labour-day-no-to-gst

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.

SAY NO TO DAMS!

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 http://saltmovement.tumblr.com/post/88840080144/congratulations-to-lindu-livan-for-winning

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: saltmovement.tumblr.com.

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

IMG-20140830-WA0004

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: https://www.facebook.com/SaveUluPapar.

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 djarabikitabs.com.Plus 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.

Sources:

1. http://www.gisdevelopment.net/application/miscellaneous/ma04227pf.htm

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?

Sincerely,

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

Source: http://muslimnista.wordpress.com/2008/10/13/an-open-letter-to-white-non-muslim-western-feminists/

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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samosa) to the exhausted weary travelers stranded in the traffic jams so common to Karachi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jailed for Reporting Rape, Where is Justice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloody Nasreen|The female antihero of Pakistan

T53b28025b6399

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrations Credits –  creator  Shahan Zaidi

Source courtesy — The Dawn Pakistan

My Pakistan should be terror free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

The Street Harrasment Reality in Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

And please, say NO to STREET HARASSMENT!

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

We Sinful Women|Pakistan’s most powerful feminist poet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grass is really like me

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Kishwar Naheed listening to We Sinful Women

With Kishwar Naheed listening — “We Sinful Women”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh run!!!

Oh run!!!

 

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

Lady Gaga|Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Is this sounding familiar to some people?

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

Seriously I do hope you are getting the POINT here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free West Papua| Trailer “Forgotten Bird of Paradise”

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

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

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

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

I say FREE WEST PAPUA and you?

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

Still I Rise| Saluting Maya Angelou – The Icon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This video was originally published by Plural +.

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Blasphemy|Muslim Human Rights Lawyer Murdered

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

Human Rights Activists Outraged over killing of Mr. Rehman

Human Rights Activists Outraged at Killing

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

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

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

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

Pakistani nation condemns the cold murder of human rights defender Rehman

Pakistani nation condemns this cold murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeless Traditional Threads: S.Asia Women Dresses

traditional_dresses_of_south_asia_by_azad126-d4ibd6t

 

South Asia comprises Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, and Bhutan. The geographical terrain varies from mountainous regions along the northern borders, to desert areas, arid and semiarid zones dependent on monsoon rains for agriculture, the uplands of the Deccan Plateau, tropical wetlands, and the rich valleys of the Indus and Ganges rivers, seats of ancient cultures. 

Despite differences in physical appearance, language, and other ethnological features, the people of South Asia share to a considerable degree a common cultural heritage. Sanskrit and Prakrit, the languages of the region’s most ancient texts, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, great epics dating from ca. 500-300 B.C.E., reinforce cultural links and a sense of shared tradition throughout the region.

South Asia preferred the use of draped garments, regional variations occur throughout the areas. These are influenced by geo-climatic conditions, and socio-cultural environment. religious rituals and classical learning. Wrapped and draped garments appear to be the oldest form of attire in South Asia. Nevertheless, awls found at archaeological sites of the Harappan civilization, in the Indus Valley in present day Pakistan (third millennium B.C.E.) indicate that leather stitching and embroidery were practiced there. Stitched garments entered the region with ancient migrations of people from Central Asia.

The assumption made by some European scholars that Muslims introduced tailoring to South Asia is baseless and incorrect. For the earliest local literature preserves words for the needle (suchi), the thimble (pratigraha), scissors (sathaka), and even for the sewingbag, showing that tailoring was practiced in ancient times.

South Asia has the distinctive characteristic that women have maintained their traditional way of dress. The elite younger generation does wear Western dress and the universal jeans, but for special occasions many would prefer to mark the occasion in a local dress. The debate is always open for discussing the clothing for women in the region as a way of compliance and subversion of women into the stereotypical South Asian women that is based on the our way of dressing.

However, south asian women are very strongly aware of these notions and this has led to the discursive positioning that we maintain. Therefore, our use of traditional dressing does not necessarily imply compliance, but on the contrary it is a statement against oppression and existing patriarchy. As noted very intuitively by South Asia’s Dr. Shaminder Takhar in her book Gender, Ethnicity and Political Agency: South Asian Women Organizing.

Those of us, who are feminists have always used one form or other of traditional dresses to make profound statements on women rights, status and equality struggles. Women’s bodies have throughout time been a tool on which societies carry out their agendas (mostly anti-women friendly) but before dismissing me, or my strong, suave south asian sisters, please remember that “there is more to us” then just our modest and bright colorful dresses.

Because when I or countless others wear any traditional local dress, we are usually making a strong statement that we are not ashamed to carry forward our traditions and neither ashamed to set right society’s shenanigans. After all, we are the carriers of strength that comes into forms of resilience, rebellion and retributions.

Hip Hip Hurray for South Asian Women Power!