Eradicating Polio: Saving Lives Drop by Drop (by Tooba Masood for The Express Tribune)

•April 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

We do not hear enough about those individuals, especially women, who do all they can to help others despite the fact that their work puts them at great personal risk. Thus, I thought it worthwhile to share this story about Farzana Begum, who works to vaccinate children against polio in Pakistan. She and other women are part of a crucial, if dangerous, effort to eradicate polio in the country.

“According to Farzana, there are times when the responsibilities of being a lady health worker scare her. There are times she has come home to find that one of her colleagues was threatened, or worse attacked and in the hospital.  ‘It is scary but what can we do?’ she said. ‘You have to gather some strength and start all over again because you know your work is still not done.’”

Read the full story here.


Farzana Begum (photo: Muhammad Iqbal)

Leyla Hussein, champion against FGM and for women and girls

•April 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Remember 17-year old Fahma Mohamed, mentioned here, who has organized some 100 youth to fight FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) in the UK through rap and education?



Leyla Hussein (photo: Washington Post)

Also hailing from the UK is Leyla Hussein, who is spearheading efforts to raise awareness about the practice and work against it in the United Kingdom. Another amazing hero of our time. Learn more about Leyla’s work here.

“FGM involves the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, usually with a knife or razor blade and often without anaesthetic. In its most severe form — Type 3 — the vaginal opening is sewn almost entirely shut. In addition to the psychological trauma, women can experience urinary infections, menstrual problems, infertility and even death.”

Lupita Nyong’o on beauty, color and compassion

•March 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Lupita Nyong’o accepting her Oscar at the 2014 Academy Awards

I don’t watch the Oscars, and haven’t seen a movie in ages.

But I know who Lupita Nyong’o is – who doesn’t? So when I stumbled across this I watched…and encourage you to as well.

Take less than five minutes to watch the incredibly gracious, brilliant and yes, beautiful Ms. Nyong’o talk about the intersection of race and beauty at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon by clicking here.


“I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated by the far away gatekeepers of beauty, but around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful. And my mother again would say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.’ And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be.

And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.”

Love it.

Male Ally of the Week: the BBC’s DJ Nihal (@TheRealNihal)

•February 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment
DJ Nihal

DJ Nihal

If you follow me on Twitter or know me in real life, you know how much I appreciate and treasure the support of male allies: those men who actively combat misogyny and support women against verbal, emotional and physical abuses. While many men don’t support abuses of women, it remains true that not enough men actually speak out against misogyny – not even when it’s right in front of their faces.

As a survivor of sexual violence, it hasn’t always been easy to look to men as allies. As an activist, this is further complicated by the fact that some men choose to respond to my views with threats of violence an other alarming behavior (like stalking). However, several amazing men have become absolutely central to my personal healing process — and even more men have been vital allies in my work.

As we address the abuses of women, it is important to highlight those men who refuse to remain silent as women are threatened, bullied, assaulted, or otherwise harmed. We cannot end abuses of women without engaging men in the struggle – and we cannot engage male allies without first identifying them. That is why I am taking a quick moment to recognize the BBC’s DJ Nihal.

I don’t know DJ Nihal. I don’t know his political views, have never seen his show, and don’t even follow him on Twitter  @TheRealNihal). When I saw this video, though, I had to share.

DJ Nihal was to judge the “Jump Off” rap battle in London. During the show, a male rapper who goes by the name Lighte the Boombox Genie (really?) was matched with a female sparring partner. He rapped the following “lyrics”: “No sexercise bitch. After this, in the alley, you gonna get raped.”

In the video, you can see several audience members expressing their disapproval. Then, DJ Nihal jumps onto the stage and intervenes. His response, edited for profanity and length:

“What the… idiot, didn’t you have a mum, didn’t you have a sister, why are you so dumb?…Misogynistic prick, talking you think you’re sick. You… idiot rapping on this chick. This is the jump off, this is the big stage, this is Nihal, feel this… rage…you’re not brave.”

Nihal’s original lyrics also contained several comments about the Genie’s weight. I don’t endorse that. But I DO endorse, wholeheartedly, his intent: to call out, challenge, and shame a man who thought it was appropriate to threaten a woman with rape.

Genie, if you need rape threats to rap, you don’t belong on the stage or in the booth.

Nihal, thank you for taking a stand. It is not uncommon to find misogyny in the music industry, but it gives me hope to know you’re there challenging the status quo.

Watch the video here (NSFW and explicit lyrics):  

Me in Arabic for Elaph: honor, war, and women’s rights in Afghanistan: الثقافة ليست حجة للتنكيل (“Culture is no Excuse for Abuse”)

•February 17, 2014 • 10 Comments

(Note: it was brought to my attention that the Arabic translation of this piece – which I did not do – is poor. If it is published in English I will provide that link, meanwhile I may have a corrected Arabic edition up soon.)

في خطابه أمام الكونغرس في العشرين من أيلول، 2001، أثار الرئيس جورج دبيلو بوش موضوع وضع النساء في أفغانستان كإحدى من أسباب كثيرة لدعم الأميركيين للاجتياح لتلك الدولة. في السنوات المتعاقبة ذكر سياسيون وخبراء موضوع “تحرير النساء في أفغانستان” كسبب للاستمرار في الحرب. مع ذلك، بعد 13 عاما تقريبا – تم خلالها تصفية حياة كثيرة وتبذير أموال كثيرة – لم يتغير كثيرا وضع النساء والفتيات الصغيرات. لأولئك الذين أثاروا الاهتمام حول جرائم طالبان ضد النساء قبل 9/11، هذه ليست مفاجأة أن الجمهوريين والديموقراطيين ما زالوا مخلصين للسياسات الفاشلة التي خلال عقود كلفت النساء بحقوقهن.

في الأسبوع الماضي، أقر البرلمان الأفغاني تنكيل النساء داخل العائلة، بواسطة ترسيخ الصمت والشرف في نهجه الإجرامي. في نطاق قانون أقره مجلسا البرلمان، لا يمكن للأقارب أن يشهدوا ضد الرجال المتهمين في الضرب، في الاغتصاب، وفي قتل أعضاء العائلة الأنثويات. حيث إن أغلبية هذه الجرائم تحدث داخل البيت، توقيع حامد كرزاي على القانون سيمنح للرجال تصديقا للاغتصاب، للضرب وللقتل بدون عقوبة.
يهتم هذا القانون بالقضية العامة للعنف المؤسس على الجنوسة داخل مجتمعات ذات أغلبية مسلمة. إعتبارا من العنف بدعوى الشرف والقتل بدعوى الشرف، حيث يقوم العائلة والمجتمع بتشويه أو بقتل النساء بسبب العادات الاجتماعية أو الجنسية، وانتهاءا بتشويه الأعضاء التناسلية الأنثوية، الزواج القسري وزواج الأطفال، الجرائم ضد النساء تستمر خاصة بسبب الصمت الظالم وتورط المجتمع.
هذا يحدث أيضا في الغرب. معنى الرفض للاعتراف أو للمواجهة مع القسوة أو الامتداد للعنف المؤسس على الجنوسة، هو أن حسب التقديرات المتواضعة بين200,000 -150,000 فتيات صغيرات في الولايات المتحدة، هن في خطر تشويه الأعضاء التناسلية الأنثوية. بالمقابل نعرف على الأقل 3,000 حالات من الزواج القسري. الجرائم المؤسسة على الشرف تحدث أيضا هنا في الولايات المتحدة، والجهود لتحديد كميتها جارية. كثير من هذه التنكيلات تحدث في الطوائف المسلمة، لكنها تحدث أيضا في طوائف إضافية مثل
الهندوسية، السيخية والمسيحية. لسوء الحظ، وجدت هذه الدعوات للتغيير قلة من الحلفاء في مراكز السلطة وداخل سلطات تطبيق القانون.
حين يجب على النشطاء أن يستمروا في العمل لتغيير أوسع، مثل تأييد الرئيس أوباما بحث الرئيس كرزاي ليعارض التشريع الخطير الذي أقر من قبل البرلمان الأفغاني، وتشجيع المشرعين الأميركيين ليقروا قانون العنف الدولي ضد المرأة، يجب علينا أن نجد منتديات جديدة، وأن نقيم شراكات جديدة وطرق جديدة لإحداث الوعي. لهذا السبب وافقتُ على أن أشترك في “يوميات الشرف”، فيلم جديد يكشف ويبحث فظائع العنف بدعوى الشرف. يعرض الفيلم تسع نساء يكرسن حياتهن لكفاح العنف المؤسس على الجنوسة. بواسطة ائتلاف “يوميات الشرف” نعمل لنقيم خط مساعدة قومي لضحايا العنف بدعوى الشرف وتنكيلات أخرى في الولايات المتحدة. لا يمكن أن نحصل على أهدافنا دون دعم حلفاء مسلمين وغير مسلمين لمساعدة النساء في الدفاع عن حقوقنا الأساسية في استقلال الجسم، حرية الحركة وحرية الضمير.
هذا الكلام لأودري لورد دائما أرشدني، وأومن أنني أمكن أن أتكلم مع حلفاء محتملين، فيهم رجال: “لست حرة عندما أي امرأة ليست حرة، حتى إذا كبولها مختلفة من كبولي”. لم نعد قادرين على تجاهل الفظائع التي تعاني منها النساء – سواء في الولايات المتحدة أو في أفغانستان. عندما هؤلاء من بيننا – لهم الحرية والقوة ليرفعوا صوتهم – يتخذون الإجراءات ويوحدون القوات، نعارض التورط وعندنا الإمكانية لنخلق ثورة تغيير حقيقي.
** راكيل ايفيتا ساراسواتي هي ناشطة وكاتبة أميركية مسلمة تركز اهتمامها على حقوق النساء في مجتمعات ذات أغلبية مسلمة وفي طوائف مسلمة في الغرب.

To see the article online and to share, click here.

17-year old Fahma Mohamed, my hero!

•February 11, 2014 • 2 Comments


Fahma Mohamed, total rockstar.

Fahma Mohamed, total rockstar.

I had to dedicate a quick post to Fahma Mohamed, the 17-year old girl in the UK who is organizing against FGM using rap. She’s organized some 100 girls!

“Seventeen-year-old Fahma Mohamed tells how she and a group of Bristol schoolchildren Integrate Bristol – with the support of their teacher – took a stance against female genital mutilation (FGM) by singing and rapping about one of Britain’s darkest secrets. Around 24,000 girls in the UK are at risk of mutilation, according to anti-FGM campaign group Daughters of Eve .”

Watch an inspiring video of Fahma and her friends here.

#AmericaIsBeautiful: I talk to Arab American News about Coke’s ad (aka, I have never talked about soda this much in my life)

•February 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In case you’ve been living under a rock, this is the Superbowl commercial that sparked a national discussion on language, immigration, and Muslims in the media:

I spoke to Ali Harb of the Arab American News about the commercial. Here is the portion of our discussion that was published:

“Raquel Evita Saraswati, an American Muslim activist and writer who focuses on issues related to the status of women in Muslim societies, described the ad as an ‘obvious albeit clever marketing strategy.’

Saraswati said she had mix reactions to the ad. She was pleased to see a favorable display of Muslim women on television, but she did not expect much from the debate that would follow the ad.

‘As a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, I noted that my own reaction to seeing a woman in a headscarf was twofold: it was personally meaningful to see a positive representation of a hijabi, but I also immediately knew that it would spark a national discussion,’ she told The Arab American News. ‘I also knew that the media’s version of the national discussion would leave out many voices, lack nuance, and avoid the most critical questions about why the image both troubled and inspired many.’

She added that the ad is an indicator that Muslim women are often addressed and identified by their dress code.

‘I was reminded that in every context Muslim women are still discussed in terms of what we wear,” Saraswati said. “This is true both in the media and within our own communities. Once again, the burden of ‘representation’ rests squarely on our bodies – to be discussed and debated, and to absorb the brunt of what is often a tense discourse.’

Saraswati said despite the differences of the groups portrayed by the commercial, which include a gay couple with a child at an amusement park, two Jewish men looking out of a window and a group of young people dancing on a street, they can all be a part of one American experience.

‘America’s beauty is not in the similarity of my struggle to yours,’ she said. ‘America’s beauty is in its commitment to individual liberty, freedom of conscience, and the diversity of individually lived experiences. America’s beauty is not diminished by the hateful reactions of some or even the flaws of some of our leaders. Rather, America’s beauty lies in the freedom to dissent and to challenge one another in a free marketplace of ideas.’”

Read the entire article here.

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