Paedophiles exist in every community

September 16th, 2013

Published on Open Democracy here on 16th September 2013

Racial stereotyping puts children at risk. The greatest threat to children of any culture, race or faith is familial child sex abuse.

I am the Chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK, which is the only national Muslim women’s organisation in Britain. We have a membership of 500 with a collective reach of tens of thousands of women across the UK.  Through our network, we gather and share information relevant to the lives of Muslim women and girls.  While media and public attention focused on White British female victims of sexual abuse, our members raised concerns that Asian and Muslim girls were also being sexually abused — within the family and by other men unconnected to the family including groups of men. They felt no one was talking about them because there was an assumption that Muslim girls are safe from sexual abuse because they are confined to the home with little or no interaction with men.  We decided to investigate the matter and managed to collect 35 case studies over 5 months. Most were collected from either Black Ethnic Minority third sector organisations or from friends and relatives of victims.

Last week Muslim Women’s Network UK launched Unheard Voices: Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women. Our report challenges the stereotype that Asian offenders target White girls only. The majority of the victims in our study were of Pakistani Muslim background. They were tortured, raped and trafficked by men from their own communities. I wonder what the EDL, BNP and the Sikh Awareness Society will say now? They have all been very confidently claiming that Pakistani Muslim men are deliberately targeting White girls and Sikh girls because they are of a different ethnicity and faith.

Our research reinforces the evidence that girls and women are most at risk of being sexually exploited by men from their own backgrounds. We already know that the majority of victims and offenders are White.  In the study, the vast majority of perpetrators were men of the same ethnicity and faith as the victims. Two thirds of the victims were of Pakistani background and in most of these cases the offenders were also Pakistani. When victims were Bangladeshi, the offenders tended to also be Bangladeshi. Other offenders included Afghani, Indian (Sikh and Hindu) and White men (including mixed heritage). In the few exceptions where the sub ethnic group varied, there was a shared heritage between victim and offender such as being ‘Asian’ or having the same faith. Paedophiles are therefore not only targeting the most vulnerable but also the most accessible girls.

If an investigation were conducted of the sexual exploitation of girls from different backgrounds e.g. Black Afro Caribbean, Chinese, Eastern European etc., most perpetrators are therefore likely to be from their own backgrounds. However, there is a tendency to talk about one type of offender / victim model, that of Pakistani men grooming White girls. Those who portray sexual exploitation as a ‘Pakistani only’ problem can only be interested in furthering their own agendas. They don’t really care about the sexual abuse of girls.  If they did, then they would criticize all offenders with equal vigor regardless of background.  If they really cared they would speak out against all forms of sexual abuse whether carried out by individuals, online, within families, in religious institutions or by groups – not just focus on sexual exploitation by gangs and groups by one ethnic group.

Claiming the moral high ground is not only unhelpful but also dangerous: it is resulting in both victims and offenders being missed.  Some sections of the media, some politicians and right wing groups such as the EDL and BNP portray sexual exploitation as an ‘Asian or Muslim only’ problem. Meanwhile the Indian Sikh and Hindu communities challenge the Asian label and claim it’s a Muslim problem.

There are divisions within the Muslim communities too. Some Bangladeshis will tell you, it’s not all Muslims – it’s the Pakistani Muslims. For example, Bangladeshi imam, Ajmal Masroor wrote an article about Pakistani grooming gangs, Sex Grooming – Who Is Responsible for It? It was clear from his piece that he did not think Bangladeshi men were involved in group exploitation and at worst held only negative views about girls.

The Unheard Voices report highlights case studies involving Bangladeshi victims who were sexually abused and passed around by Bangladeshi men.  The report also highlights the story of an 11-year-old White girl passed around and raped by Bangladeshi men (which is not included in the 35 case studies but mentioned in the body of the report). During the research, we were told about many other cases involving Bangladeshi victims and male offenders — we did not have the capacity to collect all the stories.

Many in Sikh communities believe that Pakistanis pose the biggest threat to the safety of Sikh girls.  According to them ‘grooming Sikh gangs do not exist because no such cases have been highlighted.’ I am not doubting their claim that some Pakistanis are targeting Sikh girls, I know they are.  But to claim that Sikhs do not sexually abuse girls is absurd.  I wonder if anyone is bothering to look for them? Probably not — it would undermine the popularized stereotype that Sikh girls are only being sexually exploited by Muslim men.  Since the launch of the report one Indian girl said: “I remember Sikh men passing girls around 20 years ago but no one wants to talk about them.”

It is all very well trying to protect Sikh girls from Pakistani men but who is protecting them from men in their own communities? There is an obsession with group sexual exploitation and a blindness to other forms of sexual abuse. It is a well-known fact that most sexual assaults are by offenders known to the victim.  The greatest threat to children (girls and boys) of any culture, race or faith is familial child sex abuse. It is therefore very worrying that some people are only concerned about paedophiles from outside of their backgrounds.  This sends the message that sexual abuse by one of your ‘own’ is considered a lesser crime and viewed as more acceptable.  Such attitudes will allow men to continue operating with impunity further fueling sexual violence against girls and women.

The reason often given for focusing on Pakistani men has been that they are over-represented in the group exploitation networks in cases that have come to light. This may well be true judging from the many arrests over recent months and those already prosecuted.  However, is this because of a unique factor related to their background? Or because police are now looking out for them due to the media attention they have received? Either way, this should not absolve any community from the responsibility of addressing the involvement of their own. We all have a responsibility to address sexual exploitation. That is why as a British Pakistani, I have not been afraid to ‘wash our dirty laundry’ in public.  I carried out the research knowing that our greater reach into Pakistani communities would mean uncovering more case studies involving Pakistani victims and offenders putting them back in the spotlight.  It is time everyone prioritised the safeguarding of children over the so-called reputation or honour of one’s community and carried out similar investigations.

Muslim Women’s Dress: Let’s use common sense and proportion

September 16th, 2013

Published on MSN News website on 16th September 2o13

I welcome the judge’s decision today – the Muslim woman who refused to remove her face veil in court can stand trial in her veil but must remove it to give evidence.  He will allow her to be screened from public view but she has to be seen by judge, jury and lawyers.  I believe this is a very reasonable common sense approach.

Although I vociferously oppose a ban on the face veil, I believe there are particular circumstances in which it is necessary to show one’s face.  Giving evidence in a courtroom would be of those situations.  Studies show that much of communication is nonverbal. That means it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it.  When being questioned in court the face therefore becomes an essential part of the communication process and should be seen to ensure justice is done.  This is not just about making an assessment on the truthfulness of an individual but also for their protection. For example, it would be important to know if the person being questioned is getting upset or being put under unfair duress.

Jeremy Browne MP has called for a national debate on face veils and wants them banned in schools and public places.  We do not need a national debate on such a minor phenomenon.  Let’s put things into perspective.  The Muslim population in Britain is 2.8 million and there are about 1.4 million Muslim women, the overwhelming majority of who do not wear the face veil.  No one has carried out any research on how many actually wear it and the figure could vary between a few hundred to perhaps a couple of thousand. So any kind of ban would be a disproportionate response to this issue.

Although I agree that girls in school should not be wearing the face veil because it would interfere with learning, I am concerned about the timing of Jeremy Browne’s comments and for wanting to see a ban in all public places.  Is this really about political point scoring? Muslim women’s dress is often used for that.  I question whether such rhetoric is really about the protection of Muslim girls and women as he claims. In fact, they are facing unprecedented levels of discrimination and hostility, which includes verbal abuse and physical assaults. I don’t hear politicians rushing to their defense when this happens.  It feels like that there are people who simply don’t like the look of the face veil, and finding excuses to ban it.  I am a Muslim woman and I don’t like the face veil either but that is not a good enough reason to ban it.

Violence Against Women – Facts from Around the World

November 28th, 2012

16 FACTS for 16 DAYS of activism for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25th Nov -10th Dec)

FGM: 130 MILLION girls in the world have undergone female genital mutilation – each year another 2 million join them

RAPE CONVICTIONS: Convictions for rape very low e.g. Argentina 6-10%, South Africa 9%, UK (7%)

RAPE WEAPON OF WAR: Rape is used as a weapon of war, for example,  DRC’s South Kivu province estimate that 40 women are raped in the region every day

EGYPT: 47% of honour killings were because of the women had been raped – so she becomes a victim twice!

US: 23 women killed every week and 700 000 raped every year

INDIA: 98 women are murdered a week by their husband or his family

RUSSIA: 32% of all murders are women killed by domestic violence – 36 000 women beaten everyday by husband or partner

PAKISTAN: 3 women a day murdered by honour killings and 70% of women in police custody are subjected to physical & sexual abuse

UK: One incident of domestic violence reported every minute accounting for
16% of all crime

ISRAEL: 200 000 women suffer domestic violence every year

SOUTH AFRICA: a woman is raped every 83 seconds

KUWAIT: Honour killings treated as a misdemeanor (not criminal acts).

SUDAN: Rape victims have been prosecuted for adultery and prosecutions for rapists non existent

BRAZIL: 72% of murdered women are killed by a relative or friend

BANGLADESH: 50% of all murders are of women by their husbands

AFGHANISTAN: 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence

Extraordinary Muslim women at the Olympics – past to present

August 1st, 2012

Published on the Huffington UK website (featured on the UK Homepage) here

At the 1996 Atlanta Games, 26 countries did not send women and by the 2008 Beijing Games, only three countries (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei) did not have female Olympians.   It is therefore a very important milestone that every Muslim majority country competing at the London 2012 Olympics will now have at least one woman in their team.  Even if Muslim women don’t win any medals they are guaranteed to be a source of inspiration for many young Muslim girls across the world wanting to take up sports.

As these Olympics will host the most Muslim women in the games history, I have decided to highlight my favourite Muslim female Olympians from past to present. My list mainly includes women who have made history by being pioneers or have had to overcome substantial obstacles just to compete.  I am giving special attention to Muslim sportswomen because they are comparatively small in number. I consider them extraordinary because of the many challenges they have to overcome.

Their biggest hurdle preventing girls from taking up sports is religious extremism, particularly for those living in conservative Muslim countries.  Although there is nothing in the Quran forbidding women and girls from exercising and playing sports, religious scholars are making Islam more restrictive than it should be through misinterpretations.  They disregard the fact that Islam encourages health and fitness for both men and women.  Clerics also conveniently ignore Islamic history, which tells us that female warriors took part in battles. The likelihood is that these women were involved in very physical and demanding activities.  Other barriers holding girls back from sports include: lack of funds and training facilities, family, and dress codes.  However, girls are now starting to become aware that participating in sports is not against Islam and are slowly getting involved in sports.  Some are even choosing to combine their faith with their chosen sport by competing in a headscarf and by wearing modest sportswear.

Before I highlight a few of my favourite Muslim female Olympians, one British Muslim woman not on my list deserves a special mention. Zaha Hadid has played an important role in London 2012.  The globally renowned and award winning Iraqi born architect designed the iconic Aquatic Centre where the swimming events are taking place.  It is also important to recognize that a Muslim woman has designed one of the Olympic landmark buildings.

Some of the Muslim female Olympians from past to present that I would like people to know about are:

Halet Cambel (Turkey)
1936 Berlin Games
First Muslim Woman to Compete in the Olympics

The first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics was archeologist, Halet Cambel. When the founder of the Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk promoted women’s sports, she took up fencing and represented Turkey in the 1936 Berlin Games. She was even invited by a female German Official to meet Hitler, but refused on political grounds.

Nawal El Moutawakel (Morocco)
1984 Los Angeles Games
First Muslim to Woman Gold Medal

Nawal El Moutawakel made history at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. When she won the 400m hurdles race, she by became the first Muslim woman and first African female to win an Olympic gold medal.  The victory was a breakthrough for sporting women in Morocco and other Muslim countries. Since her Olympic win, El Moutawakel has continued to be a role model and break new ground.

In the late 1990s El Moutawakel organised the first Moroccan women’s 10 km race through the streets of Casablanca. It now attracts more than 27,000 participants annually. She was appointed inspector at the Ministry of Sport and Youth, as well as the national sprint and hurdle coach. She was named Minister of Sports in 2007. She became a pioneer again in 2008 when she became the first Muslim woman to be elected to the powerful executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who are responsible for setting the Olympic agenda.  Her huge contribution towards women in sport was recognized when she received her Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

Hassiba Boulmerka (Algeria)
1992 Barcelona Games
First to win Olympic Gold for Algeria

Hassiba Boulmerka made history for Algeria.  She won a gold medal in the 1500m race at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  It was Algeria’s first gold medal at the Olympic Games.  Although she was hailed as a national hero by some, Boulmerka was also condemned by extremist groups for showing too much of her body while competing.  Death threats eventually forced her to move to Europe for training.  Boulmerka went on to win medals at the World Championships – a bronze in 1993 and a gold in 1995.  She retired from athletics in 1997 and is now a successful businesswoman.

Lida Fariman (Iran)
1996 Atlanta Games
First Muslim woman to wear hijab at Olympics

When Lida Fariman participated in the 1996 games, she was the first woman to do so since the 1979 Iranian revolution.  Her participation was significant because she was the only woman in Iran’s squad of 18 and she became the first Iranian woman to carry her country’s flag at the opening ceremony.  As she was competing in the target shooting, she was allowed to wear the headscarf, making her the first to do so at the Olympics.

Ruqaya Al Ghasara (Bahrain)
2004 Athens Games
First Muslim female runner to wear hijab at Olympics

When Ruqaya Al Ghasara represented Bahrain in the 2004 Athens Games, she became the first female runner to wear a full hijab (headscarf) at the Olympics.  She was also one of the first women to represent her country at the games (although Bahraini women had participated in the 1984 Paralympics).  To participate in the 100m sprint races she had to overcome a lot of objections from fundamentalists.   Although Ghasra did not win a medal, she went on to win a gold at the Asian Games in the 200m race and also competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she was her country’s flag bearer.  She is not participating in the London 2012 Olympics as she retired in 2009.

Nurcan Taylan (Turkey)
2004 Athens Games
First female to win Olympic gold for her country

When Nurcan Taylan claimed gold at the 2004 Athens Games, she became Turkey’s first female Olympic gold medalist.  However, the 5ft tall reigning world champion and six times European champion is not participating in the London games after failing a drugs test.  The 28 year old now face a four-year ban.   Although Taylan has been involved in a doping scandal, I felt she deserved to be mentioned because she is a weight lifting legend in 48kg category – she holds six European and one world record with another two tied world records.

Nur Suryani Mohammed Taibi (Malaysia)
London 2012 Games
Most Pregnant Olympian

A few days after finding out she was selected for the Olympic team for London 2012, Taibi, found out she was pregnant.  Only a few pregnant women have competed in the Olympics, but Taibi is certainly making history by being the most pregnant woman to participate in the games at 8 months pregnant.  These are Taibi’s first Olympics, and the Games will be even more special because she is sharing the moment with the baby daughter inside of her.   Taibi is ranked 47th in the world and won two gold medals at the Southeast Asian Games in 10 meter air rifle and 50 meter rifle in last November.

Khadija Mohammed (United Arab Emirates)
London 2012 Games
First female weight lifter from the Gulf

This 17 year old is a future star because she is the first female Emirati and one of the few Muslim women who qualified outright for the Olympics.  Many others were given wild card entries because they did not meet the Olympic qualifying standard.  Khadija Mohammed is also making history by being the first female weight lifter from the Gulf at the Olympics.  She was only introduced to weight lifting two years ago by former Egyptian Olympic lifter Najwan El Zawawi, who established a gym in the U.A.E    Mohammed who will be competing in the 75kg category is fortunate that her family is supporting her dreams.  There is widespread resistance to weight lifting in Muslim families and societies because it is confused with bodybuilding – they fear girls will develop masculine bodies and not receive marriage proposals.

Sarah Attar and  Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim  (Saudi Arabia)
London 2012 Games
Making history for Saudi Arabia

Sarah Attar is competing in the 800m race and Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim in judo at the London 2012 Games.  They are making history by becoming the first women to represent Saudi Arabia.  Although they both actually live outside of the Kingdom, this is a very important breakthrough for one of the most religiously conservative countries in the world. This paves the way for women activists to demand internal policy changes, enactment of laws and provision to allow women and girls to play sports and compete within and outside the kingdom.

Woroud Sawalha (Palestine)
London 2012 Games
Making it to the Olympics despite living in an area of conflict

Woroud Sawalha has made it to the London 2012 games despite being surrounded by violence, subjected to travel restrictions, facing regular security checks and having no training facilities.  The 20-year old is taking part in the 800m event.  Sawalha is unlikely to win a medal because her personal best is 53 seconds slower than the Olympic gold medal-winning time.  However, for her just competing under the Palestinian flag will be a source of pride. The U.N. does not recognize a Palestinian state but athletes have been allowed to compete under a Palestinian flag by the International Olympic Committee since 1996.  Sawalha will not be the first woman to represent Palestine as they sent the first female athlete in 2000.

Tahmina Kohistani (Afghanistan)
London 2012 Games
Female athlete from a war torn country

Tahmina Kohistani will be Afghanistan’s only female athlete at the London Games.  She will be competing in the 100 and 200m events. The 23-year-old runner will be the third woman ever from the war-torn country to compete in the Olympics.  Kohistani has been training at Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium, a place where the Taliban used to carry out public executions – a reminder of the brutality of the former regime. However, Afghanistan still remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman.  Kohistani’s presence at the games is therefore even more important because she will not only be representing herself but all women of Afghanistan. She will be helping to pave the way for other Afghan girls to follow in her footsteps.  A woman participating in sports was something unthinkable 10 years ago when the Taliban were in control. Despite breaking barriers, Kohistani does not have the whole nation behind her. Olympics preparations took place behind guarded doors due to fear of retribution.  She has encountered hostility from a very religiously conservative society that severely opposes women playing sports and participating in any form of public life.

Fatima Sulaiman Dahman (Yemen)
London 2012 Olympics
Only female athlete representing her country

Fatima Sulaiman will be the only female athlete representing Yemen at the London Olympics.  She has had to overcome strong male prejudices and civil unrest to make it to the games.  In Yemen girls are only allowed to train inside stadiums. So whenever Dahman wants to train outside, she waits until dark so no one can see her. During the uprisings in Yemen it was difficult for Dahman to leave her home to train. When Dahman was able to travel to the stadium, she had to mostly practice alone because there are only a few other female athletes in her country. When she first joined her sports club, there were 20 girls but now she is the only one left because the others did not receive support from their families to continue.  The lack of family encouragement is not surprising in such a strongly male-dominated and tribal society, where child marriage is common. However, Dahman’s parent, both doctors, encouraged her to compete.  The 19-year-old received an Olympic scholarship and entered the women’s 100m event.

Bahia Al Hamad, Nada Arkaji, Noor Al-Malki and Aia Mohamed (Qatar)
London 2012 Games
First Qatari women to compete in Olympics

Shooter, Bahia Al Hamad, swimmer, Nada Arkaji, sprinter, Noor Al-Malki and table tennis player Aia Mohamed are making history for Qatar by becoming the first women to represent their tiny nation at the Olympics. Bahia Al Hamad was also given the privilege of carrying her country’s flag at the opening ceremony.  Perhaps it is no surprise that Qatar are encouraging women to play sports because they will be bidding to host the 2024 Olympic Games. Qatar can lead the way in the Gulf region and in the rest of the Muslim world by promoting sports for women.

Egyptian Women’s Olympic Team
London 2012 Games
Country with the largest delegation of Muslim women

Egypt has the most Muslim women in their team compared with any other Arab or Islamic nations at the London 2012 Olympics. Despite their political instability, Egypt has 36 female Olympians, which is the largest female delegation it has ever sent.  The number breaks the previous record of 29 Egyptian women athletes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  The women will be competing in archery, athletics, badminton, fencing, , gymnastics,  pentathlon, rowing, shooting, swimming (including synchronized swimming), table tennis, taekwondo, weight lifting and wrestling.

Only Two Saudi Female Olympians but Another Victory Over Hardline Clerics

July 19th, 2012

Published on Huffington Post (Sports Section) here

As a women’s rights activist, I am really pleased that the London 2012 Olympics will be the first to include female athletes from every competing nation. Brunei and Qatar had previously held out on female inclusion but will now have women representing their countries. This left Saudi Arabia as the lone nation not sending women up until they reversed their decision last week when they announced that Sarah Attar would compete in the 800m race and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim in judo.

Although they are only sending two athletes, who actually live outside of the Kingdom, I think this is a very important breakthrough considering Saudi Arabia is one of the most religiously conservative countries in the world. Some critics argue that this decision changes little for women inside the country. I disagree because progress is already underway and women are a part of that change. King Abdullah, who has been the most progressive monarchy so far, has already started planting the seeds of change for his successor to build upon.

Last year the King opened the largest women’s university campus in the world to boost women’s higher education. He has promised to allow women to run and vote in the 2015 municipal elections and is permitting women to now work in clothes and cosmetic stores. King Abdullah is even trying to reign in the notorious morality police because the public has openly started to accuse them of being too aggressive and overstepping the mark. So earlier this year, he replaced the head of the ‘Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ with a more moderate cleric. Two months ago, he went even further and dismissed one of his most hardline advisers, Sheikh Abdelmohsen al-Obeikan.

These measured steps cannot be ignored. The control exercised by religious scholars over state matters is slowly being decreased. So the decision to include women in the Saudi Olympics team is another victory over the hardline clerics. Judging from King Abdullah’s recent track record, he may well have wanted women from within the kingdom to participate in the London games contrary to what the clergy wanted, who don’t want women involved in sports at all. They claim it leads to immorality and that excessive movements and jumping may also cause girls to tear their hymens and lose their virginity. I have to say these religious scholars seem obsessed with sex – ‘protecting virginity’ tends to be the most commonly used excuse to curb the rights of women and girls. It has even been used to ban women from driving. So under the circumstances perhaps the best compromise for now was sending two sportswomen who lived outside the kingdom.

I know the rate of progress is frustratingly slow but a gradual approach is more likely to achieve women’s rights that are sustainable. We must remember that the monarch is fighting a constant ‘tug of war’ with the religious establishment who impose strict gender segregation and prohibit women from doing most things, unless they are granted permission by a male relative, such as husband, father, or son etc. They are very influential in Saudi Arabia and if the pace of change is too rapid, the public will probably side with the clergy.

With regards to sports, Saudi Arabia will be making history by sending a mixed gender Olympics team. They have set a precedent now – it will be hard to reverse this commitment in four years time. This decision now paves the way for women activists to demand internal policy changes, enactment of laws and provision to allow women and girls to play sports and compete within and outside the kingdom. Currently they have little opportunity to get involved in sports because physical education is not allowed in girl’s schools and there are no sports facilities for women. Also, most of the 150 or so sports clubs that are officially registered with government do not allow females into their sports grounds. So for these Olympic games, there may not have been females inside Saudi Arabia at the appropriate standard to participate anyway. However, there will be no excuses next time – they have plenty of time to train Saudi women for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Where Is the Justice for Afghan Women After Spending $60-Billion in Civilian Aid?

July 13th, 2012

Published on Huffington Post (World Section) here

When I saw the horrifying footage of 22-year-old Najiba being publicly executed the first thought that came to my mind was, are Afghan women and girls ever going to get justice? Clearly not, considering the lack of interest shown by the Afghanistan government in women’s rights. The majority of men who have beaten, raped and killed women go unpunished. In April, Young Women for Change defied safety fears and came out in a public protest to highlight these cases. However, no government official could be bothered to come out and listen to their concerns. Perhaps this is not surprising when you consider what the Minster of Justice thinks about vulnerable women. Last month Habibullah Ghaleb claimed those living in women’s shelters are prostitutes. Despite calls from women’s NGOs, President Karzai has refused to fire the minister.

There should be zero tolerance of such attitudes amongst decision makers, particularly if they are in charge of spending budgets on improving the rights of women. Donor countries had the perfect opportunity to intervene. They had every right to demand the removal of Ghaleb. The U.S. alone is spending $110 million annually on the Afghan judicial system and this minister is making decisions on how some of these funds are used, which includes improving women’s access to justice. When he has shown he cannot be objective about women, why have all aid donors accepted that Ghaleb remains in charge of how their money is spent?

Despite such vast sums going into the judiciary, the rights of Afghan girls and woman continue to be abused both in national and local courts. Most are unaware of their legal rights and lack support to defend their rights through the judicial system. So what on earth is the money being spent on? The fact that the Taliban had the audacity to carry out Najiba’s execution so publicly (with 150 or so men watching) and only a few miles from the capital city of Kabul shows lack of government control. It raises the question, do the Taliban control everything outside of Kabul or are some government officials colluding with them?

So the only hope that women and girls have is the international community, and by that I mean all of us. We need to question our governments on why our money is not improving the safety of women and girls and providing them with justice. These questions should have been asked a long time ago, because “Afghanistan has received nearly $60-billion in civilian aid since 2002.”

Perhaps the image of Najiba kneeling down in the dirt and being shot several times at close range has finally outraged us enough to speak out. Stories of Afghan women suffering violence regularly make it into the news. How many times have we just ended up sharing them through social media and done little more than that? I have been guilty of that, too — but this time I was so angry that I felt compelled to do something and contribute in some way. Within hours of watching Najiba’s murder, I set up a petition calling on the governments of the UK, U.S., Germany and Japan to ensure the Afghan government not only bring Najiba’s killers to justice, but do more to protect Afghan women. You, too, can join in and take action by signing and sharing the petition.

I have targeted UK, U.S., Germany and Japan in particular as they will be the largest donors of the $16 billion of civil aid pledged to Afghanistan over the next four years. They should be ringfencing sufficient aid to ensure it is spent on measures that will increase women and girl’s safety and security and access to justice. Hollow pledges and public statements by senior government officials, particularly by Hillary Clinton, should no longer satisfy us. She has said, “Afghan women will not be abandoned” and “women’s rights must be an integral part of Afghanistan’s future” — but these are very broad statements. She has failed to back them with specific measures, firm action and stringent conditions to make them a reality.

Recently, British Foreign Secretary William Hague also made a public statement. He said he was “shocked and disgusted” by Najiba’s murder. He has even publicly called upon the Afghanistan government to bring the perpetrators to justice. However, once the publicity subsides, he and other world leaders will forget her. Najiba will just become another Afghan female statistic. We can make sure that world leaders do not forget this Afghan woman — her death can be used to help other women and girls get justice. Powerful images can turn history and perhaps Najiba’s video may do the same. In a country where demonstrations are rare, dozens came out in Kabul to protest against her killing and demand that the government take serious action to prevent violence against women.

The Afghan government depends almost entirely on foreign aid and I think it is time to say “if you want the money, you must show how you are protecting women’s rights.” The global public needs to ensure donor governments make that happen. If women’s rights are not improved over the next four years, the likelihood is that the most educated and skilled women will leave the country while the rest will be too scared to go out and continue to suffer in silence.

Muslim Women Leading Change – 10 Power Tools

May 22nd, 2012

(My other Youtube videos can be viewed here)

Around the world, women have less power, money and less protection from violence. They also have less access to education, healthcare and justice. Despite these injustices, women everywhere (including Muslim women) are standing up to claim their rights and becoming powerful forces for change. They are amazingly determined and resourceful in their fight to achieve a better future for themselves, their daughters, their communities and for other women.

However, change does not happen by itself and will not continue to happen unless there is conscious action.  So to help women take that conscious action to make change happen, become empowered and help others to become empowered, I recommend 10 power tools. Women will already be doing some of these – but it is always useful and helpful to have a checklist.

These power tools are (listed in no particular order):

Power Tool 1 – Know Your History

It is important to remember those who came before us including the challenges they faced.  Not knowing your history is like having a tree without any roots.  History can be a source of empowerment because it will tell you that women were not confined to mothering and household duties.  There were female scholars, leaders, judges, philanthropists, scientists, businesswomen, poets, experts in medicine etc.  However, the achievements of these women go unrecognized even in Muslim countries today.  A  coinscious effort should be made to retell the stories of our sisters from the past. To find out more about such women, visit and click on the ‘Big Sisters in History‘ section, where at least 50 women from different centuries and various fields of work have been listed.

Power Tool 2 – Know Your Islamic Rights

The roles of women in society and the barriers they face are determined socially and then justified through culture and religion. Some men and even some women will decide how they want women to behave and then they will package their opinions to make others believe they are the divine will of God. If women have Islamic knowledge, they can no longer be held hostage to patriarchal interpretations of their faith.  If they have knowledge then they can question opinions that limit  women’s lives and women’s choices.   However, it is important to investigate what the Quran says about women first. It is surprising the number of people that have not read the entire Quran in a language they understand and instead rely on secondary sources for their information.  Without reading the Quran how can women anyone know if the secondary sources are misleading or not – whether they are  objective or not? Remember that submission to God is more than carrying out ritual acts with the body. We must also submit intellectually and investigate God’s wisdom.

Power Tool 3 – Define What Power Means to You

Often women are afraid to become leaders because they associate it with power, which they in turn associate with negatives such as: corruption, disempowering others, oppression, gatekeeping, abuse, being obstructive etc.  However, if women start to define what power means to them and associate positive values with it such as: enabling, empowering, educating, giving agency, change catalyst, transformative – then women are more likely to be drawn to leadership.

Power Tool 4 – Define Your Own Goals

Don’t measure yourself by other people’s standards. Everyone can contribute to the best of their own abilities and strengths at different levels of society.  God has given us all different gifts and that means everyone does not have to go out and try and change the world!  You can make small changes happen and these are important too because collectively these lead to the bigger changes. Your goal may be to: go on a course to learn a new skill; express your views in a conversation; do voluntary work; bring up your sons and daughters equally; bring up your sons to respect women’s rights; give your daughters the choices and opportunities you did not have.  Whatever the change, no matter how small, is important.

Power Tool 5 – Have an Action Plan

Once that spark has been ignited and you have set your goals, you will need to give your ideas fuel.  This will come from an action plan – map out the steps you need to take to achieve your goals.  In that plan  define your own identity and create your own space.

Power Tool 6 – Have Courage

You will need courage to: challenge the status quo; speak out against injustices and discrimination; and push boundaries. And you will need to do all these things if you want to see change happen so your daughters and future generations of women can have a better life.

Power Tool 7 – Be Open Minded

Listen to and learn from the wisdom of others and think critically.  We should be listening more than talking.  God has given us two ears and one mouth so we should be listening twice as much as we are talking. We may find solutions and wisdom from the most unexpected places and people.  Be open to learning all the time no matter how old you are and no matter what your status is.

Power Tool 8 – Building and Joining Networks and Movements

You are not alone – remember there are many other women who think like you and have the same aspirations. So connect with other women through networks whether local, regional, national or even global.  If there is no network locally – set one up!  A critical mass of women’s voices is likely to have a greater impact. Through networks, it is easier to: spread messages, and ideas; learn from others; and share experiences and knowledge.  Partnerships, coalitions and movements are usually the driving force to changing attitudes and behaviours.

Power Tool 9 – Make Use of Internet Tools

Because of the internet, you can have an impact without leaving the house.  Find out about all the tools that are available and use as many as you can or need.  There are so many ways to share information through social networks and media such as:  Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Youtube, Vimeo, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Digg, Reditt, Yahoo buzz etc.  These are just a few ideas! You can even participate in or run your own online training sessions through Webinars (online seminars).  You can even deliver lectures through Skype to people in other cities or even countries! Many websites also allow you to create your own free online petitions in minutes. Free applications allow you to create posters, cartoons and animations that can be used to spread your ideas. So go and explore what is available.

Power Tool 10 – Have a Motivational Slogan

Think of a favourite phrase that you can use as your mantra.  This can be your innermost motivation when you need it.  There will be times in your life journey where you get disappointed because things don’t go your way or you may lose momentum.  Every step toward fulfilling your goals may be draining.   Make sure you have something that you can pull out of the bag to uplift you because your friends cannot be there all the time.

Change doesn’t just happen, we collectively make it happen.  So once you find your own path, lead others to find theirs!

Age No Bar for Action!

May 20th, 2012

My daughter Aaliyah Gohir gets her first article published in Eastern Eye – 18 May 2012.  She interviewed the following activists from around the world:

  • Fawzia Koofi (MP from Afghanistan)
  • Zainah Anwar (Director of Musawah, a global Muslim women’s movement – Malaysia
  • Lydia Alpizar Duran (Executive Director of AWID – Mexico)
  • Anna Pelagie (activist – Cameroon)
  • Ester Jarome and Mwandiwe Kali – (farmers from Tanzania)
  • Zoe Blumenfield (Communocation Officer from Global Fund for Women – US)
  • Nannyondo Sarah (student activist – Uganda)
  • Dr Tahmineh Danioli (activist – Iran)

And she interviewed me too! I am so proud of her!

Interview with Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi

May 20th, 2012

My 9 year old daughter, Aaliyah Gohir, interviews Afghan MP Fawzia Koofi at the AWID forum in Istanbul April 2012.

Mother’s Day – No bigger heart than the heart of a mother

March 18th, 2012

There is no bigger heart than the heart of a mother.  She will go hungry and feed her children.  She feeds the world too as they grow half of the world’s food – yet she does not have enough to eat herself. Her domestic work is invisible, unpaid, undervalued and unrecognized – but is vital work. When employed, she carries out the most time consuming and manual activities while men get to do the less contraining mechanized work.  When her income increases, she spends more on children than fathers do.  Mothers do all this while carrying the future in their bellies. Indeed, there is no bigger heart than the heart of a mother!