Fierce Courage: Muslim Women’s Transformative Activism – CIIS Speech

California Institute of Integral Studies Speech: April  25, 2013

Fierce Courage: Muslim Women’s Transformative Activism – Jane Sloane

The changing political landscape over the last year, fueled by an active citizenry, has shown us why the fierce courage of Muslim women is important for them, their countries and for ourselves. The focus of this activism — in opening up options for peacemaking and peace-building, in pursuing the creation of democratic societies that are inclusive — diverse in voice and choice and in embracing a moderate form of Islam – is to secure a global transformation of power as much as a regional or country specific transformation.

By working to increase the influence of moderate Islam, and to open up the spaces for women’s engagement in all aspects of public life, these Muslim women are actively working to defuse the influence and reach of extremist and fundamentalist Muslim groups. They’re also working to shift power and to increase the participation of women so that their views and contribution can help shape new political, social and economic systems in their country.
This is the kind of work that the Global Fund is invested in and it’s why we have supported the work of so many Muslim women’s organizations over the past 25 years.

The Global Fund for Women was founded by four visionary women in 1986. They recognized the need to invest in women’s rights organizations by providing general support grants rather than project focused grants. These women believed that not enough was being done to sustain the work of women’s human rights organizations in terms of funding to sustain the staff and operational costs of the organization for the long-term work required to secure women’s and girls’ full human rights. We’ve seen the value of this approach in terms of the laws that have been passed and the policies that have been introduced over this time to protect and support women, together with increased numbers of women in parliaments and public life.

And yet much more is required if we’re to see the shifts in power required to rebalance the world. That’s why there is a need to accelerate and deepen support for women’s rights organizations at a time when space for women’s organizing and advocacy in many countries is diminishing. This is especially true for Muslim women. Building connections among women’s groups is a critical factor in ensuring the success of larger movements, and the Global Fund makes this possible by raising funds from donors and directing these funds to grass roots women’s organizations. We know from the important study released last year by social scientists’, Mala Htun and Laurel Weldon, that independent feminist movements have had the greatest impact, of any of the possible factors, on whether or not a country has good legislation against violence.

A fundamental part of Global Fund grant-making is its commitment to collective leadership in sustaining a global women’s movement as well as its investment in networks of advisors and grantee groups. Rather than direct investment to individuals, Global Fund grants are evaluated by the extent to which they build relationships and collective power in the pursuit of common goals relevant to women’s human rights. After years of funding specific networks of advisors and grantee groups, the Global Fund has contributed to creating and sustaining a strong feminist movement comprised of diverse populations and perspectives. This includes grants given to Muslim women’s organizations in order to support them in their rights based work.

According to a 2009 PEW Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life report, 61.9% of the world’s Muslim population resides in Asia. Despite Asia being home to a majority of the world’s Muslim population, it’s also the regional home of many countries where Muslim populations live as a minority within their countries borders; most notably India, whose Muslim population is the third highest world-wide, but only comprises 13.4% of its population in-country.

The Global Fund’s support for Muslim women and girls has been overwhelmingly focused on themes of Building Peace and Ending Gender Based Violence and on Expanding Civic and Political Participation. In 1997 the Global Fund launched a Promoting Women’s Rights within Religious and Cultural Traditions Initiative to ensure the provision of flexible, timely support for those projects specifically implemented by women working within their own faith communities and cultural traditions. Although the Initiative later expanded its scope to include all religious groups, it originally focused on Muslim women’s efforts to protect their human rights within the context of their cultural and religious traditions.

To receive funding under the Initiative, groups demonstrated that they were working on emerging, controversial, or ground-breaking issues to promote women’s rights within religious and cultural traditions. Activities eligible for support under the Initiative included interpretation and study of religious texts and accounts of women’s experiences; changing religious or cultural traditions that are harmful to women; gender training for religious leaders, court personnel, police, and community educators; and connecting other social change movements with the faith-based community. This initiative contributed to the launch of the MENA initiative in 2005 to provide dedicated funding to women’s rights organizations in the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2009, the Global Fund established a formal Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Program to allow for a greater investment in women’s rights organizations and advisers in the region. The three-year period of 2009-2012 witnessed significant social unrest across MENA, as a series of political events in conjunction with worsening socioeconomic conditions created varying degrees of upheaval across the region. These forces have posed a challenge to women, whose participation in the “Arab Spring” as activists, organizers, and protesters was unprecedented. Their challenge now is to ensure their equal participation in the societies that emerge from these transitions.

While women were participating in movements that demanded, among other things, greater gender parity in political, social, and economic rights, many now fear that these rights will be further jeopardized in post-revolutionary societies. Others feel that the contribution that women have made to these revolutions and political transitions may also be forgotten. In Egypt women are creating a gender sensitive archive of the revolution in recognition of the importance of retaining the fragments of stories that include the voices of minorities. In this revolution, these fragments include personal testimonies and songs captured by citizen journalists. This is done in recognition of the fact that power is found in the way revolutionary material is archived. Testimonies are never free flowing – the very process of narration guides historical meaning. The women involved are documenting history and it’s very dynamic; the revolution was young women’s main entry to activism.

More than anything the recent revolutions and uprisings in Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Egypt have mobilized younger Muslim women who have been passionate in their desire for change and who have been at the frontline as citizen journalists, blogging and tweeting and on the streets, both veiled and unveiled, marching and protesting. Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the end of 2011 saw the largest demonstration of women in Egypt since 1919, when women mobilized under the leadership of feminist Hoda Shaarawi when they protested against British Colonial rule. The fierce courage of these Muslim women has been met by astonishment and awe by many in the West who retained their view of Muslim women as being submissive in their faith and acquiescence to men and to authority.

And yet, Tahrir Square was not utopia, it was also a place of mass sexual harassment and violence. Gender based violence is one of the most overlooked issues in conflict situations; we don’t find the stories of sexual violence that women experience in revolution. Women were sexually violated by revolutionaries and the military. During the UN Commission on the Status of Women this year we heard from one young woman who said “I thought I was in a protected space in Tahrir Square but I wasn’t, I was surrounded by hundreds of men who stripped me naked and finger raped me; we were subject to both political violence and sexual violence – it was an attempt to take away our political participation as well as to violate our bodies. The attempt to silence us has failed. I promise that I will not be silent.”

This physical stripping of women’s power by military and revolutionaries alike is another weapon of war against female journalists, citizen journalists, women human rights defenders – all of whom seek to be part of the political change in Egypt and in other countries in the Middle East. We need to protect the rights of these women to participate in this movement for change without fear of violence, rape and assault. We need to honor the courage of all the girls and women who have gone public about these sexual assaults. As one woman from Egypt said recently “It needs the courage of one girl or woman to go public to create a different revolution.”

As long-suppressed religious parties rise up, we’re seeing the demarcation of boundaries emerge and the urgency of reconciling demands for Sharia with women’s rights. Muslim women want to practice their faith while retaining their economic, political and social rights. Many Muslim women see their faith as a touchstone for these rights. This is especially so for young women who are often more overtly religious as well as being better educated than their parents. They also have more choice and voice when it comes to marriage, career and children. It’s not surprising, then, that they hold fiercely to their freedom as much as to their faith.

Women are rising up against the deep seated patriarchy and religious conservatism and are appealing to a progressive Islamic faith in order that women assume their place as equal partners in all aspects of decision-making affecting their lives. The way progressive Islamists respond will determine the potential for women to participate in a new world order. This is happening in an environment where women’s rights are being challenged by newly empowered conservative Islamists who are reintroducing Sharia Law including making such practices as polygamy legal.
Muslim women in the Middle East are also transitioning from revolutionary engagement in public squares to citizen engagement in political circles. For instance, Libyan women fought for preferential placement on party lists in the first post-Gaddafi national election in July 2012. As a result they won nearly 17 percent of the seats in parliament. They also voted in large numbers for moderate candidates. Muslim women have also been recognized on the global stage for their critical and sustained work to bring about political and social change in their countries, most notably with the three women who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

When Tawakkul Karman of Yemen became the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, she acknowledged the millions of women across the region that joined her in the fight for greater freedom. Karman shared the award with Liberian President, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, and Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, and both organizations had been supported in their vital work with general support grants from the Global Fund.
With her reputation as the “mother of the revolution, Karman has been a conservative woman fighting for change in a conservative Muslim and tribal society and has been the iconic voice and face of the mass uprising against the authoritarian regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Just 32-year-old at the time of the uprising, Karman has been an activist for human rights in Yemen for many years, and her arrest in January triggered protests by hundreds of thousands demanding that Saleh be ousted and that a democratic government be formed.

Karman had organized protests and sit-ins since 2007, calling these gatherings the “Freedom Square.” She advocated for greater rights for women and headed Women Journalists without Chains, an organization advocating for press freedoms without harassment and whose organization also received general support funding from the Global Fund for Women.

In December 2010, the uprising erupted in Tunisia after a local fruit vendor in the North African nation, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire. In Yemen, Karman led protests in support of the Tunisians, sending out mobile phone texts to urge people to join. The small protests, comprising no more than 200 people, were broken up with water cannons and batons and then on January 23rd, authorities arrested Karman. This resulted in women protesters flowing into the streets of Sanaa and other cities, a rare sight in Yemen. The following day Karman was released and by the afternoon she was leading another protest.

In sister speak, it was another demonstration of United we stand, Divided we fall.
Karman and other organizers were further inspired by Egypt, where protesters seized control of Cairo’s central Tahrir Square demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Days after Mubarak stepped down in February, Yemeni protesters, with Karman and other male protest organizers at the helm, seized a major intersection in the heart of Sanaa, which then came to be known as Change Square. Karman has been part of a council grouping the disparate protest groups and an organization representing the youth of revolution.
In her Nobel Peace Prize speech, Karman said:

“This prize is not for Tawakkul, it is for the whole Yemeni people, for the martyrs, for the cause of standing up to (Saleh) and his gangs. Every tyrant and dictator is upset by this prize because it confronts injustice.”

Karman and the other women who have been at the frontline of Yemen’s uprising have created a movement that is exceptional in a nation of deep poverty and deep tribal allegiance. A country where the majority of the public sees violence as a natural form of protection – with a gun in most homes – and where most people are religiously conservative.

Until recently, Karman wore similar conservative garb to most Yemeni women – the niqab, that covers a woman’s face with a veil and hides her body in thick robes, with slots for the eyes to remain visible. Then Karman started to instead wear a headscarf so that she could see her colleagues and engage with them directly.

Through all of this work, Karman and the many other women who have participated in so many protests in Yemen have remained peaceful, despite the violence around them. Despite the fact that Saleh’s security forces have continually fired on protesters, killing at least 225 people according to a Human Rights Watch report. In fact, as many of you probably saw, President Saleh berated female protesters for participating in the protests, telling them that being associated with men in this way was forbidden under Sharia, or Islamic law.

Karman has been resolute in her response: “Neither Ali nor his gangs will drag Yemen toward war and infighting. We chose peace, we could have resorted to violence in this revolution and we could have settled it in days and not months by resorting to our weapons. … But we chose peace and only peace…Don’t worry about Yemen. Yemen started in peace and it will end its revolution in peace, and it will start its new civil state with peace,” she said.

Importantly, Karman has the support of many men, including her husband, Mohammed al-Nahmi. When she won the Nobel Peace Prize his response to journalists was “This is a prize she deserves. Before she is my wife, she is a colleague, and a companion in the struggle.”
Alaa Murabit, the 23 year old Founder and President, The Voice of Libyan Women worked with
women who began wearing purple as a campaign to end domestic violence. They also conducted seminars that included verses from the Koran that denounced violence. As Murabit said, “We needed to do it this for people who are bound to their religion. We needed to fight fire with fire. We are now seeking to ensure that women have a strong voice in the writing of our new constitution.”

In Syria Dr Mouna Ghanem, Cofounder and Deputy to the President, Building of the Syrian State Movement, said recently at the Women in the World conference “Women are not in the negotiation process and there’s no democracy without women. Islamicist power is the rising power in the region; Assad should go in a way that doesn’t cause the disintegration of the country. Women in the camps are experiencing forced marriages, prostitution, exposure to HIV/AIDS and children are literally freezing to death. Enough is enough. We want peace. We want democracy. We want human rights.”

In this constantly changing socio-political environment, the fight for women’s full human rights has become more challenging in an arena where Islamic parties are claiming new authority and influence. Women are challenging Islamist positions on women’s human rights, freedom of expression and of religious tradition. Thus women are moving from revolutionary squares to the political circles in order to ensure that women’s human rights are integrated into the broader fabric of social, economic and political change sweeping Egypt and so many other countries in the Middle East.

And also in Asia, as we have seen most recently in India with the Government’s changes to criminal laws on the back of citizen uprisings and outrage at the brutal rape and subsequent death of the young student there. Some of the largest grants from the Global Fund have been to Muslim women’s organizations in India and in other countries in Asia. Particularly in Asian countries where Muslim women are in the minority. For instance in Cambodia, CHAM Women of Cambodia was formed during the 2002 first commune elections to promote the participation of Cham (Muslim) women. The group’s mission is to “fully engage ourselves in transforming local governance through actions that lead us out of extreme poverty and towards rights for a total recognition of our roles as Muslim women and as a minority group.”

As an Australian working for a relief agency after the Asian Tsunami occurred in December 2004, there was one statistic that stuck with me – for every man and boy who died, four women and girls died – for cultural and religious reasons such as they hadn’t been allowed to learn how to swim, or they didn’t feel they could leave their homes without their husband’s permission or the right dress. The attitudes and oratory of religious leaders contributed to women dying and there needed to be a focus on engaging religious and faith based leaders in changing their attitudes and becoming advocates for women’s full participation in society.

In 2009 while I was Executive Director of International Women’s Development Agency, in Melbourne, Australia, we organized an event called Asia Pacific Breakthrough on the eve of the Parliament of the World’s Religions so that these religious and faith based leaders could hear directly from women in Asian and Pacific countries about how their attitudes and actions directly affected the quality of women’s lives and calling for a commitment to a pledge. We also attracted $1.2 billion in new funding for initiatives that were at the intersection of women, faith and development. And we ensure that women from Asia and the Pacific addressed the predominantly male Parliament of the World’s Religions in order that religious and faith based leaders hear directly from these women and be challenged to publicly support women’s rights.

Since then we’ve seen Muslim women in Asia as well as in the Middle East, claim truth to power within their religion as well as their rights as women.

For instance, we’ve provided sustained funding to Women’s Dignity, in Chechnya, a women-led organization, where women are Muslim in culture and tradition, and which works on changing traditional cultural practices and dealing with rising Sharia law.

Women’s Dignity was founded in 2002, following the Chechen wars that resulted in the deaths of approximately 150,000 Chechen civilians and the forced relocation of nearly half of the Chechen population to refugee villages in Ingushetia and other parts of Russia. Libkan Bazaeva, the Director of Women’s Dignity has spoken of the importance of dismantling militarism and oil and the power and corruption inherent in this interplay.

Women’s Dignity was created to be a refuge and an advocate for women facing extremely high levels of gender-based violence in the aftermath of the war. But it was also founded because the decades of war had transformed women’s role in Chechen life. Facing the threat of being killed or disappeared during the war, Chechen men had gone underground, while women took responsibility for leadership in the home, for sustaining the family, and helping the community.
Even amidst catastrophic circumstances, women had had a taste of their own freedom, and Women’s Dignity was also founded to advocate for their rights, so that they would not have to return to a second-class existence.

Today, Women’s Dignity provides counseling, legal aid and other services to over 1,000 women each year. It helps women navigate the three separate legal frameworks that regulate their lives: the Russian Constitution, Islamic Sharia Law, and the Adat, a culturally based legal framework unique to Chechnya. The group’s counselors help women push for their rights and navigate where the three legal frameworks are in conflict with one another. For example, under the Russian constitution, women are granted the right to ask for a divorce. However, both Sharia Law and the Adat deny women the right to ask for a divorce. Women’s Dignity helps women who want to get a divorce to use their rights under the constitution to achieve this. Under Sharia Law, women in Chechnya have no inheritance rights. Women’s Dignity helps widows to remain in their homes after their husbands have died by appealing to constitutional law. With Sharia Law on the rise (recently women who were not wearing headscarves in public during Ramadan were shot with rubber bullets), such efforts are courageous and they help women to use the Constitution to advocate for themselves.

With support from the Global Fund, Libkan and Women’s Dignity led a campaign against the practice of bride-stealing, or “marriage by abduction”, a practice which increased in Chechnya following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In this practice, men kidnap women (acquaintances or strangers), and as long as the kidnapping is “for the purpose of marriage”, it is overlooked by authorities, not prosecuted, and the woman is forced to marry her kidnapper.
Libkan knew that she would have to do more than appeal to legislators, she needed to change hearts and minds. With the GFW grant, she organized six roundtables on the issue within the span of six months, while growing Women’s Dignity’s networks and upping its engagement with government. Libkan chose a strategy that appealed to Chechen traditions, reminding Chechens of the “Chechen tradition of equality” (Chechnya never had a feudal system and historically, was considered more equal in issues of class or caste than other parts of Europe) and asking Chechens to consider that “our traditions come not only from history – we can create new traditions. Which traditions will we leave behind? Which will we take forward?” Ultimately, Putin’s office came out with a statement supporting the full implementation of the law in Chechnya, which punishes bride stealing with a $1M rouble fine and up to 9 years in prison.
These victories are remarkable in Chechnya, but the situation is far from optimistic. Recently the Chechen President indicated he supports so-called “honor killings”, saying that a women who has “loose morals” deserves to be shot. In February this year, a 16 year old girl was murdered after she spent a night at her boyfriend’s house. While her male relatives are suspected of the crime, no prosecution or investigation into the killing has occurred. In this context, organizations such as Women’s Dignity play a crucial, courageous role.

I want to now share with you a quick snapshot of just a few of the Muslim women’s organizations we support so that you can sense the depth and reach of this movement building across the globe.
Sisters in Islam is our longest-standing grantee with a focus on Muslim women and girls. SIS works in Malaysia to promote an understanding of Islam that recognizes that principles of justice, equality, freedom, and dignity. Advocating for legal reform and strategic policy formulation, the group promotes religious interpretation that takes into consideration women’s experiences and realities, eliminates injustice and discrimination against women, and challenges religious and cultural practices and values regarding women. Other women’s rights organizations we support that are doing similar work includes Aawaaz E Niswaan which has been leading the formation of a Muslim Women’s Rights Network in India.

More recently we’ve supported the YP Foundation – which formed in 2002 in the aftermath of the sectarian violence in Gujarat, involving majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities in order to support young Muslim women to realize and claim their rights. Then there’s Shirkat Gah in Pakistan, which is currently working in very militarized parts of Pakistan to end gender based violence. And Women Living Under Muslim Law (WLUML), a network organization working in 70 countries to promote and improve women’s human rights and gender equality within Muslim contexts. The Women’s Research and Action Group (WRAG), another grantee, was established in 1993 in response to growing levels of communal violence and the need to create space for a collective effort to raise the issues of Muslim women.

The Global Fund also supports Muslim women’s organizations focused on sexual and reproductive rights and justice – such as Women for Women’s Human Rights in Turkey, which has worked to increase Muslim women’s access to reproductive rights and sexuality within Muslim societies. Disha Social Organization was founded in 1984 in Uttar Pradesh, India. It works in 50 villages in this predominantly Muslim and lower-caste area to educate adolescent girls about women’s rights and reproductive health and address cases of violence against women (VAW). A major program is the Nari Adalat, the Women’s Court, which is held monthly to review cases of violence against women. The group is able to work with men on ending gender-based violence, as well as government and other civil society groups.

Children of Srikandi is a group of female filmmaker activists in Jakarta, Indonesia. Formed in 2010, the group uses visual media to “challenge stereotypes” about sexuality. Many of the filmmakers belong to the LBT community themselves, and see film as a way to “spark dialogue, encourage civic engagement, and point out the diversity within Indonesia society and showcase what it means to be a queer woman in the country of the world’s largest Muslim population.” The group organizes filmmaking workshops and participates in several film festivals.
Supporting Muslim women to know their rights under Sharia Law has also been an important component of the work for many Muslim women’s organizations funded by the Global Fund. This includes Gender and Human Values Proactive in Kaduna, Nigeria and Nissa Wa Aafaq- Women and Horizons in Israel. This group seeks to expose the Palestinian community to the existence of modern interpretations of the Islamic holy texts regarding women’s rights, believing that raising awareness among women will in the long run improve their status in society. Sahiba Sisters Foundation in Tanzania works to address the absence of Muslim women from mainstream development initiatives due to conservative interpretations of Islam that justify women’s second-class status. SOS Fédération des Femmes Musulmanes (SOS FFM) [SOS Federation of Muslim Women] in the Democratic Republic of Congo mobilizes Muslim women to advance their rights, creates community dialogues on gender based violence, women’s rights, reproductive health, and family planning, and provides legal rights education to imams.

Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF) in Sri Lanka works to reform Muslim personal laws to ensure gender equality through teachings of Islam. Musawah was launched in February 2009 at a meeting in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, with over 250 participants from 47 countries. Musawah is defined by its founders as a movement of women and men who publicly seek to reclaim “Islam’s spirit of justice and equality for all”. Based in Malaysia, with GFW grantee partner Sisters in Islam as secretariat, Musawah uses a holistic framework that “integrates Islamic teachings, universal human rights, national constitutional guarantees of equality, and lived realities of women and men today”.

The gains we’ve seen for women and girls — in terms of new laws and legislation to protect their rights and opportunities for greater civil and political engagement of Muslim women have only been possible because of a sustained commitment to rights based organizing by many Muslim women’s organizations and by fierce and resilient Muslim women leaders in all parts of the globe.

These organizations have been linked and tightly networked in order to keep the energy, momentum and support high. The breadth and depth of issues addressed by these organizations has served to ensure a strong and flexible foundation, able to adapt to political circumstances and tipping points and to train young Muslim women in how to be confident and skilled advocates for women’s rights. Many Muslim women’s organizations and leaders have sought out men, and partnerships with male leaders, in order to strengthen their work and to expand the support base for their advocacy and approach.

By holding fast to a vision for a new world order while also maintaining a commitment to a conflict resolving societal approach of opening up options and focusing on the points of commonality rather than difference, these fierce and visionary Muslim women and their organizations have been working to transform the world and, by extension, Muslim women’s place in this new world. These women have been doing it by working both within the women’s movement and influencing the wider movements for change and embedding themselves in these movements. They do this in order to shape the direction and to define the assumptions underpinning these movements. They also do it in a form that embraces a moderate Islamic faith rather than one steeped in extremist and fundamentalist beliefs.

This is movement building in action. And it cannot fail. It cannot fail because the stakes are too high. We need to more deeply invest in, and support, Muslim women’s movement building not just because it is the right thing to do – the work these women are doing deserves our moral support. But also, because, if we do not, then the continuous violence these women are seeking to mitigate in their own countries will become our daily lived reality here in the US as the violence, beliefs and attitudes of extremist religious leaders and their followers permeate this country more deeply and more widely than we’ve seen to date.

And so we need to stand in solidarity with these courageous Muslim women who hold fiercely to a vision of what their country might be and what their religion might represent in their own lives. As these women work to support the rights of all women to dignity and freedom from violence, the opportunity for education and livelihoods, the right to equal participation in decision-making and the right to voice and choice and to freedom of expression, we need to stand with them. In solidarity with those who are working to create a new world, one worthy of our daughters and our sons, where women and men, boys and girls, can grow into their full humanity.

I hope to leave this lecturn with your feeling the fire of these women and appreciating why they burn the way they do. I hope we can all to maintain this fire in our own lives and in our own commitments and direction as we turn toward justice. In this spirit, I want to finish with a paraphrased quote from Shirin Ebadi, Iranian lawyer, human rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate. As a Muslim woman, her lifetime of advocacy has been infused with a fierceness and fire that is so much needed at this time:

“I am a Muslim. In the Koran the Prophet of Islam has been cited as saying: ‘Thou shalt believe in thine faith and I in my religion’. That same divine book sees the mission of all prophets as that of inviting all human beings to uphold justice. Since the advent of Islam, too, Iran’s civilization and culture has become imbued and infused with humanitarianism, respect for the life, belief and faith of others, propagation of tolerance and compromise and avoidance of violence, bloodshed and war. The luminaries of Iranian literature, in particular our Gnostic literature, from Hafiz, Rumi and Attar to Saadi, Sanaei, Naser Khosrow and Nezami, are emissaries of this humanitarian culture.” Their message manifests itself in these two reflections by Rumi: “There’s a tradition that Muhammad said, “A wise man will listen and be led by a woman, while an ignorant man will not.” ~ “This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.”

And without fear.

Jane Sloane


2 Replies to “Fierce Courage: Muslim Women’s Transformative Activism – CIIS Speech”

  1. Hi Jane,

    My name is Jillian and I was at the CIIS Muslim Women’s Transformative Activism event last night. May Elawar invited me and I’m so glad I came. I wanted to speak with you after the event, but I think I just missed you.

    First, I wanted to thank you for taking the time out to speak with us. I really appreciated hearing about the experiences of women in communities around the world and how that experience is impacted by the clash of their own spirituality with the tenets of the leaders of religious institutions. It also was great to hear about the work done by the Global Fund for Women in providing resources to these women as they attempt to have their voices heard and to affect change within their communities.

    I also wanted to speak with you because I was hoping to hear more about the work done by the Global Fund for Women in support of women-led organizations and to inquire about how I might get involved. I was recently accepted to the MPA program at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, and I plan on focusing my studies on economic and political development, especially as it pertains to gender policy. I want to help discover ways in which policy can be reconstructed on an international, national, and local scale so that it is inclusive of women’s needs.

    As such, I would love to take part in your organization’s mission. I know that there are internships available and that it is a competitive process, but I’m working full time and probably wouldn’t have the type of availability required for that role anyway. However I would love to volunteer or help out in whatever capacity possible. If you know of someone in your organization that I can contact about this, I’d be happy to reach out to them.

    Again, thank you for your time and your words, and I hope to hear back from you soon.

    Jillian Johnson

    1. Thanks so much for your comments, Jillian, and I’ll send you an email in response. Kind regards Jane

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