VOL. 9, AUGUST, 2009

In Exile, an Iranian "Lion" Keeps Fighting

The "Lion Woman" of Iran sits outside her 10th-floor office atop the main library at the University of Massachusetts-Boston campus, chafing with frustration as she talks of the turbulence shaking her homeland.


Photo Credit: Boston Globe
EGYPTIAN WOMEN TRY KARATE - Lawsuits to Curb Sexual Harassment
THE BURKHA RAPPER: SOPHIE ASHRAF - "To you, your religion, and to me mine..."
In Exile, an Iranian "Lion" Keeps Fighting

The "Lion Woman" of Iran sits outside her 10th-floor office atop the main library at the University of Massachusetts-Boston campus, chafing with frustration as she talks of the turbulence shaking her homeland.

She knows this story all too well: The upwelling of resistance, the retaliatory fist of state power, the fading sense of hope. After four years of exile, she has lost none of her quiet ferocity, or blunt determination. A visiting scholar at UMass, she has led an appeal to the UN secretary general to appoint a special envoy to investigate abuses against activists in Iran, and is pushing for the United States to do more as well.

Photo Credit: Boston Globe
Haghighatjoo was one of the youngest members of the Iranian Parliament when she took on the power structure that underpins the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. After a clerical crackdown on reformers, 124 members agreed to resign. And when they considered who among them should be first to speak, all eyes turned to her.

She had spoken out that way from the moment she arrived in Parliament in 2000 at age 31, aligning herself with reformist President Mohammad Khatami and serving on a committee that was responsible for human rights.

She recalled in an interview that her role brought her into the nation’s jails, where she saw tortured prisoners first-hand. “I had enough documents to accuse the revolutionary court. But then they opened a case against me instead.’’

Haghighatjoo paid a steep personal price for her daring. She was convicted of misinterpreting and insulting the clerical hierarchy and sentenced to 20 months in prison, but fought the decision. She resigned from Parliament in February 2004 and arrived in Boston 18 months later. Although she is gone from Iran, her example lingers for her admirers.

“She is still very much respected among women’s groups and also the student movement,’’ said Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an Iran scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “She was among the first who really saw what was going on, the collapse, or marginalization, of the republican side of the Islamic Republic.’’

Then as now, determined women like her played a key role in demanding democracy in Iran.



Not a Victim, but a Hero
"I decided to prosecute because I don’t want the same thing to happen to anybody else."

Meerwala, Pakistan - After being kidnapped at the age of 16 by a group of thugs and enduring a year of rapes and beatings, Assiya Rafiq was delivered to the police and thought her problems were over. Then, she said, four police officers took turns raping her.

The next step for Assiya was obvious: She should commit suicide. That’s the customary escape in rural Pakistan for a raped woman, as the only way to cleanse the disgrace to her entire family. Instead, Assiya summoned the unimaginable courage to go public and fight back. She is seeking to prosecute both her kidnappers and the police, despite threats against her and her younger sisters.

Photo Credit: New York Times

The family is in hiding. It has lost its livelihood and accumulated $2,500 in debts. Most of her relatives tell Assiya that she must give in. But she tosses her head and insists that she will prosecute her attackers to spare other girls what she endured.

Assiya’s mother, Iqbal Mai, told me that in her despair, she at first had prayed that God should never give daughters to poor families. “But then I changed my mind,” she added, with a hint of pride challenging her fears. “God should give poor people daughters like Assiya who will fight.”


"Her election reflects the image of a modern Morocco."

Marrakech - A 33-year-old lawyer on Monday became the first woman to be elected mayor of Marrakech, one of Morocco’s biggest cities and a key tourist destination.

Fatima Zahra Mansouri outpolled veteran outgoing Mayor Omar Jazouli by 54 votes to 35 in Monday’s municipal council vote, becoming the second woman to take a mayoral position in Morocco after Asmaa Chaâbi, mayor of Essaouira.

“I am honored to lead Marrakech city hall,” Mansouri said. “I hope to be able to measure up to this new challenge.”


Photo Credit: Alarabiya.net

Lawsuits to Curb Sexual Harassment

At the Embaba Youth Center in Cairo, teenage girls in headscarves that signify Islamic modesty whack at each other with deft karate moves.

It’s fun, they say, but also a defense against nasty boys and men on the Egyptian capital’s mean streets. “No one is going to touch me when I can hit them real hard,” said Nada Gamal Saad, 16.

The training is a grassroots reaction to a problem Cairo women’s groups say is growing: public verbal insults, groping and even rape. Such harassment contrasts with emerging signs of female political advancement in Egypt and other countries across the Middle East.

Photo Credit: BBC

"To you, your religion, and to me mine..."

Sophie Ashraf, also known as The Burkha Rapper, is an Indian Muslim female rapper for whom Muslim identity seems central to her art. This comes across clearly in her following statement on the Blind Boys website:

“It’s like when you really like a band, you wear T-shirts of that band…Well we really, really like Islam, so we wear the burkha. I rap because I can’t sing. But I love music, so it had to be rap.

Soon, the burkha and the rap formed an identity of itself, and people started recognizing me as the burkha rapper. The Justice Rocks Concert was the first platform where I felt the setting and the timing was right to talk about Islam. The Mumbai attack had just happened and everyone was waiting for a proactive Muslim to come out and say what Islam was about. I was just blown away by the response.”


Photo Credit: Blind Boys


On 2 July, 2009, at a ceremony held in the City of Bolzano, Italy, Shirin Ebadi, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, accepted the 2009 Alexander Langer Award on behalf of Nargess Mohammadi, who could not be present at the award celebration held in her honor.

Nargess Mohammadi is a journalist and a human rights and women’s rights activist. She also serves as the Deputy Chair of the Defenders of Human Rights, a human rights NGO headed by Shirin Ebadi. Mohammadi was honored with this award in recognition of her bravery in advocating for human rights, specifically in defense of the rights of students, women and other civil society activists.

During the Awards’ Ceremony, Nargess Mohammadi telephoned Shirin Ebadi. The call added to the excitement of the ceremony, and those in attendance used the opportunity to demonstrate their feelings and support for Nargess Mohammadi by giving her a long and excited applause.


Photo Credit: Sign4Change

Those who think that Algerians have been passive victims of their country’s political problems need look no further than the Algerian women’s movement for a change of mind.

Twenty-five years ago, a unique relationship developed between Algeria and the non-profit organization, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), which is going strong even today.

WLUML provides assistance to women whose lives are governed by so-called “Islamic” laws or customs. The organization opposes the use of faith to further political causes and builds awareness of women’s rights violations committed in the name of Islam.


"Poverty knows no boundary. It does not say I should attach this one because she is a Muslim or a Christian. I am supporting everyone who needs my help."

Patricia Kwelani dropped out of school several years ago. But three years ago she decided to go back to school knowing that education is important. “I was always thinking of going back to school. As a business person I thought I needed to have some education to help me in my business,” Kwelani says.

She enrolled as a student at Salula Women Day Secondary School, an institution that was started by Khadija Hamdani, a 41 year-old lady. Hamdani, a mother of four children, has been an active woman for several years and her work to the communities began after noticing that many women and orphans were living in abject poverty.

Photo Credit: Daily Times

“I am a Muslim and we are taught by the Koran to share with friends the little we have. I formed the Muslim Women’s Organisation and I am also the founder and chairperson of Salima Women Empowerment, Development and Task Force, which currently operates a Women’s Day Secondary School as well as a Nursery,” said Hamdani.




Empower Peace: http://www.empowerpeace.org/
Global Fund for Women: http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/cms/
Women for Women International: http://www.womenforwomen.org/
Women for Afghan Women: http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/
Vital Voices: http://www.vitalvoices.org

Omid E Mehr: http://www.omid-e-mehr.org

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