New Age Islam News Bureau
14 May 2015
Aysha Albusmait and her adopted daughter Reem celebrate Reem's fifth birthday (MEE/Amanda Fisher)
• Icelander Muslim Told to Prove Her Faith for Passport Hijab
• Indonesian Women Forced To Undergo 'Two-Fingered Virginity Tests' Report Claims
• Dubai Municipality Offers Abayas to Women Not Abiding By Dress Code
• In A First, 129 Muslim Girl Students Enrolled Into Zilla Parishad Urdu School, Maharashtra
• Taking Back the Reins: Dubai’s Female Bikers in Control
• In Southern Egypt, Women Journalists Keep the Spirit of Media Alive
• How Comedy Explains What It's Like To Be Muslim and a Woman Growing Up In the West
• Islamic Women’s Group in UK Defends Islamic State, Predicts Expansion to Western Countries
• U.S. Women Face Harder Path to Abortion As States Extend Waiting Periods
• Driven Mad: Inside a Libyan Detention Centre For Female Migrants
• Iranian Children Plead For Activist Mother's Release
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Emirati Woman Forges Path for Single Adoptive Mothers
14 May, 2015
Last month, Aysha Albusmait woke up to a beautiful cake and card made by her five-year-old daughter, Reem.
Like many women on Mother’s Day, she was touched by the gesture. But this gift was somehow more important - it was only their second Mother’s Day together and the first they ever celebrated.
“I’m used to celebrating Mother’s Day with my mum, but now I'm feeling motherhood.”
Albusmait is no ordinary person. In her 49 years, the Emirati has accomplished a dizzying amount of things. She holds a PhD in communications, is studying for a Master’s Degree in sports management, and is a decorated civil servant who was named the top Dubai Government Official in 2007 at the Dubai Government Excellence Programme awards.
Before that she became the first female Emirati fashion designer “when it was still a taboo”. One of her dresses was worn by Indian superstar Ashwariya Rai, long before the world hailed her as the most beautiful woman on the planet.
Albusmait has cultivated a reputation for going against the grain.
“I was named the best fashion designer in the Middle East in 1996, but was not encouraged to go on stage. Still I got up and was handed my trophy in front of the audience and media.”
As a student she was a presenter on a TV programme and wrote a page in a national newspaper on student issues using her real name and photo. Albusmait was visible at a time when the Muslim society was still uncertain how to accept it.
But all of these things are not the most noteworthy thing about this bold and glittering woman. At the age of 47, the unmarried career woman adopted a daughter.
Such an act remains a relative unknown in most places around the world, but is particularly brave given the traditional values of UAE society and a general apprehension around the practice within Islam.
At the vanguard
“Before, my focus was on career success – getting married wasn't a target I was striving for,” she said.
“I was doing many things I loved, but the real satisfaction didn’t come until I understood that my only challenge would be to give my love to another, to bring her up and give her love and happiness.”
Albusmait is at the vanguard of a growing number of women who remain unmarried into their 40s who want to adopt. Dubai’s Community Development Authority (CDA), the body that oversees the Emirati-only adoption programme Embrace, said it is recording significant numbers of women like her. Single Emirati women over 40 make up about a fifth of the waiting list.
There are only a handful of children available for adoption each year, usually after being abandoned by their expatriate mothers avoiding consequences of an illegitimate child in a country where extra-marital sex is a crime.
Dr Huda al-Suwaidi is the CDA family development department director. She said that, after launching Embrace two years ago, she has been surprised at the demand from single Emirati women – who are “great examples of how well the programme could turn out”.
“We are proud of Aysha, she is a role model of how a kind heart can turn others’ lives completely to happiness and joy. She has proven that motherhood is all about rearing and caring, not necessarily about biological relationships.”
Al Suwaidi said the CDA encourages more women to follow in Albusmait’s footsteps and raise a child not lucky enough to be born into a stable family.
What really sets Albusmait apart is that she is willing to talk publicly about the adoption of her young daughter. After adopting Reem two years ago, she recently opened up about her experience.
“Talking about it for me is giving the chance for a kid to…be in a family. I encourage everybody to adopt, not only the people who don’t have kids. In Islam, the benefits of having an orphan kid in your family [makes you] very close to God.”
All in the family
Strong female pioneers run in the family, it seems.
Albusmait's aunt Hessa Alossaily, whom she calls Mama Hessa, is also one of her closest friends. The elder stateswoman was the first female Emirati in the media when she became a news announcer in 1965 – the same year Albusmait was born.
“There are two sides of Aysha that touch me very much. Firstly, she is carrying the same name as my mother - she was born the same week as my mother died," said Alossaily of her niece. "If I had a daughter, I decided she would carry the name ‘Aysha’; so Aysha became the favourite. The other side is that she is a media person also. We have the same passion, this is very important.”
Alossaily, who has no biological children of her own, said the two women are "like twins" when it comes to their hearts and minds.
“Always God puts in your life something you are missing. Aysha's a daughter, a very close friend. We think the same way, we trust in things the same way and we believe in things the same way and that is rare in life [to find] another person who is carrying your dreams.”
It was Mama Hessa who Albusmait turned to when making the decision to adopt.
“My dream was that Aysha would have a child. Unluckily, that never happened [when she was younger], so when she decided to do that actually we planned this together and said ‘Okay to do this, there are certain things she will gain and lose’.”
Alossaily said the only fear she had was that being an older mother Aysha may not have the patience necessary for a young child.
“I was a little bit worried, but I was thinking this is her right in life, this is her passion and I trust in the passion of the person.”
Reem, whom she calls her granddaughter, has been “a great grant from God”, Alossaily said.
“Aysha could be selfish to the limit, until she had Reem and she forgot all her favourite things and thought only about Reem.”
She is proud of Albusmait's courage to talk publicly about adoption, as well as her efforts to create an Instagram group for the region’s adoptive families (@osar_hadinah). But then again, this is only natural.
“Ayesha is a media person, she has a responsibility. The problem is if she doesn't announce what she believes in, she's not doing her job. If you believe in something, go for it.”
“She gives me the feeling of youth and I am giving her wisdom,” Alossaily said.
Being the change in society
Albusmait said that since speaking openly about her experience the responses have mostly been positive, especially from young people and university students who have even written about her. But it’s not all plain sailing.
“I got some reactions not at all appreciating it, but through my own conviction…I could always convince the society around me.”
She said she overcomes the hurt from negative responses.
Many still decry adoption as Haram – or forbidden – in Islam; more education on the matter would be welcome, she said.
“People need to get more knowledge before judging others, not after.”
Still, Albusmait said she has never been particularly concerned about others’ opinions. The choice to adopt was based on research into adoption within Islam and the strength of her own belief that it benefits society.
And she has decades of swimming against the tide to bolster her. Throughout her life she has had strong roles in the community, volunteering for disadvantaged groups such as disabled people.
“Of course, some were not in favour of the things I did… but I started these activities thanks to family support. These things have been the motivation to take me where I am now: having courage and strength in decision-making.”
Looking to the future, not the past
Albusmait respects the Islamic tenet of openness in adoption and not changing surnames – she herself has been upfront with her young daughter about her lineage, and will tell her more and more each passing year until she knows the complete story, she said.
But she said Reem’s future is more important than her past.
“I will not say I don’t care about this, because also this is my daughter and her feelings… but I don’t care about these things as much as I care about how she will change things in her society. I want her to be a role model.”
And if her vivacious daughter, who celebrated her recent birthday with an army of friends and family at Cheeky Monkeys, does this she will be following in her mother’s footsteps.
Albusmait said that, thanks to the UAE’s progressive leadership, women are now the equals of men. Her wish, she said, is that other women don’t hesitate to take on more prominent roles in society – both in this country and elsewhere.
“Women across the world should only focus on the fact that they are a part of society exactly like men… men and women are the makers of human beings, as well as prosperity and happiness.”
Aysha Albusmait has been called many things in her time: a rebel, a career woman, stubborn. But of all the labels, the one that matters most is "Umm Reem" – or Reem’s mum.
“Whenever I hear those words, I am so happy.”
Icelander Muslim Told to Prove Her Faith for Passport Hijab
14 May, 2015
CAIRO – An Icelander Muslim has been told to show proof of her faith in order to be allowed to wear a Hijab in a passport photo, the request regarded by Muslims as “terribly funny”.
“I’m not especially a supporter of the practice, but many women want to wear the Hijab or the veil and I can definitely confirm that they are Muslim,” Sverrir Agnarsson, chairperson of the Muslim Society of Iceland, told reporters, Reykjavík Grapevine magazine reported on Tuesday, May 12.
“This [rule] is a terribly funny arrangement.”
Reports were first published by Visir website detailing the incident in which a Muslim Icelander was recently denied the renewal of her passport on the grounds that she would not remove her Hijab for the photo.
Iceland laws forbid headwear for a passport photo. Yet, they offer an exemption based on religious reasons.
Therefore, those seeking the exemption need to provide proof that they are registered in one of two Muslim organizations in Iceland.
As the woman was not a member of either group, she was denied the exemption to be allowed one later when a Muslim organization wrote a letter confirming that she was, in fact, a Muslim.
The vague regulation, however, was criticized by Anna Katarzyna Wozniczka, chairperson of Women Of Multicultural Ethnicity Network in Iceland.
“Does an individual need to be registered in a religious organisation to have it confirmed [that they practice that religion]?” she asked.
“How does one provide such a confirmation? What exactly needs to be shown, and who has the legal authority to provide it? Can a person not confirm their own religion themselves?”
The Nordic country of Iceland has one of the smallest Muslim communities in the world with only 770 people registered with the official Muslim organizations in the country (as of 2013).
This corresponds to 0.2% of the population of Iceland.
Indonesian Women Forced To Undergo 'Two-Fingered Virginity Tests' Report Claims
14 May, 2015
Indonesian women who want to join the military are forced to undergo humiliating ‘two fingered’ virginity tests to assess their 'honour' before they are accepted into the armed forces, it has been revealed.
Female military officers, hopeful applicants, military fiancées and even a military physician have spoken out about the ‘torturous’ ordeal as the Human Rights Watch urges Indonesian President Joko Widodo to abolish the ‘discriminatory and invasive’ tests.
A female physician in a military hospital in Jakarta told the Human Rights Watch the women are positioned like they are giving birth during the tests. Fingers are inserted into their vagina and anus to judge whether their hymen is intact, which campaigners say is an ‘unscientific’ practice.
‘In 2008, I administered the test myself. Those young women were totally unwilling to be positioned in such an opened position.
‘It took an effort to make them willing to [undergo the virginity test]. It was not [just] a humiliating act anymore. It was a torture. I decided not to do it again,’ the doctor said.
The Human Rights Watch research discovered all branches of the military – air force, army, and navy – have used the test for decades and also extended the requirement to the fiancées of military officers.
The vaginal examination is given early in the recruitment process as part of the applicants’ physical exam.
Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya, the Indonesian armed forces spokesman, confirmed to the Human Rights Watch that the ‘virginity test’ has been conducted on military recruits for even longer than on Indonesian female police recruits.
And Gen, Fuad told Fairfax Media: 'It is done in order to get the best people both physically and mentally.'
A female military academy applicant subjected to a ‘virginity test’ in 2013 in Bandung, the capital of West Java, said: ‘What shocked me was finding out that the doctor who was to perform the test was a man.’
‘I had mixed feelings. I felt humiliated. It was very tense. It’s all mixed up. I hope the future medical examination excludes “virginity test.” It’s against the rights of every woman,’ she complained.
General Fuad denied to Fairfax Media that fiancées of military personnel were also tested but a military wife told the Human Rights Watch she was subjected to a ‘virginity test’ in 2008 before they were married.
‘My husband is a navy officer. We married in 2008. [Prior to our marriage] I took the medical examination that included the so-called virginity test.
‘Officers’ fiancées could usually escape the humiliating test [because] most of their fathers are admirals and generals, if not colonels. But my husband does not come from a military family,’ she said.
Last year, on November 18, 2014, Human Rights Watch issued a report about ‘virginity testing’ for female National Police candidates in Indonesia. The story inspired military women to speak out about their own experiences.
‘I took the test. Now I know many military wives. When the policewoman’s story appeared, we began to trade stories about bribes being paid to pass the test in military hospitals,’ the navy officer’s wife said.
‘Sometimes the young officers paid some money to have their fiancées declared to have intact hymens.
‘But there were also sympathetic doctors who asked the young women whether their fiancés are going to marry them if their hymens are declared to be torn. [In such cases] the doctor usually writes “hymen intact”,’ she claimed.
Another military wife subjected to a ‘virginity test’ in 1991 in Surabaya alleged: ‘My fiancé was then working as a dentist in a naval base in Surabaya. When we’re about to marry, he asked for permission from his commander.’
‘The [permission] letter says I must take several medical tests. I underwent the test in Surabaya, but also in Jakarta. Both of them were in naval hospitals. [The tests] ranged from psychological tests to a medical examination,’ she explained.
‘The rationale was economic: the military wants healthy couples. It also included the “two-finger test.” I thought I was a virgin, so I did not mind. I passed the test and we got married. It was embarrassing, but who I am to oppose it? Military men often travel away from home. They should trust their wives.’
In a letter sent to the Chairman of the International Committee for Military Medicine Major General, PhD S. Muhammad Al-Malik, the Human Rights Watch Asia Division Director Brad Adams called for the ‘cessation of all “virginity tests,” including for female military recruits and the fiancées of military officers’.
He urged Maj. Gen. Al-Malik to contact Maj. Gen. Daniel Tjen, General Surgeon in the Indonesian National Armed Forces, to ask him to stop the practice.
The Human Rights Watch’s call to action to international military physicians comes ahead of the International Committee of Military Medicine’s (ICMM) world conference in Bali on May 17-22.
In February plans to force high school girls in Indonesia to pass virginity tests in order to be allowed to graduate were met with fierce criticism by campaign groups and Muslim leaders.
The district council in Jember, in East Java province, was said to be drafting 'good conduct' regulations that would have forced girls at high schools to prove they had not had sex before they graduated.
However, the proposals were met with fierce criticism from campaigners and Muslim leaders who said they discriminated against girls, and the plans were eventually dropped.
Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, places a high value on virginity.
Previous attempts to introduce virginity tests for female students, in South Sumatra in 2013 and in West Java in 2007, also backfired.
Dubai Municipality Offers Abayas to Women Not Abiding By Dress Code
14 May, 2015
The Dubai municipality is offering Abayas to women who do not follow the emirate’s dress code during their visit to the centres, Khaleej Times reported.
Abayas are loose garments traditionally worn by women in the Gulf.
The move comes after “many complaints about scantily-clad female customers,” the newspaper reported.
“According to the ‘Dubai Code of Conduct’ published on the council’s web site, an official business or business casual dress code shall be adopted by all visitors of Dubai’s government buildings as well as business buildings and office towers. Access to Dubai’s official and business buildings may be denied if dress code is considered inappropriate,” Khaleej Times stated.
The code on decency states: “In all other public places such as streets, shopping malls and restaurants, shorts and skirts shall be of appropriate length. Moreover, clothing shall not indecently expose parts of the body, be transparent, or display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans.”
One municipality official complained to Khaleej Times about some of the clothes the women visiting their centres wear.
“You won’t believe what kind of clothes some women wear when they visit us,” she said.
“We have got several complaints from both male and female customers about indecent dressing style of many women. Even European people (who have a liberal dressing style) have complained about certain women,” the official said.
The news follows a video which has gone viral in the past 24 hours, showing Egyptian actress Abeer Sabry being told off by what the paper claims to be a UAE local woman about not respecting the dress code.
The woman was heard saying: “This is my country; I say what I want to say. Wear respectful clothes!”
Sabry, and another woman who was with her, responded: “Who are you? Is it your job to tell me this? What does it have to do with you?”
Dubai Police have now said that the Emirati woman faces legal action – read here for more details.
In A First, 129 Muslim Girl Students Enrolled Into Zilla Parishad Urdu School, Maharashtra
14 May, 2015
In a first, 129 girl students were enrolled from Madrasa into Zilla Parishad Urdu school at Dahifal in Shevgaon Taluka of Ahmednagar district.
Zilla Parishad officials, along with enthusiastic teachers, persuaded the Maulana to send the girls to the school. "It was a great achievement for us since we were trying to convince Maulana Sayyad Nasir for almost six-odd months to send the girls for formal education, instead of imparting religious education," said Ganpat Daspute, an innovative and progressive teacher from Shevgaon.
Daspute informed that it was women's education extension officer Shailaja Raul, along with district education officer Popat Kale and Ashok Kadus, who made efforts in this direction.
The Zilla Parishad chief executive officer, Shailesh Nawal, felicitated Maulana Sayyad Nasir during a formal function to enrol these girls to ZP school. Kale announced that he would be implementing the schemes for the minority students effectively and will also adopt all these girls till completion of their education.
Nawal informed dna that the idea was to bring the Muslim girls into mainstream education and the madrasa would work as their hostel since all the girls are from economically weaker sections. He said that the girls would be with ZP school between 9am and 5pm and will avail all the benefits, including midday meal scheme and other facilities. Nawal said it was a bold step on the part of Maulana Sayyad Nasir and it would be path-breaking.
Most of the girls come from the economically weaker section and some of the girls have lost either of the parents, informed Maulana Sayad Nasir. He said these 129 girls are from madrasas in Nevasa, Pathardi, Salbatpur and Shevgaon Paithan talukas, which were started in 2009.
He informed that he was initially not convinced since the distance between the madrasa and the school is 3km, but the arrangement has been done now. The primary teachers have come together to pay for the vehicle, which would bring the girls from madrasa to the Urdu school.
The principal of the school, Rahimuddin Shaikh, school committee chief Ilyas Shaikh and Sarpanch of the village Yuvraj Bhosale, were also present for the function.
Taking Back The Reins: Dubai’s Female Bikers in Control
14 May, 2015
Dana Adam* is from a powerful conservative family in Yemen, where women invariably wear Hijabs, don’t drive and need their husband’s permission to leave the house.
But aged 32, the Dubai-based mother-of-two learned to ride a motorbike - and not just any motorbike, but a Harley Davidson.
What possessed her? Her answer is disarmingly frank.
“Because I was depressed. Really depressed, since 2000,” she answers with sincerity.
What follows is a sad story about her husband’s inveterate infidelity, unreliable business partners and deep-seated loneliness in her adopted home of 14 years.
“I found out when I was pregnant that my husband spent my honeymoon with his ex,” she says in perfect English.
Adam is educated and privileged, and evidently very different to the average Yemeni woman on the street, where illiteracy stands at 70 percent but she has had a stormy, disruptive marriage.
“[My husband] treated me so badly; he gave me no money, no nothing. And I helped him a lot when he came here. My family gave him $400, 000," she says.
After the turbulent relationship that produced a son, 13, and daughter, seven, Adam is now separated. But that is something she refuses – along with her motorcycling habit – to share with her traditional parents.
It would be hard, given the fight the perennially strong-willed daughter put up when she married her ex. She had been due to marry a cousin, but argued with her father.
“I told him if you don’t let me marry this guy, I won’t marry at all," she says.
Both her parents are now in poor health and have bigger issues given the rapidly deteriorating stability in the country, with the Saudi Arabia-led airstrike campaign against the Houthis continuing.
“I don’t care about people, what they may think about me. I don’t do a lot of things because I don’t want to bother my family, that’s it. My family are the only thing I’m concerned about," Adam says.
So why did she turn to motorbikes to help her through her depression?
The petite, five-foot-nothing beauty claims she has long been a tomboy, spending her youth with male cousins and playing around on a motorcycle that belonged to her father’s bodyguard.
“I was thinking I love bikes, I love Harleys actually, so I just said ‘yalla’ [let’s go]. My husband doesn’t know I have a bike … my kids know, they keep it a secret.”
Adam has been riding for about five months, but is already very confident, performing tricks like standing while she rides – as I learned when I tagged along on a recent outing in honour of International Female Ride Day, on 2 May.
“I’m the one [who is] crazy…even when I got my licence, the man said ‘Oh my God, you’re riding like a man’.”
The Dubai public is generally very welcoming of female riders, she says.
“When they know I’m Arabic and Yemeni, they go crazy … you know, Yemenis cover themselves.”
As the cavalcade passes, arms brandishing smart phones dart out of car windows to snap shots. When we arrive at a small cluster of hole-in-the-wall shops on the backroads somewhere between Dubai and Al Ain for a spot of karak chai, the Pakistani shop assistants in Shalwar Quameez are momentarily dumbstruck.
Confusion gives way to giggles and they slowly approach the women, camera phones in hand. Soon it’s a fully fledged photo shoot, with the obliging pinups striking jestful poses along the makeshift asphalt runway.
Adam says she longs to be more upfront with her family.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything bad. I pray five times a day, I don’t drink, I don’t have a boyfriend. I’m good," she says.
Life in Dubai has taught her to be strong, and getting her licence and joining the Ladies of Harley Dubai chapter has given her a family away from home, she says.
“They are really good people, good friends who really care about you and watch you all the time. I found happiness with them.”
There are more than 120 women in the group as either riders or pillion passengers, with a core group of about 20 – and growing.
Adam says riding “touches [her] heart”.
“I’m stronger now. When I’m riding I feel free, alive, stronger.”
Shima Mehri is from Iran, where it is illegal for women to ride motorcycles.
“I decided to be a biker when I was only a little girl,” she says.
She lived in Austria until she was 15, where there were “lots of lady bikers”, before returning to Iran with her family.
“I was only 10 and I said to my dad ‘When I grow up I want to be a biker like them.’ He was just laughing and telling me ‘Wait till you grow up and you can make a decision.’”
Mehri stayed in Iran for 14 years, before moving to Dubai.
“This wish has been with me until the time I left Iran. As soon as I reached Dubai, I said ‘Okay, this is the time.’”
She started classes and got her motorcycle licence almost immediately.
“Exactly a day after that, my husband took me to the Harley shop and I bought my bike,” she says.
That was five years ago now and the 34-year-old has only recently convinced her husband to also get his own licence.
“At the beginning, he was scared a lot but when I joined the group, he was thinking, ‘Okay, it’s so safe here in Dubai to ride.’ Every single ride he is also with us, but he follows in the car.”
Mehri says it is partly good fortune and partly determination that she has an open-minded husband.
“He thinks totally different. It depends on the women, how they convince their husbands. The new generation of men in Iran, they’ve started to think women should have freedom to do what they want," she says.
But she has not been so lucky across the board; she has lost a number of Iranian friends since news travelled that she had become a biker.
“My cousin who lives here saw me [and called my mum]. She said, ‘Your daughter, instead of sitting at home and cooking for her husband, she’s going out riding with the guys and she doesn’t care about her duties at home.’”
And her mother’s attitude towards her little girl biking? Well, it’s an unlikely story.
“I have two younger brothers. Always she used to tell them you are not allowed to ride a bike or smoke … if you grow up and do one of these things you are not my son anymore.”
Still, Mehri decided to front up once she had her licence and motorbike and called to confess. She says, at first, her mother tried to resist the news before grudgingly accepting it.
“The only thing she told me was ‘Please ride safe and take care of yourself.’”
That was five years ago. Last month, she sent her daughter a photo of herself from the 1970s – sitting on a motorbike.
“She called me and said ‘Shima, that day when you said you got your licence, I was really proud of you inside my heart … when I was 18, I had my own bike and I was riding too.’ That was a big secret I didn’t know,” Mehri says.
“Imagine a mum always forbids a kid they are not allowed to ride a bike then you find out your mum was a biker. I was really shocked.”
So why did she hide this news from her daughter?
“It’s because of the culture we have in Iran. After the revolution everything changed, even the ideas of the people.”
But the maths teacher is doing what she can to live her own life with no regrets.
“In the Middle East, most women put themselves under the control of men and they think they can’t do anything without men. [When] they are old - 70, 80 - they are alone, for sure they’ll have a lot of regrets. Life is short and they can’t go back to do whatever they want.”
She is pleased to see many of the female students she teaches now living for today, not worrying about cultural pressures as much as her own generation.
British woman Catherine Hector has been riding for a long time, 10 years.
She has been in Dubai for the past two and a half and is the activities officer for the Ladies of Harley Dubai chapter.
“When I was very small, my family used to watch motor Grand Prix on a Sunday. Every time they used to curl with their knees down on the corner I was like ‘I want to do that’ … I haven’t mastered it yet, but it will be done.”
Hector moved to Dubai by herself in search of adventure. That is something she has certainly found with her fellow riders hailing from all over - Germany, Poland, the US, Iran, Morocco, Russia, Yemen.
“Being in the UK, you just see British people mostly and only a few people from different nationalities,” says the British-Caribbean 32-year-old.
“Here you’ve got over 200 different nationalities and the riders are a very diverse group.”
Hector has met no family disapproval with her choice of hobby, and used to regularly visit her grandfather, a retired bus driver, whenever she had new wheels.
“He’d always say to me ‘Make sure it doesn’t fall down, park it in reverse’… he used to come out and pray for us as we left," she says.
But she understands there are different cultural norms in this part of the world; some of which are good. The women mostly ride alongside the Harley men, who buck the stereotype of biker gangs, she says.
“They’re very, very respectful guys. A lot of them are like brothers. They’re actually overly protective. Even the ones who are not married are very respectful. They’re not sleazy.”
But some can be overly attentive, she says. This is partly why she organised the Dubai ride for International Female Ride Day, in which about eight women participated.
“There are a couple of guys who don’t think ladies should ride by themselves,” she tells me after the ride is over and the women are relaxing by the pool of one of Dubai’s five-star hotels.
“It was a nice time for the ladies to have a bit of power and do something by themselves. Even though they respect us as riders, they think we’re going to ride 40 kilometres an hour.”
Speeds topped 120km on the two-hour ride, with a woman, Mehri, in the rare position of road captain – though several men tagged along as safety.
“We’ll have you as safety crew, but anything else we don’t really need you,” the IT and marketing manager jokes.
The ride was also calculated to send a global message.
“A lot of people expect Dubai is like Saudi, that the women are very oppressed, they can’t really do much, there’s no freedom, women can’t drive.”
But that is not the case and Hector says a growing number of women are getting into the scene.
“As they’re seeing more ladies part of the group, they think ‘If they can do it, I can definitely do it.'”
In southern Egypt, women journalists keep the spirit of media alive
14 May, 2015
LUXOR, Egypt - On the ride out of the centre of Luxor in a microbus, which departs from a parking lot in the shadow of the colonial-era train station, it’s only a matter of minutes before you are surrounded by fields of sugar cane spreading out in all directions, crisscrossed by irrigation ditches and dirt roads.
Beside the fields sit dormant carts on narrow rails, piled with golden bushels of sugar cane hacked from the roots. Dark men in white gowns and turbans labour amid the fields, and women draped in black drift through the narrow lanes between homes. As the microbus passes through a village, the road becomes choked with motorbikes and horse-drawn carts, fine earth rising into the air.
In the village of Najaa El Fakhrania El Baghdadi, amid the fields around Luxor, Mervat Omr Amin El Fakhrani, 24, a local freelance journalist, sits with her mother and father in her darkened room in their home of concrete, mud and brick. El Fakhrani types away on her laptop furiously, preparing a TV broadcast for the evening.
El Fakhrani is part of a small cadre of young independent journalists coming of age in post-revolutionary Egypt. While most media tends to hyperfocus on the goings-on in Cairo and Alexandria, some 60 million Egyptians live outside these cities, and young journalists like El Fakhrani have taken to covering social and political developments in the country’s marginalised interior. Away from the spotlight, journalists like El Fakhrani struggle to keep critical journalism alive despite the crackdown on freedom of speech in today’s Egypt.
El Fakhrani is still fresh in journalism. She began as a correspondent for Egypt’s El Osboa news website, and worked for Welad El Balad, a community-focused news platform. She then moved on to a research position with the Southern Centre for Rights, an organisation based in the city of Aswan which advocates political and economic justice in southern Egypt.
Sitting beside her, El Fakhrani’s mother, Rawhia Mohamed Bakr, 54, and father, Omar Amin Ahmed, 61, tell me how they feel about their daughter breaking the family mould to pursue journalism.
“She can’t make a lot of money off this work. If I could choose, she would be a teacher,” said Bakr, referring to her daughter’s work, shrugging her shoulders.
Women in Bakr’s generation, said El Fakhrani’s father, rarely left the village, let alone completed university and pursued careers in media.
Break with conservatism
Out here among the fields of sugar cane and rice, conservative social norms are closely followed. Religious observance is strong. Men congregate in cafes and the streets, while most women work at home. For women, while they are respected as chiefs of the home, moving around outside at night is to be avoided, if not outright prohibited.
El Fakhrani often comes home late in the evening, braving the streets of Luxor and the microbuses by herself. Her parents fear for her safety after dark.
“Here in the Sa’id [the name for southern Egypt], we fear for our hurma [women],” said her father. Women going unescorted at night can bring a bad reputation to the family, he added.
Yet Ahmed feels differently than his wife about his daughter’s efforts in journalism. “Me, I’m proud of what she does. She’s making something of herself,” he said, adding, “Her work is in service of the country.”
Ahmed is a construction worker. Work is often spotty in his village. For two periods in the early 1980s and 90s, he lived in Saudi Arabia, working as a migrant builder to save enough money to feed and educate his four girls and two boys, El Fakhrani among them. “I spent a lot of money on her education, for her future,” Ahmed said, highlighting his hopes that she could break free of the constraints on women in rural Egypt to pursue a career.
A return to repression
But it’s not only gender norms that create barriers for El Fakhrani as a journalist. Egypt has for decades been a country in which media has been tightly controlled, and criticisms of government figures and policies actively avoided. The opening in media freedom that appeared after Egypt’s 25 January Revolution has largely been resealed since the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers from power by the military, led by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in July 2013. Since then, journalists have faced imprisonment, violence and even death.
The Paris-based press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders has been critical of the clampdown on media in recent years, noting: “At least 30 journalists were arbitrarily arrested in 2014 alone on charges of organising or participating in demonstrations or supporting a terrorist organisation. And the authorities continue to use spurious grounds for keeping them in detention.”
The Washington-based research and advocacy organisation Freedom House notes, in its 2015 report on media freedom in Egypt, that the 2014 constitution is punctuated by numerous articles against free expression, such as media censorship “during times of war or general mobilization”. It also noted that in November 2014, the cabinet began consideration of a draft law to ban publication of information regarding the armed forces in all media outlets, including social media.
“You have to commit to silence in this period,” said El Fakhrani with a frown, detailing the harassment she has faced while working in media.
“There are informers around. Sometimes it could be one of your friends. They are offered money by police to report on you. So you feel that you can’t meet and talk in just any place,” she added.
Indeed, El Fakhrani is often ill at ease discussing her work or Egyptian politics while in public places. In cafés she frequently shoots a furtive glance over her shoulder to see who is listening.
Followed and threatened
As a researcher and media assistant for the Southern Centre for Rights, El Fakhrani said she received threatening phone calls and was followed by plainclothes police. She’s worked with foreign journalists and researchers in Luxor before, but at some personal risk in a time of state-sanctioned xenophobia, she said.
“The [security services] could arrest me in the street really easily, saying that I support foreign agendas,” El Fakhrani said.
But for Mohamed Abdel Wassae, 32, another Luxor-based journalist working at Al Shorouk News website, the closeness of the community in this far-southern province has offered him some security from harassment by government authorities.
“It’s tough for police to arrest us and keep us in jail for long. Family and tribal bonds are so strong that if we are arrested, our relatives put tremendous pressure on local authorities to release us.”
As a longtime activist and media worker, he said he’s aware of the limits on what he can safely do. Unlike El Fakhrani, however, Abdel Wassae speaks without hesitation about his life as a journalist in an open air café.
“I got interested in politics by getting involved in the Kefaya movement in 2005,” while studying law in Cairo, he said, referring to the grassroots coalition formed to protest corruption and hereditary control of political power.
Abdel Wassae recounted how the window of press freedom which began to open in 2011 has closed again.
“There was a lot of hope for journalists from late 2012 onwards after the military’s Constitutional Declaration [which gave the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces sweeping powers over national politics]. It created a lot of revolutionary movement again in the streets, and made average citizens more concerned about the political decisions being made out of their revolution.” This, he said, gave independent journalists room to report on issues to a readership hungry for critical reporting.
The old mores have been shaken
At the Southern Centre for Rights, Abdel Wassae worked as a media trainer, giving workshops to local youth on photography and research and reporting skills.
“But after the army removed Morsi from power on 3 July , freedom began to decline. Now if we want to hold trainings we need permission from eight government authorities. All of the Southern Centre’s branches outside of Luxor have closed.”
Sarah El Masry, 23, a researcher at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, a media research and legal aid organisation in Cairo, pointed out the harsh situation faced by freelance journalists like El Fakhrani in Egypt.
“Journalists who are freelance are in a much worse situation than those that are affiliated [with major media outlets]. State security or police may give some recognition to staffers with big newspapers,” but none to freelance journalists, especially those who are not accredited by the government, she said.
She noted that it’s easier for lawyers to win release from detention for journalists well-known to the public, mostly staff with large news outlets, who often face arrest as a result of daily harassment by state security services.
Yet while El Fakhrani is certainly part of a new trend among young women in rural Egypt joining the ranks of local independent journalists, El Masry is hopeful that the changes ongoing in Egyptian society mean she won’t be the last.
“Women working as journalists in the rural south no longer shock me after the revolution,” she said. “Social mores are still strong, but they have been shaken.”
How comedy explains what it's like to be Muslim and a woman growing up in the West
14 May, 2015
Nadia Manzoor is on a crusade to use humor and honesty to talk about the challenges she faced as a young Muslim immigrant coming of age in the US. She's the creator of Shugs and Fats, a web comedy series about two Muslim women who’ve recently immigrated to Brooklyn, New York.
Manzoor plays Shugs, dressed in gold chains and bedazzled hijabs. Her co-star, Indian comedian Radhika Vaz, plays Fats, and is slightly more subdued. The two women explore life in their new, Western home, and most of the time they’re not doing anything that rebellious. They’re trying a juice cleanse, working out at the gym, or buying a pile of maxi pads from the Yemeni guy at the corner bodega. Occasionally it gets a little racier.
"I think that’s part of where the humor is — 'Oh my God, I can’t believe that Shugs and Fats got a vibrator and didn’t know what it was about," Manzoor says. "Why is that hilarious? Because we don’t think about women in burqas being sexually expressed or understanding sexual fulfillment, necessarily."
The intent is to show audiences the often unseen perspective of Muslim women. Even though Manzoor and Vaz don't wear hijabs in their daily lives, they both come from traditional backgrounds. And, as Manzoor explains, the hijab is the mouthpiece for traditionalism.
"I’m totally hoping it will cause a lot of dialogue," she says. "And also just make a lot of people laugh."
The show has also made some people angry. Manzoor recounts some of the comments the show has received on social media, like "Why are you doing this? Do you think it's funny to put on a hijab and put on an accent?"
She answers: "Yes, I kind of do, which is why I do it." But she also adds that there's more to it than cheap laughs. "You have to watch the show to understand. We are not making a mockery of women who choose to wear hijab. That’s not the point of this.”
Manzoor discovered the power of humor through a personal process to reconcile her past. Before creating Shugs and Fats she wrote Burq Off!, an autobiographical one-woman show with 21 different characters and an emotional journey ranging from sarcastic to somber.
For example, in one scene, Manzoor laments the plight of Muslim women — everything from being called “too Western while living in the west” to the practice of honor killings. “Because women are responsible for the reputation of their family,” she says. “We were the carriers of shame."
Manzoor says Burq Off! came from her trying to make sense of the confusion about what it meant to be an immigrant person living in the West — a Pakistani Muslim living in a secular society.
"[I was] trying to navigate so many different contradictions in terms of religion. It didn’t seem that Islam, or I should say the way that Islam was taught to me, had room for somebody like me,” she says.
Manzoor says producing Burq Off! helped her reclaim her Muslim identity and repair strained relationships. Sharing that journey has been transformative for her audiences too.
"I just wanted her to stop talking because I felt like she was spilling my secrets," says Fiana Arbab, who saw the show in Dearborn, Michigan. "It’s definitely a gray area in my life because I’m American, but I’m also Muslim, but I’m also Bengali. So it’s really hard to navigate between the different spaces and the different cultures. I absolutely loved it. I definitely started crying. And I would definitely love to share it with my family."
Burq Off! has played to sold out audiences in New York, and across North America and Europe as well. Manzoor's currently organizing a tour of the show in the Middle East, which has involved making some changes.
"The edits were much more [about] looking at places where I say 'shit' and saying something else. Or when I say 'sex' saying something else. It’s literally taking particular words and getting my thesaurus out," she says.
Dubai, for example, has strict rules about provocative language and gestures. Her father warned her that taking out the curse words would take all the spice out of the show. But Manzoor says the essence of the show is still intact, which is something she’s not willing to compromise on. At least she wasn’t until recently.
“Sometimes people ask me — they’ll be like, 'are you scared that there’s gonna be a fatwā out on you? What are you going to do when you go to Pakistan? How do you get the courage to do this?'” she says.
Manzoor recently postponed an upcoming show in Pakistan. She decided to wait until things were less volatile. But it’s not fear that’s stopping her.
"I’m planning on working and doing this work for a long time so I don’t want to be reckless,” she says. “At the same time, if I was afraid I wouldn’t be doing this show. So there is definitely some larger confidence that I’m connected to that’s making me continue."
Manzoor is working on a sequel to Burq Off! — focusing on the men in her life. A second season of Shugs and Fats was recently released online, and a third season is in production.
Islamic Women’s Group in UK Defends Islamic State, Predicts Expansion to Western Countries
14 May, 2015
Aws Al-Jezairy of Vice met with the group of women who run Campaign Islam, a UK-based organization that defends the Islamic State and maintains a strong YouTube presence.
The group uploads videos of its interruptions of Islam and criticisms of policies, government, and society of the West.
“The symbol of oppression is not the Muslim woman—it is, in fact, the Western woman,” one of the members of Campaign Islam said in a video from Vice.
Campaign Islam holds weekly meetings were they discuss life under Islam and the utopian vision of a perfect Islamic State. Umm Dujanah, one of the campaign’s organizers, said she believes that the dream state is in its infancy in both Syria and Iraq. The group draws its teachings from Islamic scholars and talks about every detail down to the measurements of their homes.
One group attendee said they would have to demolish everything in Britain and start over to achieve this. The comment was met with giggles from Dujanah, who agreed that within the UK but the group did not need to do that because IS would expand into other Western countries.
As the talk progressed Dujanah discussed non-Muslims that would be in their utopian state that they would have to pay a tax, if non-Muslims did not want to pay the tax they would need to convert or be killed. Dujanah argued giving them a choice.
Al-Jezairy asked Dujanah about how she knew IS regulations were working, and Dujanah defended the videos and material that IS puts on the Internet, slamming the Western media for creating propaganda against IS.
Al-Jezairy asked the group if the girls wanted to go to Iraq or Syria to join IS and if they would be disappointed if it was not what they expected. The group said that it would not even have to go anywhere because they know from the evidence from the Sunnahthat Islam will prevail over the Earth.
“We are grateful to live and see one of the great prophecies come true,” said Dujanah.
U.S. Women Face Harder Path to Abortion As States Extend Waiting Periods
14 May, 2015
TAMPA, Fla./GREENSBORO, N.C., (Reuters) - Lawmakers in North Carolina, one of several states looking to mandate lengthier and stricter delays for abortions, are hearing pushback as they say forcing women to wait 72 hours is not too great an imposition.
Kelsea McLain, for one, believes it would have made her choice to terminate a pregnancy more painful. "Every moment I was pregnant past when I made that decision was torture," said the 30-year-old administrative assistant in Chapel Hill.
Similar abortion debates have played out in five Republican-controlled statehouses in recent weeks, as legislators from Florida to Arkansas enacted new waiting-period laws or appeared poised to do so. Oklahoma last week adopted a law tripling its wait time to 72 hours, among the longest in the country.
The push for more restrictive waiting periods comes amid a wave of anti-abortion laws passed by conservative lawmakers over the past few years seeking to chip away at the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision to legalize abortion in Roe v. Wade.
Advocates for women having the right to decide whether to end a pregnancy are considering legal challenges to what can be multiday waiting periods, with some states also requiring two clinic visits to get an abortion.
The U.S. Supreme Court has previously upheld the general concept of mandatory waits, supporters of the movement note.
"Abortion is a grave choice. It is a permanent decision," said Mailee Smith, staff counsel for Americans United for Life, which encouraged strict waiting periods in model legislation proposed in at least 15 states, including those advancing the concept.
She said the goal was to bolster the waiting-period laws that were already on the books in some two dozen states, including several of those now adding an extra day or two of mandated delay.
"The concern is women having enough time to look at the information," she added.
Critics of such waits say they serve no medical purpose. At a rally this month in Greensboro, North Carolina, opponents of the state's proposed longer wait wore purple T-shirts that read "Politicians Make Crappy Doctors."
"These bills are preying on the idea that women should have a bit of shame about what they are doing," said Brook Hines, 48, of Orlando, Florida, who had an abortion in the late '80s while in college. "It's very paternalistic, it's very condescending."
LONGER WAITS, FEWER CLINICS
Half of the 12 Southern states now have five or fewer abortion clinics, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina all have three or fewer.
In some cases, women from these states have resorted to traveling long distances to seek an abortion in Florida, where the legislature recently passed a bill requiring them to make two doctors' visits to get an abortion, with a 24-hour wait.
"It will be an additional barrier to those in an already difficult situation, making it even worse," said Dr. Christopher Estes, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida.
Longer drives and scheduling difficulties resulted when South Dakota in 2011 passed the nation's first 72-hour waiting period, said Jennifer Aulwes, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood there.
She recalled one woman who could not take two days off from work in the same week for in-person visits to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls and ultimately had to drive eight hours round-trip to Minnesota to get an abortion.
Eleven states require counselling before abortion procedures to take place in person - meaning a woman must make at least two trips to the abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive policy.
Research suggests that approach is more likely to discourage women than a forced wait.
Texas, for instance, had no decrease in early abortions from a 2004 law requiring a 24-hour wait that could begin remotely, said Ted Joyce, a professor specializing in reproductive health economics at Baruch College at the City University of New York.
By contrast, abortions dropped off 10 percent in Mississippi following a 1992 law combining a similar waiting period with a two-visit requirement, he said.
The three-day waits made law in Oklahoma and recently passed by the House of Representatives in North Carolina do not require more than one trip to a clinic, while the 48-hour waits approved in Arkansas and Tennessee call for two trips.
However, the waiting period combined with other new abortion restrictions in Arkansas require women to make four separate visits to get a medication or nonsurgical abortion, commonly performed in early pregnancy.
"This doesn't stop an abortion," said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of the National Right to Life Committee's state legislation department. "This just gives the mother time to reflect." (Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Driven Mad: Inside a Libyan Detention Centre For Female Migrants
14 May, 2015
TRIPOLI - Two women gaze out through the broken grill covering one of the windows of the Sorman Detention Centre for illegal immigrants. They are among seven long-term detainees who arrived in Libya in search of a better life but instead found themselves incarcerated in a dank prison which eventually drove them mad.
“This is Aiy Girma. She is Ethiopian and psychologically ill,” said Mohamed, a detention centre guard, speaking through a green paper mask worn by staff when they enter the centre to protect against diseases they claim many of the women carry.
“She is one of our hardest cases because she had no papers with her, and couldn’t remember her full name or where exactly she came from, so we have not been able to contact her family,” he says. “And this is Mary. When she came here, she was fine and had been working, but she became strange and, when we tried to deport her, in the plane she started dancing and getting crazy, so we couldn’t send her back because it might have been against her will.”
Medical treatment was not available, the Sorman Detention Centre head, Colonel Ibrahim Al-Mahjoubi, told Middle East Eye. Last year, when there was still some modest budget available, he used to take sick women to a private local clinic because the state hospital refused to treat them, fearing they carried diseases of the blood.
“The last hospital bill was LYD 1,700 ($1250) and I can’t do it anymore because there is no money,” Mahjoubi said. “I even deliver babies here myself because there is no money to pay for help. There was no-one else to do it and because I’m in charge, I did it.” He has helped deliver 10 babies at the centre. When he enters the prison, he is the only staff member who does not wear a mask, and some of the women even call him Baba.
“The most important thing we need is a small clinic here at the detention centre, so we can do blood tests and offer basic treatment,” he said. “We could then help detainees and make it feel less like a prison for them.”
‘There is no funding’
There is little prospect of this becoming a reality. Housing 156 women and 11 children, the Sorman Detention Centre is one of 20 overcrowded facilities in Libya that are chronically underfunded and in dire need of supplies and financial support. “There is no funding,” Mahjoubi said. “The government only pays for food and security here and this does not cover the costs of many essentials.”
With centres increasingly desperate to help severe mental health cases, one human rights NGO worker said that exorcisms were organised when detention centre staff believed the sick women were possessed by evil spirits. “When all else failed, they tried to use religion and held exorcism sessions, including at the Sorman Centre. They are desperate,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Three of the most profoundly mentally ill women sleep in the windowless corridor of the centre. In five adjacent rooms, detainees are organised according to their nationality, when they arrived and via a hierarchy that has developed amongst majority and minority groups.
The most recent arrivals to the centre when MEE visited in recent weeks were 103 women and children rescued from a sinking vessel which started filling with water after a day at sea. They huddled side by side on mattresses on the floor in three dark rooms, where untiled sections of wall were discoloured with mould.
Aatifa was amongst 361 people who climbed aboard the ancient, overcrowded fishing vessel from Zawia, 45 kilometres west of Tripoli and one of multiple launching points on the Libyan coast for migrant boats hoping to reach European shores.
Before the sea voyage, it took her a month to reach Libya overland from her war-torn home of Eritrea. “There is a network,” she said. “There is one head in Sudan and another in Libya. We had to pay them both.” Aatifa said she didn’t know how much the overland journey, paid for by her mother, had cost. Other women had paid $1,000 each for the unsuccessful attempt to cross the Mediterranean.
Like a highway to Europe
As the peak season for migrants braving the dangerous Mediterranean crossing in fishing vessels was now underway, the Sorman Detention Centre was expecting more new arrivals. Already over-capacity, Mahjoubi said more women arriving would further stretch the already limited resources. “With six neighbouring countries, Libya has become like a highway for Sub-Saharan Africans to get to Europe,” he said. “The main focus should be on educating these women on the risks of going to sea and trying to reduce attempts to take these boats.”
The international community should also invest in local initiatives in the vulnerable sub-Saharan countries, he said, to give local people more incentive to stay in their home countries. “There is a woman here with three kids and they had nothing in Ethiopia and she said it was a case of survive or die,” he said. With many embassies in Tripoli closed since the outbreak of civil war in the capital last August, he said deportation had become increasingly challenging and the family had been there for over a year.
Not all of the women in the centre had planned to attempt the crossing to Europe from Libya. Many had crossed illegally into Libya to find menial work and send money back to their families.
“I never planned to get the boat,” said Sandra, from Nigeria, standing in one of the lighter rooms, tiled and lined with single beds. “I was working in Tripoli for over a year when they caught me. They came to my house and arrested me, although I had done nothing wrong.” She admitted, however, that she was working in Libya illegally.
“This place is no good, we have no free movement and they treat the women here like goats,” she said. “They have no respect for women and we don’t always have privacy when we are naked.”
Sarah complained that the daily rations of food and seven-litre bottles of water to be shared between four or five people were also insufficient for their needs.
‘We want to go home’
Other Nigerian women, lying in rows of single beds - the mattresses and blankets provided by international aid organisations and distributed by local NGOs - hid their faces. “We want to go home,” one shouted from under a blanket. Another, held in the centre for nine months, complained that detainees’ families had not been contacted and had no idea what had become of them.
As more women listed complaints, the guard Mohamed ushered visitors from the room saying that, since more than 50 of the detainees were infected with HIV and Hepatitis, it was dangerous to spend any longer in the room.
Mahjoubi urged the EU to send aid direct to the centre and asked for international organisations to visit Sorman to see the real need, first hand. At present, he said, any money given by NGOs is filtered through so many government departments or different NGOs, the centre saw virtually nothing of any aid. Libya’s civil war, however, has limited the scope of international organisations to be able to work on the ground.
The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) still works on modest voluntary repatriation programmes for migrants in Libya, from its relocated headquarters in Tunisia. Libya’s Department for Combating Illegal Immigration continues to deport small numbers of migrants across the southern borders. But these operations are being held back by Libya’s financial problems and unstable security situation.
For migrants such as Sarah, who say all they want is to go home, it is a journey that is not likely to be made soon.
Iranian Children Plead For Activist Mother's Release
14 May, 2015
The twins of imprisoned leading Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi have pleaded for her release in a heartbreaking video published by the opposition website Sahamnews.org.
Mohammadi, the deputy head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, co-founded by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, was arrested on May 5 at her Tehran home and taken to the notorious Evin prison.
"My mother does not belong in jail,' says Mohammadi's 8-year-old son Ali in the video. "My mother has the right to freedom. I have the right to see my mother."
He adds: "I pray every day for mother to be released from prison; the day she [was taken away], I didn't sleep at all."
His twin sister, Kiana, has a similar message:
"My mother doesn't belong in jail, I can't live without my mommy," she says. "When I was four years old, [security] agents took my father away, now it's my mother's turn."
She says she doesn't understand why the authorities jail political activists.
"That's why my daddy left this country; otherwise we would all be together now, leading a happy life."
Mohammadi's husband, well-known political activist Taghi Rahmani, chose exile in France in 2011 after being repeatedly threatened, arrested, and jailed by the Iranian authorities.
His wife, Narges Mohammadi, remained in Iran with Kiana and Ali.
Mohammadi, 43, has been at the forefront of peaceful protests and campaigns on behalf of political prisoners and other victims of human rights abuses. She has also been involved in efforts to end the death penalty in the Islamic republic.
Rahmani told RFE/RL's Radio Farda on May 6 that the authorities told the family that Mohammadi had been taken to prison to serve a six-year prison term she was facing over her human rights work.
Mohammadi spent a few months in jail in 2012 before being released on bail for health reasons.
Two-hundred-and-fifty Iranian activists and intellectuals, including Ebadi, have called for her immediate release.