New Age Islam
Mon Jun 17 2024, 03:11 AM

Islam, Women and Feminism ( 27 March 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

India: Women’s Groups Laud SC Decision to Examine Validity of Polygamy As ‘Progressive’

New Age Islam News Bureau

27 March 2018

 Muslim Women: Protect Our Marriages, Don't Criminalise Talaq-e-Biddat

 Turkish Women Smoke for "Freedom" In Male-Dominated Society

 Group of Women Help Forgotten Families in Syria

 Saba Mahmood: The Lone Muslim Female Voice in Western Academia

 Inspirational Afghan Mother Receives Full Support for Her Education Dreams

 Report: Malaysia Has ‘Most Restrictive’ Laws on Female Foreign Workers

 Meet Shadia Bseiso: The First Arab Woman to Sign with WWE

 Putting Female Empowerment on the Runway in Saudi Arabia

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




India: Women’s Groups Laud SC Decision to Examine Validity of Polygamy As ‘Progressive’

Mar 27, 2018

File photo. Smoking is a common sight among Turkish women as they use smoking as a way to relax and seek more "freedom" in a male-dominated society. (Xinhua)


NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court’s decision to examine the validity of the practice of polygamy and certain forms of marriage nikah halala and nikah mutah, has been welcomed by women organisations as “progressive” and a step forward to secure the rights of many Muslim women suffering in silence.

However, along comes the demand for the need to bring discriminatory practices under personal laws of other religions under the scrutiny of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court.

Activists and some women organisations have been demanding for long that just declaring instant triple talaq as invalid is not enough and want focus on reform in the Muslim personal law. Welcoming Monday’s development in Supreme Court, women rights activist Zakia Soman from Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan said it was an important step and is what they have been seeking all along. BMMA has been at the forefront of the fight against instant triple talaq and reforms in Muslim Personal Law and was seen articulating the views of Muslim women as the petitioner in the Supeme Court in the triple talaq matter.

“A through reform of the Muslim personal law is important to end practices like nikah halala and nikah mutah. There is no data available on these cases as they are executed in secrecy and the woman caught in this kind of a marriage rarely speaks up and chooses to suffer in silence,” Soman said.

She also pointed that polygamy is a problem that needs to be addressed. She cited cases of instant triple talaq in which the husband moves on to marry another woman while the first wife is left in the lurch as she does not consider herself divorced but the man has already moved on. “Polygamy needs to be addressed under law,” Soman said.

National Federation of Indian Women, which has been demanding reform in all personal laws reinforced its views on the matter. Annie Raja from NFIW said, “The Supreme Court is aware of discriminatory practices in personal laws of other religions too and therefore the attempt should be to end discrimination against all women.”

Meanwhile, All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member SQR Ilyas said he did not see any need for the matter to be put through a scrutiny by the Supreme Court for Islam does not allow nikah halala the way it is being interpreted and practiced incorrectly by people.



Muslim Women: Protect Our Marriages, Don't Criminalise Talaq-e-Biddat

Mar 27, 2018

On Monday afternoon the city witnessed something baffling to the extent of disbelief. More than 20,000 Muslim women hit the streets of Mumbra and conducted a silent protest march from 2 pm to 5 pm against the scrapping of the bill that criminalises talaq-e-biddat. Even as triple talaq continues to be one of the most debatable practices of the community, what these women want is that their husbands not be punished with a jail term of three years for it.

It's unethical

On the sidelines of the protest march, which started at Darul Falah Masjid and continued till Jain Mandir ground near Mumbra police station, the women questioned why the government was criminalising a religious practice. One of the protestors said, "We are happy with the Supreme Court's decision, but whatever the government is doing is unethical. Also, the President should apologise for his remarks on Muslim women."

Speaking to mid-day, Somaiya Naumani, member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which spearheaded the protest, said, "We are conducting the protest peacefully, as we are not against the government. President Ram Nath Kovind's statement in Parliament — 'Muslim women have been living like slaves and they should be relieved of such a life' — is wrong and insulting. We want him to take back his words.

"The Triple Talaq Bill of 2017 is all about protecting the right of marriage. But the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill that has been presented in Parliament is not protecting our right in any way. It's really unconstitutional."

Another protestor said, "What will the women and their children do after the men go to jail? The Bill is not protecting our lives. It also mentions that the husband should pay maintenance. How will they pay maintenance from inside the jail? We have given memorandums regarding the matter to the President, Prime Minister and district collector."

Generalised statement

Fifteen-year-old Mehek Kadri, who was a part of the protest, said, "Muslim women from all over the world are protesting against the Bill. I have never seen women of our community live like slaves. How can the President make such a generalised statement? It's important to protect marriages instead of sending men to jail, who are also the breadwinners of their families."

'For dignity of women'

When contacted, BJP Maharashtra spokesperson, Shaina NC said, "It's not about a particular community, but about the dignity of women. I'm glad that the PM has taken such a strong decision for the common people.

Criminalising it will make people scared of taking such drastic steps. Otherwise, there's no point."



Turkish Women Smoke for "Freedom" In Male-Dominated Society


ISTANBUL, March 27 (Xinhua) -- As soon as she took her seat in a coffeehouse in central Istanbul on a recent afternoon, Zerrin Ertek lit up one. She seemed very confident while taking puffs on the cigarette.

Smoking is a common sight among women in Istanbul and many other parts of Turkey, where 41 percent of men and 13 percent of women smoke.

Ertek, 40, became an addict 10 years ago when she was filing for divorce. In an ill-advised practice, she started smoking as a way to make her voice heard.

"Because back then I had so much to say, but no one was listening to me," she told Xinhua.

Ertek recollected that when she gently told her husband that she wanted a divorce, she was ignored. Neither her parents and friends listened to her.

"Smoking gave me some kind of courage," Ertek said. "When I lit up one, I was thinking of myself shouting loudly and saying 'Hey listen to me! I am here and I have something to say'."

However, later she realized that what she felt about smoking was nothing but a pure illusion. It took her two years to get divorced.

Beware of the harmful effects of smoking, Ertek has reduced smoking to one cigarette only with coffee now.

Like Ertek, many other Turkish women make a wrong choice when they try to find a way to relax in the male dominant society. This perhaps explains why there are so many women smoking in Turkey.

Melehat Uygun, a lady who works as a cleaner, said smoking is a good way to relax, arguing that it creates "a free zone for women" in their lives.

"When men feel stressed, they can go out at night, have a drink, go to one of the traditional Turkish coffeehouses which are mostly reserved for them or do whatever they want to do," she explained. "But women, especially those in the slums, can only get relaxed by smoking."

"It gives me a relaxation, a sense of freedom, taking my stress out," she said, while lighting up one cigarette on the Taksim Square in central Istanbul.

In fact, smoking is prohibited in all indoor workplaces, public areas and on public transport in Turkey. But it seems that these anti-smoking measures have failed to contain smoking, which has become a social and health hazard.

The smoking rate in Turkey now has climbed to 30 percent, up from 24 percent in 2015, with the number of daily smokers growing to 17 million from 15 million, found a report released earlier this year.

A more worrisome phenomenon is that it was found out that the smoking rate has been rising quickly among those aged between 13 to 15 and girls.

Betul Baykal Dinc, a family consultant and sociologist, explained that many Turkish women smoke with a view to securing their places in a patriarchal and male-dominated society.

"Until recently smoking was almost only confined to men in society," she told Xinhua. "But now, more and more women are smoking as they regard it as a convenient way to show they are equal or even superior to men."

Dinc noted that women living in slums and rural areas are more likely to smoke than those living a better life. "Their lack of self-confidence is higher than others and they are trying to make up that low esteem by smoking," she said.

Alev Zorlu, an employee of a design company, said that socializing can easily lead one to acquire the unhealthy habit of smoking.

"You light up one with a friend, second one with another friend, and then with a coffee, and then with a drink, and it goes on and on," Zorlu said.

"No matter what started your smoking, you suddenly realize that you quickly become an addict," she said.

Many young people in Turkey also resort to smoking as a way to gain more personal freedom from their parents, said Oguz Kilinc, a professor with Dokuz Eylul University's Faculty of Medicine and a member of Turkish Thoracic Society Tobacco Control Working Group.

"But they do not realize that they voluntarily become slaves to the tobacco industry by smoking or using electronic cigarettes, tobacco products or shisha," Kilinc warned in a recent interview with local media.

To deal with the hazard of smoking, Kilinc proposed the Turkish government adopt a series of new anti-smoking measures, including using plain tobacco packaging, prohibiting use of additives and reducing tobacco product varieties, to discourage smoking among Turks.



Group of Women Help Forgotten Families in Syria

March 27 2018

Members of Syria's Forgotten Families South Canterbury say they just chip away at their fundraising efforts.

Over the past two-and-a-half years the small group of women has raised an impressive $24,000 for families in Syria.

"We just quietly tinker away at things," member Kate Wright said.

The group was established in 2015 as a way of helping Syrians fleeing the country's internal conflict.

On March 15, Syria marked the seventh anniversary of its civil war. The war has meant the death of more than 400,000 Syrians and more than 11 million have been pushed out of their homes. Millions of Syrians now live in refugee camps.

The group was the brain child of Timaru woman Liz Sakimura who volunteers for World Vision.

"Night after night there was news on the television about the refugee crisis," Sakimura said.

"I spoke with the CEO of World Vision and asked 'what can we feasibly do to make a difference?'."

She came up with the idea of meeting with other like-minded people and Syria's Forgotten Families South Canterbury was formed.

The group's aim is to reach out to the people of Syria with a hand of friendship, understanding and compassion for their unimaginable suffering.

Since then the group has raised $24,000 through selling raffles, holding sausage sizzles and "quietly tinkering away", Sakimura said.

In 2016 the group also hosted an evening with journalist Rachel Smalley. She spoke about her work reporting on the Syrian conflict, having reported extensively on the Syrian Civil War and those who have fled the country for refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

In 2016 the group also gave $4000 to the Refugee Reunification Trust. The purpose of the charitable trust is to financially assist refugees in Wellington applying to bring immediate family members to join them in New Zealand.

Money raised is used exclusively to help refugees pay for the expenses directly involved in bringing family members from refugee situations.

The South Canterbury group's money helped a Somalian family that had been in a refugee camp for 19 years.

"The grandparents were in New Zealand and came here 20 years ago as refugees," Sakimura said.

The organisation is always looking at new ways of raising funds, with bliss balls a possibility for this year.

"We have also held silent auctions, movie nights and quiz nights," member Gail Tanabe said.

The women all agreed they worked away at fundraising for the cause as the needs of the Syrian families were much more than their own.

"Their needs are much greater than ours," Sakimura said.

They also said that the community offered a lot of support to the fundraisers the group held.

"People are very generous," Wright said.

"People also come and go from the group but we have some people we still call on to help out."

The group has helped with the Save The Children annual dress shop and market day.

On Saturday group members will man the sausage sizzle in the Mitre 10 Mega car park.

The group is always looking for new members and can be contacted through their Facebook page.



Saba Mahmood: The Lone Muslim Female Voice in Western Academia

March 27, 2018

Saba Mahmood, an anthropologist who taught at the University of California, Berkeley and whose work raised certain challenging questions about the relationship between religion and secularism, ethics and politics, agency and freedom died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 56.A brilliant intellectual, academic activist and intellectually engaging female voice of the Muslim world—someone who positively and critically engaged with Eurocentric epistemological assumptions and engaged with certain daunting questions of our time. Professor Mahmood’s work focused, inadvertently with the relationship between religious and secular politics in postcolonial societies and focused primarily on the issues of sovereignty, subject formation, law, and gender.

Amid progressively shrill scholarship denouncing Muslim societies, Mahmood — a native of Lahore, Pakistan born in 1962—brought a nuanced and educated understanding of Islam into discussions of feminist theory, ethics and politics. Her publications and presentations are credited with profoundly shaping the scholarship of a new generation of scholars as they develop a thoughtful, knowledgeable and critical approach to religion in modernity. Mahmood held a Master’s degrees in Political Science, Architecture, and Urban Planning She received her PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University in 1998. Prior to joining Berkeley in 2004, she taught at the University of Chicago. The gifted scholar received various awards and fellowships, including an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University, the Carnegie Corporation’s scholar of Islam award, the Frederick Burkhardt fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Harvard Academy of International and Area Studies. Mahmood held visiting appointments at the American Academy in Berlin, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioural Sciences, and Leiden University. She taught at the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell University, the Venice School of Human Rights, and Institute of Global Law and Policy.

Her remarkable academic contribution and interest in diverse fields, especially in feminist studies, anthropology and Eurocentric liberal secularism and its influence on Islamic worldview opened a new discourse in the western academia. Her book Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject, received the 2005 Victoria Schuck Award from the American Political Science Association and was an honourable mention for the 2005 Albert Hourani Award from the Middle East Studies Association.

Not only is this book a sensitive ethnography of a critical but largely ignored dimension of the Islamic revival, it is also an unflinching critique of the secular-liberal assumptions by which some people hold such movements to account. The book addresses three central questions: How do movements of moral reform help us rethink the normative liberal account of politics? How does the adherence of women to the patriarchal norms at the core of such movements parochialize key assumptions within feminist theory about freedom, agency, authority, and the human subject? How does consideration of debates about embodied religious rituals among Islamists and their secular critics help us understand the conceptual relationship between bodily form and political imaginaries?

Politics of Piety is essential reading for anyone interested in issues at the nexus of ethics and politics, embodiment and gender, liberalism and post-colonialism. A study of a grassroots women’s piety movement in Cairo, questioned the analytical and political claims of feminism as well as the secular liberal assumptions on the basis of which such movements are often judged her Book Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report received the 2016 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion from the Society for the Anthropology of Religion. Her work has been translated into Arabic, French, Persian, Portuguese, Spanish, Turkish, and Polish.

Mahmood’s work equally constitutes an important intervention at a point in time when secular feminist discourses are increasingly instrumentalized across the political spectrum in anti-Muslim discourses in the ‘Western’ world and in Europe. In the 2006 debates on the Danish cartoons caricaturing Mohammad (SAAS), Mahmood said those who saw the images as merely offensive missed the nature of the injury itself. Within Islam, she argued, in her Is Critique Secular “the attack on the divine image is the same as the attack on the living and embodied self”.

Her most recent book, “Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report”, was featured in a 2016 book forum on TIF. A provocative work of scholarship, Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges us to rethink the promise and limits of the secular ideal of religious equality. In her introduction to that discussion, she wrote: “My suggestion is not that religious conflict is solely a product of secularism or an inevitable one. But insomuch as secularism is one of the enabling conditions of religious conflict today, it behoves us to understand its paradoxical operations so as to mitigate its discriminatory effects.” The plight of religious minorities in the Middle East is often attributed to the failure of secularism to take root in the region. Religious Difference in a Secular Age challenges this assessment by examining four cornerstones of secularism—political and civil equality, minority rights, religious freedom, and the legal separation of private and public domains. Drawing on her extensive fieldwork in Egypt with Coptic Orthodox Christians and Bahais—religious minorities in a predominantly Muslim country—Saba Mahmood shows how modern secular governance has exacerbated religious tensions and inequalities rather than reduced them. Tracing the historical career of secular legal concepts in the colonial and postcolonial Middle East, she explores how contradictions at the very heart of political secularism have aggravated and amplified existing forms of Islamic hierarchy, bringing minority relations in Egypt to a new historical impasse. Through a close examination of Egyptian court cases and constitutional debates about minority rights, conflicts around family law, and controversies over freedom of expression, Mahmood invites us to reflect on the entwined histories of secularism in the Middle East and Europe.

In the volume, “Is Critique Secular?”, she joined Talal Asad, Judith Butler, and Wendy Brown in re-thinking and re-engaging the questions posed by the events like Danish cartoon controversy, the conflict between blasphemy and free speech, and between secular and religious world views. Her remarkable contribution lies in inquiring into the evaluative frameworks at stake in understanding the conflicts between blasphemy and free speech, between religious taboos and freedoms of thought and expression, and between secular and religious worldviews. Mahmood persuasively explored that this narrative largely misses the point in almost every respect. It misunderstands Islam; it misunderstands the liberal political order; and it misunderstands the complex common genealogy of Christianity and secularism. Is the language of the law an adequate mechanism for the adjudication of such conflicts? What other modes of discourse are available for the navigation of such differences in multicultural and multi-religious societies? What is the role of critique in such an enterprise? These are few among the pressing questions addressed in this intellectually engaging work.

Her work has conveyed insightful implications for the philosophical and empirical study of sovereignty, subjectivity and feminist agency, and has led many scholars to reconsider dominant approaches to the law and the modern state, particularly with respect to how religious subjects and groups are governed and defined. Transcending the disciplinary precincts in the humanities and social sciences, her academic contribution has streamlined theoretical and ethnographic inquiry into religion and freedom in modernity, as well as the legacies of colonialism, capitalism, and secularism in contemporary conflicts in the Middle East. Mahmood was currently working on a comparative project about the right to religious liberty and minority-majority relations in the Middle East.

Darren Arquero, a former student of Mahmood’s, said: “She was by far my most challenging professor at Berkeley, but also one of the most supportive scholars I encountered. I can’t describe how meaningful her work around religion, gender, and sexuality has been to my work and research. Outside of the classroom, she made herself available in discussing larger goals. The fact that she was able to see me as a holistic person was something I truly admire.”

Saba Mahmood’s scholarship has reasserted the position of women in academia and her intellectually engaging erudition has added a new dimension to diverse narrative in the intellectual discourse of our times. Her death has left a deep void and she will be remembered through her scholarship. Her engagement within academia is applauded and her commitment can be equally inferred from the statements of her contemporaries. As Wendy Brown, a campus professor of Political Science, who previously co-taught a course with Mahmood said “teaching with her was an extraordinary experience”. According to Brown, Mahmood possessed a certain willingness and curiosity toward new ideas that made the classroom a place of “live thinking.” According to Milad Odabaei, a campus anthropology doctoral candidate, Mahmood was known around the world for her contributions to anthropology, critical theory and feminist theory. Her works shaped scholarly debates on modern Islamic politics in addition to feminist theory and practice across the humanities and social sciences, Odabaei said “(She) left an incredible legacy, (and) shaped the life of many young academics profoundly,” Steele said. “I will never be able to teach without it. That legacy of care is going to live on.”



Inspirational Afghan Mother Receives Full Support for Her Education Dreams

Mar 27 2018

An Afghan mother, whose photo went viral internationally while attending a university entrance exam, has received full support to achieve her dreams of graduation from university.

The 25-year-old Jahan Taab from Daikundi province has been enrolled for the economic faculty in a private unviersity (Kaateb University) in Kabul.

She will study for a period of four years in the university with a full financial support to cover her study, sponsored by Farkhunda Zahra Naderi, the former Afghan Parliament Member and Senior Presidential Envoy to the United Nations.

Ms. Naderi has fully paid the four year expenses for the education of Jahan Taab including her fees to Kaateb University while the Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish will cover the accommodation expenses of Jahan Taab.

Ms. Naderi says she will support Jahan Taab through Citizen and Police Movement which was launched two to three years back.

According to Ms. Naderi, Jahan Taab is a good example of a good citizen and can bring peace and prosperity through her hard work and efforts.

According to reports, efforts are also underway to provide employment opportunity for the husband of Jahan Taab.

The photos of Jahan Taab went viral internationally last week after one of her photos was posted online which was taken during the university entrance exams.

Jahan Taab was shown nursing her baby in the compelling photo while simultaneously taking a exam along with dozens of other students in a private university in Daikundi province.

She had reportedly travelled up to eight hours from her home village to participate in the exams, from Hosho village to Nilli district.



Report: Malaysia has ‘most restrictive’ laws on female foreign workers

March 26, 2018

CHENNAI: Malaysia has the most restrictive laws on women migrant workers, with many preferring to avoid deportation by working illegally, ignoring abuse and labour law violations, Reuters reports quoting a new global study on female workers.

The report, released by an alliance of companies, universities and civil society organisations, cites the requirement of female migrant workers to take a pregnancy test prior to departure from their home country, and on a yearly basis thereafter.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) says a migrant working in a Malaysian factory found to be pregnant is immediately deported at her own expense. To avoid deportation, many enter the informal workforce where labour laws are often ignored and abuse is common.

“If you don’t have money to pay for an abortion or to break your contract, and you cannot go home, then what else can you do?” the report, titled “Triple Discrimination: Woman, Pregnant and Migrant”, quoted a worker in Malaysia as saying.

FLA also called for an end to “pregnancy discrimination”, and urged countries to scrap laws that allow or encourage pregnancy tests and the use of contraception as a condition of employment.

There are more than 122 million women working outside their home countries globally, the report states. Many of them find factory jobs in Asian nations like Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Migrant workers in these countries are under tremendous pressure to finish their contracts so they can continue to financially support their families back home, campaigners say.

While Taiwan bans pregnancy testing and prohibits employers from terminating a pregnant worker, it provides no legal status for their children.

Workers are therefore forced to choose between having abortions, going home, or even abandoning their children to keep their jobs, the report said.

In Thailand, pregnant workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia are eligible for pre- and post-natal care. But they are subjected to pregnancy tests as part of a general medical exam when they apply for a work permit.

FLA also encouraged brands – including those who have committed to FLA’s code of conduct, such as Nestle and Hugo Boss – to support initiatives to protect pregnant workers.

“Our affiliates have made a commitment to not discriminate against women who want to become pregnant or who are pregnant,” said Sharon Waxman of the FLA, as quoted by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It’s time for the laws of these important manufacturing countries to catch up,” she said in a statement.



Meet Shadia Bseiso: The First Arab Woman to Sign with WWE

by Zena Tahhan

March 27, 2018

It was never Shadia Bseiso's plan to become a WWE wrestler.

The 31-year-old Jordanian athlete, versed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, had built her career on-camera as a live events and sports presenter.

"I wanted to be as accomplished as possible as an athlete so that I could gain a lot of credibility as a sports entertainment presenter. That's what I had in mind," she tells Al Jazeera.

In January 2017, Shadia was invited to a casting audition to host the first World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) show in Arabic, "Wal3ooha" - meaning "light it up" - in Dubai.

But spotting her potential to become a WWE Superstar, the sports entertainment company offered Shadia a chance to compete at the invitation-only athlete tryouts.

She seized the opportunity and made headlines in October, becoming the first Arab woman to sign with WWE.

"I would like people from the region to first be proud. I would like to make them proud as an athlete and as an entertainer and as the first Arab woman to sign with WWE," says Shadia.

"It's a really big deal and a very big responsibility."

Under a developmental contract with WWE, Shadia has relocated to Orlando, Florida, where she is being coached at the company's training centre in the hope that she will be scooped up by popular WWE TV wrestling shows such as SmackDown and RAW.

"Bseiso's athletic abilities, confidence, and natural charisma - the last of which she showcased as a bilingual TV presenter - earned her the opportunity to further develop her skills with WWE," the organisation said upon singing her on.

Shadia says she was surprised to find herself working with WWE.

"The road to WWE when you're from the Middle East was never clear. There weren't any tryouts. You see athletes of Arab heritage, but [they are] people who grew up in Canada or in the UK. None from the region," she says.

"This is why this is so beautiful right now for this generation and the next generation and the one to come. Girls and guys can grow up in the Middle East and say: 'I want to be a WWE superstar'."

The path to WWE

The presenter-turned-athlete was born and raised in the Jordanian capital, Amman. She started her career at a young age as a radio show host in Lebanon, where she was completing a Bachelor's degree in Business Studies at the American University of Beirut.

After graduating, she moved to Dubai where she continued working in radio before setting up her own company, SDB Media, for live presenting shows.

From hosting for Hugo Boss alongside Gerard Butler to events for Nike, Porsche and Pepsi, Shadia quickly became a recognised name in the field of live presenting.

At the same time, she trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and CrossFit and competed regularly in the UAE.

"Shadia is a very hard worker. She was the first among my siblings and I to land a job at around 15 or 16," her sister, Jehan, tells Al Jazeera from the Lebanese capital Beirut.

"I absolutely felt that she would do big things. She is very determined whenever she puts her mind to something - she is the kind of person who does not procrastinate," says Jehan.

Social stigma

Sports seems to run in the family.

Shadia's other sister, Arifa, is the head of the women's national boxing team in Jordan and a brand ambassador for Nike in the Middle East.

She was featured in an online Nike commercial, which went viral, aimed at smashing stereotypes about female athletes in the Arab world.

In some countries in the region, women continue to face social stigma when choosing to pursue sports as a career.

Aline Bannayan, a veteran Amman-based sports journalist, says Shadia's recognition on the international scene is representative of progress in the region.

"Bseiso's achievement, regardless of what the sport is, speaks for itself. It will open the door for other women," Bannayan told Al Jazeera.

"Ten, fifteen years ago, women's football in the region did not exist. Jordan is now going to host the Asian women's cup next month," she continued.

"The stereotypes are slowly being eroded, and a lot of walls are being broken down," said Bannayan, adding that while wrestling is not a common sport in the region, "this achievement is important regardless".

Gender equality, says Shadia, is of utmost importance.

As her fame rises, commentary about Shadia circulates on the internet.

"If you go online - you'll find all sorts of opinions," says Shadia in response to a question about being judged. "I am completely okay with people having their opinions. I always surround myself with a very positive circle - you need that, really."

"I want to be a positive role model. I hope that I truly change the image and for it not to be an issue for girls to want to do whatever they want to do," she says.

"I'm going to work as hard as possible to show that females in the region are empowered, unstoppable, ambitious, goal-oriented and winners. That's the goal."

WWE's depiction of Arabs as villains

But battling gender stereotypes at home might not be Shadia's only challenge; WWE has had a controversial past with its depiction of Arab characters.

In 2005, the network portrayed an Italian-American wrestler, Mark Copani, as an Arab-American, giving him the stage name "Muhammad Hassan" and having him appear in a "terrorism" storyline.

The show aired on the same day the London bombings took place - July 7, 2005, which caused an uproar and led WWE to abruptly end Copani's career.

And, during the 1980s wrestling boom, WWE often depicted wrestlers of Middle Eastern origin as villains.

During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, General Adnan, an Iraqi, Colonel Mustafa, an Iranian, and Sgt Slaughter, an American, were portrayed as "Iraqi sympathisers" wearing Arab headdresses and donning Iraqi flags on their military stage uniforms. They were referred to as the "Triangle of Terror".

When asked whether she would agree to perform against the backdrop of similar storylines, Shadia chose to be diplomatic and refrained from commenting.

For now, she is headed full steam ahead to WrestleMania.

"You see people who were at the performance centre three and four years ago; they are now huge superstars on WWE SmackDown and RAW.

"It's doable, and I'm gonna do it."



Putting Female Empowerment on the Runway in Saudi Arabia

26 March 2018

LONDON: For Saudi fashion designer Mohammed Khoja, creating clothes is an act of self-expression that is as much about liberty as about art and style.

“There’s a lot of freedom and empowerment in the concept of being able to translate your ideas into reality and create something out of nothing… that’s why I enjoy it so much,” he said.

This scope for creativity has never felt more palpable than now in Saudi Arabia as the country prepares to host its inaugural Arab Fashion Week next month, giving local designers a chance to showcase collections to a global audience.

Arwa Al-Banawi, a Saudi designer who regularly exhibits at fashion weeks overseas, said she can’t wait to see her work on a Saudi catwalk.

“Saudi Arabia is becoming more and more developed and I’m seeing a lot of Saudi designers following their dreams. It’s a very special time for female empowerment and also for the world to see the beautiful creative talent in our country.”

Speaking to Arab News in London last month, Princess Noura Bint Faisal, honorary president of the Arab Fashion Council (AFC), said the event would be a chance for many Saudi designers to “showcase their world to the world.”

“Arwa Al-Banawi is one of those designers who has so much potential. I can’t wait for her to show her work in Riyadh… I want all Saudi designers to be able to do that.”

Princess Noura added the event would be “truly international”. “Of course we have a lot of Arab designers but the doors are open for anyone to come.”

With the market for luxury brands well established in the Kingdom, some of the biggest names in international fashion have RSVP’d. Italian fashion house Roberto Cavalli, French couturier Jean-Paul Gaultier, British brand Ralph & Russo and Russian designer Yulia Yanina, have all confirmed attendance, as has Harvey Nichols, which is hosting the trunk shows with the Arab Fashion Council (AFC).

Attendees can look forward to an eclectic array of designs reflecting the cosmopolitan character of Arab style.

“The mentality of the Kingdom as a whole, is opening up to more public platforms; and vice versa: we are seeing modest wear on mainstream catwalks and an increased interest in Arab designers, especially on the red carpet,” said Marriam Mossalli, Saudi fashion editor and founder of luxury consulting firm Niche Arabia.

Modest fashion, a trend that that hovered at the edges of international catwalks for several seasons before bursting into designer collections over the last year, will certainly have a presence, but while global fashion houses from Mango to Gucci are embracing loose lines and lower hems, the AFC is cultivating a more diverse outlook.

“Fashion is about freedom. It’s a choice,” Princess Noura said. “Women can wear whatever they want, there are no boundaries.”

Jacob Abrian, AFC founder and chief executive, who has led five Arab Fashion Weeks in Dubai, said there is a lot more to Middle East fashions than modest attire. “I don’t believe modest fashion is the right branding for the Arab world as a land of opportunities and investment.

“It’s a choice for a lady if she wants to dress modestly or not,” he added.

While the curators of Saudi Arabia’s emerging fashion industry are keen to avoid sartorial stereotypes, next week’s shows will be a chance to dispel some of the myths surrounding female fashions in the Kingdom.

“With the exposure of the Saudi market and this event, I think people will start to understand (modest fashion) better,” Princess Noura said.

Describing modest attire as “truly liberating,” Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council, said that fashion “has always been a soft way to break down socio-political issues and barriers.”

The Saudi fashion sector is entering an exciting period of evolution, she continued. “It’s a very important market and I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the level of talent that comes from the Kingdom.”

“Whereas before there were more restrictions and guidelines, now they are going to start showing you a little more of the vast talent and range of skill they have, while staying within the bounds of what’s culturally acceptable.”

For Hatem Alakeel, a designer based between Saudi Arabia and Dubai who set up the brand Toby by Hatem Alakeel: “Fashion is a great example of where we are and of the times.”

Emphasizing the value of nurturing the arts and supporting young talent, he said: “Not everyone is academic but many people are creative. It’s important that the creative can turn their talent into an industry creating opportunity, jobs and recognition.”

The AFC, which launched its regional office in Riyadh last December, plans to position Saudi Arabia as a hub for an emerging regional fashion industry. It recently forged an alliance with the British Fashion Council to provide support in establishing a sustainable infrastructure for the industry in the Middle East.

Key to this is catering to a “more diversified market,” Princess Noura said. “We are welcoming any brands, whether it’s high-end couture, ready-to-wear... we want to create a hub for all these people to come to Saudi Arabia.”

In the past, Arab fashion output has been characterised by couture, with the glittering gowns of Elie Saab, Reem Acra and Zuhair Murad familiar features on the catwalks of London, Paris and Milan.

More recently, a push to promote upcoming talent has opened the way for a more varied Middle East style set, bringing smaller brands to the fore. Regional platforms such as Dubai Design District and Fashion Forward provide an outlet for local designers to launch their careers and gain global recognition.

Saudi designers have been gaining momentum on regional and international catwalks but many hope this month’s Arab Fashion Week will pioneer more opportunities to display their designs and build their brands on home soil.

“There’s an ever-growing appreciation in Saudi society for fashion,” Khoja said, describing the “Creativity and depth within the Saudi aesthetic as well as complexity when you look at the various regions.

“I’m happy that I’m starting to see more efforts toward building up this industry and its infrastructure, the focus so far in Saudi has mainly been on art and film and I feel fashion will be next.”

Arab Fashion Week, organized by the Arab Fashion Council, begins on April 10 at The Ritz Carlton, in Riyadh.




New Age IslamIslam OnlineIslamic WebsiteAfrican Muslim NewsArab World NewsSouth Asia NewsIndian Muslim NewsWorld Muslim NewsWomen in IslamIslamic FeminismArab WomenWomen In ArabIslamophobia in AmericaMuslim Women in WestIslam Women and Feminism