Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meeting new sisters

In this trip we are a  delegation of from eight countries, 14 women and two men.
Usually I do not show friendly attitude in the beginning of such event, I rather stay alone observing who  is nice , and who is not . so I was away from the group , then I started getting to know people I believe in the Arabic wisdom saying that  souls are soldiers of God, they might get a long or they rebel .
I get along almost with everyone, I was lucky that the team is really sweet and not fake. Although we came from different professional back grounds and the majority is not really working on women rights issues but rather in corporate law , to be honest that irritates me in the beginning, I was wondering why they brought them and what is the added value to their participation , but by time they showed their deep adherence to the principles of promotion of women rights.
I would love to share with you a bit about my favorite women, with the four of them, I just felt very easy to talk about my life and its small details, I felt the warmth that melt the ice between us.
I will start with Miss discreet, she did not want to say where she is from or even stating her initials, and I respect that, she belongs to an  extremely conservative society which depends primarily on oil . Miss discreet works as a legal consultant in the oil industry, she has a lot of stories to tell, starting with being brought up in a family that celebrates its daughters, where she was able to learn in prestigious educational institutions aboard, Miss discreet is fighting daily to assert her identity in a society suppress women, on daily basis she is conforming and bargaining with her society for many things one of them her appearance, she is not veiled and she have a firm belief that Hijab is not religious obligation , however she is conforming with her very modest plain formal outfits with the social norms, in addition to that she is a wife and mum of two and she is struggling with her multi tasked life , Miss discreet is very determined and goal oriented , I loved her high sense of ethics and integrity , she does not compromise with her ethical beliefs. She is" happily"  married but her struggle to reclaim her individual identity in the marriage institution is remarkable 
Another great human portray is J from Saudi Arabia, she is just a free spirit , she resists all forms of suppression and she is just against all the social prescribed constraints , J is living in a society where individual is subject to a very rigid religious system and this system is failing women, J is from the first group of women lawyers in Saudi, she is practicing all the principles of feminism as if it is part of her daily life style, with every word that get out of her mouth I affirm my belief that humans are powerful than any cruel system of suppression. Although she might seem like a person who is living a double life inside or outside Saudi , I never questioned her integrity, every compromise she is doing was a patriarchal bargain that empowers her .  
My third favorite women is N , she is Palestinian living in Israel, I feel she is in a permanent struggle to claim her identity as an Arab citizen in Israel, she get along well on the professional side, because we are only social science researchers in the group , the rest are lawyers, she is in a multi side battle, with the Israeli government that discriminates against her and her own patriarchal community were women are negated their rights.
My forth favorite woman K is Palestinian living in West Bank, she is just a very peaceful soul, she has ability to absorb the negative energy and transform it to positive energy , she is living is hard situations, besides the situation in Palestine, personally she is working in a semi governmental Human Right instrument, where everything is subject to politics game , she was courageous enough to get out of the miserable system and seek her individualism , K is always hopeful, she believes that tomorrow is a better day, and that was quite interesting to a skeptical gloomy person like me .
This is a small note about new sisters I met in my trip , and it does not mean that the rest are not great creatures, i just picked a sample of women who  just affirmed my belief in the universality of women struggle and the great impact of women sisterhood .     

Again on LGBT rights

I will continue on my last post, the journey of discovering the world : LGBT rights. I just want to share with you why I decided to talk about such issue, as I stated before my dear friend N and reading Bareed Masta3jil , but the immediate reason was the meeting with LGBT rights advocate in Jackson, Mississpi .
I noticed that my visit program does not have any scheduled meeting with LGBT advocates, I do not know , but I am a skeptical person, I thought that they US department of State and the contractors thought that we are good Arab and Muslims who do not want to see culturally  insensitive  topics like LGBT rights, so I asked a very good soul we met, Jed Oppenheim to fix us a meeting with LGBT advocate .
We met Ashley Jackson from the Mississippi safe schools coalition ,   she talked about her work in ensuring safe places for LGBT persons in schools, she told as many sad stories of persons been bullied for been LGBT or even if people think they are.
The stories were just about small tiny basic rights like attending the prom with your partner, being able to dress whatever they want and the end of stories like committing suicide was just horrible and I could stop myself from writing a supporting post. I found similarities between the situation of LGBT persons in the south of the US in the very conservative states and the situation in the Middle East and North Africa.
In addition to that , Ashley shared with us very interesting ideas like the struggle of LGBT persons to assert their identities as believers belonging to various faiths, I was always inspired by persons that we just think they do not belong to our strict dogma , but they have a flexible and inclusive perception of their faiths, I shared with them some progressive Islamic ideas about LGBT and I still can remember the reaction of my very liberal Saudi friend , when she just spoke in Arabic in my face saying " are you really speaking of homosexuality in Islam?"   
Yes I spoke about homosexuality and Islam , although they might sound oxymoron, but there are individuals  in the billions of Muslims who thing that we can have whatever sexual orientation and whatever gender identity and still be deemed a pious Muslim.
Allah will never punish you for your fate , you do not shape your destiny    

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On the journey of world discovering :LGBT rights

I was always waiting to talk about my taboos, the issues that really had hard times to decide what I think about it and one of this issues is the LGBT rights, or the rights of the sexual minorities . I will tell you some of my stories with LGBT issues in this post.
I never thought of it before April 2008, in the meeting of raising fund for the feminist movement in the Middle East and North Africa. There was my first encounter with LGBT advocates, my good friend N was very outspoken and she articulated her interests as LGBT advocate and her talks showed the intersection between the sexual orientation, gender identity and age . I remember that I never approached her and I did not know how to deal with her , what to say and what not to say. She just broke many of the fundamental ideas I had, she offered me a complete new image which is  contradicting with my so called Islamic vision, I thought I have simple idea about Homosexuality and I considered  it a disease  as my source of knowledge Islam online said. My dear N stood in front of the icons of the Arab feminist movement claiming that the liberty of a woman will be gained by liberating her vagina, N advocated for freedom of all women not only women belonging to  the sexual minorities.
Then many bells rang in my mind, I started reading progressive interpretations of Islam and started question my deep rooted ideas, but what really make me feel completely different is reading Bareed Mast3jel , the stories of queer women in Lebanon, when they shared their fears, anxieties and small moments of joy through this book, I felt that we share more than I think and what differentiate us is only human made labels that will never be static and should not be taken for granted.  I just felt the pain and misery they face for no good reason other than claiming their rights to be who they are.
I know that I will never be a vocal  advocate of LGBT rights, i will be a supporter to this cause and  I will always support any person right to claim whatever identity they want .
Thanks N for showing me another dimension of the human diversity

Monday, September 27, 2010

Questioning my identity

I was brought up in a Nubian family, living in the internal displacement destination in the Egyptian capital Cairo, in a family house. I am educated in Egyptian civil schools.
When I was young, I used to sing Nubian songs in all our social gatherings, I never understood Nubian Fadika language, I was just repeating the lyrics, then I was subject to Arab Islamic oriented education, with emphasis on learning foreign languages .
The Egyptian education imposes a unitary vision of the Egyptian identity, glorifying the past Pharaonic history and  total ignoring to the parallel civilization, the Nubian civilization and on the other hand emphasizing Egypt as a Muslim country, excluding all the other faiths in Egypt.
Frankly I was a good product of the assimilation system, I speak Arabic as my native tongue and I acknowledge only one dimensioned identity which being an Egyptian and nothing else was celebrated or noticed . my parents did not exert efforts on asserting my Nubian identity, the whole idea of being a Nubian for me was minimized in the family relations and the culture was only  manifested in the art and music only.
However in my endeavor to discover myself, I came across questions about what labels we are using to identify ourselves and do we really belong to our claimed labels or not. I started questioning years of imposed knowledge and practices, I started to connect myself to my roots, by the help of some of dearest persons like Mozn and others . I am still in the process of discovering what hats I am wearing and how am i identifying myself.
The idea of this post came to me during my visit to Jackson, Mississippi , I discovered the bond between me as African Origin person and the African Americans, this visit reaffirmed my belief in the unity of the African nations and that our struggle for our rights is the same with different manifestation .
I chose the traditional Nubian dancing and I do not feel it is cheesy as I used to do .

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sex Workers

Today I have been to New Orleans, I am enjoying the warmth of the south and the hospitality of the people, I was expecting to see Jazz clubs and music everywhere, however I did not find my expectations real.
Since I am clumsy enough, and I do not read maps, I have to follow my colleagues, so I ended up in the "Red light district" or the prostitution area. To be honest this is not my first time to such area, I have been a good tourist in Amsterdam, and my curiosity  took me to the Red Light district. It was quite an experience to see the sex workers in bikinis  dancing in show windows . that took place in May 2007. But this experience is quite easier than today experience for many reasons , first I was accompanied by colleagues from the Arab world , so I might received a harsh ethical judgment for being in such area as a veiled woman, the second reason is that I visited the Red light district in a week day at 3 pm and there were not too much actions to see there, unlike today where women almost naked where dancing in the balconies and many drunk guys flirting with them. and the last reason that we were mixed group of men and women, so that really irritated me.
I have to admit how progressive I might sound, but still I am really conservative when it comes to sex workers, I perceive it as an abuse against women. I am in denial when it comes to recognize that some women opt to be professional sex worker and they  consider it a profession like any other profession, that is the echo of my feminist conscience , however I find really hard to accept sex work as a form of women sexual agency, I know I sound very traditional conservative woman, but I can not figure what is empowering in  a woman offering a man a sexual services being under the pressure of need, however I think that sex work should be monitored by the state, to ensure the access of sex workers to health services .
Sex workers are one of the categories of women that trigger many questions in my mind, just wanted to share some ideas about it with you, may be later on I will have concrete ideas.   

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not For Sale : Anti Human Trafficking

Today we met with David Batstone , the president of Not For Sale organizationin San Francisco, the organization is working on ending the human trafficking and slavery, I liked the presentation for many reasons, the first that I related what they are doing in the organization to the ongoing efforts in Egypt to combat human trafficking, Egypt is suffering from human trafficking crimes, usually against women that they will be sold or so called married for sexual exploitation purposes.  luckily the Parliament just passed the Anti Human Trafficking law in Egypt while the rapporteur of Human trafficking visit to Egypt.
However just after the visit was concluded, the Case of Senator Ahmed Yerima just appeared , the ex governor of Zemfera state and the man who applied the Sharia law in the state, was " married " to a 13 years old Egyptian girl , I was involved with my coworkers in many emails  with Nigerian sisters to try to deal with this case, but sadly the governmental response in Egypt did not mount to the expectations , and also the Egyptian civil society was not sensitive to the case, or even the Egyptian media . it is note worthy to say that the persistent efforts of fellow Nigerian feminists lead to the investigation of the case by the anti trafficking agency in Nigeria and it is a ongoing case.
The second thing that I liked about Not for Sale is using the social media to make change, they are using the new technology like the Iphone applications to verify which companies have bad record regarding human trafficking and they offer these ratings by using iphone application, in addition to that they are developing a map to verify where does the human trafficking crimes happen and it is available online
Finally, they work on internal and global level and they built a powerful network that have many stakeholders, each is contributing in the most adequate way and they stay behind the curtains if that would help in accomplishing their goals.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Amina Wadud :Meeting a Mentor

When I was growing up, I had hard time believing that it is possible that somebody could be my role model and I would look up to him\her.
However, now I am happy to admit that Amina Wadud is a role model and mentor for me, not just in the academic and activism level, as she is consider one of the pillars of the Islamic feminism school of thought but on the personal level, Wadud is always inspiring me.
I consider Wadud a pillar of Islamic Feminism because she contributed on the theory by writing one of the land marks which "Women in Quran" where she offers a very progressive interpretation of the first source of Islamic jurisprudence, the holy Quran. in this book Wadud analyzed b Quran from a women perspective, depending on the main fundamentals of Islam . in addition to that Wadud wrote another book "Inside Gender Jihad" where she combines between the personal and the public, she discussed many issues of the Muslim women and in the same time she shared with the readers details about her own struggle as Muslim woman.
And in practice Wadud challenged centuries of patriarchy and questioned the role of women in the traditional Islamic Fiqh by leading a Friday prayer, Wadud is the first Muslim woman claiming the right of spiritual leadership after centuries of exclusion women from this realm. She was faced by harsh critique from the whole Islamic scholars , that Sheikh Youssef el Qaradawi, the grand Sunni scholar dedicated a complete episode his show on al Jazeera TV to show how Wadud is considered a heretic and she is contradicting with the Islamic teachings, I believe that the only thing Wadud is contradicting with the unjust claims that discriminate against women in the traditional Islamic jurisprudence.
Wadud is inspiring many Muslims by her deep ideas and inspiring actions, currently she is blogging , she started blogging on various issues, starting Ramadan till the Haj time in sha Allah. Fellow her she is just a pious soul .
Wadud is my  role model because she is just practicing what she claims , her life is an endeavor of a soul seeking peace and justice  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Day in Karamah

When the American embassy sent me the schedule of the trip to the US, I was very excited to know that I will go to Karamah ( Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights).
I know Karamah since 2007, when I was writing my thesis on Islamic Feminism in Egypt, I used many of the online articles of Dr Azizah el Hibri, the founder and director of Karamah, she writes intensively on women issues in the Islamic jurisprudence and she is an icon when talking about the Islamic feminism school of thought. And I really appreciate that Karamah is offering huge amount of knowledge online for free, few do this and that help many people and inspire them as well
I have to say that, I am lucky  because my heroes , whom I have been reading to are not just great inspiring women but also they are kind souls , that I always enjoyed knowing them in person as well.
Dr el Hibri introduced Karamah to us and she said that they started in 1993, in the decade on women adopted by the UN , in that time there was huge attack on the situation of women in Islam and el Hibri with others thought that Muslim women have to be heard .They established Karamah to offer alternative explanation to the issues of women in Islam and they offered legal assistance or experts opinion to the American courts . Karamah is considered to be a bridge between the Islamic jurisprudence and the American legal system.
Dr el Hibri stated a very clear point that is deemed to be the essence of Islamic feminism and it as follows" we are calling for the implementation of fundamentals of Islam, and the traditional voices want to include the patriarchal discourse which contradicts Islam".
Dr el Hibri was not the only person that inspired me in Karamah, Nevine Abdallah , a young Islamic scholar impressed me, not only by her intensive knowledge on the Islam as a religion and a legal system but also but her humbleness. Nevine is a product of the prestigious Islamic education system in Egypt (even if I do not agree with how things go in it ) , both the religious in el Azhar and the civil in Dar el Olum the house of sciences in Cairo university and she also shows the effect of the personal tuition of Islamic heritage, she is a student of Sheikh Mohemed Bakr Ismail.
May be me and Nevine did not share the same point of view in the women Imams, but I am really proud to see such woman Fiqh and maybe I so proud because she is Egyptian, she reraised the question that always irritates me, does the Islamic feminist have to be religiously educated or adequate knowledge is enough, I still did not find an answer for that question
Nevine  just affirmed my belief in young women, I have to admit that young women keep my faith that a change can happen, may be because I share the same challenges with them, I feel them and they always show perseverance in their struggle even within the feminist movement.
 we tackled issues related to family disputes like Mahr, custody, access to divorce and khul' , in sha allah i will write on these discussion on a post later on

in the photo, Dr Azizah el Hibri

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

On the history of women rights movement in the US

Today the program started with boring statements about the why, how and what the program is about and how are the great leaders how participated in the program, it is note worthy to say that the late president Anwar el Sadat and the current prime minister Ahmed Nazeef participated in this program.
That was followed with a more boring session, the presenter literally read the whole program , although we have it in Arabic and in English, then that was followed by the first lecture by Daniela Koraim, director of women and law program in the American university in Washington, she gave us insights about the women rights and feminist in the US. She talked about the first wave and the suffrage movements and she elaborated on certain dilemma like the two different trends calling for equal treatment for women and other calling for special treatment for women then she continued and she discussed the current challenges facing women rights movement .
she tried to be objective and not to present the American model as the best case scenario as might claim, I did not like that they are OK with the fact that the US did not sign the Convention of Elimination of All forms of Discrimination, which the women rights bill adopted in 1979 by the United Nations and it sets the broad lines from the states to promote and protect women rights.
After I heard her lecture, I felt that the system is failing women, how come the free contract of appointment leave it in the hands of employer to allow women to get paid maternity leave or not, why although abortion is legal in the 50 states but still the states can restrict the women access to abortion and women are victims of game of politics and economic system in the US and as well in other countries
What I heard from affirmed my belief that patriarchy is universal and women struggle is a very long way to go

an end note : i hate that the feminism history is dated according to the history of American feminist movement, others were feminist too in the same time or even earlier , that's a note from an Egyptian feminist 

Monday, September 13, 2010

USA trip 2010 (1)

I love traveling, and I decided to blog on my travels to keep the memories and share the interesting thoughts with you
This is my first time to the US, the trip seems to be difficult since the beginning, that although I am traveling as international visitor under exchange program of the department of state, I passed through the minimum hassle of issuing a visa to the US, I still remember spending a whole working day trying to fill the online visa application, I was desperate enough to think of canceling the whole trip but I was lucky to find paid help in the last moment .
The flight was the longest flight I have been too, my last record was Malaysia, but it completely worth it, I hope I will the same in the end of my trip
Unfortunately, I reached the US on the memorial of 11 September, however the security check was normal  similar to a European airport check, and that was a relief
I am now in Washington DC, and I am enjoying it, today I have been to the white house and the congress and my program will start tomorrow however today 's tour was the first encounter with the other participants in the program of women in justice, the participants are coming from different Middle Eastern countries , 3 Egyptians including me and from Algeria, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria , Qatar and Jordon , we just went through Washington together, we did not have chance to talk much but I kept just one comment in my mind that a the political well in Morocco and Egypt changed the situation however with a country like Saudi Arabia that is not the case, that comment reminded me not to judge on the things only from the surface but to acknowledge the specificity  of each context.
We will visit American NGO and governmental agencies working on promoting women rights to utilize from the American experience, and I am looking forward to that with a critical eye .
To be continued

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

About being Black: childish approach

I am not intending to write a serious blog about being black in a brown country, I might do that later on.
Today I had a very cute experience with our neighbor Loka (4 years old) , she was trying to convince me that I am black because I drink too much Pepsi and I eat chocolate and she is white, as a good child she drinks too much milk.
This is not the first time that kids inquire about my color, before I was called fahma ( coal) which is black by the niece (3 years) of my best friend, she pronounced my name fatma wrongly as fahma, but it was funny comment to compare me to the black coal. And I was stupid enough to tell my classmates this story, so fahma was one of my nicknames in Malta and still popular up till now.
Also Emma (5 years old ) the sister of my dear Nadia, asked me in a very cute way to remove my makeup and she gave me a tissue to remove my weird black makeup, and she was disappointed that we did not manage to remove it .

Honestly, I used to have huge issues with my color when I was young, and some disputes' are still there up till now and I still feel uncomfortable when somebody refers to it , however, I cannot deny that those cute inquiries about my color gave me very remarkable memories that I cherish, although I was never able to explain why I am black in a simple way to the kids, I do not agree with the typical so called religious explanation that Allah created black from black clay and white from a different , white clay.
May be I should do my best to explain the melanin thing to kids I hope they will get it, but even if failed in explaining it, still their cuteness and innocence is treasured.