4 Young Muslim Women On The Biggest Misconceptions People Have Of Them

Across the world, feminist movements are rising up in the face of injustice, with girls and women taking innovative action to end prejudice and disadvantage.
There's been incredible momentum this month, partly fueled by the #MeToo movement and Time's Up campaign, and by International Women's Day on 8th March. And today is Muslim Women’s Day, so let's continue smashing stigmas and recognize some of the women on the frontline, fighting for gender equality.
We asked four crusading activists to tell us about the organisations they work with and their hopes for 2018. Click through to read their inspirational answers...
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Name: Muna Hassan

Age: 24

How are you celebrating Muslim Women's Day?

I think I celebrate being a Muslim woman every day; being visibly Muslim in a hijab in itself is a celebration of my identity, even though I know it could cause harassment and abuse for just looking a certain way. I think it’s important to see Muslim women in everyday situations, as your teacher, nurse, doctor or plumber.

Tell me about the grassroots organisation you're involved in.

I cofounded Integrate UK almost 10 years ago, and the ethos of the charity was always about giving young people, especially young women, a space where they can discuss difficult issues that the curriculum doesn’t cover. The organisation works to integrate young people who have arrived in the UK from other countries and cultures into British society. Part of this work promotes gender equality through creative projects. We started with doing work around raising awareness of FGM (female genital mutilation) through filmmaking and drama to enable people to find their voice and make positive changes in their lives and communities, but soon we were tackling issues around radicalisation, grooming and honour-based violence. Every issue we tackle is suggested by the young people in our organisation and it’s been incredible to see them become advocates for young girls and women worldwide.

What's the best part about working with Integrate UK?

Seeing the next generation who believe in having an inclusive, safe environment for all. I watch them come up with these brilliant ideas and I think, 'We’ll be in good hands'.

Is there one misconception about Muslim women you want to change?

That Muslim women need saving, are timid or submissive. Quite frankly we’re vocal, strong and empowered enough to tackle those who attack us for what we wear and those who attack us for what we don’t wear. I’m a Muslim woman who spends most of her time speaking about vaginas. I don’t think I could be called timid.

What is your one wish for 2018?

Gender equality.
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Name: Suha Ziyada

Age: 33

What is Shoruq Organisation and what type of work do you do there?

Shoruq Organisation was founded in 2012 in Dheisheh refugee camp in occupied Palestine. Shoruq’s vision, mission, objectives and programmes are geared towards a political, social, cultural and economic prosperity and dignified life for all refugees in occupied Palestine and the diaspora, and empowering refugees in shaping a just solution and a better future for themselves and their children.

Shoruq provides a girls-only space to allow girls to share their experiences with others and support one another. They receive training on how to express themselves using media, including music, audio, video, photography and dance. Shoruq also launched an initiative which involves collecting oral history interviews from refugee elders and working to ensure a prominent voice for women in telling their story to future generations. In 2014 Shoruq also started a pro-bono law clinic that provides legal and social support for refugee children from Bethlehem district who are in conflict with the law.

Shoruq provides an audio training and production centre for Palestinian refugees in Dheisheh refugee camp and beyond. Its media programme provides children with educational workshops and professional training to increase awareness of their rights and give them the tools to express themselves to the world.

The main incentive for this programme is to emphasise the blatant deprivation and denial of legal, civil and political rights of Palestinian refugees in occupied Palestine. Shoruq’s advocacy work is part of the Palestinian refugees’ insistence on their rights and works to raise the voices of refugees locally and internationally.

What's the best part about working with the organisation?

Gender equality and equal opportunities. Freedom of expression and respecting rights.

Is there one misconception about Muslim women you want to change?

As a Muslim woman, I don’t see a difference between me and any other women. I am open, creative, funny, a mother and a wife. Approach us, talk to us, you will see that we are humans just like you.

What is your one wish for 2018?

To see the implementation of justice and rights.
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Name: Aliaa Hassan Abd ElAziz

Age: 24

As most women in Egypt are Muslim, do you celebrate Muslim Women’s Day?

Muslim Women's Day is not very popular here in Egypt, however, March is the month of Mother's Day and on that day Tawasol along with an international school here in Cairo organised a whole day full of activities. The aim is to fundraise money for building Tawasol's new school.

Tell us about Tawasol...

Tawasol was founded in 2008 to provide basic quality services to the residents of three slum areas in Cairo: Istabl Antar, Ezbet Khairallah and Batn El Ba’ara.

The organisation works with children, particularly girls, who are not enrolled in the formal education system. Tawasol helps girls through adolescence with workshops on sexual and reproductive health rights and equips them with ways to deal with gender-based violence and discrimination. It runs vocational training classes to promote young women’s economic independence. The organisation teaches students crafts such as painting, embroidery and crochet. The girls learn these skills to help ensure that they are able to generate an income for themselves and their families and it also increases their chance of being allowed to stay in school and not be forced to return to the streets.

What's the best part about working with the organisation?

The best part about working with Tawasol is working directly with the children while visiting their homes, knowing their problems, understanding what they go through daily, and knowing more and more about their needs and how to make their lives better.

Is there one misconception about Muslim women you want to change?

I think the main problem is how people perceive Islam and how media has portrayed it into a terrorist or backward religion.

What is your one wish for 2018?

A miracle to improve Egypt's current economic status.
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Name: Deeqo Shire

Age: 24

How are you celebrating Muslim Women’s Day and International Women's Month?

We’ve been active in celebrating International Women’s Month by attending great events from inspiring women and we will celebrate Muslim Women's Day no differently. I’ve been invited to be part of female organisations like Global Girl Media as a panellist discussing the concept of 'press for change'. Overall, it’s been an amazing and inspiring month.

Tell me about the grassroots organisation you're involved in...

I am a lead outreach worker with an awesome youth-led charity called Integrate UK. My work as a lead outreach worker involves delivering peer-to-peer workshops to students and frontline professionals involving sensitive topics, ranging from female genital mutilation, grooming for radicalisation and gang culture and child sexual exploitation. I have also been part of important meetings and discussions with the likes of the former Prime Minister David Cameron on ways to combat and counter extremism.

What's the best part about working with the organisation?

Empowering young people, especially young people that look like me, is the best part of my job with Integrate UK. I remember teaching a young boy in a class about two weeks ago – we were delivering a workshop around FGM. The young boy seemed reluctant to engage at first, as he was not interested in the topic. However, as my colleague and I started to relate FGM to other forms of abuse like bullying, child sexual exploitation and domestic violence, he realised that FGM was another form of abuse. By the end of the session he was comfortable discussing the issue and felt so empowered that he wanted to join the charity and share this information with friends and family. This is what Integrate UK is about – educating, empowering and providing a safe space for young people to engage in sensitive and important conversations. Teaching people that look like me is also very rewarding because as a minority living in the UK, it’s important that representation is present, it makes young people feel empowered and think ‘I can be and do that too’. Finally, I love how I get to make young people critically think and challenge the stereotypes they have of Muslims or Islam.

Is there one misconception about Muslim women you want to change?

That black Muslim women are not a homogenised entity – we have and share different experiences and struggles to other Muslim women. It’s important that non-black Muslims and non-Muslims acknowledge this.

The black Muslim women experience is a different experience to a white, Asian or Arab experience of being a Muslim. From our cultures and tradition to the way we are treated through racism, misogyny and patriarchy. It’s important to celebrate our differences and also acknowledge our struggles.

What is your one wish for 2018?

The eradication of extremism in 2018. The world is full of hate, ignorance and violence. As a person who is passionate in countering all forms of extremism, I would love to see a more cohesive, peaceful and accepting society.
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With and For Girls Awards is a global initiative which supports girl-led and grassroots organisations through flexible funding and providing profile-raising, funding and capacity-building opportunities. Working in five regions of the world, the initiative has so far awarded 60 girl-led organisations working toward gender equality in 41 countries. With and For Girls recognises that girls are agents of change and are best placed to lead and inform on issues which affect them.

All organisations mentioned above are supported by the With and For Girls Award.

The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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