Kick-Ass Woman of the Week: Rama Chakaki

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Every time I turn on my television or open up Twitter and Facebook, I am inevitably faced with the dark headlines coming out of Gaza, Syria and Iraq. There are times when I find it hard to believe that there is any good news coming out of the Middle East. Whenever I need a little pick-me-up, I turn to one of my new favorite sites: BarakaBits. Its founder, Rama Chakaki, is today’s Kick-Ass Woman of the Week.

Rama is an entrepreneur making waves across the Middle East. With experience in computer science, management and communications, her goal is to promote collaboration, social good and technology to encourage youth and women in the Middle East to become social entrepreneurs. In 2013 she founded BarakaBits to give exposure to all the projects and initiatives in the region that were started by groups looking to make a difference.

BarakaBits is a genius little site that provides good news from the Middle East. Whether it’s women making a name for themselves in the business world, spotlights on artists in the region, Arabs helping other Arabs, or Gaza’s take on the Ice Bucket Challenge, I always feel uplifted and inspired when I visit the site.

BarakaBits is the only media venture that delivers exclusively good news. Sharing content from the region, it changed the narrative in the media to an intelligent, optimistic, and empowering one. Via BarakaBits and her other ventures, Rama provides the opportunity to shift the perception of the region into something more positive and uplifting while promoting greater social impact. Many of the stories are moving and feature ways people can participate in the dialogue or give back.

Anyone who is familiar with my blog knows that I aim to present an alternate outlook on the region that looks past the negativity and stereotypes presented in the media. Rama and the team at BarakaBits do this with everything they post, and I know they will have an amazing impact.

According to Rama, “There are solutions within our culture, religion, heritage, to all of the issues that we face today. We just have to be mindful and open to thinking about them.” I hope that more people look at the region’s problems from her point of view.

Until next time…

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#GazaSpeaks

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I don’t know about many of you guys, but I have had enough of the constant ridiculous attempts by Israel to justify civilian deaths in Gaza, not just during their latest operation. I think it is the duty of each of us to continue to stand for the rights of the Palestinians, the rights of those in Gaza -  the rights of those who cannot speak up. A cease-fire is currently in effect in Gaza. Whether it remains in place is questionable for now. Regardless, Gaza remains under a blockade, and continues to endure human rights violations day-after day. Our work is not done.

As a blogger, I have remained committed to bringing to the spotlight stories and issues that deserve attention, approaching subjects with a balanced human view. This is how I approach the topic of Gaza.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce the launch of my Tumblr page, #GazaSpeaks:
gazaspeaks.tumblr.com

The purpose of this Tumblr will be to share articles, thoughts, and reports from Gaza and the Palestinian territories. I hope it becomes a way to spread awareness, and stay on top of what’s going on, and how we can help. Please share it with your family, friends, fellow tweeps, and activists.

Until next time…

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Awesome Woman of the Week: Hanan Ashrawi

Hanan-Ashrawi

Today’s Awesome Woman of the Week is Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO executive who recently gave an interview on ABC’s This Week.

Whenever conflict happens between Israel and Palestine, both sides arrive to the argument with guns blazing. I can understand, I know plenty of people on both sides of the argument and I can see points in both even if I don’t necessarily agree. However, it is important to take a step back and look at what is ultimately happening – the death of civilians, considered “collateral damage,” a dehumanizing term that tries to gloss over the fact that these people are ultimately mothers, fathers, and all too often, merely children.

In her interview, Ashrawi calls the conflict in Gaza a massacre, with war crimes committed daily. “I can’t understand how people sit back and say self-defense,” she said. “Against who? Against innocent civilians? Against more than 80 children who have been turned to bits?”

In response to those who claim that no nation would accept being targeted by rockets, as Israel has been, she retorts that no nation can accept being besieged, treated as prisoners and defenseless cannon fodder. Residential areas, people fleeing, and medical personnel are being targeted. Throughout it all, Ashrawi argues, they are being blamed for their own deaths in a systematic campaign to blame the victims.

Ashrawi says these people are expected to lie down and die quietly, and if they try to respond in any way they are not only labeled terrorists, but they also become legitimate targets. Four boys running on the beach, a family of 8 huddled in their home, and many of the other casualties of this conflict did not pose any such threat.

I’m not defending Hamas’ actions, and I don’t think Ashrawi would either. They know firing missiles at Israel will elicit a response, and they know that their weapons are no match for Israel’s defense systems. They know that more Palestinians will die than Israelis when it comes to war.

However, the way the war is going on is “inhuman and cruel and unacceptable,” according to Ashrawi. War is an ugly thing, but there has been too much civilian blood shed, from innocent Palestinians and Israelis. Ultimately, as Ashrawi says, these are all human beings. We should try and remind our friends and politicians of this.

Check out Ashrawi’s interview here.

Until next time… #SupportGaza

 

 

**Note: For the first time since I began writing my kick-a** women of the week series, Facebook has informed me that the post uses profane language not suitable to boost it with an advertisement. Let me point out this coincidentally happened for my discussion of Hanan Ashrawi and the Palestinian issue. (Yes that’s sarcasm)


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One World, One Game

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I’m not much of a sports fan, but when the World Cup comes around every four years that changes. When Jordan gets close to finally making it to the World Cup I also go a bit crazy. I was very hopeful that we even had a chance of beating Uruguay a few months back.

Growing up in Jordan, I remember feeling the energy change around me during the World Cup. For a few weeks it seemed like everyone united around their love of football. Watching the tournament filled us with excitement. My male cousins would watch the games then spend hours playing “ma3 al jeeran” (with the neighbors) and talk about how they would grow up to become famous footballers and bring Jordan to the World Cup one day. I didn’t share their dream. For one I couldn’t kick a ball without tripping over it and second, I am a girl. In the Arab world, it isn’t too often that girls grew up to become football players.

As part of a brilliant marketing campaign, Coca-Cola put out a video called “One World, One Game – Ramallah, Palestine Football.” The video shows two Palestinian girls, Dalal and Ahlam, who describe their love of football. Dalal, 15, is a proud Palestinian whose life, she says, revolves around football. Ahlam is 14 years old and dreams of playing football when she grows up instead of following in her mother’s footsteps of having a family at a young age.

In the video, their coach, Captain Yousef, explains that society generally limits the girls’ ability to go out, socialize, and play football. He explains that Ahlam and Dalal want to challenge this tradition with passion, and introduce their generation to the idea that girls can play football, in hopes of one day getting to the point where it becomes a normal activity for girls in their community and throughout Palestine.

Dalal and Ahlam received invitations from Coca-Cola to attend the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The girls walked onto the pitch with other players featured in “One World, One Game” videos as flag bearers before the Germany v Portugal game on June 16th.

Ultimately the videos are a marketing campaign by Coca-Cola, but I love the positive message it spreads. This video and the others under the campaign display football as a vehicle for coming together and overcoming adversity.

Football is not only one of the world’s most beloved pastimes. It can be powerful in promoting social change and greater equality for women around the world. Girls like Dalal and Ahlam can change their society’s perception of women and girls. Doing this in Palestine, a part of the Arab World where opportunity is generally a rare thing to come by, is even more powerful.

Until next time…

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“Islamic” Injustice

Meriam-Ibrahim

One of the news stories making the rounds lately has been the Meriam Ibrahim case. It’s a heartbreaking story: A woman born to a Muslim father and Christian mother was raised as a Christian after her father abandoned their family when she was a child. She married a Christian man and was found guilty of apostasy and adultery, since marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian man is not recognized. Ibrahim was in her final trimester with her second child when she was thrown in jail. She recently gave birth and has two years with her children until her sentence is carried out.

There is so much wrong with this that I don’t even know where to begin. So instead I’ll direct you to a great article written by Prince Hassan bin Talal, here.

Aside from reiterating that Ibrahim’s sentence and imprisonment is a tragedy, he makes several important points. The first is that Ibrahim’s ruling was determined by a lower court, which has no legal standing in federal matters. Furthermore, its ruling and attempt to have Ibrahim renounce her Christian faith is against the Sudanese constitution, which explicitly states that, “no person shall be coerced to accept a faith that he or she does not believe in.” This ultimately means the case has no legal standing in higher court. Even beyond the Sudanese constitution, her sentence flies in the face of teachings that protect freedom of religion and explain that people should not be forced to accept a particular religion.

Perhaps the most important point he makes is that the rigidity and extremism visible in some parts of the Arab world are not a characteristic of Islam, but rather a reaction to rapid changes in the Arab world that have left areas more rigid in matters of religion in the face of rapid changes in the world around them. Rigidness and extremism will only cause more Muslims to want to leave the faith. As Prince Hassan wrote, “rational people have an important role to play in recognizing that the tradition of Islam was not built on uniformity – rather it was built on recognizing the universality within all beings.”

I have no doubt that extremists and conservative scholars will dismiss these logical arguments on the basis that Ibrahim’s so-called apostasy is the ultimate fault here. Of course, this is overlooking any fault of the government’s for ignoring its own stance on freedom of religion, or any fault of her father’s for abandoning his young daughter. Is it really apostasy if a six-year old girl is raised with her mother’s traditions after her father disappears? Her “apostasy” at such a young age was clearly no conscious decision of her own. Why criminalize her now?

Hopefully international outcry and appeals by world leaders will lead to a happy ending for Ibrahim and her family.

Until next time…

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Bring Back Our Girls

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The past few weeks the media and the twittersphere have been filled with the news of over 300 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls. The hashtags #BringBackOurGirls and #BringBackOurDaughters have been trending daily.

As more time passes, the fate of these girls becomes more and more dire – they are being taken farther away (possibly outside the country), they are being split into small groups, their captors are constantly moving, and their leader has threatened to sell the girls into forced marriages. In fact, this may already have begun.

While the general discourse out there is general condemnation and deliberations on how to rescue the girls, events like this also bring out their fair share of anti-Muslim sentiment. One of the most common arguments I’ve seen is that moderate Islam is an oxymoron, and that is bolstered by silence from the community. While I have seen Arabic-language denunciations of the kidnappings, there is limited English language coverage of moderate voices in Islam. The more extremist and sensationalist voices are unfortunately the ones that are heard the loudest.

That said, even elements of al-Qaeda have rejected Boko Haram’s tactics. When a group takes actions that are more deplorable and extremist than even the most deplorable and extremist group of people in the world can condone, their actions are obviously beyond anything anyone but Boko Haram’s own members can support.

I am a moderate Muslim speaking out against this unspeakable act. Other bloggers, activists, journalists, leaders – those who are lucky enough to have a voice in the community, please join me in condemning Boko Haram’s perversion of Islam. Let us show everyone across the world that the majority of Muslims are united in their opposition against extremism masquerading as Islam.

I wish there were more we could do, but for now continuing to spread awareness is a critical step towards mobilizing the international community to bring these girls home.

Please tweet #BringBackOurGirls #BokoHaramIsNotIslam #ModerateMuslimsSpeakUp

Until next time…

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Licensed to Fly

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One of the newest stories coming out of Saudi Arabia is about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal issuing the first flying license to a female pilot. Hanadi Al Hindi made headlines in 2004 and 2005 when she became the first female Saudi commercial airline pilot after graduating from the Middle East Academy for Commercial Aviation in Amman, Jordan. Now after several years, she is able to fly in her home country.

As a licensed pilot, Al Hindi flies the prince around the world on his personal jet. She flies small and wide-bodied luxury planes under a 10-year contract for the Kingdom Holding Company, which is owned by the prince. But without a certification from Saudi Arabia, she had been unable to fly in her home country. With the help of Prince Talal, the General Authority of Civil Aviation granted her a license to fly in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi women are capable of taking on any job previously held exclusively by men in Saudi Arabia,” Al Hindi said. When she’s not flying her jet-setting boss, she works on a private initiative to help Saudi students in the US who wish to pursue a career in aviation.

This news follows a few victories for women in Saudi Arabia – last year the Ministry of Justice licensed the first four women attorneys in the country and in March a woman was appointed as chief executive of an investment bank for the first time.

All in all, this is a step in the right direction – not only does Al Hindi’s certification demonstrate to conservative voices in the kingdom that women are clearly capable of operating vehicles on land and in the air, but it also shows that they are capable of holding high-profile jobs.

While these baby steps are great, they cannot overshadow that the vast majority of women are not given the right to move around freely on their own. Ironically, the ruling family still maintains a ban on women driving in the Kingdom, and while more progress has been made on the business front, women still face challenges in a male-dominated workforce and are often relegated to specific jobs. Let’s not forget about this ongoing struggle, which I’ve previously written about here.

Until next time…

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