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Anti-Muslim Prejudices: Are All Muslim-Majority Countries Bad?[Part 4]

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By Karmanye Thadani:

Those who are prejudiced against Muslims often tend to generalize all countries with a predominantly Muslim population, except perhaps Turkey and the UAE, on the basis of Saudi Arabia and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan when it comes to women’s rights and tolerance of other faiths, even though no country other than these two has imposed burqas (though Iran has imposed headscarves; however, as regards burqas, it must be noted that the Muslim scriptures certainly nowhere ordain covering the face), or prohibited women from driving (though recently, several Saudi women, supported by many men, defied the driving ban and went unpunished; a Saudi cleric also declared that there was nothing in the Islamic texts that prohibited women from driving), and one of the best car-racers in the world is Laleh Seddigh, a Muslim woman from Iran.

Islamophobia

The anti-Muslim elements also very conveniently overlook the fact that many, perhaps even most, Muslims in Saudi Arabia don’t favour the regime (many Saudi men supported women in defying the driving ban some time back), nor did many Afghan Muslims actually favour the Taliban (it is noteworthy that neither of the two regimes were elected by the people, and Islam calls for representative governance, and Imam Hussain, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson died a martyr to this very cause) and many Afghan Muslims today listen to music and shave their beards, things they were not allowed to do when they were governed by the Taliban (though there are no injunctions in the Quran supporting these laws introduced by the Taliban, nor any Hadiths with undisputed authenticity), and now, with the Taliban killing innocent Afghan Muslim civilians, its unpopularity has only increased. I saw a Facebook post being shared by many Afghan Muslims (there are quite a few of them in my friend-list) saying that they are willing to befriend people of diverse ethnicities and religions but not people from the Taliban, who in their eyes are not human, and I have interacted with several Hindus and Sikhs who have lived in Afghanistan, and they said the common folk were very warm. In fact, Ahmad Shah Masoud, the leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and a strongly progressive adherent of the liberal Sufi Islam, who was murdered by Al Qaeda operatives posing as journalists, is widely hailed as a hero in that country.

In fact, I may point out that in the light of the previous article referring to how an all girls’ rock band in Kashmir suspending its activities on receiving death-threats should not make us stereotype Muslims, or even Kashmiri Muslims, I may also point out that an all girls’ music troupe from Iran was in India when this issue was hitting newspaper headlines and they were aghast on hearing the same (for reference, please see this).

The Taliban did indeed destroy the ancient Buddha statues at Bamiyan, but on the other hand, an Afghan Muslim boy named Reza had come to India to study Buddhism at Jawaharlal Nehru University (for reference, have a look at this ) and I recall being invited to the screening of a film on Afghanistan’s Buddhist heritage where the film-maker was a Muslim! Iranian, Indonesian and Egyptian Muslims, by and large, take great pride in their pre-Islamic civilizational heritage. And as mentioned in the second article in this series, quite a few Muslim-majority countries are secular states, though a country being an Islamic state by itself can also not be equated with being another Taliban-ruled Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, as has already been mentioned.

Also, in Egypt, the Christian minority, mostly of the Coptic sect indigenous to that country and making up about 10% of its population, enjoys equal rights and many Egyptian Christians have been prominent personalities in different spheres, including politics, though the Western media makes a mountain out of an anthill when anything concerns Christian minorities anywhere (including India — one could see that when there was a wave of anti-Christian violence by Hindu extremists in parts of Orissa, Karnataka and a few other states in 2008), and in Iran, the Jews and Zoroastrians are given full freedom of religion as also to run schools, hospitals, newspapers etc. in the name of their religion and there are seat reserved for them in the parliament. Women in most Muslim-majority countries freely work as doctors, engineers, lawyers, pilots etc., though there are indeed conservative parents who discourage their daughters from working, but then, there are many such cases even among Hindus in India, and in spite of liberal-chauvinistic historical constructions, the fact is that notwithstanding some digressions, women have never been given their due in any ancient civilization.

The next article shall focus on dispelling exaggerated images of the plight of the religious minorities and women in Pakistan.

[box bg=”#fdf78c” color=”#000″]About the author:The author is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. He has co-authored two short books, namely ‘Onslaughts on Free Speech in India by Means of Unwarranted Film Bans’ and ‘Women and Sport in India and the World’. To read his other posts, click here.[/box]

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  1. ABs

    what utter bullshit

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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