Muslim women we need to know in 2017
Lina Khalifeh – SheFighter
The first female self-defence studio, called SheFighter, was set up in the in Jordan back in 2012 but has gained a lot of attention in the last year. The group helps to empower women to protect themselves and has proven to be a huge success. Khalifeh has a background in Taekwondo but began the studio after her friend was attacked by her father and brother.
Why she is an inspiration is that helping women to defend themselves is not just a physical act of self-defence against violence such as honour-based crimes but also a way to give women a sense of empowerment
The studio does not just teach self-defence but is also a safe space where women can speak freely about their experiences. Khalifeh has received threats for this. President Obama described her as a ‘leader of social change’. According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 women worldwide have experience physical and sexual violence in their lifetime. Her organisation has trained around 12,000 women. Even Emma Watson took a class at a studio to raise awareness about the initiative. You can learn more about her organisation here.
Ilhan Omar – Representative
Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American legislator in the United States when she was elected to the House of Representatives in Minnesota in the 2016 election. She is also the Director of Policy at the Women Organizing Women Network. Omar was born in Somalia, and left with her family at the age of nine during the Somali civil war, only to spend four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. Once they emigrated to the US, she integrated quickly, learning English in only three months.
Her election garnered worldwide coverage. She stated that her “Victory was for all women who are struggling”. It is all the more inspiring to see an immigrant elected considering the current backdrop of anti-immigrant feeling within the US. In response to the President’s divisive comments on immigrants she has been outspoken, stating that immigrants are what “make America great.”
She makes these comments in defiance, as she herself has experienced Islamophobic attacks whilst in America; the most shocking being in 2014 when she was attacked at a public meeting, leaving her with a concussion and bruises. Most recently she was called ‘ISIS’ and ‘filthy’ whilst in a taxi.
Many are excited to see how she will use her political platform in 2017.
Mehreen Baig – Actress
Mehreen Baig was one of the women who joined the BBC’s controversial documentary Muslims Like Us, where ten British Muslims with contrasting views live in a house together. Her views expressed on the programme became very popular, for example she stated that: “When people think of Muslim women, there’s a stereotype of us being repressed and submissive. Someone like me doesn’t come to mind – a normal girl, with a career who watches X Factor and fasts at Ramadan. We are the majority, and unfortunately our voice is unheard. My presence in the show challenges that stereotype. I’m independent and educated, yet my life is very much moulded by my religious values. I’m proof that there can be, and is, a balance between both.” Mehreen’s website is a forum which provides a safe space where Muslim Asian women can share their views on what being Muslim means to them.
Warsan Shire – Poet
Warsan Shire’s visibility has exploded since being featured on artist Beyoncé’s latest album. She is a Somali-British poet, who won the Young Poet Laureate for London at only twenty-five years old in 2014. She explores many topics in her poetry, from relationships to the place of the migrant within society: the ‘surrealism of everyday immigrant life – one day you are in your country, having fun, drinking mango juice, and the next day you are in the Underground in London and your children are speaking to you in a language you don’t understand’. When her relatives visit, she records their stories so she can accurately portray them within her poetry. She published one collection of poems in 2011, so there is much anticipation for the next collection.
Nura Afia – Brand ambassador for CoverGirl
In November, Nura Afia, a Lebanese-American, was chosen to become the brand ambassador for American company CoverGirl. This is a monumental achievement as she is one of the first ever brand ambassadors to wear a hijab. She has a strong social media following. In an interview she stated “A lot of people were intimidated and scared when Trump was elected and the response I saw to the campaign was very positive… everyone is happy that we’re getting represented in a positive way instead of just bad all the time”.
The JAN Trust gains inspiration from these women on the public stage who empower themselves through the arts and through politics.