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Empowering Muslim Females Through Sports and Media


WINTER 2015 $ 4:99, € 5:99, £ 6:99



Muslims To Cycle The Heartland From "Immoral" To Forbes Most Powerful


Shirzanan Global Shirzanan Global is a news and advocacy initiative empowering Muslim females through sports and media www.shirzananglobal.net

Follow Us Twitter: @ShirzananGlobal Facebook: /ShirzananGlobal

Co-Founders Solmaz Sharif Mara Gubuan

Advisory Board Rimla Akhtar, Chair – Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation Gary Belsky, Former Editor-in-Chief – ESPN The Magazine Kathryn Olson, Former CEO – Women’s Sports Foundation Faezeh Hashemi, President – Islamic Federation of Women’s Sport Fatima Saleem, Sports Anchor and Reporter – GEO TV Pakistan Sarah Murray, Programs Director – Women Win Hayam Essam, Founder and President – Girl Power - Egypt Shannon Galpin, Founder and President – Mountain2Mountain Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives – Human Rights Watch

Publisher Non-Stop Media, Inc. www.non-stopmedia.org Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, Co-Founder and Executive Director Solmaz Sharif, Co-Founder and Deputy Director Laura Secor, Co-Founder and Board Member Etelle Higonnet, Board Member

Non-Stop Media Advisory Board Alessandro d’Ansembourg, Director of Social Impact – Zago Elisabeth Witchel, Independent Campaign Consultant – CPJ Mohsen Namjoo, Artist and Music Scholar

Contact Information Email: info@non-stopmedia.org






















Letter From The Co-Founders We are pleased to introduce the pilot issue of Shirzanan Global Edition – a news and advocacy initiative empowering Muslim females through sports and media. Shirzanan is the Persian word for “female heroes” and was also the name of the first Iranian women’s sports magazine and precursor of this updated version – featuring role models Lina Almaeena of Saudi Arabia, Ruqsana Begum of the UK and Ibtihaj Muhammad of the USA. Many personal shirzanan have led us to this moment – from Billie Jean King and Gloria Steinem to our relatives, friends and colleagues – with inspiration and encouragement for this endeavor. We extend our gratitude to the Chime for Change and Catapult communities responsible for funding this pilot issue. We also thank our advisors whose support and expertise have elevated the quality of our work and aspirations, bolstered our determination and reinforced our confidence. Very special acknowledgment is due to Elisabeth Witchel, Etelle Higonnet and Laura Secor who contributed their editing skills to this pilot issue. Shirzanan Global Edition is a non-profit initiative still in development under Non-Stop Media, Inc. – our parent 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in New York and whose mission is to support the production and dissemination of uncensored information – particularly to populations whose governments limit its availability. We will face formidable challenges accessing information and circumventing censorship in order to distribute the news to our readers. If you find value in our stories and mission, we would appreciate your financial and social media support. Please use the following links to join our 6,000 Facebook fans, Twitter and email followers – and to make a donation. Thank you for your interest. We welcome your comments, suggestions, and criticism as we continue to develop Shirzanan Global Edition. Sincerely,

Solmaz Sharif and Mara Gubuan




Solmaz Sharif

I was 5 years old in 1987 when a hit Chinese Martial Arts TV series arrived in Iran. After Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, TV programming had become limited to boring series designed to project targeted governmental messages, but this Chinese series was different. It had action, was visually appealing, and completely new. My father believed TV was a waste of time. So when he started to watch this show, it triggered my interest. The only female actress in the show mesmerized me. She was slender and quick. Her martial arts actions made me believe that if she could do it, so could I. I don’t remember if I asked my mother or if I did something to make her see my interest, but she enrolled me in a karate class near our neighborhood in Tehran. I continued martial arts throughout my childhood. It gave me a sense of security, calm and peace, and I wasn’t shy about sports like my other girl friends. When I was 15, I won a three-month battle over my parents to enroll me in a Female Physical Education High School. It was the only sports-focused academy for girls in the entire country and it was in its second year of operations when I enrolled in 1997. People’s shock over my choice made me realize that what I was doing was unexpected for a girl. But I never doubted myself, and I wondered why. I realized it was because of that Chinese actress. I watched her run, kick, jump, and win. That was when my interest started building in women’s sports in media. I graduated from high school in 1999 and passed the first round of college entrance exams. While I was waiting for the second round, Iran’s all-news TV channel started. I watched the channel for two days, hungry to find news about women’s sports. During my two years in high school, I had met many powerful and professional female athletes. I had been introduced to leagues that took place behind closed doors that people wouldn’t hear about, read about or see depicted anywhere.

Coverage of women’s athletics and access to women’s athletics go hand in hand. Where there is coverage, there is more access. Where coverage is lacking, barriers to athletics for women are harder to overcome. I woke up the third morning and started calling the phone number for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It was around 4:30 p.m. by the time I got through to the sports editor. I asked him why there hadn’t been any news about women’s sports in the past two days. Mr. Ghasemi expressed his interest regarding my confrontation and invited me to be a volunteer women’s sports news contributor. He later became my mentor and encouraged me to pursue a career in journalism. Through my hard work in sports newspapers, I realized that many of my male colleagues didn’t believe in women’s sports, and thus, they had little interest in including it in the news. Because sports desks were dominated by men, this meant that women’s athletics received little or no coverage. I felt I had to do something. I had to find a way to empower women and girls through media and sports. I decided to start the first Iranian women’s sports publication, but despite four years of persistent efforts from 2001 to 2005, I was unsuccessful in receiving the Iranian authorities’ permission to publish Shirzanan, the name I chose for my magazine. It means heroines, female heroes. I thought it would be an appropriate name for a Muslim female athlete, who choses to further complicate her life by defending her act of participating in sports and confronting family, society and in many cases, the authorities. Shirzanan started in New York in 2007, after I left Iran and realized that now that I was in another country and had Internet access, I didn’t need authorities’ permission.



Sports desks were dominated by men, this meant that women’s athletics received little or no coverage. I felt I had to do something. I had to find a way to empower women and girls through media and sports. A team of 10 primarily female journalists, translators and photographers covered events and translated international stories. I introduced my shirzan, heroine, Billie Jean King and her story to an Iranian audience. I thought if the Chinese actress, with the help of pre- and post-production, could change one girl’s life and inspire her to start the first Iranian women’s sports magazine, a real life example could make an even deeper impact. My staff and I did a story on Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the founding members of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Faezeh played a significant role in post-revolution women’s sports in Iran. It was important for religious families to see that other like-minded families let their daughters participate in sports. This is why participation of influential families across the Muslim world is very important. We cumulated 6 million website hits during the two years that Shirzanan was published, but I faced a new challenge: fundraising. “What does that even mean?” I asked myself. As an Iranian, I come from a rich and tightly controlled country where a nongovernmental organization wouldn’t make sense. I had no experience of fundraising back home. However, I quickly learned, and realized that as a news website, this project was not appealing enough to international donors who typically like to see more overt advocacy for women’s rights. While I believe in the great impact of advocacy, I firmly believe in the power of media

and how advocates need media to be stronger. For example, Iranian women have been banned from entering stadiums for over 30 years. Active advocacy programs have been trying to remove this ban for almost two decades, but none got any attention until the policy was brought to worldwide awareness. That is because the media got involved after Ghoncheh Ghavami, an Iranian-British citizen, and other women were arrested and allegedly beaten after attempting to enter a stadium for an Iran men’s volleyball match against Italy. As a result, the International Volleyball Federation sanctioned Iran for women’s sporting rights, and Ghoncheh Ghavami was released on bail soon after. This wouldn’t have happened without the scrutiny generated by the media coverage. Over years of experience in athletics and in sports journalism, I have seen similar patterns across the Muslim world with regard to women’s sports. Coverage of women’s athletics and access to women’s athletics go hand in hand. Where there is coverage, there is more access. Where coverage is lacking, barriers to athletics for women are harder to overcome. In addition to advocacy programs, Shirzanan Global is dedicated to the fair and accurate representation of Muslim females and will challenge stereotypes exacerbated by mainstream media, integrate Muslim females with the international sports community and promote cross cultural understanding with the rest of the world. Shirzanan Global wants to unite women to fight for our basic rights. The right to move our own bodies. The right to believe that we can. ABOUT THE WRITER:

Solmaz Sharif is a veteran journalist with 15 years of international reporting experience‭and has worked in news agencies such as BBC, Voice of America and CNN. She is founder of the first Iranian women's sports magazine, Shirzanan and New York captain at Journalism and Women Symposium, JAWS.



THE END-GOALS OF ACCEPTANCE The sports industry still has a long way to go in order to embed the right structures and strategies that support women of ethnic minorities. BY

Rimla Akhtar

Having grown up in the 1980s in England where racism was rife, sport provided an opportunity to get away from being visibly different to those around me. For a long time, I was the only Muslim girl who played sports but I felt that on the futsal field nobody cared about the color of my skin, the fact that I was a girl or the piece of cloth that I wear around my head. All they cared about was my ability to affect the game on the field – I was accepted there when I wasn’t elsewhere. Sport has been central to my life and development – I have gained confidence in myself, I have learnt how to work alone and within a team. The trials of competition have given me resilience and strength. All of this undoubtedly supports my ability to perform in other areas of my life at home or out in the world. My time as an athlete was a relatively positive one. My focus was personal: How to improve my performance and advance my team. However, I know not everyone can say the same. Negative attitudes both in our communities and in the sports industry pose constant challenges for many. Women of all backgrounds must struggle against preconceptions of females who play or are involved with sports. With minority ethnic women, including Muslim women, there is the added issue that the sports industry simply doesn’t have the understanding and skills to be able to work with them and cultivate their skills. And while the sports community has developed a great deal in terms of the acceptance of women, the industry still has a long way to go in order to embed the right structures and strategies that support women of ethnic minorities. There have been strides made to include ethnic minority

Women of all backgrounds must struggle against preconceptions of females who play or are involved with sports. With minority ethnic women, including Muslim women, there is the added issue that the sports industry simply doesn’t have the understanding and skills to be able to work with them and cultivate their skills. women in positions of influence, but what is lacking is a vision for where the industry wants to be in terms of inclusion and a set of strategies of how we are going to get there. We can only achieve a strong vision if the attitudes of those in positions of influence right through to those working on the ground also develop to reflect a more inclusive nature. The industry and those responsible for delivering on diversity need to be held to account in this area just as they are in others. My perspective on diversity and inclusion is simple: everyone is unique and equal. I prefer to work with people, rather than against them, to achieve our common goals. I believe we’ve advanced largely past the point where the international community believes the myths that Muslim women don’t want to play sports or aren’t allowed to play sports due to their religion. There are still, however, many cultural barriers across the world that limit the opportunities that these women are provided with and the international community can work with these societies with cultural understanding to facilitate a greater reflection of Muslim women in sports.



These are the goals the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation (MSWF) has worked towards since its founding in 2001. The ultimate mission of any project of the MWSF is to enable Muslim women to be a strong part of the sports industry in any way they wish – whether through playing, coaching, refereeing or volunteering. We work with both the community and the sports industry to achieve this without compromising on our values – for us it is about bringing sport to the community in an environment where any woman is comfortable and we therefore are able to give access to women of all backgrounds and ages. MWSF probably has the most diversity you would see anywhere – I think we have every continent bar South America represented. At the heart of our efforts are the thoughts of the women themselves and what they would expect of us. They are our inspiration and they are ultimately the ones we serve. I encourage girls to be true to who they are and follow their hearts to create the change they want to see – beginning with themselves. Each one of us can make a difference to the society within which we live in a way that nobody else would be able. We have a number of amazing Muslim women across the world doing great things in the sports industry – Ibtihaj Muhammad, Nawal El Moutawakel, Sahar El-Hawary, Faezeh Hashemi, Ann Osman, Sahra Hassan and so many more. We must continue to support these “shirzanan” so that they can pave the way to creating more opportunities for future Muslim women to have an easier path to achieving their dreams.

There are still, however, many cultural barriers across the world that limit the opportunities that these women are provided with and the international community can work with these societies with cultural understanding to facilitate a greater reflection of Muslim women in sports. ABOUT THE WRITER: Rimla Akhtar is chair of Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation, providing opportunities for black and minority ethnic women to participate in sports without compromising their religious or cultural values. She is a former captain of Britain’s Muslim Women’s Futsal Team and now sits on a number of inclusion advisory boards for governing bodies of sport across UK – including the Football Association.



AN UPWARD CLIMB Female sports reporters must overcome discrimination, stereotypes and bullying.


Fatima Saleem

As a child in Pakistan, I was introduced to sports by my parents. My father was obsessed with cricket and along with my three brothers, we spent countless hours watching and playing the game. My mother often told stories as the only girl among neighbor boys with whom she played sports. I discovered swimming at age seven and competed until twelve, but didn’t pursue the sport due to lack of female coaches. However, my love for sports developed and led me to a career in the industry as a sports anchor and reporter with GEO TV, one of the country’s most prominent news stations. There weren’t many role models when I started eight years ago. Often, women used sports as a stepping stone and would move on from writing or hosting sports shows to other areas such as entertainment. I was told that women couldn’t survive the sports field in Pakistan. Female reporters face discrimination and hear things like: ‘You can't go reporting there. Too many men will be present at the match.’ We must work through this kind of deterrent and stereotyping to prove we can be as good as our male counterparts for men to trust women delivering sports news. My first assignment was on-the-street sports fan interviews. When I’m out reporting, people stare at me and berate me on social media with comments about my weight or my Western clothes. I’ve learned to overcome such bullying and concentrate on my work. After all, it is a privilege to meet and speak not only with professional athletes but upand-coming athletes. One of my best memories is a live report from the neighborhood Naseem Hameed, who became the fastest woman of South Asia by winning the 100 meter race at the 2010 South Asian Games in Dhaka, grew up in. Naseem came from a very poor family and the win had changed her life and inspired others. I stayed amongst a crowd that had gathered for hours awaiting her arrival. Emotions were running high with pride and camaraderie. Neighbors with young girls said they wanted their daughters to play sports and win for our country. I was proud to be part of

There’s no reason a Muslim girl who wears a head scarf can’t report about American football on American TV. it and knew then that Pakistani women can succeed with the support of our families and friends. We can win more medals and distinguish ourselves in sports. Muslim female sports journalists are rising in the ranks and helping to normalize the idea of women talking about sports. I hope to see Muslim sports journalists included on international media channels. There’s no reason a Muslim girl who wears a head scarf can’t report about American football on American TV. I have realized my dream to cover international sports events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as well as major national cricket, football and hockey games. One day, I aspire to host my own sports show where I produce and write my own scripts that will broaden the appeal of sports for women. I am also using sports to inspire girls through my nonprofit project GO Girl Pakistan. My father supported my interest in sport and we draw on that model to encourage men to bond with their daughters by playing football together at our clinics. Through the Global Sports Mentoring Program, I learned that we need the backing of men, women, schools and our communities in order to succeed in using sport to promote peace and improve lives. Today, my shirzan (role model) is Samina Baig, the first Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest and prove that there “ain’t no mountain high enough” for Pakistani women! ABOUT THE WRITER: Fatima Saleem is Sports Anchor and

Reporter for GEO TV– Pakistan as well as founder of the GO Girl Pakistan project empowering girls in Karachi through sport. Ms. Saleem is also a key player in the sports diplomacy programs of the U.S. Consulate General.

GIRL POWER & SPORTS PARTICIPATION Volunteers and community support the introduction of basketball to underprivileged girls



Hayam Essam

Growing up in Egypt, I was exposed to sports through TV and family visits to a sports club. My parents did not have athletic backgrounds, but they supported my interest in Tae Kwon Do and later basketball. I recognize how sport has enriched my life and developed Girl Power – Egypt to create sports participation opportunities for underprivileged girls and to claim safe spaces where they can have fun while acquiring life and social skills. There is no sports structure within Egyptian primary and secondary schools, so, for twenty years, I played basketball at a private club. I also joined the Cairo University team and the Egyptian National team. Support and development of sports for girls largely depends on community and social class. In cities, Cairo especially, it is generally accepted and encouraged for girls to play sports and all clubs have girls’ teams. In rural areas and in closed poor communities with high illiteracy rates, people are more conservative and view sports as a male activity. They don't encourage their girls to play. This perception is starting to change now with people becoming more open to girls’ participation in sports activities – particularly if it's under female supervision and is in a safe place. Our target is underprivileged girls between 10-14 years old who have never played sports before. All of our participants are introduced to the experience of belonging to a team and making friends through playing sports, particularly basketball. We receive a lot of positive feedback on the impact of our workshops from their parents, teachers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with whom we work. The girls really enjoy the great atmosphere that a team sport provides and they always ask us to increase the program’s duration to spend more time playing. The project started getting noticed through word of mouth and developed fans and supporters on our Facebook page. Most of our volunteers are former or current basketball players. We don't have a specific model we are following as what we are doing is relatively new to development and


I recognize how sport has enriched my life and developed Girl Power – Egypt to create sports participation opportunities for underprivileged girls and to claim safe spaces where they can have fun while acquiring life and social skills. volunteer work in Egypt. We are hoping that through strong partnerships with NGOs, well established in underserved communities in Cairo, and through dedicated volunteers we will sustain and eventually grow our initiative to create sports opportunities for underserved women and girls in their home communities. Growing up, my shirzanan (role models) were Egyptian female athletes like swimmer Rania Elwani and volleyball player Tahani Tosson and Syrian female athlete Ghada Shoaa. Now, I am inspired by the amazing female athletes from all over the world who participated with me in the 2013 Global Sports Mentoring Program sponsored by ESPN and the U.S. Department of State. Although we come from different cultures, we share the belief that through sports we can empower women and girls across all borders. ABOUT THE WRITER: Hayam Essam is an engineer by profession and a basketball fanatic by passion. She is an alumna of the 2013 espn / U.S. Department of State GSMP and founder of the Girl Power – Egypt initiative which uses basketball programs to teach underprivileged girls life and social skills. Ms. Essam played professional basketball for twenty years, was previous team captain of the Shooting Club ladies’first team and served as a member in the club’s Basketball Committee.



KICKING DOWN BARRIERS RUQSANA BEGUM’S SECRET FIGHTS Despite cultural and religious barriers, chronic health and financial worries, British titleholder Ruqsana Begum displays unrelenting discipline as she pursues her passion for the Art of Eight Arms, a brutal combat sport attracting Muslim female competitors.


Mara Gubuan





As British Muay Thai kickboxing champion Ruqsana Begum tells it, when she first went along to the gym at age 18, her coach Bill Judd “thought I was the most unlikely person to turn up. I was small, Muslim, Asian, and female. I was also very quiet. I wasn’t there to mingle, flirt with the boys or anything else. I went there to train and training made me happy. It still does.” Unlikely indeed. Ruqsana is a Bangladeshi-Muslim female from a conservative family. She pursued her passion covertly, training in secret for six years because she doubted her parents would approve of the maledominated combat sport originally developed as a warfare act – called the Art of Eight Arms because it utilizes all hands, legs, elbows and knees. When she revealed her secret and obtained their support, her ascension was staggering. Ruqsana has won multiple British and European championships, been presented to the Queen, carried the Olympic torch and invited to give a TED Talk. In March 2015, she'll compete for the world title as the top contender. There's more: She accomplished all this while managing chronic fatigue syndrome. Ruqsana is a study in contrasts – a soft-spoken, sensitive young woman outside the ring but a fierce competitor inside the ropes. She embraces her stature as a role model to Muslim

and other ethnic minority girls by promoting sports participation, self-defense and goal-setting as an ambassador for such charities as Sporting Equals, Sport Light and Omani Center and by teaching female-only Muay Thai classes. She acknowledges that opportunities for Muslim females are improving but awareness and safe environments are still necessities. Of the barriers she's faced, she recalls, “I was conflicted to begin with and wondered if I was going against my religion and culture. I felt bad lying to my parents, but I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong – just training, dressed appropriately and with other females. I was dressed appropriately and training with females at the time. My coach reassured my father that I was a good woman keeping my head down at the gym and there for no other reason but to train. My father felt at peace with that.” As a matter of fact, it was her father's relative, who introduced Ruqsana to martial arts by way of Bruce Lee films. She recollects, “I was immediately attracted to martial arts as a child. I knew that given my strict upbringing it would be difficult and I never asked my parents if I could go along with it. I thought as soon as I can earn a little bit of money, I can join a club or join a class and that’s what I did when I was

seventeen. I attended a one-off session and fell in love with the sport.” The next year, Ruqsana explains, “I began training once per week. I would do my chores early in the morning, then run to the gym and back home. I didn’t want to be late and have anyone ask questions. So, I kept it quiet, really discrete. It was my happy place. Being a Muslim female meant there were a lot of obstacles. My family was quite strict and I couldn’t just go out. I always wanted to take it further but the demand of the sport meant more training and more time and my family would find out. I was very cautious at the time.” Her younger sister, Farzana, was in on the secret and on occasions when Ruqsana returned home with bruises impossible to conceal with clothing or makeup, she would sneak ice into their bedroom and stand-in for Ruqsana if her mom called up for Ruqsana. Her sister's marriage and departure from the family home in 2008 left a void in Ruqsana's life which she filled with additional trips to the gym where Coach Judd fast-tracked her to earn a spot on Team Great Britain. The following year, she started noticing the dramatic fluctuation of her energy levels caused by chronic fatigue syndrome. Ruqsana describes, “One day I’d be really sharp and strong



Working out with Coach Bill Judd.

from class. As for her family, her parents remain quietly supportive but, unlike some of her siblings, have not attended her matches in person. On her iPhone, Ruqsana's father watched a short video from her championship fight in Latvia. He proudly smiled and announced to her grandmother, “She won the gold.”

and no one could get a punch on me in the ring. The next day I’d be struggling and sweating just standing still. It was frustrating because my mind wanted to fight but my body was shutting down. I denied it for a while but now pay attention to my body and vigilantly manage how I train, eat, sleep, avoid stress and work my day job.” When her fighting days are over, she hopes to expand her advocacy efforts to create awareness for chronic fatigue syndrome – not only in detecting it in one's self but informing others about the nuances of its management. At the last world championships, the necessity for her to sleep and conserve energy rather than attend other matches and cheer on teammates was misconstrued as lack of support for her team. Ruqsana explains, “I felt bad and I think they tried to understand, but it's hard when you look quite normal. It burns me up when other people, not my team, have said it's a mental thing. When they can't see the symptoms, they think it doesn't exist whereas that means you're successfully controlling it.” Another chronic condition is worry over funding. Despite her success and one-off sponsorships from vitamin and sportswear companies, financing her athletic career is an ongoing struggle. There is no government funding for boxing and it doesn't enjoy the Muay

“I was the most unlikely person to turn up...small, Muslim, Asian, and female.” Thai or offer the prize money of other sports. Ruqsana works part-time as a science technician and has applied her architecture and design training to create a potential funding stream by selling through a sports hijab and sportswear line suitable for Muslim females. From the sportswear to her charity work and professional career, Ruqsana is dedicated to encouraging sports participation by Muslim females. When she entered the sport, she confronted many barriers that she continues to kick down. She observes more Muslims, Asians and females attending the gym without the conflicts and restrictions she faced. Her female students simply ask, “Hey, sis, can I go pray now?” and she excuses them

Her sister Farzana now has a daughter of her own, a three year-old that Ruqsana fondly refers to as “my weekend baby”. When asked if her sister would be as supportive of her daughter's career if she developed her auntie's passion for martial arts, Ruqsana offers, “I would be happy to train her, but maybe not for her to compete. I would be worried that she could get hurt. I don't know if I could bear it.”When it comes to her own situation though, she says she gets her strength from God. “God’s looking after me. For now, Ruqsana Begum is taking and throwing punches on behalf of the Muslim girls following in her footsteps – leveling stereotypes along the way. ABOUT

THE WRITER: Mara Gubuan is co-founder of Shirzanan Global – a news and advocacy initiative promoting Muslim females through sports and media. Shirzanan is Persian for female heroes. All people need sources of inspiration. All Muslim females deserve Shirzanan. Follow @ShirzananGlobal and Facebook/ ShirzananGlobal.



Not so long ago, the idea of Pakistani women competing in cricket was viewed with scorn and animosity. But nearly two decades of success on the field has popularized women’s cricket in Pakistan today to the point of national adulation. Winning the Asian Games gold medal this year in South Korea gave the team a huge boost, but there remains much work to do to train new players, secure sponsorships and media coverage to lift women’s cricket to the height of men’s in a country that is cricket crazy. BY

Roha Nadeem “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.” Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s statement of 56 years ago applies to the struggle for the right to participate in sports. Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan were pioneers who contributed to the historical rise of Pakistan women’s cricket. In 1996, the Khan sisters faced death threats and legal notices for promoting women’s cricket in Pakistan. Why? The government cited “religious issues.” Eighteen years later, the Pakistan women’s cricket team is a two-time Asian Games gold medalist. Pakistan society’s perception has softened as women have become increasingly prominent in different fields of sport. Naseem Hameed and Kiran Khan are examples of Pakistani women who have ascended to international recognition as the fastest female runner of South Asia and Olympic swimmer with 47 international medals, respectively. Such achievements by Pakistanis have led to greater acceptance of a female sports culture. In the past five years, women’s cricket has improved immensely. Pakistan’s women with the bat and ball have exhibited zest and dedication on the field despite obstacles. Their record-making triumphs and historical matchwinning moments distinguished women’s cricket as a source of progress and exuberance. In the Asian Games 2010 held in Guangzhou, China, Pakistan’s women emerged as victors, earning their first gold medal by defeating the Bangladesh women. They repeated the gold medal win in the Asian Games 2014 held in Incheon, South Korea, when the Bangladesh women again fell short. For Pakistan, the win

came amidst a prolonged political uproar that had put the entire country on pins and needles, thus serving as a unifying moment of national pride. Pakistani players are also celebrated internationally. All-rounder Bismah Maroof was named Player of the Tournament in the Asia Cup 2012. Kiran Baloch holds the record of the highest score (242) by a woman in Test Cricket, a sharp and brilliantly calculated knock that came against the West Indies in March 2004. Shaiza Khan maintains her record of 13 for 226 as the best bowling figures by a woman in Test Cricket history. Finally, there is Sana Mir. She is Pakistan’s prolific skipper and notable as the inaugural recipient of the 2013 PCB Woman Cricketer of the Year, the first round of the annual award ceremony by the Pakistan Cricket Board. She is also the only Pakistani in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Top 20 One-Day International (ODI) bowlers ranking, standing at 16th. Mir’s leadership is also acclaimed in the international circuit. Under her captaincy, Pakistan clinched their two gold medals. Moreover, the eve of Pakistan’s first tournament victories in the shorter formats were under the wings of Mir, when Pakistan toured Sri Lanka in 2011. Despite a shadow of ambivalent air surrounding women’s cricket culture in the subcontinent, people have largely moved past stereotypical beliefs and raised their voices in favor of promoting women in cricket. Widely popular all-rounder from India, Yusuf Pathan, said: “It depends on the families and how far they allow their girls to take part in sports. I have



seen girls play remarkably well. I believe women’s cricket should be encouraged if the talent is there.” There were times when merely the idea of women competing on the field was met with skepticism, criticism and even enmity. Western audiences continue to view Pakistan as a perpetually sexist, archaic-minded, womenoppressing country – stereotypes far from the whole truth. All-rounder Javeria Khan asserted: “People build their perceptions on what is shown to them. They don’t think that there could be other dimensions to a society. If there are people who stop women from pursuing their careers then there are also those who encourage them to follow their dreams. This stereotyping against Muslim women is like deceiving one’s own self. Women do still face challenges, but name a country where they don’t. Women in the West are still fighting for their rights - equal salaries, against harassment & violence. So do women anywhere in the world. Pakistan being a Muslim country has its women representing in many fields of life and not just sports. When we first bagged an Asian Games title the response and appreciation from family and the people around us was amazing.” The women in green caps are supported by their families and the public and symbolizing Pakistan as a country that bestows pride in its women. Javeria Khan, who has represented Pakistan in 53 one-day internationals and 43 Twenty-20 internationals, adds: “My family has always supported me from the beginning. They are my strength both in good and bad times. It is their support that enables

me to play confidently on the field. Now, when we hold trials, girls come with their parents and it is always wonderful to see how happy their families look when they see their girls play.”

In 1996, the Khan sisters faced death threats and legal notices for promoting women’s cricket in Pakistan…(due to) “religious issues”. Eighteen years later, the Pakistan women’s cricket team is a two-time Asian Games gold medalist.

That said, the men’s cricket team has traditionally overshadowed the women’s. Be it their prolific history, international stardom or better endorsement deals and media coverage, the men have enjoyed greater attention and popularity. Although the women’s cricketing body is under-facilitated in terms of coaching, domestic calendar and financial incentives, it is the most prominent of all female sporting teams in Pakistan. “We need grounds in every big city, a strong domestic structure and introduction of more departments to secure girls financially and nourish their skills. Moreover, television coverage of our matches, sponsorships, etc. are the steps that could take women cricket in Pakistan to new heights.” No struggle can succeed without women competing side by side with men. Whether a cricket field, Nobel prize podium, Parliament or the Academy Awards, Pakistani women have emerged as role models to females worldwide. Cricket, in Pakistan, is a national obsession. Pakistani women have shown immense courage and agility on the pitch and deserve to be celebrated and revered. Javeria Khan rightly states: “There is a star in each one of you. Explore and let the world see it.” ABOUT THE WRITER:

Roha Nadeem is a Pakistani cricket writer based in Kuwait. She is a freelance writer who runs her blog at rohanadym. blogspot.com. Formerly representing Kuwait’s National under-19 women’s cricket team, she now puts her passion into words. She tweets at @RohaNadym.



INTERNATIONAL BODIES AND WOMEN'S PARTICIPATION Leading governing bodies like the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee have the power and influence to level the playing field and create spaces for female athletes to shine. With female participation in sport still a thorny and explosive issue in many parts of the world, bold measures must be taken in promoting gender parity on a global level. BY

Solmaz Sharif

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on October 31, 2014, to acknowledge sports as a means to promote education, health, development and peace. According to the United Nations Office of Sports for Development and Peace (UNOSDP), the resolution “reaffirms the power of sport to bring about social change and encourages the use of sport as a vehicle to foster development, strengthen education, prevent disease, empower girls and women, promote the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities, and support conflict prevention and peacebuilding.” UNOSDP was created in 2001 to promote sports all over the world and especially in conflict situations. Current UN Special Adviser to UNOSDP Wilfried Lemke and United Nations Secretary-GeneralCorrect: Ban Ki-moon adopted five priorities to work on, including gender equality. UNOSDP’s successful Youth Leadership Camp traditionally had no more than 15% female participants. While organizers were pleased with it number, Mr.Lemke found it unacceptable, and thought it wasn’t enough to combat the global problem of gender inequality: “We can see all around the world that women are under privileged, even in developed countries. Consider how much women in Germany, my home country, earn compared to men. The chances for women to be in upper-level management positions are much

Moreover [in 2012], for the first time in the history of Olympics, all participating countries had a female representative, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei.

lower than they are for men and then there are countries like Saudi Arabia. Although people may not always agree, we have to respect their culture while at the same time working to promote gender equality without offending them,” said Wilfried Lemke in an interview at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Mr. Lemke has been told many times that it’s not easy to get Muslim girls to sporting events and that Muslim women are not interested in sports. However, he does not believe those claims. To ensure greater female participation in the Youth Leadership Camp, Mr. Lemke made a new rule. Any country that wished to participate in camps must submit one female applicant per each male candidate; otherwise, it would not be considered. “It is very exciting and motivating to be 18 years old and receive an invitation to attend one of our Youth Leadership Programme Camps with other outstanding peers in a foreign country with all expenses paid.” The last Youth Leadership Camp that took place in South Korea in 2014 had 55% girls and 45% boys. This is a successful example of the measurable impact international organizations like the United Nations or the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can have. They can make a difference. They are resourceful, wellrespected, and trusted by states. Another example of advancements in gender equality is the historic 2012 London Olympics.



It was famously called the Olympics of Women. For the first time, 40% of the 10,000plus athletes were women. Moreover, for the first time in the history of Olympics, all participating countries had a female representative, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei. This achievement was reached because the IOC promoted women just like UNOSDP. Countries could not attend the famous, exciting, and lucrative games if they didn’t have a female athlete on their team. Less than 20 years ago, during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, 26 countries had no female representatives. Even the USA has made progressive strides towards gender equality in the Olympics. The USA entered only 84 female athletes in the 1972 Olympics but this number jumped to 118 in the 1976 Olympics (278 male athletes from the USA competed in those games). By the 2012 London Olympics, the USA actually surpassed gender equality with 269 females versus 261 male athletes representing the country. Mr. Lemke believes in a culturally sensitive, long-term vision to boost women’s participation in sports: “We have to respect people’s culture ––without a question. Every country has different rules, laws and culture that we must respect. When we are talking about gender equality, though, we have to find intelligent and creative ways to promote women’s rights while being empathetic and not offensive. For

Mr. Lemke believes in a culturally sensitive, longterm vision to boost women's participation in sports.

example, women are not allowed to watch volleyball matches in Iran [as part of gender segregation]. I think this is where you have to try to understand the motives of the law, and use open dialogue to work with the Iranian government to show them that banning women is not the answer. This used to be an issue also in Germany, for example, which didn’t allow women to play football until 30 or 40 years ago.” Lemke added that sports can foster mutual understanding. “I always say sports cannot stop tanks but it has the power to build bridges and bring people together in conflict situations. We do this in different parts of the world and unite people on a grassroots level and on the gender equality issue. It’s a long run but you should not give up after some problems here and there. You must continue.” All international sports organizations could help develop a future wherein all athletic events to require gender equality and for the IOC to require one female athlete for every male athlete. These measures will lead the international sports community closer to achieving equality on and off the playing field. ABOUT THE WRITER:

Solmaz Sharif is a veteran journalist with 15 years of international reporting experience in Iran and New York. She founded Shirzanan, the first Iranian women's sports magazine, in 2007 upon arriving in U.S. and expanded it to Muslim females in sport in 2014. She speaks six languages and brings a deep and comprehensive understanding of the political, economic and cultural issues across the Middle East.



FROM "IMMORAL" TO FORBES MOST POWERFUL A Saudi Woman’s Journey More than 10 years ago, Lina Almaeena established and captained Saudi Arabia’s first basketball team for women. She grew the team to an entrepreneurial sports venture, when, in 2006, she founded Jeddah United Sports Company to train athletes and manage sporting events. Jeddah United today boasts a line of popular sports clothing and a sports perfume for both sexes. Despite much social resistance to women’s sports in Saudi Arabia, including cries of Satanism, Lina has remained a trailblazer, an inspiration and role model for other women in the Arab world to pursue their own health and fitness and desire to compete in athletic events. Her efforts in sports are also broadening views of women in the Islamic world. She has shared details about overcoming those obstacles, changing women’s rights and next steps towards women’s public sports competitions organizing. BY

Mara Gubuan What were the greatest hurdles that you and your team have faced for playing basketball? Our greatest obstacles were the lack of professional coaches, referees and sports professionals, as well as the scarcity of sports facilities and courts. Extremists’ views of women in sports and societal opposition made the one or two available courts hesitate to lease us the facilities. The available private courts were made of concrete and hoops were sometimes assembled in rough grounded areas. Two decades of playing basketball on this type of flooring contributed to me suffering a bone spur on the left heel of my foot. There was bashing in social and print media of sports women and accusations of us as non-patriotic and trivial rather than having a national message to better society. In 2006, you founded Jeddah United Sports Company. What difficulties were there in attracting women and youth? Jeddah United Sports Company is a social entrepreneurship initiative. It was born out of passion and need in Saudi society. The idea of women’s sports clubs or licenses

As a sports activist and entrepreneur, Lina has been deemed everything from 'immoral' to Forbes Most Powerful.

Jeddah is a very close-knit society and our medium to attract women and youth was literally by “word of mouth” since we couldn’t advertise our activities or our location due to social resistance and self-censored media on women’s sports. Your efforts on behalf of women have received both praise and criticism. Describe the harsh opposition you've encountered. We were accused by certain high members of society as being “immoral” and our acts as “Satanic”. In 2009, there was an incident when Members of the Religious Police tried to locate and stop our training. That came after our game in Jordan was televised as the first-ever game of Saudi athletes on Reuters distributed channels and the Al-Arabiya channel. Because we didn’t have our own facility, no one could get a hold of us. It felt like underground basketball. We started creating awareness when the media took a shift in the Saudi society. Up until 2007, no local Arabic publication accepted the press release of our first friendly game in UAE. But, once the media realized that there was a sports community with a valid and national campaign and when the Ministry of Health published the alarming statistics of epidemics due to lack of exercise, everything started changing. We were a punching bag who spoke by default on behalf of all the female sports community. I can say today that we did prevail to an extent, but so much more needs to be done to promote sports to underprivileged communities and rural areas.

Are male relatives and members of society supportive of your initiative?

Our international objective when we appear in Western media is to change stereotypes of Saudi women being oppressed and repressed and try to explain that the cases that exist are due to culture and not religion.

All of our female players have the support of male relatives and other citizens. There is no way that a girl can regularly attend two-hour practices without her parents’ permission and knowledge. Honestly, I believe in a lot of ways there are unidentified soldiers behind our presence: the fathers, the husbands, and the brothers of all the girls and women who play sports and promote sports. As Saudi men, it’s not easy for them to tolerate the bashing of their loved ones. So, they really believe in what we are doing. To me that demonstrates feminism — which may seem bizarre to women around the world. It is the self confidence in me as a woman to recognize the powers that enable us, which stem internally, but need masculine elements to advance. What steps are needed to develop official federations that would sponsor and organize public women's competitions? Steps [needed] would be approval of female members to the [Saudi] Olympic Committee and consent to a federation from the President of Youth Welfare. As a private company, we have organized clinics through the WNBA, the NBA, and Jordanian federation. Our international audience is accustomed to reading about the severe restrictions on Saudi Arabia's women - including the absence of physical education classes in the public school curriculum. Isn't the government allocated funds specifically for this purpose? Locally, the logistics are complicated regarding physical education for girls’ schools. We do not have local sports professionals to train or teach the majority of Saudi public school students and the female segregated schools do not have the space or facilities. Some segments also oppose physical education and have announced that they will not allow their daughters to play sports. Images of Saudi women, Saudi Arabia being the heart of the Muslim world, do affect the world’s views on women in Islam whether we like it or not. Our international objective when we appear in Western media is to change stereotypes of Saudi women being oppressed and repressed and try to explain that the cases that exist are due to culture and not religion. It is definitely not the religion of Islam – where


were impossible until very recently when the Ministry of Interior announced the possibility of female sports clubs licenses. All of the existing clubs were either part of a hotel or were annexed to hospitals and had licenses of physical therapy despite being sports centers. The law firm of Nawaf Yamani informed us it was possible to get the license through the Ministry of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce rather than the obvious General Presidency of Youth Welfare, which is the equivalent of a Ministry of Health. That is exactly what we did and we became a leading private sports company that specializes in training team sports and managing sports events and tournaments.

the Prophet, peace be upon him, married his boss, Kadija bint Kuwalid – and tremendously loved her and never got married until after her death.



Other motivations behind the development of women's sports participation is to promote physical activity and healthy living. You were a member of the 2012 female mountain climbing team who raised awareness for breast cancer and physical activity. What was the response from the Saudi population? The Saudi population’s support varied, but our effort proved that women were able to climb the highest mountain in the world. It did grab a lot of attention and, because we were sponsored by the Ministries of Health and Education, it gave us legitimacy. Critics bashed us on social media, but society took a deep breath and admired our initiative as a team of 10 Saudi women from all across the country who embarked on a national campaign to climb to an Everest base camp at the height of 5400 meters. As part of Zahra Breast Cancer Society, we promoted physical activity and raised awareness about the relationship to lowering a woman’s risk of breast cancer through “prevention”. You recently agreed that Saudi women should not merely participate, but be at a level to compete, in international games. Who can form a coalition among the government, public and private sectors for this purpose? The fact that Saudi athletes made it to the 2012 London Olympics makes it a done deal for future international competition. The pace may be slow, but it’s happening. Only when we have women hold official positions in the different federations will we develop and advance. What is your opinion of the inclusion of two female athletes in the 2012 London Olympics? Was their symbolic participation and poor showing more hurtful or helpful to the idea of developing Saudi females as athletes? The participation of Sarah Attar from what I remember got a 100,000 standing ovation. Her participation was positive and gave a good image of how a Saudi athlete with no funding

The international community can help by having a network of past athletes and professionals come to Saudi Arabia to help train the trainers and girls in various sports. was able to run and compete with athletes from countries who have had decades of experience. The other athlete I felt was younger and the psychological tension made her enter the scene with a losing spirit. However, she did change the Judo Federation regulations to allow head covers to be worn. What can the international community do to aid in the advancement of Saudi females in sport? The international community can help by having a network of past athletes and professionals come to Saudi Arabia to help train the trainers and girls in various sports – either through private or public sectors. You recently participated in Saudi Arabia's Global Entrepreneurship Week and Women's Entrepreneurship Day. What was your message? My message was to be active, be positive and hold on to your identity. What advice can you give human rights and women's rights groups to aid the advancement of Saudi women? Honestly, I believe that change should come from within. Local women’s rights activists are more important than international rights activists. This gives the cause more validity, so no one assumes that it’s purely a western influence, but rather an internal and national need. However, we do need international experience and technical support for our clinics, sports



programs, sports psychologists, etc. What's next for you? For Jeddah United? Jeddah United grew from a team in 2003 to a leading sports company in 2006, and made it to the Forbes list in 2014. It has its own line in retail and sportswear – even producing a unisex sports Perfume that symbolizes both genders and the sports community. We tied it to the heritage of Adam and Eve – as the city Jeddah means grandmother and it holds her grave according to legend and historical research. We’ll continue to build the next generation of girls and boys who are strong mentally, physically and spiritually. Lina, you have a place in history as a pioneer and role model devoted to improving and securing women's rights and fair play. Who is your shirzan (female role model)?

Local women’s rights activists are more important than international rights activists. This gives the cause more validity, so no one assumes that it’s purely a Western influence, but rather an internal and national need.

My mother – a woman who has supported me, made me love sports, put me in all available sports programs in the city while growing up and taught me how to be a productive citizen, to value work, to contribute to building society, and to respect and appreciate cultures of the world. Samar Fatany is my mother and she was one of the first journalists in Saudi Arabia, a TV and radio journalist and a writer of several books, including “Modernizing Saudi Arabia”. She is my shirzan. About the writer:

Mara Gubuan is co-founder of Shirzanan Global – a news and advocacy initiative promoting Muslim females through sports and media. Shirzanan is Persian for female heroes. All people need sources of inspiration. All Muslim females deserve Shirzanan. Follow @ShirzananGlobal and Facebook/ ShirzananGlobal.



A TWO-WHEELED REVOLUTION Despite news of ongoing war and a Taliban resurgence in many areas of Afghanistan, groups of young women in that rugged country have been quietly pushing gender boundaries through participation in competitive sports, and, specifically, the unlikely controversy of riding a bike. Though banned in Afghanistan since before the Taliban, biking by women has grown steadily in recent years and the national women’s cycling team draws new recruits every time they train.


Shannon Galpin

After 40 years of devastation from Soviet occupation, civil war and Taliban rule, Afghanistan conjures up images of war, poverty, terrorism and brutal oppression of women. It is a land known for self-effacing burqas and hardline Taliban strictures. Lack of infrastructure has rendered the country one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt. And, it consistently ranks lowest in the world for treatment of women. Today, Afghanistan finds itself once again on the brink of civil war with the potential to backslide on many hard won advancements in human rights. Over the past decade since the Taliban’s initial roust, a new constitution was written and young women across the country have been embracing opportunities opening to them in education, politics, and activism. One of the most unique ways Afghan women are breaking long held gender roles is competition in sports. Today, you can see Afghan women boxing, skateboarding, playing soccer and cricket, even representing Afghanistan in track at the 2012 London Olympic Games. They have teams recognized under the Afghan Olympic Committee, and many train at Kabul Stadium, a site once known for the Taliban’s public executions. To walk through Kabul Stadium today and see women boxers training in poorly lit subterranean rooms, girls in white Tae Kwon Do uniforms hustling down a walkway

to training sessions, or women in shin guards playing soccer on the field, feels like a victory in itself.

“We need to say that women are the power and strength of Afghanistan. And this strength is not only in politics, it is also in sports with those who go to foreign countries to compete.”

Women’s rights activist and politician Fawzai Koofi remembers when Olympic track competitor Tahmina Kohistani visited Parliament before the 2012 London Olympic Games. “When she came to visit, we organized ourselves to encourage her. It was the women in the Parliament that continuously clapped for her. It was nonstop. Until the end they continuously clapped for her, from the moment she arrived until the time she left to show her that we are her partners and that we were on her side. We need to say that women are the power and strength of Afghanistan. And this strength is not only in politics, it is also in sports with those who go to foreign countries to compete.” The one sport that is still considered deeply controversial for women is cycling. Not just as a sport, but biking in any form has been taboo for Afghan women since before Taliban times. You see men and boys riding bikes everywhere you look, urban or rural. It’s an inexpensive and easy form of transportation, and often, even in the capital city of Kabul, it’s preferable due to the heavy traffic that clogs up the roads. Reasons abound for women not being allowed

Photo by

Jenny Nichols



to ride bikes, but it is generally agreed upon in Afghanistan that straddling a bike seat is considered culturally offensive. When you look around, you see women riding sidesaddle on the backs of motorcycles, horses, and bicycles. Many once believed that riding a bike could take away your virginity. The reasoning for that is not that far-fetched when you think of the value placed on virginity in Afghanistan and that direct proof of that would mean an intact hymen. So, it’s unsurprising that families would take great care in preserving their daughter’s honor. No amount of freedom or choice could take precedence over honor. Secondly, biking has been considered off-limits for the same reason women did not learn to drive cars until recently: freedom of movement. If a woman has her own transportation, she has freedom: Freedom to travel freely and freedom to do what she wants when she wants. That is not a right all Afghan women are familiar with. For centuries, women experienced limited freedom of expression, freedom of choice, freedom of mobility, freedom to leave the home without a male escort, freedom to dress how she wants, freedom to go to school without threat, freedom to marry whom she chooses and freedom to choose. Beyond anatomy lessons, there is a public aspect inherent in the sport of cycling. Unlike women who box, or practice Tae Kwon Do,

or even those that play soccer or cricket on designated (and often visually shielded) fields, cycling is a public sport conducted across miles of country roads or streets and highways in full view. The women who dare to ride bikes do not do so in a closed room or even inside Kabul Stadium, they must take the streets and therefore risk their lives and their honor for the sport they love. The fact is, this is not an issue of religion or Muslim culture, American women encountered the same stigmas when they began to ride bikes in the late 1800’s. American women who rode in full petticoats, boots, gloves, and hats were considered promiscuous and immoral. This story repeats itself wherever and whenever women have started to ride bikes, upsetting the social norms through the modality of independent mobility. The women of the national cycling team are an evolving group of young women that have learned to ride bikes and train regularly under the watchful eye of Coach Seddiqe, who is also the coach of the men’s national team. Coach Seddiqe is not trained as a coach and has little experience in racing and coaching development in the professional arena. However, Coach founded these two teams and is the selfdescribed ‘father of Afghan cycling’. He acts as a team manager and is passionate about the sport and in the outreach towards more young women.

Reasons abound for women not being allowed to ride bikes, but it is generally agreed upon in Afghanistan that straddling a bike seat is considered culturally offensive.



Six girls make up the core of the women’s national team. Mariam Seddiq, the eldest rider at 23, is the heart of the team and the assistant to Coach. She has raced in Pakistan, India, and Kazakhstan, and wants to see the cycling federation develop to allow cycling to spread into other parts of Afghanistan. The girls train on the highways outside of Kabul, and sometimes on a paved road through town that goes up into the mountains. Every training session, more girls contact Coach Seddiqe to learn to ride, so he often splits his time between coaching the team and teaching the new girls. The biggest obstacle to growth is transportation to and from safe training areas. I have spent much time on and off the bike with the team. Training and coaching them, interviewing them with the Afghan Cycles film crew who are making a documentary about these young women, and spending time with their families. When we talk about the risks involved with such a public and still controversial sport, the girls are undeterred. Mariam perhaps says it best in the Afghan Cycles film trailer, “There are people who just want to harass us, and they tell us it is not our right and that they are taking it away and then we speed off.”

One of the other young women on the team, Sadaf, a young woman who works in a beauty salon, talked a lot of about why she rides, and gave the film crew one of the best quotes of the day, “A winner is someone who can make Afghanistan proud and be a hero here. We cannot be a hero by sitting at home.” Meanwhile, over this summer, an interesting social revolution on two wheels has been happening. Two groups of girls have been learning to ride bikes completely separate from, and often unaware of, the national team. The first is also in Kabul, a group of young women who were brought together to learn to ride bikes by an Afghan student in the United States, Fatima Hadairi. She was back visiting family as part of a Girl Up project. Riding borrowed bikes, they took to the neighborhood streets without fear in brightly colored headscarves and huge smiles. The girls are still riding today with donated bikes

so they don’t have to borrow from brothers anymore: Taking back the streets and their rights every time they ride.

This is not an issue of religion or Muslim culture, American women encountered the same stigmas when they began to ride bikes in the late 1800s. American women who rode in full petticoats, boots, gloves, and hats were considered promiscuous and immoral.

The second group is in Bamiyan, a rural province in central Afghanistan, led by a local girl, Zahra Hussaini. Zahra learned to ride a bike as a young girl in Iran from a male family member. Now a university student at the women’s university in Bamiyan, she has started teaching her fellow students to ride so that they could get to and from class. This fall, over thirty girls were riding together regularly, and formed the first local women’s race, “Right to Ride,” to normalize bikes for girls. I had the opportunity to ride with several of the girls last spring when I was in Bamiyan. As I have come to expect, we were soon joined by around fifteen young boys on bikes and we rode as a virtual biker gang in the open fields in front of the Buddha niches. One young boy, seven or eight years old, tugged at my tunic sleeve when we were standing around talking. He told me that since Zahra and the other girls were riding bikes, he was going to go home and teach his little sister to ride. That is how real change occurs, leading by example, one individual at a time. Girls like these, whether on the national team or learning to ride as part of a group club, are changing the social norms for women

across the country one pedal stroke at a time. ABOUT THE WRITER:


Shannon Galpin is a board advisor of Shirzanan Global, the founder of Mountain2Mountain and the author of Mountain to Mountain: A Journey of Activism and Adventure for the Women of Afghanistan. She has been working with the women's cycling team for two years and you can follow the journey at www.shannongalpin. com.


across Afghanistan and inspiring men and women everywhere. While media is putting a focus on whether or not the national team will attempt a bid for the 2020 Olympic Games, the real focus needs to be how the sport of cycling can normalize bikes for girls. The bicycle is an incredible vehicle for social change, and if we support these girls they can utilize bikes to increase access to schools, get rural midwives on bikes to access their community better, and reduce gender violence by providing independent travel and safety. Biking is a two-wheeled revolution spreading

Photo by

Deni Bechard



RISKY BUSINESS FOR MIDDLE EAST REPORTERS Crossfire, uprisings and extremist groups aren’t the only dangers for journalists working in the Middle East and North Africa. Many others are imprisoned or murdered for reporting on corruption or politics in their local communities.


Elisabeth Witchel

In late summer 2014 the world was awakened to the perils of being a journalist through the beheadings by the Islamic State of James Foley and Stephen Sotloff. Their killers were shocking in their gruesomeness, desire to publicize their crime and in their choice of victims – freelance correspondents who travelled to Syria with the aim of bringing to light the suffering of the victims of that war. But what is still a far less widely recognized reality, is that for every foreign correspondent killed in conflict zone, there are hundreds of others, a mainly local journalists reporting on their own communities, who are killed, arrested or threatened for their work. Reporting in many parts of the world today is a risky business. Journalists – be they citizen journalists, bloggers, photographers, reporters, editors or cameramen – routinely face imprisonment and physical violence because of the stories they are trying to tell. Some are stories of armed conflict and political unrest that carry inherent risks, but other less overtly dangerous subjects, such as corruption, culture and even sports, can bring dire consequences. In few places do journalists pay a heavier price than in the Middle East and North Africa.

For some, that price is jail. Siamak Ghaderi spent four years in prison in Iran, the region’s largest jailer of journalists according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), for antistate activities. His jail sentence and 60 lashes was meted out after he wrote on his blog about the much protested 2009 elections in Iran, as well as published several interviews with Iranian homosexuals in an article disproving assertions by former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that there were none in Iran. Ghaderi was released in July this year but there are still dozens of journalists in prison in Iran. “Many of those journalists will remain behind bars for years to come,” remarked Ghaderi while accepting the International Press Freedom Award from the CPJ in November 2014. In Egypt, at least 12 journalists were and remain imprisoned since the military took over last July, according to CPJ’s most recently published tally in December 2014. As with the killings of journalists in Syria, global activism has focused on the three journalists working for international media outlet Al-Jazeera arrested at the end of 2013 and sentenced to seven years in prison for “distorting the country’s image abroad,” among other charges,

but local journalists, make up most of the list of detainees. They include 27-year-old freelance photojournalist Mahmoud Abu-Zied who was beaten and then arrested while photographing the Rabaa Al-Adawiya square protests in August 2014. London’s Independent Newspaper published excerpts from a letter written by Abu-Zied snuck out of prison in which he describes harsh conditions and beatings. “I was just doing my job. Why are the authorities detaining me?” he questions in the letter. For others it is exile. Pervasive threats of violence in Syria and of imprisonment in Iran has driven over a hundred journalists to seek safe havens outside their countries and where possible outside the region altogether in the last five years and may have made these two countries the top countries from which journalists flee in the world. Journalists also left Iraq in large numbers. The journey into exile is often a dangerous and difficult one, involving high risk border crossings or long periods of high physical and financial insecurity while journalists wait for their refugee or asylum status to be granted. Journalists in Arab States must also work under the ominous reality that the



region is home to the highest number of journalist killings around the world. This fall, the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO), published its most recent report on The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity which cited Arab States as registering 190 killings, 32 percent of the global total, and more than any other region for the 2006 to 2013 time period the study examines. It cites Syria and Iraq among the top three most dangerous countries and particular concern for the situation in Egypt, where more journalists were killed in 2013 than in the whole previous decade. In Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, four journalists were killed this year, three of them Palestinian journalists fatally injured during Israeli bombardments. The vast majority of victims in the region, however, are not killed by crossfire, but deliberately murdered, and in nearly all cases the perpetrators go free from prosecution, making the region a leader in impunity as well. Armed sectarian groups, seeking to manipulate media coverage or simply target journalists as their perceived enemies, are responsible for much of this death toll, but in some cases the journalists were silenced while

investigating corruption or criticizing local politicians. They include Kawa Garmyane, editor-in-chief of a monthly magazine, who was shot outside his home in 2013 in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan. Prior to his shooting, Garmyane had received death threats from an army general and high ranking member of the powerful political party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Some arrests have been made but none who are believed to have ordered his killing have been brought to justice. Globally, there is a growing recognition that when journalists are killed without consequence, imprisoned without due process or under laws that fail to meet international freedom of expression standards, hounded out of the country, or subjected to other restrictions and acts of intimidation, the impact goes far beyond journalists themselves. Some of today’s most important stories go under-reported as a result and both domestic and international citizenry are denied vital information. “A free and open press is part of the bedrock of democracy and development,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a statement on November 2, 2014, the

first official UN backed International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. “No journalist anywhere should have to risk their life to report the news.” Ban Ki-moon’s statement and the adoption of the international day recognizing impunity is one of several moves by the UN in the last two years putting the safety of journalists and impunity high on its agenda. Since 2012, there have been four resolutions – two issued by the UN Human Rights Council and two by the UN General Assembly- addressing the need to raise levels of responsiveness by member states to threats against journalists; the UN also adopted a Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, led by UNESCO, and journalist safety measures are being considered as part of the UN’s post 2015 millennium development goals. The impact of this attention is yet to show in real changes for journalists on the ground, but it is perhaps a start. ABOUT THE WRITER:

Elisabeth Witchel is an independent consultant who has worked in human rights and journalism for more than 15 years. For over a decade she worked at the Committee to Protect Journalists, where she launched the organization’s journalist assistance program and global campaign to end impunity in the murders of journalists.



SYRIANS FIND REFUGE VIA SPORTS Almost four years since the start of the Syrian conflict began, an estimated 200,000 people have died and more than 615,000 people have sought refuge in Jordan. Champion badminton player, Dima Alardah, gives us a glimpse of life in the refugee camps and what role sport is having on healing and uniting displaced girls, women and youth.


Sarah Murray

Tell us about yourself. I have an architectural background. Besides this, I used to be a professional badminton player and represented Jordan internationally for the past ten years. I became addicted to this sport of badminton. Because of this addiction, I quit my job in architecture a few years ago. I thought this is my passion, not architecture any more — so I started a badminton academy. Badminton is not popular at all in my country. I took the responsibility to introduce the game into my community. How did you get involved in this work with Syrian refugees? I got a chance to start working with one of the international humanitarian organizations called the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). We are helping the many Syrian refugees that have

It's not something in their experience or mentality — sport is not considered something for women. This is the most challenging thing. We are trying to change their mentality and belief that women have to stay in the home.

arrived in Jordan as a result of the conflict. I started as a sports trainer, organizing programs for Muslim youth in the refugee camps. We have three camps in Jordan. I work mostly at Azraq in the North East part of the country — an hour and a half from the capital of Amman. There are around 10,000 refugees living there. I have also worked in Za’atari, which is the third largest refugee camp in the world. We work on empowerment and spreading peace through sport. We provide Syrians with a chance to play football, basketball, volleyball and other fitness. We have events and programming every day — even on



the weekends. Beside sport, we give them education and other vocational training in electrical work, tailoring, handcrafts, hair styling and computers. After 3.5 years, we are moving away from the emergency situation to a resettlement situation, where there is greater peace in the camps.

For women and girls, who make up 70% of the Syrian refugee camp population, it's harder. Survival is not easy. They live in a tent or a small caravan. It's not secure. They don't have privacy. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is always there. Girls and women can’t safely walk around in the camp.

Can you tell me what life is like for a typical girl in a refugee camp in Jordan?

Fathers and brothers push their daughters or sisters to early marriage. We see many girls being married at the age of 13 or 14. As a result, girls cannot continue their education. They stop going to the school. There are so many challenges for women and girls in the camps.

Refugees must run away from their home. They face so many troubles. Most of them are physically, mentally and psychologically sick.



How do you get girls and women involved in sport? These girls and women are coming from very conservative backgrounds. Our first mission is just to get those ladies outside their tents. We have a closed gym for them. We even have a sport field that we covered all around, so once you are inside, no one can see what is going on. Most of these women never played in Syria. It's not something in their experience or mentality — sport is not considered something for women. This is the most challenging thing. We are trying to change their mentality and belief that women have to stay in the home. How do you change something so deeply embedded in their psyche? It's not easy. It needs time. We start by telling them we have this private place. We bring them to see that it is a closed, all-female place. No males can enter it. Once we get that trust that it's totally secure and a pure woman space, we can start working on the real sport. We show them how when you start exercising, you can do your housework more easily. You can move better. You can help your children and be more active. We reach them from this point of view. Women would tell us that they were only going out of the house once a week, or when they had to use the toilet for a shower. We encourage them to think about why their husbands and kids are outside, but they are not. This is a way to get out of the house or take one hour each day to make friends. We just try to get them to try it. Once they try it for a day or a week, they fall in love with it. What have been some of the accelerators, or factors that have helped boost the success of your sport program? When you are in a refugee camp, especially like the one I work in, it looks like you are in a prison. You are inside. You don't have opportunities. You don't have anything to do. You wake up, have your breakfast and lunch, and you sleep. Repeat for four years. So, bring those chances to young people in a place where they don't have any chances to express themselves or work. Sport is like heaven for them. They need it very badly. We provide them something that is meeting their very basic needs. What is it that sport adds to girls and women that wasn't there previously in their lives?

When you are in a refugee camp, especially like the one I work in, it looks like you are in a prison. You are inside. You don't have opportunities. You don't have anything to do.

You can't imagine the impact of sport for those ladies who never played before. When you gather a group of 20-25 women of the same age for an hour of sport, they start talking to each other, socializing and sharing their experiences. We have moved them outside the home, they are exercising, and they are working on their social and life skills. They make new friends. Outside of this, we have ladies’ basketball tournaments and pulling rope (tug of war) competitions. We start with this competition at the beginning of the cohort and post the results and give them a goal to improve. They start to have a goal to be committed to and work hard to reach for in the upcoming months — even at a very small scale. We give them a space to express themselves physically and mentally. They are exercising, losing weight and just moving. I would imagine that for women who are pushed from their homelands and communities, this social support is critical. Can you tell us a story of a specific woman you know and how this actually has manifested for her? Yes. Definitely. There are so many stories. In our youth center, we hire some refugees to work

She came to me privately and asked me if she could use the gym. I said yes and that I would give her a program to exercise well. No one except for me knew she was using the gym. Three months later, she lost many kilograms. My manager came to me and asked about this woman — and was wondering what had happened to this woman. She was happier, her attitude was totally changed. I

was smiling, I didn't say anything expect that we should go ask her directly. When the manager asked her what was going on, she just said, "I don't know myself either. Once I started doing this program and losing weight, I felt like I had a goal to work towards. I started waking up in the morning happy." It was really impressive. You can't imagine the effect this had on those around her. It was amazing. This interview is a reflection of personal opinion, and is not an official statement of the NRC. ABOUT THE WRITER:

Sarah Murray is a board advisor of Shirzanan Global and the programs director at Women Win, an international organization equipping adolescent girls to exercise their rights through sport.


with us as assistants in the vocational training. One of the women who has worked with us for eight months is a tailoring teacher. She never played sport. She lost her father and uncles in the war. Two of her sons are missing. Psychologically she was totally sick. She was very aggressive. She got angry very easily, nobody could deal with her and so on. And she was quite overweight, by the way.




Dr. Michele Cox

On August 3, 2012, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) approved the wearing of headscarves on the FIFA playing fields. This decision increased access to potentially hundreds of millions of women and girls to play the game they love. It was also the culmination of an intense and complex year-long lobbying campaign led by FIFA Vice President for Asia Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein. Preventing women from playing football with head coverings effectively blocked millions of Muslim women from playing international football. Athletic institutions must follow the decision of FIFA and open their doors to Muslim women’s right to choose to wear head coverings such as hijabs. However, in order for this to occur, institutions must often reform their regulations or establish new laws which frequently require debates, dialogue and campaigns. Other governing sports organizations and interested parties can achieve positive outcomes more cohesively regarding the wearing of head coverings in sport by following these tips.

Absolutely critical in the FIFA reform was the leadership of one man and one institution. In this tendentious case of changing the laws of women’s football, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter mandated HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, FIFA to resolve the issue. The considerable workload was subsequently undertaken by staff in his not-for-profit football foundation, the Asian Football Development Project. This offered two primary advantages. First, a liaison was provided to official structures because Prince Ali was on the Executive Committee of FIFA and therefore privy to information regarding the progress of decisions relating to the issue in question. Second, the campaign was resourced through a neutral organization rather than affected and therefore potentially biased individuals such as athletes.

any sport, thought must be given right at the start as to who will comprise, lead and fund the lobbying group. Recommendations for inclusion:

Additionally, the key staff of the Asian Football Development Project was highly experienced in matters of football administration and therefore able to provide sound advice and instruction on allowing the head scarf in football play. Given the cost and time involved, as well as expertise required, in campaigns to challenge current laws of

In reforming women’s football, there was a lot of confusion as to whether headscarves were allowed to be worn during play or not, and if so, what kind of head covering would be admissible. In some countries women were playing unhindered with head coverings, in others, such as the incident in June 2011 where the Iran team was prevented from playing in

1. A high profile advocate (In our case Prince Ali who was able to generate interest in the issue as well as promote dialogue between the parties involved); 2. Experts who know the sport and its structures inside and out; 3. A media and communications expert with global contacts; 4. Articulate (and preferably high profile) individuals who are affected by the issue; and 5. Members of the decision making body to promote understanding of the issue from both sides if the governing body is not leading the resolution of the issue, which, in any case, would and should be the ideal situation.

In order to be able to establish a clear way forward, we needed to understand the various different clashing perspectives. A first step was to organize a Round Table Discussion with experts from the world of women’s football to study the issue from every possible angle – cultural, legal, technical (refereeing, playing), medical, media and so on. At the end of the two days of presentations and discussions, some critical findings emerged. FIFA had communicated that wearing a headscarf on the field of play fell under the jurisdiction of Law 4 relating to safety which denotes: A player must not use any equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery). Head coverings were not noted as basic equipment under the law. There had been no further instruction from FIFA or IFAB (the body determining the laws of the game) as to how the law should be interpreted relating to headscarves and referees were then left to interpret the law on an individual basis. There was no evidence or research to suggest the wearing of the headscarf in sports, let alone in football, was inherently unsafe. Sport-safe headscarf designs were already in use and new prototypes were also being developed. Based on our increased understanding of the issue, we were then much better placed to put a solid plan together on how to ensure football (and therefore sports more broadly as well) could be made more accessible to all women and girls,

regardless of whether they chose to wear a head covering or not. Some of the key success factors in our situation were: Going through official structures – A common mistake in campaigning is to rely solely on the impact of the

media to pressure a decision change from the outside. It is much more effective, and definitely harder to ignore, when changes are pushed from within an organization’s membership base. In our case, we provided the recommendations of the Round Table Discussions supporting headscarves to be worn during play to the Asian Football


a 2012 Olympic Qualification match, teams with headscarves were not able to step foot on the field. FIFA had also previously adjusted the regulations in 2010 to allow a cap that covered players’ heads to the hairline. The cap solution - which did not cover the ears or neck area - was not culturally acceptable for Muslim players.

Clear messaging – With all the documentation and dialogue it is absolutely vital that there is a key outcome that the campaign is aiming for and that it actually aligns to the law that needs to be amended. For example, if (as in the case of football) the law in question pertains to safety, there is little point highlighting/

Maryam Majd

Education – Part of the strategies to influence decision makers at the varying levels involved education. As noted earlier, there was a lot of confusion regarding the issue and what actually were the salient points that needed to be decided upon. Documents detailing the background of the headscarf issue, arguments to support its approval from all perspectives (e.g. medical, legal, human rights, cultural, organizational, technical, etc.), the impact, and proposed recommendations on the way forward were compiled and provided to all decision makers well before and again during meetings in presentation and handout format. Where possible this was also backed up with one-on-one meetings to ensure all the information had been understood and to answer any questions.

Photos by



Confederation (AFC) Women’s Football Committee who in turn endorsed them and asked the AFC Executive Committee to mandate Prince Ali to present the case to the FIFA Executive Committee, and upon their approval, to IFAB. For each and every of these decision levels, the voting members were identified and a specific strategy of direct and indirect influence upon them established.

promoting religious discrimination in communications even though it may be a covert reason. In football, we sought in all our communication to allay any concerns regarding the choking, overheating, and carotid sinus irritation (the common safety arguments used against head coverings) with a combination of proof of lack of evidence and research, and expert medical opinion in these areas, and to promote the solution which was to provide referees with a clear interpretation of Law 4 allowing the wearing of headscarves fitting certain criteria (e.g., that it must be the same color as the jersey). Support from credible organizations and individuals – Ensuring everyone involved in promoting your campaign is clear on the desired outcomes and messages is very important and this extends to any outside agencies or individuals who may lend their support to the cause. We

had significant support not only from concerned football confederations, member associations, national teams and professional players, but also from the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace, FIFPro, the Women’s Sports Foundation, Hillary Clinton, the Nobel Peace Foundation and many other credible organizations who helped us to generate regular and increased media coverage on the issue and to provide more weight behind our campaign pressuring decision makers. Each and every one of these organizations/individuals received full briefings on the issue so that they were fully prepared for any media exposure after the initial release of their support to the campaign. As one can determine from these starting pointers for campaigning around issues relating to head coverings, it is not a task for the fainthearted. The work around promoting the ideal outcome for the particular sport involved is done within the governing body of the sport with help from outside expertise and most importantly, with the input of affected players. Where this is not possible, the aforementioned recommendations provide a starting point to recognizing the scope of what could be potentially involved. ABOUT THE WRITER:

Dr. Michele Cox is an international consultant specializing in issues affecting the participation of women and children in sport. A former New Zealand footballer, she was the key strategic advisor in the successful lobbying campaign for FIFA and IFAB to approve the use of head coverings in football. Dr. Cox has also written five books on sports-related themes.



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Surfing catapults to popularity in Iran when an Irish-French duo take their surfboards and cameras to the nation.




Mara Gubuan

Dr. Easkey Britton, a five-time Irish national champion with a PhD in Environment and Society, is best described as a surf explorer whose mind and spirit are as agile as her body. In 2010, her quest for adventure led her to the poor, remote, risky Balochistan border region of Iran – notorious for opium smuggling, tribal conflicts and proximity to Pakistan – where she became the first woman in Iran to surf. French filmmaker Marion Poizeau posted a 3-minute video of Easkey in Iran, paying respect to the culture by riding the waves covered from headto-toe and wearing a hijab. It quickly went viral on the Internet and ignited a surf revolution led by women who requested she return to teach them. With the assistance of pioneering Iranian sportswomen, professional Iranian snowboarder Mona Seraji and swimmer Shahla Yasini, Easkey and Marion returned in 2013 with surfboards and cameras. The resulting documentary, Into the Sea, premiered at the London Surf Film Festival in October and will reach America in March 2015. It recently screened in Tehran at the 8th Iran International Documentary Film Festival where enthusiastic audience members implored Mona for even more workshops. As the surf culture has evolved, Easkey and Marion encouraged locals to take the lead rather than impose

The video quickly went viral on the Internet and ignited a surf revolution led by women who requested she return to teach them. their Western notions. Easkey was ever mindful of cultural sensitivities and the foci of her doctorate: human well-being and coastal resilience. With the original instructors and students exclusively female, curious boys inquired if the sport might be available to them, too. Thus, Iranian females were compelled to pass along their training to the boys and men. Easkey notes, “I think it is critical that I was a woman, not a man, who introduced the sport. Otherwise, if surfing was considered masculine instead of its beginning associations as feminine with female leadership, the sport could have been closed to women altogether.”

ABOUT THE WRITER: Mara Gubuan is co-founder of Shirzanan Global – a news and advocacy initiative promoting Muslim females through sports and media. Shirzanan is Persian for female heroes. All people need sources of inspiration. All Muslim females deserve Shirzanan. Follow @ShirzananGlobal and Facebook/ ShirzananGlobal.


The International Surf Association, a member of the Olympic Committee, recently approached Waves of Freedom and offered support to help Iran.

In the space of four years, Easkey's jaunt to Iran has transformed a coastal community into the nation's birthplace of surfing – proudly borne by the women of Iran.

of Freedom

There is now an opportunity to take surfing from grassroots level to official status with protections. The International Surf Association, a member of the Olympic Committee,

recently approached Waves of Freedom and offered support to help Iran obtain membership and earn official recognition for surfing as a sport in the country.

Photos by Waves

Recognizing the power of surfing to effect social change and empower women and youth, Easkey and Marion founded a non-profit organization Waves of Freedom (www. wavesoffreedom.org) and organized the first cross-cultural Learn-to-Surf workshop in 2014 – in collaboration with Chabahar and Ramin coastal towns, the extreme board-sports athletes of Tehran and local tribal leaders. This yielded the grassroots We Surf in Iran movement (Instagram @ wesurfiniran) and the goal to establish Iran’s first surf club.




Minky Worden

In London in 2012, two Saudi women took part in the Olympic Games for the first time ever. When Wujdan Shahrkhani in judo and Sarah Attar in track broke that barrier, this hopeful moment led many to believe Saudi Arabia would also soon drop barriers for women and girls to play sports inside the kingdom. The International Olympic Committee hailed the change, calling it “a major boost for gender equality.” But as the 2016 Rio Olympics approach, Saudi Arabia continues to effectively ban sport for women and girls in government schools, and the

country has no women on its National Olympic Committee nor any sports federations for women to compete. The Saudis sent 199 men to the 2014 Asian Games but failed to field a single woman. Mohammed al-Mishal, the head of the Saudi Olympic Committee, claimed to Reuters, “Technically, we weren't ready to introduce any ladies.” Well, technically, denial of the right to sport to women and girls is a clear violation of the Olympic Charter’s non-discrimination clause. As Human Rights Watch documented in our 2012 report, “Steps of the

Devil,” Saudi Arabia has put athletics beyond the reach of almost all of its women. There is no government sports infrastructure for women, and most buildings, sport clubs, courses, expert trainers, and referees are off limits for women. Saudi Arabia’s continued intransigence is setting up a situation in which the country could be banned from taking part in the Rio Games. It also spotlights the harmful social, educational and health effects of denying sports to half the country’s population. Saudi Arabia’s strict gender segregation and male “guardianship” policy have

Saudi Arabia not only bars women from participating in sports, but from attending public sporting events as spectators, to prohibit gender mixing. In December, the Saudi Gazette reported that authorities arrested a Saudi girl for attending a football match between two clubs in Jeddah disguised as a man. A police spokesman, Lt. Col. Ati Al-Qurashi, said the girl had violated the rules banning women’s attendance at soccer matches. Since the 1980s, the international governing body for soccer, known as FIFA, has tolerated Iran’s ban on female spectators at football matches. Iranian officials extended the ban to volleyball matches in 2012. When a law student, Ghoncheh Ghavami, this ban last June, authorities arrested and protested her. She is currently out on bail and has appealed her one year sentence for “propaganda against the state.” Stressing its commitment to “the right of women to participate in sport on an equal basis,” the International Volleyball Federation has called on the Iranian government to release Ghavami. But the Asian Volleyball Confederation went ahead and selected Iran to co-host the 2015 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championships, despite the fact that this is a country where women and girls cannot attend matches as spectators without the prospect of harassment, arrest and imprisonment. The International Olympic Committee and other sports federations have tools at hand for effecting real change. In

Sports associations should not bring events to countries where women are not welcome as spectators, or where women could be attacked or arrested for cheering a team, as in Iran or Saudi Arabia. the past, the IOC barred offenders: Apartheid South Africa could not participate in the Games so long as it sent whites-only teams, and Talibanrun Afghanistan was excluded for discriminating against women and girls. When South Korea, slated to host the 1988 Olympics, faced public demonstrations that could have ended in a bloodbath, the committee told the country’s military dictatorship to hold elections or lose the Games. South Korea has been a durable democracy ever since. However, in recent years, the humanrights-offending hosts China and Russia largely got away with violating the solemn promises in the Olympic Charter, and the IOC took no action. The Sochi Olympics, marred by entirely predictable rights abuses including forced evictions, migrant labor abuses, threats to journalists, and a discriminatory climate due to anti-gay laws, may have marked a turning point. This fall the Olympic Committee added human rights and labor rights protections, including a non-discrimination clause, to Host City Contracts, an encouraging step. Upcoming games under the watch of the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, the two most powerful players in the world of mega-sporting events, are expected to bring the link between human rights abuses and mega-sporting events into ever sharper relief.

The Olympic Charter states that “sport is a human right.”Among the goals of “Olympism,” the Charter proclaims, is “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Similarly, the FIFA statutes stress the importance of “humanitarian values:” “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited …” For now, the two organizations have a serious problem. How will they bridge the gap between these lofty words and the ugly reality of discrimination against women and girls? One solution is to build human rights monitoring into the hosting process. Monitors would assess the Olympic host state’s progress toward media freedom and international human rights standards, just as they might now assess progress in building ski jumps, swimming pools, and equestrian facilities. Similar changes are needed in the FIFA Statutes. Sports associations should not bring events to countries where women are not welcome as spectators, or where women could be attacked or arrested for cheering a team, as in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Instead, these associations should insist that women have equal access to mega-sporting events and tournaments. When women and girls are denied the fundamental right to exercise, watch, or compete, we all lose out. It’s time to give meaning to the Olympic Charter’s pledge that “sport is a human right,” and level the playing field for women and girls. ABOUT THE WRITER:

Minky Worden (@MinkysHighjinks), director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, edited “China’s Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges” and “The Unfinished Revolution: Voices From the Global Fight for Women’s Rights.”


long kept women on the sidelines, as documented in the Human Rights Watch report “Perpetual Minors,” severely limiting women’s ability to take part in public life. Government regulations require approval from male “guardians” –– usually husbands, fathers, or sons – for a woman to travel, marry or get access to higher education. The authorities also fail to prevent some employers from requiring male guardians to approve the hiring of adult female relatives or some hospitals from requiring male guardian approval for certain medical procedures for women.



Des Moines natives invite athletes from the Middle East-North Africa region on cross-cultural exchange pedaling across Iowa.


Krista Martin

Classmates from senior year powderpuff football team will reunite for RAGBRAI 2015.

Iowa is in America’s Midwestern heartland and is often recognized for its robust agricultural economy, picturesque small towns, and identity as a pivotal state in the democratic electoral process determining the fate of U.S. presidential candidates. It’s a welcoming place, a perfect, if not somewhat surprising, place for Shirzanan Global to launch its first sports diplomacy event to promote cross-cultural understanding and raise awareness for the resistance to female sports participation. Ten Muslim female cyclists from the Middle East-North Africa region will join forces with an Iowabased group of 25 women who are marking their milestone 50th birthdays by participating in the 47th RAGBRAI (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, July 19 – 25, 2015. The international team, known as Team Shirzanan, is being organized by women from the Urbandale High School Class of 1983- namely, Nanci Kripal Freed, Nancy Freese Gordon and Mara Gubuan. They created the idea of Team Shirzanan to challenge themselves physically and contribute to a social cause. As children, sports were a foundation of many lifelong friendships. Their positive

experiences participating in sport at a young age drew them to the Shirzanan Global cause because in some parts of the world, a girl or woman riding a bicycle is considered a morality crime. A female Muslim riding a bicycle could be subject to objectors throwing rocks, garbage and insults or driving her off the road with their vehicles. RAGBRAI encourages bicycle riding and has grown to include 10,000 cyclists, all of different ages and ability. Along the 468-mile course, eight communities will serve as overnight hosts. Team Shirzanan will join the Bike World charter. RAGBRAI Director T.J. Juskiewicz remarked, “We are excited to welcome our international guests to RAGBRAI next summer! By riding their bicycles across the state of Iowa, these Muslim women will quickly understand what makes RAGBRAI so special.” Nancy Freese Gordon, Team Shirzanan Des Moines Program Manager, asserts, “RAGBRAI is the friendliest ride in the country. There is a great sense of camaraderie representative of our state as a whole.”

In every issue, we will give you a glimpse into the world of notable Muslim females in sport. This inaugural post features World Champion fencer and sports ambassador Ibtihaj Muhammad.

My name: Ibtihaj Muhammad

Initially, I thought he was a little crazy, but alhumdulillah he has helped me reach as high as World Number 10.

My sport: Fencing My shirzan (female hero): My mother. From an early age she reminded me and my siblings that we can achieve anything we want in life with hard work and perseverance. She is my number one fan and believes in me and my abilities even when I struggle to find courage within myself. My inspiration to become a professional athlete: Initially my plan was to go to law school and study international law, but once I graduated from university, I saw a deficiency in the minority makeup of the U.S. National Fencing Team. There had never been an AfricanAmerican on the women’s sabre squad. I set that goal for myself, to make my first national team and once I was able to accomplish it, I saw the positive effect it had on people. My mission: To help society realize that other people’s misconceptions about your race, gender or ethnicity should never hinder you from reaching your goals. You can accomplish any goal you set for yourself. Best sources of professional support: The foundation I fence for, the Peter Westbrook Foundation, and my coach, Akhi Spencer-El. I switched coaches a few years ago, Akhi told me I could be one of the best in the world.

Though race and religion are not a factor in how I treat people, unfortunately, they are still a factor in society today.

Most difficult barriers: Being a minority in a predominantly white sport. Though race and religion are not a factor in how I treat people, unfortunately, they are still a factor in society today. Advice for girls pursuing sports: I believe in sports as a means for social change. I have seen how sports have changed my life, and believe they can do the same for others throughout the world. For those who are interested in pursuing sport, I would encourage them to do so (i.e. joining a local team at school) and take adversity head on. It is always a difficult task to be one of the first to do something, like being the first hijabi on a soccer team, but the reward far outweighs the initial struggle. One of the great things about sports is that it has the power to bridge cultures and provide mutual respect. My goal: To qualify for an Olympic team My motto: To always work harder than my competitors Professional athlete to trade places with for a day: Serena Williams Something unexpected about me: Love to watch football!





PHOTO GALLERY Shirzanan Global thanks the Qatar Museums Authority and Chairperson Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani for permission to reprint photographs from the "Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport”- a photo and video exhibition celebrating female athletes from the Arab world by internationally renowned photographer Brigitte Lacombe with the documentary film-maker Marian Lacombe. Hey’Ya, the title of the exhibition, is Arabic for Let’s Go reflecting the athletes’ energy and enthusiasm. The exhibition featured a series of large-scale photographs by Brigitte Lacombe of more than 60 Arab sportswomen, Olympic competitors and non-Olympians, from 20 Arab countries, shown alongside videos by her sister, Marian Lacombe. By situating the images within the athletes’ personal histories, the “Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport” exhibition aimed to show the modern, engaged face of Arab women, and initiate a wider –often unspoken – discourse on gender and sport in the Arab world. Featured in the exhibition were 31 Qatari girls practicing different sport activities ranging from shooting to swimming and equestrian. One of the young athletes is 14-year-old Maryam Al Boinin who learned equestrian from her sister Mai. In one of the exhibition videos, Maryam highlights the continuously increasing participation of women in sports, saying: “When my sister started riding, girls didn’t have clubs or the chance to do sports. Now Qatar is different than before and there are lots of opportunities for girls to ride.

What boys can do, girls can do.” The exhibition was conceived by the Qatar Museums Authority and combines the organization’s long-standing commitment to commissioning and showing the work of internationally renowned artists with the wider goal of Qatar to spark debate about sport, promote peace, and build a better society through sport activities. In line with Qatar’s National Vision 2030, the exhibition encourages girls and women of all ages to engage in a range of sporting activities, whether to compete and win, or to lead and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. The project, shot over a period of seven months, began back in December 2011 in the Athletes Village at the Arab Games in Doha, where Brigitte and Marian Lacombe set up their own outdoor studio, working side by side. Afterwards they travelled on to the Gulf and North Africa, working with female athletes of all ages and levels of achievement. With the support of Qatar’s Aspire programme, which promotes sporting opportunities for young people, they also worked with the talented younger generation of sporting hopefuls. Sotheby’s Gallery in London hosted the “Hey’Ya: Arab Women in Sport” exhibition between July 25 and August 11, 2012. The exhibition was organized in conjunction with the 2012 Olympic Games, stressing the growing opportunities given to Arab female athletes to participate in sport activities and international competitions.



Nadine Wahdan, a Gymnast from Qatar. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe from the Hey'Ya Exhibit.



Kaltham Almutawa, a Tae Kwon Do practitioner from Qatar. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe from the Hey'Ya Exhibit.



Nadia Mohammed Wafa Arkaji, a Swimmer from Qatar. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe from the Hey'Ya Exhibit.



Woroud Sawalha, a Track Athlete for Palestine. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe from Hey'Ya Exhibit.



Maryam Al-Boinin, an Equestrian from Qatar. Photo by Brigitte Lacombe from the Hey'Ya Exhibit.


Track athletes from Iran compete in sprints. Photo by Maryam Majd.



Endurance runners from Iran. Photo by Mayam Majd.



IN THEIR OWN WORDS Muslim females in the sports industry share their opinions and experiences regarding the value of sport for women and girls.

Nawal El-Moutawakel was the first Moroccan and first African-Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal when she triumphed in the 400 meter hurdles event at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She was the first female Minister of Sport for Morocco and has served on governing boards including the International Olympic Committee. Ms. El-Moutawakel was a beneficiary of America’s Title IX law against sex discrimination in federally-funded educational programs or activities.

structure of the country.” Africa on the Move Documentary, 2012

“In many other parts of the world, girls and women are not afforded the same opportunities as boys and men,” she said. “In sports, this disparity is very pronounced in the lack of girls’ participation in athletics in schools, youth centers, and sports clubs. Sports are one of the best tools for social change because they are a large part of culture around the world and reach into every socioeconomic class of society.” Leaders Magazine, 2013

"Lately, my last challenge is the schools. So, once it's in the schools, I won't worry. It's in the system." NPR, 05/24/12

Dr. Sahar El Hawary is a football pioneer responsible for popularizing the sport in Egypt by developing female athletes, teams and referees. In the 1990s, she built a team by secretly training female players in her parents’ Cairo villa. That became the first women’s football team in the Arab world. Dr. El Hawary was also the first female member of the Egyptian Football Federation, president of the first Arab league for women's football, the first women's referee in North Africa, a member of FIFA, and a two-time recipient of awards from the International Olympic Committee. “Now we have women’s games and teams of football all over the Gulf which was very difficult. It was an impossible mission. But, I always said it’s possible and I will do it one day. Now it’s done. Women’s football is important, not only to let the ladies and girls play the game. It’s changing the social

Of the role women’s football plays in society now, she stated, “We now have 13 year-old girls supporting families through football. We give her a basic education and her family treats her differently. Social change is happening within the family unit through the girl and as a result, the structure of society changes.” Daily News Egypt, 09/06/12

Sania Mirza is India’s most successful female tennis player and three-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion. Of her new humanitarian role, she remarked, “It is an honour to serve UN Women as the Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia (also the first female Asian). It inspires me to work harder towards a level playing field for women. Gender equity in sports as well as using sports to advocate for gender equality in communities is essential. Equality depends on each and all of us. From the government that changes its laws, to the company that advances equal pay and equal opportunity, to the mother and father who teach their daughter and son that all human beings should be treated equally, to the athletes who demonstrate equality and excellence.” Dr. Kulsoom Abdullah is a Pakistani-American computer engineer and weightlifter responsible for the International Weightlifting Federation’s modified rule allowing attire that meets religious codes. She was the first woman at the international level to compete wearing hijab and is often invited to deliver remarks, as to the U.S. State Department, about her experiences.



Dr. Abdullah has concluded, “I unintentionally received attention as a Muslim female athlete in the male-dominated sport of weightlifting where representation of women of other racial and/or religious/cultural backgrounds is more narrow. Islam gets misrepresented in the media, but in my case, the attention gave me a platform that created change, and ultimately the opportunity to compete at a high level internationally. Without the news media, no one would have listened to my story and heard my voice. My experience has opened the door for more women to be able to compete and move beyond preconceived notions of gender, race and religion.” Tahmina Kohistani, a sprinter, was the only female athlete to represent Afghanistan in the 2012 London Olympics. Responding to opposition, she commented, “They are not ready to accept me. They are thinking that I am wrong and I cannot do that because I am a Muslim and I am from Afghanistan and it’s not good for being a female athlete in my country... But I think I will make the nation of Afghanistan proud of me and they are going to never forget me. I just opened a new window, a new door, for the next generation of my country... There are lots of girls in Afghanistan. Because of some social problems, because of family problems, they cannot do sport. But I’m going to say for them: ‘Come and join me, Tahmina, and we can make a very big and strong sport network in our country.’” Washington Post, 08/03/12 Shehneela Ahmed is Britain’s first female Muslim football agent registered with the Football Association. She stated, “...I intend to promote more people from the Asian background to encourage their children to take part in the sports industry...It’s a golden opportunity for me to promote females from other ethnic backgrounds to do the same...The sports

world is no longer just a man’s sport and more females are now involved in the sport industry.“ The Telegraph, 01/17/14 Ann Osman is a Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Malaysia who noted, “My supporters have told me that I inspire them to defend themselves. Seeing me getting bashed up in the cage and defending myself inspires them in some ways. I had one supporter who said she was in an abusive relationship and seeing me being strong and learning martial arts kind of inspired her to learn self-defense.” Time, 11/13/14



Notable individuals remark upon the topics of sport, media, human rights and gender equality.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN Chief International Correspondent as told to Women’s Sports Foundation: “I think sports is a metaphor for life. What you learn in sports serve you for the rest of your life: team spirit, determination, how to play the game, how to get up even if you lose and how to keep getting up again and again and again. If girls become women having learned that lesson very early on, I think it’s fantastic for their life because it gives them a framework. They knew if they have the determination, the mission, the goal and the will to work hard, they can achieve and succeed. Even losing is important because it teaches you early how to deal with loss and failure and how to achieve success through that. No matter how you cut it - win or lose - sports is a phenomenal training for life especially a girl’s life.” Hillary Clinton, from 2012 as United States Secretary of State announcing Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports Initiative with ESPN: “We at the State Department believe in the power of sports to bring people together across barriers of all kinds – national barriers, language, cultural, racial barriers, and increasingly across the divide of gender...In addition to what sports can make happen between people, they can also bring about transformative change within people. Sports can make you stronger, tougher, more confident, more resilient, and those qualities stay with you long after you finish the race or the final buzzer sounds.” Laura Gentile, founder of espnW and former All-America field hockey player added: "Sports go way beyond the playing field. As we’ve seen as we’ve built espnW and as we’ve learned throughout our Title IX content initiative, participation in sports has a tremendous impact on women and girls — it improves our self-esteem, our confidence, our ability to work within teams, our ability to lead and our ability to focus on and achieve goals." "It’s critically important, as you build yourself up as a business professional, to be able to learn from others and see them in action," said Ms. Gentile. "Enabling emerging leaders from all over the world — from the Middle East, Asia Pacific, Africa, Latin America — to see U.S. business

leaders in action will leave an indelible mark and ideally enable these women to envision their future." Glamour, 07/04/12 The Women's Sports Foundation noted: “Many Americans have been conditioned by media, politics and prejudice to associate women of Islam with notions of oppression and indignity. This pity is both disempowering and largely misdirected.” HE Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad Al Thani, Chairperson of Reach Out To Asia (ROTA), signed the Sports for Youth Empowerment Declaration 2014 to promote health and development among the youth. It was launched by young ROTA volunteers from Qatar and the Gulf region and highlights the importance of sport for youth development, promoting health, education and professional growth, as well as promoting peace locally and internationally. It calls for cooperation from youth and sport organisations, local and international developmental organisations, UN entities, governmental departments, including schools, sports media and athletes alike. “Through their own determination and sense of responsibility, they drafted its content with the intention of investing in younger generations. They are using sports as a platform to inspire the values that build a healthy and thoughtful society.” Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Ernst &Young’s Global Vice Chair, Public Policy, and Executive Sponsor of the Women Athletes Business Network, per Leaders Magazine 2013: “Countries that don’t support or block women from competing in sports are doing their economies a great disservice by neglecting women’s training as athletes – and that carries implications for building a new generation of business leaders. Women are not just a demographic segment; they are the largest emerging market in the world. Over the next decade, women carry the potential to wield enormous influence over politics, sports, business, and the global economy.” Queen Rania of Jordan opening remarks to Abu Dhabi

Media Summit 2014: “A minority of irreligious extremists is using social media to rewrite our narrative...hijack our identity and rebrand us... “These images don’t represent me anymore than they represent you. They’re alien and abhorrent to the vast majority of Arabs -- Muslims and Christians. And they should make every Arab across this region seethe. Because they’re an attack on our values as a people. And on our collective story... “...Traditional and online (media). You’re our not-so-secret weapon in this fight. Because our silence is the greatest gift we can give to ISIS. We need you to give voice to the coalition of moderates all over the world. Let their message be heard... “Our strategy must be long-term. And that starts by investing in quality education for all. Training teachers. Wiring and modernizing schools. Updating curricula. Because a good education could be the difference between your life being narrated as a forgettable blurb… or a classic that’s referenced long after you're gone. And let me emphasize one point. When I said, “quality education for all”, I meant girls as well as boys. Because educated girls strengthen their nations’ economies…they prioritize the health and education of their own children… and they help to build stable societies more resilient to radicalization. Why else would Boko Haram…the Taliban…and ISIS be so afraid of them – girls with books?” Geneva Overholser is an independent journalist, former director or USC Annenberg School of Journalism, editor of The Des Moines Register, ombudsman of The Washington Post and member of Women’s Media Center who wrote the postcript in The Status of Women in the U.S. Media in 2014: “...News media are at their best when they call upon the wisdom of all the people whom they serve, when they reflect everyone’s experience and bring in the hopes and dreams and fears of every sort of person….People want to consume media in which they can see themselves, media

that reflect their experiences. More people will come to the kind of media that offer these opportunities. This can translate into sustainability for a news organization. And a population that is lucky enough to have a diverse chorus of voices and a lively exchange of views is going to make better decisions and live lives more richly connected to their communities. How lovely it would be if young girls, and old women, and people of every color and creed, could go to news media and see themselves there...But we whose voices aren’t being heard are also at fault. We too often think our views are not valuable. It’s true that the absence of our voices in the media seems to send the signal that our views aren’t valued. But we know that they are valuable. We need to try harder to make them heard.” Christine Brennan is an award-winning sports journalist, USA Today columnist and co-founder of the Association for Women in Sports Media. On its 25th year anniversary, she noted: “When AWSM was getting off the ground, we used to joke that our goal was to put ourselves out of business. By that we meant that we would solve the issue of equal access, take care of all the other problems of inequality and unfairness for women in the sports media and be done with our work...How silly that sounds now. Of course other issues have bubbled to the surface: issues of jobs, advancement, career changes, sexism, mentoring, support, health, even the treatment of women on the Internet.” Geena Davis is an Academy Award-winning actress, Olympic archery team semi-finalist and founder of The Geena Davis Institute on Gender In Media which aims to reduce stereotyping and increase diverse female characters in media for children. Ms. Davis commented on gender disparity: "We judge our value to society by seeing ourselves reflected in the culture," she said. "And if you don't see yourself reflected, or if you see yourself being sidelined...or being hyper-sexualized, you're going to take in something about your value. And boys are going to take in something about the worth and value of girls and women as well, when they don't see them represented." Women’s Media Center, 05/11/10







Calendar of Major Sports Events in 2015 Australian Open International Hockey Federation Women's Indoor World Cup World Archery - European Indoor Championships NCAA Women's Final Four Championship Women's FIFA World Cup European Games EuroBasket Women Wimbledon Pan American Games FINA World Championships Special Olympics World Summer Games Netball World Cup Commonwealth Youth Games Pan Arab Games

January 19 February 1, 2015 February 4 - 8, 2015 February 24 - 28, 2015 April 5 - 7, 2015 June 6 - July 5, 2015 June 12 - 28, 2015 June 11 - 28, 2015 June 29 - July 12, 2015 July 10 - 26, 2015 July 24 - August 9, 2015 July 25 - August 2, 2015 Aug 7 - 16, 2015 September 5 - 12, 2015 TBD

Australia Germany Turkey Florida (USA) Canada Azerbaijan Hungary & Romania United Kingdom Canada Russia California (USA) Australia Samoa Lebanon

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Profile for Shirzanan  Global

Shirzanan Global Edition - Pilot Issue  

Empowering Muslim Female Through Sport and Media. You can learn more about Shirzanan Global on the website: http://shirzananglobal.net And...

Shirzanan Global Edition - Pilot Issue  

Empowering Muslim Female Through Sport and Media. You can learn more about Shirzanan Global on the website: http://shirzananglobal.net And...