A Tribute to Strong Women – White Ribbon Campaign 2013
This year, instead of hosting a night, I’m taking this opportunity to pass on my praise to some women (and one young girl) I am particularly inspired by right now, for their actions and their courage.
You may recall the piece I wrote last October highlighting the reasons behind the “White Ribbon Campaign”, and why I think the call for an end to violence against women is warranted. Just to recap, here is a brief explanation from my first blog on the subject of the event which spurred men into action in Canada to start the campaign, and why I stand behind this campaign (from October 31 2012):
It is backed by a pledge that men can make, and publish, publicly proclaiming:
I have made the oath, and I have seen a relatively positive response by those who I shared this with, but there were some other topics which came to light as a result of the discussion of this campaign. If enough men commit to not acting violently against women, or not standing by when an act is being perpetrated, then these acts of violence could become a thing of the past.
After I received a fair amount of criticism, mostly from men, for supporting the campaign, which I later covered here on November 2, 2012:
The biggest complaint I encountered was that men were being excluded from this campaign, which was seen as unfair, since men are the victims of violence just as often, or more often than women. While it is true that men are victims more often, it is the nature of the violence against women that makes it something worth singling out as an aspect of human violence that needs to be addressed. The hurdles and obstacles faced by women in daily life are something not faced by men, and in many cases, as you will see below, it takes a strong woman to fight against the violence in a society or a culture, for it is her very life that is at stake.
Here are just some of the women (and girls) that I admire for their courage to speak out against the adversity they face, as activists, as victims of violence, and potential victims of seemingly unavoidable violence in the cultures they inhabit. Please take the time to look all of these people up, as their stories are some of the reasons I consider myself a feminist.
Taslima Nasrin (Nasreen)
I was first introduced to Bengali born Taslima Nasreen via the first Atheist Convention in Melbourne in 2010, where she delivered an inspiring and heart-wrenching talk about her life and subsequent exile from her home Bangladesh because of pressure from Islamic extremists. Her crime? Writing in public condemnation of Islamic practices. And worse, a female writing about Islam!
After moving to India, her writing continued to incite violent threats from Islamic leaders and political groups, culminating in the 2007 riots in the streets of Kolkata, where hundreds of thousands of Islamic protesters took to the streets, and the Indian army was called in to restore order.
Her blog, at Freethought Blogs, titled No Country For Women, specifically talks of the plight of women, particularly at the hands of Islamic cruelty and cultural oppression for women. The Bio at her blog reads, in part:
Taslima’s experiences really spoke to me in 2010, and she was the first person who made me see that the fight for freedom of and from religion should be core at the heart of any movement aiming for equality for women worldwide.
If you have glanced through the “Must Read” section of this blog, you’ll notice that I include an article titled “Why Do They Hate Us?” by Mona Eltahawy (2012, Foreign Policy). This was my first introduction to Ms Eltahawy, but the article really spoke to me in a way that few criticisms of the Islamic patriarchy do. It was succinct, emotive and very damning of her former home in Egypt, and in fact the Middle East as a whole.
Mona, who is a known outspoken political and feminist revolutionary, was attacked and sexually assaulted by Egyptian police officers in a side-street just off Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. An apparently planned attack, this was one of the catalysts that drove her to write “Why Do They Hate Us?’. Of the reaction to the article, she says in an interview with The Independent in 2012:
One need only look at the comments surrounding this particular piece to see that she has definitely touched a nerve, both in the Middle East and the West: Some men full of vitriol for the fact that “men get hurt too”, Islamists saying “How dare you criticise us?”, and other groups just calling her an “angry forty something.” I urge you to read her article and come to your own opinion about it. My opinion is, her article, and continued commentaries, are long overdue.
You can follow Mona on Twitter at
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
I had heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali over the years, but it wasn’t until she joined us at the Think Inc conference in 2011 that I truly became interested. She joined us via satellite link, at the conference, apparently surrounded by bodyguards in a loft apartment in New York. Her face appeared above us all, 5 metres high on a projection, and it felt to us that she was there with us in the auditorium.
Her background is Somalian living in an Islamic society, and her father was a political activist who had a particular distaste of female genital mutilation practices which were rife in Somalia while she was growing up. (She was forced by her grandmother to have the procedure performed on her when she was five, while her father was in prison. This gives a clue as to how deeply entrenched the practice is in countries such as Somalia. It’s not just religion, it is seen in some societies as a “rite of passage”.)
What is interesting about Ms Ali is that she was a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood during her teenage years, and even wore a hijab at high school. She even supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, but later in life came to realise that the system she was supporting was actually one of oppression. In her own words, “It was not so much that I was anti Islam, but that Islam was … anti me.”
After writing a screenplay for Theo van Gogh for the film “Submission” (released in 2004), a film which was very critical of Islam and the societies that harbor it, she was forced to go into hiding after she and van Gogh both received death threats for the film. Van Gogh was subsequently assassinated, and was was found with a threatening letter pinned to his body which was seen primarily as a death threat to Ali herself.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an inspirational woman for continuing to fight against the tyrannies of Islamic patriarchy even after the threats against her and van Gogh were partially realised. She continues, to this day to, to openly fight both against the partiarchal societies that force harm on women, and the religious traditions that justify these atrocities. I may not agree with all of Ali’s politics, but I’d be surprised if I totally agree with anyone’s.
Look her up on Amazon to see the books she has written. Also, there are many YouTube clips with Ali talking about her experiences.
Maryam also writes for Free Thought Blogs, among many other activities, where her bio reads:
Maryam came to my attention in March last year, when, in support of Egyptian student and blogger Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, who received death threats and was also threatened with jail time for posting a nude photo of herself with the description “screams against a society of violence, racism, sexism, sexual harassment and hypocrisy”. This society Aliaa describes is the society she lived in, a very real world where women and girls were finding themselves being stripped of their rights, and being threatened by both authorities and citizens alike.
Maryam’s biggest show of support came in the form of a fundraising calendar, The Nude Revolutionary Calendar, one in which female activists were asked to submit nude photos of themselves in a show of support for Aliaa. Many decried the calendar by saying that it further compounded the problem of the objectification of female bodies, but in actuality is a celebration of the human form. The calendar can also be seen as a defiant cry against the treatment of women in the Middle East, and other places where the rights of women are compromised at the hands of patriarchal and religious misogyny.
Emily is a hero of mine for many reasons, for her tireless support of a secular world, and her blog, Emily Has Books, which is quickly becoming a self-contained and independent blogging community.
Her Bio at her website reads “Emily is an avid reader, and feels that one of our most valuable tools is the free movement of information and ideas. In March (2012) she was featured in Maryam Namazie’s #Nude Photo Revolutionary calendar that made a bold statement about women’s rights and free-expression, and has written book reviews for the Friendly Atheist. In her writing and local activism, Emily focuses on state-church separation and social issues- including free-expression, LGBT, and women’s rights.”
Emily is also an avid supporter of my work, and someone who I think I share a lot of common beliefs about life, atheism and feminism. Emily may not have been subjected to the atrocities of Middle-Eastern anti-women sentiments like some of the others I’ve mentioned, has been a victim of an abusive relationship in her past, from which she struggled to escape. Her unrelenting activism is an inspiration to me here on the other side of the world.
Also included in my “Must Read” section is an article by Soraya Chemaly titled “A Message to Girls About Religious Men Who Fear You“, a very frank and poignant piece which implores girls to see religion as the woman-hating force that it is (for the most part anyhow), and to act out against it.
Soraya continually publishes pieces which challenge the status-quo understanding of sexism and feminism in the world, and publishes these regularly on the Huffington Post website.
Soraya was also heavily involved in the campaign against Facebook to take more responsibility and control over hate-speech on their pages, particularly ones depicting rape and violence against women. The co-authored piece can be read here: “An Open Letter To Facebook“. This prompted Facebook to actually take action, and change their policies to suit. We are yet to see how successful this has been in the long term, but the fact that they gained the attention of the monolith that is Facebook is an achievement in itself.
Other articles of Soraya’s worth reading include “Steubenville: We’re Sick and Tired of Rape Being Treated Like an Unavoidable Joke“, “Online Threats Against Women Aren’t Trivial and Don’t Happen in a Vacuum” and “The Problem with ‘Boys Will Be Boys’“
I was aware of Tara Moss “the model” as I had seen her on TV before, and knew she was an author, but I was unaware of her activist advocacy side until recently. I had seen a few tweets being “retweeted” by some of my followers, but never really paid much attention. That is until I came into contact with Tara on Twitter last November, during the last White Ribbon Campaign, where she added a link to my piece on her blog taramoss.com.
Since I have become acquainted with Tara, I have become a big fan of her blog and the work she does for women’s rights worldwide. Tara was a panelist in The Festival of Dangerous Ideas last September (a festival I was regrettably unable to attend), along with Germaine Greer, Eva Cox, Dannielle Miller and moderator Jenny Brockie, where the topic du jour was “All Women Hate Each Other“.
Most of her blogposts are tagged “Feminism”, and she is an outspoken advocate for the rights of breastfeeding mothers.
Iman Willoughby AKA: ASH:Isis XsaudiWoman
Iman is a very new aquaintence of mine, and until a few days ago I had never heard of her, but her story was so powerful that I thought I’d share with you in this, my Tribute to Strong Women for White Ribbon Day 2013.
I first heard Iman’s story only 3 days ago on @AdamReake‘s Herd Mentality podcast (iTunes link), where she described her life leading up to moving to Canada from Saudi Arabia, and her subsequent sexual assault by a colleague during a work-organised skiing retreat. The perpetrator later admitted that he had planned the whole thing, and had waited until Iman was alone, and the others were all out skiing, to play out the attack. After the attack Iman, being a Saudi expat, found herself the unwitting target of the misogynistic attitudes of her home country, where sexual assault is considered “sex outside of marriage”, and is a punishable offense. She also received little help in her new home of Canada.
Iman has found herself without a job (her role was terminated after the attack) and without any form of justice, but finally after 10 years it seems she will have her day in court. The attacker has returned to Canada and was arrested, and a trial date is set. But her financial hardships continue. Read her full story at her fundraiser IndieGoGo account, and chip in if you can.
Nada Al Ahdal
It’s nigh on impossible to know for sure what will happen to Nada Al Ahdal. She came to the world’s attention 3 days ago when she posted the video below. The eleven year old Yemeni girl talks openly and frankly about why she fled her family for fears of being married into an abusive relationship with an older man. Her fears are justified, and I applaud her for her obvious intelligence and courage. Watch her impassioned message, and you’ll realise what we are up against in this fight for an end to violence against women (and girls).
I hope that Nada’s fleet to her uncle’s house allows her a better life than the one planned for her by her family, culture and religion bade for her.
To finish this blog, and in defense of the White Ribbon Campaign, I fully understand the need to stop violence against any person. Personal violence is an abhorrent thing, and is something that we as a world society would do well to dispense of. But I hope you see that the world of violence is weighted differently for women than it is for men. Many societies have exclusive rights for men that do not extend to women, and in many cases these rights are given to men at the exclusive expense of women and girls. So before anyone tells me to “Just call for a stop to ALL violence“, please take a moment to see what world we are living in, and the perils faced by women at the hands of cultures and religious persecution worldwide.
Others I would suggest following on twitter and reading their blogs include my dear friend Monica Salcedo, Heather Henderson, Kim Rippere and Secular Woman, Melody Hensley, Ophelia Benson, Stephanie Svan, Chrys Stevenson and Shelley Segal… Too many to mention.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but one designed to draw attention to some of the women that I draw inspiration from. The women above show courage of conviction, strength in the face of overwhelming adversity, and many have experienced situations that for most of us can only come from nightmares. There are far too many people I admire to fit on a list like this, so I invite you to add anyone else you think should be added to the list in the comments below.
And since this post is here to help promote the White Ribbon Campaign, why note get involved in your area yourself?