Global Roundup: From the All-Women Muslim Skate Crew to the Ethiopian Teen Show, From Women Fighting Violence at Home in Afghanistan to Farming in Mexico to Demining in the Middle East

Compiled by Inaara Merani

Photography via Skater Uktis via gal-dem

Skater Uktis, founded last January, is an all-women Muslim skate crew which has been establishing a global presence of women Muslim skaters. Skater Uktis was founded by Nusaiba Al-Azami, a trainee psychotherapist completing her masters in Psychodynamic Counselling, and a lover of the sport. Nusaiba stopped skating at a young age, but returned to it a few years ago; she aspires to be a professional skater and is passionate about using skating as a tool for personal development. 

Ukti, or Ukhti, is a term of endearment meaning “my sister” in Arabic, a fitting name for this tight-knit community of newly found sisters. Since launching last year, the group has grown to 23 team members all over the world. While this group started in the UK, the team now has members in Norway, Spain, USA, Nigeria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand - truly a global sisterhood! Skater Uktis has two goals: develop together spiritually and develop as skaters. The group was founded because of a shared love for both skating and religion. Every week, the group meets on Zoom to openly discuss their faith, as well as their mental health. Having a non-male-dominated space has been a game changer for many as it has provided these women with an opportunity to openly speak about their religion. 

While society has made strides to include Muslim women in mainstream sports, there is still much to be done. In 2017, Nike announced its new Pro Hijab which was supposed to address the barriers between exercise and religion, but many Muslims felt that they were solely being used for profit. This performative activism by Nike and other companies has not been demonstrative of inclusivity, nor has it resulted in increased participation of Muslim women in sports. 

most non-Muslim brands are trying to make money out of the community. They just tapped into a market that they didn’t realise existed. When it comes to Islamophobia, are they speaking out for Muslims? Are they trying to help us? Do they actually care about our religion? No. - Aisha 

The Skater Uktis haven’t set out to challenge stereotypes or improve what the everyday person thinks of them, that is simply “an added benefit” of being “badass practicing Muslim women” on wheels. Skater Uktis wants to place this marginalized sisterhood at the forefront of the discussion, so that Muslim women become more visible. 

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Attendees stand next to portraits of women who suffered violence at an exhibition in Faizabad, Badakhshan province in December 2019. Photograph: Sharif Shayeq/AFP via Getty via The Guardian

In Afghanistan, the rates of domestic violence are staggeringly high. According to Human Rights Watch, about 87% of Afghan women and girls experience abuse in their lifetime. For Nabila, abuse had become a routine aspect of her 30-year marriage until she finally escaped after her husband tried to set her on fire. Although she was able to get out in time, looking back she wishes that she had known her rights and known the resources around her. She did not know who to contact or where to go. Nabila is currently living in hiding with her mother, working as a cook and cleaner, afraid that one day her story might be exposed and her abuser may find her. For many Afghan women, this is an unfortunate reality. 

Violence starts at home and it can slowly move out – into the streets, the schools, everywhere. That’s why it needs to be extinguished at the source - Freshta Farah, Afghan Women’s Network 

Talk for Harmony is a newly founded initiative which seeks to connect survivors of abuse with a multitude of support services. Founded by the Afghan Women’s Network, every service is free and accessible to any Afghan living in a violent home, or for anyone suffering mental health problems as a result of violence. Services include mediation, psychosocial support, and legal advice. This campaign aims to reduce the amount of gender-based violence in the home, encourages survivors to seek help and advice from specialist support services, and also supports those who want to tackle their violent habits. 

By using social media, Talk for Harmony is able to quickly reach survivors and perpetrators and figure out the best course of action, whether it be mediation or divorce. The campaign is set to launch for two months, but the Afghan Women’s Network hopes that it will stretch far beyond this time limit, and will continue to support survivors of domestic violence.

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Participants from the Sembrando Esperanza (Sowing Hope) module in San Cristóbal Tepeteopán pose for a photo with vegetables from their greenhouse. Some in the program sell the vegetables they harvest, others use the produce to feed their families. Photo: UN Women/ Dzilam Méndez

The Second Chance Education and Vocational Learning Programme in Mexico is literally giving women, whose education was interrupted, a second chance. UN Women, in partnership with the south-central state of Puebla’s Ministries of Substantive Equality and Welfare and the civil society organization SEPICJ AC, spearheaded an initiative to support women wishing to start a business or enter the labour market, especially in farming. Since its creation, the programme has trained 80 women to manage and maintain a greenhouse, to economically empower them, and also foster leadership skills. Second Chance has provided Mexican women with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the agricultural sector, one which has traditionally been dominated by men. 

Second Chance is helping to change our ideals. It helps us see that women have the same rights as men. It empowers us and enables us to become enterprising women. The programme makes us feel free, and above all, responsible - Marie Guadalupe Montalvo. 

Through this initiative, these women have been able to use their knowledge to successfully harvest crops. As a result, they have been able to indulge in these crops and they have also been fortunate to sell their crops for a profit. Additionally, the women partaking in this programme have passed their knowledge onto their family members, who have also started participating in similar agricultural activities. 

The Second Chance programme plans to reach 5000 women and 30,000 indirect beneficiaries in Mexico, Jalisco and Puebla by 2021. The programme is focused on empowering women through education, making it a significant contributor to the UN 2030 Agenda. In order for this agenda to be successful, gender equality must be at the forefront. Without the equal participation of women and girls in society, we cannot advance. We must continue to involve women and girls in important processes in order to enhance their capacity and allow them to meaningfully contribute to society. 

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‘Being a women doing this was strange. But we had lots of support’: a team clearing mines in Lebanon. Photograph: Sean Sutton via The Guardian

After decades of war in their homelands, women have begun to assist in the removal of lethal mines and IEDs. Hana Khider is just one example of many deminers who are trying to restore their homeland to what it was before the war. As a Yazidi, Khider’s life was threatened during the war when 5,000 Yazidis were massacred and 7,000 women and girls were captured and sold as sex slaves to Isis members. She was able to escape to Kurdistan in 2014, but later returned to her hometown Sinjar with her family in 2016, where she began working as a deminer at the Mines Advisory Group. 

During their regime, Isis purposely left many improvised explosive devices (IEDs) everywhere. To this day, IEDs can be found inside containers, cooking pots, cellphones, and even children’s toys. Deminers must carefully comb and work through the land to identify IEDs that could still cause major harm. 

When we – myself and my female colleagues – first started working as deminers, it was a strange thing in the community,” she says. “But they were also very open to that. I got support from my husband, from my family, my relatives and the beneficiaries of the land we cleared - Hana Khider

In southern Lebanon, women are also leading the charge as deminers. Historically, deminers were men; however, women in mining have shifted the narrative by demonstrating that anyone can do the job. Through their work as deminers, these women have challenged gender norms and have truly shown how strong women are both individually and collectively. As these brave women continue to enter into these dangerous situations to rid their homeland of remnants from the war, they are slowly rebuilding their homes and making the region safer for everyone around them. These women are heroes! 

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via Girl Effect

Yegna is a multi-platform youth brand in Ethiopia designed to address and tackle important issues pertaining to women’s rights through radio, TV, digital channels and music. Founded by Girl Effect, this initiative has reached thousands of youth across Ethiopia and has provided important education about women’s rights issues. Yegna means “ours” in Amharic; it is deeply rooted in Ethiopian culture. 

In particular, the TV show, Yegna, has gained considerable traction since 2019, with an audience of over 10 million people. The show follows the lives of five girls and two boys who strive to find their voice and follow their dreams. On their journeys, they learn about real-life challenges that teenage girls face today including: relationships, menstruation, puberty, vaccinations and violence. 

For decades, the media has hypersexualized, diminished and victim-blamed women, for simply being women. Stereotypes about women have been heightened in the media and women’s experiences continue to be inaccurately depicted. Yegna uniquely reflects the realities that teenage women around the world encounter daily. It is extremely valuable for teenagers to learn about women’s rights issues at a young age, as it can prepare them for real-life experiences. 

Yegna is now in its fourth season and will continue to produce important content in the coming months.  

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Inaara Merani (she/her) is a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa where she studied  International Development and Globalization with a minor in Women’s Studies. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about human rights, social justice and feminism, and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat. 

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