Monday, September 19, 2016

The 2nd World Nomad Games...

In early September Kyrgyzstan hosted the 2nd World Nomad Games at the lakeside resort town of Cholpon-ata. The Games kicked off with a lavish opening ceremony on September 3 and closed with an eclectic concert on September 8. The week between was filled with earnest competition, friendly contests, and a full-on Central Asian Burning Man-like festival. Attended by delegations from more than 40 countries–some serious competitors and some perhaps press-ganged backpackers–the Games were a vibrant celebration of nomadic culture. “If Genghis Khan were alive, he’d be here,” the announcer at the opening ceremonies boomed to an appreciative cheer from the crowd.
8 September marked the final day of the World Nomad Games, which saw Kyrgyzstan finishing at the top of the medals table and an impressive closing ceremonyThe Games included over 20 sports and games traditional to nomadic cultures, including falconry, horse racing, wrestling and Buzkashi, a Central Asian sport in which horse-mounted players attempt to place a goat or calf carcass in a goal. The games were accompanied by a cultural programme, which this year featured music and fashion events.
Kyrgyzstan triumphed in the medals table, winning 79 medals including 25 golds. Making up the rest of the top five were Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan. The second World Nomad Games were held from 3 – 8 September 2016  on the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Remove Your Veils!

The headscarf in the colonial period
As far back as over 100 years ago, people were already arguing that the headscarf was a symbol of male oppression and therefore incompatible with Western civilisation and its system of values. In the French colonies, authorities actually followed through on these ideas, forcing women to take off their veils. Historical insights from Susanne Kaiser
It must have been a strange spectacle: a group of traditionally dressed female Muslims gathered on a stage. Then, before the eyes of the tense spectators and a specially invited group of international journalists, they were given a sign and simultaneously began to take off their veils. Perhaps they took to the podium one by one, pulled off their headscarves and publically declared that they were freeing themselves from patriarchal tradition and embracing emancipation.
Soldiers were ordered to mingle among the audience and encourage unveiled locals to join in, to support the de-veiling spectacle on the stage with applause and expressions of sympathy. Everything was carefully staged, no dramaturgical detail left to chance. But did Muslim women feel liberated from the male yoke in the wake of this public display?
The colonial rulersmasquerade
One of the women later recalled how she had cried when she was forced to put on a red and blue robe for the mass spectacle. As though in a theatre, she was supposed to embody "Marianne", the female representation of the French Republic.
Monique Ameziane was 18 years old when she was selected for the propaganda campaign of the French colonial power in Algeria, a campaign that attained its climax in de-veiling ceremonies held for maximum media effect in all the major towns and cities in the year 1958. Her story is documented in the military archives of the French army in Paris. The young Algerian woman did not voluntarily remove her veil, but only took part in the theatre because she was told that her detained brother might otherwise face execution. Others like her joined in because they did not want to lose their jobs in French households.
French generals intended to make an example of women like these, and show the whole world how modern France was triumphing over the archaic nations of Islamic Africa.
"In The Seraglio" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman (photo: Wikipedia)
"In The Seraglio" by Frederick Arthur Bridgman. For the colonial powers of Europe, the veil was the epitome of cultural and social backwardness: in Egypt, for example, "to put an end to the 'medieval and barbaric customs of Islam', legions of well-meaning educators were let loose on the colonial civil population [...] to express solidarity with repressed and disadvantaged women against the dominance of the Oriental male, and liberate them from it"
Step-by-step guides to de-veiling
In Egypt, the British had already realised by the late nineteenth century that women were the key to dominance of the colonies and instigated a public debate over the hijab. The feminist intellectual Leila Ahmed shows how Lord Cromer exploited the head covering to his own ends, in order to expose "Islam" as a complete social failure. He said that the gender-based segregation effected by the veil branded women as inferior and subservient to men. This was how Cromer attempted to play Egyptian women off against their husbands, fathers and brothers.
In order to put an end to the "medieval and barbaric customs of Islam", legions of well-meaning educators were let loose on the colonial civil population: missionaries, feminists, even doctors were deployed to express solidarity with repressed and disadvantaged women against the dominance of the Oriental male, and liberate them from it. They often distributed handbooks with a step-by-step guide on how to remove the veil.
Cromer – apparently such a champion of women's rights – made a name for himself in England as an opponent of female suffrage. In Egypt, he made sure that no more women qualified as doctors – women, he felt, were better able to realise their natural qualities as nurses. There are rumours that Cromer was not concerned with the freedom of Egyptian women at all, but that he couldn't bear to be seen by women concealed from his own view by the hijab.
The dream of a domesticated society
The colonial period in Egypt ended before the "forced emancipation" could bear real fruit. In Algeria, on the other hand, the dream of a total domestication of society continued for a while longer. But because most Muslim women did not want to give up their hijab of their own accord, they had to be pushed towards their "happiness", and because that wasn't as easy as they thought, the colonial authorities resorted to more creative methods.
Monique Ameziane, who had to play the part of "Marianne" in a de-veiling ceremony, is an example of this colonial inventiveness. The twist in her story is that in actual fact, until her stage appearance, she hadn't actually been wearing a headscarf at all. It was, in fact, wrapped around her head especially for the ceremony.
Rudolf Lennert's "Tunisian Bedouin" (source: Lehnert & Landrock, Cairo)
Rudolf Lennert's "Tunisian Bedouin". The Orient as the West liked to imagine it: in 1890s' France, "pictures and postcards were circulated among the French public, allegedly portraying totally normal Muslim women as ladies of the harem in sumptuous robes and in suggestive poses, veiled yet bare-breasted"
Frantz Fanon, who hailed from Martinique and was, therefore, himself from a French colony, is today regarded as a pioneer of post colonial theory. In his case studies from this era, Fanon presents other victims of the enforced de-veilings who were dressed in exotic traditional robes for the act – or at least in what the French considered to be traditional robes.
The media trick with the ethnic clothing had already been effective in the 1890s. At that time, pictures and postcards were circulated among the French public, allegedly portraying totally normal Muslim women as ladies of the harem in sumptuous robes and in suggestive poses, veiled yet bare-breasted. It later emerged that the pictures had been staged and that prostitutes had been paid a great deal of money for their involvement.
They did, however, fulfil their purpose and fuelled the oriental fantasies of French men, who were barred from all contact with Muslim women – apart from prostitutes. At the same time, those who remained at home could imagine that this was what conquest looked like. The Algerian author Malek Alloula has put together an informative collection of French harem pictures.
Colonial folklore for the anti-colonial resistance
But Fanon shows something else too – and this is the essential message that emerges from many of his writings, one that is considered far too infrequently in contemporary discourse – namely that women put up a fight. When they realised how obsessed the occupiers were with the veil and saw the possibilities that this presented, they wasted no time in exploiting the power of this piece of cloth to further their own interests. Female resistance fighters who had previously worn the veil now disguised themselves as converts by removing their headscarves. Dressed in Western outfits and high heels and with elaborately coiffed hair, they were not taken seriously by border guards patrolling France's newly acquired cities (such as Algiers). This enabled them to smuggle weapons for the anti-colonial resistance in their handbags.
These days, Muslim women in Europe are fighting back, but not in a militant fashion. Instead, they take their cases to the constitutional court or write books. At the same time, feminists such as Alice Schwarzer continue to take the same line as more than 100 years ago, namely that the key to the emancipation of Muslim societies lies in the status of women. They see the headscarf as the flag of Islamism; the symbol that sets women apart, that makes them second-class citizens. They say that the headscarf and full-body veil are a serious impediment to and restriction on movement and communication.
In all of this, they do not seem to be aware of the dilemma they are presenting to Muslim wearers of the headscarf: is the only option open to women to choose between allowing themselves to be dominated by men or by pseudo-feminists? Faced with this choice, many opt for the veil.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

For Many Women And Girls The White, Western Liberal Ideal Of Girlhood Is Neither Possible Nor Desired...

In recent decades, the world has been moved to help girls, especially those in the global South. The Western campaigns and projects are legion: Girl EffectGirl UpGirl RisingG(irls)20 SummitBecause I am a GirlLet Girls LearnGirl Declaration.
The United Kingdom’s former prime minister, Gordon Brown, regularly writes about the potential of girls (see for example here). In 2009 the popular New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn wrote the book Half the Sky about the oppression of young women. It has led to the creation of an eponymous movement devoted to ‘turning oppression into opportunity’ for young women. This April, the World Bank pledged $2.5 billion dollars for investment in girls’ education and empowerment projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Are girls really the key to societal progress? Why has the international development field converged on the figure of the girl? What kind of girlhood is desired?
Women and girls have frequently functioned as symbols for expressing hopes and fears, a powerful shorthand for the kind of society that people want, and what they think is important. Today, development campaigns often portray girls in the global South as not only threatened by disease, terrorism, patriarchy and poverty, but also as holding the potential to resolve these problems. This combination of promise and fragility makes girls irresistible targets for reform. Girls stand in not only for their own but also their family’s, nation’s and indeed the world’s progress.
Generally, the international development community sees rather particular ways of being a girl as healthy and modern. In short, empowered, modern girlhoods are marked by individualism and entrepreneurship, consumerism, delayed marriage and motherhood, participation in the wage-labour market, and positive public expressions of sexuality. It’s a model of girlhood most associated with the white, middle-class experience. In contrast, girls living in poverty, in rural areas or in neighbourhoods rife with violence, crime or drugs find themselves classified as ‘at-risk’, ‘backward’ or ‘failed’ girls. So are girls who prioritise the wellbeing of their faith communities and families, and who value solidarity over individualism. But, all is not lost – education, empowerment and/or leadership projects posit that failed girls can be transformed into empowered, modern girls.
UN Photo Pakistani schoolgirl
A young girl does her school work in Karachi, Pakistan. Credit: UN Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
My research in Pakistan, however, highlights women and girls for whom the white, Western liberal ideal of girlhood is neither possible nor desired. These girls viewed waged work not as a ‘choice’ or a ‘right’ but as a form of compulsion, primarily because the work opportunities available to them are often contingent and highly exploitative. They called for strengthening local systems of support, including faith-based governance bodies, councils and civil society organisations. The Western international development community typically deems such institutions as patriarchal, oppressive and unaware of ‘best practices’. However, my participants found these organisations supportive, especially when public/state-sponsored social services were absent. It is these local organisations that step in when development agencies leave or are unable to sustain projects.
No one is suggesting that all local organisations are exemplars of gender justice – the jirga (village council) who ordered the murder this May of 16-year-old Ambreen in Abbottabad for helping her friend escape the village to marry is clearly not! What I am suggesting, however, is that there are many ways of being a girl. Surely, if girlhood is important, and girls are important, then girls and women in the global South also deserve a say in what kind of life they want, and how to live it.
In practice, the attention on the figure of the girl makes social development appear as yet another individualised project. It avoids attention on the structures, systems and networks that actually produce the economic, social and political marginalisation of girls. For example, the search for new markets in Africa and Asia, corruption, colonial legacies, and the War on Terror all deepen poverty and displace hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. But the international community asks girls to takepersonal responsibility for their welfare. For instance, Nike Foundation’s campaign Girl Effect portrays girls as ‘co-creators of new solutions’ to poverty. How are adolescent girls going to address state corruption and the War on Terror? No one is denying the agency of girls; indeed, I have documented such forms of resistance. However, we cannot expect girls to do this work in the absence of an authorising environment. Putting the onus of solving systemic problems such as poverty, terrorism and disease solely on girls, rather than calling for political solutions, is in reality contrary to the interest of girls.
The convergence on the figure of the girl should be greeted with skepticism. These campaigns tend to render invisible some of the biggest problems afflicting girls in the global South. In the case of Pakistan, for instance, we can begin by acknowledging the political and economic conditions that make the lives of girls and their families precarious. This would include advocating for living wages rather than simply ‘jobs’. It would involve protesting the exploitation of the country’s natural resources and its people by transnational capital. It would call for legal measures to provide safe working environments, and holding the Pakistani state accountable for re-investing in the enervated social service sectors. Ending the rampant corruption among the political elite, as demonstrated by the recent charges of money-laundering against the prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s family, would also help girls because it would help Pakistan. Not coincidentally, it is Sharif’s daughter who is leading USAID’s Let Girls Learn project in the country. As long as attention remains on girls, instead of elite corruption and exploitation, the revenue streams for the Sharif family remain open.
Effective feminism, feminism for the people instead of the elite one per cent, requires structural changes to political and financial institutions to improve the wellbeing of women and girls. We should not allow feminism to be reduced to window dressing that can be used to transform girls into flexible, low-paid and underemployed workers – the ‘human capital’ needed to reproduce current inequalities.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My Name is Kashmir...

My name is Kashmir 
My name is not India 
My name is not Pakistan too
My name is Kashmir 
and my name is Maqbool Butt
My name is Afzal Guru 
My name is Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani
My name is Burhan Muzaffar Wani
My name is Parveena Ahangar
and many mothers like her
I have many other names whose names
I don't know; they are known as the “disappeared”
My name is Kashmir 
My name is the names of women who were raped at Kunan Poshpora
and my name is the name of unknown graves. 
My name is the name of thousands of youth who were killed
and no one knows where their dead bodies are 
My name is Kashmir
My name is not India
My name is not Pakistan too.
-Ajmal Khan AT

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Modest Fashion is Everywhere! But Where Are Its Roots?

When tracing the roots of modest fashion, it becomes clear that its history has been long lost and forgotten. From the early eighth century, which was dominated by the Islamic Empire, to the Ottoman Turks in the fourteenth century, modest clothing has been designed and worn by women from many different cultures and backgrounds. The definition of what was to be worn was not homogenous either, but had a varying degree.

The ‘modest’ woman however, should not be reduced down to her dress sense. The attire we choose to astonish and captivate the world’s heart with is merely one part of the identity. Modesty is a concept that delves into a long deep dialogue, with contrasting opinions and thoughts but nonetheless, we must not magnify our differences. After all, time has sequentially proved that the definition of modest clothing has adjusted, accordingly with social customs.

Saudi Arabia –  Pre-Islamic Arabia
In pre-Islamic Arabia, women were already wearing long robes and shawls that would drape over the shoulders and ensured a loose effect.

Saudi Arabia – Abbasid Islamic Period
During the Abbasid Islamic Period in the eighth century, Muslim women continued the legacy of colorful clothing. Although, this was not too long after the emergence of the mystic and elegant black abaya appeared. It is the same black abaya that is symbolic and present in the Muslim world today. Yet this unraveling transformation has a story behind it.

Some time in the eighth century, in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a poor merchant began selling cloaks: one in every color. One day, the merchant ran out of his colorful cloaks and was left with only black ones that were not wanted by anyone.

He felt despair, but the merchant recalled that he had noble poet as a friend and decided to make a visit to ask for help. The poet then composed a poem that praised the beauty and blessings of the woman who was seen dressed in a ‘mysterious’ black garment, mentioning that black was the color worn by the rich and the noble.

The story ends there. Moments after the poem was written, women flocked to the cloak seller leaving him rich and the women leaving the shop feeling richer.

Ottoman Empire – Fourteenth Century
Dating back to fourteenth century, where the Ottoman Empire ruled the borders of the Mediterranean Sea, women’s clothing had an interesting, yet magnificent aura that would simultaneously convey elegance and royalty. The enatri, otherwise known as kaftan,was the primary garment of choice. It was worn with a gömlek (under tunic), a hirka (cardigan) , salvar (ankle-length trousers) and a ferace (overmantle).

As Aise Asli Sancar, a renowned writer on Ottoman women, once said that the Ottoman women are much more complex and multifaceted than usually portrayed. And indeed this is true. There is a plethora of knowledge to learn about the fashion that was prevalent during the reign of this empire.    

Headdresses at the time of the Ottoman Empire were prevalent. The Seljuk women wore embroidered cloths on their heads, or were seen wearing a dazzling diadem dressed with a gem in the shape of a crop at the center of the forehead. A couple of centuries later, starting from the early seventeenth century, women’s headdresses began to transform into lighter caps, manifested by the hotoz, as shown below. But of course, like any other form of clothing, these headdresses were ornate and diversely unique.

The modest kaftan style of women’s clothing was once the stamp of female attire in the arabesque world of Morocco. Its potent effect as a fashion statement and as an illustration of boldness and beauty is still alive in modern fashion, as we see young women across the globe wearing these long flowing robes and colorful headscarves. The influence of the kaftan has stretched far to reach even the high end fashion shows in recent times.

So, modest fashion has transformed through history, yet kept its primitive essence of elegance, length, and style. The root of it is what built the modest industry today. The trends and items that we are now exposed to, usually found online, have been influenced and shaped by what women wore far back in eighth century. Alas, it would be nice to see modest fashion having the larger scale influence that it deserves. Maybe one day we’ll live to see fashion week London, Milan, Paris, and New York implementing a separate runway dedicated to modest fashion!


Friday, July 8, 2016

The Matriarchy Is Real and It Has Been Working for Centuries...

Mainstream society has by and large been dominated by men for at least the past few millennia. But under-the-radar communities where women are at the center of the culture have long existed. Prevalent mostly in rural areas, matriarchal societies differ from the mainstream in many ways — some surprising, some less so. 

Matriarchy is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a family, group, or state governed by a woman; or a system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traced through the female line. Contrary to popular misgivings, the matriarchy is not a system where women lord over men; rather, as founder of the International Academy HAGIA for Modern Matriarchal Studies Heidi Goettner-Abendroth put it to Dame magazine: The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, i.e. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect. However, things are certainly different when gender power structures are flipped around. Many societal issues that exist today seem to be absent in matriarchal societies, and both men and women are happier when the society holds different values, at least according to Argentinian writer Ricardo Coler, who spent two months with the famous women-led Mosuo tribe in China. Here are some that stand out the most:

Family Structure
Many matriarchal societies are matrilineal, where the line of descent is through a female ancestor. Heritage is passed from the woman; children often get family titles and names from their mother, and land is typically handed down from mother to daughter.

Khasi tribe in India is matrilineal and matrilocal, which means that children live with the mother's side of the family or clan. Marriage in matriarchal societies are typically non-binding, and various types of romantic relationships are embraced. In the mostly matrilocal tribe of Khasi in India, because children live with the mother's family side of the family or clan, there is little to no stigma and hardship when women divorce and have to move. "No matter how many times the woman marries, her children will always remain with her," editor of The Shillong Times and a Khasi, Patricia Mukhim, told Dame magazine. "And even if a man abandons a woman he has impregnated, the children are never 'illegitimate.' "

A woman from Umoja, Kenya, a village established by a group of women who abandoned their husbands after being raped by them. In mainstream society, men overwhelmingly commit more crimes — and more serious ones at that — than women. Jennifer Schwartz of Washington State University's Department of Sociology told Dame magazine: In more gender-egalitarian societies, there is much less crime by both women and men. And in those societies, the crime gap between women and men is somewhat larger, that is, women participate even less in crime.

Generally, people who live in matriarchal societies have much more sex and face much less stigma. In the Mosuo tribe, for example, men and women can take as many sexual partners as they please and bearing children with different people is accepted. 

Domestic Violence
Domestic abuse is an epidemic in mainstream society; an estimated 3-4 million women are battered each year in the U.S. alone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are indications that domestic violence is close to absent in matrilineal societies.

By standard definition, a matriarchy is a “family, group or state governed by a matriarch (a woman who is head of a family or tribe).” Anthropologists and feminists have since created more specific classifications for female societies, including the matrilineal system. Matrilineality refers not only to tracing one’s lineage through maternal ancestry, it can also refer to a civil system in which one inherits property through the female line. While the legendary Amazons (probably the most widely known matriarchy) are relegated to mythology, there are a handful of female-led societies that thrive in the real world today.

Living near the border of Tibet in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, the Mosuo are perhaps the most famous matrilineal society. The Chinese government officially classifies them as part of another ethnic minority known as the Naxi, but the two are distinct in both culture and language.

The Mosuo live with extended family in large households; at the head of each is a matriarch. Lineage is traced through the female side of the family, and property is passed down along the same matriline. Mosuo women typically handle business decisions and men handle politics. Children are raised in the mother's households and take her name.

The Mosuo have what's called “walking marriages." There is no institution of marriage; rather, women choose their partners by literally walking to the man’s home and the couples never live together. Since children always remains in the mother’s care, sometimes the father plays little role in the upbringing. In some cases, the father's identity is not even known. Instead, the male’s childrearing responsibilities remain in his own matrilineal household.

At four million people, the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia, (pictured above, during a harvest season celebratino) are the largest known matrilineal society today. In addition to tribal law requiring all clan property to be held and bequeathed from mother to daughter, the Minangkabau firmly believe the mother to be the most important person in society.

In Minangkabau society, women usually rule the domestic realm while the men take the political and spiritual leadership roles. However, both genders feel the separation of powers keeps them on an equal footing. Upon marriage, every woman acquires her own sleeping quarters. The husband may sleep with her, but must leave early in the morning to have breakfast at his mother’s home. At age 10, boys leave their mother’s home to stay in men's quarters and learn practical skills and religious teachings. While the clan chief is always male, women select the chief and can remove him from office should they feel he failed to fulfill his duties. 

The Akan people are a majority in Ghana, where they predominantly reside. The Akan social organization is fundamentally built around the matriclan, wherein one's identity, inheritance, wealth, and politics are all determined. All matriclan founders are female, but men traditionally hold leadership positions within the society. These inherited roles, however, are passed down matrilineally—meaning through a man's mothers and sisters (and their children). Often, the man is expected to not only support his own family, but those of his female relatives.

The Bribri are a small indigenous group of just over 13,000 people living on a reserve in the Talamanca canton in the Limón province of Costa Rica. Like many other matrilineal societies, the Bribri are organized into clans. Each clan is made up of extended family, and the clan is determined through the mother/females. Women are the only ones who traditionally can inherit land. Women are also endowed with the right to prep the cacao used in sacred Bribri rituals.

Much like their Khasi neighbors in the North-East Indian state of Meghalaya, the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Garos pass property and political succession from mother to daughter—typically, he youngest daughter inherits her mother's property. Much like the Akan, however, the societiy is matrilineal but not matriarchal: the men govern the society and manage property.

Oftentimes, the youngest daughter's marriage is arranged for her. But for non-inheriting daughters, the process can be much more complex. In Garo tradition, the groom-to-be is expected to run away from a proposal of marriage, requiring the bride-to-be's family to "capture" him and return him to his potential bride's villiage. This back-and-forth is repeated until the bride either gives up, or the groom accepts her proposal (often after she has made many promises to serve and obey him). Once married, the husband lives in his wife’s house. Should it not work out, the union is dissolved without social stigma, as marriage is not a binding contract.

The Nagovisi live in South Bougainville, an island west of New Guinea. Anthropologist Jill Nash reported Nagovisi society was divided into two matrilineal moieties, which are then divided into matriclans. Nagovisi women are involved in leadership and ceremonies, but take the most pride in working the land entitled to them. Nash observed that when it comes to marriage, the Nagovisi woman held gardening and shared sexuality at equal importance. Marriage is not institutionalized. If a couple is seen together, sleeps together, and the man assists the woman in her garden, for all intents and purposes they are considered married. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

You, Me, And Colonial Standards Of Beauty...

I was seven years old the when I was gifted my first Barbie. I was visiting my grandfather in Cairo, Egypt, and he took me to a toy store to buy a birthday gift. Having been denied a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Barbie doll by my parents, I knew what I wanted. I chose “Dentist Barbie,” because she came with a chair, dental tools and a white lab coat. I justified it by telling my parents the woman has multiple degrees — she must have her life together.
My parents tried to explain their thinking to me.
“Sumayya,” they said,”You’re never going to have blue eyes or long blonde hair. Your waist will never be that tiny, your chest and hips will never be that perfectly formed, and your knees will bend. We don’t want you saddled with unrealistic expectations of what your body will look like, or what should be considered beautiful. You are beautiful the way God made so, so long as you are clean, healthy and happy.”
Okay, I said. Can I have my Barbie now?
Obviously as I got older, I became more acutely aware of what they were talking about. It can’t come as a surprise that body image is always near the surface of a teenage girl’s mind. I was lucky enough to get through my formative years without some kind of destructive eating disorder, but I can easily count on my fingers the number of girls I know personally who did. It’s a scary thing.
But when it comes to women of colour, it’s more than that. We’re consistently told that if you don’t fit into Western (or as I’m going to refer to it from now on, Colonial) standards of beauty, you’re not beautiful at all. Light skinned, light eyes, straight hair — I think we all know what I’m talking about. This standard of beauty has been internalized by our communities. We see it when our grandmothers tell us not to stay in the sun too long or we’ll “get dark.” We see it when our light eyed friends are fetishized by the older aunties. And we see it when expecting mothers pray for their daughters to be born with straight hair and light skin rather than strong hearts and quick minds.
Women of colour also come in colonial flavours, mind you. We are also fetishized if we are found to be nonthreatening and apolitical. If our eyes are the right shape, we have a cute accent and our hips can be described in a Shakira song, we get called “exotic.” Let’s get one thing straight right now; it’s never okay to refer to a human being as exotic. That word should be reserved for parrots and mangoes.
When it comes to standards of beauty, many of us remain internally colonized. In fact, in general, many of us are internally colonized. We don’t notice because we’ve known no other way of life, but our lives have been irreversibly marked with Western fingerprints.
And not that I’m an expert on how to remove these metaphorical shackles, but I’ve come to a couple of conclusions as to how to at least get by.
Firstly, know your roots. My family is mostly Egyptian, and that accounts for my almond shaped eyes and how quickly I tan in the afternoon sun. I have been told my entire life that I have my grandfather’s nose — not exactly the compliment every young girl wants to hear. But it wasn’t until I learned about the struggles my grandfather went through after leaving his little Egyptian village, until I visited mosques in Cairo with my unbreakable grandmother, until I began to see my own people through a lens untainted by Western penmanship, that I began to see myself as beautiful. These eyes and this skin have survived too much to be brought down by my low self esteem. I am beautiful because of my story and how I came to be is beautiful.
I once had a woman tell me that I would be so much prettier if I “relaxed my hair.” I told her, my hair descended from fighters, it doesn’t want to relax.
I may have been going through an Alex Haley phase at the time, but the sentiment still stands. I have no doubt in my mind that we, as people of colour, as colonized peoples, all have incredibly stories nestled in our family trees. Once you know them, it’s difficult to see yourself as anything less than astounding.
Secondly, surround yourself with narratives and perspectives of other people of colour. A few years ago, I made the decision to only read books by people of colour. I had just graduated from an English undergraduate program and was a little sick of having an all-white, all-male syllabus be hailed as the best that literature has to offer. I began reading more books by women, books translated from different languages, books about history written from alternate perspectives and viewpoints. Not only did it change how I saw the world, it really changed how I saw myself. Writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Louis de Bernieres, Elif Shafak, Isabel Allende — these voices add such colour to a bland literary landscape and should be celebrated for the magic they create.
I took it one step further this year and started buying magazines with only women of colour featured on the cover. This wasn’t even a conscious decision though, it just sort of happened. I suddenly found myself uninterested in reading about women who had very little in common with me. Not that I have tons in common with Kerry Washington or Nicki Minaj, but still. When these women talk about tackling discrimination in the workplace or facing white privilege on a day-to-day basis, I find myself subconsciously nodding along.
Finally, (and this one might make you a little unpopular) when you notice these colonial, destructive tendencies in someone else, say something. I’m not saying disrespect your elders because they want you to come in from the sun; these cultural tendencies might be a little harder to shake. So let’s start with our peers — compliment their differences, their imperfections, their beauty in it’s natural state. But let’s take it one step further. Compliment their goodness, their resilience, their courage and strength. After all, those are the qualities that survived decades of imperialism and oppressive colonization.
These are the qualities that last. Well, and my grandfather’s nose

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Syrian Refugees In Greece 'Put Their Tent On Airbnb', Promising Scorpions, Dehydration And 'Broken Promises'...

A group of Syrians has advertised the tent they are living in on Airbnb, in an ironic dig against the miserable conditions they are experiencing in a camp in Greece.
In the advertisement, the Syrians say they have been living for three months in a tent in a refugee camp in Ritsona, north of Athens, and invite visitors to come and live with them, promising scorpions, dehydration and poor sanitation. 
“This is a real opportunity to experience life as a Syrian refugee,” the advertisement said. “While EU politicians talk about refugees, you can have an authentic refugee experience – tents, wood-fire cooking, 41 degree heat, marginal sanitary situation, friendly scorpions, broken promises, even dehydration.”
The post, which appears to be heavily ironic, promises that “long-term stays always receive a generous discount – please inquire!”
Prospective visitors are advised that they can access “free parking” as well as portable toilets, which are used by 600 refugees. 
“If you are lucky you might get one of the two hot showers. There is a large vacant lot where the toilets are, which the children use as a playground. Please join in the games.”
Schooling and medical help is available “rarely”, the post says, “but for a short-term stay you will be fine; just imagine if you had to stay here for the past four months.”
The refugee camp, an hour’s drive north of the Greek capital, is described as “the most unique neighbourhood in Greece”.
It was not clear who posted the ad, which was written in good English.  It was later removed from the home rental website.
In a statement, Airbnb said it had removed the listing because it was "not permitted under our terms of service".
The company said that it appreciated that the listing was an attempt to highlight "the heartbreaking refugee crisis" and said that it had raised "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for UNHCR in an attempt to deal with the situation.
The firm said that relief workers with organisations like the International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps were entitled to book free accommodation in the areas they are working.
More than 800,000 refugees and migrants, many of them Syrians and Iraqis, arrived in Greece last year after crossing in small boats and dinghies from the coast of Turkey.
The majority of them reached northern Europe after trekking along the so-called Balkan Route from Greece into Macedonia and through Serbia and Hungary to Austria and Germany. But the route was closed in March, stranding more than 50,000 refugees and migrants inside Greece. 
For months around 11,000 camped rough near a railway line at Idomeni in northern Greece, hoping to cross the Macedonian border.
Heavy rain turned the makeshift camp into a swamp, with small children wading through giant puddles and women breast-feeding babies amid camp fires and piles of rubbish.
In recent weeks the refugees were moved to registered camps set up by the Greek military and civilian authorities.
Aid groups and the UNHCR have criticised the camps as being unhygienic, poorly-equipped and inappropriate for a long stay. 
The EU came up with a plan to resettle 160,000 asylum seekers stuck in Greece and Italy but progress has been painfully slow and so far only 2,400 people have been relocated in other EU countries.
An EU-Ankara deal to return refugees and migrants to Turkey has also stalled, with migrants challenging their expulsions in the Greek courts and NGOs denouncing the plan as inhumane and illegal.  Since the deal came into force in March, only 460 people have been sent back to Turkey.
Earlier this month the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres announced it would no longer accept funding from the EU in protest at its "shameful" migration policies, including the Turkey deal. 
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is based in San Francisco. Millions of people use the service to find shared accommodation around the world. 
“Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries,” Airbnb says on its website.