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Two Muslim Women Use Social Media to Empower Others in Unconventional Sports

Two Muslim women, who found a sense of accomplishment by being involved in sports are now helping to empower other women

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Muslim women Kulsoom Abdullah. Image source: VOA
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  • Abdullah appealed the dress code of USA Weightlifting national competition in 2010 to honor her faith as a Muslim woman, which was denied
  • News media picked up her story and her friends took on social media, one year later, she became the first Muslim female to participate in the championship
  • Shareefy, who has a similar background, uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan

Muslim women Kulsoom Abdullah and Mariam Shareefy who found courage only when they were challenged both mentally and physically. Both found a sense of accomplishment by being involved in sports and are now helping to empower other women.

Abdullah, 38, who comes from a very conservative area of Pakistan, became interested in recreational weightlifting in her early 20s.

She qualified to compete in a USA Weightlifting national competition in 2010 but chose not to because she was not comfortable wearing the required uniform — a form-fitting singlet leotard with short sleeves and shorts that leaves most of the arms and legs bare so that officials can see if arms and knees lock, as required in competition.

She wanted to compete yet stay covered to honor her faith as a Muslim woman.

Abdullah appealed the dress code and the group denied her.

Social media campaign

After hearing Abdullah had lost her appeal, her friends started a social media campaign. When the news media picked up her story, Abdullah began to advocate for a change to the association’s dress code.

With the added media attention, Abdullah found her attire was getting more attention than her actual skills, she said.

“It was my attire, not my skills, which made me stand out in the beginning. Seeing a woman covered from head to toe participating in a sport like weightlifting was found rather unusual by the media,” said Abdullah, who became the first Muslim female to participate in the USA Weightlifting national championships 2011 with her head covered.

Abdullah told VOA that she is passionate about weightlifting and was fully aware of the sport’s dress code when she began.

Her website LiftingCovered.com and Facebook page document her weightlifting journey. She advocated to compete in clothing that adheres to religious codes, opening the door for women from cultures around the world to compete.

Her efforts bore fruit and USA Weightlifting, and later the International Weightlifting Federation, modified their rules, allowing Abdullah and others like her to compete while wearing a headscarf.

Kulsoom Abdullah, 38, who comes from a very conservative area of Pakistan, became interested in recreational weightlifting in her early 20s.

Kulsoom Abdullah, 38, who comes from a very conservative area of Pakistan, became interested in recreational weightlifting in her early 20s.

International competitor

Abdullah represented Pakistan at the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships as the first female on the international level to compete while wearing a hijab.

While female participants can compete in international weightlifting events while covered, Abdullah is modest about her accomplishment.

“It doesn’t really feel like I did anything amazing, because I was just trying to be able to do something I was interested in, while not compromising on my values and beliefs,” Abdullah said. “It’s still hard to believe that I’ve done something that affects so many other women around the world.

“In my case, and not just for me, my obstacle was being able to compete while observing my religious dress code, which was here in the USA. Attire can also be an additional obstacle for women in majority Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman (which sent women for the first time to the 2012 summer Olympics),” she said. “Islam gets misrepresented in the media a lot, but what was great in my case, it has helped me make a change.”

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She credits her success as an athlete and advocate to the unflinching support of her family, especially her father.

Abdullah, who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, is currently not competing in the sport, but she continues to help by training other women in weightlifting.

Mariam Shareefy founded AERCS (Afghanistan's Entrepreneurship and Rock Climbing School), a nonprofit organization that uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

Mariam Shareefy founded AERCS (Afghanistan’s Entrepreneurship and Rock Climbing School), a nonprofit organization that uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

Rock climbing school

Shareefy, who comes from the same region and has a similar background as Abdullah, founded AERCS (Afghanistan’s Entrepreneurship and Rock Climbing School), a nonprofit organization that uses rock climbing as a tool to develop young entrepreneurs in Afghanistan.

Based in Boulder, Colorado, Shareefy is training the Afghan immigrant community in Colorado how to rock climb.

Her own journey started when her family, after spending nearly two decades as refugees in Pakistan, decided to return to Afghanistan.

As Shareefy’s family traveled from Peshawar to Kabul, she said she found Afghanistan to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet. When she saw the Mahipar rock formation, she decided she wanted to learn more about the rock faces and how to climb them.

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“The Afghan community here (in Colorado) is huge. They feel isolated and find it very hard to adapt to American culture,” Shareefy told VOA, adding that she wants to use her program to “make sure they become part of this (American) culture and not feel isolated.”

Colorado similarities

While her interest in rock climbing was sparked in Afghanistan, Shareefy finds unparalleled beauty and opportunity in the mountainous and scenic city of Boulder, Colorado.

“Colorado is beautiful, especially its mountains and rocks. Here I have plenty of opportunities to master my skills, this place is known for its rock faces,” she said. “There is no comparison between the opportunities I have here and that in Afghanistan and I want to avail them.”

Shareefy knows the significance of sports in empowering women and shaping their future. That is why she is not only engaging Afghan women refugees in the United States but also has started a project in Afghanistan for children, especially girls.

“We have started a project in Afghanistan for youth that teaches entrepreneurship through hiking,” she said. (VOA)

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  • Kabir Chaudhary

    Kulsoom Abdullah is one of the great examples of what women are capable to do

  • Navmi Arora

    Using the best platform indeed!

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India Can Really Take An Ostrich Approach To The Condition Of Women?

A total of 548 global experts on women’s issues , 43 of them from India

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BJP Leader Asks Parents Of A Rape Victim To Express Gratitude To Them
Can India Really Take An Ostrich Approach To The Condition Of Women?. Flickr

-By Deepa Gahlot

You read with a mixture of alarm and scepticism, the poll report by the London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation that India is the most dangerous country in the world for women, beating Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

According to reports, a total of 548 global experts on women’s issues — 43 of them from India — were asked about risks faced by women in six areas: healthcare, access to economic resources and discrimination, customary practices, sexual violence, nonsexual violence, and human trafficking. And shockingly, India comes out as the worst!

We see women progressing in every field in India, but, there is also the increasing violence against women and young girls reported every day; not long ago, female tourists felt safe in India; but now, women travelling solo are constantly targeted. Everyday there are reports of the rapes and murders of minor girls, often accompanied by unimaginable torture and mutilation.

There has been outrage in India, and also holes punctured in the survey that has such a small number of respondents, but can we really take an ostrich approach to the condition of women? Even as education and healthcare improve for women — at least in metro cities — the contempt for women is socially and culturally ingrained in the Indian psyche. In a city like Mumbai considered progressive and relatively safe for women, the girl child is unwanted even by many educated and wealthy families. In spite of laws being in place, female foeticide and infanticide is rampant, to the extent that there are large territories where there are no girl children and brides for the men have to be ‘imported’ from other states.  As dowry murders and rapes rise, the more unwanted the girl child becomes.  The fact is that India’s gender ratio is deplorable.

And if the male child is valued over the girl child, he grows up believing that he is special and if he is thwarted in any way, he can resort to violence. In spite of education and exposure to progressive ideas, in the case of rape or sexual violence, the tendency to blame and shame the victim persists.

To give just one small example, in the West, accusations of sexual harassment resulted in united shunning of a man as powerful as Harvey Weinstein and many others in the wake of the #MeToo movement, that helped many women speak out about their experiences.

In India, Malayalam actor Dileep, who has been accused in the abduction and rape of an actress, and was boycotted by the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), was recently reinstated. This caused shock and dismay among women in the film industry.

A statement by a group of over 150 women film practitioners says it like it is, “A body that is meant to represent artistes of the Malayalam movie industry showed complete disregard for its own member who is the victim of this gross crime. Even before the case has reached its conclusion, AMMA has chosen to validate a person accused of a very serious crime against a colleague. We condemn this cavalier attitude by artistes against women artistes who are working alongside them. There is misogyny and gender discrimination embedded in this action.

“We admired and supported the Women in Cinema Collective that was formed by women film artistes in Kerala in the aftermath of the abduction and molestation of a colleague, a top star in the industry. We applaud the WCC members who have walked out of AMMA to protest the chairman’s invitation to reinstate the accused. We pledge our continued support to the Women in Cinema Collective who are blazing a trail to battle sexism in the film industry.

“Cinema is an art form that can challenge deeply entrenched violence and discrimination in society. It is distressing to see an industry that stands amongst the best in the country and has even made a mark in world cinema choose to shy away from using their position and their medium responsibly at this important moment. Today, women form a significant part of the film and media industries, we reject any attempt at silencing us and making us invisible.”

The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Indian women. VOA

The preference for male children has had some unexpected ramifications. In a working paper published by the American non-profit, National Bureau of Economic Research, by Northwestern University’s Seema Jayachandran and Harvard University’s Rohini Pande (quoted in Quartz Media), finds that stunting in Indian children could also be blamed on the cultural preference for sons.

“In India, on average, the first child — if he is a son — doesn’t suffer from stunting. But, if the first — and so the eldest — child of the family is a girl, she suffers from a height deficit. And, then, if the second child is a boy, and hence the eldest son of the family, he will not be stunted. This happens because of an unequal allocation of resources to the first child”.

According to the report, “When Jayachandran and Pande compared India and Africa results through this lens, they found that the Indian first and eldest son tends to be taller than an African firstborn. If the eldest child of the family is a girl, and a son is born next, the son will still be taller in India than Africa. For girls, however, the India-Africa height deficit is large. It is the largest for daughters with no older brothers, probably because repeated attempts to have a son takes a beating on the growth of the girls.”

Also read: Has Legal Framework Turned a Blind Eye towards Under-representation of Women in Indian Politics?

In spite of all the Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao rhetoric, the required shift in the male-centric attitude towards a more egalitarian one is simply not happening; or, it is a case of one step forward, two steps backward. The Thomson Reuters Foundation report may be unfair and skewed, but being known as the rape capital of the world does nothing to improve the image of India in the world or even in its own eyes. (IANS)