We live in a world where poverty and gender inequality go hand in hand. For women and girls across the globe, life is disproportionally challenging. Just by being female, women and girls have poorer access to food, healthcare, education and paid work. In fact, they account for a staggering 60% of people suffering from chronic hunger and are more likely to die from natural disasters than their male counterparts.*
The sad reality is that across the developing world, women and girls have fewer opportunities in life, limiting their potential as individuals and holding back the development of their own societies. That’s why, here at Islamic Relief, we’re working to empower women across the globe to become financially and socially independent and striving to tackle gender-based discrimination wherever we encounter it. We launched the Honour Her campaign last year as part of this initiative and in 2019, we’ll be broadening out our work as we launch the first Islamic Gender Justice Declaration.
As part of our campaign, we’re joining millions around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th. Ahead of this, we’re sharing inspirational stories of some of the many women we’ve met who have overcome a range of immense difficulties and hurdles in their lives. These are their stories.
Taisa (Chechnya): Empowering disabled children
Taisa is 55 years old and lives with her family – including her daughter Diana (aged 33 years old) – in Grozny. Learning through the experience of raising her disabled daughter Diana, Taisa is educating communities about the importance of inclusion and tolerance of people with disabilities and six years ago became the head of the Chechen Regional Society Organisation of the Disabled, known as “Voice of Heart”:
“Because of my daughter, I’ve never given up… When my husband would ask Diana to do something, just as he would ask the other children, I used to feel hurt. However, I later understood that it was better for her. I started to be more inclusive, teaching her to wash and dress herself and giving her some household chores. I taught my children to treat her as an equal. Now she is able to look after herself.
I set up my own organisation to help other women, showing them by example how to treat their disabled children. We provide widows and mothers of disabled children with different courses such as sewing, hairdressing and cooking to increase their income. I also teach in schools, colleges, and universities, encouraging tolerance and understanding of disabilities….”
Samina (Pakistan): Building a brighter future
For Saima (Pakistan), life has been anything but easy. At the age of 15, her mother passed away and after finishing her final school exams, her father arranged for her to be married. Her first child was a daughter and unhappy that she’d not given birth to a son, her husband became physically violent. After the birth of her second daughter, Samina’s husband then passed away, leaving her with no means to pay the rent and forcing Samina to move to a single-room accommodation.
Things were incredibly difficult. Samina’s children were unwell, her own health was deteriorating and the family had no source of income. However, things started to improve when Samina started providing private tuition in her local neighbourhood and also starting studying again. After graduating, Samina began teaching at a local school, allowing her to meet her family’ basic financial needs. With Islamic Relief now also sponsoring her two daughters, Samina then remarried.
Sadly however, Samina’s second husband was physically and emotionally abusive so Samina left her husband and moved into another single-roomed house with her daughters. A few months later she gave birth to another daughter and became frail. Her husband then forced his way into her home and stole all her belongings. Things were at an all-time low but Samina refused to give up:
“Facing every kind of violence and discrimination from early marriage to my second marriage, I did not quit and stood up again and again.”
With the help of Islamic Relief, Samina has since opened a tuition centre. Starting with ten students, she now looks after a total of 32 students subhanAllah. As Allah (SWT) tells us in the Holy Qur’an: “Verily, with hardship there is relief” (94:6).
Mama Rukia (Kenya): Safeguarding children from harm
Despite both being illegal and carrying stringent penalties, child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM/C) are both rife in Garissa Country (Kenya). The reluctance of village chiefs, elders and the police to enforce the law has increased the risk of under-age girls undergoing “the cut”. Sadly, with high poverty levels, more girls are dropping out of school and are being pushed into marriage with older men.
This is where the incredible Mama Rukia Mohamed Affey – a local faith leader in Garissa County – is leading the way. Mama Rukia is a child protection champion and has been advocating for the rights of children in the area for the last four years. Through training offered by Islamic Relief’s “Channels of Hope (COH) Programme”, Mama Rukia has been able to help protect children in her community from the horrors of child marriage and FGM through community sensitisation forums in places of worship and public gatherings – using a faith-based approach:
“Children’s rights are not guaranteed by the actions of parents, the community or the Government. God Himself guarantees children’s rights. Islam prohibits all forms of child abuse including sexual, physical and psychological abuse. We have to remind our communities that Islam advocates for the protection of the rights of every child and especially those vulnerable amongst us such as the orphans and children living with disabilities.
I create awareness on the rights of children among existing women and youth groups, urging all men and women to become champions for the rights of children within their surroundings. I also engage young school-going children and especially the vulnerable girls, to know their rights and responsibilities to their communities. During the sensitisation forums, I encourage all of us to speak out against child abuse by reporting any incidences within the community. I am glad that more and more community members have realized and are embracing the importance of children, and are now working together to mitigate child abuse.”
Mama Rukia’s vision for children in her community is to live in a world in which every child’s right to survival, protection and development is guaranteed. Despite deeply-embedded cultural norms/practices which continue to challenge her work, Mama Rukia continues to champion the need for safe and secure spaces for children, where they are encouraged and guided to explore and realise their fullest potential.
Thanks to her incredible work, more local girls will now be free from the horrors of child marriage and FGM insha’Allah!
Nadia (UK): Leaving behind the horrors of trafficking
Aged just 14 and looking an education and a better life, Nadia** sadly found herself being trafficked into Europe for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Fortunately, upon reaching the UK, Nadia managed to escape her traffickers and was taken to a police station and subsequently placed into care by the local authorities.
Whilst Nadia had managed to escape those who wanted to exploit her for financial gain, she unfortunately still faced a mountain of obstacles. After applying for asylum, her application was delayed by a year. Consequently, a social worker contacted our partner – The Refugee Council – who found Nadia an immigration solicitor to process her asylum claim.
Despite the help from her adviser at the Refugee Council and a solicitor, Nadia’s claim was refused and whilst her immigration solicitor appealed the decision, it took over a year to gather the relevant paperwork. During this period, Nadia was moved six times as each placement proved to be either unsuitable or dangerous. Despite these ongoing difficulties, Nadia remained strong and carried on studying, gaining several GCSEs – an incredible achievement considering she was barely literate when she came to the UK.
The challenges were not yet over. Tragically the appeal decision was negative and Nadia had to wait another six months for the appeal case to be heard in court. Alhamdulillah, the judge upheld the appeal. Aged 18 years old, Nadia finally received permanent residency in the UK. She was overjoyed by the decision and can now start to move on with her life:
“I am now studying and will start at university this year. I am very grateful for the support I have received over the years from the Refugee Council and would like to give back to society by qualifying and eventually working as a social worker.”