Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
Mine is filled with fragrant flowers. Welcome.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Women of 2012

As the giant, red drape slowly lowers itself onto the stage and mark a significant closure to an eventful year; as Shakespeare once said; All The World's A Stage, And all the men and women merely players: I have decided to reflect on my best memories of the year with a silver lining. 

Yes, despite countless advocacy efforts and peace treaties, Palestine and Israel are still at war, the ongoing mass human slaughter and civil war in Congo left unnoticed, women in some parts of the world became part of a daily statistics on rape, violence and illiteracy--this year seems like any other year--drenched in its own madness. Yet there are beauties human beings can harp their hopes on, aspirations to live up to, a sleek, silver lining amidst a raging clouded sky. 

And I decided to write my post today with a special focus on the 'silver lining'; on incredible individuals who have change the way i see the world this year, on those who inspire others through their stories and continue the struggle to make the world a better place--my brief readings has lead me to realise that this year has been, an amazing year for women. 


At 24, while most of us are struggling with our first jobs, Camilla Valejo caused a massive shut down of her country's education system with mere words and charismatic leadership. The daughter of activists and Chilean Communist Party members, Reinaldo and Mariela Vallejo, Camilla's advanced political awareness and charms does not come as a surprise. Dubbed as the 'Chilean-rebel', Camilla helped inspired a wave of student protests across Chile that later pressured the government to reshuffle its cabinet and replace the then Minister of Education Joaquin Lavin. 
Although some requests of the nationwide student protests failed to materialize, the movement for better access to Chilean education system has caused the president Sebastian Pinera his approval ratings and perhaps his political career. 200,000 students walked the streets of Santiago in weekly protests, one student protester died while another 1,800 were injured during countless confrontations with the police. Thousands of tear-gas and water cannons launched, cases of torture and sexual abuse suffice amidst the raging voice for better education. The Chilean student movement engrave a remarkable journey of resilience and people power, a showcase of democracy at its rawest form. And all of that was inspired by a timid, geography student from Chile National University, Camilla Valejo. 


Noorjahan Akbar had a privileged childhood for an Afghanistan girl: she received education while growing up, experienced what it means to study in a proper school and learn English. After her family moved to Pakistan, (as the Talibans entered Afghanistan) Akbar received a scholarship to continue her high school education in George School, Pennsylvania. In 2001, her family moved to back to Afghanistan and opened a language center to help more than 400 women in the region of Kabul to read and write. 

At her young age of 21, Akbar is already a well known feminist and activism figure after she started an organisation called 'Young Women for Change', that strives for gender equality in the war torn country (who is also known as one of the biggest offender in women rights history). She is also a contributor for Al-Jazeera and teaches Afghan orphans creative writing in a project 'Writing To Heal'. Recently Akbar was listed as one of the recipient for 2012 Women of Distinction Award. 


Everyone would have heard of the timid girl in a small village in Pakistan, whose passion for education take on the century-long  oppression from the Talibans and unite the world in sympathy and outrage for a bloody (and cowardly) attack on her. 

On her way back from school with friends, a bullet grazed Yousaizai's head and neck in an attempt by the Talibans to take her life but the 15 year old survived eventually after specialist treatment in Pakistan and Birmingham University Hospital.

The Taliban's rage with Yousafzai started in 2009 when she wrote an anonymous blogpost on life under the Taliban and the poor state of education and literacy among girls in Pakistan. Now just months after the incident that almost took her life, some of Yousafzai's supporters demanded for her to receive one of the most honorable and prestigious award ever given to humanitarians: the Peace Nobel Prize. 

No matter how you look at it (your argument might be that the orientalists/westerners are harping on Yousafzai's unfortunate brush with the devil a few months back as a leeway to gain political prominance over the global influence of tha Talibans), Yousafzai is a force to be reckon with and respected for her courage and strength to survive. 


We have many types of norm-defying female characters this year, and like a vibrant rose blooming in the desert, Aliaa Elhamdy rebellious spur on the conditioned silence over violence, oppression, harassment and hypocrisy in the Egyption society raised more eyebrows than one can imagine. 

On October last year, Elhamdy posted a nude picture of her (taken at the backyard of her parents home) and posted it up online via Twitter with the hashtag #nuderevolutionary. Her picture was retweeted more than 2 million times and insults started pouring for the Muslim girl. 

On Elhamdy, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy said she is the "Molotov thrown at the Mubaraks in our heads — the dictators of our mind — which insists that revolutions cannot succeed without a tidal wave of cultural changes that upend misogyny and sexual hypocrisy"


Since February 2011, AlKhawaja has been detained and imprisoned several times due to her active roles in Bahraini uprising. Her latest brush with the court in Bahrain was last week when they sentenced her for a month in prison. During the 2011 Bahrainin uprising, AlKhawaja went on hunger strikes with her father, husband and brother, despite giving birth to a daughter one month earlier. 

She became famous for her tweets on the uprising, under the name AngryArabiya which are written in English and helped foreigners to the conflict understand the uprising better. AlKhawaja's father, Abdulhadi AlKhawaja is another important figure in the protest and went on a 63-days hunger strike that prompted UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon to make an appeal on his behalf to the U.S. State department. 

Next month, Tal Al-Mallohi will turn 22 but instead of blowing candles on her birthday cake with the presence of her family and friends, Tal is expected to celebrate her birthday alone, in the dark, dingy cell of Syria's prison. At 17, Tal was brought for questioning by the Syrian authorities for her poetry and writings on humanity and the plight of Palestinians. She was never returned to her home. Her personal belongings, including her computer were seized by the authorities. Her mother's plea to the Assad's regime to release her went to no avail. Last year, the Syrian government accused her for being a spy to its enemies (including the United States) and sentenced her to 5 years in prison. 

AlMallohi's plight for justice rarely made it into the headlines despite the continuous military and political struggle between the Assads' regime and the Syrian rebels. She, and most political prisoners in Syria remains obsolete in discussions pertaining to the conflict.


AlObeidi made it to the world news spectrum in 2011 and her popularity as one of the 'spokeperson' or 'figure' of Libyan civil war quickly dissolves as the world faces more political turmoil in the Middle East, such as the Syrian's bloody civil war. But since most of my entries in this post are about Middle Eastern women whom defies the gravity of oppression on women of their home country, I think AlObeidi's story deserve a retelling.
On March 2011, AlObeidi burst into a restaurant filled with international media corps, claiming she was beaten and gang-raped by the Libyan Muammar Gadaffi's troops. Government officials whom were present there to assist the international media dragged her away and she disappeared for a few days under government detention and fled to Tunisia, Qatar and subsequently given amnesty in the United States with the help of Hilary Clinton.  

AlObeidi's claims were told to be a sign of defiance against the Libyans cultural taboo of discussing sex in public and had left a permanent scar on the image of Libyan's forces.

Dubbed as the 'Saudi Girl Driving', an 8-minute video recording of AlSharif driving in Saudi has not just caused more than millions of hits on Youtube but it is also an example of strong defiance amidst a culture so repressive of women rights and freedom. The video also caused AlSharif 9 days of detention in prison for suspicion of a crime called 'incitement to public disorder'. On top of that, she received daily death threats and constantly fears for the safety of her family and 6 year old son. 

But AlSharif was just warming up her struggle for radical change in Saudi Arabia. She started a feminist group called My Right to Dignity, led many mass 'protest drives' and even filed lawsuits against her country's repressing traffic laws. Her prominence in the social awakening has pushed Saudi authorities to lied to some media practitioners that AlSharif has been involved in a 'fatal' road accident, as a sign that God had 'punished' her for transgressing the Syariah. 

Early this year AlSharif lost her job and apartment at Aramco, a US-based oil company. The 33 year old single mother is now homeless and jobless but still give speeches on women rights religiously. When asked about her success in standing up for women rights, AlSharif said, "You know what?. They just messed with the wrong women,". 


  When Yahoo Inc appointed Meyer as their new CEO on July last year, the 37 years old business executive and former Google spoke person subsequently announced her pregnancy on the same day. Words of her appointment and pregnancy spread like wildfire on the Internet with some people questioning Meyer's ability to rescue and revive the troubled web company--a female executive in a tech company is rare and a young, 30-something female executive in a tech company is even rarer. Add a spice of maternity leave then you have the world wide web spinning with question marks.

But Meyer is not a force so easily undermined. The Stanford graduate was Google 20th employee and first female engineer, at her appointment this year Meyer was the youngest CEO listed in Fortune's annual 40 under 40 ranking and belongs to a small, elite pool of 20 women CEO (4 per cent) among Fortune's 500 listed companies.


Okay I may cheat a little with this one: mostly because Abramson was appointed as the first New York Times executive editor September last year in the Gray Lady's 161 years of history  (which technically makes her a 2011 woman?). The hard-charging and blunt-spoken Abramson was faced with the challenge to lead the Times as a leading, and constantly exciting news portal. And the fact that she managed to do it while having a loving husband and children inspires me to pursue my own dream in journalism. With that, I share you one of her best quotes: 

"The Times is the kind of place, the greatest journalism doesn't just pop forth from our heads. It's, you know, a group of people, and the great ideas bubble up from the reporters to their editors and get to us"


This 31 year old, first and only female Editor in Chief of the Yemen Times has been a formidable force in the landscape of journalism in her home country. Juggling between her family commitments (she is married to a Jordanian CEO) and the hectic schedule of maintaining a successful media establishment,  AlSakkaf writes political and human rights-themed commentaries on her publication and continuously push for higher literacy rates, equal rights and freedom of speech.

The lady who hails from one of the poorest nation in Middle East also believes that the only way to solve the crippling culture of corruption, nepotism, violence and the strong tribal influence in the government for Yemen to fix its judiciary system and law enforcement. And I can't help but wonder about the abundance of opportunities wasted in Malaysia for women to be as successful (and even more) than those in war-torn and oppressing countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.  Or maybe a woman holding important post in this country is no longer hard news as we are so use to it? Are we?

Here is an excerpt of AlSakkaf's interview on TED about Yemen:


The first American women on space, Sally Ride was 61 when she gave in to a 17-months battle with pancreatic cancer on July this year. In 1983, Ride was the youngest space traveller at 32 years old and was travelling as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7. She joined NASA in 1978 as part of its astronaut class, the first to include women.

After retiring, Ride has written five science books on children and spearheaded programs to incite the love for science among children in schools. 

As you may imagine, all these inspiring individuals came from different backgrounds. Some received more opportunities, education compared to others but each are inspiring, thought-provoking in their own way--and that makes them my women of 2012.

However it is also important for us not to feel easily downgraded by their over-achievements, as every success requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice and I am sure that these inspiring women have done their share of sacrifices to be where they are/were. Making choices in life and accepting what we are truly capable of is just another testament of our human quality.