Tag Archives: Feminism

The Forgotten Victorian Feminist – Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy

As an advocate of ‘free love’, a pacifist and more controversially a secularist, the Victorian feminist Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy did not exactly lead a conventional life. Born in Eccles in 1833 and self-educated, she went on to become a significant pioneer of the British women’s emancipation movement. She was at the heart of almost every Victorian feminist campaign ranging from the demand for better education, the right to vote, the rights of prostitutes to the sensitive issue of marital rape.

Unfortunately, her rather forthright nature as well as the scandal surrounding her pregnancy out of wedlock meant that she was marginalised in official histories. In accounts by the Pankhurst family, she is unfairly portrayed as a bad mother, a scandalous ‘free love’ secularist; her partner Ben Elmy is painted as a cruel and unfaithful man. Maureen Wright, who teaches history at the University of Portsmouth, wanted to challenge that misrepresentation with a more balanced look at Wolstenholme-Elmy’s life.

In her book Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and the Victorian Feminist Movement – The biography of an insurgent woman, Wright portrays the complex and also contradictory nature of her subject. The book is broken down into eight chapters which chart Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy’s life from her birth to her death at the age of 84 in March 1918 – just days after hearing the good news that women had been granted the right to vote. Arwa Aburawa interviewed Maureen Wright for Manchester Radical History. Continue reading

SISTERS Magazine: Eco-Muslimahs Fight For The Planet

For my second green column for SISTERS, the Muslim women’s magazine, I decided to delve into the world of green Muslimahs or eco-Muslimahs as I like to call them.

From women in Saudi Arabic championing recycling to eco-Muslimahs using the green message to challenge perceptions about Islam, Arwa Aburawa meets the women changing the world for the better.

 Click on the image for the full article.

MMW: Revisiting Marie Claire’s Coverage of Muslim Women

Muslimah Media Watch has published my article about the portrayal of Muslim women in Maire Claire- been planning to do a piece for them in a long time so it’s great to final get that done.  Even better, Mother Jones picked up on my article too. Here it is in full.


Regular readers of Muslimah Media Watch may remember last year’s article criticizing the coverage of Muslim women in Marie Claire. Guest contributor Asma Uddin pointed out that the magazine’s coverage showed Muslim women as “sequestered, brainwashed, and victimized, if by no one else than their own, naive, unknowing selves.” She went on to assess four articles from the U.S. edition of the magazine that illustrated this, which you can read here.

This is where a confession comes in. When I was younger, I used to read Marie Claire, and I have vague memories of enjoying flicking through its pages—even getting excited at its coverage of Muslim women. For my masters in International Journalism, I wanted to look at the representation of Muslim women in the media, and I focused my research on the coverage of Muslim women in women’s magazines and Marie Claire in particular.

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Muslimahs in the Media Do It Themselves

Muslimahs in the Media Do it Themselves

by Arwa Aburawa

Not too long ago, if anybody wrote about Muslim women in the down-and-depressed, stereotypical manner then it would be left to some sensitive Muslim man to reply. Or more than likely, it would just be left. All that is changing due to a new generation of media-savvy Muslim women who are fighting back with articles, blogs and witty comebacks quicker than you

Asma Uddin of AltMuslimah

can say “oppressed housewife.”

“I think the hijab debate in France back in 2003 made us all realize that stereotypes we thought we had dealt with were still there,” explains Rajnaara Akhtar of Pro-Hijab, a UK-based campaign group which defends the right to wear the hijab. “Certainly in France, the view still seemed to be that Muslim women were oppressed and waiting to be rescued. We could not sit back in silence any longer and decided to engage in the debate.”

Rajnaara acknowledged that part of the problem was that until recently, Muslim women have been particularly reluctant to talk to the press. Fear and mistrust of the media meant the many were holding back and were consequently represented by Muslim men- something which proved rather counter productive. “I mean you can’t say ‘look at how free these women are’ but it’s a man saying it! It was high time that we used our knowledge and skills to represent ourselves.”

On a more global scale, the rise of the internet has meant that many Muslim women can now setup a blog or website and speak their mind without fear that their words are going to be misrepresented. News sites tackling inaccurate portrayals of Muslim women such as Muslimah Media Watch (MMW) and Altmuslimah are going from strength to strength. MMW which started life as a one woman blog in 2007 was recently re-launched as a website with a 21 plus blogging team hailing from places as far afield as Egypt to Switzerland.

Fatemeh Fakhraie of Muslimah Media Watch

Fatemeh Fakhraie, the US writer and founder of MMW, remarks that she was uncomfortable with the mainstream media’s tendency to portray Muslim women as either “exotic sex slave, oppressed woman, or dangerous terrorist” and so decided to setup the blog. MMW states that it tackles “one-dimensional and misleading” representations of Muslim women in everything from small-town newspapers and blogs to major news channels and women’s magazines-for example MMW questioned the consistently negative portrayal of Muslim women in Marie Claire.

Whilst this media intervention is certainly novel, it by no means reflects a sudden awakening amongst Muslim women. As Fatemeh explains, “Muslim women have been thinking and writing and participating since the beginning of Islam but I don’t think anyone’s been listening until now… I do think there’s been a wonderful influx of differing Muslim women voices in the last ten years in response to 9/11 and the fact that, as Muslims, we have been forced into a spotlight.”

This “spotlight” may also explain the success of these sites and organisations which, Asma Uddin of Altmuslimah insists, are taking issues that were previously restricted to academic circles and the masses and Muslim women are dealing with them in their daily lives.

The increasingly vocal reactions also reflect a new generation of Muslim women who are well-educated, smart and unafraid to question what they read in the news. As Asma explains, “As second generation American Muslim women we are a lot more concerned with civic engagement and dealing with the media than our parents, who were busy trying to make a living. We have more ownership and confidence to express ourselves.”

Rajnaara Akhtar presenting an award

Rajnaara, who lives in the UK echoed this sentiment stating that Muslim women identify themselves as British Muslims and are secure enough in their identity to stand up for what they believe.  “We feel part of this society, we see ourselves as British… We don’t feel apologetic for our particular religious affiliations, so hopefully our positive engagement and responses will make it much harder for people to depict Muslim women in a stereotypical manner in future.”

Keywords: Muslim women in media, AltMuslimah, Muslimah Media Watch, Fatemeh Fakhraie, Asma Uddin, Pro-Hijab, Rajnaara Akhtar

Gender and Climate Change

What are the ways in which women are affected differently (and more) by climate change around the world? What needs to be done about that?
What are the reasons behind the persistent and sometimes huge gender imbalance in audiences at any meeting labelled “Climate Change” in Manchester? What needs to be done about that?

These are just some of the questions that will be tackled at the next Manchester Climate Forum, on Wednesday 17th March. The event takes place at the Friends Meeting House, (6 Mount St, behind the Central Library), at 7.30pm sharp (come earlier for mingling and networking).

To kick off the discussion, here’s a reprint of an article written for “Only Planet“, the 2008 book about Manchester and Climate Change.

Invisible Power

It’s always hard to talk about the gender, race and class dynamics in activism without descending into massive generalisations. Every person has a whole range of cross-cutting identities as well as their own integral personal traits and characteristics, and there will always be individuals who buck every one of the trends I’m about to describe.

Despite this, there are some general issues with how power dynamics within groups and movements can be talked about in terms of these issues. The area I’m most familiar with from personal experience and study is gender, but many of these points are about the way that power imbalances work and discriminate more generally, so some of them will be applicable to other marginalised groups too.

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