From xenophobic gendered violence gush Rivers of Hope

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Click here to access  a FREE copy of the Rivers of Hope toolkit

Earlier this year I had the privilege to create artwork for and design the resource “Rivers of Hope – A Toolkit on Islamophobic Violence by and for Muslim Women”. A research report by Sidrah Ahmad, the toolkit contains true accounts by 21 women brave enough to share them, as well as a breakdown of the types of violence they experienced, tips on how allies can support women after such incidents occur, and self-care tips for the survivors themselves. Poetry by Muslim women is also placed throughout.

The toolkit is part of Sidrah’s mission to create practical resources and safe spaces for Muslim women who have experienced gendered islamophobic violence to access support. In an interview with MuslimGirl’s Niqabae, Sidrah describes this term as a way…

“…to describe the specific forms of Islamophobic stereotypes and discrimination that Muslim women face. Through gendered islamophobia, Muslim women are portrayed as weak, oppressed, repressed, and as helpless victims…[These] narratives make [them] more vulnerable to gender-based violence. For example, we know that the majority of anti-Muslim hate crimes are directed at Muslim women – this is gendered islamophobia at work. Muslim women are thought to be ‘easy targets,’ and so this heightens the likelihood of violence being perpetrated against them.”

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Black Muslim women have the further displeasure of experiencing a dose of anti-black racism in addition the types of xenophobic misogyny outlined in the report.

There is also the issue of invisibility and underreporting when it comes to Muslimahs who have experienced violence at the hands of Muslim and non-Muslims alike. In the aforementioned interview, Sidrah goes onto lament the lack of “safe spaces for Muslim women to come forward with all of our complexity, and our full stories about the violence we’ve lived through, and be believed, supported, and heard.” Reports made to agencies outside of the Muslim community can often be met with blame for one’s religion or culture, with survivors being told their communities are backwards or barbaric. Alternately, reports of abuse made within the community can be met with victim-blaming, or being told to keep the incident quiet for fear of being shunned by other members.

Both these reactions force many women to remain silent about the abuses they face, and neither is conducive to helping survivors of violence on their journey to healing. In essence this is why reports and toolkits like Sidrah’s are so necessary.  Her vision to ensure that Muslim women don’t have to suffer or heal alone is to create an accompanying workshop for the toolkit so that it may be disseminated across several communities.

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To learn more about the Rivers of Hope toolkit or to access a FREE copy of the entire toolkit for your personal or organizational use, click here.

You can also follow progress of the report on their Facebook page, and read more about it via these features in the Toronto Star and on MuslimGirl.

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hey laaadiessss…

TWCA toolkit

Just in time for the TTC’s annual fare hike (remember when it was $2.25 to catch a ride? Those were the days guys, those were the days…) I’m thrilled to present the fruits of a months-long collaboration with the great Toronto Women’s City Alliance: The TWCA Municipal Literacy Toolkit!

This resource was designed to help women and girls better understand the mechanisms of policy-making at Toronto City Hall, how these policies affect our daily lives, and how we can take concrete steps to advocate for regulatory-changes at the municipal level. Filled with useful information, activities, and links to supplementary resources, the Toolkit is currently being used in workshops throughout the city. These workshops were created with the intention of encouraging women to pursue “concrete action in six main areas: Housing, Transportation, Childcare, Community Recreation, Inclusion, and Women’s Equality in Office.”

Since its formation in 2004, TWCA has strove to make women’s voices heard at tables where important decisions are made. In Toronto’s City Council (which is comprised of a mayor and 44 councilors) only 14 councilors are female, a gross representational imbalance considering more than 50% of Toronto’s diverse population of +2.97 million are women. Organizations like TWCA work to promote a gender-equity lens in urban planning by stressing how intersectional aspects of our identity—including gender, race, class and ability—affect our access to city services and programs.

I started this post with some lightheartedness about the TTC fare hike, but the fact of the matter is that for many women, every single penny counts. This additional cost can mean having to choose between transit fares and food, having less access to services like childcare, or even having to miss important medical appointments. Issues like escalating service fees, poverty, under/unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence and sexual abuse (just to name a few) are the lived experiences of so many women in our cities. Ensuring these issues are actively included and dealt with in the civic agenda is a first and necessary step to creating a truly accessible, safer, successful, and vibrant Toronto where women can thrive with equal access to opportunities and services that better suit our unique needs.

You gotta fight…for your right….to have equal political representation so that decisions made at the municipal level can have a more positive effect on facets of your daily life!!

It’s not catchy, nor does it rhyme…but it’s true!

Thanks to TWCA and Kara Santoke in particular for an awesome collaboration. You can learn more about TWCA and their brilliant work in this op-ed by Reggie Modlich or by vising their website: www.twca.ca

To access the toolkit itself, click here!

migrant tunes//أصوات الهجرة

A bird in an airport. Sounds of migration.

This past week, my twelve year journey to obtain Canadian citizenship ended with a quaint ceremony in which I, along with 80 or so other people, were given a piece of paper.

This piece of paper—printed on relatively good cardstock and adorned with signatures, emblems, and symbols of the Commonwealth—grants us privilege, global mobility, and access to opportunities that thousands risk their lives for every single day. Rights that friends, family members, and countless others I don’t know can only ever dream about, and perhaps through some bureaucratic miracle may also be able to obtain.

I didn’t have to climb any razor sharp fences to get this piece of paper. Nor did I have to gamble my life away on a shoddy boat to cross into rough seas, only to be shot at, drown, or barely make it into a strange land as a refugee. I never had to camp out on an arbitrary border site, hoping to stash away in a delivery truck, only to be caught and sent back, most likely to try again. I didn’t have to hide in a suitcase either. My attempt at migration, though desperate, was hardly as harrowing.

I’m fortunate to have had the privilege/advantage of a higher education, the full support of my beautiful family, and answers from the universe to my humble prayers. I was blessed with the headstart of language, access, and headstrongness. My razor sharp fence was having to find a job to sponsor me to stay in the country. My shoddy boat was having to make sure I filled out endless forms and collect identity documents for years on end, making sure never to lose a single one. My delivery truck was having to be physically present in Canada while government officials calculated and debated over just how many days it would take for me as a “permanent resident” to be assimilated enough to be granted the full rights of a citizen (the passing of Bill C-24 has upgraded the amount from 1,095 to 1,460). Hardly traumatic…but a struggle nonetheless.

In the end, migration is migration…the journey is nuanced, complex, and seldom easy. If we make it, no matter how great our lives are on “the other side”, there’s always a lingering thirst for where we come from—a romanticized nostalgia for places that couldn’t/can’t grant us the stability, freedoms, and opportunities to build the dignified lives we strive for. Loved ones are left behind. Birthdays, weddings, graduations and funerals are missed. Sacrifices are made—some greater and more emotional than others. Then there’s the matter of being from a country (Sudan) that was once itself a colonial subject of the Commonwealth, and the guilt of settling on land with its own troubled history of occupation…but that’s a whole other post…

It wasn’t in my lifetime, or my parents’ or their parents’ but I do believe that once upon a time, long ago, we were all free to wander. These days, some bodies are controlled by endless red tape and consular visits, while others are granted the birthright to roam more freely. Migration itself is nothing new, but the number of deaths at the ghost-lines of border protection/imperialism will be a defining issue of our era.  Thousands are risking certain death and thousands more are perishing every day, seeking peace and a simple chance at life, either for themselves or for their children.

This decorated piece of paper I was given at that ceremony—it gives me those things, and I hope to never take it for granted. I know it was worth the wait, and I’m eternally grateful for it and what it promises to bring. I hope to use it well, and to fulfill the rights and responsibilities that come with it. I hope to be an example to those actively seeking access to this piece of paper or one like it: with a whole lot of patience and some prayers, it can be done.

It’s a blessing to be born and/or raised in a place where peace and order are taken for granted. It’s a responsibility to find legal ways to share that blessing with those less fortunate.  It’s a right to seek help from those who bare that responsibility.

Thank you Kanata for taking this gal in, I hope to do you proud.

Below are a few sweet, sweet tunes that are in some way or another related to the issue of migration, and that helped me navigate its complex proverbial waters: let art lead the way!  I hope to add more songs soon, and feel free to send me your own.  To all those embarking on a similar journey, seeking out your own piece of paper, Godspeed, and may the bureaucrats be always in your favor!

Aw helll NO!

Promotional poster for NO! Directed by  Pablo Larraín

Promotional poster for NO! Directed by Pablo Larraín

THE FILM

NO! (2012) is a fantastic film about the “soft power” of creative media and its ability to influence major social and political happenings—in this case, to delegitimize the dictatorship of Chilean President Augusto Pinochet. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal as advertising director René Saavedra, it is loosely based on true events:

In 1988, a marketing campaign was developed as a lead-up to a nationally mandated referendum in which the public were asked to vote YES or NO for the continuation of Pinochet’s regime.

Over 27 nights, artists, designers, and producers for each campaign were given 15 minutes of television airtime to state their viewpoints in as direct or abstract a manner as desired. Much tension ensued as both sides vied for votes through grander and flashier productions.  Below is an actual commercial aired from the NO! campaign which also plays in the film. I watched this movie months ago and the chorus is still stuck in my head:

If you’re into thrillers with beautifully styled cinematography, engrossing plot-lines, and all things “Latin American 80’s”, this film is not to be missed. And if you don’t see it for the political drama, at least see it to catch a glimpse of Bernal’s mullet blowing in the breeze as he pensively skateboards down the winding streets of Santiago…(heart emoticon).

THE EFFECT

What strikes me about NO! is how swayable we are in the face of well-crafted media, and how the language of advertising can be used to sell more than products like toothpaste and detergent—it can also “sell” things like social commentary, ideology, even hope. Politicians, for better or for worse, have long used visual language to their advantage while campaigning for our votes, or perhaps even reinforcing their rule.  I mean, how else do you explain this?

Now that‘s a profile pic if I’ve seen one.  But I digress…My point is, if marketing and visual rhetoric can be used to further the agenda of those in power, what if more and more designers, artists, filmmakers and advertisers used it on a mass level to question systems that might be failing us? To call for meaningful cultural exchanges, dialogue, and offer alternatives to these dynamics?

No! is a terrific example of this: a powerful piece of media about the power of media. (Or, “meta-media” if you will…Those are my tuition dollars at work right there!)  Produced in part by CANANA Films—a studio started by Bernal and fellow artist Diego Luna to generate and showcase Latin American stories on a large scale, it provides a fine model for those who wish to be creative ambassadors for our own cultures.  To tell stories and share perspectives that might not otherwise be heard on a mass scale. To inspire those in a position to change things for the better to do so, even if at the most miniscule level…

FINAL THOUGHTS

The more I learn about Latin American culture and history, the more I realize how glaring the similarities are to where my own origins lie (the Middle East/North Africa, or “MENA” region.) Colonization, theft of resources, poverty, erasure of indigenous culture, foreign meddling and the installation dictatorships, torture, revolutions, war, migration out of desperation…it’s enough to make one wonder if after (how many?) millennia of existence we’ve come far enough in terms of how we structure our societies (we haven’t.)  And I can’t help but think that as people who work in creative industries, we have a shared responsibility to produce work that drives audiences’ attention to such important and unresolved issues.

Art and media have the tangible ability to open minds, share new perspectives, and influence opinions. Combined with the mighty language of marketing, we can use them to ask/push for more human-centric media, industries, and systems of governance, much like the real-life NO! campaign did. And with all these new technologies we have so many platforms to choose from…

I’ll leave you with this interview between Gael Garcia Bernal and The Economist’s Robert Lane Greene, in which both ruminate on the “Soft Power of Art”. In his introduction to the topic, Greene notes that elements of soft power can include culture, sport, music, film etc. and that through these means we can influence others to act a certain way “through attraction—perhaps rather than the coercive means we’re quite accustomed to seeing on our news screens and unfortunately for some of us, in locales we call home…”

In other words, let media inform our views, not shape them for us. For me design, is one of the many intersections where visual rhetoric and social justice can meet to attract others to both seek and work to “do better” at being human. (Unless you’re a dog…in which case, how are you reading this?!!)

Mundo, la alegria ya viennnnneeeeeee!!!

azza

Ma tête, mon droit: Protecting our freedom of expression

Just in time for toque season up here in Canadia, I present to you “Ma tête, mon droit (My head, my right): Protecting our freedom of expression” illustrated by yours truly!

This poster and postcard (available for purchase and/or free download here) were designed in collaboration with kindred spirits over at The Public, a Toronto-based activist design studio committed to crafting all sorts of materials with and for social justice organizations (basically, my design-soulmates).

This image is part of The Public’s ongoing People’s History series, “a self-initiated project celebrating and honouring ongoing resistance in our communities.” Encouraged to pick a topic I was passionate about (just one?!), I chose to highlight the absurdity of governments claiming to liberate their subjects by enforcing/restricting dress codes in the name of “freedom”. The back of each postcard reads:

Increasingly, political parties and complacent governments have been categorizing which items should be “reasonably accommodated” or worn in public spaces, including at schools, health-care facilities and other government-related environments.

Bills are being proposed to target those who visibly, rightfully and peacefully express their convictions—secular or religious, however controversial—in public.

In a true democracy, to be told what we cannot wear is hypocritical. It is to practice the same oppression of those who force uniforms on others under the vague guise of “secularism”.

In Montréal, groups like No One is Illegal, Q-PIRG Concordia, and the Federation des Femmes du Québec are working to unveil the xenophobia behind recent proposals, paving the way for honest dialogue and tolerance in its true sense.

In places like France, Belgium and Quebec which have passed and/or are considering passing laws making it illegal to cover one’s face in public, this has most visibly affected Muslim women who wear the niqab, a face veil worn by observant Orthodox Muslim women as a symbol of faithful devotion and a sign of modesty. Though much contested among Muslims themselves, many people, religious and secular alike, believe that women are coerced into wearing it. This poster is partially about the equally ironic oppression of forcing a woman to take her niqab off, once again rendering her choiceless in the matter.

Niqab, hijab, sombrero, bowler hat, kippah, helmet, bandana, kofia, patka, shpitzel, turban, or frying pan, it’s your head, dude. As long as you’re not offending anyone, express yourself by covering it up however you want.

In solidarity, hasta luego!

Azza

PS: Below is a series of images further exploring this topic (designed for another project).  The first visual was inspired by the one and only Barbara Kruger. Feel free to take +/share =)

My body is not your battleground.

What's backwards is not respecting my choice to wear it.    Banning my symbol of faithful devotion is oppressive.    Telling me to take it off is still telling me what to do.

What do Cattle and Sexual Harassment Have in Common?

Neither belong inside public transit!

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*Download the fully clickable poster here to access the apps and resources!*

I’m so happy to share the results of a recent collaboration between myself and the folks at Springtide Resources, a fantastic agency that works to end violence against women through the research, creation, and dissemination of vital resources/education materials.

For some, warmer weather means exercising the right to bare skin, a right often undermined by unwanted catcalls and undesired sexual advances on our streets and in our transit systems. The Beyond the Fence series aims to give a surrealist look at a very real issue, and to provide some information/links to some exciting work being done by various organizations to counter street harassment.

Feel free to share the above image with any friends, family, or colleagues who might benefit – although this campaign is North-American based, the issue of street harassment is far from local. I hope it will inspire and potentially empower “harasees” to continue standing up for themselves and “harrassers” to think twice before making themselves look silly.

Look out for more unruly animals in the coming months =)

Until the next one!


   **Beyond The Fence: Springtide’s Newest Awareness Campaign**

A recent study has revealed that more and more young girls view harassment as ‘normal’ and part of everyday life.  ‘Beyond The Fence‘ is Springtide Resources’ newest visual campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment and violence against women and children. The campaign aims to help youth 13-29 identify the different forms of sexual harassment in everyday scenarios – from public transit to online spaces.
The first installment – Beyond The Fence: Cattle in Transit,  explores some of the ways in which street harassment occurs.  The image is designed to be shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.
 
Printer-friendly version is available upon request, please email: info@womanabuseprevention.com
Feel free to use them as education tools in your work. and kindly share with your networks and contacts!
Concept development and design by Azza Abbaro and Laarni Paras.

من فمي / Min Fami – Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity Space and Resistance

Min Fami - Photography by Caro Ibrahim

Toronto Launch of Min Fami – Photography by Caro Ibrahim

Last month I was incredibly honored to MC the book-launch for من فمي / Min Fami – Arab Feminist Reflections on Identity, Space, and Resistance at Toronto’s lovely Beit Zeytoun. The room was filled with warmth not just from the balmy weather (finally!), but also from the attendance and energy of the panel, publishers, audience, and of course editors that made this book a reality: Ghadeer Malek and Ghaida Moussa.

In an increasingly connected globe, Min Fami – or “from my mouth” in Arabic (read: “in my own words” ) explores some of the issues facing young women navigating their lives between the notions and landscapes of “Arab” and “West”. It is a powerful anthology, showcasing art, poetry and prose, that offers just a glimpse of the lives, challenges, complexities, emotions, and successes of the contributors.

I was thrilled some months back when Ghaida and Ghadeer brought me on to develop the cover for the book, knowing I could relate very much to the process of examining these questions of identity, resistence, and self-defense from a creative and visual perspective. Seeing the final result being flipped through and handled by human hands made the Toronto launch all the more exciting for all of us. I think any creative person can relate: it is always exhilarating to see ideas and pixels go to print!

من فمي / Min Fami offers up a complex and rich tapestry of musings and expressions by women not afraid to tackle issues of identity politics, language, heritage with boldness and creative intellect. Click here for more information on Min Fami and to support the work of inspiring and globally minded producers of creative content.

Click here to visit Caro Ibrahim’s beautiful photography of the event!

Until the next one!

Azza