woman @ work
Anila Ali, founder and president of the largest Muslim & multifaith women's organisation in America, American-Muslim Multifaith Women Empowerment Council (AMWEC), is Pakistani-born educator and women rights activist. She has pioneered the path for Pakistani and Muslim women in America. She was the first Muslim-Pakistani to run for political office in 2014 and 2016. She also made history when she got elected thrice as a Delegate for Obama and then Hillary Clinton. She was recorded as the first Muslim Democrat since Suffrage in California by the Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History at the Cal State Fullerton. Currently, she is the National Co-Chair of the Finance Committee for the U.S. presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Known for her work in countering extremism, she has been awarded by federal government agencies for her work in empowering women. President Obama conferred on her the congressional award 'Whitehouse Volunteer of the Year Award' for her work. She runs a charity in Pakistan, Calpak Education Services, which adopts government schools and educates and empowers girls.
Faryal Khan is Vice President of Business Development at American Harvest, Inc. Born and raised in the England, she graduated from the American College of Applied Arts in London before moving to the US in 1990. With two decades of expertise in sales leadership, Khan has served the hotel industry in America for many years. She has worked tirelessly to soften the image of Pakistan abroad. As the founding member of AMWEC, her work has been applauded by local government, federal agencies and interfaith communities.
These days Anila and Faryal are in Pakistan on a short visit. You! got an opportunity to talk to them and share their experience with our readers...
You! What is AMWEC, why it was started and what issues it has taken up so far?
Anila: After 9/11, American Muslims were facing problems in the community. I was raised by parents dedicated to building communities, so I decided that Pakistani women needed a platform to voice their opinions. I wanted to dispel notions about Pakistanis being terrorists, so I founded AMWEC with a dozen other Pakistani women. Initially, we faced a lot of push back, mostly from Arab-centric organisations whose patriarchal structure did not allow women, especially Pakistani women to lead unless they bowed in obedience. I recall when a journalist covering religion from New York Times came to Los Angeles to cover a story, women were told to stay in the ‘kitchen’. I realised that I would have to fill in the leadership gaps by elevating the Pakistani voice.
Amongst AMWEC’s successes have been youth mentorship and training programmes, Muslim Women in Law Enforcement Programs, youth political and civic leadership programmes, minority business women's programmes to financially empower Muslim women through federal government partnerships, and advocacy against domestic violence, work place discrimination. AMWEC’s most successful events are the outreach programmes to faith-based communities. AMWEC has received several Congressional awards and is recognised for its work in fighting extremism by all the federal government agencies and The White House. Recently, AMWEC started the first halal food for Muslim seniors, Government Meals on Wheels programme during COVID-19 to keep Muslim seniors at home and safe.
You! I saw a video on YouTube in which you shared your experience after being racially profiled? Tell us something about that.
Anila: After 9/11 my family was racially profiled at the border just because of being a Pakistani and Muslim. My date of birth matched that of a terrorist. Growing up in London in the ’70s and ’80s, racism was not new to me. But I knew America was better than England. I was not going to sit and do nothing about it. I used the might of my pen and wrote blogs about my profiling.
I contacted the Asian American Law Caucus who put me in touch with New York University Center of Human Rights and Global Justice. They made a documentary about my story. The film and the activism around it pushed the Department of Homeland Security to develop the Trip Program which allowed frequent travellers like me to get a redress number attached to their flight reservations to avoid false match screenings. With my persistence and faith in my American Dream I helped changed policy and get almost 6 million Muslims out of the list.
You! What are the issues Pakistani community especially women are facing in the USA?
Anila & Faryal: Women face similar issues in America and in Pakistan, except that the laws are stricter and enforced in the U.S. and there is much support for women victims. Many of the issues we deal with are about domestic violence, gender bias, bullying and adult abuse. The American society embraces victims of abuses instead of ostracising them. So we also need to change the mindset of women and families back home that such men should be exposed who abandon their wives like this.
When women from Pakistan arrive in America and are deserted by their husbands, it is very hard to settle them and empower them. A good education is what changes lives and fortunes Pakistani communities.
You! What do you want to do in Pakistan?
Anila: As a Pakistani leader in America, I want to meet and connect with Pakistani women leaders and form a coalition to raise our voices at global level to stop violence against women and children. Together we will be stronger.
You! What challenges did you face as a Pakistani-Muslim leader while contesting election in the USA?
Anila: Many male-dominated organisations, mostly Arab-centric organisations, were not in favour of accepting of our leadership. Bogus candidates, hateful robo-calls and text messages were sent by our own people to discourage us. However, their misogyny and bias did not deter us from our path. I am a Pakistani, American, Muslim, and a woman and all these identities define who I am today. America embraces us and so it is up to us to change perceptions.
You! Do women really possess weak decision power or it is just a notion?
Faryal: Decisions of a strong woman are like a bitter pill to swallow by men. A woman has to reach a status where her voice is heard and validated. A patriarchal society like ours tends to hold women back. Through education and courage, they can break the chains which society has put around them.
Anila: Women have a unique ability to bring people together. Women naturally handle stress well and make excellent leaders. The problem is that a woman is expected to be a superwoman whereas a man can just be a man. But I am happy to say that women like me, are learning to make their own decisions.
You! How can women move on?
Faryal: Our political leaders need to do out-of-box thinking and harsh decisions making. The laid-back attitude and cover ups which our political leadership adopts needs to be shunned. The women will have to put up a constant fight to get their rights. The same fight is going on in the U.S. and Pakistani women are way behind and it will take decades to come anywhere closer.
–– Sheher Bano is the Editor Supplements.
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