"Human rights is universal - it equally applies to all human beings and it is the collective wisdom of all faiths, religions and peoples." -Shirin Ebadi, San Francisco Jewish Communtiy Center, May 18, 2009

The following was distributed via e-mail in a recent GJC News. If you are interested in receiving these updates, please e-mail and we will add you to the list!

When Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi spoke these words "in conversation" with GJC President Janet Benshoof on May 18th, the packed auditorium at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco broke into applause. It was a historic and profound evening, as these two legal pioneers explored topics ranging from how Iranian feminists in the lead-up to the elections forced candidates to talk about human rights and equality and the important role international law has and must play in enforcing equality and universal human rights. Much has happened in Iran since this remarkable evening, but the principles that were discussed remain unchanged. The day before the elections in Iran, Dr. Ebadi wrote in a Washington Post editorial that "the true mark of success in Iran will be an election that follows due process...a healthy, functioning and fair legal system is the people's long-term guarantee for greater human rights." As we now know, the Iranian election and the government's response in the following days and weeks regrettably did not follow this ideal. Despite the Iranian government's attempts to block news and images from leaving Iran, the world has witnessed hundreds of thousands of Iranians protesting peacefully in the streets in the face of brutal violence thanks to new technology and citizen journalism. What is perhaps most striking about these images is the countless number of women - at least half of the protestors - who are taking a stand against the government. The brave women we have seen in the streets did not end up there by accident or as part of some overnight phenomenon. This crucial moment in Iran's history came about as part of a long process toward democracy building and equal rights that is being led by the feminist movement in Iran Iranian women have led a campaign to educate citizens about women's rights and collect a million signatures to petition the government to overturn the discriminatory laws. They also leveraged the recent election as an opportunity for democratic change.

In the country with the most bloggers per capita in the world, Iranian women are a leading voice and presence. Though they might be less visible on television or in the news headlines, this extensive network of women and civil society leaders are leading change on a national scale and must be allowed to take part in Iran's move towards a more peaceful, democratic, and secure future. The courageous women who are leading the fight for equal rights and justice are not singular to Iran. They are part of a powerful movement within the Muslim world that is poised to pioneer acceptance of international law and human rights in Iran, other Muslim nations, and around the world. As Dr. Ebadi noted in her remarks, "Women in Iran are a very powerful force with potential of bringing about change." In honor of the historic conversation with Dr. Ebadi and in solidarity with the women in Iran, this journal entry is dedicated to exploring how women in the Muslim world are putting into practice the universal principles of human rights and equality to create a more just and secure world and how you can be a part of this change.

Organization Profile: The Muslim Women's Fund (MWF)

With 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, it is only logical that Islam maintains a constant presence in news headlines. Yet, from the growing instability in Pakistan to the political protests in Iran, Islam is too often examined through the lens of regional instability and sectarian strife. A new organization, the Muslim Women's Fund, seeks to address the root causes of these issues - poverty, lack of access to education, and unequal rights - with an innovative new approach: a fund for Muslim women that is led and run by Muslim women from around the world. MWF invests in the transformative impact that Muslim women could have on their families, communities and countries if they have access to a funding source that understands the cultural and religious context in which they live. The history of women-focused funds around the world shows how this idea has the potential to be effective. By funding women to establish their own priorities and solutions to the problems they face, similar women's funds have contributed to a transformation of laws and power structures around the world (the first women's fund, The Global Fund for Women, was founded by GJC Board Chair Anne Firth Murray in 1987). By taking this approach, the Muslim Women's Fund is pioneering new applications of this model for the 600 million Muslim women worldwide who lack access to funding and resources. A few facts:

o There are 600 million Muslim women in the world - one-tenth of the global population. o Much of this population remains impoverished, illiterate, likely to die young and oppressed by local cultures of patriarchy that supersede religious ethics. o There are 141 women's funds giving $50 million to women and girls. o Yet, there is NO fund anywhere in the world dedicated solely to Muslim women.

MWF believes that to fight against culturally-embedded inequality and patriarchy, Muslim women must be empowered to embrace their Islamic rights and responsibilities and become full stakeholders and change agents in their societies. MWF's first grantmaking cycle will support three pilot projects that advance education, economic empowerment and human rights for Muslim women. These projects are:

o A Pakistani NGO that will provide transformative human rights curriculum at girls' madrasas to teachers who will then pass this education on to thousands of students. o An Egyptian NGO that seeks to eradicate the practice of female genital mutilation ("FGM") in Cairo through religious re-education and economic training for the midwives and barbers who perform FGM. o A U.S.-based non-profit that will help Muslim immigrant and refugee women start their own micro-enterprises with the hope that this financial empowerment will stimulate improvements in other aspects of Muslim women's lives.

The Muslim Women's Fund officially launched on July 16th in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia at the second convening of the Women's Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equity (WISE). The Global Justice Center welcomes this change-leading organization and encourages you to learn more about their idea to change the Muslim world.

To learn more about the Muslim Women's Fund, please visit http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org/the-network/member/muslim-womens-fund.


Thanks for writing, you have opened up conversations regarding many issues regarding global justice, women's empowerment and the Muslim world. Many interesting facts. Keep up the dialogue, the world needs to hear these things. Thanks for your voice!

Jody PulseWire Online

Absolutely fabulous. I'd like to know more about this project though.

A few questions -

  1. I'm guessing from the email that the official website is www.globaljusticecenter.net ?
  2. Have these projects already taken root or is the MWF looking for similar initiatives in the respective countries?
  3. If it's the latter (in the second question), what is the process of application and are there some requirements?
  4. Who should one get in touch with or apply to?
  5. Can we nominate a project?
  6. Will the MWF provide grants to only projects which match the above criteria or can innovative or even simple and yet effective projects of a different nature (but with the same mindset and goal, which is to empower Muslim women) put forward an application?

Eagerly awaiting answers to the questions.

Warm Regards,

Tanya Shakil Daud

Thanks Janice for the valuable information. And thanks to Tanya who voiced my questions. Who are the real sponsors? And can individuals apply for the establishment of developmental projects targeting women? In a place like Sudan, if I do start such projects for the improvement of the status of women in my country, wouldn't this be religious discrimination ? Remember the construction of Sudan: vast country housing a diverse ethnic and religious household? Why are we targeting Muslim Women and not just Women?? Sorry, but I have been thinking so hard over this ....please excuse me if I am off the point, and set me right. Regards Asha



Thank you all for commenting on our journal entry. This piece was actually our enews, which the Global Justice Center regularly sends out. A month before the Iranian elections, our president participated in an event with Shirin Ebadi that challenged us to reflect a lot on the issues of peace and security (and the important role women must play in this) in the Muslm world and the world as a whole, which is an area of focus in our legal work. We chose to profile the Muslim Women's Fund because we thought they were taking a unique approach to this issue that we wanted our readers to consider.

I encourage you to visit their website http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org/the-network/member/muslim-womens-fund to learn more about them. The organization was formally launched last week and while I do not know the specifics of their grantmaking and what projects they are considering, I hope their website can answer some of your questions and direct you to more resources.

The Global Justice Center's website www.globaljusticecenter.net also has a lot of resources and information on these issues and we hope you take some time to read more.

Thanks for all of your questions, thoughts, ideas and suggestions.

Best, The GJC

Hey there,

This is such a great initiative! To be honest, I knew it was good a second after reading Shirin Ebadi's name:) She is one of my role models and everything she says touches my heart:) I'm browsing through the website of the Global Justice Center right now, it has a lot of valuable resources, I agree!

Thanks for telling us about the initiative:)


Okay, been checking out the website and the specific fund. I haven't come across an email address where I can specifically address these questions. So, instead go to the 'Contact' section and send your questions to the main team. Hopefully, the required response will come through.


I want to thank you for bringing this up. The first remark is on how little money is being invested in women's funds... just 50 million? Come on! The US only spends that amount remodelling ONE museum!. Another remark is on how brave women are. Throughout the planet, women have been the first to go out and fight for every human right that was violated. I have one big concern though, this advocacy from women all over the world to fight for justice, human rights and peace, has, in the last 20 years, been wrongly used by men.

I have witnessed how left wing parties in South and Central America have used women to fulfill their political dreams. First, they knew that in the 80s they had lost all their positions worldwide, because they had a tremendous failure in all governments behind the iron curtain (wow, that sounds old), as well as in South America, specially in Bolivia where the hyperinflation under the left wing reached 10.000% (it is not a typo, it is 10,000%). So, weak economies in the lost decade of the 80s gave birth to fifteen years of right wingers on governments in the Americas. In the aftermath of damages, the right wing has made a lot of progress in the region's economy despite the fact that the left has found a very nasty way of fighting to come back, but it has made a huge mistake: it failed to connect the governments with the people, they were not able to see the ant-like work the left was doing with the baseline people, specially the women.

During the 80s they managed to bring a lot on European NGOs who taught women and grassroots men different skills, as for example how to form small groups of artisans, street sellers, etc, and give themselves a name and be registered as a social group under the government's registration, so that they would have an empowered voice to fight government's policies. This sounds terrific, and it was so until the real intention showed up: more than 400 million dollars were spent by the NGOs to finance what they would call "Social Movements", which became the real opposition to governments. Evo Morales was, in the 80s and 90s, the leader of the coca growers in Cochabamba only. In Europe, by 1995, the the left wing NGOs had already designated him to be the president of Bolivia, long before Bolivians even thought of him as important.

They gave him money to make the social movements important. Social Movements were fighting in the streets against everything the government wanted to do, good or bad, it didn't matter. The best strategy used was the blockage and the street fight, and, of course, women were utilized to be in the front lines of these fights. Until now, women are used in all fronts of president Morales's policies. Morales's landmark is the blockage. He taught every social movement how to block roads, with violence, and appear in the international media as peaceful and innocent. He taught them how to use women in the frontline so that the media would turn the society against anyone who hurt the movement. He taught women how they should NEVER make a decision without consulting the 'bases' (you can read 'men of the party'). He taught all society that democracy meant to allow him to go against the rules because he was 'fighting for the greater good'.

Same sort of things happened in Venezuela, Ecuador and Honduras.

How is this bad? you may be asking. Well, it is good because it has empowered women to raise their voices, but it is bad because they have made women's poverty their work and sustent. So, technically and in real grounds, poverty of women will keep existing because if they were not there, Morales's party, for example, would have no job. They have used women, they have told them they were important, they have taught them how to fight, they have taught them how they should worship Evo Morales, but they have not taught them that power comes with responsibilities, and the biggest one is to learn how to read and write, learn science, learn math, to leave the one thing that perpetuates poverty: ignorance. Of course, it has paid off to the NGOs. Their millions were well invested. Morales now has the power, women worship him, people love him, but he will keep them poor by keeping them ignorant, otherwise the flag of his job is lost.

But, he has freed Bolivia from illiteracy in the last three years! is the comment I will hear. And it is true. But let us check the facts: The educational reform, which he opposed fiercely for years for considering it too expensive and affensive to the cultures of Bolivia, cost 20 million over ten years. His program against illiteracy cost 50 million dollars in .. two years. And this money comes from international loans given by Venezuela at rates higher than the World Bank's. Levels of corruption are obvious. And the results?, well, people have learned to read HIS biography (small paragraphs), HIS good deeds, etc. which makes the women worship him, even though what they have learned is not enough to understand a full paragraph that does not talk about things about Evo, which are widely spread by the state's 100 radio stations (yes, they bought 50 more lately) and the state TV.

In the end, women in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Honduras are utilized to be in the frontlines, but they are not given true power. Women have lost their lives and relatives in pro of the change, the revolution, but all it has given them back is more poverty. You need to watch out for these movements. I do not agree with the right wing's senseless lust for money, but I do not agree with the way the left wing perpetuates poverty as a means of profit for the new burocrats either.

We need to be more responsible, more proactive. Muslim women are not going to be the exception, as they are vulnerable and live in the middle of horrendous wars. Muslin women must realize that men's conception of how women should be will NEVER be in accordance with their dream of true empowerment.

I don't buy the 'good intentions' of 'the good people' anymore. We (all women of the world), must be our own guides. We must look out for the hidden reasons behind men trying to trick us into giving us money IF we follow their guidelines. We need to build our own guidelines.

I wanted to add this comment so that this golden opportunity to empower muslim women, will do so by also educating them to have their own clear thinking preserved from the 'guidelines' of interested men.


A Temple is a place where you are welcome to come in peace, always.

Thanks for the breath taking documentation of events that pass by just as ordinary or sometimes as 'heroic' while they are policies of which women are the victimised escape goat! Your account, I felt, is an awakenning cry to Women. I wish among all the groups of victimised women there is always just one, with a voice so effective, who can see behind the screens invented to shelter their abuse. I wish the voice reaches 'appointed ' female Ministers watching a Muslim woman beaten for wearing trousers on her way to collecting data for a vital social role. I wish we stop applauding the 1000 pounds' gift awarded to the street tea maker to buy more tea cups rather than been supplied with a real life supporting tool to bring up her children.. And I wish with this kind of support we can bridge hundreds of ignorance-bred ditches that women keep falling into on their way to a better life they are 'meant' never to reach. And I wish that vocabulary would allow the ' Whole World' to be a place where we should always be able to live in peace.

Thanks again Temple, Asha