Thursday, May 29, 2008

It’s All in the Clothes

MMW thanks bint battuta for the tip!

Why do articles mention women’s clothing when it’s not relevant? Exhibit A: an article on the status of prostitution in Afghanistan (you might recognize it from Friday links). Exhibit B: the story of an attempted kidnapping, from the arms of the child’s grandmother, in Iraq. “A” was written by Reuters and published by Al Arabiya, and “B” was in an LA Times blog, but both make the same mistake.

We’ll look first at the Afghanistan-based Reuters reporter, who can’t seem to stop judging women’s appearances. The writer interviews a few women who have turned to prostitution to support themselves. For each interviewee given more than a line in the story, the writer notes her appearance.

"I had no other way but prostitution," says the pretty teenager, dressed in tight blue jeans with a black veil pulled loosely over her head.

Hmm. Is her clothing relevant? Is the fact she’s a “pretty teenager” relevant? Perhaps — if you’re trying to imply that women who are pretty, wear Western clothes (jeans), and only wear their veils “loosely” cannot help but succumb to the temptation of prostitution. It would be better journalism to describe the poverty and limited choices that led women to this job, not their fashion. Nasrin, another source, is described as a “stylish 24-year-old dressed in a white burqa but wearing fashionable jeans underneath.” Because that’s what women are like under their burqas: stylish and fashion-conscious. They buy “fashionable jeans” even when their prostitution is so that they can maintain their families. Hmm.

The LA Times takes a different approach. Some mentions of clothing are useful, such as in the description of the man who tried to kidnap a toddler. But others seems wholly unnecessary, like the description of the mother of the child, quoted here (emphasis mine):

“My mother was carrying my son, Humam, a year and 8 months, and was walking a bit ahead of us, a few meters as I remember,” said the veiled woman, who asked to be identified only by a traditional nickname.

Wait! We also need to know what the child’s grandmother wears:

"A vicious monster came out from nowhere to attack me,” said the 58-year-old woman wrapped in black, who did not want her name published.

Why do we need to know that the women are “veiled” and “wrapped in black”? Perhaps it’s to imply weakness, leading to the attack. Perhaps it’s linked to the fact neither woman gave her name, equating veils and black clothes to lack of identity.

Description can be useful in news articles. It can serve to give a more thorough understanding of a person’s personality. These descriptions of clothing, though, aren’t accompanied by any other details — no facial expressions, unconscious habits, tone of voice. And rightly so: These aren’t profiles. Unnecessary details reveal a lot — not about the people the journalists wish to describe, but about their own judgments of these women.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More Than a Pretty Picture

In 2007, hairdresser Deborah Rodriguez published a memoir of her experience in Afghanistan. Despite the cringe-inducing subtitle — An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil — the book itself, Kabul Beauty School, isn’t bad. (Interestingly, the book goes by a different subtitle in the U.K., The Art of Friendship and Freedom.)

Rodriguez is moved to travel to Afghanistan and help when she hears about the war and suffering of women. She has a second motive: to get away from her abusive husband. Surrounded by nurses and physicians, she soon begins to feel useless. A hairdresser, she has no extensive training for dealing with disasters. But skilled hairdressers, it turns out, are short in supply and greatly in demand. Rodriguez is greeted with excitement by Westerners and Afghans alike. (The book is rather stereotypical, not surprisingly, in its definition of femininity — nails, makeup, hair-dye — but even some men wish to get their hair cut.) Noting the lack, Rodriguez helps establish a school for training future hairdressers. Throughout the process, Rodriguez familiarizes herself with Afghan culture and customs and creates a new life for herself.

Rodriguez doesn’t turn to an East-West binary. She makes friends and finds an Afghan husband (in an arranged marriage). While the power men hold over the lives of some of the women she meets is more extreme than legally possible in the United States, Rodriguez can relate. She herself faced an abusive husband, and this background, which she retells, makes it easy for her and the reader to understand the women she meets. She shows the hardships they face with otherizing them — painting a respectful portrait of their emotional strength and endurance. She says, “I’ve been blessed with family, and I’m rich—especially rich—in sisters. I sometimes wonder if I’ve done as much for them as they’ve done for me” (269). She resists the tendency to conform Afghan women to American standards in an effort to help them. She notes that helping Afghan women is not as straightforward as Westerners think: “It takes a long time to understand how the complexities of these women’s lives differ from the complexities of ours. Sometimes she can’t help, even when understand these complexities” (259).

Despite the political context of the situation — an American woman in Afghanistan at the start of an American-led “War on Terror” — the book is free of politics. Rodriguez takes no sides. There is a mention of the war in Iraq, but only because it relates to the delayed shipping of supplies to Afghanistan. Focusing on the lives of women, the book leaves political discourse for other books to take on. It’s fortunate, because comments like this — “I still wonder if that videotape will show up on Aljazeera television someday, as evidence that American hairdressers are torturing Afghan men” — make me think Rodriguez wouldn’t be the best person to analyze the political backdrop.

Similarly, Rodriguez does not spend much time on religion. She notes Islamic practices and her Christian faith when they come up, but they are not a large part of the book. She never colors Islam as the source of all problems, but some comments are questionable. She writes, “Even though Roshanna’s parents weren’t deeply conservative Muslims, they wanted to see their country return to normal, and the Taliban seemed determined to make this happen.” Is being a “deeply conservative Muslim” equivalent to supporting the Taliban? That’s troubling.

The writing is straightforward and readable, although somewhat disjointed and not terribly sophisticated. At 270 pages, it’s easy to read in a day or two. Overall, it’s an worthwhile read, portraying Afghan women from a rare angle.

Note: The story may not be all it appears to be; see criticism here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Get Smart: IQ2US Includes Women’s Voices in Debate about Islam

A few days ago, I caught an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate on the radio. The series evaluates a claim through Oxford-style debate. The resolution was “Islam is dominated by radicals.” The wording of the issue is flawed, as participant Reza Aslan (against) pointed out in his opening speech, and the supporting team’s attempts to clarify the intent of the resolution led to inconsistent interpretation on both sides of the debate.

Nevertheless, the debate was commendable in its choice of participants. For an issue about Islam, both sides included Muslims — more notably, Muslim women.

Asra Nomani argued on the “for” side, and Edina Levovik, with Aslan, represented the Muslim voice on “against.” The debate also included the opinions of non-Muslims: two top figures in conservative think tanks (for) and a Columbia University history professor with an emphasis in Muslim countries (against).

It’s important that Muslim women’s voices be a part of all discussions of Islam. This resolution did not focus on women, so it was surprising (but refreshing) to see women comprising the majority of the Muslim debaters. This sends the message that women are an engaged part of Islam, not passive victims. Because Muslim women were shown on both sides of the debate, it’s clear that that within that community, there’s a diversity of opinions.

The live debate was held April 15. You can read more about it, see profiles of the debaters, and listen to the full debate here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sisters in Music: Female Muslim Rappers Collaborate

Hip hop was created in the '70s as a means for disillusioned Black and Latino youth to express their grievances and anger at the racism and neglect of the system. Today, although not always used for those political purposes, there does remain a strong segment of the hip hop population which uses this form of expression in political ways to bring to light their struggles and experiences with the system, whatever that system that may be. Muslimah Media Watch has highlighted hip hop and Muslim women before.

One of the women we covered earlier, Deeyah, has just released an album titled Sisterhood. As described on her MySpace page:

Sisterhood is the collective name for a mixtape project of previously unreleased songs written by young up and coming female Muslim rappers, singers and poetesses from the UK, Europe and US.

Their songs deal with a range of issues that each has been affected by on some level ranging from the war in Iraq to racism, love, romance, living in a post 9/11 world, to women's rights issues, faith and personal experiences of being young socially conscious Muslim women in the West.

Showcasing the work of 18 up-and-coming artists, Sisterhood presents a variety of topics, issues, and styles of hip hop. From violence against women, to political turmoil, from racism and social justice to personal struggles, loves, passions and experiences, and of course Islam, the women whose work is presented in Sisterhood provide a diversity of voices for young Muslim women growing up in the West.

These women are definitely defying the Western stereotype of the quiet, subservient Muslim woman. They are an alternative to the constant barrage of images of the woman in black, often thought to be helpless and weak. These women have something to say and they are saying it loud and clear. Rapping, singing, lamenting, expressing, crtitiquing. Like Deeyah, these women also demonstrate that women within the Muslim community can be diverse with a variety of ways of expressing their Muslim pride. Although not all the works have to do with being Muslim, these women have chosen to be included in a project specifically for showcasing the work of young Muslim women. These women have chosen to place their Muslim identity front and centre.

Just as much as Deeyah has given these women the support and venue they need to be heard, these women have also expressed their support of Deeyah, a woman who has been targeted by extremist Muslims for her self-portrayals, by linking their name to hers. An impactful example of a united voice of Muslim women against harrassments and threats.

Music has for centuries been a powerful and beautiful form of expression all around the world including the Muslim world. For centuries, poets, saints, worshippers of God, both men and women, have used music to express not only their love for God but their love and critiques of this world. These women are a part of the modern generation of Muslims using music to express themselves and get their message out to the masses.

To listen to the songs you can check out the MySpace page mentioned earlier or you can visit here.

Additionally, each woman on the compilation has a MySpace page of her own which you can link to from the main MySpace page. Do check them out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let’s Talk about Love — Saudi Style

Yesterday’s issue of the New York Times featured a look at romance among the youth of Saudi Arabia. It’s not the first time the Times has addressed this topic. The Western media has an intense fascination when it comes to Saudi Arabia and romance, if Valentine’s Day coverage is any clue.

Yesterday’s coverage includes separate articles for the female and male perspectives, along with a slideshow of “youth in the kingdom” — all of whom are men. Good job making women invisible. Isn’t that supposed to be the Saudis’ job, media? I guess it doesn’t just take an abaya after all. We’ll focus on the article about women, “Love on Girls’ Side of the Saudi Divide.”

The problems start as early as the photo. Accompanying the article is a picture of “Shaden.” Her face covered in black cloth, she sits between her younger sister (whose face and head are bare, as though to contrast with her sister), and her father. Shaden is gesturing with her hands, and her sister looks solemn. Good way to make the father look like a bad guy right off the bat. The caption only identifies Shaden as “veiled at 17.” Interesting wording. First, “veiled” is imprecise. Not all women who “veil” cover all of, or even any of, their faces. (The only photo including a women’s face shows Sara al-Tukhaifi — looking depressed, of course. Unlike the slideshow of laughing men, there are no photos of happy women.)

Second, the photo makes it obvious what Shaden is wearing. What does the caption add by emphasizing her clothing? Well, the passive voice makes it sound like “veiling” was something done to Shaden, and the placement of “at 17” — instead of, say, “Shaden, 17, spoke with her father” — hints at the classic Orientalist tragedy. Veiled at 17, married off at 18 — you know the rest. (I don’t want to deny the reality of this experience, because it does happen. But as far as this article is concerned, it’s not Shaden’s story, so it’s not relevant.)

The Times has a tendency towards Orientalist portrayals of Saudi Arabia. The women interviewed are introduced as

swaying and gyrating, without the slightest self-consciousness, among overstuffed sofas, heavy draperies, tables larded with figurines and ornately-covered tissue boxes… their head-to-toe abayas, balled up and tossed onto chairs, … like black cloth puddles.

Really, do the sofas, drapes, and “ornately-covered” tissue boxes have anything to do with the lives of teenage Saudi girls? I think not. Instead, they help to set the “exotic” scene — women liberated from their “black puddles” become gyrating dancers. Come on; you don’t even need to have heard of Edward Said to call this Orientalism.

You see, in the mysterious desert kingdom — articles rarely forget to emphasize the sand, the wind, the backwards glamour of it all! — women aren’t quite the same as women here in the United States. It’s not that the government limits their rights and society is more conservative. That’s clear, of course. It’s that the women themselves are of a different sort — or so the article implies.

Women are characterized as children. They “falter,” “sway slightly on high heels,” “totter,” and “nod earnestly, dark ringlets bouncing” (Shirley Temple, anyone?). Oh, and the standard female stereotypes, of course: they “giggle,” “shriek” and “burst into tears.” You’d think the possibility of talking to a man drives every single Saudi women to nervous collapse.

This image of women is reminiscent of Jane Austen, and indeed, the article ends on that note: Shaden sighs deeply, and references the Pride and Prejudice film: “When Darcy comes to Elizabeth and says ‘I love you’ — that’s exactly the kind of love I want,” she says.

Nineteenth-century British romance is presented as an impossible ideal, the kind of thing Saudi women can only long for. The NYT tells us that for Saudi women, progress is what we in the United States consider history. It’s an affirmation of the superiority of the English-speaking world. The journalist leaves out the fact that it’s not just Saudi women who sigh over Mr. Darcy. American author Shannon Hale wrote an entire novel about the Mr. Darcy complex in modern-day American women (and she wasn’t the only one to do so). But the message comes across differently when it’s a Saudi women, her restrictions already explained, sighing over a romance from foreign cinema.

The nature of same-sex relationships also undergoes a transformation when Saudi women are involved. Journalist Katherine Zoepf references a “supposed increase in same-sex love affairs among young people frustrated at the strict division between the genders.” As though gender division is a good enough reason to explain all same-sex “love affairs.” But, wait, that’s not the only cause:

Ms. Tukhaifi and Shaden know of girls in their college who have passionate friendships, possibly even love affairs, with other girls but they say that this, like the cross-dressing, is just a “game” born of frustration, something that will inevitably end when the girls in question become engaged.

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems a bit off that “frustration” would lead to “passionate” friendships. Eventual engagements may end same-sex relationships, but that doesn’t mean the women were only playacting. Never in the article is there any acknowledge that homosexuality can and does exist even in conservative parts of the world. This does an excellent job enforcing the (false) idea that not only is homosexuality a choice, but it’s specifically a product of Western liberal society. We know that Saudi society does not accept homosexuality. Therefore, Saudi women can’t actually be gay — they’re only straight women playing “games” because they’re bored. It’s unfortunate that Zoepf relies only on hearsay to discuss this topic. The phrase “love affair” further belittles same-sex relationships.

Zoepf does a decent job not presenting Islam as a strict monolith. She notes distinctions between culture and religion and describes Saudi Islam as but one interpretation of Islam. Nevertheless, some ultraconservative interpretations are thrown in as undisputed facts. Zoepf quotes Tukhaifi as saying “Islam forbids a stranger to hear your voice,” and she never explains further. This rule is certainly not a universally held fact of Islam. And it leaves the reader wondering — how does a woman ask for something in a shop? How does she communicate with her teachers? How are these women talking to Zoepf, a journalist? The clarification “male” would have helped, but it still raises questions that are never answered in the story. At another point, music is referenced as haram, but this is not explained either, even though the introduction describes the women dancing to music.

Another issue with the story is the lack of class diversity. The women interviewed appear to be at least upper middle class. They all have leisure time and access to new technology; money does not seem to be a concern. Contrary to stereotypes, this isn’t the situation for all Saudis. It would have been interesting to hear about the lives of lower-class Saudi women, who cannot be as easily “spirited around the city,” and how their pursuit of romance differs from that of wealthier Saudi women.

According to the sidebar with the subhead “Through a Veil, Lightly,” this article is the fourth installment of the series “Generation Faithful,” composed of “articles examining the lives of youth across the Muslim world at a time of religious revival.” While the article addresses the issues institutionalized religion create, it never explores the personal faith of the women interviewed. Close enough, I guess?

One reader commented on the story, “It’s humanizing and relieving to understand that, despite the severity of their oppression, these women still have joy and desires.” Really. Is this what journalism aims for? Showing that Saudi women are still human beings, still have “joys and desires”? Alas. That was obvious, I thought. Do people really think Saudi women are robots under their abayas and face covers? Oh my. We still have a long way to go.

Photo from the New York Times.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Frustrating Encounters

The Birmingham Posts’ Roshan Doug recently blogged about a frustrating experience he had at a retail outlet. Many of us could relate as many of us have been in similar situations. Therefore, I understood much of his frustration throughout the post until......

The clerk he was dealing with was a Muslim woman in a hijab. He mentions this early in the piece. I did wonder why he had mentioned this until I read in his explanatory blog entry which followed this one (which he had to write due to the response to this post) that he mentioned it to set the scene. Makes sense, except that what he was setting the scene for was very problematic. After much frustration in dealing with this clerk, he explains:

I'm also not too impressed with the fact that she throws the card on the desk and not hand it to me - it's a cultural thing apparently. Some Muslim women - like her - avoid all - even the faintest - contact with men.

Now this is quite the assumption to make. There has been nothing in the post indicating her level of conservatism, or what she adheres to religiously. He based this assumption simply on her wearing of a head scarf. It is her status as a hijabi he refers to when he says “like her.” Anyone who knows anything about Muslim women will know that such generalizations are absolutely inaccurate. After all, Doug himself is an ethnic minority and should understand the rudeness of having one generalized with one’s group. But he seems to forget how inaccurate and harmful such generalizations can be when dealing with a woman who wears hijab. Especially since she is more likely to have thrown the card because she was rude, not because she did not want to have contact with him. The no-contact-with-men-whatsoever is not as common a belief as he would have us believe.

He then continues to say:

Why they then take jobs that require dealing with the public on a face to face basis, I have no idea.

Again, he is making this assumption based simply on her hijab. This generalization appears even more inaccurate and foolish since objections to face-to-face association are rare among women who wear hijab. Analyzed further, this statement appears to be based on the underlying belief that women who wear the hijab would prefer to remain within the walls of their home away from society. That they would prefer to not be a part of public life. That they would prefer to remain secluded. Wow! Waaaay too many rude and insulting assumptions being made about hijab-clad Muslim women.

Doug has written a response to this post based on the many complaints against him. And in his response he comes across as an intelligent man. This makes it even more depressing that he would make the assumptions he did. Especially, since he does not explain why he made those assumptions or what they were based on. Was there something we missed? Apparently not. Now whether no complainant brought up this issue or whether he just ignored it if it was brought up, I am not sure, but for some reason he still does believe that the reason she threw the card was because of her interpretation of Islam. I am still at a loss as to how he came to that conclusion and with so much conviction. However, it is very clear that he just does not get it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

TIME’s Blind Spot in Seeing Women in Islam

TIME magazine released its “100 most influential people” list this week. Of the 100 people, only one is a Muslim woman.

Madeeha Hasan Odhaib of Iraq (pictured right) carries the honor of being the only influential Muslim woman of the year. An Iraqi seamstress-turned-district council member, she employs 100 women, and is cited as an activist and heroine in the mini-profile written by previous winner Queen Rania of Jordan.

Odhaib is accompanied by 10 other Muslims, all male, who span categories such as leaders, builders, and thinkers.

On one hand, it’s unfortunate that the academics who compile the list only considered one Muslim woman influential in all of 2008. (This list, remember, America-centric as it is, considers Miley Cyrus and Mariah Carey among the top 100.) Then again, it may be a good thing that the woman chosen for the list — which considers “influential” a neutral term, including both positive and negative influence — is a woman decidedly in the “positive” camp. Odhaib is praised as the symbol of “all of Iraq's courageous women, whose resilience and resourcefulness hold the promise of a new dawn.”

Compare that to women included in years past. I hesitate to describe them all as “Muslim women,” because although some identify (or once identified) as Muslim, they are best cited by critics of Islam as examples of where Islam needs to go. 2005 featured Ayaan Hirsi Ali, (pictured below) an ex-Muslim who went from denouncing Islam to be the source of human rights violations to working for a neoconservative American think tank. The profile was written by Irshad Manji, a controversial figure in the Muslim community. Manji, another critic of Islam, differs by her self-identification as a Muslim. (See some of her other work for TIME here.) The list for 2006 included Wafa Sultan, yet another outspoken critic of Islam, whose inclusion contributed to this petition accusing the magazine of an anti-Islam bias. In their profiles, both Hirsi and Sultan are praised for their activism. Here’s a sample, from Sultan’s profile:

Sultan's influence flows from her willingness to express openly critical views on Islamic extremism that are widely shared but rarely aired by other Muslims. … "I even don't believe in Islam," she says, "but I am a Muslim." By so sharply voicing her beliefs, Sultan crystallizes the mission for the rest of us who want to take the slam out of Islam.

Both profiles are written by women who have not stepped out of Islam, like Ali and Sultan have. Sultan’s profile was written by Asra Q. Nomani, a Muslim reformer, still controversial but less so than Manji. Nomani and Manji note their disagreements with the subjects of the profiles but nevertheless praise the work they have done. As they hold “Muslim membership cards,” their support, I suspect, is meant to hold more weight, affirming Islam critics that Ali and Sultan bring the change Muslims need.

Hold on, you might argue, “influential” doesn’t mean you have to like the person. After all, Osama bin Laden was listed amongst “top leaders and revolutionaries.” While people often think of “influential” in a positive light, it’s true that TIME considers influence “for the better or for the worse.” Managing editor Richard Strengel described what the magazine looks for as “people whose ideas, whose example, whose talent, whose discoveries transform the world we live in. Influence is less about the hard power of force than the soft power of ideas and example.”

This is what the Western non-Muslim media seems to miss so often. Anti-Islam commentators aren’t that influential. Sure, they get interviews on all the news channels and neoconservatives revel in their every quote, but that’s not change. People who hate Islam continue to do so. Muslims who don’t see Islam as the hateful monolith they portray it to be get angry. Sorry, but Ali-types aren’t bringing on the Islamic revolution of secularism. Their influence lies instead in convincing the non-Muslim masses that Islam is the evil they fear. But that kind of influence isn’t what the magazine recognizes.

If TIME wants to look at Muslim women who are making a difference within the Muslim community, it should turn to women who are still within the Muslim community (instead of using them to praise Islam-bashers). TIME has to realize that influence can come in many forms, and Muslim women activists don’t always take the image it imagines them to. Can a conservative Muslim woman be influential? Certainly. Look at Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America. She’s made waves for being the first woman, convert, and non-immigrant to head the mainstream Islamic organization — not for denouncing her religion. Muslims who work within the framework of Islam are far more influential to Muslims than those who turn against Muslims and Islam altogether. And let’s not forget Muslim women can be notable for reasons other than their religion (like the Hindu and Mormon women on this year’s list). Were she still alive, Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, for example, should have made the 2008 list. Odhaib is yet another example.

TIME has some good examples on its record. In 2004 it featured Shirin Ebadi (pictured left), an Iranian human rights activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts towards democracy and human rights. Ebadi has spoken about her faith and challenged the idea of Islam as inherently misogynist. Queen Rania of Jordan, also noted as a human rights activist and spokesperson against stereotypes of Islam, was profiled the same year. These women do in fact deserve to be called “influential.”

Don’t get me wrong — being influential doesn’t have to mean making Islam look good. I acknowledge that winner-of-Islam-distortion bin Laden has definitely made an impact on the world. But when it comes to Muslim women, I don’t know of any famous bin Laden female counterparts. It’s the women like Ebadi and Odhaib who make an appreciable difference in the lives of Muslim women. That’s influence. TIME would be wise to take note.

Photo credits TIME magazine.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

'Chay' is for What?

Last week, I was introduced to Chay magazine - a brand new Pakistani magazine (just about to publish their first issue) that covers the topics of sex and sexuality in Pakistan. The first of its kind in the country. Their mission statement states:

Having observed in Pakistani society, a disturbing tendency towards fear and shame around issues of sex and sexuality - that is to say, around a normal human interaction - the founders of Chay Magazine feel that sex and sexuality should enter the public discourse. The taboo and silence around sex and sexuality are oppressive on all of us, irrespective of gender, and lead, at the very least, to unhappiness in our daily lives and, more often, to violence, shame, depression, ill health and general social malaise. We at Chay Magazine endeavor to bring to the Pakistani reading public a place to converse about those things we are most shy of. Our hope is that, through this, we can become braver and stronger, more powerful, self-assured, and just and fair members of society.

Why 'Chay'? Before encountering the magazine I knew 'chay' was a letter of the Urdu alphabet but I was not aware of any other significance. Chay Magazine explains it. Chay is short for 'chootia.' Chootia means 'of the vagina' , or as they describe 'of the cunt.' So yes, this magazine is translated as 'Of the Cunt' Magazine. This appears to be the Pakistani way of re-claiming the often-offensive, often-loved word, similar to the way many Western feminists have re-claimed the word 'cunt.' Additionally, they tell us how the letter 'chay' is also for many other words related to sex and sexuality.

The magazine, from its submission page, appears to have an intellectual and scintillating sensibility. It does not appear to be a salacious magazine or cheap attempt to be dirty. But rather an effort to discuss issues of sex and sexuality in a mature and educational way, but still have fun with the topic. All this within the context of a society that has traditionally not allowed such dialogue. For instance, they are looking for pieces on the topics of sex, the politics of sex, promiscuity, and marriage. Such topics encompass issues pertinent to women such as domestic violence (or as I prefer to call it, intimate partner violence), rape (including marital rape), feminism, religion and sex(uality), and sex work, among others.

Like every human being on this earth and every piece of writing they may produce, Chay magazine has its own perspective and agenda. And their agenda is clear - sex and sexuality are normal. Everyone experiences them. Not talking about such a central aspect of our lives is detrimental to the health of our society. Talking about the issues surrounding sex and our sexualities will make us better as a society. Considering Pakistani society has increasingly higher rates of violence against women perhaps confronting and talking about the issues in an open and frank forum will help stop and reverse the increasing numbers. Anything that can help at this point should be welcomed. Additionally, it would be welcoming to see this be a friendly arena for those of alternate sexualities to gain support from and educate others.

The concept is definitely new to Pakistan. As their mission statement reads, sex and sexuality is a taboo topic in Pakistani society. Yet there would be many people needing and wanting to discuss and engage with it. However, this is just the beginning. We'll try to keep you updated as things progress. If anyone is interested in writing for the magazine check out their call for submissions.