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Last month, I was browsing Facebook in bed at 11:30pm before I went to sleep and came across a post about a competition being held by Plan international called #girlstakeover. The brief was to write 200 words on what you would do if you were Prime Minister for a day. I had never heard about either the organisation or the initiative but it seemed to fit in with my passion of women’s empowerment so I applied a minute before the deadline with the response below:

If I were to be Prime Minister of this great nation for a day, I would focus my energies on the past, present and future. I would acknowledge the reality of Australia’s history and the rights of the original occupants of our wide brown land by ensuring indigenous people are recongised in social, economical and politcal forums and their opinions are heard with regards to domestic and international policies. I would ensure the present generation of women and children are protected from abuse, violence and vulnerability via displacement by providing shelter and education to those at home and those that come across the seas to our boundless plains. For our future, I would seek to address the refugee crisis and climate change. Two giant issues that have no easy solution by making educated and informed decisions based on expert opinion. To do all this I would spend my day as an inclusive and open leader, hearing all voices regardless of gender religion or race.

A week later I found out I had made it into the #girlstakeover Program so I thought I should find out what I had gotten into! It turns out I had gotten into something pretty awesome!

Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. They strive for a just world, working together with children, young people, our supporters and partners. Each year they hold a global event where young women are chosen, given training and support and then take over parliament in their city for a day.

This year I am part of a group of young women in Canberra participating in the #GirlsTakeover Parliament Program, part of Plan International’s global #GirlsTakeover initiative. As part of the commemoration of International Day of the Girl on 11 October 2017, 600 takeovers in 60 countries will take place across the world. Canberra will be one of the locations where this action is occurring.

This initiative is great because it creates a platform in a space young girls often have difficulty accessing. In Canberra, this activism will be occurring in both the Legislative Assembly and Federal Parliament. The program is being led by two awesome local young women – Caitlin Figueiredo and Ashleigh Streeter – who signed up local members of Legislative Assembly and members of Federal Parliament to be involved and commit to a multipartisan message that our Local and Federal Parliaments are “committed to defending the rights and potential of young women and girls.”

On 11 October, we will take over the offices of local representatives from across party lines. On 18 October, we will enter Federal Parliament and occupy the offices of 19 Parliamentarians from every political party. During this time, we will shadow the politicians for the day and present these representatives with Plan International Australia’s national report on how to increase the participation of young women in political decision-making.

I am so please to have stumbled across this program and will post about our training weekend and the actual takeover soon. Till then, you can read about the initiative here and follow it using #girlstakeover as well as follow Plan international on social media or their website.

takeover-what-why

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I would like to share with you the history of Ramadan – the Muslim month of fasting. In the year 610 AD, the Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed on the night of Laylatul-Qadr which is also known as the Night of Power. This night falls in the month of Ramadan and as a result, fasting was prescribed to Muslims for the duration of this month in celebration. So, while the concept of fasting is and was practised by other faiths, and even by the prophet, the concept of Ramadan is specifically tied to the revelation of the Quran.

In the Quran in Surah 2, Ayah 185, Allah says, “The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”

Thus began the Islamic ritual of fasting on the month of Ramadan. This ritual fast known as, Sawm, and is one of the five pillars of Islam. It requires that individuals abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse between the hours of sun up and sun down. Beyond the physical abstinence, the reason Ramadan is known as the month of detoxing or training is explained to great effect by Nouman Ali Khan who explains that the ayah in Sura Baqara says fasting has been prescribed for you so that you may gain Taqwa. Taqwa means piety, but its literal meaning is also protection. Ramadan is the month in which you train and protect your heart to become stronger, more pious and closer to Allah by controlling your body and physical and material desires. My favourite takeaway from his video is min 14 to 16 when he says inna zalika min taqwal kuluub – the heart is the place of taqwa – which is a reference to sura Al Hajj ayah 32 where Allah swt says, ‘zalika waman yuaththim sha’aira Allahi fainnaha min taqwaalquloob’ which translates to ‘he who respects the Symbols of Allah, surely shows the piety of his heart.’ Nouman Ali Khan’s video about Ramadan I highly recommend and linked here.

Now – to answer some frequently asked questions.

What’s the point of Ramadan? In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed.

Do all Muslims fast? Most Muslims believe Ramadan fasting is mandatory, but there are some groups that do not. In the Quran in Sura 2, Al-Baqara, Verse (ayah) 256 it includes the phrase that “there is no compulsion in religion”. So each person practices in the way they wish. I personally believe it is the intention rather than the act that is important. You can abstain from food and water all day but if you are cussing, angry and mean spirited during this fast then how much have you achieved the goal of Ramadan which is self-purification to attain closeness to God.

How do you fast in Islam? During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims fast from dawn to sunset with no food or water. Before sunrise many Muslims have the Suhur or predawn meal. At sunset families and friends gather for Iftar which is the meal eaten by Muslims to break the fast. Many Muslims begin the meal by eating dates as the Prophet Muhammad used to do.

Why is charity such a big part of Ramadan? Charity is an important part of Ramadan because the fast emphasizes self-sacrifice and using the experience of hunger to grow in empathy with the hungry. During Ramadan, Muslim communities work together to raise money for the poor, donate clothes and food, and hold iftar dinners for the less fortunate and or with interfaith and other community organisations.

Do you spend Ramadan studying the Quran? Many Muslims use Ramadan to read the entire Quran or read the Quran daily. Many communities divide the Quran into daily reading segments that conclude on Eid ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. To tie this back to my earlier reference about tawqa – protecting the heart can only come from a closeness to and an understanding of the Quran. Therefore the importance of studying the Quran in Ramadan cannot be emphasised enough.

I am not Muslim but I want to fast – can I? Non-Muslims are free to participate in Ramadan. Many non-Muslims fast and even pray with their Muslim friends or family members. Non-Muslims are often invited to attend prayer and iftar dinners. Those wishing to be polite to someone who is fasting for Ramadan may greet them with Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Kareem, which means have a Blessed or Generous Ramadan.

Do you have to fast if you are sick? Fasting during Ramadan is discouraged for those who are not of sound body or mind. Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, people who are seriously sick, travellers, or those at health risk should not fast. Children that have not gone through puberty are also not required to fast during the month Ramadan.

Because the cycle of the lunar calendar doesn’t match the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan shift approximately 11 days each year. This year Ramadan began on 26th May 2017 and will end in 29 or 30 days depending on the sighting of the moon. The end of Ramadan is marked by the holiday of Eid ul-Fitr. On Eid ul-Fitr, morning prayers are followed by feasting and celebration among family and friends. This year Eid ul-Fitr will most probably fall on Sunday 26th June and my video on Eid is here!

Taking you along with me for a spot of shopping during Ramadan. Portmans is having a huge sale (like legit) over the long weekend and there’s some great hijabi friendly bargains to be had! And no this is not an ad. Wish it was! Sponsor me Portmans!
What I bought –
1. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sale/sale-tops/romy-ruffle-top-768442-1
2. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sale/sale-knitwear/frieda-bell-knit
3. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sale/new-to-sale/oriental-embroidered-shirt

What I liked –
1. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sophie-contrast-piping-shirt
2.  http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sale/new-to-sale/tilli-eylet-trim-top
3. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/jamie-velvet-loafer
4. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sale/new-to-sale/sara-bell-sleeve-top
5. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sale/new-to-sale/high-neck-ruffle-emb-shirt
6. http://www.portmans.com.au/shop/en/portmans/sale/sale-all-bottoms/metallic-pleated-skirt

The Simpson Desert Challenge 2017 organised by Youngcare, raises funds to enable young people in aged care to have access to age appropriate housing and facilities such as this one in Albany Creek Queensland. While my idea of exercise is to walk to the fridge, the allure of the Australian outback coupled with the very good cause the money would be going towards has led me to accept this challenge.

From the 25th of May to the 4th of June 2017, My husband and I along with a few other trekkers will:

  • spend eight full days and nights in the Simpson Desert, exposed to the elements
  • climb more than 1,000 sand dunes over approximately 250km carrying a 10kg backpack
  • cross the Simpson Desert, which spans three Australian States: the Northern Territory, Queensland, and South Australia
  • have no access to toilets, showers, beds or any other luxury
  • finish at the iconic Birdsville Hotel.

This is an extreme challenge – as life is for a young person in aged care. I am well aware this will push me out of my comfort zone and force me to confront my fear of snakes and other creepy crawlies. I hope you will donate generously and/or share the fundraising cause to empower Youngcare to providing much needed facilities for over 5000 young Australians who are currently living in aged care.

To donate please visit my everyday hero page – https://simpsondesertchallenge2017.everydayhero.com/au/shafeen-mustaq. Please feel free to share this far and wide so we can raise as much money as possible.

Thank you

Happy International women’s day! To those of you who are unfamiliar, International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women all over the world.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has been observed since in the early 1900’s – a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. International Women’s Day is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity.

World-renowned feminist, journalist and social and political activist Gloria Steinem said, “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights”. Thus International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – whatever that looks like globally and locally.

As a woman, for me, IWD is a day to celebrate the achievements of our gender, past and present. Whether it’s Ida B Wells, the African-American journalist, newspaper editor, suffragist, sociologist, feminist, Georgist, and an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement, or Ada Lovelace, Countess of Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer, or even the Egyptian Lotfia ElNadi who was the first African woman as well as first Arab woman to earn a pilot’s license. All these women have paved the way in their respective fields so that we have the rights we do today – The right to vote, to work, to represent others in government. And the rights we still fight for – rights to make decisions for our bodies that are unrestricted by taxes on female hygiene products, abortion laws or FGM practices. It is our responsibility not only today, but every day – to ensure we work to maintain our rights and that they are given to women all over the world.

As a Muslim woman, IWD means reflecting not on the turbulence of the past year but also on the greater history of Muslim women throughout time and the skills and qualities our role models have pursued and possessed in order to persevere. Muslim women are the visible targets for increasing islamophobia and angry outlets of ignorance and fear. Muslim women are required to navigate not only the cultural stigma of being female in whatever country she is from, but also the social stigma that is increasingly pervasive in our globalised society in its many forms online, on the street and in government policies. Muslim women navigate the patriarchal interpretations of the Quran to understand and abide by the rights afforded to them in Islam in the face of ‘well-intentioned’ men and sometimes women who feel a responsibility to subjugate them under the guise of religious instruction. Muslim women navigate the social stigma attached to their dress code and resist the western hegemony that believes it has the right to dictate what women should wear and how they should act. Campaigns, events and even trending twitter hashtags such as the #dearsister hashtag are crucial to enlightening and empowering Muslim women through the sharing of knowledge to dispel the fear that comes from ignorance.

As an Australian woman, IWD is a time to reflect on the prevalence and severity of violence against women in Australia. On average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia. One in three Australian women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15. One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence. One in four Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. One in four Australian women has experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. Women are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence, and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives. Of those women who experience violence, more than half have children in their care. Eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 were harassed on the street in the past year. Domestic or family violence against women is the single largest driver of homelessness for women, a common factor in child protection notifications and results in a police call-out on average once every two minutes across the country. The combined health, administration and social welfare costs of violence against women have been estimated to be $21.7 billion a year, with projections suggesting that if no further action is taken to prevent violence against women, costs will accumulate to $323.4 billion over a thirty-year period from 2015 to 2045.

Australia – we have a moral and ethical responsibility to ourselves and our society to be better. To do better. Violence against women in any form is unacceptable, and the growing evidence that women with disabilities are more likely to experience violence and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience both far higher rates and more severe forms of violence compared to other women is a sad testament to the state of our society. We must urge our government to take action and put in place measures to ensure Australia turns back from this alarming growth and stays on track to becoming a safer and healthier environment for women of all ages, ethnicities and abilities.

As a woman of Bangladeshi heritage, IWD is a time to celebrate the achievements of great women my country has produced such as Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a Bengali writer, educationist, social activist, and advocate of women’s rights who was and is considered the pioneer feminist of Bengal. It is also a time to reflect on the continuance of child marriages, the giving and taking of dowry, domestic violence, rape, acid attacks and sexual harassment. From the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, women in every strata of Bengali society whether at home or abroad face challenges as a result of being a woman. A working women, a thinking woman. According to a recent PwC report, Bangladesh’s economy is likely to grow at the fastest rate after Vietnam and India in the next 34 years. Let’s work to ensure our attention to developing security, education and rights for women grows at a greater pace.

International Women’s Day has been occurring for well over a century – and continues to grow from strength to strength. For International Women’s Day 2017, we’re asking you to #BeBoldForChange. Call on the masses, call on yourself and help forge a better working world. A more inclusive, gender equal world where every girl and every woman has the freedom to try, aspire and achieve.

Happy International Women’s day 2017!