#ImamsForShe — Inoculation against Violence against Women and Injustice
Note From the President
Today is International Women's Day, a day honoring the achievements of women and calling us to remember the need to commit to fighting for women's rights. This year, the theme of International Women's Day is “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change." In line with this theme, I want to share with you some of the challenges that hold women back; and how MPV has been using innovative programming to build a sustainable movement for women's empowerment around the world.

At the root of violence against women (VAW) are the social, cultural and religious structures that gives it permission. For the past four years, our #ImamsForShe initiative has worked to undermine these patriarchal structures which threaten and stifle the participation of women in public spaces, girls’ rights to education, reproductive rights, equal economic opportunities, and systems that perpetuate forced and child marriage, and FGM/C. #ImamsForShe works with imams, religious leaders, scholars, and human-rights activists to counteract the narratives being spun out from conservative pulpits. The work being done from Tunisia, to Burundi, to Malaysia and at the United Nations in New York and Geneva is about transforming mindsets, changing the way people think about themselves and about Islam. Notice I said “people” and not just girls — we’re trying to get men and women to think critically about how they should relate to one another. We use the human-rights language of the United Nations and rights-affirming interpretations of the Qur’an to show our audience that women’s rights and Islam go together. The results have been revolutionary.

The restriction of women and girls’ rights in the Muslim societies in which we work includes a lack of economic opportunities. We must therefore ask ourselves: why are young women not qualified to apply for job opportunities? Oftentimes the answer is because they don’t have the level of education needed. And why don’t they? In some societies, the answer is: “What’s the point? They just need to get married anyway.”

Imagine yourself a young woman, thinking, believing, and asking yourself, “how is it that my oppressors are my own parents and family, and in the name of God? Why has God given permission to take my happiness away?”

The sad part is, the parents and the girls themselves believe they are acting “according to Islam”. They believe, this bastardized version of Islam is “truth” because that’s how much of the Muslim world have been taught — or lied to.

So, how do we fundamentally change the hearts and minds of individuals, girls, young women and men, their parents and society from this unjust form of Islam? How do we change people’s worldview from tribalism to an inclusive worldview?

The answer is: #ImamsForShe is the inoculation against VAW and injustice.

In Burundi with our program #ClubsForShe, we immerse young women ages 18-25 for
three days and four nights in an overnight camp. Now imagine, in conservative societies where young women are required to be home by sundown, to have them at an overnight camp; it is an accomplishment in itself.


At #ClubsForShe, we educate young women with the spirit of volunteerism: we give them the chance to play! Yes, they have been deprived of that too because God forbid they should tear their hymens! We teach them that the Qur’an gives them the right to decide who and when they marry, the right to education, to work outside the home, to reproductive rights -- an Islamic human rights language to protect themselves from gender-based violence. Yes, we teach them to turn religious language against their oppressors.

And now that we’ve taught women their rights, we’re taking it to the next level by putting them through an entrepreneurial training program. In  2018, with the support of the US Embassy in Burundi and our long-time partner Imam Khalfan, the Executive Director at Alliance des Imams du Corridor Nord pour le Développement Humanitaire (AICNDH), they trained 700 women. These 700 women were placed into groups where they were then given seed money to develop their own small businesses together. That’s empowerment!

As you scroll through this newsletter, I hope you will see for yourself how expansive and groundbreaking our initiatives have been. There really is no precedent for #ImamsForShe, which is why we are getting many partnership requests from other countries to expand this initiative into their communities.

Please visit the #ImamsForShe section on our website for a comprehensive reporting and overview of our signature program.

In solidarity with women human-rights defenders, onward and upward,

Ani Zonneveld
We want to thank Wallace Global Fund, The Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Geneva, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Malaysia, and the U.S. Embassy in Burundi for their support.
United Nations  

MPV takes advantage of the U.N.’s capacity to bring many people together to bring light to important and too-often ignored issues, such as the use and abuse of religion with respect to women’s rights. It was for this reason that MPV launched #ImamsForShe at the U.N. and continues to host panel events discussing the results and impacts of its work. Read about it here

Commission on the Status of Women - New York

#ImamsForShe Launch “Shari’a as a source of Rights” (2015): Parallel to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW),  MPV held an event on the intersection between Shari’a and human rights.
Peace Forum (October 2015): Workshop at CSW 60 (2016): MPV hosted an event that featured three workshops on female genital mutilation and cutting, early and forced marriages, and access to education at the 60th meeting of the CSW.  
Panel at CSW 62 (2018): MPV hosted an all-star panel discussing rights and Islam, and featuring testimonials from a Burundian #ClubsForShe alum!
Human Rights Council - Geneva

Informal Consultation on #ImamsForShe: Defying Violence against Women and Girls (2015): Parallel to the Human Right Council,  MPV held an informal consultation with scholars, human-rights experts, CSOs, diplomats and OHCHR executives to open constructive dialogue on ending violence against women and girls and promoting women’s empowerment.
Workshop at UN HRC (2016): MPV hosted a workshop duplicating the CSW 60 workshop in New York.
Ask an #ImamsForShe (2016): MPV set up booths at the HRC where our #ImamsForShe Champions answered questions in four languages, English, French, Arabic and Kirundi.

All #ImamsForShe activities at the Human Rights Council in Geneva  was made possible thanks to the support of Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Geneva.

In Burundi, #ImamsForShe has been operating in partnership with Alliance des Imams du Corridor Nord pour le Développement Humanitaire (AICNDH) since 2015. What began as an intellectual campaign has now become a fully-blown grassroots initiative, with a radio show that reaches nearly 9.6 million listeners weekly, educational camps for girls and young women, and entrepreneurship training for young women. Read all about it, here.

Sermon Lecture Series (2015-2016): A series of twelve coordinated sermons in Friday mosques aimed at changing the mindsets of congregations.
Workshop Series (2016): Two workshops in partnership with eight universities. We trained 212 university students in matters related to women’s equality and empowerment.
Radio Show “La Femme en Islam” (2017 - present): Weekly radio show hosted by AICNDH president. Has reached over 9.6 million people.
#ClubsForShe (2017 - present): Camps for girls that include sports, training in human rights language, and entrepreneurial skills. Has trained 90 girls.
Comparative Study on School Attendance (September 2018): AICNDH sent out 300 questionnaires to boys and girls, focusing on Islamic communities in Burundi. The study found, among other things, that over 75% of school drop-outs in those communities among young boys and girls were due to early marriage. 
Educational Workshops (2018 - present): Workshops for imams, scholars, and lay activists. Have trained 30 influencers to date.


One would think given its historically progressive values, Tunisia should be an easy country to work in. For many, MPV is either not Muslim enough, or too Muslim. Hence, we have received push-back from Muslim groups and secular feminists, who say "how dare you you put Islam and human rights in the same sentence!" Our success can be gauged by the use of rights affirming Islamic language by the same secular feminist group for their current campaign in support of equal inheritance for women and men in Tunisia.

#ImamsForShe in Tunisia is very much linked to capacity building: how can we train members of civil society, lay and religious leaders to spread #ImamsForShe’s message? For that reason, in partnership with our Champions, #ImamsForShe has mainly consisted in workshops  — three to be exact — which are based on curriculum promoting egalitarian values and inclusivity. Up until now, we’ve trained 76 activists and influencers. Read all about it, here!

Convening of Scholars (February 2016): A convening of 30 scholars of Islam, discussing women’s rights.
Workshop in Makhter (September 2016): A two-day workshop held in a rural village in Tunisa. Trained 28 people.
Development of “Common Values” booklet (2017): The goal of this toolkit was to show the interlinkages between the U.N. Human Rights framework, Islam, and the Sustainable Development Goals — hence common values.
Seminar on “Common Values”s (2018): Convening a Training of Trainers workshop made up of religious and human rights experts primarily for the purpose of applying the draft version of the booklet with post-workshop analysis and feedback to be used for the final production of the booklet. 25 people were trained.

In partnership with Komuniti Muslim Univeral (KMU), #ImamsForShe operates as #UlamaBersaWanita. The initiative’s most notable accomplishment has been the publication of a booklet on women’s rights, produced with funding from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and a forum on marital rape. Read all about it here.