By Shannon Urtnowski, Associate Producer
Growing up is hard enough for women, but in the post-9/11 era we live in today, Arab American girls have the added challenge of defending their faith at a time when anti-Muslim stereotyping is so high. Confronting this issue that is rarely addressed, a workshop "Free to be Me: Empowering Women and Girls" broke down the barriers over the weekend--and the workshop's organizers were gracious enough to invite me to spend the day with them for a deeper look.
HEART Women & Girls and the Ehsan Center, two organizations that work closely with Muslim communities in different parts of the country, hosted the all-day seminar in Southern California to tackle three topics that Muslim women face daily: self-esteem, media literacy, and health and wellness. This was the first event of its kind on the West Coast. Through self-defense training and interactive group discussion, the women learned tools to help "redefine ourselves," as one mother put it.
Grandmothers, daughters and sisters alike were in attendance. Amid all the positive feedback I received from these women, mothers seemed most enthusiastic about what an event like "Free to be Me" will mean for the Muslim women of tomorrow. While also enjoying the day's festivities, they said the true joy for them was watching their daughters become empowered. According to HEART, the three issues that Muslim girls struggle with most today are self-esteem and the hijab, bullying, and Islamophobia. Mothers want their daughters to grow to be confident and strong, no matter what religion they practice, and that begins with combatting these issues--not only for themselves, but for future generations.
To hear from the women of "Free to be Me" in their own words, watch the below video.