#NoAllMalePanels: American Muslim women want change

The Twitter hashtag #noallmalepanels, which started earlier this month, has already inspired a week long vigorous debate online

Nabila Pathan
Nabila Pathan - Special to Al Arabiya News
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A group of Muslim women in the U.S. have instigated a Tweetstorm calling for greater representation of women on speaking panels at Muslim conferences, seminars and events.

The Twitter hashtag #noallmalepanels, which started earlier this month, has already inspired a week long vigorous debate online and has also led to a group of prominent Muslim Men in the American community signing a pledge to never participate in any future panels which are composed exclusively of men.

The grassroots initiative originally started as an event on Facebook, calling upon the community at large to participate in calling leaders to accountability by utilizing the hashtag #NoAllMalePanels on Twitter. The campaign has been coordinated by MuslimGirl.net, Altmuslimah, Muslimah Montage, Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, "Coming Of Faith", Mipsterz – Muslim Hipsters and Side Entrance.

The poor representation of women on panels discussing important social, policy, and theological questions at Muslim centered events has "dire consequences for our communities" explains Samar Kaukab, who's Executive Director at Arete, University of Chicago.

She goes on to add that the Muslim communities in the U.S. lose out because "our collective thinking, ideation, and even group decision making suffers when we don't have diverse voices at the table."

Having actively participated in the #noallmalepanels hashtag conversations, Samar explains the importance of the hashtag:

"This hashtag conversation was a strategic mechanism to bring this topic of visible female representation on our panels, our conferences, and gatherings forward. People noticed, they discussed the topic, and most importantly, they asked questions about what it would actually mean to to implement something like this."

"Essentially, by giving people an easy way to increase women's participation (i.e., have a woman on every panel), organizations and panel hosts have a metric they can easily achieve and measure their efforts towards this essential goal."

Some of the prominent #MuslimMaleAllies who have already signed the pledge include Suhaib Webb (@ImamSuhaibWebb), Faisal Kutty (@faisalkutty) and Aman Ali (@amanali).

Shahed Amanullah (@shahed), who is the CEO of LaunchPosse & cofounder of Affinis Labs, spoke to Al Arabiya News explaining his motivation behind signing up to the pledge.

"I believe one of the reasons for the stagnation in our conference conversations is because we haven't made room for 50% of our communities to be represented," Amanullah said.

"If we create room for talented women to lead our communities in our public conversations, I am confident that they will surprise and impress many men who otherwise wouldn't listen.

"If you look at the advancement of communities around the world, you'll see a direct correlation between progress and the inclusiveness of women in leadership roles," she added.

Earlier this year in February, a Tumblr blog was set up to shame all male panels named: "Congrats! You have an all male panel." Brainchild of a Finnish feminist researcher and artist Saar Sarma, the blog features photos submitted from all over the world to highlight all male panels and the unacceptability of the continuing trend.

The blog's creator has asked people from all over the world to send in photos of all-male panels at seminars and other events. The curator then stamps each image with a thumbs-up photo of actor David Hasselhoff.

As the hashtag #noallmalepanels follows in the footsteps of other online conversations that have demanded qualified women speakers from across all sectors, including the sciences, law, theology and policy work, the desire for a widespread shift in thinking remains the same. Samar hopes that this recent wave of online activity will spur on Muslim community organizations and institutions to see a pathway forward towards increasing the participation of women in public spaces:

"Through this, I hope our communities also learn about the wealth of resources we already have when it comes to female scholarship, leadership, and expertise. In addition, by allowing these women to have a more public presence, I also hope we see the need to support women's leadership and scholarship into the future."

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