Monday, November 27, 2017


Sabin Muzaffar is the founder of Ananke Magazine, an initiative that publishes mindful content for women, online. Here is an interview with her.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
 I hail from Karachi, Pakistan and was born in a family of Marxists and revolutionaries. My grandfather was in the Indian Communist Party's Central Committee, ideals that were imprinted on my dad and have largely influenced me as well. So I belong to a family with a mindset, which has generationally striven to change the status quo of society - the ills and injustices. The first story I remember my dad telling me was of my grandfather - now some 60-70 years ago - how he had heard screams and shouts outside the house and had gone out to see a couple of burly looking men hitting a woman amidst an 'awe-struck' crowd doing nothing. I was told it was my grandfather who had slapped one of the bullies who reeled back in surprise and eventually stepped away. The lesson that I learnt from that story early on is not to let bullies get away - stand up and step up! I was always a voracious reader and my early readings included children stories about Lenin. In grade 8th, I discovered my granddad's treasure trove of books, so my days were spent in the company of Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky, Maupassant , Zola and many more.  But at the same time, it was not all rosy as well. Living in a patriarchal society, I both witnessed and experienced what it meant to be a girl in an eastern society. Not to stereotype but it is what it is. From hearing about a young girl - our neighbour's hired help - being murdered by her brother suspicious of her having an 'illicit' relationship to workplace gender biases etc, I was one of the million girls leading the so-called ordinary life. One thing set me apart - I was never silent when it came to inequalities, inequities and injustices. I have learnt from early childhood to always stand up or be a road kill. As Sansa Stark says (taught by Lord Bailesh) in GoT 'There is no justice in the world, not unless we make it.' 
Coming to my education, I did my Bachelors in English Literature and Masters in Political Science from the University of Karachi. But before that, right after finishing high-school, I started working as a trainee sub editor at daily The News International. So I started my professional career even before enrolling into the university. 

I spent three years at The News, then joined monthly SHE magazine as assistant editor and later monthly SPIDER Internet Magazine, Health & Beauty. Just as I was a voracious reader, it might seem pompous of me to say that I was quite a prolific writer as well and contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines including Aurora, Women's Own etc. After marriage, we moved to Dubai and I started freelancing for print and digital media such as a little bit in Khaleej Times, Gulf News, ITP Publishing, MangooBaaz, Pakwired, BBVA OPENMIND, Bayzaat, Tuck Magazine, She the, Calcus Publishing and many more. I have been privileged to see my work being reprinted by international media and digital outlets such as, Techjuice, Glassbreakers etc. Apart from my work at Ananke, I still write for other women-centric media outlets such as International Women's Initiative (IWI) because its all about raising awareness so more the merrier. 

 What inspired the creation of Ananke?
 It was actually during my stint at Calcus Publishing. Calcus is an agency that collaborates with Gulf News and/or Khaleej Times to bring out marketing magazines like CEO, where we interviewed movers and shakers of the corporate world across the GCC primarily. In about two years, I interviewed 200+ people in C-suite or director level positions. And almost 75 percent of them were men. And that is what triggered it all. It was at the same time I began to wonder why women in leadership roles, women trailblazers weren't being either interviewed or being documented. This was back in 2014. And I just felt not enough was being done though there were (and are) some amazing magazines but just a handful. That is how Ananke came into existence. I wanted a platform that not only showcased female trailblazers but to highlight them as role models for young generation of women to emulate and follow lead. In addition to this, I wanted a platform that engaged (mainly) women into a meaningful conversation about gender, and how women have a critical role to play in literally every sphere of life and society. 

So with just a crazy passion, I decided to launch an electronic magazine December 2014. With more than 17 years of experience in print and digital media at that time and a determination that I could do it - I launched Ananke. I hired my husband's friend to help me with the technical aspect of the website but from content, SEO, interviews, social media - I did everything myself. Slowly and gradually, Ananke came into its own. Because I was a UN Women's Empower Women Global Champion 2015-2016 at that time, I collaborated with the organization, advocating women's economic empowerment, raising awareness against gender-based violence etc. I strongly believe in the power of collaboration and have made many allies such as Empower Women,, Sayfty, Women's Digital League, Women Engineer's Pakistan, The India Trumpet and many more. 

Can you talk about the current situation relating to gender equality and women's rights in the MENA region? 
I think - in my humble opinion - we have come a long way from the suffragette movement to the feminist revolution and so on. But there is so much more that needs to be done. Every milestone that we have achieved, we achieved in this century while women - the likes of the philosopher Hypatia and the ordinary women alike - have suffered at the hands of hegemonic patriarchy throughout millennia. Yes there have been many women trailblazers but generally women suffered devastatingly because they had no rights, no bodily autonomy and they still don't.  And over the last few years, even though there is a lot of buzz surrounding women's empowerment especially after CEDAW, the MDGs and now the SDGs - I feel, have seen and told how many things are going backwards. Look at the US, women are fighting for the rights to their bodily autonomy - a right they had worked so hard to gain... now in the Trump-era, this hard fought battle needs to be dealt with all over again. Australia is another example where the plight of women, women's homelessness is on the increase. And this controversy 'to wear or not to wear' a burkha, burkini or a bikini. So we do have miles and miles to go. And we can only move forward through education and banding together as one with one voice - Women Empowering Women. 

Coming over to the MENA region. It is a hotbed. The situation is not very easy to encapsulate because there are many factors that includes poverty and conflict, social norms and mindset as well as multi ethnoculturalism - which actually brings everyone together - now because of outside influences (having ulterior economic motives) triggers conflict. Women (and children) being some of the most vulnerable groups suffer the most. On the other side of the spectrum are countries like the UAE - with a vision to bring about harmony through inclusion and diversity. And you can see how the country has progressed.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in the work that you do?
Investment, funding is the only challenge we really face. We launched a digital internship program for women in girls where participants can work for us virtually. Its a digital office where interns get to work in a real-world scenario and gain experience in terms of advocacy, digital media, journalism and communication. It has been quite a successful program with us mentoring over 25 girls in a single year from literally all across the world (Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, UAE, Pakistan, Australia, the US and Canada).So we want to expand that and also offer the program to talented refugees. Because of their political status, its hard for them to get a job and we want to offer them a platform where they could not only gain experience, share their experiences but also earn a bit of money. Other than that being the eternal optimist and a very determined person - I take everything head-on :)

What inspires you to do the work that you do? 
 Women - their plight, agony, the injustices as well as our resilience! I am talking about all the "Mother India" out there... the Angela Davis, Phoolan Devis and Berta Caceres of this world.

Can you share a few stories / anecdotes from your work so far?
 One story is that of my intern - Josephine Adeti. She wrote a letter to me thanking me for launching Ananke. I shall just quote her here: 
Ananke gave me a lot of confidence, it allowed me do things I never thought I would with my feebleness. I began writing articles and Sabin, you were very encouraging. You published almost all of them when I thought they did not even deserve your attention. Little by little, my dream of becoming a journalist sprang back to life like a mushroom. I totally loved everything about Ananke. I came to appreciate the effort of raising awareness about various issues that are not spoken of in our communities. Initially, I thought it was a waste of our precious time talking among ourselves about these matters during twitter campaigns as I could not see any tangible results. But now I know better… Dear Sabin, I could write a whole ten page article about my experience and exposure through Ananke. I am just so very glad to be part and parcel of Ananke and I want to let you know you have changed a life in some part of the world. The life of a young girl is now taking a better shape simply because you chose to pursue your dream. And I would conclude with my most favorite quote: As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. And as we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others. Thank you for letting your own light shine. Mine is now shining too because yours stood out first.

You are also an Empower Women Champion! Can you tell us a bit about that?
I was selected by UN Women's Empower Women to be their Global Champion for Women's Economic Empowerment in 2015-2016. It was an amazing experience. It was a batch of 75 women and men from all across the world. It was a brilliant experience because the organization helped me connect with some amazing people, like-minded individuals and trailblazers. We had so much fun and so much learning through our advocacy campaigns online and off! We collaborated on many ideas and saw the impact we made by working harmoniously together. It also brought in a diverse set of ideas to life. Last year, I was selected as an Empower Women Mentor to inspire the new batch pertaining to advocacy, inclusion, and diversity. It was a wonderful experience to see fresh new faces excited to take the reins and help make the world a better place.