Outburst, an innovative project which provides space for young Muslim women to explore issues of identity, faith, violence, Islamophobia, and empowerment through free arts programming is crowdfunding in order to continue nurturing marginalized voices.
Back in 2011, Outburst began as a program at Toronto’s Barbra Schlifer Clinic, which offers counselling for women who have experienced violence. For counsellor Farrah Khan, who spearheaded the initiative, art is therapy. “Art is a form of healing,” Ms. Khan says, so by reaching out to these young Muslim women, “we get to heal, connect and tell our stories.”
The program also aims to be inclusive of a diversity of young Muslim women’s voices and judgement is not made on how Muslim a young woman is. If a young woman self-identifies as Muslim either religiously, culturally, or politically, she’s welcome. The project also actively engages young women from across the ethno-cultural diversity of Toronto’s Muslim communities.
Outburst has run educational workshops for these youth to explore everything from poetry, photography, and alternative media. At the same time, participants gain knowledge about violence against women, its root causes, and how to speak out against them.
Outburst receives a grant from Youth Arts PitchThe project has also provided these young women opportunities to get involved with research on issues facing their communities. Project organizers believe that strengthening the voices of young Muslim Canadian women is critical for not only their personal success but also in order for the broader society to gain a better understanding of a group which is often misrepresented in the media. “Let’s face it, where do you come across research symposiums where young Muslim women are the experts on issues that affect their lives,” Shameela Zaman, Outburst’s project coordinator, asked.
Outburst strives to fight Islamophobia by engaging young Muslim women in public education initiatives for agencies offering services to survivors of violence, such as abused women’s shelters. Farrah sees addressing Islamophobia in social services as key to being able to support Muslim women facing patriarchal violence in their communities. “What’s been frustrating about Islamophobia is that you see it play out again and again in how [Muslim] women access services or don’t want to access services,” she stated. This includes services such as counselling for survivors of physical and/or sexual violence. According to Farrah, Muslim women sometimes avoid seeking much needed counselling because they assume, sometimes rightly, that counsellors will judge their culture or just not understand their reality. “They thought people just wouldn’t get,” Farrah stated.
One on-going challenge Farrah identifies among service providers is their perception of religion and personal freedom. Imagine if a counsellor told their Muslim client “it’s okay now that you left your family, you can take off your hijab,” Farrah stated. Outburst’s public education work has helped service providers understand the complexity of Muslim women’s choices in relation to faith, identity, and dress.
But Outburst also provides a safer space for young Muslim women to speak out about issues like violence and gender inequality within Muslim communities without feeling like they are airing the community’s dirty laundry. By demonstrating that there are various ways to be Muslim simply by bringing together a diversity of Muslim young women with artists who themselves represent the diversity of Muslim women’s self-expression, the project aims to “challenge the narrative” that involves policing Muslim women’s choices in terms of clothing, interests, and worldviews. Challenging the Islamophobic notion that Muslim women who choose to veil are oppressed but also confronting ideas within Muslim communities that Muslim women who choose not to veil are immodest is an example of how Outburst hopes to provide a safer space for young Muslim women to feel comfortable just being themselves.
What’s important for Farrah and participants in Outburst is “to create safer spaces for Muslim women to connect to a vision of a world that we want to create, [because] … in so many spaces we feel pushed, pulled, persecuted and punished for who we are or who we are assumed to be.”
To contribute to Outburst’s crowd-funding campaign visit their page on Indiegogo.
Click here to check out Outburst’s website