Raquel Evita Saraswati is an American Muslim activist who focuses primarily on issues related to the status of women and girls in Muslim-majority societies and communities. She works to eradicate honor and gender-based violence (including female genital mutilation), end forced and child marriages, and protect the rights of ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. Raquel has published in various papers and journals, including Publico, Portugal’s largest daily, Aquila Style (a cosmopolitan Muslim women’s magazine published Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei), and others. She has lectured in North America and Europe on issues like gender-based violence and minority rights, and has been featured in various print, radio and television media, including the BBC, France 24, Al-Jazeera International, The Root, Voice of the Cape (South Africa’s Muslim radio network), the International Business Times, Salon, and others. She is the founder of the Adalah Initiative, a project that seeks to end gender-based violence by empowering young women and men to be a part of the solution. She is also a steering committee member of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD).
This year, MALA is spotlighting individual stories from men and women who take a stand to eliminate violence against women, both nationally and globally. Our community looks forward to supporting UN Women’s Orange the World Campaign to support efforts to end violence against women and girls worldwide. UN Women and partners around the world are marking the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, launching from International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th until UN’s International Human Rights Day on December 10th.
Misogyny and xenophobia are found in every community, nation, and tribe – but these evils are all the more difficult to fight when magnified by theocracy, secular fascism, cultural and territorial (land) colonization and occupation, poverty and other oppressive forces. Community pressures, intimidation, threats of and actual violence, and other means of suppression are also barriers to ending gender-based violence, bigotry and oppression.
As a Muslim woman, I am most concerned with the safety and rights of women and girls within my own community. I focus primarily on honor-based violence – a tribal phenomenon often attributed to religion, including by its perpetrators – as well as forced marriage (including child marriage), female genital mutilation (FGM), acid violence, “corrective” rape, and other forms of violence targeting women and girls. Unfortunately, there are many who believe that they have a divine mandate to control, maim, abuse and even kill women and girls who they believe have sinned or broken the social code of “honor.”
In my work, I consult with NGOs who are interested in improving their outreach to Muslim communities or working with Muslim communities for the very first time; I conduct research for specialists, help Muslim and non-Muslim organizations (including physical and mental health organizations) develop response and other protocols; aid attorneys requiring affidavits to support their clients’ cases; provide direct support to women and girls fleeing violence, attempting to avoid a forced marriage, and more. I am also working, albeit slowly, at developing my own foundation – the Adalah Initiative. I do all of this while also working two “regular” jobs in the nonprofit sector. I also serve on the steering committee of MASGD (the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity) and hold leadership positions with other organizations working to end gender-based violence and xenophobia.
Despite the enormous obstacles faced by those of us who take on these issues, including harassment and threats, the individuals we aim to help deserve our support and our every effort to amplify their voices. Women in every community have the least to lose and the most to gain by standing up against those who seek to oppress us. It is important for all to remember – especially those non-Muslim allies who seek to support us – that you are never “giving Muslim women a voice.” Your role is to support Muslim women in safely and fully amplifying the voices we already have.
I do the work I do because I believe in the individual’s right to safety, full bodily autonomy, and the pursuit of their fullest, most abundant life. I also do the work I do because I believe my faith calls me to speak out against injustice even with it earns me the ire of others; and to be an example of Allah’s mercy and compassion in a world too often marred by oppression, violence and tragedy.