Sabin Muzaffar had been working as a journalist for over 15 years in the UAE when it struck her that all of the ‘movers and shakers’ of the corporate world whom she had been interviewing were men.
“It just hit me that we need to have a platform digitally documenting female trailblazers – and not just those already in the news, but also the unsung heroes, who have their heads down and are busy working with no time to celebrate themselves or are too humble to do so,” says the Dubai-based media entrepreneur.
That’s how, in 2014, the digital magazine and platform Ananke came to be. “Ananke is the Greek goddess of inevitability. The website anankemag.com has a wealth of content in the form of interviews, articles, research papers, news stories, trailblazer profiles and more. We cover everything from sustainability, development, technology, finance, gender equality, education, culture – everything under a gender lens,” says Sabin, who is a UN Women’s Empower Women Mentor and Cherie Blair Foundation Mentor.
Born and raised in her “beloved, hustling bustling city of Karachi”, Sabin was greatly influenced by her father, a writer, economist and poet. “My grandfather was a friend of the late Subcontinent poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who also solemnised my father’s nikah. He was someone obviously much talked about at our home apart from other danishwar (literati) like Kishwar Naheed, Razia Bhatti, Fehmida Riyaz and of course Habib Jalib. The last two were friends of my father. These were people who fervently spoke or wrote about human rights, politics and social justice. So, I guess the seeds were sown right from the very beginning,” shares Sabin.
She adds, “I think we should all aspire to create a world and a community that embraces and celebrates tolerance, equity and justice.”
Moving from Karachi to Dubai was relatively easy for Sabin. “Both cities (one an emirate) welcome people from every walk of life. You can see a Pathan, Punjabi, Balochi, Urdu-speaking second and third generation Mohajirs, as some call them, and even Afghanis in Karachi. And you can see people from so many countries residing not just in Dubai but across the UAE. I think Dubai is innovative yet also celebrates its traditions and culture. It’s such a synchronous, diverse community of people,” she opines.
When Sabin launched Ananke, her vision was to encourage and initiate inclusive conversations in the digital realm without leaving anyone behind. Her other goal is more developmental in essence.
“Ananke has an amazing digital capacity-building programme called Empower for women and girls from all over the world. They are not just mentored but can attend workshops facilitated by field experts from the advocacy sphere, world-renowned tech and media organisations as well as academic institutions,” says Sabin.
Workshops include topics like design thinking, feminist peace journalism, data visualisation, personal branding, overcoming the imposter syndrome, human rights, entrepreneurship, soft skills and leadership.
Sabin has also ensured that Ananke focuses on engagement for she believes dialogue builds pathways to inclusion, innovation as well as disruption to the status quo. This was the motivation behind the launch of the Women in Literature Festival earlier this year.
“I really do think we need a continuous, inclusive and diversity-focused conversation about literature especially during these trying times of the pandemic. And by the pandemic, I am not just referring to Covid-19 but the pandemic of hatred, discrimination and racism against those who do not look like us,” she says.
The festival saw speakers from around the world come together over three days to discuss feminist literature, the digital revolution, diversity in publishing, and other issues.
“We keep seeing manels even on subjects of women’s rights and empowerment, and we keep hearing statements that there aren’t enough women available for public-speaking opportunities,” says Sabin, adding, “We have continuously proven those claims wrong. While we do think an inclusive conversation is essential to trigger impact, if we do not have proper representation especially on issues centering women, I fear there will never be change in the status quo.”
She smiles on the subject of how the internet has enabled feminism and gender equality in South Asia. “The digital revolution has been transformative; it has played a catalysing role when it comes to unifying women’s voices from all over the world. From the streets of Tunisia, female majlis in Dubai to the alleys of Karachi and Chandni Chowk in Delhi or a college in Bangladesh – women and girls are stepping up and taking their rightful place in public and private spheres, lifting one another, finding and providing support,” she enthuses.
About the dominant themes in South Asian feminist literature, Sabin notes, “While violence and silence, a woman’s social status and position in the hegemonic power structures have been portrayed across all forms of literature, I think contemporary works have also showcased how women are navigating the politics of colonialism (of the self, mind and body), politics, society, conflict, the effects of urbanisation and economic empowerment vis-à-vis care work and the double shift.”
Sabin is optimistic about a gender-equal future: “We live in a world that has known inequality from time immemorial. So, yes, the journey is long and there are miles to go. And yes, we are destined to reach it.”
First published in eShe’s Summer 2021 issue