At the 26th annual Dallas Women’s Foundation’s luncheon, Mavis Leno, wife of talk show’s comedian Jay Leno, shared with the audience accounts about her journey into activism to help empower Afghani women and girls under the Taliban regime.
“Global Women’s Voices: A Dialogue” was carried on by CNN Muslim journalist, Maria Ibrahimji, who together with Leno discussed how local voices can make positive change globally. The voices of local Dallas/Fort Worth Muslim women were heard during the event, when Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation was acknowledged for its local efforts in building bridges among communities.
Leno’s story started in the late nineties when she joined Feminist Majority Foundation, an organization for women’s equality, non-violence, economic development and empowerment of women and girls in all sectors of society. Leno was shocked to learn about the deteriorating status of Afghani women, who prior to the Taliban included women as elected officials in Kabul.
She noticed there was no media coverage for the suffering of women in Afghanistan, thus her journey started to develop strategies to get the media as well as the American government involved in starting to empower women. Today, there are 3.2 million girls enrolled in schools in Afghanistan, yet 12 percent of women are still illiterate. On the other hand, 28 percent of the Afghani Parliament is made up of women, who are regaining representation slowly.
When asked about the role of Islam in the status of women in Afghanistan, Leno confirmed that “the Quran is more liberal with women than the Bible.” She added that Prophet Mohammad was married to a wealthy and powerful woman, implying that Islam has nothing against empowering women; on the contrary it is a religion that supports women’s rights. Culture, on the other hand, affects the interpretation of religious texts which results in assaulting women’s rights.
Such a powerful message from a single voice! The Dallas Women’s Foundation has succeeded in today’s event in investing in women, enlightening the audience and benefiting philanthropic causes that will empower girls and women locally and globally. No wonder it has become the largest regional women’s fund in the world, with $28 million in assets, and $2.5 million granted annually.
Last but not least, CNN’s Maria Ibrahimji hosted at the end of the event a book signing for her I Speak for Myself, an anthology by American Muslim women struggling with their faith while balancing their careers and private life.