Founder and editor-in-chief of a unique online platform for Saudi women, Ahd Niazy, give us some perspective in this heart-to-heart.
By Sahrish Ali
“There were two things that happened around the same time that led to the creation of Jahanamiya. The first was that I was taking a class on Orientalism, which is the way the west has historically represented the Middle East and Asia in a manner that is stereotypical. I began thinking a lot about identity, representation, and particularly self-representation.
The second was that I came upon a website that claimed to empower Iraqi women by telling their stories. At first, I was excited by such a feminist concept, but as I started reading, I realized something was wrong. I looked into its background and found that the site was founded by a group of western women who were telling the stories of Iraqi women, in order to empower them. To me, there’s nothing empowering about someone else telling your story.”
The Name: Jahanamiya
Niazy’s mentor, Majed Munshi, was actually the one who suggested “Jahanamiya.”
“At the time, I had never heard the name before, but it immediately gripped me. I liked the way it sounded. And once I learned which plant it was, I knew it was the right name.”
Jahanamiya is the Arabic name of the Bougainvillea, which grows locally. The plant has bright fuchsia flowers, and it thrives despite the Saudi heat. It takes care of itself, adds beauty and color to our often-bare streets, and most importantly – no two of its flowers are the same. Much like Saudi women.
The magazine started out as just me working on the project, as well as juggling my course load – I’m a full-time student at Emory University. This involved sending a lot of emails to potential contributors (writers and artists) between classes and quickly learning the value of follow-up emails.
Through all the networking I did to find contributors, I met many inspirational Saudis. This is what I have been most grateful for throughout this process – all the people who encouraged me to pursue Jahanamiya, to ensure it reached its full potential.
Each issue revolves around a particular theme. Choosing themes is tricky because they are based on elements of Saudi culture without being too broad, or too specific.
What makes Jahanamiya different?
Jahanamiya is unique because it uses storytelling to achieve two things:
- To learn more about Saudi culture – which is very complicated – through the eyes of the women experiencing it. And in turn, to celebrate our diversity.
- To shatter western stereotypes of oppressed, burka-clad Saudi women who barely breathe without the permission of a man. To focus on the experiences that Saudi women want to talk about, instead of those that others want to talk about for them.
Goals for the Future of Jahanamiya
I hope there is a larger range of voices presented from all over the Kingdom in each of our future issues. I hope Jahanamiya becomes a literary archive of the experiences of Saudi women, narrated by the women themselves.