SHIRZANAN’S FIRST ADVOCACY EVENT IS A SUCCESS: Muslim female athletes from seven nations led an awareness campaign promoting female sports participation as a fundamental right in July 2015 on “RAGBRAI” bicycle ride across Iowa


Watch this video to learn about our campaign:  Muslim ‘female heroes’ bicycle across Iowa to inspire women around the world by

Shirzanan is the Persian word for “female heroes” and a fitting description for the women on our team – an unprecedented group of Muslim female athletes and adventurers from around the world who joined forces with a group of childhood friends marking their milestone 50th birthdays with a 7-day, 462-mile bicycle ride across their home state of Iowa. The name of the oldest and longest statewide ride in America is RAGBRAI, an acronym for (The Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.

We led an awareness campaign promoting female sports participation as a fundamental right. Around the world, females are denied equal access to sports as players and spectators. We sought to encourage females to pursue sports and its benefits that lead to gender equality and greater independence!

We are now developing a documentary film and a children’s multicultural book to share our extraordinary cross-cultural exchange. The Team Shirzanan athletes will be featured in the next edition of the Shirzanan magazine slated for publication in January 2016.



TS collage July 4 version 2

We celebrated the successes of our Muslim athletes and built cross-cultural understanding as we used the Shirzanan media platform to share stories about ther individual triumphs over gender and cultural barriers.

  • Kiran Khan, Pakistani Olympic swimmer
  • Raha Moharrak, Saudi Arabian mountain climber – 1st female from Saudi Arabia and youngest Arab to summit Mount Everest!
  • Mona Seraji, Iranian snowboarder / surfer
  • Rehab Shawky, Egyptian global cyclist
  • Hajar Abulfazl, Afghani soccer player
  • Amani Ammoura, Jordanian global cyclist
  • Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, American basketball player who broke Rebecca Lobo’s 18-year-old high school scoring record
  • Kulsoom Abdullah, Pakistani-American Olympic weightlifter and
  • Soolmaz Abooali, 9-time Traditional karate champion


Chime For Change – Featuring Team Shirzanan athletes and co-founder Solmaz Sharif on their storytelling platform –

The Des Moines Register: Female Muslim athletes swap mountains and more for RAGBRAI by Kyle Munson –

The Des Moines Register: Muslim women find empowerment through competitive sports by Rekha Basu –

The Des Moines Register: New RAGBRAI team of Muslim “female heroes” gets rolling by Kyle Munson –

Women’s eNews: Muslims Pedal for Sports Equity in Iowa Bike Ride by Hajer Naili –

Huffington Post: How An Iowa Bike Ride Is Promoting Rights for World’s Muslim Women by Antonia Blumberg –


In some parts of the world, a female riding a bicycle is considered a morality crime. People often throw rocks at girls on bikes or use vehicles to try to run them off the road. In oppressive nations, bicycling offers a freedom not granted to women. On RAGBRAI, we celebrated our right to ride.

We know that sports do not simply offer the joy of playing. They also provide the foundation to good health, education, and economic opportunities. No female of any country should be denied the right to physical education class in public school or the opportunity to receive academic training through sports scholarships.

Riding a bicycle is not just a mode of transportation. It is means to independence and improvements like these:

  • Female teachers can reach rural schools where men are not allowed to teach adolescent girls
  • Girls have access to distant schools
  • Mothers can provide for their families given the ability to work farther from home to seek more job opportunities
  • Sick women are more likely to get to the hospital when in need of treatment
  • Victims of domestic violence can leave their unsafe homes with less fear
  • Midwives can reach remote communities to prevent mortalities in childbirth

Shannon Galpin, a human rights activist, mountain-biker, adventurer and board advisor for Shirzanan Global joined Team Shirzanan for a symbolic ride in Des Moines that kicked off the awareness campaign. For more about Shannon, WATCH

 Minky Worden, director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch and board advisor for Shirzanan Global joined co-founder Solmaz Sharif and Team Shirzanan to introduce our campaign in Des Moines. Ms. Worden moderated our Sports, Media and Equality Panel on July 17 which highlighting the intersection of the Shirzanan project’s objectives to increase and improve the representation of Muslim females in media as subjects and creators.


Shirzanan Global Edition is a news and advocacy initiative in development at Non-Stop Media, Inc.

Translated from Persian, “Shirzanan” means female heroes and was the name of the first Iranian women’s sports magazine founded by Solmaz Sharif and published online from 2007-2009. Shirzanan Global is an updated, expanded version.


We introduced a pilot issue on January 5, 2015. The pilot was funded by the Chime for Change and Catapult communities. It may be accessed through these links: and

We will introduce our full news and advocacy service in 2016. Shirzanan Global will be provided at no cost to the public. ٌWe will rely upon charitable donations and grants made to Non-Stop Media, Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity based in New York and registered under Federal ID# 26-3484742.


Shirzanan Global will be a news and advocacy initiative empowering Muslim females through sports and media. The all-digital news service will feature Muslim females in all aspect of the sports industry – athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, grassroots programs, organized teams, managers, manufacturers, journalists, agents, et al.

Shirzanan Global is dedicated to the fair and accurate representation of Muslim females and will challenge stereotypes exacerbated by mainstream media, integrate Muslim females with the international sports community and promote cross cultural understanding with the rest of the world. Muslim females are multidimensional and while our journalistic focus is on sports, we will also address tangential social, cultural, economic and political barriers to equality. Sport, therefore, will serve as the basis to inspire discussion, generate awareness and propel advancements in Muslim women’s rights.

Shirzanan Global will be managed and published by Non-Stop Media, Inc. whose mission is to support the production and dissemination of uncensored information – particularly to populations whose governments limit news and women’s rights.


We will strive to empower Muslim girls through sport and to increase visibility of Muslim females in the media – as subjects, creators and experts.

Research proves that women and girls who participate in sport are more likely to excel in life. Sport is a vehicle to improve health and build commitment, dedication, discipline and teamwork. Sport develops identity and confidence to challenge gender stereotypes and pursue higher levels of education and employment that ultimately benefit their communities. We will encourage Muslim females to pursue positions in sports corporations, athletic federations, governing committees and other policy- and decision-making roles predominantly filled by men.

Sport is also a means of cultural reform and the breakthroughs in participation and competition reflect incremental claims of freedom. To avail of sports benefits, Muslim females must overcome forces who do not recognize sport as a human right (despite inclusion in the Olympic Charter) and who do not provide sport equally to boys and girls in the school curriculum.

Through reports and visual images of positive role models, we aspire to open up a world of possibilities. Through a resource directory, we will provide regional lists of sex-segregated facilities, coaches, private classes and group workshops to create awareness of sports opportunities. Through strategic alliances with sports development, grassroots programs and journalism initiatives, we will facilitate participatory leadership, information communications technology (ICT), and journalism/media training. Thus, Muslim girls will develop skills to contribute as citizen journalists (telling their own stories through Shirzanan Global) and will learn coalition-building to advocate for their cultural, political and economic equity.


Replicating the process used by the original online sports magazine, Shirzanan Global will operate as a streamlined virtual newsroom with the editor-in-chief based in New York while managing a corps of freelance contributors from around the world. Shirzanan Global will provide opportunities for journalists, translators and photographers to give voice to a marginalized population and to develop news that mainstream and traditional media do not have the ability to provide.

We chose digital delivery to circumvent censorship and to efficiently and cost-effectively maximize our reach. The news will be published online weekly and distributed through the latest technology – from an interactive website, mobile platforms to social media. The content will be presented in English with article translations available in the source country’s language.  In stages, Shirzanan Global will expand to include full editions in Arabic, Farsi, and other languages.

Our long-term vision includes full international coverage. We acknowledge large Muslim populations in India and other countries, but we will begin primarily with the Middle Eastern-North Africa region – ever mindful that information access and delivery will be contingent upon government censorship. We will begin with Iran, Jordan, Qatar, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, USA and the United Kingdom where Internet and social media use is robust.

Per Internet World Stats, the Middle East, as of June 2015 measured Internet penetration at 49% of the population, with over 113 million Internet users and 24 million Facebook users. Per, Internet users are expected to reach 413 million by 2015. Each day in the Middle East-North Africa region, there are 36,000 new Facebook users, 88% use the Internet to access social media networking sites and 4 out of 10 users purchase goods online.

Clearly not all Arabs are Muslim, but the report “The Arab World Online 2014: Trends in Internet and Mobile Usage in the Arab Region” provides statistics worth noting. The findings pertain to the countries of Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE and Yemen. Statistics include a mobile penetration rate of 110 percent on a regional level, more than 135 million Internet users, and 71 million active social networking users. Of Internet users, 35% use it as their primary source for news and 28% get their news from social media.


For four years beginning in 2001, Solmaz Sharif unsuccessfully sought publication permission from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance of Iran to establish Shirzanan. After moving to New York City, in 2006, she established Shirzanan  and served as editor-in-chief. Ms. Sharif now has 15 years’ experience writing in Iran and the U.S. for CNN, Huffington Post and Washington Post – and as on-air anchor for the Persian BBC TV Channel and production assistant intern at CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. Recently, she served as United Nations and New York correspondent for Voice of America Persian.

Despite website blocking by the Iranian government, in 2009 alone, Shirzanan succeeded in attracting 400,000 unique visitors and cumulative numbers included over 2,000 subscribers to the mailing list and more than 6.5 million total hits to the website – including the rare photo images of Iranian female athletes that indirectly created a bridge for male and female relatives, such as fathers who were culturally forbidden from attending their daughters’ sports events.

Shirzanan’s reach extended beyond its target audience of female athletes, sports professionals and sports enthusiasts to include international media who treated Shirzanan as a credible news source.

Publication ceased at the time of President Ahmadinejad’s re-election due to the increasingly restrictive state control over media. No substitute emerged to fill the media void left by Shirzanan.


In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected as Ahmadinejad’s presidential successor, and his reformist agenda promised change. Rouhani stated, “In the age of digital revolution, one cannot live or govern in a quarantine.” He also described social media as a “welcome phenomenon” – and in September 2013, his public tweet recognizing the first female triathlete to represent Iran in international competition was a signal of developing support for Muslim female athletes.

The rise of digital and social media have been widely considered engines of social and political change. New technologies of communication have provided momentum for reform and catalyzed regional uprisings in such countries as Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. In the same manner, advancements for Muslim females in sports media can proliferate.

In recent years, voluminous mainstream Western media coverage of Muslim females have focused on two subjects: participation in the London Olympics 2012 and the controversial hijab ban. It was indeed newsworthy that the countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei allowed women to compete in the Olympics for the first time and the international audience recognized that, for these women, the victory was in participating, not in winning.

An ongoing controversy concerns covering – particularly the hijab head-covering some Muslim females choose to wear. The hijab has been banned in international competition and deemed a health risk (as a strangulation hazard). In women’s football, the Jordanian national team created a Facebook page named “Let Us Play” and gained 60,000 worldwide supporters. Vice President of FIFA, Prince Ali of Jordan, took up the cause and led a successful effort to allow head covering in women’s football; however, bans still exist in international basketball and other sports. Our hope is that restrictions will continue to be challenged and eliminated so that media may shift focus from their uniforms to their athletic pursuits and emergence in business and professional capacities.


Shirzanan Global anticipates censorship of media, information and the Internet as our primary challenges. Furthermore, per the report “The Arab World”, respondents identified additional challenges with the Internet: 48% cited problems with connectivity and accessibility; 45% indicated high cost; and 41% lamented unavailability of Arab language content.

Gender inequalities in representation, participation and access to media limit media’s potential to become inclusive, democratic spaces. Biases, stereotyping and unbalanced reporting from a gender perspective normalize and further entrench unequal gender power relations at the root of discriminatory attitudes and practices.

The Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 suggests that all women remain grossly underrepresented in media and that Internet news stories and gender stereotypes are widely reinforced in such regions as the Middle East where Muslim populations reside; thus, the outcome “is an imbalanced picture of the world, one in which women are largely absent.”

Two billion Muslims make up nearly 25% of the world’s population and, per the Pew Research Center, the largest numbers of Muslim women live in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nigeria, Turkey, Iran, Algeria, Morocco and Iraq. According to the 2014 Freedom of Press Index published by Reporters Without Borders, all of these countries violate the free flow of information and complicate both access and transmission.

Even in a democracy such as the United States where the production and circulation of information is far less restrictive, females remain strikingly absent from media. A recent report published by Women’s Media Center entitled “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2014” shows that sports media reporting is 90% male and 90% white. Female sports columnists make up only 9.7%, editors 9.6%, assistant sports editors 17.2% and copy editors/designers 19.6%. Of the 35 columnists, 23 worked for ESPN and represent 12.8%; if not for ESPN, the tally would only be 4.8%.

Female TV sports coverage remains abysmal, with the top three major U.S. networks devoting 96% to men’s sports coverage and only 1.6% to women’s sports. In fact, dog racing and fishing receive more coverage than all women’s sports combined.

As Shirzanan Global develops, we will fight against censorship not only on behalf of Muslim females in sport but to ensure fair access and representation of all females in the media – as subjects, consumers, creators and sources.


We are honored that these leaders in sports media and women’s rights comprise our advisory board:


Rimla Akhtar, Chair – Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation

Gary Belsky, Former Editor-in-Chief – ESPN The Magazine

Kathryn Olson, Former CEO – Women’s Sports Foundation

Faezeh Hashemi, President – Islamic Federation of Women’s Sport

Fatima Saleem, Sports Anchor and Reporter – GEO TV Pakistan

Sarah Murray, Programs Director – Women Win

Hayam Essam, Founder and President – Girl Power – Egypt

Shannon Galpin, Founder and President – Mountain2Mountain

Minky Worden, Director of Global Initiatives – Human Rights Watch


We recommend the following video and article published by Women’s Sports Foundation and written by Sarah Murray. The article details Muslim Women and Sport while the video features journalist Christiane Amanpour discussing the value of sports:

Christiane Amanpour discussing the value of sports

Unveiling Myths: Muslim Women and Sport


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