Ayaan, an outspoken defender of women’s rights in Islamic societies, was born in Somalia. She escaped an arranged marriage by immigrating to the Netherlands and served as a member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006. In parliament, she worked on furthering the integration of non-Western immigrants into Dutch society and defending the rights of women in Dutch Muslim society.
In 2004, together with director Theo van Gogh, she made Submission, a film about the oppression of women in conservative Islamic cultures. The airing of the film on Dutch television resulted in the assassination of Mr. van Gogh by Islamic extremists.
Ayaan is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where she researches the relationship between the West and Islam, women’s rights in Islam, violence against women propagated by religious and cultural arguments, and Islam in Europe.
In response to ongoing abuses of women’s rights, Ayaan and her supporters established the AHA Foundation in 2007 to help protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture.
Sherizaan works to assist immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence.
Prior to working with Tahirih, Sherizaan worked with Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights, a Chicago-based non-profit organization. Based in Iraq as Heartland Alliance’s Country Director and later Middle East Regional Director, Sherizaan ran legal, health, mental health and gender-focused human rights programs throughout Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, including legal protection programs for victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking who fled gender-based persecution and honor violence. Prior to working in the Middle East, Sherizaan ran Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center’s domestic violence immigration program, representing several hundred immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in immigration matters.
She is the 2004 recipient of the Kimball R. & Karen Gatsis Anderson Public Interest Fellowship through Chicago Bar Foundation, and the 2005 recipient of the Honorable Abraham Lincoln Marovitz Public Interest Award through Chicago-Kent College of Law in recognition of public interest leadership.
Qanta is a sleep disorders specialist and an attending physician at Winthrop University Hospital in New York, as well as an appointed Associate Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York (Stony Brook).
Qanta’s first book, In the Land of Invisible Women, details her experience of living and working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It has been published in 13 countries.
As a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, Qanta writes about political and religious issues pertaining to Islam, the Middle East, medicine and global health diplomacy. She is also a regular columnist for the USA Today: Your Life section where she writes the Sleep Matters column.
Qanta is a member of the Board of Directors for Women’s Voices Now, a nonprofit foundation sponsoring the first film festival focusing on Muslim women and girls. She is also an active member of The OpEd Project. In 2010, she was honored by NYMOVES Magazine as a Power Woman.
Follow Qanta on twitter @MissDiagnosis and at the Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/qanta-ahmed.