Mara Gubuan is founder of Equality League, an NGO launching in 2018 to advance women's rights by eliminating institutional and cultural barriers to sport. Previously, she co-founded and served as executive director of the Shirzanan charitable organization advancing Muslim women's rights through sports and media. Her advocacy strategy contributed to the overturn of the FIBA hijab ban in May 2017. That win inspired her to tackle the most egregious gender inequities in sport, not those strictly affecting Muslim women.
While developing Equality League, Ms. Gubuan formed the Sports Equality Enforcers team of women athletes, advocates, and activists to join forces for one night in New York to promote United Nations Sustainable Goal #5 - Gender Equality (in Sports). The team earned second place to Kenya's Move the Goalposts team in the Global Goals World Cup while raising awareness for barriers that deny women and girls access to sports as players and spectators.
Ms. Gubuan formed the coalition by recruiting colleagues representing Athlete Ally, Wrestle Like a Girl, Women's Sports Foundation, Equal Playing Field, Free to Run, WoBold Sports, The Through Her Eyes Project, Global Sports Mentoring Program, Tawana Youth Development Program of Afghanistan, TrueSport and The Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy.
Excelle Sports published an article featuring Enforcers' former pro soccer player Lori Lindsey, UFC fighter Tecia Torres, wrestling world medalist Sally Roberts, and former Afghan national football team captain Shamila Kohestani.
An Enforcers team also played in the Global Goals World Cup in Dubai in January 2018.
Shirzanan ("female heroes" in Persian) was a practical hub developing positive, powerful narratives around Muslim females in sport; a supportive and capacity-building network; and a media platform with international reach that strengthened the representation, advocacy skills and will of Muslim female sports role models to battle institutional and cultural discrimination obstructing access to sport.
Shirzanan raised the voices, visibility, skills, and confidence of Muslim female sports role models to advocate against institutional and cultural barriers to sports.
On October 1, 2017, the international basketball federation (FIBA) implemented a new rule allowing religious headgear for Muslim women and both Sikh and Jewish men. Shirzanan advocacy efforts led by Ms. Gubuan and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir contributed to this policy change. The New York Times published an op-ed by Ms. Abdul-Qaadir entitled "Player Forced Out of Competitive Basketball Speaks Out on Helping Overturn the 'Discriminatory Headgear Rule'".
Shirzanan Athlete Ambassadors earn Beyond Sport Awards: On July 26, 2017, Hajar Abulfazl and Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir received the Courageous Use of Sport Award (in Afghanistan) and Leadership in Sport Award (for advocacy work overturning the FIBA hijab ban).
Beyond Sport Global Award Winners on Top of the World
The New York Times, October 10, 2017, featured Hajar Abulfazl and Kiran Khan in "Women Are Playing Today, and Leading Tomorrow" about female empowerment through sports.
In 3+ years, with no staff but a supportive working board, Shirzanan's successes included:
FIBA hijab ban overturn on May 4, 2017: Shirzanan and Athlete Ambassador Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir were widely credited for Ms. Gubuan's strategic advocacy campaign that contributed to the hijab ban overturn. Shirzanan Board Advisor Minky Worden and eminent global women sports athlete-advocates Moya Dodd, Mary Harvey and Nikki Dryden appear with Ms. Gubuan and Ms. Abdul-Qaadir in the activist short documentary "FIBA Allow Hijab" viewed by more than 140,000 people. "Life Without Basketball" is a feature length documentary by the same filmmakers of Pixela Pictura. Expected release is Fall 2017 and Ms. Gubuan is an Executive Producer.
International basketball celebrates vote to allow headgear by Associated Press
Profile about Shirzanan by Women's Media Center: Muslim Athletes Use Voice and Visibility to Break Barriers
Op-eds published by New York Times, CNN and Time: International media outlets published 4 op-eds within 6 weeks (Sep 2016) by Shirzanan Athlete Ambassadors, including Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir on the discriminatory hijab ban in basketball and Co-Founder Solmaz Sharif opposing the stadium ban excluding Iranian women from watching men’s volleyball matches.
Advocacy and Partnerships: Shirzanan shared their mission through interviews and presentations with Women in the World --- featuring Saudi mountaineer Raha Moharrak and Minky Worden discussing sport for health --- and The New York Times, United Nations, Muhammad Ali Center for Social Change, U.S. Department of State, etc. Strategic partners are Human Rights Watch, Women Win, ManUp and The Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy.
Journalism Training – Oct 2016: The first sports reporting workshop training female journalists to cover female athletes was held in Jordan during the FIFA U-17 WWC in partnership with Jordan’s Petra News Agency and the former director of journalism and media training for Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Sports, Media and Equality Panel Discussion – July 2015: In an unprecedented gathering, Muslim women described how they advanced past cultural hurdles to excel at sport. Speakers from 7 nations included Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to summit Everest but for whom riding a bicycle was not allowed; Kiran Khan, a Pakistani Olympic swimmer who pretended to be a boy for four years in order to train in public pools barring girls; Mona Seraji, an Iranian snowboarder arrested for riding her bicycle in Tehran; and Hajar Abulfazl, an Afghan football player developing a female-only sports complex in Kabul.
Ride For Rights Advocacy Campaign – July 2015: As “Team Shirzanan,” Muslim athletes from the panel discussion received international media attention for riding bicycles – 7 days totaling 462 miles on RAGBRAI – across the state of Iowa in the first Shirzanan advocacy campaign promoting female sports participation as a human right. The team consisted of Muslim athletes paired with Gubuan's childhood friends from Iowa.
After the bicycle ride, Shirzanan began to mentor, train and support the team members as Shirzanan Athlete Ambassadors:
Raha Moharrak - Saudi Arabian mountaineer (the first woman in her country to summit Mount Everest)
Kiran Khan - Pakistani Olympic swimmer
Mona Seraji - Iranian snowboarder/surfer
Hajar Abulfazl - Afghan football player/coach
Amani Ammoura - Jordanian cyclist
Rehab Shawky - Egyptian cyclist
Kulsoom Abdullah - Pakistani-American Olympic weightlifter
Soolmaz Abooali - Iranian-American Traditional karate champion
In 2016-2017, Shirzanan Athlete Ambassadors also included:
Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir - Muslim American basketball player and instructor
Noorena Shams - Pakistani squash player
Shamila Kohestani - Afghan football captain of Women’s National Team
Amaiya Zafar - Muslim American boxer
Pilot Magazine Issue – January 2015: The pilot magazine features pieces on Saudi athletic pioneer Lina Almaeena, role model Ruqsana Begum, sport as a healing tool for refugees, risks to reporting from the Middle East-North Africa, steps to resolving the hijab ban, and current barriers to sports reporting and participation.
Contributions were made by key Muslim athletes, media, women's rights, and sports experts from Shirzanan and their parent public charity Non-Stop Media board members.
New website in July 2016: Shirzanan launched a new website which has been archived. Ms. Gubuan is not responsible for the current website and social media feeds of Shirzanan.
The Shirzanan Board of Advisors as of May 2017:
Minky Worden - Director of Global Initiatives, Human Rights Watch
Sarah Murray - US Director, Women Win
Shannon Galpin - Activist/Adventurer and Founder, Mountain2Mountain
Gary Belsky - Former Editor-in-Chief, ESPN The Magazine
Faezeh Hashemi - President, Women’s Islamic Sports Federation
Fatima Saleem - Sports Reporter, GEO TV Pakistan
Soolmaz Abooali - Refugee-Athlete-Scholar, 11x U.S. karate champion and PhD candidate
Nida Ahmad - Sport for Development Expert and PhD candidate
Hilary Awad - Director, Everfi
Mona Hamdy - Co-Founder, Al Baydha Development Corporation
Rimla Akhtar - Chair, Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation
Kathryn Olson - Former CEO, Women’s Sports Foundation
Hayam Essam - Founder, Girl Power Egypt
Other pursuits: Ms. Gubuan serves on the UN Youth for Gender Equality Working Group, the Man Up Campaign Legal and Policy Committee, is an executive producer on Afghan Cycles documentary film, and Board Chair for Tawana Youth Development Organization in Kabul.
Sport Equality League Launches in Early 2018: Ms. Gubuan emerged as a leader in Global Human Rights and Sport. As founder of Sport Equality League, she intends to tackle the most egregious inequities in women's sports access and representation, not exclusively Muslim-focused issues.
In addition to Ms. Gubuan, founding board members include Minky Worden and Sam Marchiano.
The Advisory Council represents UN Women, Women Win, Global Sports Mentoring Program (ESPN/U.S. Dept of State/UT Knoxville), Mountain2Mountain, Athlete Ally, EverFi, Community Foundation of Silicon Valley, and academia.