TORONTO – As a young photography student in Toronto, Alia Youssef decided she had the responsibility and the skills to do something to counter the negative narratives that exist around Muslim women in Canada.
“Muslim women constantly have this one-dimensional image being stamped repeatedly on them. That every Muslim woman is oppressed, she is often silent, she is often in no control over her life, she is at the will of her male counterpart,” she told CBC.
Youssef’s family immigrated from Egypt when she was eight years old, settling down in suburban Vancouver.
During her early age, Youssef, now 23, learned to hide her faith, saying she felt ashamed of her identity, background and her religion because of the connotations that came with being a Muslim woman.
Youssef went, “from being so proud and excited to talk about my religion and my faith as I did when I was in Egypt, to closing down and being more reserved about what I was sharing with people — because some of the comments I got right away after moving made me feel like my background was not OK to share, because I was automatically being judged. So that left me growing up feeling like that was something that I needed to hide about myself.”
For her, the narrow lens through which Muslim women are often portrayed did not capture their true reality.
“I wanted to counter the idea that Muslim women can be painted with one brush, by instead humanizing Muslim women and diversifying the narratives of their everyday lives, and shining a light on Muslim women who make up the fabric of contemporary Canadian society,” she added.
She created The Sisters Project, a photo series of Canadian Muslim women that aims to shatter stereotypes around who Muslim women are and their role in Canadian society.
As part of the series, Youssef traveled across Canada this summer and photographed nearly 200 Muslim women going through their daily routines, doing everything from shopping and working out to gardening and driving motorcycles.
Youssef is currently showcasing her work in her first exhibition of The Sisters Project at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto.
She hopes that through her work she will be able to shine a spotlight on the spectrum of Muslim women across Canada, and in some way or another shatter prejudices and change how people think of Muslim women and Muslim people as a whole.