Anushay Hossain is a writer and media personality whose work has been published on CNN, The New York Times, and Forbes, among many others. She is an expert policy analyst with over ten years of experience and a leading women’s rights expert on BBC World News, MSNBC, PBS, and more.
A University of Virginia graduate, Anushay joined the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Nobel Peace Prize nominated, “Campaign for Afghan Women & Girls” prior to completing her MA in Gender and Development. After one year at the United Nations Development Fund for Women’s (UNIFEM UK) London office, Anushay spent almost a decade analyzing the impact of US foreign policy on the health and rights of women and girls around the world.
MM: You’ve been a feminist policy analyst in DC for over ten years. Why did you decide to pursue this as a career?
Anushay: I actually kind of fell into it. After completing my undergrad at University of Virginia, my first job out of college was at the Feminist Majority Foundation working as the campaign organizer for their Nobel Peace Prize nominated Campaign For Afghan Women & Girls. The US had just invaded Afghanistan, it was one year after September 11th, and this organization had both an educational and political action arm to it. American feminist icon, Eleanor Smeal, the organization’s President, was a huge mentor of mine. Through her, I learned so much about how policy is formulated, how the US government functions, how to get money appropriated into legislation for women and girls, understanding how US foreign policy affects women’s health around the world. A big part of my feminist education and advocate background was formed working at FMF and with Ellie Smeal.
“…Our narratives were just totally being missed or misconstrued.”
MM: What does feminism mean to you?
Feminism is about equality, but to me, at its core, it’s also about human rights. If more people view women’s rights as human rights instead of focusing on the politics and negative associations of the word feminist and feminism, we would have more action and less controversy. More people would understand how women and girls are denied access to food, water, education, healthcare — all very crucial and basic rights — just because of our gender, and that it needs to change. When women win, we all win.
MM: Being a journalist and breaking into this career as a woman can be difficult and even competitive. What are some of the challenges or barriers you’ve faced? How did you overcome them?
It is so difficult and very competitive, especially in the world of online media, where I feel like you have to prove yourself constantly. But I started my career in journalism by wanting to see more powerful stories about women and girls of color, Muslim women, ethnic women, women that looked like me and my sisters, in the mainstream media and really finding that our narratives were just totally being missed or misconstrued. Why were we largely being portrayed as backward, uneducated, poor, charity cases? It was so racist and wrong. I had to start writing the kinds of stories I wanted to read about: strong women of color, role models, and pioneers to flip the narrative.
MM: What do you think the biggest issue for women in the policy world is right now?
In America, under President Trump, I think women’s reproductive health is probably the biggest focus. The politics of women’s health is very real, especially with Planned Parenthood being such a public target. But as a country, women’s rights across the board are under threat because we have a President who is an alleged sexual assaulter who has no respect for women and abuses them. His misogynistic attitude will have a huge impact on our culture and is already taking the American women’s rights movement backward.
The Trump Administration has very few women in positions of power. They pay the women they employ less than male staff, and the White House is even considering eliminating the council on empowering women and girls, amongst countless other actions to undermine women’s health and rights. All this just underscores how important it is to elect more women to the house and the senate. We need more women in US government, period.
“We live in a world where women and girls are still so discriminated against solely because of our gender.”
MM: Who would you say is your biggest feminist role model?
My mother is my top feminist role model. She was the first feminist I ever knew, and she was and still is, very active in the women’s rights movement back home in Bangladesh. Growing up, she would drag me to her feminist symposiums and seminars when all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends after school.
Of course, now I am so grateful to her for introducing me to the world and concept of women’s rights from a very young age. She always made sure my sisters and I were aware of the life the majority of people outside of our social bubble in Bangladesh lived, especially women and girls. She showed me from such a young age how we live in a world where women and girls are still so discriminated against solely because of our gender. I owe my mother for my feminist soul.
MM: Your grandfather Tofazzal Hossain, paved the way for journalism in Bangladesh. Did his journey serve as an inspiration for you? Do you feel pressure to keep his legacy alive and well? What’s the greatest lesson you learned from him?
One of the saddest things about my life is that I never got to meet my paternal grandfather. It’s a huge loss for me, and the fact that I grew up to be a writer makes it even more sad. I wish I could have met him. He’s such a huge journalistic figure in Bangladeshi history, and I really understand that now as an adult. Growing up, there was always a tremendous pressure to keep his legacy alive and rightfully so. It’s something my father worked his entire life to ensure. The newspaper my grandfather started is the oldest Bangladeshi national publication and is still running today.
Tofazzal Hossain’s life is a testament to how powerful great writing can be. His work played a huge role in Bangladesh winning our independence from Pakistan. It’s tragic that he did not live to see a liberated Bangladesh.
MM: Let’s talk about women in the media. What do you think women, especially minority women, can do right now to have their voices heard?
Write. Speak out. Be loud. Tell our stories and take control of our narrative. It’s very much what MissMuslim is doing, but there can never be enough platforms that shatter stereotypes and myths of women like us — “minority” women who have historically been shut out of the larger story of women’s experiences in America. The only way people will hear us is if we raise our voices and take up space.
MM: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t wait for someone to give you a platform. Create your own.