When certain practices are rampant in a society, it requires a paradigm shift in public thinking to get them outlawed.
A Turkish court took a huge step in the direction of just such a shift when it handed out life sentences to five members of a family found guilty of instigating the honour killing of a 16-year-old Kurdish girl. Naile Erdas's brother, father, mother and two of her uncles went to prison for life, while another uncle was sentenced to 16 years for neglecting to report the slaying. Erdas's brother shot her in October 2006 after she was raped and got pregnant.
Mazlum Bagli, who researches honour killings at Turkey's Dicle University, called the court ruling "a first" in terms of its severity. The sentences send a strong message that such killings will not be tolerated. Hopefully, this ruling and future verdicts like it will resonate as a deterrent through patriarchal Third World environments where killing a female relative who is seen to have violated repressive cultural taboos about chastity is considered a duty to clear the family's name.
In 2006, 1,806 girls and women were slain in honour killings, according to the U. S. State Department, while another 5,375 committed suicide after being pressured by their families to do so.
According to the BBC, the average sentence handed down for an honour killing is six months. The Turkish sentence may be the first, but it is to be hoped that many more will follow as other courts emulate this precedent. It is the only way the scourge of honour killings will finally be eradicated.
January 29, 2009
Iraqi Women Vie for Votes and Taste of Power
By SAM DAGHER
BAGHDAD — Amal Kibash, a candidate for the Baghdad provincial council, is running a bold and even feverish campaign by most standards. With elections coming on Saturday, she is trolling for every vote she can muster.
“You are going to vote for me, right?” she quizzed passers-by on a stroll recently through her neighborhood of Sadr City, which was until May a battleground for Shiite militias. Giant posters of her veil-framed face were draped on several buildings, some of which still bore the marks of recent fighting.
In Basra, where until a year ago banners warned women that they would be shot if they wore too much makeup or ventured out of their homes without a veil, another female candidate, Ibtihal Abdul-Rahman, put up posters of herself last month. Encouraged by security improvements throughout the country, thousands of women are running for council seats in the provincial elections.
Of the estimated 14,400 candidates, close to 4,000 are women. Some female candidates have had their posters splattered with mud, defaced with beards or torn up, but most have been spared the violence that has claimed the lives of two male candidates and a coalition leader since the start of the year. But on Wednesday, a woman working for the Iraqi Islamic Party was killed when gunmen burst into her house in Baghdad and shot her 10 times in the chest, according to an Interior Ministry official.
For many of the female candidates, the elections offer a chance to inject some much needed fresh air into councils that are plagued by deep corruption and dominated by men and big political parties that are often ultraconservative.
But even if they win, they face numerous hurdles, particularly the entrenched attitudes of most Iraqi men, who view women as either sex objects or child bearers who have no place in the rough-and-tumble arena of politics. “This is the mentality,” said Safia Taleb al-Suhail, a member of Parliament and the daughter of a prominent Shiite tribal leader assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen in Lebanon in 1994. “We have to change it. How can we change it? By fighting.”
She is leading a group of female Parliament members who are lobbying to make sure that the same constitutional provision that mandates that 25 percent of all seats in Parliament go to women is applied to provincial councils as well. Currently, it is not.
While Iraq in the 1950s was the first Arab country to name a female minister and adopt a progressive family law, the leadership aspirations of women were mostly quashed under Mr. Hussein’s macho government. The situation became further complicated for women after 2003, with the ascendance of religious parties.
Ms. Suhail and others were instrumental in lobbying Iraq’s American administrator at the time, L. Paul Bremer III, to include the quota for women in the country’s first transitional constitution. It was preserved in the current Constitution because many felt that it was the only way to ensure the participation of women in a male-dominated culture.
When it was published in October, the law regulating the provincial elections omitted the quota for women; it remains unclear whether the omission was deliberate or just an oversight. The electoral commission has ruled that the law as written is acceptable, saying that women are ensured of adequate representation by the requirement that a woman be chosen after every three men in any winning slate.
But Ms. Suhail said that many of the candidate slates did not have enough women in them to meet that requirement, while other slates were made up of fewer than four candidates, all of whom are male.
Mahdiya Abed-Hassan al-Lami, a women’s rights advocate, and candidate in Baghdad running on the slate of a former prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, said that while she supported the quota system, it has been manipulated by the major political parties, both secular and religious, to marginalize women. Most of the women chosen for the large candidate slates are there for their family and tribal connections and loyalty to the sect or party, she said, rather than for their qualifications.
“If women are simply followers they cannot fulfill their roles properly,” said Ms. Lami, who is a teacher and a practicing Shiite. Her campaign has focused on reaching out to her network of women, particularly in some of the most destitute slums of Baghdad.
Ms. Kibash, another female candidate who is running on Mr. Jaafari’s list, is currently a member of the Sadr City municipal council, but she and other women on the council are prevented by the men from sitting on the crucial and financially important Services Committee. She said the council was mired in corruption.
Despite the recent gains in security, some women continue to face threats, while others say the whole thing is a charade and not worth the effort.
Liza Hido sat on a municipal council but was forced to quit in 2006 after receiving threatening e-mail and text messages on her cellphone.
She is running again this year but, still concerned for her safety, she is keeping her campaigning discreet, putting up no posters and making no public appearances. Instead, she restricts herself to private gatherings.
Her friend Bushra al-Obeidi, a law professor at Baghdad University, has rebuffed all efforts to persuade her to become a candidate. She feels the odds are stacked against women, starting with laws she views as discriminatory and derogatory toward women — one allows a rapist to largely escape punishment if he marries his victim. Ms. Obeidi also has little faith in the commitment to gender equality among the current political leadership, which is dominated by religious parties.
“I assure you,” she said, “they are against women. They are lying to us.”
Ms. Suhail, the lawmaker, admitted that Iraqi women had failed so far to break into the top levels of the political power structure but said that this was no reason to give up.
February 13, 2009
Starting at Home, Iran’s Women Fight for Rights
By NAZILA FATHI
TEHRAN — In a year of marriage, Razieh Qassemi, 19, says she was beaten repeatedly by her husband and his father. Her husband, she says, is addicted to methamphetamine and has threatened to marry another woman to “torture” her.
Rather than endure the abuse, Ms. Qassemi took a step that might never have occurred to an earlier generation of Iranian women: she filed for divorce.
Women’s rights advocates say Iranian women are displaying a growing determination to achieve equal status in this conservative Muslim theocracy, where male supremacy is still enscribed in the legal code. One in five marriages now end in divorce, according to government data, a fourfold increase in the past 15 years.
And it is not just women from the wealthy, Westernized elites. The family court building in Vanak Square here is filled with women, like Ms. Qassemi, who are not privileged. Women from lower classes and even the religious are among those marching up and down the stairs to fight for divorces and custody of their children.
Increasing educational levels and the information revolution have contributed to creating a generation of women determined to gain more control over their lives, rights advocates say.
Confronted with new cultural and legal restrictions after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, some young women turned to higher education as a way to get away from home, postpone marriage and earn social respect, advocates say. Religious women, who had refused to sit in classes with men, returned to universities after they were resegregated.
Today, more than 60 percent of university students are women, compared with just over 30 percent in 1982, even though classes are no longer segregated.
Even for those women for whom college is not an option, the Internet and satellite television have opened windows into the lives of women in the West. “Satellite has shown an alternative way of being,” said Syma Sayah, a feminist involved in social work in Tehran. “Women see that it is possible to be treated equally with men.”
Another sign of changing attitudes is the increasing popularity of books, movies and documentaries that explore sex discrimination, rights advocates say.
“Women do not have a proper status in society,” said Mahnaz Mohammadi, a filmmaker. “Films are supposed to be a mirror of reality, and we make films to change the status quo.”
In a recent movie, “All Women Are Angels,” a comedy that was at the top of the box office for weeks, a judge rejects the divorce plea of a woman who walked out on her husband when she found him with another woman.
Even men are taking up women’s issues and are critical of traditional marriage arrangements. Mehrdad Oskouei, another filmmaker, has won more than a dozen international awards for “The Other Side of Burka,” a documentary about women on the impoverished and traditional southern island of Qeshm who are committing suicide in increasing numbers because they have no other way out of their marriages.
“How can divorce help a woman in southern parts of the country when she has to return after divorce to her father’s home who will make her even more miserable than her husband?” said Fatimeh Sadeghi, a former political science professor fired for her writing on women’s rights.
Janet Afary, a professor of Middle East and women’s studies at Purdue University and the author of “Sexual Politics in Modern Iran,” says the country is moving inexorably toward a “sexual revolution.”
“The laws have denied women many basic rights in marriage and divorce,” she wrote in the book. “But they have also contributed to numerous state initiatives promoting literacy, health and infrastructural improvements that benefited the urban and rural poor.”
To separate the sexes, the state built schools and universities expressly for women, and improved basic transportation, enabling poor women to travel more easily to big cities, where they were exposed to more modern ideas.
Ms. Afary says that mandatory premarital programs to teach about sex and birth control, instituted in 1993 to control population growth, helped women delay pregnancy and changed their views toward marriage. By the late 1990s, she says, young people were looking for psychological and social compatibility and mutual intimacy in marriage.
Despite the gains they have made, women still face extraordinary obstacles. Girls can legally be forced into marriage at the age of 13. Men have the right to divorce their wives whenever they wish, and are granted custody of any children over the age of 7. Men can ban their wives from working outside the home, and can engage in polygamy.
By law, women may inherit from their parents only half the shares of their brothers. Their court testimony is worth half that of a man. Although the state has taken steps to discourage stoning, it remains in the penal code as the punishment for women who commit adultery. A woman who refuses to cover her hair faces jail and up to 80 lashes.
Women also face fierce resistance when they organize to change the law. The Campaign for One Million Signatures was founded in 2005, inspired by a movement in Morocco that led to a loosening of misogynist laws. The idea was to collect one million signatures for a petition calling on authorities to give women more equal footing in the laws on marriage, divorce, adultery and polygamy.
But Iran’s government has come down hard on the group, charging many of its founders with trying to overthrow it; 47 members have been jailed so far, including 3 who were arrested late last month. Many still face charges, and six members are forbidden to leave the country. One member, Alieh Eghdamdoust, began a three-year jail sentence last month for participating in a women’s demonstration in 2006. The group’s Web site, www.we-change.org, has been blocked by the authorities 18 times.
“We feel we achieved a great deal even though we are faced with security charges,” said Sussan Tahmasebi, one of the founding members of the campaign, who is now forbidden to leave Iran. “No one is accusing us of talking against Islam. No one is afraid to talk about more rights for women anymore. This is a big achievement.”
Women’s advocates say that the differences between religious and secular women have narrowed and that both now chafe at the legal discrimination against women. Zahra Eshraghi, for example, the granddaughter of the revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, signed the One Million Signatures petition.
“Many of these religious women changed throughout the years,” said Ms. Sayah, the feminist in Tehran. “They became educated, they traveled abroad and attended conferences on women’s rights, and they learned.”
Because of the government’s campaign of suppression, the process of collecting signatures has slowed recently, and many women do not want to be seen in the presence of a campaigner, let alone sign a petition. Most feminist groups limit their canvassing now to the Internet.
But while the million signatures campaign may have stalled, women have scored some notable successes. A group that calls itself Meydaan has earned international recognition for pressing the government to stop stonings.
The group’s reporting on executions by stoning in 2002 on its Web site, www.meydaan.net — including a video of the execution of a prostitute — embarrassed the government and led the head of the judiciary to issue a motion urging judges to refrain from ordering stonings. (The stonings have continued anyway, but at a lower rate, because only Parliament has the power to ban them.)
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed was tired of seeing miserable books about Muslim women's lives, so she decided to write her own story - a chick-lit memoir of her arranged marriage. She speaks to Laura Barton
Laura Barton The Guardian,
Wednesday 18 February 2009 larger | smaller Article history
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, writer and commentator. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/Guardian
Buses roll by outside, the day unfolding in a succession of sirens and shouts, and in her small flat in west London, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is discussing how she came to find her husband. Janmohamed is better known as spirit21, a blogger who has provided a unique perspective on the life of a British Muslim woman over the last three years, addressing issues that range from the political role of Turkey to Jack Straw's comments about women who wear the veil. She is also now author of Love in a Headscarf, a book that hovers somewhere between chick-lit and memoir, as it follows Janmohamed's journey through the process of arranged marriage.
The memoir is irreverent and feminine: perhaps not the most conventional tone for discussing this topic. "I love chick lit," she says. "I noticed when I started reading it that it was very much about 'How do you find the prince?' And what I wanted to do was tell that universal story, but from the perspective of being a Muslim woman."
Janmohamed was always aware that her marriage would be arranged, and is frustrated by the common misconception that such unions bypass the desires of the bride and groom. "The Islamic view on marriage is that the man or woman should make an active choice as to who they want to marry," she says. "And there's no long-term dating procedure, but it's essential that the two people have met, that they've had as much discussion as they like and that they feel comfortable with each other."
Introductions are usually organised by parents and a designated matchmaker, but there was, she recalls, "a lot of frank discussion about what I would want in a partner" beforehand. She credits this with helping her to make an informed choice and teaching her about herself. "You look at your list and you think, 'Gosh, I'm so shallow!'" she laughs, "because it's 'good-looking, tall, handsome ...'"
In her memoir, Janmohamed focuses on the intersection between the cultural representations of love and the reality. "The big question I ask is, 'What is love?'" she says. "Because we all watch lots of Hollywood films, and it's always Prince Charming and you live happily ever after. And I still watch them, and I swoon at the hero, and I wish life was like that. But when you come from an Asian background it's different - it's all practical and serious, and if you fall in love at the end then that's very good, dear."
In the book's opening chapter, Janmohamed is introduced to her first prospective husband, and her expectation is that he is destined to be "Mr Right" - that the arranged marriage can exist in tandem with the rom-com. But as her search continues, she begins to recognise the disparity between these two ideas of love. "I think as you grow up and things don't work out as you think they will you get pushed to ask the questions - is my paradigm of the world something that is true? Are we shortchanged today because all we think about is romance? Or is the Asian tradition perhaps too staid?"
Janmohamed is keenly aware of how non-Muslims tend to view arranged marriage and Muslim women in general. She recalls visits to bookshops where she would find "shelves and shelves of misery memoir and all these women in black veils with camels walking in the background and titles like I Was Sold Into Marriage." She smiles flatly. "And the only other stories that we saw were of Muslim women who had somehow broken through this oppression, had decided that Islam was the source of it and had rejected it, and had gone off to be - and the only way to put this is in quotation marks - 'liberated'. And you know, this is a really serious issue, the idea that women don't get to exercise their free choice and are pushed into areas of life that they shouldn't be forced into: that does need to be addressed. But I think it's really important that as part of that wider picture of what it is like to be a Muslim woman there are some positive stories told." She lifts her hands. "I like being a Muslim woman!"
Janmohamed's parents emigrated from Tanzania in 1964, arriving with two suitcases, one son and £75 to their name. Their daughter followed soon afterwards, and was brought up in a fairly liberal north London home, familiar with her parents' culture and faith, while attending a local girls' school and mixing with people from different backgrounds. For many years she kept the three strands of her life - school, home and the mosque - quite separate, but finally began to reconcile them in her search for a husband.
This search began when she was 19 and studying at Oxford. The issue of education was an uncomfortable one, she recalls. Her parents had always encouraged her studies, "but there were people around saying 'Well, just make sure that you're not too educated because the men will be scared of you.'" Still, she stresses, this is another example of the universality of her story. "I think women generally have this idea that they have to giggle at men's jokes," she says, "and can't be too smart and can't make men feel like they don't know enough."
It took Janmohamed a decade to find the man she would marry, but today she hesitates to talk about her husband; she smiles nervously and explains that she doesn't want to reveal too much about the end of the novel. "What I will say is that he went through the whole process like all the others." During the years of her search she was introduced to more suitors than she can even remember, and the book recounts those would-be husbands who most influenced her thinking. "One of the fascinating things is that because the timescale is so shortened, you have to reveal yourself immediately. So within two or three meetings you would be saying, 'What do you want to do with the rest of your life? How many children do you want to have?' And actually I think that's very liberating; you know somebody very quickly.
"So there were men I would meet who were running very late and not think anything of it, not even an apology; and so you would think, 'That person clearly doesn't have any respect for me.' Or people who didn't want to spend any money, and I thought, 'Well, if you're not even going to spend any money to impress me at this stage, you're clearly not going to be very generous when we get married.'" More startling were the suitors who asked if she would consider not wearing a headscarf. "I found that quite shocking," she says, "because I wasn't forced to wear it, I'd taken that choice as an independent woman, and I expected of all the people in the world who would respect that choice it would be my husband."
The discussion of faith in Britain is, she believes, only just beginning. "I think in Britain it has taken a long time to be able to talk about these subjects - in the 60s and 70s it was about race, and you had to be very careful how you framed discussions about race. And now as we come into the 21st century that discourse is about faith. As Muslim women we seem to get stuck in the middle of this - because we look different," she says. "And I get really fed up with reading stories in the papers about how all Muslim women are oppressed. Even when I tell people I have a job and I'm educated and I travel round on my own, people still say, 'Well, you're still oppressed, you just don't know it.'"
"When Islam was first brought here in the seventh century it was extremely radical - which is a naughty word, you're not allowed to say the word 'radical' if you're a Muslim, because it means you're going to blow something up - but Islam was radical because the Prophet Mohammed said women are equal to men, black people are equal to white people, rich people are equal to poor people," she says. "I think Muslims look back to that and say to women, 'Look, you had rights that no one had anywhere in the world!' And that's right, but most Muslim women's lives are not like that. So Muslim women are caught in a gap; they're either told they're oppressed or they're not oppressed. But no one asks Muslim women what they think. And in the grand scale of literature, the voices Muslim women have are very few."
It was this want of a voice that convinced her to begin her blog, while working for a mobile telecoms company. "I started writing because I couldn't find anyone that was expressing a view based on critical thinking," she explains. "There's this view that the Islamic world is violent, oppressed and anti-democracy and all the other stereotypes. And then there's a view within the Muslim community - and we have to be honest about this - that says, 'The west is bad.' But I'm a British Muslim; I'm a Muslim and I'm from the west."
The success of the blog prompted people to suggest she write a book about being a Muslim woman. "And I would think, yes, I must, and it's very worthy. And when I sat down to write it I realised I didn't want to write a story that was 'This is Islam and these are the pillars . . .' People can read that in a text book. I thought I wanted to tell a universal story and the best story to tell is the story of love".
• Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is published by Aurum Press at £10.99.
March 4, 2009
In Turkey, Women Playing Soccer Vie for Acceptance
By YIGAL SCHLEIFER
ISTANBUL — On a recent cold, gray Sunday, two Turkish premier league soccer teams enthusiastically ran onto the field of a small stadium on the outskirts of Istanbul.
Turks are soccer mad, with games regularly attended by tens of thousands of boisterous fans. But at this game, between host Kartalspor and Ankara’s Gazi Universitesispor, the 22 players on the field outnumbered the people shivering in the stands.
The weather was probably not to blame for the poor attendance; it was more likely because of who was playing. The two teams are part of Turkey’s new women’s soccer league, and although Turks may be soccer fanatics, there is a deep ambivalence in this socially conservative, predominantly Muslim society about women playing the game.
Halfway through its 18-game inaugural season, the league has met a combination of indifference, curiosity and occasional hostility.
“Football is seen as a man’s game in Turkey,” said Nurper Ozbar, 30, the coach of Marmara Universitesispor, the top team in the second division of the league, which also has two youth divisions.
“We’ve had men come to watch our practices and yell at our players: ‘What are you doing here? You should be at home, cooking!’ ” said Ozbar, one of the few women accredited as a soccer coach in Turkey, and the only one in Istanbul. “It’s going to take time to change this.”
Turkey has thriving professional women’s basketball and volleyball leagues. Soccer, for the most part, remains a men’s-only zone. In a country of 70 million, only 798 women and girls are registered as players with the Turkish Football Federation, soccer’s governing body. In comparison, about 230,000 male players are registered with the federation.
For the players in the women’s league, just finding their way to a team can be a monumental challenge. Deniz Bicer, a midfielder with Gazi Universitesispor, the only women’s team in the Turkish capital, Ankara, has to travel almost two hours each way to get to practice.
“In my neighborhood, because it was seen as a man’s game, there was pressure on me and my family that I not play football,” the 18-year-old Bicer said after Gazi’s 3-1 victory over Kartalspor.
“People kept telling me this is a man’s game, you should be interested in other sports, but football is a passion for me,” she said.
The new league is Turkey’s second attempt at establishing women’s soccer. An amateur league of about two dozen teams existed in Turkey for a decade until it was shut down in 2002 amid allegations of mismanagement and rumors of affairs between female players — particularly scandalous in this country.
This time around, the Turkish federation appears intent on promoting the idea of women’s and girls’ soccer to a skeptical nation.
“A lot of our work is public relations, to convince families that girls can play football,” said Erden Or, 33, the federation’s development officer for women’s soccer.
“Some believe that playing football can harm a girl’s build and make her manly,” Or said.
“They believe that it’s a man’s game, so we have to show them proof that they can play football without a problem,” added Or, whose wife chides him for kicking the ball around with their 3-year-old daughter.
Or has been crisscrossing Turkey, staging panel discussions in different cities with coaches and female players and answering questions from worried parents and resistant physical education teachers. When he finds out about a girl whose parents refuse to let her play soccer, Or said, he phones them to help ease their minds.
“If she wants to play, I will call them directly, like a father inquiring about a bride,” he said.
Selling women’s soccer also requires dolling it up. One of the new logos for the league features a slender woman’s hand with long, red-painted fingernails cupping a soccer ball. The background on Or’s computer screen is a photograph of a soccer cleat with a stiletto heel.
Despite Or’s effort and some financial assistance from the Turkish federation, getting by is a struggle for most of the teams in the new league. The news media have mostly ignored it, and sponsors have been hard to find. Kartalspor had to forfeit an away game a few weeks ago because the team could not afford to make the six-hour trip to Izmir.
“We’re getting a lot of moral support, but not a lot of financial support,” said Ozbar, the Marmara Universitesispor coach. “We don’t have a sponsor, so I’m paying for our expenses out of my pocket.”
She added: “Our players don’t look at this as a profession because they can’t earn money from it yet. They can’t picture a life for themselves in football.”
There are some hopeful signs for the league. Although the first-division teams tend to come from more liberal cities, girls’ teams are sprouting in unlikely places, including in Hakkari, a town in the predominantly Kurdish and conservative southeast region.
In Sakarya, just outside Istanbul, the local women’s team’s winning streak has led to real crowds at its games.
“In Turkey, the biggest power is success,” said Sinan Panta, 41, the president of the Sakarya Yenikent Gunesspor Kulubu team, currently atop the women’s first division with 10 wins, 1 tie and 1 loss. “At our first game, there were 100 people. As we started winning more games, we’re now seeing 2,500 or 3,000 fans at our games.”
For next season, Panta said he had rounded up enough cash to bring in a Nigerian transfer, midfielder Onome Ebi, who played on her country’s 2008 Olympic team.
“The people here initially weren’t friendly to the idea that women could play football, but we’ve broken that idea down,” said Panta, a former professional player. “We’ve achieved our goal: we’ve made Sakarya accept women’s football. We’ve succeeded in a conservative place.”
At the Kartalspor-Gazi Universitesispor game, a motley mix of curious men and boys gathered in the stadium, a bleak, half-finished cement structure overlooking a busy highway. Standing nearby was Selmin Odabas, the mother of a player named Selin, a speedy 20-year-old striker for the home team.
“In the beginning, we didn’t want our daughter to play,” Odabas said. “We were worried that it would affect her posture, her character, even her sexual orientation. We put her in volleyball, in track, but nothing could stop her.”
As Selin’s skills improved — she was named to the national women’s team — their attitude changed, Odabas said.
She pointed out a wiry man nearby shouting encouragement at Kartalspor’s players and cursing their opponents.
“Now her father is a fanatic fan,” she said.
Bulent Cinar, a translator, contributed reporting.
What is your image of a woman in Afghanistan? Shrouded in a veil? Beaten by her husband? Poverty? Hopelessness? While this certainly is the case for many women in Afghanistan, there is another truth that we seldom hear or see. Afghan women have cause to celebrate International Women's Day, and they do so with courage and conviction amid the ongoing work of securing their human rights.
In the fall of 2001, when the world finally paid attention to the human rights catastrophe in Afghanistan, the only girls attending school were those lucky and brave enough to find a clandestine school in someone's home. Teachers risked death by providing math, science, and history lessons to girls in small groups. Despite threats from the Taliban, more and more children came, desperate to fill an insatiable hunger for learning. Today, more than two million girls attend schools through the Ministry of Education and women are upgrading their skills, learning English and computers, and paving a way to a more secure future.
During the 1990s, Dr. Sima Samar (now the Chair of the Independent Afghan Human Rights Commission) ran a refugee school for Afghan girls, defying the Taliban to "come and get me" as she educated girls the same as boys. Now, 85 of these same young women are some of the first female graduates from Kabul University.
Jamila Afghani is another symbol of the courage and struggle of Afghan women. Jamila contracted polio in her first year of life and walks with one leg in a brace, suffering severe back pain from untreated scoliosis. At the age of 14, she was shot in the head by the Soviets, leaving her with chronic pain in her ear. Yet, she was determined not to be a burden on her family, and so worked to secure several university degrees and founded the Noor Education Centre in 2001 to provide literacy and education to young women. The centre's programs include education in gender, human rights and children's rights, English classes, literacy training and health information. Vocational training and special classes such as sign language are offered free of charge. It also hosts the Nazo Annah Library and Internet Cafe, available to the public.
The success of programs like these, are due to the unfailing resiliency of Afghan women, and the assistance of the international community. With the support of Canadian donors, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan ( www.w4wafghan.ca) has provided $2 million in support of women-focused development projects in Afghanistan since it began in 1996. These grassroots projects are defined and delivered by Afghan women themselves. Most importantly, they are making a real, and lasting difference in the lives of Afghan women and their families.
The celebration of International Women's Day, therefore, is not taken lightly in Afghanistan. It isn't a one-day event, but rather, a week of celebration and significance. While that may seem odd, given the misogynist history of the country, it is precisely the ongoing challenges that face women in Afghanistan that have earned them the right to truly celebrate the victories they have secured. Of the total estimated 32 million people in Afghanistan, more than 70 per cent are women and children under the age of 18. Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. It has the highest maternal mortality rate, one of the highest rates of domestic violence, and is perhaps the only country in the world where suicide rates are higher among women than men. It is a place where women set them-selves on fire in appalling numbers to escape brutally abusive domestic lives, where girls as young as eight years old are married to elderly men and where 60 per cent of marriages are forced. The life expectancy is just over 44 years and only eight per cent of rural women over the age of 15 can read and write.
Despite the push to educate girls, half aged seven to 12 are not in school. The rate of completion of primary school for girls is only 13 per cent with the average length of attendance across the country at only four years for girls compared to 11 for boys. Only one out of nine girls who finishes elementary school will go on to the equivalent of junior high, fewer still to high school or beyond.
Celebrating International Women's Day in Afghanistan is therefore not about basking in the achievements of their mothers and grandmothers. It is about: - The hard-fought day-today successes of every Afghan woman who manages to educate her daughters; Every small, grassroots organization that provides literacy training to women; - Every family who decides that having an educated daughter is more important than marrying her off at the age of 12; - Every woman who decides to vote in the upcoming election, to make her voice heard.
It is true that Afghan women have been very long suffering, but they are not just a nameless, faceless entity, shrouded in misery. The reality of Afghan women is one of strength, resilience, courage, hope and solidarity. Despite the fact that the international community has invested only 1/25th of the military support and 1/50th of the humanitarian aid it invested in Bosnia and Kosovo, change for the better is happening in Afghanistan because of the women. Children are fed because of the women. Education is achieved because of the women. Health care and hygiene become priorities because of the women. Most importantly, human rights are discussed, promoted and respected because of the women. Afghan women are working hard to shape their lives and create a future where each can fully and openly celebrate International Women's Day.
Carolyn reiCher is the President and Co-founder of Canadian Women for Women in afghanistan. Her organization is hosting an event on March 7 With senator Pamela Wallin and Afghan journalist Khorshied Samad at the Central library. For tickets to the event call: 403-244-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Seminar to mark women’s day at Aga Khan University March 7, 2009
Posted by ismailimail in Aga Khan University, Asia, Community Activities, Council sponsored, Pakistan.
Sunday, March 08, 2009 By Sadia Hanif
Women do two-thirds of the world’s work but receive only 10 per cent of the world’s income and own less than one pc, said Women Activity Portfolio Convenor Yasmeen Merchant in her welcoming speech at a conference held on Early Childhood Development at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) Auditorium Karachi.
The conference was held to commemorate International Women’s Day and was organised by Aga Khan Council for Pakistan on Saturday. The audience mainly comprised of mothers who received answers to their queries about cognitive development of children from doctors and other AKU officials. Children’s development was also explained with the help of visual aids and research carried out by various teams of doctors at the AKU.
“The youth of the past was much better than the present generation,” informed Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, chief of Women and Child Health-AKU and chairman of National Vaccine Research and Development Task Force. He explained various mistakes made by parents and also gave guidance.
Serena marks Women’s Day with colourful event
March 7, 2009
Posted by ismailimail in Asia, Fund for Economic Development, Pakistan.
Highlights of day include get-together of women from different walks of life, stalls of handicrafts, fashion show and poetry recital
Women rights activists vow to continue their struggle
By Mahtab Bashir
ISLAMABAD: Serena Hotel Islamabad on Friday organised a colourful event on its premises to mark International Women’s Day.
The daylong celebration included a gathering of women from diplomatic corps, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), public and private sectors, women achievers, celebrities and women rights’ activists and students. An overwhelming number of women participated in the event with the theme ‘women and men united to end violence against women and girls.’
As many as 30 stalls were set up by NGOs including Behbud, Uks, The Art of Living Foundation, Aangan, Rozan, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Platform 7, Aurat Foundation, Sungi, Karakuram Handicrafts Development Organisation, PAF finishing School, NS elegance, Vanguard Books, Girl Guides Pakistan, Floral Arts, Sobia’s Beauty Salon, reiki healing, and child and adult psychiatrist Dr Ambreen Ahmed.
Thousands of girls mutilated in Britain
The NHS is offering to reverse female circumcision amid concerns that there are 500 victims a year with no prosecutions
Girls are brainwashed into believing circumcision to be a cultural, and, in some cases, religious obligation that should be kept secret
The NHS is to advertise free operations to reverse female circumcisions, with experts warning that each year more than 500 British girls have their genitals mutilated.
Despite having been outlawed in 1985, female circumcision is still practised in British African communities, in some cases on girls as young as 5. Police have been unable to bring a single prosecution even though they suspect that community elders are being flown from the Horn of Africa to carry out the procedures.
The advertisement will appear from next month on a Somali satellite TV station much viewed in Britain. It features Juliet Albert, a midwife who does the reverse operations, and promises, in English and Somali, confidentiality for victims of female genital mutilation.
The advertisement was expected to help to undermine demand for girls to be circumcised, and to popularise the reversal procedure, Ms Albert said. Thousands of such operations have been carried out at specialist clinics and hospitals around Britain and demand is growing slowly.
Female circumcision, which is done for various reasons, such as religious and cultural traditions, can cause severe health complications including infections and psychological problems. The procedure, predominantly carried out on girls aged between 5 and 12, can range from the removal of the clitoris to the removal of all the exterior parts of the vagina, which is then sewn up.
A study by the Foundation for Women’s Health, Research and Development (Forward), estimated that 66,000 women living in England and Wales had been circumcised, most before leaving their country of origin. The government-funded research also found that more than 7,000 girls were at a high risk of being subjected to genital mutilation in Britain.
Sarah McCulloch, of the Agency for Culture Change Management UK, said that every year more than 500 British girls were having circumcisions. “A lot of them are done in the UK, but some still travel overseas,” she said.
She said that a code of silence in Britain’s African communities had allowed circumcisions to continue and prevented arrests. The unqualified female elders, known as “house doctors” because they act in secret in a family home, are flown into the country.
“What the communities do is they gather together and collect money to pay for the ticket for a ‘doctor’ to come from Somalia, Sudan, or whatever,” she told The Times. “And when she arrives here, she goes to a house and has the girls brought to her.”
While Scotland Yard is understood to have made investigations into female circumcision in the UK, and offered a £20,000 reward for information, no one has been successfully prosecuted for carrying out the procedure.
Detective Constable Jason Morgan, from Scotland Yard’s Project Azure, denied that police were complacent. “We don’t bury our heads in the sand and say it’s not going on,” he said.
It is illegal to take a person abroad for the operation but no one has been prosecuted for this either.
Ms McCulloch said that girls were brainwashed into believing circumcision to be a cultural, and, in some cases, religious obligation that should be kept secret. “It is something they simply do not discuss — if they do they’d be seen as betraying their family and their community and culture,” she said. “I know many girls who want to accuse their parents but can’t. They don’t want to take their parents to court.”
Waris Dirie, a former UN envoy for the prevention of female genital mutilation, said that it had no justification. Ms Dirie is a victim of the procedure and it haunts her to this day. “Female genital mutilation has nothing to do with tradition, religion or culture. It is the most cynical form of child abuse and a crime that has to be punished,” she told The Times.
Ms McCulloch said that men were becoming more vocal in opposition to female circumcision. “I’ve talked to some fathers who’ve made clear to their wives that they don’t want this done to their daughters — only for them to go out and come back to find their girls circumcised,” she said.
Lynette Parvez, head teacher of Kelmscott School in Walthamstow, northeast London, said that several teachers there would soon be trained to detect victims of female circumcision, and pupils at risk. Experts believe that most of the procedures are done during summer holidays when the girls have enough time to recover without suspicion about their absence.
While Ms Parvez is unaware of any cases at her school, which serves many pupils of African origin, she said that she had been shocked and appalled to hear that female circumcisions were taking place in the UK.
The women of Baghlan baking for their own financial independence
Source: United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
Date: 15 Mar 2009
By Shamsuddin Hamedi, UNAMA
A new bakery in Pul-e-Khumri, the capital of Baghlan province, is helping women earn money for themselves and offering them a chance of financial independence.
Ten women were identified as needy and enrolled in the project by the Department for Women's Affairs and the Agha Khan Foundation.
The women were trained for 15 days on confectionery skills, management and marketing and now they're selling their products in the local market.
"The project is their property. We are technically supporting them and we are the facilitator of the project for the next six months. Whenever they are self-sufficient, then the Agha Khan Foundation will just support them with marketing," said Sayed Rahman from the Agha Khan Foundation.
The women don't receive any salary, but earn money from what they produce. Since starting the work in January they produce 50 to 60 kg of various pastries everyday, but they are aiming to produce 200 kg a day. Last month they made US$ 500 from sales. A bank account has also been opened for the enterprising bakery women.
"I have six children. Since I have started working here I can support my family and my children are happy that I am working and they are encouraging me to continue," Torpikai one of the baker women.
"Our production is clean, better and cheaper compared to the local market. We want all the organizations and people to buy our products and support the women," said Rabia the supervisor of the project.
By Farish A. Noor ~ March 11th, 2009.
Filed under: Syndicated Columns.
The stereotypes are familiar to most of us by now: Japanese men walking around in Western business suits while Japanese women are expected to follow behind them in kimonos; Muslim men enjoying themselves in Bermuda shorts and t-shirts while their wives and girlfriends are left with the burka to wear. We have seen it all over the world, time and time again; and yet the message doesn’t seem to come across loud enough. Cultural pluralism is a double-edged sword when women are expected to remain as the bearers of cultural, ethnic and racial identity above all else.
We live in an age of bad multiculturalism that has gone off the rails. One does not and should not use this as a stick to beat multiculturalism and deconstruction with, but the fact remains that for too long the appeal of pluralism has been mostly cosmetic. The age of the Benetton ad means that we value cultural difference when it is most apparent and laid out on display before us as a tableau of difference and diversity, but we forget that cultural differences are not merely contingent or accidental and that underlying these differences are very real power differentials as well.
It is for this reason that we should not fall into the trap of cultural relativism too fast or easily. At the recent regional conference on Advancing Gender Equality and Womens’ Rights in Muslim Societies organized by the International Centre for Islam and Pluralism (ICIP) in Jakarta, representatives from all over the Muslim world re-stated the vital and sometimes neglected fact that from an Islamic point of view, men and women and equal in terms of their ontological origins and eschatologically equal in their final destiny and responsibilities.
Yet how often have we been told that men and women are not really equal in Islam, due to physical differences? And how many times have we been told that such differences – instituted in structures of power – are tradition-bound and culturally-specific to Muslims?
Here is where the challenge for the Muslim world today lies. Faced with the unprecedented and often traumatic effects of globalization, Muslim communities today – like many other communities in the developing world – have turned to tradition and cultural particularism as the last means of safeguarding their fragile and contested identities. Fearful of being overwhelmed by the tide of mass consumerist culture and drowned by the equalizing tide of homogeneous consumerism, they cling on to cultural difference as the last bastion of their identities.
But this steadfast refusal to accept that cultural identities are also manufactured, historical and thus contingent has become the suffocating double-bind that has stunted the growth and evolution of Muslims as well. Worst still, cultural pluralism has become the convenient excuse for all kinds of casual abuse of women and their rights, ranging from dowry killings to the mutilation of women with acid. Apparently for the conservatives among us, the denial of equal rights to women is and can be seen as a means of ‘protecting’ their identity and by extension the identity of Islam as well.
This paradox opens up a pandora’s box of unanswered questions: Why is it that whenever pluralism is called for in the defence of identity it is the women who have to take up the role of being the custodians and depositories of tradition? Why is it that men are allowed to enter the cosmopolitan space of public engagement, while women have to be relegated to the traditional roles that define them? Why is it that we fail to recognize that Muslim culture and identity have evolved and adapted over the past 1400 years and that being Muslim is not something that can be so easily essentialised?
Related to this are the manifold handicaps that affect non-Muslim commentators as well. As soon as cultural pluralism and the protection of cultural identity became the card that was used to defend misogynistic and patriarchal practices among Muslims (and other developing communities), Western liberals by and large found themselves paralysed and unable to comment any futher, their tongues stilled by the cry of political correctness. Thus practices like honour killings could no longer be condemned, for they were seen as ‘traditional cultural practices’ among Muslims – who were then relegated to the register of the strange and exotic.
How odd that the Western liberal conscience was unable to respond to these atrocities in the name of political correctness, for no liberal worth his or her salt would have tolerated such abuses done in the name of tradition if the victim was a Western woman! (And remember, they used to burn witched in Europe too, and those were mostly women.)
So while we all celebrate the wonderfully diverse and colourful plural world we live in today, let us not fall too much for the special effects: Cultural diversity and pluralism are sociological realities but they are also backed up by very real power differentials that can spell negative consequences for women and minorities in particular. A celebration of pluralism does not necessarily mean the tacit acceptance of the injustices that accompany such differences too. If anything, one can only claim to truly support pluralism if one looks at it through a critical eye, and emphasizes the universal equality that binds us all, nonetheless.
Muslim Women in U.S. Struggle to Balance Western Freedoms and Islamic Culture
Saturday , March 28, 2009
By Ruth Ravve
ADVERTISEMENTDEARBORN, Mich. —
The "call to prayer" is a sound heard five times a day in this city, but this is not the Middle East. It’s Dearborn, Michigan — which has the largest Arab-American population in the U.S.
Like other immigrant groups, many came here years ago in search of a better life. In the past few decades, the auto industry needed workers, so Michigan became a top destination.
Over time, thousands of the Muslim faithful from around the world settled here, opening shops and restaurants and turning Dearborn into a heavily Muslim-influenced community, replete with mosques in every section of town and traditional foods from places like Pakistan and Syria.
But while there are plenty of comforts from their home countries, Muslim women say they’re constantly caught balancing their lives between the freedoms they have in Western culture and the restrictions they face from religious and societal pressure. They worry about whether they’re following the habits of "a good Muslim woman."
Zeinab Fakhreddine, a Lebanese-American woman raised in Dearborn, walks down the street wearing a traditional two-piece suit and a Muslim headscarf, called a hijab. The scarf covers her hair and tightly frames her face. She says the hijab was designed as a way to honor women in Islam, by concealing their beauty.
In her community, she says, so many women are dressed this way, nobody looks twice at her. "It's kind of like a comfort zone in Dearborn, but when you leave here, it kind of becomes very different."
Outside Dearborn, it's a different story.
Despite the fact that Islamic groups are growing in major cities in the U.S., many Muslim women living here say assimilating into Western culture is still very difficult.
Many of the immigrant women come to the United States from Muslim countries where they have few rights. Women are not allowed to drive cars or keep their own passports in Saudi Arabia, for example. It is very difficult for a woman to go to school or even leave her home without a male relative escorting her in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In fact, life for Muslim women in the U.S. is so different that they say they're not sure whether to accept the sudden opportunities they have here, or reject them for fear that it doesn't fit within their religious followings.
"In our religion it's forbidden to listen to music and there’s some areas that we stay away from ... because we don’t listen to music," said Fakhreddine.
Also under Islam, it's acceptable for a man to have up to four wives at a time. While that's illegal in the United States, Islamic leaders say the religion designates the man as the head of the household.
"The big decisions are from the husband. Actually, we have to discuss everything with them," says Umia Mustafa, who moved here from Pakistan 10 years ago, after her parents arranged her marriage to a Pakistani man already living here.
She says in her religion, no matter where it’s practiced, there's no question who is in charge.
And sometimes clashes of cultures can have deadly consequences.
Last month, Buffalo resident Aasiya Hassan, 37, was found decapitated after she had been complaining to police about domestic violence. Her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, was charged with the crime.
While Muslim leaders caution against stereotypes and point out that domestic violence happens in all cultures, some women's rights leaders worry that Islam is being used to justify violence against women.
"The typical Muslim man, they always are very overprotective, they're very controlling over the women. They're not allowed to do this, they're not allowed to do that," says 23-year-old Fai Oman, who was born in Yemen.
She says she feels lucky to be living in the West because she has more freedom and security than she would have in her home country.
Taking on Western viewpoints and a less traditional look makes Oman stand out in the typical female Muslim community. She dresses in jeans and a low-cut sweater. Her dark hair is highlighted with blonde streaks, and her eyes are colored with bright blue shadow.
Some Islamic leaders fear women like Oman will become more common and that Western culture will have too much influence over generations of Muslim women who grow up and live in America.
"It does worry me because it's improper behavior [that] does lead to ... harm to the female," said Yemen native Sakainah Faleh, a teacher who tutors young Muslim girls in the proper ways of Islam.
She's concerned about Muslim women straying too far from the religion, she says.
But Muslim leaders like Amina Aharif, from the Council on American Islamic relations (CAIR), say that with so many women coming here from multiple Muslim countries, there are already different viewpoints and traditions influencing them.
Each comes to the United States with her own versions of cultural and religious practices, she adds.
"Just like America is a melting pot for people from all over the world, it is a melting pot for Muslims from all over the world," said Aharif. "It is such a diverse community."
April 5, 2009
Karzai Vows to Review Family Law
By CARLOTTA GALL and SANGAR RAHIMI
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai ordered a review on Saturday of a new law that has been criticized internationally for introducing Taliban-era restrictions on women and sanctioning marital rape.
The president defended the law, which concerns family law for the Shiite minority, and said Western news media reports were misinformed. Nevertheless, he said his justice minister would review it and make amendments if the law was found to contravene the Constitution and the freedoms that it guarantees.
“The Western media have either mistranslated or taken incorrect information and then published it,” Mr. Karzai said at a news briefing in the presidential palace on Saturday. “If there is anything in contradiction with our Constitution or Shariah, or freedoms granted by the Constitution, we will take action in close consultation with the clerics of the country.”
If changes are needed, he said, the bill would be sent back to Parliament.
Human rights officials have criticized the law, in particular for the restrictions it places on when a woman can leave her house, and for stating the circumstances in which she has to have sex with her husband.
A Shiite woman would be allowed to leave home only “for a legitimate purpose,” which the law does not define. The law also says, “Unless the wife is ill, the wife is bound to give a positive response to the sexual desires of her husband.” Critics have said that provision legalizes marital rape.
The law also outlines rules on divorce, child custody and marriage, all in ways that discriminate against women, said Soraya Sobhrang, commissioner for women’s rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.
While the law applies only to Shiites, who represent approximately 10 percent of the population, its passage could influence a proposed family law for the Sunni majority and a draft law on violence against women, Ms. Sobhrang said. “This opens the way for more discrimination,” she said.
Mr. Karzai signed the law last week after a vote in Parliament last month, Ms. Sobhrang said, adding that she had seen a copy of the law with his signature.
However, the presidential spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, would not confirm that the president had signed the law and said only that the he was still reviewing it.
Mr. Karzai’s decision to review the law came after a storm of criticism in recent days. Canada called in the Afghan ambassador for an explanation, and NATO’s secretary general questioned why the alliance was sending men and women to fight in Afghanistan when discrimination against women was condoned by law.
Asked about the law at a news conference in Strasbourg, France, on Saturday, President Obama called it “abhorrent.”
“We think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture,” he said, “but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle.”
Also on Saturday, Italy’s defense minister said Italy was considering a temporary withdrawal of the women serving in its force in Afghanistan to protest the law, Reuters reported.
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the law represented a “huge step in the wrong direction.”
“For a new law in 2009 to target women in this way is extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement posted on her agency’s Web site. “This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better.”
In addition to the clauses on when women may leave the home and must submit to their husbands, Ms. Pillay said she was concerned about a section that forbids women from working or receiving education without their husband‘s permission.
Ms. Sobhrang, who has been working on the issue for the last two years, said women’s groups and the human rights commissions had worked with Parliament to introduce amendments but then the law was suddenly pushed through with only three amendments. The bill as originally drawn up by Shiite clerics barred a woman from leaving the house without her husband’s permission, she said. The parliamentary judicial commission amended that provision to say that a woman could leave the house “for a legitimate purpose.”
Mr. Karzai cited that provision in a news conference on Saturday, pointing out that the final version of the law did not ban a woman from leaving her house. But Ms. Sobhrang said even as amended the law contravened the Constitution, which recognizes equal rights for men and women. The term “for a legitimate purpose” was open to interpretation, she added.
She said Mr. Karzai had supported women’s rights in the past but seemed to have given that up in recent months. Some Western officials have speculated that he signed the law to win the support of conservative Shiite clerics in coming presidential elections.
Yet the leading cleric behind the Family Law, Sheik Muhammad Asif Mohseni, complained last week that he was dissatisfied with the amendments that Parliament had made to his original draft. Speaking on his own television channel, Tamadun Television, he objected to the introduction of a legal age for marriage, “16 for women and 18 for men,” saying that people should be able to decide for themselves.
Human rights officials consider raising the marriage age a critical step toward ending the common practice of forced marriages and the marriage of young girls.
Another amendment gave women longer custody of young children in the case of divorce. In the original draft, women could have custody of a son until he was 2 years old, and a daughter until she was 7. The amended version raises the ages to 7 for boys and 9 for girls.
Ms. Sobhrang criticized both versions for not taking into account the interests and desires of the children.
April 15, 2009
Women, Extremism and Two Key States
There have been two recent reminders of the cost of extremism. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai signed a law that effectively sanctions marital rape. In Pakistan, a video surfaced of the Taliban in the Swat Valley publicly flogging a young woman screaming for mercy. Pakistan’s government compounded the indignity on Monday by giving in to Taliban demands and formally imposing Shariah law on the region.
Such behavior would be intolerable anywhere. But the United States is heavily invested in both countries, fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban and financing multibillion-dollar military and development programs. The cases represent an officially sanctioned brutality that violates American values and international human rights norms. They also sabotage chances of building stable healthy societies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, particularly venal politics are at work. Mr. Karzai, whose popular support plummeted because of government ineptitude and corruption, is running for re-election in August. The new law, which affects family matters for the Shiite minority, seems a bald, particularly creepy, pander.
It says of Shiite women: Unless she is ill, “a wife is obliged to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband.” That is licensed coercion.
If let stand, we fear such rules — reminiscent of decrees issued when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s — could also have a negative impact on laws affecting the majority Sunni population. Instead of defending the law as he did, Mr. Karzai must ensure that it is rewritten to reflect principles of freedom and dignity for women.
In Pakistan, the video of the woman’s flogging proves the bankrupt nature of the army’s strategy. Failing to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, the army tried to appease them with a peace deal in February. It ceded the insurgents control of Swat, 100 miles from Islamabad, and allowed free rein for their repressive ways. The woman was beaten after declining a Taliban fighter’s marriage proposal, the head of the Peshawar Bar Association told reporters.
After resisting for weeks, President Asif Ali Zardari capitulated to political pressure and signed a regulation formally imposing Islamic law on Swat as part of the peace deal. We seriously doubt this will bring peace, and it will certainly not make life better for Pakistani women. It is unlikely that Mr. Zardari’s wife — the slain former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto — would have ever consented to such a craven sellout.
The one encouraging sign came last week, when Pakistan’s recently reinstated chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, publicly rebuked the attorney general and other officials at a court hearing for inaction in the flogging case. We hope this was not just grandstanding and that he and his supporters will find a way to make as powerful a case for this victim’s rights as they did for Mr. Chaudhry’s return to the Supreme Court.
Many Pakistanis have wasted their time decrying the video as a conspiracy intended to defame Islam and Pakistan. They should be demanding that the army — Pakistan’s strongest and most functional institution — defend against an insurgency that increasingly threatens the state. Like their military and political leaders, Pakistan’s people are in a pernicious state of denial about where the real danger lies.
When I met designer Zeynep Fadillioglu, she was giving instructions to her team of architects on the installation of a cutting-edge water feature.
The metal sphere created by British designer William Pye will dominate the entrance of the Sakirin Mosque.
The fountain, along with a modern glass chandelier from China made from thousands of individually crafted shards of glass, are central pieces in what is being seen as one of most radical mosque designs in Turkey in generations.
"Designing everything we tried to be contemporary, but not, let's say, too futuristic or avant garde," Ms Fadillioglu says.
"We don't want the public to reject the place. We want the public to feel part of the place, rather than watching it as an incredible art object. I think it should be their own place."
The internationally renowned interior designer sees herself as a product of Turkey's secular republic, which was established in 1923, and gave equal rights to men and women.
Dealing with major projects is nothing new for Ms Fadillioglu, who has made her name designing hotels and homes for the super-rich, from Turkey to Europe, India to the Middle East.
But she admits the chance to be the first woman in Turkey to be in charge of building a mosque was the opportunity of a lifetime.
"When I was offered this project I cried," Ms Fadillioglu said.
The mosque was commissioned by a wealthy Arab Turkish family, as a memorial to their mother.
"I think what is exciting is that I am a woman," she said.
"Especially at a time when so much is being discussed wrongly of Islam not allowing women to have equal rights. The fact that a woman can build a mosque disproves this."
“ We wanted to go with the flow of Islam, while at the same time creating something contemporary ”
She believes being a woman brings a different insight to building a mosque.
"I care more about the aesthetical side, I care more about the public, I try to give a place to be really left with God, rather than creating a symbol."
Despite Turkey's strictly secular status, much of the country remains religiously conservative, and the Sakirin Mosque is being built in one of the most religious parts of Istanbul.
Ms Fadillioglu admits she was expecting problems, but was pleasantly surprised.
"I did not face any problems whatsoever. I was more scared myself, I had the prejudice myself, that I would have problems. That's why I took very cautious steps and we worked as a team."
Ironically, she said she faced more problems from staunchly secular friends.
"People with Western values, they kept on asking me why I was building a mosque. People had all these confusions, that I was somehow selling out my secular ideals."
Fusion of influences
The aim of the Sakirin Mosque - combining the influences of the past and present, and East and West - has been a difficult balancing act, Ms Fadillioglu concedes.
"We worked here with a lot of Islamic craftsmen, contemporary craftsmen, with very different views on life, and all of them worked very well together. That co-ordination may be more difficult to achieve with a masculine figure. With a feminine figure it is more easily handled, I think."
The mosque construction comes as Turkey remains deeply divided over the role of religion within society.
In July the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) narrowly escaped being shut down. It was accused of seeking to overthrow the secular state, and the country's constitutional court handed down a fine and a severe warning.
An opinion poll released this month found that 68% of the country believes there is a conflict over religion and secularism. In such an environment Ms Fadillioglu hopes the mosque will become a symbol of unity.
"There are big discussions on whether Western values are to be integrated with Islamic values, or whether two different communities will remain divided.
"I think this mosque has all the Western and Eastern values nicely blended. We wanted to go with the flow of Islam, while at the same time creating something contemporary."
April 16, 2009
Afghan Women Protest New Law on Home Life
By DEXTER FILKINS
KABUL, Afghanistan — The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.
“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”
The women scattered as the men moved in.
“We want our rights!” one of the women shouted, turning to face them. “We want equality!”
The women ran to the bus and dived inside as it rumbled away, with the men smashing the taillights and banging on the sides.
But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.
It was an extraordinary scene. Women are mostly illiterate in this impoverished country, and they do not, generally speaking, enjoy anything near the freedom accorded to men. But there they were, most of them young, many in jeans, defying a threatening crowd and calling out slogans heavy with meaning.
With the Afghan police keeping the mob at bay, the women walked two miles to Parliament, where they delivered a petition calling for the law’s repeal.
“Whenever a man wants sex, we cannot refuse,” said Fatima Husseini, 26, one of the marchers. “It means a woman is a kind of property, to be used by the man in any way that he wants.”
The law, approved by both houses of Parliament and signed by President Hamid Karzai, applies to the Shiite minority only. Women here and governments and rights groups abroad have protested three parts of the law especially.
One provision makes it illegal for a woman to resist her husband’s sexual advances. A second provision requires a husband’s permission for a woman to work outside the home or go to school. And a third makes it illegal for a woman to refuse to “make herself up” or “dress up” if that is what her husband wants.
The passage of the law has amounted to something of a historical irony. Afghan Shiites, who make up close to 20 percent of the population, suffered horrendously under the Taliban, who regarded them as apostates. Since 2001, the Shiites, particularly the Hazara minority, have been enjoying a renaissance.
President Karzai, who relies on vast support from the United States and other Western governments to stay in power, has come under intense international criticism for signing the bill into law. Many people here suspect that he did so to gain the favor of the Shiite clergy; Mr. Karzai is up for re-election this year. Previous Afghan governments, during the Soviet era and before the arrival of the Taliban, did not impose such restrictive laws, although in practice many rural women’s freedoms have long been curtailed. Rights advocates say the law for Shiites could influence a proposal for Sunnis and a draft law on violence against women.
Responding to the outcry, Mr. Karzai has begun looking for a way to remove the most controversial parts of the law. In an interview on Wednesday, his spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said that the legislation was not yet law because it had not been published in the government’s official register. That, Mr. Hamidzada said, means that it can still be changed. Mr. Karzai has asked his justice minister to look it over.
“We have no doubt that whatever comes out of this process will be consistent with the rights provided for in the Constitution — equality and the protection of women,” Mr. Hamidzada said.
The women who protested Wednesday began their demonstration with what appeared to be a deliberately provocative act. They gathered in front of the School of the Last Prophet, a madrasa run by Ayatollah Asif Mohseni, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric. He and the scholars around him played an important role in drafting the new law.
“We are here to campaign for our rights,” one woman said into a megaphone. Then the women held their banners aloft and began to chant.
The reaction was immediate. Hundreds of students from the madrasa, most but not all of them men, poured into the streets to confront the demonstrators.
“Death to the enemies of Islam!” the counterdemonstrators cried, encircling the women. “We want Islamic law!”
The women stared ahead and marched.
A phalanx of police officers, some of them women, held the crowds apart.
Afterward, when the demonstrators had left, one of the madrasa’s senior clerics came outside. Asked about the dispute, he said it was between professionals and nonprofessionals; that is, between the clerics, who understood the Koran and Islamic law, and the women calling for the law’s repeal who did not.
“It’s like if you are sick, you go to a doctor, not some amateur,” said the cleric, Mohammed Hussein Jafaari. “This law was approved by the scholars. It was passed by both houses of Parliament. It was signed by the president.”
The religious scholars, Mr. Jafaari conceded, were all men.
Lingering a while, Mr. Jafaari said that what was really driving the dispute was the foreigners who loomed so large over the country.
“We Afghans don’t want a bunch of NATO commanders and foreign ministers telling us what to do.”
By Lauryn Oates, For the Calgary HeraldApril 25, 2009
Licia Corbella's April 4 column, "Here's why the fight in Afghanistan is worth it" was a powerful wake-up call that the tone of the reactions to the proposed discriminatory law against Shiite women, now under reconsideration, is misplaced. She is indeed right when she reminds us that the question is not "why are we in Afghanistan," but rather, for whom?
For several years, our organization, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, has funded the orphanage Licia visited back in 2003. I was also in Kabul at that time, when Afghan men and women delegates came together to approve the country's new constitution, which made women and men equal citizens by law.
Afghanistan is emerging from 30 years of violent conflict, a period where it was largely ignored by the West except to flood it with weapons and then leave the fate of its citizens to the mercy of illiterate, trigger-happy, fundamentalist men. That era, and our subsequent inaction, is to our great shame. Now is our chance to make up for the past and we must get it right. Abandonment is not the answer.
Today, the girls of the Omid-e-mirmun Orphanage are enrolled in school. Many had to work long and hard to make up for missed years of schooling under the Taliban. They are excelling. One girl, aged 15, earned the highest marks this semester in her class. She taught herself English and sends me home with passionate letters to read on the long plane ride back to Canada, describing her dreams for the future. Parentless and poor, the world is nevertheless still wide open in her mind and her goals are so ambitious. The future is very different for this young woman than it was a decade ago. And that future desperately needs to be protected.
It is difficult to describe a sight more compelling than watching the youngest girls spread about, lying on the floor, quietly reading simple picture books to learn to read. The images of animals or illustrated, cartoon-like children with which they engage were illegal under the Taliban, who banned all images of living things. One of the older girls is an avid poet. She writes of Kabul's springs, the blooming of orange blossoms and flowing rivers. The Taliban banned any non-religious literature during their regime. They closed museums, burned books, murdered intellectuals and kept women as prisoners in their homes. The Omid girls will become adults in a new Afghanistan -- one characterized by sweeping changes set against old habits that die hard. They will grow up governed by a president and parliament elected by the people, yet under a government marred by corruption. They will be able to go to university, but their high school teachers risk being murdered by the Taliban -- for being women who teach girls. Some of them may start small businesses, but they live in a country where many people live on less than $1 a day. They may choose to run for a seat in parliament, where they will contend with old mujahedeen deeply averse to their presence. It will be a windy road, but along which some seeds have been planted -- and they must be allowed to grow. As Nick Grono of the International Crisis Group stated, "we shouldn't give up on our strategy of institution building -- the fact is that it's not so much that it has failed, but that we have hardly tried."
Canada's presence in Afghanistan enabled us to send a clear signal to the Afghan government that laws which discriminate against women have no place in our shared goals of justice, human rights and peace. This stands in stark contrast to the Taliban's days of power, when there was nothing but silence coming from the West in response to the regime of gender apartheid under which Afghan women lived. This time, the Afghan government was forced to listen.
A decade ago the Afghan women's movement was in no place to mobilize against the threat of such discrimination. Today, they are doing that -- with ferocity. I was in Kabul at the time the new law was publicly announced and witnessed the flurry of activity which immediately began as women's organizations, parliamentarians, intellectuals, writers and Afghan civil society mobilized. They started a petition, issued statements, made recommendations for repealing the law, met together to plan action, held a press conference, and organized a demonstration against the law.
My friend Shamzia now runs a successful women's cooperative in Kabul, something she could have never done under the Taliban. She often tells me, "Lauryn, if Canada leaves Afghanistan, you had better get me a visa to Canada, because the Taliban will be back, and I will be dead." She is not joking. Her anxiety over her fate if the international community chooses to once again walk away from Afghanistan again is shared by many women, with good reason. Rebuilding a shattered state, one where gender inequities have been amplified by poverty and extremism, was always going to be hard work. But so far the hardest thing about it has been getting a true commitment from players like Canada and the U. S. to make a promise to stick it out for the long run. It's a situation that has been rendered even less confident by the deplorable position of Canada's radical 'antiwar' movement on our role in Afghanistan.
In August, Afghans will go to the polls again. They will have the chance then to demonstrate whether they believe Hamid Karzai should stay in power, when women's hard fought-for rights were imperilled under his watch. Until then and beyond, we must stay vigilant in our solidarity with Afghans. We must listen to those like the girls of the Omid Orphanage, who want the right to dream of being doctors, lawyers, poets and politicians. We must learn something from the schoolgirls in Kandahar who returned to their classrooms after having acid thrown on them by Talibs -- because they wanted to go to school that badly. These are the voices we need to pay attention to, and who we must be fighting for. We owe them nothing less.
Lauryn Oates has been advocating for the rights of Afghan women and girls since 1996. She founded the Vancouver and Montreal Chapters of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, and is currently Project Director of the Excelerate Teacher Training Program (CW 4WA fghan)
By Johann Christoph Arnold, For the Calgary HeraldMay 10, 2009
Thank God for mothers! Mother's Day is an opportunity to make life special for them. It is a chance to celebrate family. I thank God for my mother, who died some years ago. There is one thing I regret: for too many years I did not appreciate her enough and took her for granted. She was always there for us.
I also thank God for my wife. We have been married for 43 years and have eight children and 41 grandchildren.
Mothers are the backbone of our society and the glue that holds a family together--their work is vital, but often unseen. We all need to show greater appreciation for them.
My favourite Hasidic saying goes, "God could not be everywhere at once, so he gave each child a mother!" Mothers should be proud to be mothers.
It is a God-given task and privilege. There is a mother's heart in every woman, whether married or single. In the past, motherhood was regarded as the noblest calling. Today it is too often pushed aside by more "desirable" occupations such as careers, and is sometimes seen as an inconvenience or even an embarrassment.
A true mother thinks day and night about the well-being of her children, and is the first to praise, comfort and protect them. She is willing to sacrifice her life for them. The pains of pregnancy and childbirth are borne by the mother, and she continues to carry the child in her heart her whole life.
Motherhood is a mystery. It is something truly divine for which every human heart longs. This is why mothers provide the most powerful influence on a child's life, and are the most important role models for positive change in our society.
When anyone is in trouble, or knows that they are dying, the first person they think of is their mother. When children start going down the wrong path, a mother's prayer is powerful. Mothers remind us that there is a loving God above us who will take good care of everyone, especially children. Whenever a tragedy occurs--no matter where in the world this happens--you will always find mothers both weeping for the dead and bringing comfort and security to the living.
As we seek to improve the education of our children, let us start by taking better care of our mothers. This will enable them to provide better homes for all of us, and ensure the survival of our society.
Never before in our history have so many men abandoned the children they fathered. Fathers are vanishing from their children's lives, not just physically, but legally. Therefore, congratulations to all single mothers and grandmothers who do their best to raise children on their own. They often struggle under the most difficult circumstances.
They are the real heroes of the family--and not just on Mother's Day.
Happy Mother's Day to all of you!
Johann christoph arnold is a pastor and author of 10 Books.
A leading Muslim scholar and author says those who question gender equity positions in Islam need to go back to the faith's roots before they criticize.
Jamal Badawi, a professor emeritus at St. Mary's University in Halifax, told a recent Social Issues conference sponsored by the Muslim Families Network Society that the Qur'an has specific laws with respect to the roles and rights of women.
"Where women in Muslim countries are the subject of oppression, it's often caused by individual, cultural and community practices, not the Pillars of Islam," said Badawi, who notes the media is often guilty of projecting the actions of a minority, driven by their own agendas, onto an entire religion.
"The acid test is always to go back to a faith's original sources, and this is not unique to Islam," he added. "It's fair to say the noble teachings of Christ were not well represented in the Crusades."
Badawi says the Qur'an gives clear instructions that men and women are created equal before God and that Muslim women have specific rights when it comes to financial, property and marital issues. "In terms of access to education, which has been in the news in Afghanistan, the prophet Muhammad said the seeking of knowledge is an obligation, not just a right, of all Muslims, men and women," Badawi added.
He noted much has been made of dress requirements for Muslim women, including the wearing of hijabs (head scarves), which are seen as repressive by many secular segments of society. However, he suggested a desire for modesty is a shared value across religious lines.
"There is an automatic assumption that some Muslim women dress as they do because of oppression by men and not by choice," said Badawi.
"In countries like France, they've taken it to an extreme where they say wearing a hijab is a political statement, not someone simply following their spiritual calling."
Badawi says while Canadian Muslims have endured negative stereotypes in media coverage, particularly since 9/11, they need to do a better job explaining the true nature of their faith.
"Islam is not a monolithic faith, there are a variety of cultural practices around the world," he said. "I tell Muslims across Canada to 'open up your mosques', talk to people of other faiths. Islam teaches us not to be isolated, but to reach out to their neighbours."
Badawi is a frequent speaker at both Muslim and interfaith conferences. He's also served as a volunteer imam for Halifax's Muslim community for many years.
obama's speech filled with dangerous equivocations
By Licia Corbella, Calgary HeraldJune 6, 2009
"The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching..." So goes the common chorus chanted by protesters when they confront riot police in any number of staredowns that have occurred around the world over the decades.
That refrain is intended to remind authorities that they will be held to account for how they react to the masses. It was true on Thursday as well, when the entire Muslim world tuned in to hear what U. S President Barack Obama had to say during his historic trip through Islamic states last week.
Many of us in the western world tuned in, too --hoping that the power of Obama's eloquent words would help to create an irreversible groundswell of support for human rights reforms craved by the masses in the Muslim world --where basic human rights are rare to non-existent.
Obama's speech started off well enough and, as is usual, it was beautifully written and remarkably delivered. Early on, he said: "As the Holy Qur'an tells us, 'Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.' That is what I will try to do today--to speak the truth as best I can...."Well, his best turned out to be not very good.
Obama hit on many topics, government, Israel, the sowing of hatred, the importance of religious tolerance and nuclear proliferation, but I was listening particularly for what he was going to say about women and how they are treated in the Muslim world. I pictured some of the women I met and grew to love in Afghanistan and Morocco listening and hoping that he would be bold. It was not to be.
"The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights," said Obama, who had to pause for the applause that erupted by the capacity crowd in the large auditorium at Cairo University.
"I know--I know--and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality." (Applause.) Most reasonable people would agree with the above statement.
It is here, however, that he should have said that, similarly, women in the Islamic world should not be forced to wear a hijab or niqab, where only the eyes are visible, or even worse, a burka, where even their eyes are covered by mesh for fear of being beaten, declared a whore or even killed. But he did not. Failing to do so was undoubtedly intentional, showed a lack of courage and was a missed opportunity.
"Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam," stated Obama. "In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslimmajority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world."
Not surprisingly, there was no applause here. That sentence was a shameful example of appeasement to the medieval-minded men who rule the Islamic world and an increasingly tiresome habit of Obama to see the sliver in the eye of America and ignore the plank in the eye of the regimes he is addressing.
To equate women's equality issues in the U. S. with those in the Muslim world is an abomination. The brutal dictators of the Muslim world will trot out that statement every time brave women in those countries cry out for equality.
Let's be clear. Obama knows full well, that before the law, all western women are equal citizens. That is not the case anywhere in the Muslim world.
In Saudi Arabia in 2002, that country's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving their blazing school because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress. The police beat the girls to prevent them from escaping. Fifteen of them died. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot drive. In the western world, not only can women drive but they can own their vehicle and earn the money to buy it.
In much of the Muslim world, women must seek the permission of a male relative to just leave their home. Western women are free to travel wherever and whenever they want by simply obtaining a passport. Here, it is against the law for a husband to beat his wife, yet in all of the Muslim world beating one's wife is not just condoned but encouraged and taught in the mosques.
Likening immense equality barriers facing Muslim women--including high rates of illiteracy--with those of the minor equality issues some North American women claim we still face, is an equivocation so bold as to be a lie.
That lie, I believe, will hold the rate of progress for Muslim women back. It is the trap door in the corner that Obama left open for brutal, misogynist leaders in the Muslim world to escape through. It is the door to the dungeon for the women.
I look forward to a time when the rights of women are not thrown down on the altar of culture, and to a time when Obama will stop with the phoney empathetic equivocations and start telling the truth the best he can.
Senior Saudi prince supports women's sports
By DONNA ABU-NASR, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Appealing to a powerful Saudi prince, an 8-year-old girl asked why she was not allowed to play sports in school like boys. She got an unexpected response: The prince said he hoped government schools for girls would allow playing fields.
The stand taken by Prince Khaled al-Faisal, governor of the holy city of Mecca and one of the most senior second-generation members of the royal family, on the controversial issue is the strongest official endorsement so far of women's sports and a sign the government may be tilting toward opening up on that front.
Physical education classes are banned in state-run girls schools in conservative Saudi Arabia. Saudi female athletes are not allowed to participate in the Olympics. Women's games and marathons have been canceled when the powerful clergy get wind of them. And some clerics even argue that running and jumping can damage a woman's hymen and ruin her chances of getting married.
Like other restrictions on women in the kingdom, including the ban on driving and voting, the prohibitions on sports stem from the strict version of Islam the kingdom follows. Conservative clerics have strong influence on government and society, and they ban anything they believe might lead to women's emancipation or encourage women to abandon conservative Muslim values.
Despite the obstacles, there has been some progress in the past couple of years on this issue. Some Saudi women have quietly been forming soccer, basketball, volleyball and other teams throughout the kingdom.
Princess Adelah, King Abdullah's daughter, recently spoke publicly about the need to "seriously and realistically look into the issue of introducing sports in girls' schools because of the rise in diseases linked to obesity and lack of movement," according to Al-Riyadh newspaper. About 52 percent of Saudi men and 66 percent of women are either obese or overweight, according to Saudi press reports.
And on Sunday, the National Retirement Association, a voluntary group that works under the umbrella of the Jiddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, opened a half-mile (one-kilometer) walkway inside a Jiddah mall for female retirees to encourage them to lead active lives. Dressed in the long black cloaks women have to wear in public and clutching their handbags, a few women took part in a "marathon" soon after it opened.
Khaled's remarks, which he made at the launch of a project Monday aimed at developing cultural and sporting activities in the western city of Jiddah, gives a boost to these individual efforts. The prince is interested in sports and has served as head of the General Presidency for Youth Welfare, the federation that oversees it.
According to local newspapers, the 8-year-old girl told Khaled: "I ask myself why is it that only boys can play sports and have courts while we girls don't have anything?"
"I hope to see sports courts for girls inside girls' schools," the prince responded, according to Al-Hayat newspaper.
He said if this were to happen, it will be in coordination with the Education Ministry and "according to certain mechanisms that take into consideration women's privacy in this country."
His remarks came amid an intense debate over the issue in Saudi newspapers. The government allows such debates because the views expressed by the readers, columnists and clerics help it to gauge people's opinions over controversial issues.
A statement issued by three senior clerics last month lashed out at Saudis who demand the opening of more gyms for women, saying such a move would "open the doors wide for spreading decadence."
"It is well-known that only women with no shame will go to these clubs," said the statement signed by clerics Abdul-Rahman al-Barrack, Abdul-Aziz al-Rajihi and Abdullah bin Jibrin.
In a recent column in Al-Watan newspaper, Sheik Abdullah al-Mani, an adviser at the royal court, said virgins should think twice before engaging in sports.
"Soccer or basketball require running and jumping and these could damage (a woman's) the hymen," he wrote. "If she marries, her husband will ... think that her hymen was destroyed as a result of an (immoral) action."
"He will either divorce her or lose confidence in her chastity," he added.
His words triggered an angry response from Al-Watan columnist Haleema Muthafar.
"I'd like to ask the sheikh, "If in his opinion the hymen is the reason why girls should not engage in sports, what about married women? What's to stop them?" she wrote.
Afghan Shi'ites demand ratification of women's law
By Golnar Motevalli, ReutersJune 27, 2009 7:01 AM
Afghan women attend a gathering in support of the Shi'ite Personal Status Law in Kabul June 27, 2009. About 1,000 Afghan Shi'ite Muslims rallied in Kabul on Saturday to demand the ratification of a controversial law which contains harsh provisions on women some critics have called a step back towards Taliban-era rules.
Photograph by: Ahmad Masood,
REUTERSKABUL -- About 1,000 Afghan Shi'ite Muslims rallied in Kabul on Saturday to demand the ratification of a controversial law which contains harsh provisions on women some critics have called a step back towards Taliban-era rules.
The Shi'ite Personal Status Law applies to Shi'ites who make up about 15 percent of Afghanistan's roughly 30 million people. It requires women to satisfy their husband's sexual appetites, which critics have said could be used to justify marital rape.
U.S. President Barack Obama has called the law "abhorrent" and the United Nations and other rights groups have called for it be scrapped or changed. It has been under review by Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice since May.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who approved the law earlier this year, was forced to review the decision after Western leaders and Afghan women's rights groups expressed dismay.
"The law was approved by the president. But because of criticisms by some people, it's been delayed ... these people are here to show how much support there is for the law," Shi'ite cleric Sayed Hossein Alemi Balkhi told Reuters on the sidelines of the rally, which was attended by about 300 women.
Other provisions of the law require wives to get permission when leaving the home unless for employment, education or medical reasons, and to allow a man to order his wife to wear make-up.
Balkhi dismissed concerns from rights groups and female Afghan politicians that the law could be used to justify marital rape, saying their claims were incorrect.
"We are prepared to sit down with Western lawmakers and discuss the law, theological issues aside ... our point is that this law actually goes beyond Western laws in terms of protecting women's rights," Balkhi said.
"Western law says that women do not need to obey men and men do not have to determine women's expenses ... but here the principle is that the wife's expenses should be met by the husband ... he needs to buy his wife's food, clothes, even her make-up, and when she is ill he must look after her," he said.
The rally was staged at the turquoise-domed Khatam-ul-Nabiin mosque being built by the law's main backer, Ayatollah Mohammad Asef Mohseni.
"Let them sort out the problems of their own women before they start telling us how to solve ours," said Zeinab Nabavi, a 22-year old student and one of the rally organisers.
"These problems ... these are a matter of theology and faith, the West has no right to interfere," she said.
Like most women sitting in a female-only section under a makeshift canopy, Nabavi wore a long, black chador, the billowing Islamic covering popular in neighbouring majority-Shi'ite Iran.
Balkhi dismissed suggestions the law was an attempt to impose Iranian-style rules on Afghanistan's Shi'ite minority, who were persecuted under the Taliban's strict Sunni Muslim regime.
"Iran is one country, Afghanistan is another. This is not just a law for Iran or Afghanistan," he said.
Nabavi said women would continue to obey the law even if it was not ratified again. " ... practically speaking, from a social point of view, it's happening anyway," she said.
When Canada guaranteed gender equality in our Constitution during my tenure at law school, 27 years ago, I felt invincible. Canadian women had been handed equality on a legal platter. It's heartening to see Canadians--both men and women--now openly talking about what the right to gender equality really means.
In June, when Alberta's Finance Minister Iris Evans offered up wellintended parenting advice--to raise children "properly" one parent should stay at home while the other goes to work--Alberta's wellintended fathers and mothers were outraged by her assumptions. Last week, the National Post's editorial board lambasted Sheila Copps for going deliriously over the top in her accusations about gender discrimination in politics. Why, they asked, do left-wing activists pretend that Canada is hell on Earth? Calgary Herald editorial page editor Licia Corbella has plunged hip-wader deep into these same churning waters. After U. S. President Barack Obama's Cairo speech in early June, Corbella chided the American president for his dangerous moral equivocation. How could he liken immense equality barriers facing women in Muslimmajority countries with minor equality dilemmas in North America? Now Corbella is lobbying to ban the burka in Canada.
In a perfect world, women (and men) would have choices that they could freely exercise. Islamic women living in Muslim-majority countries, or right here in Canada, would independently choose whether or not to veil. Parents would choose to build a one-income or a two-income nest to nurture their young. And, we wouldn't treat female politicians any differently from their male counterparts.
Certainly, Canada is not hell on Earth. It is a wonderful country where we are free to have this conversation. But we don't live in a perfect world. Even in Canada where the justice system is transparent and people have constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms, women don't always have a full range of choices. My law school professors may wince to hear me admit this. Legal rights, alone, do not guarantee equality.
Certainly, Canada could pass laws to mandate gender diversity in our political and corporate life. Quotas for women on corporate boards have been legally mandated in many western countries, such as Norway and Spain, and quotas for female politicians are gaining popularity in Africa and the Middle East. And, we could pass laws to ban the burka or even the face veil. We legitimately need to see the faces of females who vote or testify in court. Again, it's been done in Turkey, in France, and when I was in Oman this May, I was surprised to learn that the Omani government has banned face veils for girls in schools and universities. But, let's face facts. If we impose quotas for female politicians or females in business, or ban the burka, backlash is a real threat. These are complex dilemmas that aren't fixed by slapping on a legal Band-Aid.
Let's focus instead on the root causes of these issues. Why is it that some women have the self-assurance --the chutzpah--to stare down negative stereotypes in the workplace, or abuse at home, while other women do not? This is the conundrum we need to tackle. What influences are at play that allow women to see their full range of choices, and more importantly, to exercise real choice? Education-- allowing females and males to reach their full potential-- is critical if we are to give people real choice in their lives.
Gender equality is complex, and even in a secular country such as Canada, it's deeply personal. We need to keep talking through the dilemmas to tease out rules of engagement--in our globalizing world, in the workplace, in our communities, in places of faith and most importantly, within our families.
Dialogue breaks down as we probe deeper into the gender dilemmas that lie within our communities, our faith and our families. Yet it is at these inner layers where subtle patriarchy still exists in the West. Women, and men, need to keep talking.
Donna Kennedy-Glans is founDer of BriDGes social Development anD author of unveilinG the Breath: one woman's journey into unDerstanDinG islam anD GenDer equality
The words of God do not justify cruelty to women
Discrimination and abuse wrongly backed by doctrine are damaging society, argues the former US president
Jimmy Carter The Observer, Sunday 12 July 2009
"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status ..." (Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:2
I have been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when th e convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. This was in conflict with my belief - confirmed in the holy scriptures - that we are all equal in the eyes of God.
This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. It is widespread. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths.
Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.
At their most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.
The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.
In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.
The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in Britain and the United States. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for everyone in society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.
It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and out-dated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.
I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive area to challenge.
But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.
The Elders have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."
We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.
Although not having training in religion or theology, I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar Biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.
At the same time, I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.
I know, too, that Billy Graham, one of the most widely respected and revered Christians during my lifetime, did not understand why women were prevented from being priests and preachers. He said: "Women preach all over the world. It doesn't bother me from my study of the scriptures."
The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.
Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.
Saudi beauty queen wins without showing her face
Herald News Services
July 25, 2009 7:32 AM
Saudi beauty queen Aya Ali al-Mulla trounced 274 rivals to win a crown, jewelry, cash and a trip to Malaysia-- all without showing her face, Saudi media reported Friday.
With her face and body completely covered by the black head-to-toe abaya mandatory in the conservative Muslim kingdom, 18-year-old Mulla was named "Queen of Beautiful Morals" late Thursday, newspapers reported.
There was none of the swimsuit and evening gown competitions and heavy media coverage of beauty pageants elsewhere when the contest was decided in the eastern city of Safwa.
Instead, the winner and the two runner-up princesses had to undergo a three-month test of their dutifulness to their parents and family, and their service to society.
This included a battery of personal, cultural, social and psychological tests, Al-Watan reported.
It was unclear exactly what Mulla did to defeat her rivals in the huge field, but Al-Watan reported that the high school graduate had good grades and hopes to go into medicine.
She raked in a 5,000-riyal ($1,445) prize, a pearl necklace, diamond watch, diamond necklace and a free ticket to Malaysia with her win.
Contests focused on physical beauty don't exist in Saudi Arabia, where women must appear in public completely covered.
Woman risks lash in trouser test case
By Andrew Heavens, ReutersJuly 30, 2009
Sudanese journalist Lubna Ahmed in trousers that got her arrested.
Photograph by: Ashraf Shazly, AFP-Getty Images, Reuters
A Sudanese woman facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public made her first appearance in a court packed with supporters on Wednesday, in what her lawyer described as a test case of Sudan's decency laws.
There were chaotic scenes as Lubna Hussein, a former journalist who works for the United Nations, attended the hearing wearing the same green slacks that got her arrested for immodest dress.
Indecency cases are not uncommon in Sudan, where there is a large cultural gap between the mostly Muslim and Arab-oriented north and the mainly black and Christian south.
But Hussein has attracted attention by publicizing her case, inviting journalists to hearings and using it to campaign against dress codes sporadically imposed in the capital.
The case was adjourned Wednesday as lawyers discussed whether her status as a UN employee gave her legal immunity.
After the hearing, defence lawyer Nabil Adib Abdalla said Hussein had agreed to resign from the UN in time for the next court session on Aug. 4 to make sure the case continued.
"First of all she wants to show she is totally innocent, and using her immunity will not prove that," Abdalla told reporters. "Second she wants to fight the law. The law is too wide. It needs to be reformed....This is turning into a test case. Human rights groups will be watching this closely."
He said Hussein was ready to face the maximum penalty for the criminal offence of wearing indecent dress in public--40 lashes and an unlimited fine. Before the hearing, Hussein told Reuters she was arrested in early July when police raided a party at a restaurant in Khartoum's Riyadh district.
"Thousands of women are punished with lashes in Sudan but they stay silent," she said. "The law is being used to harass women and I want to expose this."
A number of women arrested with her had received lashes, Hussein said, but her case was sent for trial when she called in a lawyer. Scores of women, some wearing slacks and jeans, came to the hearing. Some waved small placards saying "Lashing people is against human rights."
The trial was also attended by diplomats from the embassies of France, Canada, Sweden and Spain, alongside politicians and members of the Sudanese Women's Union.
UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon said he was " deeply concerned" by the case. "Flogging is against the international human rights standards," Ban told reporters in New York. "I call on all parties to live up to their obligations under all relevant international instruments."
Sudanese woman dares judges to order flogging
Canwest News ServiceAugust 2, 2009 7:44 AM
A journalist arrested for wearing pants has become a thorn in the Sudanese government's side and a symbol for women's rights across Africa.
Lubna Hussein was arrested last month at a Khartoum restaurant as a "trouser girl" and brought before a court to face a likely sentence of 40 lashes for the "sin" of not wearing traditional Islamic dress.
Hussein was one of 14 women arrested at the Kawkab Elsharq Hall, a popular meeting place for the Sudanese capital's intellectuals and journalists. Most of them were detained for wearing pants.
She was released from custody after her first court appearance last week, and has since appeared on television and radio to argue her case, which has made headlines around the world.
Hussein said when she reappears in court Tuesday, she will dare the judges to have her flogged, as she makes a stand for women's
rights in one of Africa's most conservative nations.
"I want to stand up for the rights of women, and now the eyes of the world are on this case, I have a chance to draw attention to the plight of women in Sudan," Hussein, a widow in her late 30s who works as a journalist, said Saturday.
The subjugation of women 21st century style
By Mark Milke, Calgary HeraldAugust 2, 2009
The recent murder charges against Mohammad Shafia, his second wife and 18-year-old son in the alleged "honour killing" of Shafia's three girls and their step-mom bring into relief the status of women around the world. The alleged Kingston murders are a tragic reminder that the emancipation argued for by John Stuart Mill in the 1869 essay, The Subjection of Women--co-written with his wife Harriet Taylor Mill (or, some assert, she with him), is far from realization for too many.
I've taught a number of university classes and the young Muslim women do exceptionally well. I don't know if that's because they have parents who push them to succeed, or whether they appreciate Canada's opportunities (and in contrast to the choices denied to their mothers who are often from more restrictive societies).
Insofar as the Kingston murders become an example of the entrenched attitudes of some males in Muslim-dominated societies, or even within Islamic "ghettos" in other societies, there is a double tragedy at work. Where the bias against women exists, both the women and their societies lose out.
For instance, one young Muslim woman I know came from a relatively more liberal Muslim country but still prefers to not settle back home. Male attitudes toward her gender are the reason.
It doesn't take long to find recent examples of women's suffering beyond even the alleged Shafia family murders with plenty of criticism from those in Muslim society itself.
A female Sudanese journalist, Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, now faces 40 lashes in Sudan for the "crime" of offending that country's decency laws--al-Hussein wore pants. She pointed out that thousands of other women have endured such punishment without protest and publicity--which is why she will publicly protest, this in an effort to change the law.
In France, in 2004, an imam in Lyon, Chirane Abdelkader Bouziane, was deported after he told a magazine reporter it was permissible for men to beat their wives--so long as they avoided blows to the upper body. (Apparently France, unlike Canada with our ridiculously restrictive court judgments, can actually deport such people.)
There are worse and more violent examples of predatory male behaviour and discrimination.
In Pakistan, in 2006, the government caved in and amended rape laws that made it all but impossible for a woman to get a successful rape conviction --a woman who claims to have been raped must produce four witnesses.
In the case of Rona Amir Mohammad--Shafia's first wife (fraudulently portrayed as an "aunt" after the Afghan family moved to Canada), Shafia confiscated her passport, wouldn't let her use the phone and threatened her with beatings, this according to her brother.
According to the National Post, one of the now-dead daughters, 19-year-old Zainab Shafia, was beaten by her father and brother; she was also threatened with death--this after the 19-year-old developed a relationship with a young Pakistani man; her father disapproved.
Some Muslims might defend a more conservative approach to family, dress and sexuality. That's fine, but vastly different from the assertion one's own preferences or those of male relatives should trump those of individual women who dissent from such pressure.
Fortunately, some such as al-Hussein and others, do dissent.
In 2007, the Middle East Media Research Institute published a selection of cartoons from Arab newspapers which sympathetically portrayed the plight of women in Arab societies. The cartoons (which can be found at memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=IA39707) came from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt. One Syrian cartoon shows a couple on stage with the man in the spotlight; the woman remains in the dark. A Saudi Arabian cartoon portrays a boy and girl at dinner with a large chicken leg shared between them but the girl only has access to the bare part of the fowl's leg--boys feast while girls are denied. Another Syrian cartoon shows a woman hooded and in chains-- Guantanamo Bay-prisoner style; an illustration from a Jordan newspaper displays a woman in a bird cage with the following inscription: "Some of our Customs and Traditions."
Muslim women who find it difficult to advance against family pressure in Canada, or especially in more conservative Islamic countries where freedom is even more restricted due to additional legal discrimination, have an ally in John and Harriet Mill.
The Mills admitted it was difficult to challenge entrenched opinions; they also thought it "useless" to complain that those with the prejudicial attitudes should bear the burden of proof.
The problem was not that defenders of the status quo lack an ability to reason but that rational faculties were too often overridden by something more powerful: irrational prejudices. The prejudiced, wrote the Mills, had "too much faith in custom and the general feeling."
It is hard to reason people out of their deeply held biases-- that was the problem the Mills faced in the 19th century and what too many Muslim women face now.
The article below demonstrates that discrimination and violence against women is not just a tendency in Islamic societies but it is more universal. Islam when correctly interpreted has given more dignity and respect to women as mentioned in many earlier articles in this thread.
August 8, 2009
ColumnistWomen at Risk
By BOB HERBERT
“I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me,” wrote George Sodini in a blog that he kept while preparing for this week’s shooting in a Pennsylvania gym in which he killed three women, wounded nine others and then killed himself.
We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.
Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.
I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.
According to police accounts, Sodini walked into a dance-aerobics class of about 30 women who were being led by a pregnant instructor. He turned out the lights and opened fire. The instructor was among the wounded.
We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.
We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.
The mainstream culture is filled with the most gruesome forms of misogyny, and pornography is now a multibillion-dollar industry — much of it controlled by mainstream U.S. corporations.
One of the striking things about mass killings in the U.S. is how consistently we find that the killers were riddled with shame and sexual humiliation, which they inevitably blamed on women and girls. The answer to their feelings of inadequacy was to get their hands on a gun (or guns) and begin blowing people away.
What was unusual about Sodini was how explicit he was in his blog about his personal shame and his hatred of women. “Why do this?” he asked. “To young girls? Just read below.” In his gruesome, monthslong rant, he managed to say, among other things: “It seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little [expletive] has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason.”
I was reminded of the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in a rampage at the university in 2007. While Cho shot males as well as females, he was reported to have previously stalked female classmates and to have leaned under tables to take inappropriate photos of women. A former roommate said Cho once claimed to have seen “promiscuity” when he looked into the eyes of a woman on campus.
Soon after the Virginia Tech slayings, I interviewed Dr. James Gilligan, who spent many years studying violence as a prison psychiatrist in Massachusetts and as a professor at Harvard and N.Y.U. “What I’ve concluded from decades of working with murderers and rapists and every kind of violent criminal,” he said, “is that an underlying factor that is virtually always present to one degree or another is a feeling that one has to prove one’s manhood, and that the way to do that, to gain the respect that has been lost, is to commit a violent act.”
Life in the United States is mind-bogglingly violent. But we should take particular notice of the staggering amounts of violence brought down on the nation’s women and girls each and every day for no other reason than who they are. They are attacked because they are female.
A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count.
There were so many sexual attacks against women in the armed forces that the Defense Department had to revise its entire approach to the problem.
We would become much more sane, much healthier, as a society if we could bring ourselves to acknowledge that misogyny is a serious and pervasive problem, and that the twisted way so many men feel about women, combined with the absurdly easy availability of guns, is a toxic mix of the most tragic proportions.
Patriarchy progressively challenged by female reformers in the name of original Islam.
By John Esposito – WASHINGTON, DC
Like the status of women in all the World's religions, in Islam and Muslim societies patriarchy played and in many cases continues to influence the status and roles of women. The place of women in the formative period of Islam reflected Qur'anic concerns for the status and rights of women as well as the patriarchal structure of the societies in which Islamic law was developed and elaborated. The status of women and the family in Islamic law was the product of Arab culture, Qur'anic reforms, and foreign ideas and values assimilated from conquered peoples. While the Qur'an introduced substantial reforms, providing new regulations and modifying local custom and practice, at the same time, much of the traditional pre-Islamic social structure with its extended family, the paramount position of males, the roles and responsibilities of its members, and family values was incorporated.
A new source of women's empowerment today has become active participation in the mosque and use of Islam's tradition to reclaim their rights in Islam. Reformers today emphasize that just as women during the time of the Prophet prayed in the mosque, so too today they actively exercise that right. In the centuries after the death of Muhammad, women played a small but significant role as transmitters of hadith (prophetic traditions) and in the development of Sufism (Islamic mysticism). Gradually, however, women's religious role and practice, particularly their access to education and the mosque, were severely restricted. Male religious scholars cited a variety of reasons, from moral degeneration in society to women's bringing temptation and social discord, to restrict both their presence in public life and their access to education and the mosque.
Today, in many Muslim countries and communities, particularly those that have been regarded as among the more modernized, such as Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, and in America, women lead and participate in Quran study and recitation groups as well as mosque-based educational and social services. In countries like Iran, women serve as prayer leaders (Imams) for congregational prayers; however, they are only permitted to lead groups of women. Female reformers look to early Islam for examples of women noted for their learning, leadership, and piety to strengthen the rationales for women's contemporary role in public activities. Strong public female figures during the Prophet's time include Khadija, Muhammad's first wife of twenty-five years, who owned her own business in which Muhammad had been employed and played a formative and significant role in the birth of the Muslim community. After Khadija's death, Muhammad's wife Aisha was very prominent as a major source of religious knowledge, an authority in history, medicine and rhetoric.
Though patriarchy, legitimated in the past by religion, remains very much alive as an ideology and value system, in many Muslim countries it is progressively challenged by women, also in the name of religion as well as economic realities. Rather than breaking with tradition, female reformers argue that their religious activism today reclaims an ideal "forgotten" by later generations. As a result of this new discourse, increasing numbers of women have an alternative paradigm that enables them to broaden their expectations both inside and outside the home.
Today, the status and roles of women vary considerably, influenced as much by literacy, education, and economic development as by religion. Some women wear stylish Islamic dress, some are veiled and some wear Western fashions. While in some sex-segregated countries educated Muslim women are not visible in the work place, in other countries women work as engineers, doctors, scientists, teachers, and lawyers alongside their male colleagues. The veil has become a particularly charged symbol; yet even the wearing of the veil has diverse meaning for wearers and observers. A modern Muslim woman isn't necessarily wearing Western clothes and a veiled woman isn't necessarily oppressed.
The complexity of women's status is illustrated by many country-specific contradictions.
While women cannot vote in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, in almost every other Muslim country, they do vote and run for political office, serve in parliaments and as head of state or vice president in Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
Saudi women own 70% of the savings in Saudi banks and own 61% of private firms in the Kingdom; they own much of the real estate in Riyadh and Jeddah, and can own and manage their own businesses, but they are sexually segregated, restricted to "appropriate" professions and cannot drive a car.
In nearby Kuwait, women freely function in society, hold responsible positions in many areas, but, despite getting the right to vote in 2005, only this year won seats (4) in parliamentary elections.
In modern-day Egypt women could not until recently serve as judges, but in Morocco more than 20% of judges are women.
In Afghanistan and in some areas of Pakistan, the Taliban in the name of Islam, have forced professional women to give up their jobs and prohibited girls from attending school. In Iran, where women must cover their hair and wear long-sleeved, ankle-length outfits in public, they constitute the majority of university students, hold professional positions, and serve in parliament. A woman is Vice President in this Islamic Republic.
In some parts of the world, women's basic literacy and education reflects serious inequality: in Yemen women's literacy is only 28% vs. 70% for men; in Pakistan, it is 28% vs. 53% for men. Percentages of women pursuing post-secondary educations dip as low as 8% and 13% in Morocco and Pakistan respectively (comparable to 3.7% in Brazil, or 11% in the Czech Republic).
But these figures do not represent the entire Muslim world; women's literacy rates in Iran and Saudi Arabia are 70% and as high as 85% in Jordan and Malaysia. In education, significant percentages of women in Iran (52%), Egypt (34%), Saudi Arabia (32%), and Lebanon (37%) have post-secondary educations. In the UAE, as in Iran, the majority of university students are women.
What about Muslim attitudes today regarding women's rights. Majorities in some of the most conservative Muslim societies do support equal rights. Majorities in virtually every country surveyed say women should have the same legal rights as men: to vote without influence from family members, to work at any job for which they qualify, and to serve in the highest levels of government. In fact, majorities of both men and women in dozens of Muslim countries around the world believe women should have the:
--same legal rights as men : 61% of Saudis, 85% of Iranians and 90% range in Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh and Lebanon say that men and women should have the same legal rights.
--right to work outside the home in any job for which a woman qualifies (90% in Malaysia, 86% in Turkey, 85% in Egypt and 69% in Saudi Arabia)
--right to vote without interference from family members (80% in Indonesia, 89% in Iran, 67% in Pakistan, 90% in Bangladesh, 76% in Jordan, 93% in Turkey and 56% in Saudi Arabia)
None of these examples should make anyone complacent about the condition of many women in Muslim (or Western) societies. Patriarchy and its legacy, legitimated in the name of religion, remains alive in many countries although it is also progressively challenged in the name of religion.
John L. Esposito is University Professor and Founding Director of the Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He is co-author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.
NAIROBI, Kenya — This is not about pants, Lubna Hussein insists. It is about principles.
A woman should be able to wear what she wants and not be publicly whipped for it, says Mrs. Hussein, a defiant Sudanese journalist, and on Monday her belief will be put to the test.
Mrs. Hussein has been charged in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, with indecent dress, a crime that carries a $100 fine and 40 lashings. She was arrested in July, along with 12 other women, who were caught at a cafe wearing trousers.
Sudan is partially ruled by Islamic law, which emphasizes modest dress for women. Mrs. Hussein, 34, has pleaded not guilty and is daring the Sudanese authorities to punish her.
“I am Muslim; I understand Muslim law,” Mrs. Hussein said in an interview. “But I ask: what passage in the Koran says women can’t wear pants? This is not nice.”
Mrs. Hussein even printed up invitation cards for her initial court date in July and sent out e-mail messages asking people to witness her whipping, if it came to that. She said she wanted the world to see how Sudan treated women.
Hundreds of Sudanese women — many wearing pants — swarmed in front of the court where the trial was supposed to take place, protesting that the law was unfair. Twice now, the trial has been postponed. Some of the other women arrested with Mrs. Hussein have pleaded guilty and were lashed as a result. Past floggings have been carried out with plastic whips that leave permanent scars.
“The flogging, yes, it causes pain,” Mrs. Hussein said. “But more important, it is an insult. This is why I want to change the law.”
The law in contention here is Article 152 of Sudan’s penal code. Concisely stated, the law says that up to 40 lashes and a fine should be assessed anyone “who commits an indecent act which violates public morality or wears indecent clothing.”
The question is: what exactly is indecent clothing?
In Sudan, some women wear veils and loose fitting dresses; others do not. Northern Sudanese, who are mostly Muslim, are supposed to obey Islamic law, while southern Sudanese, who are mostly Christian, are not. Mrs. Hussein argues that Article 152 is intentionally vague, in part to punish women.
Rabie A. Atti, a Sudanese government spokesman, said the law was meant for the opposite reason, to “protect the people.”
“We have an act controlling the behavior of women and men so the behavior doesn’t harm others, whether it’s speech or dress or et cetera,” he said.
But, he insisted, Mrs. Hussein must have done something else to run afoul of the authorities, besides wearing pants.
“You come to Khartoum and you will see for yourself,” he said. “Many women, in offices and wedding ceremonies, wear trousers.”
“Thousands of girls wear the trousers,” he added.
Asked what other offenses Mrs. Hussein may have committed, Mr. Atti said that the case file was secret and that he did not know.
Mrs. Hussein countered that she did not do anything else that might have violated the law, and that countless people from inside and outside Sudan are supporting her.
“It’s well known that Sudanese women are pioneers in the history of women’s rights in this region, and that we won our rights a long time ago because of our awareness, open mind, good culture and struggle,” she said.
The last time Sudan’s courts handled a case that attracted such international attention, they found a compromise solution. A British schoolteacher faced up to 40 lashes and six months in prison for allowing her students to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, which was perceived as an insult to Islam. But after being sentenced to 15 days in jail, she was soon pardoned by the Sudanese president.
A widow with no children, Mrs. Hussein is a career journalist who recently worked as a public information assistant for the United Nations in Sudan. She quit, she said, because she did not want to get the United Nations embroiled in her case. But Sudan, given its renewed interest in normalizing relations with the United States, might be reluctant to draw much international ire by harshly punishing her.
Protesters are expected to come out on her behalf again when Mrs. Hussein returns to court Monday morning. She says her family is also behind her.
“My mother supports me,” she said, “but she is worried for me and prays for me.”
This is not exactly about Islam but I wondered about the women as the national or political leaders and found that not a lot of women have been on that stage in western democracies with the exception of Great Britain and couple of others comparing with the record of women as head of states or head of a government (Prime Minister or President) in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe…and this, so called or self proclaimed champion of women and human rights – USA, hasn’t had a single such incident in its 233 years of democracy…they even had only founding fathers and no founding mother...Who bombed the idea of “All ‘men’ are created equal” and that country gave women the right to vote about a century and half later in 1920…what a hall of sham independence! tsk-tsk...
Following are couple of links on that…and some notables are, specially in such male dominated societies due to their religious and social customs) India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia…etc.
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