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.
Egypt cleric OKs pants for women
REUTERS 18 September 2009, 01:12am IST
CAIRO: Egypt’s top Islamic authority has defended women’s rights to wear trousers in public following a high profile court case in neighboring Sudan where women were flogged for dressing in pants.
Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said in a public lecture on Monday that trousers covering women’s bodies are permitted, emphazing they should be loose and not see through.
Gomaa’s remarks were published Wednesday in the Egyptian daily al- Shorouk as well as other newspaper. His answer was in response to a question from the audience.
Sudan caused a stir when it flogged 10 women for wearing trousers. One contested penalty and was let off with a fine for public indecency in a trial that garnered international attention.
Egypt also has vaguely worded indecency laws that can be widely applied, but women are given quite a bit of leeway in their attire.
While a vast majority of Egyptian women wear headscarves and robes, western style dresses, including trousers, is also quite common.
Kuwait to Allow Women to Travel Without Husband's Consent
By Edward Yeranian
21 October 2009
Kuwait's constitutional court ruled Wednesday that Kuwaiti women have the right to travel without their husband's permission, revoking a 1962 passport law. Women in other Gulf States, like Saudi Arabia, still need permission from a close male relative to travel.
Kuwait took another step in favor of women's rights when the country's constitutional court ruled that women do not need to obtain their husband's consent before obtaining a passport to travel.
The high court, whose rulings may not be appealed, struck down part of a 1962 law that stipulated that women may not be granted a passport without the approval of their husbands.
Kuwait granted women the right to vote in 2005. Tribal and hardline Islamist members of parliament opposed the move, before being outvoted.
It was not until 2009, however, that women were first elected to parliament. Kuwait's Islamists insist that Islamic law forbids women from holding positions of leadership.
The ruling by Kuwait's constitutional court states that the 1962 passport law, requiring a woman to obtain their husbands' consent, violated the state's constitution, which assures personal freedom and gender equality.
The high court reached its decision after hearing the case of a Kuwaiti woman whose husband had refused to hand over her passport and those of her children to prevent them from leaving the country.
Hala Mustafa is a senior editor with Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper and editor of the periodical Al-Demoqratiya.
"Women in Kuwait are progressing today, and I think that this step is very positive," she said. "It could be seen in the view of many outside the Arab world as a very little step toward liberation of women or liberalization, in general. But taking into consideration the very conservative type of the [Persian] Gulf area in general - and Kuwait is part of this area - I think this could be considered a very significant step toward [opening up] the system and also as a kind of social revolution."
Mustafa says she thinks that the conservative Wahabite sect of Islam, which dominates parts of the Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, is responsible for the lack of gender equality in many Gulf countries.
"The debate in Saudi Arabia," she added, "is still over allowing women the right to drive their own cars. This signifies that the debate there still hasn't progressed beyond square one."
Exclusive: The Aga Khan, Women and Development: The Path of Education
Research Associate, Hauser Center for Nonprofits, Harvard University
Posted: December 21, 2009 02:10 AM
"I believe the message of Islam is the dignity with which we must treat women in society...and I think it is correct that education dignifies women," His Highness Karim Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's Shia Ismaili Muslims, explained to a BBC reporter at the turn of the century. Like his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah, who was once President of the League of Nations, the Aga Khan has been an ardent supporter of educating women in the developing world for decades. Recently celebrating his 73rd birthday, the 49th hereditary Imam and direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad is still tireless in his effort, pragmatic in his approach, and strategic in his vision. As a religious leader, his moral obligation, rooted in the principles of Islam, holds him to both interpret the faith and improve the quality of life within the communities and societies in which his followers live. In his dual role, the Aga Khan is also founder and Chairman of one of the largest private development networks in the world, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), active in over 25 countries and employing over 70,000 people.
In an interview with Dr. Tom Kessinger, head of the Aga Khan Foundation and Deputy Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, he asserts that "mothers are the primary nurturers of the family, and our experience and data shows that the more education women have the more successfully they play that role." Furthermore, he notes, "the daughter of a literate mother is more likely to finish school than the daughter of an illiterate mother." Education, therefore, has been a strong pillar of the Aga Khan's development efforts around the world. By targeting critical professions that tend to be highly populated amongst women such as nursing, midwifery, and pre-collegiate education, AKDN's strategic investment in the education of women also results in the delivery of essential public goods.
In Pakistan, the Aga Khan University's School of Nursing (AKU-SON), one of the many schools of AKU, has redefined the occupation's entry-level qualification. Building on the British-style diploma, AKU-SON has professionalized the field of nursing by offering undergraduate and graduate training. Moreover, establishing a leading institute of academic excellence nearly 30 years ago has raised the status of the profession in both remuneration and respect, and as a result, steadily increased the status of women. Calculated, long-term investments that tackle multiple issues at once through, for example, the path of education, distinguish AKDN from many other development agencies.
Another example of matching the key needs of women to the most urgent needs of a population focuses on AKDN's strategic involvement in the Badakshan province of northeast Afghanistan. Attempting to address one of the worst rates of maternal mortality in the world, AKDN has developed an initiative for young women--recruited by their villages--to attend midwifery training for 18 months. These and countless other ambitions realized by His Highness are progressively uplifting the status of women and providing them with access to social, economic and political opportunities otherwise unavailable in developing societies.
"The AKDN has integrated initiatives in each of these professions [nursing, midwifery, and pre-collegiate education], and with clear direction by His Highness, the focus is to not only build competence in these fields through teaching, but to also build confidence within the trainees. While competence is important, it is confidence that allows one to undertake a larger leadership role in these settings," continued Dr. Kessinger.
In a fundamental shift of consciousness within the international development framework, women and girls are finally viewed as propellers of progress, rather than as impediments to growth. And while firmly placed on today's global agenda of development, and fully integrated into world fora such as the Clinton Global Initiative and the World Economic Forum, the value of investing in the education of women and girls is far from a novel consideration: in 1945, the Aga Khan's grandfather stated that "Personally, if I had two children, and one was a boy and the other was a girl, and if I could afford to only educate one, I would have no hesitation in giving the higher education to the girl." As women place a much stronger emphasis on educating their children--boys and girls--than men do, and invest their income accordingly, it is no longer a secret that to educate a woman is to educate a nation.
Today, the AKDN continues to reflect this measured approach in all its development efforts around the world, and recognizes women and girls' education as a vital component to building respectful, equal and stable societies. As development agencies integrate their efforts to reduce the massive inequalities plaguing women and girls worldwide -- an undeniable moral disaster of our time -- we must never forget the value of human dignity, and the power of education to dignify.
Rahim Kanani is a Research Associate in Justice and Human Rights at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard Kennedy School.
He has worked with with Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard School of Public Health’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research, Harvard’s Pluralism Project, Amnesty International’s USA Headquarters, the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and various United Nations agencies focusing on issues of international torture and gender violence in conflict zones.
Rahim holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Western Ontario and an MSc in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
He can be reached at rahim_kanani [at] hks.harvard.edu.
January 10, 2010
Religion and Women
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Religions derive their power and popularity in part from the ethical compass they offer. So why do so many faiths help perpetuate something that most of us regard as profoundly unethical: the oppression of women?
It is not that warlords in Congo cite Scripture to justify their mass rapes (although the last warlord I met there called himself a pastor and wore a button reading “rebels for Christ”). It’s not that brides are burned in India as part of a Hindu ritual. And there’s no verse in the Koran that instructs Afghan thugs to throw acid in the faces of girls who dare to go to school.
Yet these kinds of abuses — along with more banal injustices, like slapping a girlfriend or paying women less for their work — arise out of a social context in which women are, often, second-class citizens. That’s a context that religions have helped shape, and not pushed hard to change.
“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” former President Jimmy Carter noted in a speech last month to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Australia.
“The belief that women are inferior human beings in the eyes of God,” Mr. Carter continued, “gives excuses to the brutal husband who beats his wife, the soldier who rapes a woman, the employer who has a lower pay scale for women employees, or parents who decide to abort a female embryo.”
Mr. Carter, who sees religion as one of the “basic causes of the violation of women’s rights,” is a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela. The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women, and they have issued a joint statement calling on religious leaders to “change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions.”
The Elders are neither irreligious nor rabble-rousers. They include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and they begin their meetings with a moment for silent prayer.
“The Elders are not attacking religion as such,” noted Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights. But she added, “We all recognized that if there’s one overarching issue for women it’s the way that religion can be manipulated to subjugate women.”
There is of course plenty of fodder, in both the Koran and the Bible, for those who seek a theology of discrimination.
The New Testament quotes St. Paul (I Timothy 2) as saying that women “must be silent.” Deuteronomy declares that if a woman does not bleed on her wedding night, “the men of her town shall stone her to death.” An Orthodox Jewish prayer thanks God, “who hast not made me a woman.” The Koran stipulates that a woman shall inherit less than a man, and that a woman’s testimony counts for half a man’s.
In fairness, many scholars believe that Paul did not in fact write the passages calling on women to be silent. And Islam started out as socially progressive for women — banning female infanticide and limiting polygamy — but did not continue to advance.
But religious leaders sanctified existing social structures, instead of pushing for justice. In Africa, it would help enormously if religious figures spoke up for widows disenfranchised by unjust inheritance traditions — or for rape victims, or for schoolgirls facing sexual demands from their teachers. Instead, in Uganda, the influence of conservative Christians is found in a grotesque push to execute gays.
Yet paradoxically, the churches in Africa that have done the most to empower women have been conservative ones led by evangelicals and especially Pentecostals. In particular, Pentecostals encourage women to take leadership roles, and for many women this is the first time they have been trusted with authority and found their opinions respected. In rural Africa, Pentecostal churches are becoming a significant force to emancipate women.
That’s a glimmer of hope that reminds us that while religion is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. The Dalai Lama has taken that step and calls himself a feminist.
Another excellent precedent is slavery. Each of the Abrahamic faiths accepted slavery. Muhammad owned slaves, and St. Paul seems to have condoned slavery. Yet the pioneers of the abolitionist movement were Quakers and evangelicals like William Wilberforce. People of faith ultimately worked ferociously to overthrow an oppressive institution that churches had previously condoned.
Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior. The Elders are right that religious groups should stand up for a simple ethical principle: any person’s human rights should be sacred, and not depend on something as earthly as their genitals.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.
American Muslims Women behaving badly in mosques
By Uzma Mariam Ahmed,
January 18, 2010
Women in American mosques are loud and messy. They allow their children to run free. They socialize and chatter during khutbas. They rush out after the prayers and don’t participate in cleaning or re-organizing the space. They wear inappropriate clothes, allowing their scarves to slip off their heads, and dousing themselves with strong perfumes. They insist on coming to the mosque while menstruating, and pollute the consecrated space with their unclean presence. These stereotypes about women in mosques are commonplace and especially prevalent in American mosques.
Many Muslim American men attest to seeing or hearing of this behavior during Friday prayers at their local mosques. What eludes the casual observer, like the majority of Muslim men who have never entered or prayed in a women’s prayer section, is the root cause of these problems.
Our community’s perception that women behave badly in mosques is intimately tied to the belief that women’s spirituality and prayers carry less importance than men’s. This collective opinion of female spiritual inferiority has settled into both the ritualistic and social practices of American Muslims, and explains both the dismissive treatment women receive in mosques and, in turn, the behaviors they exhibit because of this ostracization.
The belief is so deeply ingrained in American Muslims that we act upon it in social as well as religious contexts. For instance, even at dinner parties, Muslim men usually socialize in larger, neater, and child-free spaces, and they pray together in congregation. The women, on the other hand, haphazardly pray (or don’t pray) on their own wherever they can find a nook, and are expected to focus their attention on their children and on serving the meals and cleaning up afterwards. This paradigm of male spiritual superiority, which carries into the mosque, where men’s spaces are invariably more spacious, serene, and free of children, creates a deep concern for the many professional Muslim women who are struggling to reconcile the neglect which they experience in mosques with the respect with which they are treated in other contexts.
This treatment of women is in contravention to the Q’uran and Prophetic tradition, which equate the value of men and women’s worship and spirituality. The Q’uran unequivocally states that Allah has reserved His forgiveness and rewards for all people who follow His path. The fact that He explicitly mentions both men and women in each line, rather than just saying “people,” accentuates this gender equality:
Surely the men who submit and the women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the obeying men and the obeying women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women and the humble men and the humble women, and the almsgiving men and the almsgiving women, and the fasting men and the fasting women, and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, and the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember -- Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward (Al-Ahzab 33:35).
Surah Al-Tawbah similarly makes it a point to mention men and women separately:
And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Apostle; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise (Al-Tawbah 9:71).
The gender equality affirmed in the Q’uran was apparent in the mosques of the earliest Muslims; the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) led men and women in prayers in the same hall, without walls or separations between genders.
The behavior of Muslim American women in mosques, as well their designated spaces in the mosque, indicate that American Muslims have not internalized these clear standards of equality. The rationale many mosque-goers offer is that because women are louder, less responsible, and less focused on worship, they should be excluded from the main prayer areas. This reasoning erroneously equates the cause with the effect. The real reason why women do not feel invested in their mosques and purportedly behave badly is precisely because they are physically and intellectually separated from the area where the prayers are being conducted and the khutbas delivered..
When women sit in cramped balconies or stuffy basements, separated from the khateeb by walls or partitions, they miss the real impact of the khutba. They cannot see the khateeb, often cannot hear him properly, and cannot directly ask him a question following the lecture. It is no different than listening to the khutbaon the radio at home. The spiritual impact is dulled, and the chatter of other women, who are equally distracted and unconnected due to the physical separation from the speaker, further exacerbates the problem. Furthermore, when the khateeb is out of view, the primary motivation to attend the mosque becomes the ability to socialize with other Muslims. Only by providing women with a direct view of the khateeb will this problem find a resolution.
Another consequence of the erroneous assumption that women’s spirituality does not match that of men’s, is the practice of leaving children with the women. This, again, is not rooted entirely in tradition. There are several hadith indicating that the Prophet would not only welcome children into the men’s section, but would even hold children in his arms or balance them on his shoulders while leading the prayers. It is extremely rare that American Muslim men hold their children during prayers. Most of the so-called children’s sections are usually designed or situated in a way that only mothers can enter and discipline their little ones. Men are therefore absolved of their parental duties, and left free to concentrate on their prayers. Until there are family sections in mosques, where both men and women can monitor their children and where families can pray together, the inequality that results from children being consigned to women only spaces will persist.
Also exacerbating the situation is a tangle of generational and cultural issues. American Muslims immigrants bring the attitudes and expectations of their own culture and generation with them into the mosque. Many neighborhoods in Pakistan, for instance, do not have accommodations for women in the local mosques. When the women from these neighborhoods begin attending mosques in America, they do so without any previous understanding of mosque etiquettes. This problem, of course, is also generational, and it often seems that the women, who were raised here and have gone through the American educational system, have less trouble conforming to mosque etiquette. The concept of listening to lectures, keeping your voice down, organizing groups to enter and exit in an orderly manner, are all inculcated in American school children. The behavior of Muslims bred in American mimics their behavior in educational and professional settings.
As long as the American Muslim community’s perception that women behave badly in mosques remains tied to the erroneous belief that women’s spirituality and prayers are inferior to men’s, we will continue to see the same patterns of behavior recycled again and again—-men (and women) looking on with ill concealed disapproval at cramped, disorganized spaces filled with chattering women and screaming children. Until American Muslims differentiate between the cause and effect of misbehavior at the mosque, rather than conflating the two, there can be no real changes in American mosques.
(Photo: John Raineri)
Uzma Mariam Ahmed is a contributing writer to Altmuslimah
March 4, 2010
Divorced Before Puberty
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It’s hard to imagine that there have been many younger divorcées — or braver ones — than a pint-size third grader named Nujood Ali.
Nujood is a Yemeni girl, and it’s no coincidence that Yemen abounds both in child brides and in terrorists (and now, thanks to Nujood, children who have been divorced). Societies that repress women tend to be prone to violence.
For Nujood, the nightmare began at age 10 when her family told her that she would be marrying a deliveryman in his 30s. Although Nujood’s mother was unhappy, she did not protest. “In our country it’s the men who give the orders, and the women who follow them,” Nujood writes in a powerful new autobiography just published in the United States this week, “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.”
Her new husband forced her to drop out of school (she was in the second grade) because a married woman shouldn’t be a student. At her wedding, Nujood sat in the corner, her face swollen from crying.
Nujood’s father asked the husband not to touch her until a year after she had had her first menstrual period. But as soon as they were married, she writes, her husband forced himself on her.
He soon began to beat her as well, the memoir says, and her new mother-in-law offered no sympathy. “Hit her even harder,” the mother-in-law would tell her son.
Nujood had heard that judges could grant divorces, so one day she sneaked away, jumped into a taxi and asked to go to the courthouse.
“I want to talk to the judge,” the book quotes Nujood as forlornly telling a woman in the courthouse.
“Which judge are you looking for?”
“I just want to speak to a judge, that’s all.”
“But there are lots of judges in this courthouse.”
“Take me to a judge — it doesn’t matter which one!”
When she finally encountered a judge, Nujood declared firmly: “I want a divorce!”
Yemeni journalists turned Nujood into a cause célèbre, and she eventually won her divorce. The publicity inspired others, including an 8-year-old Saudi girl married to a man in his 50s, to seek annulments and divorces.
As a pioneer, Nujood came to the United States and was honored in 2008 as one of Glamour magazine’s “Women of the Year.” Indeed, Nujood is probably the only third grader whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described as “one of the greatest women I have ever seen.”
Nujood’s memoir spent five weeks as the No. 1 best-seller in France. It is being published in 18 other languages, including her own native language of Arabic.
I asked Nujood, now 12, what she thought of her life as a best-selling author. She said the foreign editions didn’t matter much to her, but she was looking forward to seeing it in Arabic. Since her divorce, she has returned to school and to her own family, which she is supporting with her book royalties.
At first, Nujood’s brothers criticized her for shaming the family. But now that Nujood is the main breadwinner, everybody sees things a bit differently. “They’re very nice to her now,” said Khadija al-Salami, a filmmaker who mentors Nujood and who translated for me. “They treat her like a queen.”
Yemen is one of my favorite countries, with glorious architecture and enormously hospitable people. Yet Yemen appears to be a time bomb. It is a hothouse for Al Qaeda and also faces an on-and-off war in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. It’s no coincidence that Yemen is also ranked dead last in the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap index.
There are a couple of reasons countries that marginalize women often end up unstable.
First, those countries usually have very high birth rates, and that means a youth bulge in the population. One of the factors that most correlates to social conflict is the proportion of young men ages 15 to 24.
Second, those countries also tend to practice polygamy and have higher death rates for girls. That means fewer marriageable women — and more frustrated bachelors to be recruited by extremists.
So educating Nujood and giving her a chance to become a lawyer — her dream — isn’t just a matter of fairness. It’s also a way to help tame the entire country.
Consider Bangladesh. After it split off from Pakistan, Bangladesh began to educate girls in a way that Pakistan has never done. The educated women staffed an emerging garment industry and civil society, and those educated women are one reason Bangladesh is today far more stable than Pakistan.
The United States last month announced $150 million in military assistance for Yemen to fight extremists. In contrast, it costs just $50 to send a girl to public school for a year — and little girls like Nujood may prove more effective than missiles at defeating terrorists.
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March 14, 2010
Driving Miss Saudi
By MAUREEN DOWD
In other capitals of the world, it would not have been an extraordinary scene.
An opening at a hot new art gallery with men and women mingling and enjoying themselves.
But in this case, part of the frisson was nerves. Would the marauding religious police see unmarried — and some uncovered — women talking freely with men in the merry crowd of 600 and stage a raid?
It was an unlikely moment, SoHo comes to Saudi Arabia — the first mixed exhibition anyone can remember in Riyadh, the stultifying capital of a country that bans any exhibition of skin, fun or romance.
But the most astonishing part was that the Islamic purity enforcers failed to show up at Art Pure.
“I was worried, but the religious police just sort of disappeared,” recalled Mounira Ajlani, the mother of Noura Bouzo, a 27-year-old artist featured at the exhibition who painted the saucy “Saudi Bling.” “It was very relaxed, very normal. Everyone was saying, ‘Are we in Saudi Arabia?’ ”
Sarah, a young Saudi professional who was at the gallery that night, agreed: “It was remarkable. You saw women covered from head to toe. You saw women uncovered. You saw men of all different classes come, and they were extremely comfortable, and everyone looked at the art and left.”
Progress is measured by a sundial in this stunted desert kingdom. Sarah dryly refers to it as “Saudi time.”
As women nudge their way into the work force, they are still hampered by archaic tribal rules and patriarchal religious ones.
An American Muslim working here says there are hard adjustments, like hearing men use the occasional epithet “Dog” to address her, and not being able to leave the airport coming home from a business trip because she has no husband or male relative to pick her up.
She had to secure a letter from her employer stating that she could leave the airport on her own. When she wanted to buy a car, she had to use the subterfuge of having a male friend buy it for her, and even then, she can’t drive it except in one of the exclusive compounds with looser rules.
A recent article in The Arab News headlined “Working Mothers in a Double Bind” showed the growing pains of Saudi suffragettes. It told of a woman who secretly hired a cook to deliver meals and assuage her husband’s demand for home-cooked dinners. When her husband caught her, he divorced her — and Saudi divorces are easy as long as you’re male.
“He forgot his promises and left me just because of food,” said the woman, Huda.
Saudi Arabia is in the throes of differentiating between cultural customs for women — like wearing the abaya, not driving and not mixing with men — and actual dictates of the Koran. Many Saudis stressed that their mothers didn’t wear head scarves.
“Personally, I push the envelope,” Sarah said. “I don’t cover my hair.” If she is approached by the mutawa — the religious police — she’s willing to back chat.
“So if a guy is yelling at me, telling me to cover my hair, there’s something we say in Arabic that means, ‘You really shouldn’t be looking in the first place,’ ” she said. “And actually, Islam argues that men should keep their gaze down. So you can argue back to the mutawa, if you know how to do it properly.”
Sarah and others I talked to in the privileged, educated set preferred not to use their full names. Free speech can be costly. “You can’t push the envelope too much or you start alienating a part of our society,” Sarah concedes, “because a part of our society is very conservative, and you have to respect that.”
It is feminism played in adagio. Young women talk about wanting abayas in pastels or made of yoga materials, being able to go out with a group of male and female friends to chic restaurants, and being able to score visas for visiting pals.
“We’re allowed to invite friends now, which is a big thing,” Sarah said. “We’re at the stage where you still have to pull some strings, but in four or five years ...”
Her friend Reema said that Americans are sometimes shocked to see Saudi women and realize “we’re not cowering, we’re actually quite professional. Are there issues here? Absolutely. There isn’t a place in the world that doesn’t have issues.
“I’d like to live in a Saudi where the woman that chooses to cover from top-to-bottom is equally as respected as the woman who chooses not to cover her face, and people from the West can accept that it is a lifestyle choice, inasmuch as wearing a miniskirt or a long, flowing dress is a choice. I find a lot of people minimize the women’s cause in Saudi by how we dress, and that is actually offensive.”
April 11, 2010
Worlds Without Women
By MAUREEN DOWD
When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had tea and sweets with a group of educated and sophisticated young professional women.
I asked why they were not more upset about living in a country where women’s rights were strangled, an inbred and autocratic state more like an archaic men’s club than a modern nation. They told me, somewhat defensively, that the kingdom was moving at its own pace, glacial as that seemed to outsiders.
How could such spirited women, smart and successful on every other level, acquiesce in their own subordination?
I was puzzling over that one when it hit me: As a Catholic woman, I was doing the same thing.
I, too, belonged to an inbred and wealthy men’s club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity.
I, too, remained part of an autocratic society that repressed women and ignored their progress in the secular world.
I, too, rationalized as men in dresses allowed our religious kingdom to decay and to cling to outdated misogynistic rituals, blind to the benefits of welcoming women’s brains, talents and hearts into their ancient fraternity.
To circumscribe women, Saudi Arabia took Islam’s moral codes and orthodoxy to extremes not outlined by Muhammad; the Catholic Church took its moral codes and orthodoxy to extremes not outlined by Jesus. In the New Testament, Jesus is surrounded by strong women and never advocates that any woman — whether she’s his mother or a prostitute — be treated as a second-class citizen.
Negating women is at the heart of the church’s hideous — and criminal — indifference to the welfare of boys and girls in its priests’ care. Lisa Miller writes in Newsweek’s cover story about the danger of continuing to marginalize women in a disgraced church that has Mary at the center of its founding story:
“In the Roman Catholic corporation, the senior executives live and work, as they have for a thousand years, eschewing not just marriage, but intimacy with women ... not to mention any chance to familiarize themselves with the earthy, primal messiness of families and children.” No wonder that, having closed themselves off from women and everything maternal, they treated children as collateral damage, a necessary sacrifice to save face for Mother Church.
And the sins of the fathers just keep coming. On Friday, The Associated Press broke the latest story pointing the finger of blame directly at Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, quoting from a letter written in Latin in which he resisted pleas to defrock a California priest who had sexually molested children.
As the longtime Vatican enforcer, the archconservative Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — moved avidly to persecute dissenters. But with molesters, he was plodding and even merciful.
As the A.P. reported, the Oakland diocese recommended defrocking Father Stephen Kiesle in 1981. The priest had pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years’ probation in 1978 in a case in which he was accused of tying up and molesting two boys in a church rectory.
In 1982, the Oakland diocese got what it termed a “rather curt” response from the Vatican. It wasn’t until 1985 that “God’s Rottweiler” finally got around to addressing the California bishop’s concern. He sent his letter urging the diocese to give the 38-year-old pedophile “as much paternal care as possible” and to consider “his young age.” Ratzinger should have been more alarmed by the young age of the priest’s victims; that’s what maternal care would have entailed.
As in so many other cases, the primary concern seemed to be shielding the church from scandal. Chillingly, outrageously, the future pope told the Oakland bishop to consider the “good of the universal church” before granting the priest’s own request to give up the collar — even though the bishop had advised Rome that the scandal would likely be greater if the priest were not punished.
While the Vatican sat on the case — asking the diocese to resubmit the files, saying they might have been lost — Kiesle volunteered as a youth minister at a church north of Oakland. The A.P. also reported that even after the priest was finally defrocked in 1987, he continued to volunteer with children in the Oakland diocese; repeated warnings to church officials were ignored.
The Vatican must realize that the church’s belligerent, resentful and paranoid response to the global scandal is not working because it now says it will cooperate with secular justice systems and that the pope will have more meetings with victims. It is too little, too late.
The church that through the ages taught me and other children right from wrong did not know right from wrong when it came to children. Crimes were swept under the rectory rug, and molesters were protected to molest again for the “good of the universal church.” And that is bad, very bad — a mortal sin.
The church has had theological schisms. This is an emotional schism. The pope is morally compromised. Take it from a sister.
Libya wastes state cash on women, says Gaddafi's son
LIBYA is wasting its resources on women who prefer to get married and stay at home rather than work, according to Muammar Gaddafi's son.
"Women don't face any kind of discrimination in Libya. Women and men are equal," Seif al-Islam Gaddafi told students, academics and dignitaries at the American University in Cairo.
"Women are very powerful in Libyan society. They are in the army, they are pilots... women are taking part in every company, any ministry," he told the packed auditorium, adding "they can drive" in a dig at Saudi Arabia, with which Libya had tense relations for years.
"The problem in Libya is that they waste the resources of the society . . . the state spends a lot of money to educate women and then they get married and stay at home.
"This is the problem in Libya - the women."
Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for over 40 years and who has in the past described himself as a defender of feminism, has a unit of women-only bodyguards trained at an elite Libyan officers' academy.
SFU program to offer insight into social issues among Muslims
BURNABY, B.C. – How do Muslim cultures perceive and respond to historically controversial gender-related issues such as feminism, homosexuality and family law?
International scholars are coming together at Simon Fraser University to view, under diverse lenses, how varied and controversial social and religious issues and concepts shape Muslim women’s lives.
SFU’s Centre for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Cultures (CCSMSC) is offering the program, Expressions of Diversity: An Introduction to Muslim Cultures, at the Harbour Centre, Vancouver campus from July 19 to 30.
“We’re bringing together 17 faculty from departments of history, literature, religion, anthropology, art, law, international studies, education and women’s studies to discuss diverse and evolving Muslim experiences, past and present,” says Derryl Maclean, CCSMSC director.
“In this stimulating environment, program participants will be equipped with the resources and skills to understand the heritages, contributions to world history and contemporary relevance of Muslim peoples. The range of approaches and subjects covered will take us well beyond the rhetoric of a single Islamic system of religion and culture.”
Maclean notes that, in the second week of this third annual offering of the program, participants will analyse “the much misunderstood topic of gender in the Muslim world by traversing many topics. They include: formative milieus of the Qur’an and hadith, Islamic family law, transnational discourses of Muslim women, Muslim discussions in Persian and Swahili literature, Arab film and Uyghur society.”
The Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations at Aga Khan University is co-sponsoring this SFU program, which will include a bus tour of Muslim spaces in Greater Vancouver.
To register for the course contact Ellen Vaillancourt, 778.782.5278.
International scholars who have collectively written more than 50 books on Muslim societies and cultures will teach the CCSMSC’s third annual offering of Expressions of Diversity: An Introduction to Muslim Cultures. Among the program instructors are:
Andrew Rippin (University of Victoria, B.C.) is an internationally renowned scholar of Qur’anic interpretive traditions, and the author/editor of a dozen books, including Islam in the Eyes of the West. Rippin will discuss scholarly debates surrounding the origin of the Qur’an and variations in Muslim interpretation of the scripture.
Zayn Kassam (Pomona College, Claremont, Calif.) is a specialist on theoretical interpretations of gender in Islam and the author of the book For what Sin Was She Slain: a Muslim Theology of Feminism. Kassam will present a session on framing Muslim gender through the Qur’an and other texts with a focus on global issues related to gender activism.
Farouk Topan (Aga Khan University, London, England) teaches East African Swahili literature. He authored the book Swahili Modernities: Culture, Politics and Identity on the East Coast of Africa. Topan will examine the matrix of history and culture among Swahili people and the influence this matrix has on gendered literature and music among Muslims on East Africa’s coast.
Women Mystics and Sufi Shrines in India (Studies in Comparative Religion) [Hardcover]
Kelly Pemberton (Author)
Editorial Reviews Product Description
Women Mystics and Sufi Shrines in India combines historical data with years of ethnographic fieldwork to investigate women's participation in the culture of Sufi shrines in India and the manner in which this participation both complicates and sustains traditional conceptions of Islamic womanhood. Kelly Pemberton's fieldwork offers an assessment of the contemporary circumstances under which a woman may be recognized as a spiritual authority or guide--despite official denial of such status--and an examination of the discrepancies between the commonly held belief that women cannot perform in the public setting of shrines and her own observations of women doing precisely that. She demonstrates that the existence of multiple models of master and disciple relationships have opened avenues for women to be recognized as spiritual authorities in their own right. Specifically Pemberton explores the work of performance, recitation, and ritual mediation carried out by women connected with Sufi orders through kinship and spiritual ties, and she maps shifting ideas about women's involvement in public ritual events in a variety of contexts, circumstances, and genres of performance. She also highlights the private petitioning of saints, the Prophet, and God performed by poor women of low social standing in Bihar Sharif. These women are often perceived as being exceptionally close to God yet are compelled to operate outside the public sphere of major shrines.
From the Inside Flap
Throughout this groundbreaking study, Pemberton sets observed practices of lived religious experiences against the boundaries established by prescriptive behavioral models of Islam to illustrate how the varied reasons given for why women cannot become spiritual masters conflict with the need in Sufi circles for them to do exactly that. Thus this work also invites further inquiry into the ambiguities to be found in Islam's foundational framework for belief and practice.
Q&A with Her Majesty Queen Rania on the Education of Women and Girls
Cross-posted with the Huffington Post
At the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative being held this week in New York City, I posed a question to Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan regarding educational access for women and girls in the Middle East. The Q&A is below, and the full plenary session on Empowering Girls and Women is embedded beneath the interview.
Rahim Kanani: What is the single biggest challenge facing women and girls in the middle east regarding educational access, and what do you think the most promising solution is?
Her Majesty Queen Rania: I think generally the Middle East and African Region is one of the biggest spenders on education. In 12 countries in the Middle East, more girls are in school, especially in universities, than we have males. Yes is some countries there is the challenge to access and that has a lot to do with entrenched mindsets that need to be changed, but I think more importantly, the bigger challenge for us is how to get women into the labor market. That’s what we really need to confront. But also, when you talk about changing mindsets, it’s demonstrating what it really means when you say education. It’s not just about educating a woman. When you educate a woman, you beat poverty, because women spend 90% of their earnings back into the family, where as men spend only 30 to 40%. It’s a very interesting statistic. It’s also a social vaccine. If all children received a complete primary education, over the next 10 years you can prevent 7 million cases of HIV/AIDS. Now that’s a staggering statistic. Another example is education as a midwife. When a midwife is educated, maternal mortality levels go down by 10% for every extra year of education received. A child is 50% more likely to make it to their 5th birthday if their mother is literate, so it’s not just about ‘doing girls a favor’, but it’s about benefits that cascade throughout society that really make a huge difference. So when people really understand what the value of education truly is, it’s such a compelling argument that it’s difficult not to make that a priority for policymakers.
December 26, 2010
Necessity Pushes Pakistani Women Into Jobs and Peril
By ADAM B. ELLICK
KARACHI, Pakistan — Dinner at Rabia Sultana’s house is now served over a cold silence. Her family has not spoken to her since May, when Ms. Sultana, 21, swapped her home life for a cashier’s job at McDonald’s.
Her conservative brother berated Ms. Sultana for damaging the family’s honor by taking a job in which she interacts with men — and especially one that requires her to shed her burqa in favor of a short-sleeved McDonald’s uniform.
Then he confiscated her uniform, slapped her across the face and threatened to break her legs if he saw her outside the home.
Her family may be outraged, but they are also in need. Ms. Sultana donates her $100 monthly salary to supplement the household budget for expenses that the men in her family can no longer pay for, including school fees for her younger sisters.
Ms. Sultana is part of a small but growing generation of lower-class young women here who are entering service-sector jobs to support their families, and by extension, pitting their religious and cultural traditions against economic desperation.
The women are pressed into the work force not by nascent feminism but by inflation, which has spiked to 12.7 percent from 1.4 percent in the past seven years. As a result, one salary — the man’s salary — can no longer feed a family.
“It’s not just the economic need, but need of the nation,” said Rafiq Rangoonwala, the chief executive officer of KFC Pakistan, who has challenged his managers to double the number of women in his work force by next year. “Otherwise, Pakistan will never progress. We’ll always remain a third-world country because 15 percent of the people cannot feed 85 percent of the population.”
Female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent in the past five years.
Several chains like McDonald’s and the supermarket behemoth Makro, where the number of women has quadrupled since 2006, have introduced free transit services for female employees to protect them from harassment and to help persuade them take jobs where they may face hostility. “We’re a society in transition,” said Zeenat Hisam, a senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research. “Men in Pakistan haven’t changed, and they’re not changing as fast as our women. Men want to keep their power in their hand.
“The majority of the people here believe in the traditional interpretation of Islam, and they get very upset because religious leaders tell them it’s not proper for women to go out and to work and to serve strange men.”
More than 100 young women who recently entered service jobs told of continual harassment.
At work, some women spend more time deflecting abuse from customers than serving them. On the way home, they are heckled in buses and condemned by neighbors. It is so common for brothers to confiscate their uniforms that McDonald’s provides women with three sets.
“If I leave this job, everything would be O.K. at home,” Ms. Sultana said. “But then there’d be a huge impact on our house. I want to make something of myself, and for my sisters, who are at home and don’t know anything about the outside world.”
So far, the movement of women into the service sector has been largely limited to Karachi. Elsewhere across Pakistan, women are still mostly relegated to their homes, or they take jobs in traditional labor settings like women-only stitching factories or girls’ schools, where salaries can be half of those in the service industry. Even the most trailblazing of companies, like KFC, still employ 90 percent men.
Pakistan ranked 133rd out of the 134 countries on the 2010 Global Gender Gap Report’s list of women’s economic participation.
While there is no reliable data on the number of women who specifically enter the service sector, Pakistan’s female work force hovers around 20 percent, among the lowest of any Muslim country.
Some women, like Saima, 22, are forced to lead secret lives to earn $175 a month. Her father’s shopkeeper’s salary does not cover the family’s expenses. Without a university degree, the only job Saima could find was at a call center of a major restaurant’s delivery department. But she impressed the manger so much that he offered her a higher-paying waitress job at a branch near her home.
She reluctantly agreed, but pleaded to be sent to a restaurant two hours away so she would not be spotted by family members and neighbors.
After three years, her family still thinks she works in the basement of a call center. On several occasions, she served old friends who did not recognize her without a head scarf. Her confidence has soared, but she is overwhelmed with guilt.
“I’ve completely changed myself here,” she said in the corner booth of her restaurant before her co-workers arrived. “But honestly, I’m not happy with what I’m doing.”
The women interviewed said they had to battle stereotypes that suggested that women who work were sexually promiscuous. Sometimes men misinterpret simple acts of customer service, like a smile. Fauzia, who works as a cashier at KFC, said that last year a customer was so taken with her smile that he followed her out the door and tried to force her into his car before she escaped.
Sunila Yusuf, a saleswoman who wears pink traditional clothes at home but skintight jeans at the trendy clothing boutique in the Park Towers shopping mall, said her fiancé had offered to pay her a $100 monthly wage if she would stay at home.
“He knows that Pakistani men don’t respect women,” she said.
Hina, who works the counter at KFC, said her brothers, who also work fast-food jobs, worried that she had become “too sharp and too exposed.”
“They can look at other people’s girls,” Hina said with a grimace. “But they want their own girls hidden.”
Mr. Rangoonwala, the KFC Pakistan executive, said: “Unfortunately, our society is a hypocritical society. We have two sets of rules, one for males and one for females.”
For Fauzia, the hardest part of the day is the 15-minute walk through the narrow alleys to reach her home. She wears a burqa to conceal her uniform, but word of mouth about her job has spread. Neighbors shout, “What kind of job is this?” as she briskly walks by with her head down.
As a solution, some companies spend up to $8,000 a month to transport their female workers in minivans.
A federal law, citing safety concerns, prohibits women from working after 10 p.m. It was extended from a 7 p.m. deadline last year.
Most companies, however, are unwilling to absorb the extra cost of employing women. Even most stores that sell purses, dresses, perfumes and jewelry do not employ women.
Kamil Aziz, who owns Espresso, the city’s most popular coffee chain, said he made it a point not to hire “the other gender” because women could not work the late shift and the turnover rate among women was higher. He said he also did not want to invest in separate changing rooms.
Nearly all of the 100 women interviewed said marriage would end to their careers. But many of them saw benefits along with the hazards.
Most women said that they had never left the house before taking a job. Many spent the first five months missing buses and getting lost. When they first arrived at work, they stuttered nervously in the presence of men.
Now they know better.
“I’ve learned never to take what husbands say at face value,” said Sana Raja Haroon, a saleswoman at Labels, a clothing boutique where men sometimes slide her their business card.
But the employed women are also approached by admiring young women who want to follow their lead.
“Girls envy us,” said Bushra, a KFC worker. “We are considered the men of the house, and that feels good.”
December 27, 2010
Muslim Women Gain Higher Profile in U.S.
By BRIAN KNOWLTON
ATLANTA — Around Sept. 11, 2001, not long after she founded the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, Soumaya Khalifa heard from a group whose name sounded like “Bakers Club.” It wanted a presentation.
The address was unfamiliar, but she went anyway. The group turned out to be the Bickerers Club, whose members love to argue. Islam was their topic du jour and their venue was a tavern. Ms. Khalifa laughed, and made the best of it.
Ms. Khalifa, who was born in Egypt and raised in Texas, wears a head scarf but also juggles, comfortably, the demands of American suburbia: crowded schedule, minivan and all.
She is one of a type now found in most sizable U.S. cities: vocal Muslim women wary of the predominantly male leadership of their community and increasingly weary of suspicions of non-Muslims about Islam.
These women have achieved a level of success and visibility unmatched elsewhere. They say they are molded by the freedoms of the United States — indeed, many unabashedly sing its praises — and by the intellectual ferment stirred when American-born and immigrant Muslims mix.
“What we’re seeing now in America is what has been sort of a quiet or informal empowerment of women,” said Shireen Zaman, executive director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a nonprofit research institute founded after the 2001 attacks to provide research on American Muslims. “In many of our home countries, socially or politically it would’ve been harder for Muslim women to take a leadership role. It’s actually quite empowering to be Muslim in America.”
As Najah Bazzy, a American-born nurse and founder of several charities in Michigan, put it: “Yeah I’m Arab, yeah I’m very American, and yeah I’m very Islamic, but you put those things in the blender and I’m no longer just a thing. I’m a new thing.”
It is not always easy. Several of the Muslim women interviewed for this article said they had been the object of abusive letters, e-mails or blog posts.
Yet in their quest to break stereotypes, America’s Muslim women have advantages. They are better educated than counterparts in Western Europe, and also than the average American, according to a Gallup survey in March 2009. In contrast to their sisters in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, they are just as likely as their menfolk to attend religious services, which equates to greater influence. And Gallup found that Muslim American women, often entrepreneurial, come closer than women of any other faith to earning what their menfolk do.
“Muslims coming to North America are often seeking an egalitarian version of Islam,” said Ebrahim Moosa, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke University. “That forces women onto the agenda and makes them much more visible than, say, in Western Europe.”
Besides her speakers’ bureau, which advertises itself as “a bridge between Islam and Americans of other faiths,” Ms. Khalifa heads a consultancy working with students, executives, soldiers and even the F.B.I. to overcome stereotypes. Some people she addresses have never met a Muslim. Some look askance at head scarves.
Ms. Khalifa, who has degrees in chemistry and human resources, began wearing a head scarf in her mid-30s, about 15 years ago. At first, she said, people looked at her “like I was different, Muslim, un-American, stupid.”
But she is quietly persistent. When a small-town newspaper refused to run Ms. Khalifa’s ad listing the hours of a nearby mosque, she organized a successful boycott by local churchmen.
Perhaps the most noticed figure among American Muslim women is Ingrid Mattson. In a bright-red jumper and multicolored head scarf, she stood out among the gray-haired clerics in black who gathered in Washington in September to try and defuse the anger over the planned mosque near the World Trade Center site in New York.
Ms. Mattson, who is 47 and teaches at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, became the first woman to head the Islamic Society of North America, one of the largest Muslim associations on the continent.
She was first elected vice president on Sept. 4, 2001, then president in 2006, a position she held until September; those years were so full of sound and fury over all things Muslim that gender took a back seat.
“But what happened on Sept. 11 and after has led American Muslims to be more involved in civic society,” Ms. Mattson said, “and Muslim women were finding that a very rich area for activity.”
“The only area where there’s a limitation is religious leadership — the imam,” she added, predicting that “we will have some communities in the future that have female imams.”
Historically, Muslim women have wielded power from behind the scenes, with notable exceptions like Benazir Bhutto, the late former prime minister of Pakistan. A 2009 survey of the world’s most influential Muslims by Georgetown University and the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center listed just 2 women in the top 50: a Syrian religious leader and Queen Rania, wife of the Jordanian king. Ms. Mattson received an honorable mention.
Muslim women in the United States reflect the country’s diversity: white converts like Ms. Mattson, women of Middle Eastern background like Ms. Khalifa, or Tayyibah Taylor, a convert of Caribbean descent in Atlanta who founded a glossy magazine, Azizah, to celebrate Muslim women of achievement.
The magazine may profile “America’s first all-Muslim, all-female law group” or a hijab-wearing flight attendant, but it also takes up issues like AIDS and spousal abuse. Despite its struggles, Azizah, with a circulation of 45,000, recently celebrated its 10th birthday.
“I didn’t see Islam as taking my freedoms as a woman,” said Ms. Taylor, who is 57 and studied the Koran in Jidda for six years. “It really opened up worlds for me.”
The Muslim population in Atlanta, now estimated at 80,000, has its roots in the 1950s, when a small group of Nation of Islam worshipers, mostly black men, met in a grubby building shared with a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Waves of immigrants from South Asia, the Middle East or, most recently, Bosnia and Herzegovina, swelled its ranks. The metropolitan area, with 5.5 million people, now has 40 mosques.
But while Muslim women have gained prominence, much of their activity remains outside the mosque.
“There is a missing link in terms of what the Muslim religion teaches about gender equality,” Ms. Khalifa said. “The leadership in our mosques is not reflective of our population — there are hardly any women.”
Imam Plemon T. el-Amin, a retired leader of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, talked of “a slow move — really an indecisiveness — about getting women fully involved in day-to-day Islamic activities.” That, he said, is changing.
One issue is gender separation at prayer, imposed to reflect Islamic notions of modesty. In some mosques, women are relegated to separate rooms. But, Imam el-Amin said, “I’m seeing mosques do much better at trying to make those separate accommodations equal.”
Ms. Mattson’s election to lead the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA, was a signal moment.
Her election “broke a barrier and made it much more acceptable for women to take a leading role as leaders of the entire community, not just women,” said Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and a former adviser on faith issues in the Obama White House.
Imam el-Amin added, “That’s exactly what ISNA and many of the Muslim organizations needed to see.”
Aliya Hirji to present on "Interfaith Dialogue and Education for Women in the Qur'an: A Canadian-Ismaili-Muslim Woman's Perspective"Interfaith Dialogue and Education for Women in the Qur’an:
A Canadian-Ismaili-Muslim Woman’s Perspective
Aliya Hirji will help to break down stereotypes through a journey using the Qur’an, stories in other books, and her own humorous experiences of growing up as a young Ismaili Muslim woman. Aliya Hirji is the Senior Intern at the Iona Pacific Inter-Religious Centre and an alumna of UBC.
March 4, 2011 at Iona Pacific Inter-Religious Centre, Vancouver
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