In K-P and Gilgit-Baltistan: Senators Decry Curbs on Women Voters, PHOTO: APP
Female Arab Novelists Tell How Writing Liberates Them and Breaks Taboos
In K-P and Gilgit-Baltistan: Senators Decry Curbs on Women Voters
Minnesota Somalis See Chance to Lead Fight Against FGM
ISIS Sex Atrocities: Child Rape, Forced Virginity Surgeries Exposed In UN Report
PK-95 By-Poll: ECP Takes Notice Of Bar On Female Voters
Jordan Takes Centre Stage of Soccer World by Hosting Women's World Cup
Miss Syria: Assad Is a Doctor, Couldn't Harm an Ant
Emirati Women Engineering Bright Future at Robotics Institute
Bombs Detonated As Teens Arrested Over Alleged Mother's Day Terror Plot in Greenvale
Meet Christine Mau, First US Female F-35 Fighter Jet Pilot
Global Health Student Connects Local Ethiopian Women with Health Care
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Tajikistan Mulls Tests for Couples, Some Demand Virginity Tests
09 May, 2015
Aiming to prevent close relatives from marrying each other, officials in Tajikistan are considering legislation that would require couples to undergo a mandatory medical exam before tying the knot. The idea is to decrease the number of children born with debilitating illnesses and to address a burgeoning HIV crisis.
Some observers are raising privacy concerns about such testing, saying such legislation could provide opportunities for venal officials to solicit bribes and access intimate information. But others in this conservative country say the bill does not go far enough, and want women to be tested to prove their virginity. The debate has underscored the low quality of medical care in the former Soviet Union’s poorest country.
Under 2006 legislation, genetic and virginity tests are currently available free-of-charge in Tajikistan – but they are not mandatory. The push to mandate the exams comes after President Emomali Rahmon, in a January speech, instructed his government to ban consanguineous marriages – marriages between first cousins and other blood relations – which he blamed for causing the majority of disabilities among Tajik children.
Navruz Jafarov, the deputy minister for health and social welfare, who is part of a working group developing the bill, told EurasiaNet.org the tests are necessary to determine if a would-be bride and groom are too closely related to marry, and would thus help prevent births of children with developmental disabilities. He said the tests would also address the rise in HIV cases – which he attributes to migrant labourers bringing the virus home from Russia, as well as rising drug abuse – and other STDs. He said the presence of such diseases could also lead the state to forbid a marriage.
In a country where few citizens trust officials to act in their best interests, or underpaid doctors to work without demanding informal payments, many are suspicious about the motives for the testing. After all, it is already easy to buy one’s way around just about any rule.
“If the premarital check costs money, this would infringe on the constitutional rights of the population and increase … corruption in the country,” investigative journalist Muhayo Nozimova told EurasiaNet.org.
Nozimova added that if the state wants to stop relatives from marrying, the state must do more to educate people about the potential genetic hazards.
“It is necessary to prevent marriages among relatives and to explain to people that these lead not only to the birth of sick children but to cracks in family relations. That is to say, this should all take place through explanation,” Nozimova said.
The deputy head of the Justice Ministry’s Department of Civil Registry, Jaloliddin Rahimov, argued that testing would have considerable public benefits. People should “know what illnesses their partners have; some Tajiks have never in their life visited a clinic and do not know themselves if they have any diseases,” he said. He cited an example where a premarital examination prevented what he described as a marriage that was bound to be unhappy. A young girl went to the doctor and found she could not get pregnant. Her grief-stricken parents called off the marriage.
“Think about it: What a scandal there would have been for the family if the marriage had gone ahead! And again the question of divorce would have come up. So that premarital examination prevented a divorce. It is better for these issues to be discussed before the wedding, and if a guy wants to marry her as she is, he can make the choice before the wedding, not after,” Rahimov told EurasiaNet.org.
For 30-year-old Dushanbe resident Manizha Negmatullozoda, such testing would enable official to pry into areas where they do not belong. She cited other recent bans to argue Tajikistan’s state paternalism is going too far.
“You do not see people in developed countries being forced into medical examinations before marriage. There couples get the body ready before giving birth. They go through all the tests possible. And what happens to us here? Everywhere you go you are watched; there is a push to introduce a law on mandatory pre-marriage testing; you have got to follow their orders – dress like they tell you, name your child and so forth,” said Negmatullozoda, referring to a draft bill that would ban Muslim-sounding names and to recent raids on shops selling Muslim clothing.
Guljahon Bobosodiqova, a member of the working group drafting the legislation, acknowledged that officials could do more to address public concerns. Indeed, rumors about the bill have fanned concerns that the government is proposing to test brides for their virginity. That is not true, say three people working on the bill, including Bobosodiqova.
“The test for a girl’s virginity must be taken at the request of the couple; it is not mandatory,” said Jafarov of the Health Ministry.
Conservative families carry out their own informal “virginity tests” on the morning after a wedding, quizzing the groom or inspecting the bed sheets. In January, the Republican Center of Forensic Medicine said it daily treats morally and physically abused women accused of failing the test on their wedding night, Asia-Plus reported at the time. The center estimated 78 percent of women who seek a test before their wedding wish to prove their virginity under pressure from their grooms or nosy relatives.
Rahimov of the Justice Ministry’s registry department also maintains the working group is not discussing virginity tests. But he reveals an attitude that worries human rights activists. “If a girl has seen life before marriage, there should be transparency and a future husband should know about it,” Rahimov said.
Female Arab novelists tell how writing liberates them and breaks taboos
ABU DHABI // Female Arab novelists say that through writing they have liberated themselves and broken taboos, a talk at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair heard on Friday.
The authors shared their thoughts about the writing process, the challenges they faced in society and other topics.
In the talk entitled Arab Women and the Novel: Walking on Tiptoes, Syrian author Lina Huyan ElHassan argued that women “walk with confidence and in their high heels”.
She said that by creating novels she was breaking the cultural and societal barriers that constrained many women in the Arab world.
“With the first word we write, we break the barriers. The society we live in does not easily accept what a woman writes. Actually, my main challenge was with women’s acceptance in society,” she said.
“I have to break the silence within my community, and I do that by convincing people and defending my arguments through breaking the forbidden norms in my books.”
ElHassan said that when Arab women first began to receive an education about 60 years ago, it allowed them to get beyond the first obstacles in society, a topic she highlighted through her books.
“A woman, with little education in the 1950s and 1960s was able to turn men into victims. My stories always include bold women who have changed the societal norms, especially tribalism issues,” she said.
ElHassan has written nine texts in Arabic, including novels, poetry and studies. She is also on the shortlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for her novel Diamonds and Women.
Lebanese writer Jana Al Hassan said that by writing she practised “freedom”.
“I am a rebellious person and when my rebellion came to me through my freedom, through writing, it was wrongly translated,” she said. “A woman must always prove to society who she is.
“My writing is my freedom; I don’t think about anyone when I write. There is a watching eye, of course, someone who monitors what is published, but it is not and shouldn’t be me.”
Al Hassan said the circumstances characters in her books found themselves drew attention to how women can overcome tragedy in their lives.
The author has been shortlisted twice for the International Prize for Fiction for her novels Me, She and the Other Women, in 2013, and for this year’s Floor 99.
ElHassan added: “Many women consider many threats when writing but morals don’t exist in literature. I find a woman persistent and that is how we battle against other women who bring us down.”
ElHassan said she only edited or deleted parts of her work if it was to do with religion, if she felt it could be misunderstood.
Al Hassan said she only felt limited when she reread her text and found certain parts that are unnecessary or could be better.
“I am my own critic, so I must be sure to be pleased with my own writing first, before others,” she said.
The book fair continues to run at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until Wednesday.
In K-P and Gilgit-Baltistan: Senators decry curbs on women voters
ISLAMABAD: Members of the upper house of parliament on Friday criticised the sidelining of women from the voting process in parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), regretting that this had happened with the full consent of political parties.
Some senators, including one representing the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, later recommended that legislation be adopted to end this unacceptable practice. “I’m going to move a bill in the Senate in a bid to ensure the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) does not declare the election results when women are kept out of the election process,” said Senator Kalsoom Parveen of the PML-N.
She lamented that women, who make up over 50% of the country’s total population, were willfully kept out of the recently held by-election in PK-95 Lower Dir district where Jamaat-e-Islami and Awami National Party contested the poll.
Rubina, a woman senator from Balochsitan, said men are allowed to perform pilgrimage and so on and so forth while women are not allowed to cast ballots.
Leader of the house in Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, who had been directed by Senate chairman Raza Rabbani to get report from the concerned authorities about barring women from casting vote in Darel area of G-B, informed the house that women were temporarily stopped from casting their ballots as there were no separate polling booths for women as well as female polling staff.
G-B authorities, according to Haq. had arranged both women staff and separate polling booths for the areas, recalling how at least five people were killed there due to absence of women polling staff in the area.
During the question hour senators were informed that 4,360 cases of rape were registered since June 2013 to date, of which only 219 were convicted in the country.
In a written reply to a question submitted by MQM Senator Col (retd) Syed Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said 6,632 accused were arrested of which 4,960 cases were registered. The minister claimed that a proper challan had been submitted by the police against 3,645 accused but despite that only 219 were convicted by different courts.
According to a district-wise breakup placed before the house by the interior ministry, Punjab topped the list as a total of 4,322 rape cases were registered in different districts of the province while only 209 accused were brought to book.
Sindh followed in second place as a total of 328 rape cases were registered by police in the last two years.
Minnesota Somalis are setting out to end an ancient custom intended to keep girls virginal and marriageable.
In Minneapolis, Fartun Weli enlists a congressman to condemn female genital cutting in a YouTube video. In St. Paul, Imam Hassan Mohamud advises families against flying daughters to Africa for the ritual. And in Somalia’s Puntland region, Anisa Hajimumin, a Hamline University graduate, rolls out a ban on genital cutting.
As the number of African immigrants in the United States has swelled recently, the century-old ritual has landed back in the national spotlight. A new federal law went into effect banning “vacation cutting,” the practice of taking girls out of the country to be circumcised; the Obama administration summoned a task force to combat cutting here and overseas.
Amid this surge in attention, some local Somalis see their community as a driving force in stamping out the practice around the world. Despite concerns that talking openly about the custom makes the community an easy mark for those looking to stigmatize it, a few have become outspoken activists in Minnesota or Somalia. Others have taken on the role of low-key cultural ambassadors, making their case privately with relatives or friends who might circumcise their daughters.
“The issue needs to be raised from the horse’s mouth,” said Weli, head of Isuroon, a women’s health non-profit in Minneapolis. “There’s a leadership role we as a community have to take on.”
‘You can’t feel sorry for me’
In one of her signature smart jackets and long skirts, Weli stands before a large screen showing a drawing of female genitals.
She is explaining cutting to an auditorium full of University of Minnesota medical students. In the practice’s more common forms, a portion or all of the clitoris and labia are removed. In the more extensive version practiced widely in Somalia, the labia are also stitched together to leave only a small opening. It’s a rite of passage into womanhood, meant to ensure girls stay chaste and marry well.
“I myself went through this, and I still can’t look at it,” Weli says with a glance over her shoulder. “So scary looking!”
Weli is here to tell the future physicians that patients like her need thoughtful care, not pity. Yes, this ritual can complicate the milestones of a woman’s life: the first period, the first sexual intercourse, and the births of her children. Weli sometimes refers to it as genital mutilation, the term favoured by activists.
But cutting becomes a part of women’s identities, and Weli tells the students, “You learn to live with it. You can’t feel sorry for me.”
With a rate of female genital cutting of more than 95 percent, by latest United Nations estimates, Somalia has the highest rate of 28 African and Middle Eastern countries that practice the ritual, in Muslim and Christian communities alike. But by all accounts, in Minnesota — among the first states to ban the practice in 1994 — the Somali community has largely broken with it.
Cawo Abdi, a Somalia-born University of Minnesota sociology professor, says she occasionally talks to women who still support cutting but fear breaking the law. Her research suggests that circumcisions are on the to-do lists of some families preparing to leave African refugee camps to resettle in the United States.
Many in the community, though, have had a genuine change of heart, she says; if a Somali girl was born here or came as an infant, it is “highly unlikely” she has been cut.
Metro-area OB/GYNs who work with East African patients have also seen this shift. They are starting to care for the uncircumcised daughters of Somali patients who themselves experienced cutting before coming here.
“The vast majority of the women I work with would never pursue [cutting] with their kids — never,” says Deborah Thorp, whose patients at Park Nicollet are about 20 percent Somali.
Even as the custom loses ground, many Somalis remain loath to discuss it. They feel public talk of highly private matters goes against the culture and gives fodder to Westerners eager to see East African women as passive victims of a barbaric custom. But people like Weli believe that by speaking out, the community can own the issue and advocate for better medical care for those who have experienced it.
Isuroon, Weli’s organization, has hosted conference calls on the subject — the nonprofit’s answer to Western support groups. As many as 200 women have called in anonymously. A fall conference will address the issue. Meanwhile, Weli got Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., to record a YouTube message, in which he calls for rejecting the practice and offers a Department of Justice hot line for people who feel pressured to do it.
“A lot of people are abandoning this practice, but it’s not fully abandoned,” said Dr. Fozia Abrar, who believes Minnesota Somalis can influence relatives in African refugee camps to skip the ritual. “I think it’s time for the community to talk openly about this.”
What the Qur’an says
In hospitals or in his storefront mosque on St. Paul’s University Avenue, Mohamud gives newborns a traditional Islamic blessing. He takes a bite out of a date and touches it to the baby’s tongue, to impart wisdom.
Afterward, some parents linger to ask him anxious questions: Do they flout their faith if they never have their daughter cut? Would the girl have sex out of wedlock or commit adultery? Should they find a way of traveling to Africa to have her circumcised?
Mohamud offers a dual perspective, as the Minnesota Da’wah Institute’s imam and an attorney with a degree from William Mitchell. He tells parents the Qur’an prohibits cutting away any part of the human body. He also tells them some Islamic scholars do recommend a “lighter version” of the ritual, in which the genitals are only pricked.
But the practice is not mandatory in Islam and is illegal in the United States, Mohamud tells them, “So you don’t have that dilemma here.”
“I tell them not to travel, not to do it,” Mohamud says.
Amid a groundswell of attention to the custom, the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau released a study this year estimating more than half a million women and girls in the United States have undergone cutting or are at risk — the first such estimate in more than a decade. Minnesota came in third among states, with an estimated 44,000 women and girls who have been cut or are at risk. Critics of the study argue that, because of legal and other hurdles, the risk is small in the United States.
Nationally and in Minnesota, evidence of “vacation cutting” is anecdotal.
“Aisha,” a woman in her 20s who did not want to be named, said a relative recently confided that she wanted to arrange for her daughter to be circumcised on a trip to Somalia. Aisha flashed back to her own cutting in Africa, at age 7: Several women held her down during the anesthesia-free procedure. She recalls the searing pain the first time she urinated afterward and years later, on her wedding night.
So she pleaded with her relative not to have the girl cut and threatened to call 911 if she found out the woman went through with it.
Cracking down on genital cutting was on Anisa Hajimumin’s short list when she took over as minister of women, development and family affairs in Somalia’s Puntland region last spring. Hajimumin, who grew up in Minnesota, was not circumcised.
In her new job, Hajimumin lobbied for a first-of-its-kind policy banning the practice in Puntland. The provincial president signed it in March 2014. The policy triggered negative responses, and Hajimumin heard a familiar refrain: How will daughters find a husband? Will uncut girls be unclean?
Now, she is pushing for criminal penalties for those who continue the custom. She envisions an anti-cutting curriculum taught in schools and an end to the practice by 2025. She says: “I understand it’s quite a struggle to get there, but I am determined.”
Other Minnesota Somalis are joining the campaign. Halima Ibrahim, whose husband was shot by militants in Mogadishu last winter, leads a women’s rights organization that tries to counter the custom by talking with mothers. Weli’s nonprofit is gearing up to retrain the women who perform the ritual to work as doulas or midwives instead. Even as the rate of cutting in Somalia has started to slip, these returnees are sometimes accused of becoming too beholden to Western ideas.
Waris Mohamud will go back to Somalia this summer with her daughters, 10 and 15. But she has no plans to have them cut. She will visit a rural town where her husband’s relatives live, and where families still pay hefty fees to hire cutters.
“I will tell everybody there, ‘Don’t do it,’ ” she said. “This cutting is not related to our religion. It’s not good for our girls.”
Mohamud thinks the ritual has already lost ground in large cities in Somalia. Recently, her mother told her she didn’t want to see a young granddaughter cut; there was really no benefit.
“Why did you do it to me?” Mohamud asked.
“Everybody was doing it at the time,” her mother replied, “so we had to do it, too.”
ISIS sex atrocities: Child rape, forced virginity surgeries exposed in UN report
New evidence has revealed how Islamic State fighters buy children as sex slaves and force them into marriage. Girls from Iraq and Syria told a senior UN official they were stripped, sold, and made to undergo over a dozen virginity reparation surgeries.
“Girls are literally being stripped naked and examined in slave bazaars,” by Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL) fighters, Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict told the journalist during a briefing.
Bangura visited the Middle East between April 16 and 29 to talk to surviving rape victims. During her travels she stopped in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Bangura managed to interview women who had escaped and survived horrific sexual assaults at the hands of IS fighters.
The girls and children were treated like cattle, she said. They are “categorized and shipped naked off to Dohuk or Mosul or other locations to be distributed among ISIL leadership and fighters.”
One of the victims was married off over 20 separate times and after each time was forced to get a surgery that would repair her virginity.
“Women and girls are at risk and under assault at every point of their lives,” Bangura said, adding that this kind of violent treatment of women was actually encouraged as part of jihad.
“ISIL has institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives.”
Horror and violence followed the girls “every step of the way…in the midst of active conflict, in areas under control of armed actors, at check-points and border crossings, and in detention facilities,” according to Bangura.
Militants even use trafficking, prostitution and ransom plots as a way to raise money, she added.
Sexual violence is used by IS as a tactic to punish, humiliate, and demoralize local populations, making it easier to get information from them and displace them.
As a result of these atrocities, these victims of child rape are growing into “a generation of stateless children,” who will remain vulnerable to IS recruitment tactics.
There have been reports that doctors have performed illegal abortions on pregnant girls as young as nine.
Many of the child victims are from the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq. Around 40,000 of them were reportedly kidnapped at gunpoint by IS militants last August. Other minorities at risk include Christians, Iraqi Turkmens and Shabaks.
A video surfaced on YouTube in November, showing IS militants laughing and joking while buying Yazidi slaves.
Many of the women have expressed feeling ashamed and are unable to restart their lives after surviving the brutal and humiliating attacks.
PK-95 by-poll: ECP takes notice of bar on female voters
ISLAMABAD: Taking exception to reports of women being barred from voting in a recent by-poll in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the election commission has sought comments from the contesting candidates to verify the news.
According to media reports, female voters in several areas of the PK-95 constituency of Lower Dir were barred from casting their votes after a consultation meeting among the tribal elders and the candidates. The by-poll was held on May 7 and the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Izazul Mulk, who was also backed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), emerged victor ahead of Awami National Party’s Haji Sardar Bahadur.
The seat had fallen vacant on JI chief Sirajul Haq’s resignation as he was elected a senator.
The by-election was, however, made controversial by the reported ban on women to cast votes. The PTI spokesperson, Dr Shireen Mazari, had urged the election commission to take notice of the issue and take immediate action to order re-polling in Lower Dir.
On Friday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) taking notice of the news reports put on notice the seven candidates who contested the by-poll to verify if the media reports had any credence.
“Before any action is taken, the K-P chief secretary and the district returning officer of PK-95 Lower Dir should be directed to explain as to why and under what circumstances such deprivation has occurred,” the ECP media wing quoted the chief election commission in an official handout issued on Friday. The respondents have been told to file their replies by May 14.
Jordan takes center stage of soccer world by hosting Women's World Cup
Long constrained by cultural and religious conservatism, women's soccer could make rapid advances in the Muslim world with the holding of the first female World Cup in the Middle East.
Such is the expectation of Samar Nassar, the inspirational chief organizer of the 16-nation Women's Under-17 World Cup. Women from across the globe as well as in host country Jordan itself could win greater recognition and acceptance of a game proved to thrive in diverse cultures and even in adversity.
"It will not just benefit Jordanians but the thousands of Syrian girls, for example, living in refugee camps here like Zaatari where we are already providing support through the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP) and other bodies."
FIFA, the international football federation, may be widely criticized for a clumsy bureaucracy and business practices, but awarding this tournament to Jordan sends a clear message of its commitment to the women's game and developing world.
"It is an amazing opportunity to have a World Cup coming to the heart of the Arab world," said Nassar, who swam for Jordan in both the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2004 Athens Games.
"It will help raise awareness of the women's game and its development across the region and beyond Asia and, while that might have been unthinkable 10 years ago, it has already created so many new opportunities for women.”
"It is changing the mindset of a lot of people."
The tournament, to be played in Jordan in October, 2016, consists of 32 matches played in four stadiums in Amman, and the nearby cities of Zarqa and Irbid. The Government has already put 20 million Jordanian dinars ($28 million) towards renovation of four stadiums with capacities of 12,000 and 13,000.
The role of women in sport is controversial across the Middle East. Women are banned from public participation in sports in Saudi Arabia. In Iran women can play as long as they observe Islamic dress codes, but cannot enter stadiums reserved for men. In other states of the region, however, such as Jordan, women are free to play soccer.
The AFDP, founded by outgoing FIFA vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the president of the Jordanian FA, has made a significant contribution to grassroots football in Asia including the Middle East.
Prince Ali fought to lift FIFA's ban on women and girls playing organized football in their hijabs or headscarves, and that change has transformed the game's development among women in Muslim countries from the Middle East to the Far East.
"I don't think anyone should have been discriminated against because they wanted to wear a headdress, and getting that ban lifted was instrumental in pushing the women's game in the region," Nassar says.
"The change definitely allowed some women or girls who otherwise could not play, to play. When FIFA first banned it, it had a devastating affect on so many people. The ban being lifted has had a huge impact."
While Nassar is not expecting the Jordanian Under-17 squad to go beyond the first round, success for her is measured in the cultural and social impact the tournament can have for women and girls.
Nassar acknowledges a challenge in trying to convince a traditionally conservative society that women and girls playing football is not at odds with that society's religious, cultural and social mores.
"A lot of people here still don't know about women's football,” he said. They don't know a women's World Cup is coming to Jordan but women's participation in sports has increased a lot in the Arab world, and it is not just on the field, but with coaches, referees and administrators.”
"We are taking our message to the community and hope the community accept it...But we believe they will. We don't just want the regular football crowd, we want women, children and families to be encouraged to come.”
"You don't see a lot of women attending local matches in Jordan, and we want to change that mindset. We want people to support the women's game."
Miss Syria: Assad is a doctor, couldn't harm an ant
Sarah Nakhleh says Syrian leader incapable of being "butcher."
Sarah Nakhleh, who won the title of Miss Arab Syria 2014 and was third-runner up in the Miss Arab World Pageant, expressed vehement support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in interviews to both an Egyptian TV channel and a radio show within a day of each other.
"Bashar al-Assad is a leader and an ophthalmologist," Nakhleh said in a video interview translated by MEMRI, "and no ophthalmologist in the world is capable of harming an ant."
She reiterated her stance in a radio interview the next day, saying of Assad "I support him," and "at the end of the day he is a doctor and no doctor can possibly be a butcher."
Emirati women engineering bright future at robotics institute
ABU DHABI // A senior scientist at Khalifa University says the increasing number of women moving into science and technology means the institution is leading the way in engineering and the field of robotics.
Robotics institute director Dr Lakmal Seneviratne said the UAE is beating the UK and US in attracting women into disciplines that were traditionally male preserves.
Dr Seneviratne said: “At King’s College in London, where I worked, there were only about 10 per cent [of engineering students who were female] so that’s one of the positives here.
“In the UK and US, women’s participation in engineering education has been low, ranging from about 10 per cent some years ago to about 15 to 20 per cent now. At KU, we have a much higher proportion of women studying engineering – about 50 per cent – and this is reflected in robotics.”
Professor Tod Laursen, the university’s president, said there are several reasons for the trend.
“The engineering profession in general holds a lot of prestige in the UAE and we find that the families of our female students are very highly supportive and proud of their daughters, wives, siblings studying these subjects,” he said.
“I think this prestige factor is more prevalent here than in much of the West. The leadership of the country, for decades now, has been very emphatic about the contribution women can make, economically and socially, as members of the workforce. I think the perception of real opportunities in technical sectors for young women studying engineering is hugely motivating.”
A rising number of role models, such as the university’s Dr Fatima Taher, the first Emirati PhD in engineering, is also a factor, Prof Laursen added.
Hind Al Tair is another of the Emirati women at the laboratory. She is trying to develop a search and rescue robot that not only relies on human instruction but can autonomously react in situations according to an database of scenarios it is programmed to prepare for.
The 28-year-old Emirati, from RAK, studying her doctorate, said: “Despite the fact that robots have reached a high level of autonomy in recent years, the need for human element in certain situations is still essential, especially in search and rescue operations. The human extends the robot’s capabilities beyond what they are capable of with current technologies.”
She said the project will fill a gap, with much of the technology used now being around for more than a decade.
“While current robotic devices are able to navigate, locate and map search and rescue areas, some interventions require a high degree of dexterity and information exchange that requires cooperation between the human and robots,” Ms Al Tair said.
She hopes the robot will be autonomous enough to make decisions quickly and save lives. “The communication process, instructions, clarification, can be time-consuming. You can teach the robot to understand the environment,” she said.
“I want the robots to have some kind of intelligence to take and share decisions.”
The project is about one or two years off testing but the current stage is modelling the decision-making engine, which will provide both the robots and humans with actions to do at each stage of an operation.
Ms Al Tair said the high prevelance of women at the robotics institute has surprised many. “It is a manly job but today Emirati woman are judges, lawyers, ministers, managers, pilots, soldiers, so why not a researcher or scientist?” she said.
She continued that the country’s leaders have “encouraged women to go in different fields. All sectors welcome this and Emirati woman prove that there is no such thing as impossible. She can be put in any role and can handle it.”
Up to three teenagers have been arrested in relation to a Melbourne terror plot that was reportedly set to be carried out on Mother's Day.
While details of two teenagers are scant, the third - believed to be aged 17 - was arrested at his family's home in Greenvale on Friday, News Corp has reported.
Police raided the 17-year-old boy's home in Clare Boulevard on Friday afternoon, where they found a number of improvised explosive devices.
The bombs were detonated at a reserve in nearby Clare Street, police have confirmed.
A 14-year-old boy in Sydney was also arrested in relation to the "imminent threat", News Corp has reported.
Monash University terror expert Greg Barton said the arrests seemed to be a "last minute catch" by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, suggesting the plot was hatched out of a dark network that was out of sight of authorities.
A Facebook entry believed to have been taken from the arrested Greenvale teenager's page. Photo: Channel 9
He said the plan seemed to resemble the Boston marathon bombing, where a small number of people working closely together built explosive devices designed to create havoc in a crowded area.
"I can't recall ever seeing the bomb squad called out for what seems like a genuine threat, with devices ready to go," Professor Barton told Fairfax Media.
Authorities, it appeared, were "almost caught out", he said.
"There is a feeling from this that if they got this far, how much else out there don't we know?"
A teenager was photographed hand-cuffed and sitting in a park near the Greenvale property during Friday's raid.
A short time later, six women emerged from the house and were escorted by police to another area.
Channel Nine has reported that the Greenvale teen's Facebook account describes Islam as the "the religion of justice". Other outlets, meanwhile, have reported that his Facebook account decries those who don't pray five times a day as not being Muslim.
The teenager is the son of a respected Syrian doctor, according to News Corp.
His uncle was quoted as saying there were no signs his nephew had been radicalised, although he had recently grown a beard.
Victoria, NSW and the Australian Federal Police have remained tight-lipped about the high-level anti-terror raid.
A neighbour, who gave his name only as Bilal, said he heard what sounded like gunshots about 12.30pm on Friday.
"They couldn’t tell us anything, they just said there were believed to be explosives in the house," he said.
Residents near Clare Boulevard described police swarming their street en masse as they searched a home and car.
A family living close to the raided house was forced to spend most of the night outside the police cordon, before being let in shortly after the first explosives were detonated at 9.40pm.
Other families were told they could stay in their houses, but were required to have all their windows and doors shut.
"All of a sudden the street became full of cops, then the bomb squad came. At the start they did not let us out of the house, but then they told everyone to leave because there was some explosive," Bilal said.
WASHINGTON: Lieutenant Colonel Christine Mau, a US Air Force pilot who was part of the first all-female combat sortie over Afghanistan in 2011, this week became the first woman to fly the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 jet, the Air Force said on Wednesday.
Mau, deputy commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group, on Tuesday completed her first training flight in the single-seat stealth fighter after 14 virtual training missions in a simulator, said spokeswoman Lieutenant Hope Cronin.
Mau joined 87 F-35A pilots who have been trained over the last four years at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
“It felt great to get airborne. The jet flies like a dream, and seeing the systems interact is impressive,” Mau said in a statement.
She said flying with the F-35′s complex helmet, which fuses all sensor data from the jet on a mounted display on the helmet rather than in the jet’s cockpit, took some adjustment.
Women have served in combat aviation roles in a wide range of US aircraft for over 20 years, but they still represent only a small fraction of US military pilots.
“Flying is a great equaliser,” said Mau. “The plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot, nor do the ground troops who need your support. You just have to perform. That’s all anyone cares about when you’re up there – that you can do your job, and that you do it exceptionally well.”
Global health student connects local Ethiopian women with health care
By the time Hana Alkahlout graduates from Arizona State University this May with her bachelor’s in global health, she will have already positively impacted the health of her community.
Alkahlout has been working with local Ethiopian immigrant women to determine their perspectives, and the barriers they face, in obtaining primary health care.
For her final research project, Alkahlout interviewed eight women about their access to – and the quality of – their primary health care. She was tipped off to the need for such research by her fiance, an ASU alumnus who was born in Ethiopia and was aware of the lack of primary-care treatment among Ethiopian refugee women.
After conducting one-on-one interviews, Alkahlout discovered that a number of issues were at play to make primary care a neglected resource for this population.
She found that women preferred to self-treat with traditional remedies, such as black seed, garlic, flaxseed and ginger, some of which can exacerbate existing health issues or lead to new ones.
In addition, though all of the women had health insurance, they hesitated to seek treatment from primary-care physicians because they didn't understand the term “primary care” and had experienced difficulties during prior visits.
“There is a communication barrier and a lack of cultural understanding,” explained Alkahlout, who mentioned that one interviewee detailed a hostile encounter with a doctor. “The women are ashamed, nervous, even afraid to speak with physicians.”
Most of the women told Alkahlout that if symptoms worsened, they would seek medical care at a hospital. The exception was if a child was involved. The women stated they would seek primary care to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Alkahlout is now translating her research into real-world results. She is designing educational workshops for immigrant Ethiopian women where she will stress the importance of preventive care, the purpose of primary care and the need for follow-up treatment after a pregnancy.
She will hold the workshops at a local mosque, where she believes the women – who are Muslim – will feel more comfortable.
Ultimately, she wants to get her research results into the hands of physicians and policymakers, who can broadly apply them.
“If physicians can address the use of traditional remedies and encourage continued care after delivery, as well as inform patients of the breadth of issues primary-care providers can handle, many benefits will follow,” she noted.
Finding her calling
Alkahlout is on track for a career in medicine. To create a well-rounded background, she plans to obtain a master’s in either public health or biomedical sciences before continuing to medical school.
Recently, she has been shadowing a local neurologist, providing her with valuable clinical experience. She is learning about various specialties before deciding whether she wants to specialize. At this point, she is leaning towards primary care.
One thing she has already decided is that she will work with underprivileged populations. She will also emphasize getting to know each patient as an individual and taking into account cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Alkahlout received a close-up look at the need for the latter during her program’s required study-abroad program. She traveled to New Zealand and learned about health-care disparity and culturally based health challenges among the indigenous Maori people. The experience proved life-altering for Alkahlout, who became more determined than ever to pursue a career as a healer.
Monica Gaughan, an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, led the New Zealand program in which Alkahlout participated. The two hit it off immediately, and Gaughan became something of a mentor to Alkahlout, guiding her through her studies at ASU. The two are now collaborating on an academic article based on Alkahlout’s research, which they plan to place in a social-sciences journal.
“I think of her as a friend. I can go to her with any problem,” Alkahlout said of Gaughan. “She has offered so much good advice.”
Gaughan is pleased to have played a part in helping Alkahlout move closer to achieving her dreams and is excited about her work and her potential.
“Hana is the kind of person I would like to have as a physician: She is smart, compassionate, hard-working, direct and funny. Her project shows the ways in which she will incorporate cultural components into her practice, to the benefit of her patients and their families,” she said.
As her time at ASU wraps up, Alkahlout is reflective of how far she has come and how many people she has to thank for her journey thus far.
First and foremost, she is quick to point to her mother as her biggest inspiration: a lifelong lover of education who returned to college in her 50s to complete her degree. Then, there are her sister and brother-in-law, who paved the way for her in Arizona and provided a place for her to stay while studying at ASU. Her fiance, Gaughan, numerous friends, faculty and co-workers are also on her gratitude list.
When asked to name her most meaningful memory from ASU, Alkahlout couldn’t choose just one. “There are so very, very many,” she replied. “ASU gave me the courage to dream.”
She smiled as she listed a few of her highlights, from meeting her fiance and having him propose outside the Memorial Union, to gaining a job as an office assistant and making friends at her work and in class.
Alkahlout said, “I don’t want to leave a learning environment. But that’s the great thing about being a physician: You don’t have to. You always have to keep up with developments in medicine and learn new things to help your patients.”
The School of Human Evolution and Social Change is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.