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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 2 Sept 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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'Arab Wedding' Brings To Focus Vulnerability of Poor Women in India

New Age Islam News Bureau

2 Sept 2013

Photo: Two-thirds of expat women in Beirut have been harassed


 'I, Asia Bibi, Have Been Sentenced To Death Because I Was Thirsty

 Afghan Female Military Pilot Gives Wing to Young Girls' Dreams

 The Women's Majlis of UAE: Sport Has the Power to Inspire Women

 Investing in a Future for Asia’s Young Women

 Two-Thirds of Expat Women in Beirut Have Been Harassed

 Cheapest Labour: Saudi Women

 Women Poets Rev Literary Gathering in Riyadh

 Women's Policy: 9-Year Work Plan Taken For Execution in Bangladesh

 Malala Yousafzai to Open Birmingham Library

 ‘Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience’ To Showcase Talented Fashion Designers

 Daughters of Expat Workers See No Future in Kingdom

 Farah Pandith explores the complexities of working for the US State Department

 Poverty ‘Forced’ Sharourah Man to Kill Wife and Kids in Najran, Saudi Arab

 Life expectancy gap growing between rich and poor world women: WHO

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





'Arab Wedding' Brings To Focus Vulnerability of Poor Women in India

Sep 2, 2013

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The latest incident of forced marriage of a minor Muslim girl to an Arab national has once again brought to focus vulnerability of women from poorer sections who continue to be victims of sexual exploitation.

The infamous "Arabbi kalyanam" ( Arab wedding), a social malady prevalent in parts of Kerala, has stirred a raging debate over the evil practice, which has devastated the lives of young girls in the wake of recent episode in which a 17-year-old girl from Kozhikode, living in orphanage, was forced into marriage with an Arab national.

The Ras al-Khaiamh (UAE) resident Jasim Mohammed Abdul Kareem, after spending two weeks with the girl, returned home and pronounced "talaq" over phone.

Despite universal education and commendable social sector indices, women from underprivileged sections in Kerala still appear to be victims of circumstances beyond their control.

Decades-long awareness campaigns and grass root actions, financially backward minor girls not only from the Muslim community but also from vulnerable sections like tribals are still victimised in the name of "cross-border weddings", in which they are married off to those coming from abroad or other states without their consent.

The menace, known under different names like "Arabi kalyanam", "Mysore kalyanam" or "Male kalyanam" in local parlance, based the place from where the groom comes, had been widely prevalent in places like Kozhikode, Malappuram, Kannur, Kasaragod and even in state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

Poverty-stricken parents, who could not meet the hefty dowry demanded by local youths, were often used to be trapped by "visiting grooms" with the support of local marriage brokers and, in many cases, community elders.

Initially, the brides are heaped with costly gifts like gorgeous apparels and gold ornaments and cash to lure their parents to force their daughters into marriage.

After the wedding ceremony, they are taken to honeymoon trips for a few days and even for weeks, after which the groom would leave for their home abandoning the teenage brides to life-long misery and tears.

The widely condemned social evil, believed to have been ended after the grass root level intervention of progressive community leaders and NGOs, surfaced again with the recent case in Kozhikode.

Ironically in this case, the groom himself is the son of a UAE national who married a local woman, who later got divorced and got wedded to a Keralite with whom she is living.

This came to light and sparked public outrage, after the victim and her mother came out against the orphanage where she was living alleging its authorities took the initiative for the marriage.

Refuting the charge, the orphanage management held that the wedding was performed with the consent of the girl and her family, and the marriage of 17-year-old Muslim girls was legally permissible as per a circular issued by the Social Welfare Department in the state, though it had been put on hold later following wide protests.

Women rights campaigner VP Zuhara, who has been fighting gender-bias and discriminatory practices like polygamy, said besides poverty, lack of education and prevalence of dowry also contribute to the social evils like this.

"Such forced marriages are nothing but social hazards. It is still being practised with the support of loopholes in laws that favour men not women. The outcome is that teenage widows and mothers are forced to live in endless misery for the rest of their lives," Zuhara, who runs "NISA Progressive Muslim Women's Forum" in Kozhikode, told PTI.

The menace of "Arabi kalyanam" had been under practice in the state since 1960s and 70s, she said.

"Large sections of Muslims had been under abject poverty in many parts of the state during that period. Then, the money and support got from outside bridegrooms, came as a boon for many families which used to consider such marriages as a way of escape from their penury," she said.

Some years back, police had arrested two Arab nationals from a hotel in Kozhikode city for forced marriage after the intervention of pro-women activists and NGOs, Zuhara, said.

"Only few cases are being reported. Majority of victims still prefer to keep a secret of their ignominy and misfortune. Often this kind of things happen around "yathimkhanas' (community-run orphanages) and hostels for the poor children. It is true that some vested interests within the community offer support for them," Zuhra said.



'I, Asia Bibi, Have Been Sentenced To Death Because I Was Thirsty

'Sentenced to death for being thirsty': Christian woman tells of moment she was beaten and locked up in Pakistan after 'using Muslim women's cup to drink water'


2 September 2013

A Christian woman has spoken of how she was given a death sentence in Pakistan because she drank water from a well with a cup used by Muslim women.

Mother-of-five Asia Bibi, 46, has spent the last four years languishing in a prison cell after being condemned to hang following a conviction for blasphemy.

She denied the charge of defiling the name of the prophet Mohammed during an argument with Muslim co-workers but was convicted following a trial.

With 97 per cent of Pakistan Muslim, hostility towards Christians is rife and the government refuses to release her because of angry protests by extremists.

Two government officials who have spoken out on her behalf have been murdered - including Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti.

Now, as reported by the New York Post, Mrs Bibi - a farm worker from rural Punjab - has released a memoir called 'Blasphemy'.

She describes how she has no idea how long she has left to live. Talking about how she ended up in her position, she says: 'I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using “their” cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun.

'I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I’m a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women, because water served by a Christian woman was regarded as unclean by my stupid fellow fruit-pickers.'

In the book, Mrs Bibi describes how she ended up in this desperate situation on June 14, 2009 after going fruit-picking in the blazing sun.

Dripping with sweat as midday approached, she decided to head towards a well for a drink of water.

After pulling up a bucketful of water she used an old metal cup resting on the side of the well. But just seconds later she heard groans and noises from behind her.

One of the fruit pickers - who was also one of her neighbours - suddenly shouted that she cannot drink the water because it is forbidden by God.

The woman shouted out, telling all of the fruit pickers that the water in the well had been dirtied because Mrs Bibi drank from their cup.

After being told by the angry fruit-pickers to convert to Islam to redeem herself, Mrs Bibi decided to stand up to the crowd and defend Christianity.

But after she is pushed and shoved by the group, Mrs Bibi ran home.

But, five days later, while fruit picking in another field, things became much worse. She was suddenly attacked by an angry crowd who accused her of insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

She was eventually taken battered and bruised to the village imam and told she can redeem herself  only by conversion to Islam or otherwise die.

She refused to convert but begged with the crowd that she did not insult their religion. They accused her of lying and repeatedly beat her until two policemen took her to a police station.

That day she was thrown into a prison cell and has remained locked up ever since.

Following her arrest in 2009, Mrs Bibi was held in the high-security District Jail Seikhupura, 22 miles north-west of Lahore. She has since been moved to a more remote prison.

She previously told how she feared being poisoned.

'I am given raw material to cook for myself, since the administration fears I might be poisoned, as other Christians accused of blasphemy were poisoned or killed in the jail.'

Her book was dictated to her husband from jail who then relayed it to a French journalist.

Half of the proceeds from the book will help support Mrs Bibi and her family in their quest for justice.



Afghan female military pilot gives wing to young girls' dreams

2 September 2013

2nd  Lt. Niloofar Rhmani recently became Afghanistan's first female pilot in three decades. But even as she and other women break barriers, many are concerned about life after the 2014 drawdown of Western forces.

When Afghan Air Force 2nd Lt. Niloofar Rhmani received her flying wings in May, she earned an important distinction: The first female Afghan military pilot to graduate in more than 30 years.

Wearing sunglasses and a black head scarf tucked into her flight suit, Ms. Rhmani cuts a Top Gun-style profile in an official US Air Force photograph of her walking the flight line at Shinband Air Base in western Afghanistan.

“I had to work hard but want to show that females in my country, we can do it,” Rhmani was quoted as saying on graduation day in a US Air Force press article. “Now my goal is to help my country have a bright future and stand up for females. I helped break down the doors for them after me.”

Rhmani earned her wings, however, just as some Afghan women are beginning worry about the impact of the US-led Western military drawdown from Afghanistan in 2014. They fear a rollback of legal provisions that would set back more than a decade of progress and a return of Taliban influence that they say is already evident.

RECOMMENDED: How well do you know Afghanistan? Take our quiz.

In one of the latest of a number of attacks against prominent women in Afghanistan, female member of parliament Fariba Ahmadi Kakar was kidnapped in central Ghazni Province in mid-August. Her Taliban captors demanded the release of four of their own imprisoned militants. In July, the most senior policewoman in southern Helmand Province was shot dead.In such a difficult environment, how much can Rhmani's 197 sorties and 145.5 hours of flying time, up to when she earned her Air Force wings, really serve as a role model for Afghan women?

In Afghanistan, media reach is limited, and educating women remains so contentious in some quarters that girls' schools have been subject to attack. Just a dozen years ago, under Taliban rule, Afghan women were forced to wear the all-enveloping burqa, and working outside the home was severely restricted.

“I read the newspaper and I was surprised the day I saw the report” about Rhmani’s status as a new aviator, says Laila Samani, a women’s rights activist who runs her own nongovernmental organization called “Birth of New Ideas” in Herat, in western Afghanistan.

“I showed it to my daughter, and on that day she said: ‘I will be a pilot,’” says Ms. Samani. “It will have a big impact. It was also on TV so many people saw it.”

New role models

Rhmani is not the first Afghan female pilot ever. Helicopter pilot Col. Latifa Nabizada and her sister achieved that feat in the late 1980s, when Soviet forces still occupied Afghanistan and were building the Afghan Air Force. Back then, the women had to sew their own uniforms so they would fit and male students threw stones at them.

The challenges are different for Rhmani today. Indeed, Afghanistan is a changed country, after US forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001 and donors have spent tens of billions of dollars on reconstruction. There is a ministry dedicated to women’s affairs, with offices and projects across the country, and women are active in politics and society like never before.

“I want to interview her! She is a hero. I am proud of her,” says journalist Zarghoona Salihi of the Pajhwok Afghan News agency in Kabul, about Rhmani. “Others are teachers, doctors, and social activists. There have been a lot of changes the last five years. The number of active women has grown. And on the other side [among men] the awareness of women has grown.”

As a female Afghan journalist, Ms. Salihi also finds herself cast as a role model, particularly when she visits schools to report and asks girls what they want to do with their lives.

“Many say: ‘We want to be a journalist like you,’” says Salihi. “I am a journalist working in the field, and any girl can see that. Also women are learning how to find their rights, to work outside the home…. If they have courage, they can reach any goal.”

Salihi, who often writes on women’s issues, says she has never seen so much ambition among young women in her country. Opportunities have grown – women today are in the cabinet and in parliament – yet she rates international aid of higher importance even than education.

“If we had no support from the international community, how could we prepare the education for women?” Salihi asks. She does not expect a dramatic rollback in women’s rights after 2014.

“I don’t think so, because right now Afghans know what’s better for our future, and what’s not. There may be new challenges, but not like 10 years ago,” says Salihi. Nevertheless, “Afghanistan is still a traditional country. It’s very difficult to change beliefs and it takes time. Some families can see the changes.”

Footing the bill for women's rights

New donor aid includes $200 million pledged last month specifically for Afghan women’s projects by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which has spent $17 billion in total in Afghanistan since 2001. Salihi says USAID has an “especially” positive impact of women’s issues here.

“We identified the results we would like to see five years from now [and said] give us a proposal on how you would do that,” says William Hammink, the USAID country director in Kabul, about the request for proposals aimed at impacting 75,000 women, by promoting gender equality from a deeper role in the economy to leadership development.

“This is not a one-off,” says Mr. Hammink. “This is a large program, but we’ve been working on this for a long time, and in fact all of our programs have a gender component, in terms of impact on women, whether it’s agri-business support, farmer support, or education and teacher training. This is the next stage.”

Afghan women activists, especially, are aware of such funding, and also of the changes that have been wrought in Afghanistan since 2001.

“People worry that 2014 may create big challenges for women, but it can also be a big opportunity for women because the US has promised to help with $200 million,” says Samani, the Herat activist who is also a member of an investment board in Kabul.

“Once we thought if the international community left Afghanistan, we would lose our projects and money would go down,” says Samani. “But after that we thought: How long can we be dependent? We need to be self-sustaining, and our social activism must find ways to pay. It’s a concern for women and activists, but I see women’s NGOs are really improved and active.”

Changing the status quo

Still there are many hurdles, and the progress of the last decade has limits. Last year, a female singer wanted to give a live concert in Herat, but conservative groups were against it and stopped it because they believed “women should not work outside the home,” says Samani.

The new governor of Herat Province, Said Fazilullah Wahidi, who was appointed in last month, says fears of regression on women’s issues are overblown.

“This independence of women, that is not a gift from America or other countries. That is the Afghan, their own idea,” says Mr. Wahidi. “We have rules and regulation. And independence for you is one thing, and for us it is another thing. They are very good now.”

That may sound promising, but at root are long-ingrained views about women – and how little they should stray from home and from housework. These will require men, too, to alter their thinking, no matter how many female fighter pilots there may be.

That became clear to Samani when she recently rode a taxi. The driver was listening to a sermon on the radio of an especially hardline preacher.

“Look to your women, they work with NGOs and go out shopping,” Samani recalls the preacher saying. “Every day we lose religious things; the world is ending…”

The driver shook his head in total agreement, and muttered, ‘'He’s right,’' Samani recounts.

“We expect some women to come under attack, and be asked to stop activities,” says this women’s activist of her post-2014 world. “We will not go back to the Taliban time, but our movement will be slowed and face more challenges.”



The Women's Majlis of UAE: Sport Has The Power To Inspire Women

Mariam Al Omaira

2 September 2013

What do you think about the level of sport for women in the UAE? Would you do anything to change it?

The level of sport for women in the UAE is gradually improving year after year. It's impressive and honourable to know that women are fighting for their passion, whether it be in football, hockey, basketball or even tae kwon do. After being involved in sport for several years, we finally see women's sports academies coming online, organisations establishing leagues to enhance competition and resources injected into different clubs to develop women's sport and increase participation. Nevertheless, more effort needs to be put in, and there are more milestones to accomplish.

One of the main reasons that I started Irada Sport Development Company was to increase sport awareness and sport culture within the community. To grow professionally, we need to bridge the gap between raw talent and advanced levels of sport. Our culture still views sport as a hobby and not a profession that can be sought after. Therefore, we need to instil sport culture into our society. We couldn't expect to be doctors or lawyers without going to school first, right? It's the same with sport: we can't expect to achieve great results internationally if we don't learn to value sport and provide grassroots development programs on a national level. We need to create competitive atmospheres in schools, and increase hours of physical education, rather than substitute the subject with more hours of free time. After-school sport should be mandatory and more national and regional competitions need to be held for sport to truly develop in the UAE.

As a social entrepreneur, the greatest challenge faced in the two years of my company is the ability to find the right venue, without jeopardising the environment for local women who wish to play within the boundaries of culture and tradition. Venues are either too expensive or too open. The other challenge is the inability to find female referees to officiate.

As a player participating in the first women's football league, the problem was there, too. The conditions we had to play under were, unfortunately, horrible. The field was half-grass, half-sand, and many players suffered ligament injuries. The referees needed more practice, too.

If I were to really make a change in women's sport, I'd have different organisations working alongside each other to achieve a single objective: excellence in sport.

Sport isn't only about winning and achieving great results. Sport should equal opportunity.

One quote, from Nelson Mandela that I truly believe in says: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where once there was only despair."

Mariam Al Omaira is the founder of the Irada Sport Development Company.



Investing in a Future for Asia’s Young Women


2 September 2013

SINGAPORE — Mari Sawai and Mario Ferro, who graduated in 2009 from the Masters in Development program of the London School of Economics, founded Wedu last year, a program to help women in Southeast Asia gain access to higher education through micro financing, mentorship and counseling.

Their aim, they say, is to apply private sector investment practices to a nonprofit organization.

In the 18 months since Wedu — an acronym derived from Women’s Education — conducted its first workshop, the organization has raised about $130,000, providing backing for just five students, but it plans to expand fast and to be working with as many as 1,500 students by 2017.

The organization, which is registered in Britain but based in Bangkok, aims its outreach efforts at top high schools in developing Southeast Asia — that is, countries other than Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, which are generally classified as developed. The target schools tend to have students with sufficient academic ability to go to university.

Wedu has a 10-person admissions panel that screens candidates, relying partly on referrals from the agency’s supporters and looking for students who have leadership capability and the grades to go to university but lack the necessary financial resources. “We are supporting students for their leadership potential, besides their grades in, say, math or English,” Mr. Ferro said. “Having donors as part of the selection is also a way for us to stay accountable to the quality level that we commit toward to the funders. If the quality goes down, our funding will go down immediately.”

The screening process is rigorous, he said, to protect Wedu’s credibility.

In June, Jacqueline Novogratz, an author and chief executive of Acumen Fund, which invests in businesses aiding the world’s poor, publicly endorsed Wedu and became its global ambassador.

Mr. Ferro, 31 , who previously worked for three years as a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers in his native Italy, said Wedu wanted to apply investment practices usually associated with the private sector, rather than just handing out funds to students.

“When there is a bright entrepreneur, a venture capitalist will give money and advice in return for a seat on the board,” he said. “He has skin in the game.”

“In education, you see that there are a lot of scholarships,” Mr. Ferro added. “But it is like an investor giving you money and then running away.”

Wedu’s model envisages a limited number of scholarships; most students will receive microfinancing, requiring them to repay up to 10 percent of their future earnings over a 10-year period — with exemptions for those who take low-paying jobs with high social value. Repayments will complement fresh donor financing for Wedu’s expansion.

Wedu asks its donors to be involved actively in both student selection and mentoring.

Mr. Ferro said one of the challenges was to persuade potential Asian donors and volunteers to engage with a program that had yet to build either name recognition or a track record. That would be a problem anywhere, he said, but was particularly challenging in brand-conscious Asia.

As a consequence, most of Wedu’s seed money has come from Western sources, either as donations or prize money: in 2012, it was named Social Enterprise Startup of the year by Cambridge University, an award that netted it £5,000, or nearly $8,000.

Similarly, the program’s operating staff — half paid, half volunteers — and volunteer mentors are largely Europeans and Americans. “It is important for reasons of sustainability to invest in local leaders, and the reality is that there are too many Westerners,” Mr. Ferro said. “The brand effect means that we are struggling with attracting local talent, and this has clearly affected the composition of our team.”

Wedu’s focus on Asia is reflected not only in its Bangkok location, but also in a policy of directing its efforts only to students who are interested in remaining in the region for their studies — partly for fear of encouraging a brain drain.

For Ms. Sawai, 29, a former United Nations officer, one of the big challenges of economic development in the region is derived directly from traditional attitudes to education and gender, and particularly the relatively small number of women going into higher education.

“We’re targeting the development of young female leaders and found that certain positions need people with university educations,” she said.

United Nations’ data show that in several less developed Asian countries like Bhutan, fewer than 10 percent of lawmakers are women. Wedu is not currently operating in those countries, but it plans to expand across the entire region.

Behavioral patterns that already keep girls behind in school are among the cultural factors limiting their entry into universities.

“When we did a workshop in Cambodia, there were only three to four boys who sat in, but during the question and answer session, they were the only ones raising their hands,” Ms. Sawai said. “After five questions, we asked the girls if they had any questions and had to wait a bit and encourage them to speak up.”

Wedu addresses other fundamental barriers to education, including the reality that many Asian students from low-income families do not know the basics of college admissions. Some may not even know how to navigate an airport to get to an overseas campus.

“Our students often don’t have the basic knowledge a lot of Western students have about university rankings, so we support them through the process of finding a university and how to access financial aid,” Ms. Sawai said.

“One of our students from Cambodia sat for an exam in Phnom Penh to attend university in Bangladesh,” she said. “It was the first time she had been out of her village.”

As Wedu scales up, it plans to operate by creating country-specific funds, each adapted to local norms: “Not separate companies but separate departments of the same company that can work autonomously,” Mr. Ferro said.



Two-thirds of expat women in Beirut have been harassed

September 02, 2013

By Kareem Shaheen

BEIRUT: Over two-thirds of expatriate women in the capital have been sexually harassed, according to the results of a new survey by an activist group. The figures are likely just as high for Lebanese women, the group’s leader said, with complaints by women ranging from verbal harassment and catcalls to violent sexual assault.

“In their daily lives, Lebanese women and expatriates are experiencing harassment, whether verbal or physical,” said Tarek Abouzeinab, who launched the anti-harassment initiative.

Dubbed “Shuft Taharrush” (I’ve seen harassment), the campaign was launched by “Say No To Violence Against Women,” an activist group, and is modeled on similar drives in Tunisia and Egypt, where grassroots organizations have emerged to combat widespread sexual assaults at political rallies.

The survey is the latest step in the campaign by the group, which is composed of pro bono lawyers and volunteers tracking harassment cases in various parts of Lebanon, and a hotline that receives harassment complaints.

“The goal ... is to ensure victims get their rights and to break the wall of silence,” the group said in a statement sent to The Daily Star.

More than 900 women responded to the survey, which was carried out in places that are frequented by expatriate women, including malls and churches.

The survey found that 69 percent of expatriate women in Lebanon “are subjected to harassment in all its forms and types as well as continuous and unrelenting violence, discrimination and harsh treatment.”

The group said that sexual harassment in the workplace is especially common for women in Lebanon, who face a threat of being laid off if they report the incidents.

The group appealed to Lebanese officials and human rights organizations to contribute to the fight against sexual harassment, and called on individuals to report harassment cases and on families to teach equality of the sexes to their children.

The campaign organizers say that the rate and type of harassment varies by location.

For example, sexual exploitation of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria is more common in areas where refugees congregate, such as in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli.

In Beirut, harassment is more common at the workplace and in the street, as well as in locations known for their nightlife, like Hamra or Gemmayzeh.

Abouzeinab said the complaints his group received span the spectrum of harassment, from sexual assault to verbal harassment and even staring, activities which he said can cause women to feel threatened.

He said that technology is making it harder for women to avoid unwanted sexual attention, with many receiving explicit texts via mobile instant messaging programs.

Abouzeinab said that expat women face harassment at work, whether in the office or in jobs which involve interaction with the public, such as waitressing, where employers try to force them to behave in a more intimate manner with customers.

Some companies even require women who apply for jobs to have certain physical features, including height and weight requirements, he said.

Abouzeinab said a major problem in combating harassment was getting people to overcome the fear of reporting it and to restore their faith in the judicial system, where they can seek justice.

“In Lebanon there is no freedom to speak, there is fear of breaking the silence barrier among men and women,” he said.

Abouzeinab said the group was still gathering data on harassment in other areas of the country as well as statistics on the phenomenon among Lebanese women, and was working to ensure that the privacy of victims is respected.

He urged Lebanese parliamentarians to pass a comprehensive anti-harassment bill, and said the group would campaign for such a law. He also said that local police should patrol areas known for their vibrant nightlife more frequently to prevent harassment.

The campaign’s hotline, which was launched during Eid, has so far received over 192 telephone complaints. The group also received 290 email inquiries on harassment.

Abouzeinab said the group would also begin looking into cases of sexual harassment of children, while ensuring privacy for victims.

The hotline for reporting sexual harassment is 03-980-603.



Cheapest Labour: Saudi Women

2 September 2013

Statistics released recently by the Labour Ministry indicated that the average monthly salary of a Saudi woman working in one of nine job categories in the private sector all over the Kingdom was SR2,613. Her maximum salary was SR3, 598 while the minimum was SR1,539.

According to these salary scales, a Saudi woman who needs a driver, and most of them do, will have to pay him a salary of SR2,000. She will then only have a few riyals left from her salary. The working Saudi woman who will need a housemaid will have nothing left of her salary. She will be working for basically nothing as most of her money has gone on  transport.

This tells me that the cleaners, who are only paid SR400 a month, are actually in a better financial position than the working Saudi women, since they are bused to their work site and back. As a result, many Saudi women have opted to stay at home instead of working.

I had stated in a previous article that society, which has prevented them from driving their own vehicles, should pay them a transportation allowance.

I recently read a news item in a business daily that the Ministry of Labor was discussing a proposal to secure public transport for the Saudi women working in factories.

Under the proposal, the ministry, represented by the Human Resources Development Fund (Hadaf), will bear the cost of transport for them. I also read a news story that 28 establishments and individuals have applied at the Ministry of Social Affairs to establish day-care centers for the small children of working mothers. I hope that these dreams will be realized soon.



Women poets rev literary gathering in Riyadh

2 September 2013

RIYADH — Two women poets from the Eastern Province revved up and enthralled the literary gathering in Riyadh last weekend.

Javed Akhter Javed — an eminent poet and writer of Urdu and Punjabi in Riyadh and the current President of Halqa Fikr-O-Fun, a literary Group in Riyadh — had especially invited Shahnaz Muzammil and Dr. Nida Syed from the Eastern Province to be part of a mini-Mushaira that was hosted in their honor. A large number of poetry lovers and writers attended the event to listen to the duo.

The event was also attended by visiting lawmaker from Pakistan Choudhry Tahir Mahmood Hundali, a former health minister in the previous Punjab government and an MPA from Sialkot, who was also the chief guest for the day.

The Mushaira was chaired by Abbas Sarwar Qureshi, the Head of Chancery and the Passport Counselor at the Embassy of Pakistan in Riyadh and a writer and a poet.

He also thanked Halqa Fikr-O-Fun for inviting him to this august gathering and was impressed with the poets. "The nation disappears whose men/women of literature disappear," he said, adding that they are a chosen few.

He also quoted from William Wordsworth and mentioned that poetry was a spontaneous powerful outflow of emotions. In the end he also recited a quatrain from his poetry, which he penned when he was a student, and won the applause from the audience.

Poet/writer Waqar Naseem Wamiq, secretary general of Halqa Fikr-O-Fun, opened the session with a welcome note.

Javed spoke about Shahnaz's life and achievements. "We are honored to have Shahnaz Muzammil with us this afternoon. Shahnaz needs no introduction as she is the author of 25 books on poetry and prose."

She is also the chairman of her own literary group "Adabi Sarai (Literary Inn)" in Lahore, he said.

Dr. Nida Syed is a young, qualified doctor whose interests and passion in poetry is commendable. "She is a rising star," he said.

Shahnaz began with her quatrain in praise of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). She mesmerized the audience with one her beautiful poetry.

Below are a few couplets from  her poetry

Woh Hae Suqraat Na

Suqraat Kay Saani Jaisa

Zehar Bhi Deyta Hae

Tou Lagta Hae Paani Jaisa

Ek Jagha Rahne Se Ugtaa

Se Gae Hain Abb Tou

Koee Bunn Jaye Sabab

Naqal Maqani Ka

Young poet and writer Waqar Naseem Wamiq also garnered audience's approval and applause for his poetry.

Dil Tou Ek Bachcha Hae

Khahishon Ka Putla Hae

Aur Dil Machalne Mein

Deyr Kitni Lagtee Hae

Ek Saans Jaati Hae Laut

Kar Nahee Aati

Aadmee Ko Marnat Mein

Deyr Kitni Lagtee Hae

Dr. Nida appeared very confident and jovial and presented her poetry lines in her unique stylish manner.

Log Ghar Ghar Talash

Karte Haen

Mera Humsar Talaash

Karte Haen

Aiyeb Auron Ke Chunte

Haen Lekin

Khud Mein Johar

Talaash Karte Haen

During the Mushaira, Javed also enthralled the audience with his his own works in Urdu and Punjabi.

Another poet Younus Abu Ghalib was invited to present his views on today’s Mushaira. "To become a poet one has to be a lover."

Asghar Chishty  also known as the King of Naat (an eulogy in praise of the Prophet pbuh)  entertained the audience with his impressive renditions.  Poet Abdur Razzak Tabassum rendered some melodious quatrains in Urdu and Punjabi.

The event concluded with a note of thanks from Engr. Rashid Mahmood Butt, SVP of PML-N in Riyadh.



Women's Policy: 9-Year Work Plan Taken For Execution In Bangladesh

2 September 2013

The government has taken a nine-year-long work plan to implement National Women Development Policy 2011, said State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki yesterday.

Starting from this year, the implementation by the ministry would be in three terms — short, mid and long of two, five and nine years respectively, she told a press briefing at a hotel in the capital.

Women’s development is a prerequisite for the country’s overall development, she said.

The nine-year plan took initiatives to ensure that 50 percent of the national and local election contestants were women politicians, she said.

In this regard, she said during the 2008 parliamentary election, her party, Awami League, gave nominations to 19 women politicians, 17 of whom were elected, she added.

She said the two-year plan will ensure that 50 percent of the management system of financial organisations comprised women.

Under the five-year plan, the ministry would enact an act as per the High Court directive to stop sexual harassment and formulate laws and policies to protect domestic helps, she added.

A committee, comprising government and non-government organisations, would be formed to monitor and ensure an equitable salary structure for both the sexes, she added.

Chumki said the plan gave emphasis on implementing the Supreme Court directive concerning fatwa or Islamic religious edict.

The SC’s Appellate Division on May 12, 2011 declared fatwa “legal in religious matters” but categorically said fatwa could not be used to punish anyone.

On distribution of family property among offspring, she said the policy would not contradict religions.



Malala Yousafzai to Open Birmingham Library

 2 September 2013

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban for championing the right of girls to an education, is to formally open Europe's largest public library in Birmingham on Tuesday.

The £188m building contains about a million books, access to a vast film and television archive belonging to the British Film Institute and is the new home of the second largest repository of Shakespeare's works in the world.

Malala was attacked by Taliban gunmen on a school bus near her former home in Pakistan last October. She was targeted after campaigning for girls' rights to go to school without fear in a part of the country where Islamic fundamentalists were trying to impose a strict form of Sharia law. The 16-year-old survived the attempt on her life despite the assassin's bullet grazing her brain, thanks to medics in Pakistan and later the UK where she was treated at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth hospital.

Surgeons inserted a titanium plate and a cochlear hearing implant, and she received a visit from Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, while recovering in hospital. She has since settled with her family in Birmingham.

In July she was praised for her bravery by the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, when she addressed the UN youth assembly on her birthday. She has since been awarded the Tipperary international peace award and the international children's peace prize.

"I am honoured to be part of the opening," she said. "The content of a book holds the power of education and it is with this power that we can shape our future and change lives. There is no greater weapon than knowledge and no greater source of knowledge than the written word.

"It is my dream that one day, great buildings like this one will exist in every corner of the world so every child can grow up with the opportunity to succeed."

Malala will place her copy of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho on the library's shelves. The schoolgirl will receive membership to the archive before unveiling a commemorative plaque during the opening ceremony.

The 31,000 sq m (333,000 sq ft) library, dubbed the People's Palace by the Dutch architectural firm Mecanoo which came up with the design, is clad partly in gold and covered in 5,357 interlocking metal circles supposed to reflect the values of universality, timelessness and unity. Its construction forms part of a wider redevelopment of the city centre.

• This article was amended on 2 September 2013 to correct the day on which Malala Yousafzai will open the library.



‘Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience’ to showcase talented fashion designers

2 September 2013

JEDDAH — The Dubai Mall’s “Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience,” the largest of its kind global fashion event in Dubai, to be held on October 10, will showcase aesthetic design collections of eight upcoming designers, highlighting their talent within the global fashion circuit.

Organized in partnership with Vogue Italia, The Dubai Mall’s “Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience” will connect Dubai and the Middle East to the international fashion scene.

The event will bring fashionistas and connoisseurs from across the world, for a first-of-its-kind celebration that will highlight Dubai’s role as an unmatched meeting ground and fashion capital, while underscoring its commitment to serve as an incubator for emerging talent.

The initiative will be the definitive global conduit for talent from different cultures and backgrounds, coming together to set up the framework for new trends and fashion flairs.

Selected under Vogue Italia’s stringent international standards, the eight up-and-coming designers will have the opportunity to showcase their work at the inaugural event of the “Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience,” to a distinguished audience comprising international celebrities and key players in the fashion industry.

Paying homage to the city’s multicultural diversity, the selected designers include: Wadah Al Hajri from Qatar; Mohammed Ashi from Kuwait; Razan Alazzouni from Saudi Arabia; Lulwa Al Amin from Bahrain; Ituen Basi from Nigeria; Simone Rocha from Ireland; Andrea Incontri from Italy; and Esme Vie from Russia.

On the evening of the “Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience,” The Fashion Catwalk will be transformed into the vibrant heart of The Dubai Mall, where the talented designers will showcase their collections from 6pm onwards. The event will also be screened across the mall’s multimedia displays to an expected audience of over 400,000 visitors.

Mohamed Alabbar, Chairman of Emaar Properties, said: “The Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience — the largest and first of its kind fashion event in the region — will put the spotlight on the city, underlining its credentials as a global fashion destination. Alongside, it will also serve as a catalyst to promote young design talent.

“Through the initiative, we are providing a dynamic platform for talented designers from across the world to display their works. The unprecedented industry experience that awaits the participants will serve as an inspiration for the young designers, and further enable Dubai to set new trends in the global fashion scene.”

Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia, said: “I have been working in fashion for more than 25 years and met many designers. I can say there is true talent in the region and I am excited to see more during the mentoring sessions I will be giving in the run-up to the event.”

Lulwa Al Amin said: “I first realized I wanted to be a fashion designer when I was eight years old, flipping through my mother’s magazines. Today, I am honored to present my work at one of the most important fashion events that define the dramatic evolution and growth of the Middle East’s fashion scene.”

Razan Alazzouni said: “It’s a great honor to have been selected amongst a group of very talented young designers from around the world. It’s very exciting to know that my designs will be viewed globally.”

Simone Rocha said: “I am so excited to be a part of the Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience. As a designer, this is a unique opportunity to showcase my collection in this part of the world.”

Ituen Basi from Nigeria said: “Being selected to participate in the Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience is phenomenal and truly humbling. It makes all the hard work and challenges over the years worthwhile.”

The Dubai Mall will be decked up to mark “Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience” with exclusive settings ready to host a series of special events.

The Grand Atrium will host an exhibition featuring 50 Vogue covers that have earned a place in fashion history books.

The participating stores will exhibit merchandise for sale, created especially for the “Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience,” with part of the proceeds from the sale also going toward Dubai Cares, which works to improve children’s access to quality primary education in developing countries.

Located in the heart of the prestigious Downtown Dubai mixed-use development, The Dubai Mall has over 1,200 retail outlets and two anchor department stores. The 440,000 sq ft Fashion Avenue, dedicated to high fashion, positions The Dubai Mall as the fashion hub, while The Souk, featuring 99 stores offering gold and jewellery, traditional handicrafts, souvenirs, abayas, perfumes and carpets, among others, is a dedicated precinct designed to reflect traditional Arabic heritage and culture. The mall is also linked directly to the Dubai Metro station through an air-conditioned travellator. — SG



Daughters of expat workers see no future in Kingdom


2 September 2013

The recent ministerial decision that prohibits daughters of expatriate workers to transfer their sponsorship from their guardian to their employer and the decision that disallows them to work at all has sparked disagreement among expat families and working daughters in the Kingdom.

Shabal Amri, a Jordanian national working at Al-Rajhi Bank in Jeddah, says that there is no way the Kingdom can put away working female expats and get Saudis to take over. “For example, Saudi staff at female branches of banks are for the most part unable to help expat English-speaking customers simply because they are not bilingual. At this point, they expect us expats to provide help.”

Amri suggests that the Ministry of Labor needs to consider this decision because it will inevitably result in expat working daughters living in the Kingdom going back to their home countries to seek employment.

Many institutions, especially international schools that used to hire youth as substitute teachers, will suffer from this recent ministerial decision.

“I think the ministry should revisit this decision,” says Naila Haq, vice-principal at a girls’ school in Dammam and mother of a female MBA graduate who is currently seeking employment in the Kingdom. “Otherwise there won’t have been any use educating our daughters. If the government is seeking to tackle unemployment problems among Saudi youth, I can safely predict that this decision is not going to make things right or fill the gaps they hope to fill.”

Haq says that expat daughters are not studying so that they can stay at home after completing their studies. “They need to be given opportunities in this country too. After being born and bred in Saudi Arabia, it is completely unfair to send them back to their countries to seek employment.”

“Several international schools will also face a big loss because of this decision to disallow expatriate daughters to work,” says Haq. “Many applications we receive for interviews are mostly expat wives or daughters that are living in the kingdom. This decision may upset a lot of expatriates in the Kingdom.”

“I applauded the decision by King Abdullah to grant all expats more time to correct their status once the initial deadline was up in July,” says Qurratulain Ashfaq, account manager at a digital ad agency in Jeddah. “However, the recent news has come as a shock and has left me extremely disappointed. This country and its ever-changing laws just keep affirming the belief that I have held for quite some time now, which is that I have been raised in an extremely sexist country.”

Ashfaq says that it makes absolutely no sense to that she should stay at home while her brother goes out for work, calling it “sexism.”

“Am I supposed to sit at home now? Is the ministry going to give me my monthly allowance?” asks Ashfaq. “At the age of 24, I am no longer a child who has to be financially dependent on her parents. I have a right to earn my own living.”

Ashfaq adds that since she heard about this decision, she has been under a lot of stress. “I can foresee a bleak future ahead of me. I am not the kind of girl who can sit at home and do nothing. I am young and educated and I like to work hard and earn a living to support my and my family. Yet it seems I will be losing my job soon, thanks to the Ministry of Labor.”



Farah Pandith explores the complexities of working for the US State Department

By Raisa Chowdhury | September 1, 2013

Farah Pandith was appointed the first Special Representative to Muslim Communities in 2009 by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and has travelled to over 80 countries over the last few years in her role. She is responsible for creating a vision for how the government should engage with Muslim communities and was awarded the Secretary's Distinguished Honor Award in January 2013, which is given to those who exhibit outstanding service to the agencies of the United States government. The Chronicle sat down with Pandith to discuss foreign affairs when she visited for the opening of the new Doris Duke’s Shangri La Islamic art exhibit at the Nasher Museum of Art.

The Chronicle: Could you explain what it means to be the Special Representative to the Muslim Communities for the State Department?

Farah Pandith: The position of the special representative was established for the first time in American history in 2009 when Secretary Clinton asked me to work on a couple of different things. We have several special envoys and special representatives to the government. We have a special envoy for the Middle East peace, we have a special envoy to Sudan—there are certain issues for which we have certain people to focus purely on specific things. When the President gave his historic speech in Cairo in June of ’09 he asked every part of our government to engage more fully than we ever have before to engage with Muslims so in every part of the government you’ve seen more efforts to do that. One of those ways is through the Office of the Special Representative to Muslim Communities, which it’s a global mandate, so Muslims in Muslim majority countries and Muslim minorities. It’s people to people engagement so that everything we’re doing is grassroots and it’s under the age of 30, so it’s the youth deployment.

We are working with our embassies to find new ways to build connectivity to build networks to engage in a dialogue and conversation to break down this idea of an us and them, to catalyze more unique opportunities to build resilient and strong communities.

TC: What are the key policy issues that come into play in your work?

FP: The state department is a very big entity that has many different components so on the policy side, there are regional bureaus and functional bureaus that work on a broad range of things. Whether you’re looking at climate change or human trafficking or women’s and girls’ empowerment or Israel/Palestine, whatever the issue happens to be there are bureaus that work on it and my mandate cuts across many of these things because of the ecosystem in which we work. I’m focused on Muslim youth and making sure we understand what they’re saying and build a platform on which their voice can be heard.\

TC: You said your role is to help build community, what would you say is the United States’ role in that abroad?

FP: Certainly on any issue that is taking place around the world our embassies who are generating connectivities in those countries. I don’t get involved with the day to day of the Middle East peace or the Rohingya. We all work together on these issues but the lead comes from the embassy or bureau working on that.

TC: What exactly is the global mandate portion then?

FP: When you are looking at the importance of giving dignity to all voices when you look historically at the way the U.S. would look at speaking about Muslims we would be very regional, the pivot was usually to the Middle East and while consciously you know the largest Muslim populations are in Indonesia, Pakistan, India. You can understand that consciously but understanding the connectivity is very different. Having the global mandate means you are able to connect the conversations that are happening in Stockholm with the conversations happening in Buenos Aires with the conversations happening in Kampala with the conversations happening in Brunei.

You may not think about connectivity but it is very important for your generation who are all digital natives to understand the flow of ideas. I often talk about the fact that there is a “youthquake” happening around the world and the ideas of young people are shaking things up. The idea that is key to this mandate is if it was that we only want you to look at this part of the world, it would be inappropriate at this moment in time.

TC: What do you think is the role of Muslim communities within the United States? Is collective action by such a small faith group effective?

FP: First off let’s be clear. This is America. Freedom of speech is a really important value in our country and I respect and advocate for freedom of speech. People have the right to protest peacefully and people have the right to talk about things in a free and open environment. You said what is the responsibility of, and I will tweet that as what is the responsibility of us all? There are faith communities and non-faith communities that talk about matters of foreign policy with great passion and they should speak about things in a peaceful and, I hope, respectful way.

TC: You came before in 2011, and now you’re back. Are there any changes you’ve noticed on campus or changes in what you think people should pay attention to?

FP: What I will say is I’m really excited to take part in the opening of the new exhibit and that is a new and wonderful thing. The importance of Duke pinpointing and projecting the importance of Islamic art and culture is essential to where we are in 2013. The movement of ideas around the world and so many components of culture and history are being wiped out. The heritage and the history of human civilizations that have come before are being destroyed sometimes in war and sometimes purposefully.

Thank goodness to Duke University for pausing and taking a moment to say, 'This is important. You have to know what came before you and you have to understand the impact.' Islamic art and culture is something that I run across in everything that I do in all the 80 countries I’ve been to over the last four years whether it’s graffiti art in Bahrain or a young artist in China doing Chinese calligraphy. To understand there are mosques that are 1,000s of years old in China at the same time that there are mosques being built in Ireland. Wherever you are in the world you have to look at architecture and Islamic civilizations not just in theology but how it manifests in what people do.

So coming here on campus today I made this visit because of the opening of the museum. I feel very fortunate to be included in this. Its not only historic and important. I truly hope at a time when UNESCO is doing so much to preserve ancient sites when we are seeing the eradication of history and heritage through very extremist ideology. When we are seeing the impact of your generation releasing their ideas through art and in new ways whether it’s hip hop or the women doing poetry. They are using these ways of expression to create a new narrative about what is happening around the world right now, what it means to be Muslim and young in 2013. That’s powerful—it needs to be highlighted.

TC: You’ve highlighted what Duke has done, is there something general that you would say is the role of universities across the board?

FP: A great conversation I was having earlier with Professor [Ebrahim] Moosa, [professor of religion and Islamic studies], when I arrived is the importance of academia in bringing forward ideas. In a context that is allowing for a free flow of ideas and the importance of the university to push the envelope. This is the place for you to explore.

TC: Is there any advice you would give to students interested in international relations and maybe a career in the field?

FP: You all are on this planet at such a tumultuous time and as you think about foreign policy and your careers or your interest in foreign policy. Many of the students probably already do this, but just to underscore it, the importance of hearing different perspectives. To be diligent about where you watch the news and how you interpret the news. How you think about a topic makes a difference to the type of person that you are and influences the kinds of questions you’re going to ask. Be analytic as you go forward. What we tend to see in America is that we have channeled what we are most comfortable with and we only watch a particular channel, and only read a particular news source because you’re comfortable with. Read stuff that you’re uncomfortable with so you see how everybody sees the topic so you can make an informed decision.



Poverty ‘Forced’ Sharourah Man to Kill Wife and Kids in Najran, Saudi Arab

2 September 2013

NAJRAN — The man who killed his wife and four children last week told investigators that he took his family members’ lives because he wanted them to go to paradise where there is no poverty and where they can live a better life, Al-Watan daily reported Saturday.

He also said he did not care what happened to him because he was confident that his wife and children will go to paradise.

“Salih had a very difficult life,” said the man's brother Fahd. “In some cases, his car would run out of gas, and he and his family would have to walk home. My brother never asked anyone for charity and his love for children had no bounds.”

Arif, Salih’s younger brother, said his family members never thought for one second that Salih would think of killing his wife and children.

The man who washed the dead bodies of the slain family members said the same thing. “I knew Salih very well. He was a God-fearing man and he never had any problem with anyone. He would get furious if someone hurt his children or even touched them. I don’t know why he did this.”

A neighbour said Salih did not want his wife and children to live in abject poverty. He never did drugs or had weird behavior as some people claimed on social media websites. “Those who spread these evil rumors should be ashamed of themselves.”

Salih’s sister said her brother was once kicked out of the grocery store because he could not pay his debts.

One of the hospitals refused to admit his son because Salih did not have an ID. The man is not a Saudi national, but had applied for citizenship.

“My brother was a religious man, but was at the end of his rope.”



Life expectancy gap growing between rich and poor world women: WHO

Reuters | Sep 2, 2013

GENEVA : Life expectancy for women at 50 has improved, but the gap between poor and rich countries is growing and could worsen without better detection and treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday.

A WHO study, one of the first to analyse the causes of death of older women, found that in wealthier countries deaths from noncommunicable diseases has fallen dramatically in recent decades, especially from cancers of the stomach, colon, breast and cervix.

Women over 50 in low and middle-income countries are also living longer, but chronic ailments, including diabetes, kill them at an earlier age than their counterparts, it said.

"The gap in life expectancy between such women in rich and poor countries is growing," said the WHO study, part of an issue of the WHO's monthly bulletin devoted to women's health.

There is a similar growing gap between the life expectancy of men over 50 in rich and lower income countries and in some parts of the world, this gap is wider, WHO officials said.

"More women can expect to live longer and not just survive child birth and childhood. But what we found is that improvement is much stronger in the rich world than in the poor world. The disparity between the two is increasing," Dr. John Beard, director of WHO's department of ageing and life course, said in an interview at WHO headquarters.


Beard, one of the study's three authors, said: "What it also points to is that we need particularly in low and middle-income countries to start to think about how these emerging needs of women get addressed. The success in the rich world would suggest that is through better prevention and treatment of NCDs."

In women over 50 years old, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), particularly cancers, heart disease and strokes, are the most common causes of death, regardless of the level of economic development of the country in which they live, the study said.

Health ministers from WHO's 194 member states agreed on a global action plan to prevent and control noncommunicable diseases at their annual ministerial meeting last May.

Developed countries have tackled cardiovascular diseases and cancers in women with tangible results, the WHO study said.

Fewer women aged 50 years and older in rich countries are dying from heart disease, stroke and diabetes than 30 years ago and these improvements contributed most to increasing women's life expectancy at the age of 50, it said. An older woman in Germany can now expect to live to 84 and in Japan to 88 years, against 73 in South Africa and 80 in Mexico.

"That reflects two things, better prevention, particularly clinical prevention around control of hypertension and screening of cervical cancer, but it also reflects better treatment," Beard said.

"I think that is particularly true for breast cancer where women with breast cancer are much better managed these days in the rich world. That also explains the disparity," he said.

Low-income countries, especially in Africa, offer community services to treat diseases like AIDS or offer maternal care but many lack services to detect or treat breast cancer, he said.

In many developing countries, there is also limited access to high blood pressure medication to treat hypertension, one of the biggest risk factors for death, he added.

Women with cardiovascular disease and cancers need the kind of chronic treatment provided to those with HIV/AIDS, he said.