New Age Islam News Bureau
6 Apr 2014
Nadia al-Sakkaf and Jon Stewart at the Women in the World summit in New York (Photo courtesy of Marc Bryan-Brown/Women in the World)
• IPU Praises Saudi Women’s Position in Decision Making
• Australian Defence League Cyber-Bullying Has Young Muslim Women Terrified
• ‘We Created a Monster,’ Arab Spring Women Activists Tell Jon Stewart
• Egypt Tribal Fighting Over Woman Kills 23
• Afghan Women’s Voices in Elections: Changing the Game
• Afghanistan’s Next First Lady, A Christian Lebanese-American?
• Indonesian Blood Money Saves Maid from Saudi Execution
• Women’s Rights in Africa: Land Reform, Gender Equality and Social Equity
• ‘Mama Kanga’: Nigeria’s ‘Well Woman’
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
'No Laws Prevent Women Driving': Emir of Jazan
6 Apr 2014
JAZAN — Emir of Jazan Prince Muhammad Bin Nasser said there are no laws that prevent women from driving, adding that the issue is still surrounded by social controversies. Prince Muhammad stressed that women should be protected and be able to travel by themselves without the need for a non-Mahram driver. He also said over 50 percent of Saudi household income is spent on drivers’ and housemaids’ salaries. He pointed out that women all over the world have struggled for their rights and women in the Kingdom will continue to do the same until they get their due rights. He made the remarks during a meeting with female journalists on Friday at his palace.
IPU praises Saudi women’s position in decision making
6 Apr 2014
JEDDAH – The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the international organization of parliaments, has highlighted the advanced position the Kingdom occupies in terms of women’s participation in politics.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Geneva-based IPU said that Saudi women’s representation in the Shoura Council was 19.9 percent, a good ranking.
The world average of women’s participation in both Houses combined is 21.8%, and the regional average in Arab states is 15.9%.
The data was compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union on the basis of information provided by National Parliaments by Jan. 1 2014, in which 189 countries were classified in descending order of the percentage of women in the lower or single House, said the IPU statement.
Faisal Bin Hasan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN, attributed the achievement to the decision made earlier by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to allot 30 seats to women in the 151-member Shoura Council.
The King’s decision to reserve 20% seats for women in the Shoura made it the fourth highest in the Arab region in terms of women’s political participation in parliament, according to an IPU data on women in parliament.
IPU has welcomed the decision by the King as a historic moment.
Last year, two women members of the Shoura Council formed part of a Saudi Arabian delegation to an IPU Assembly.
Dr Lubna Al-Ansary and Dr. Hanan Al-Ahmadi attended the IPU’s 128th Assembly in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito.
Australian Defence League Cyber-Bullying Has Young Muslim Women Terrified
6 Apr 2014
Young Muslim women have been targeted in a cyber-bullying campaign by members of anti-Islamic group Australian Defence League that has left them traumatised and fearful of going out in public.
The online vilification was exposed last week, just days before the Greystanes home of senior ADL group member Nathan Abela was the target of a drive-by shooting.
Muslims have expressed their outrage about what has been happening to the women, but denied the shooting on Thursday night had anything to do with them.
A man identifying himself only as Omar said Muslims were very angry but they were not violent. They believed the ADL was trying to ''start things between us and them''. But he said they would fight back using words and the media. ''No one is talking about taking the law into their own hands,'' he said.
Tensions have been rising for weeks as the women and children's schools have been photographed, filmed and posted on the internet accompanied by derogatory and inflammatory comments.
Photos have been taken of the women without their knowledge while they were travelling on trains to work and going about their business. Complaints have also been made in the past few weeks about ADL members’ spruiking anti-Islamic messages and handing out pamphlets at suburban shopping centres.
Community advocate Rebecca Kay said those subjected to the cyber-bullying had been urged to complain to police and to the social media sites posting the photos and comments.
Muslim Women's Association executive officer Maha Abdo said the caption on the photo of one young woman was ''extremely offensive and insulting''.
Ms Abdo said it vilified the woman in the photo and Muslim women in general.
''She is now afraid to catch the train to work for fear of what might happen,'' Ms Abdo said.
She said another young woman who was targeted was petrified after having her photo plastered on Facebook sites and had asked for a job transfer.
''The bullying and intimidation is driving people to the edge,'' she said.
''Everybody has a right to feel that they can move about in society without being publicly humiliated and vilified on the basis of their religion or culture,'' she said.
''This is not a question of limiting freedom of speech but a question of safety and security.''
NSW Community Relations Commission chairman Vic Alhadeff urged all parties to take a deep breath.
''This incident has the potential to cause serious disharmony, which is something all people of goodwill wish to avoid,'' Mr Alhadeff said.
''There is no place for extremism of any kind in our society.''
The grand mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, has asked imams in Sydney to address their congregations during Friday prayers about remaining calm and maintaining peaceful co-existence and harmony.
‘We Created a Monster,’ Arab Spring Women Activists Tell Jon Stewart
6 Apr 2014
Arab Spring women activists spoke dramatically of their role in the Middle Eastern uprising on Friday at a New York panel moderated by top U.S. political satirist Jon Stewart.
“People think of the Arab Spring as a singular event, but instead it played out differently each country,” Stewart said at the Women in the World panel discussion. “When groups that don’t normally have a voice suddenly raise up, that excitement and that potential is often met with a pretty serious backlash from people who had controlled those voices.”
In response, Yemen Times editor-in-chief Nadia al-Sakkaf said that in her country, after the uprising “we were surprised to see how we created a monster we can’t control anymore.”
The four women on the panel discussed their roles in the uprisings, as well as the fact that women were the mothers of the militants in their countries.
Alaa Murabit, the 24-year-old founder of advocacy group The Voice of Libyan Women, said that the massive amount of weapons on the ground since the civil war that ousted Muammar Qaddafi had created a huge problem.
Taking the back burner
“We started rebuilding a nation by giving citizens weapons. With insecurity, women tend to take the back burner,” said Murabit.
A key way to expand the role of women in the Middle East is education, she added.
“We need to make conversations about women’s rights and religion… religion is important because that's how autocratic regimes thrive. We need to change the dialogue.”
Stewart summarized the events of the Arab Spring by saying: “The dreams of what you idealize and what you want fall apart very quickly in insecurity and chaos… that points to the appeal of authoritarian regimes.”
Egypt tribal fighting over woman kills 23
6 Apr 2014
A tribal clash in Egypt’s southern province of Aswan has claimed the lives of at least 23 people, ministry officials said Saturday.
The skirmish erupted last week when a group of students engaged in a fight after a man sexually accosted a woman from another family.
Renewed fighting on Saturday between Bani Hilal tribesmen and the Nubian Dabudiya family killed 20 people, the interior ministry said, a day after a failed reconciliation meeting between the two sides ended in a gun battle that killed three.
The two sides used gunfire and petrol bombs and several houses were burned to the ground before police were able to stop the fighting on Saturday morning, the ministry said in a statement.
The Egyptian premier and interior minister flew to Aswan to closely follow up on the matter, Egypt’s Youm7 news portal reported.
Mohamed Sorour, a health ministry official in Aswan, told Reuters the number of dead had risen to 23 by Saturday afternoon. He said 31 people were hospitalized.
Aswan’s governor ordered 17 local schools to cancel classes on Sunday, the first day of the work week in Egypt, state news agency MENA reported.
Tribal vendettas are common in the poor, rural south, but the current violence is the worst in recent memory, police said.
Afghan women’s voices in elections: Changing the game
6 Apr 2014
The significance of the elections in Afghanistan cannot be overestimated. They mark the first time in Afghanistan's history that power will be handed from one democratically elected government to another. More importantly, they will determine to what degree the gains of the past decade for women’s rights will be safeguarded both during the transition and by the new government. Women are looking with hope for positive change.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has undertaken a significant voter registration campaign, nearly reaching its target of 40% of eligible female voters. Since registration began last year, the IEC has registered 3.6 million new voters, of which a third, 1.2 million, are women. UN Women applauds the efforts of the government to ensure sufficient female staff in the polling stations as this will encourage more women to vote.
Adding Volume to the Voice – Supporting the Game Changers
There is consensus that the elections must be an Afghan-led and Afghan-managed process. The role of the UN is mainly to provide support to the electoral institutions and Afghan authorities. UN Women has focused its support on civil society engagement and coordination to ensure that the issues that blocked women from voting during the 2009/10 elections are mitigated in this round of elections. To that end, UN Women facilitated the creation of the Civil Society Exchange, bringing together civil society representatives and individual women’s rights activists to coordinate efforts in raising awareness through joint advocacy and information sharing.
This advocacy “think tank” collects information on the Afghan women’s situation through the members’ various networks, analyses trends and issues, and then advocates with the relevant institutions. Currently the focus is on the challenges associated with women’s participation in political and social life. By bringing together individual pieces of data, the Civil Society Exchange amplifies women’s voices on the issues impacting their ability to participate in the vote. Post-election activities will seek to determine the degree to which women participated, and to advocate with the new government and leaders to protect women’s rights as promised during the campaigning.
Working with the New Leadership
But is it enough, and what guarantees are there? During the past twelve months, tensions have risen on issues such as negative provisions proposed within the revised Eliminating Violence Against Women Law and the Criminal Procedure Code, as well as reduced quotas for women under the revised Election Law. Only through heavy consultations between civil society, parliament, the Ministry of Justice and the President’s Office as well as advocacy by the international community, have these regressive initiatives been brought to the public eye and alleviated to the degree possible. These challenges highlight the fact that there remain many in Afghanistan’s power structures and society who fail to see the need for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Afghanistan has a number of international obligations and national commitments aimed at ensuring that the rights of women are protected. Aside from its own Constitution, the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) provides Afghanistan with the essential foundation for building a new national ethos that celebrates human rights and the full participation of all its citizenry in decision-making, and provides the political and economic frameworks to deliver on its commitments to all. If Afghanistan were to fulfill all of its obligations under CEDAW, the rights of women and girls would be guaranteed.
Afghanistan cannot afford to ignore its women, to slip back into the past and neglect half the productive population. Most importantly, Afghanistan cannot afford to lose the gains of the past decade, for to do so would mean it has lost its place in the global arena and its regional sphere of influence. No matter who wins the elections, Afghanistan must guarantee that its women win in the long run.
UN Women together with the rest of the UN system remains committed to supporting the new leadership as well as civil society and women’s rights activists to change the game so women can participate on a level playing field.
Afghanistan’s Next First Lady, A Christian Lebanese-American?
6 Apr 2014
They say that behind every great man there is a woman and Afghan presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani seems to be taking the phrase seriously, sharing the spotlight with his Lebanese-American, Christian, wife at rallies and political events.
The American-trained anthropologist has been reported to be gathering female support, with some women professing their backing because he is a Western-educated, former World Bank official.
“Four years ago, I studied a couple of his books, and I prefer him as a candidate because of his knowledge,” Take Khatera Tajamyar, 24, told news outlet NPR.
In March, the election runner held a rally in Kabul attended by several thousand women on International Women’s Day. In a rare sight in Afghanistan’s political scene, his wife addressed the crowd.
Ghani returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted and held various government posts, including finance minister. Known in Afghanistan as Doctor Ashraf Ghani, he won about four percent of the vote in the last presidential election in 2009.One of Afghanistan’s best-known intellectuals, Ghani spent almost a quarter of century abroad during the tumultuous decades of Soviet rule, civil war and the Taliban regime.
During that period he worked as an academic in the United States and Denmark, and with the World Bank and the United Nations across East and South Asia.
Within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Ghani resigned from his international posts and returned to Afghanistan to become a senior adviser to Karzai.
Ghani is among the strongest backers of a crucial bilateral security deal to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 that Karzai has refused to endorse. He has said he would sign it swiftly if elected.
A Pashtun belonging to Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic group, Ghani has defended his decision to pick ethnic Uzbek former warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum as a running mate.
“The ticket is a realistic balance between forces that have been produced in the last 30 years and have a base in this society,” Ghani told Reuters.
For the full list of Afghanistan's presidential hopefuls, click here.
Indonesian blood money saves maid from Saudi execution
6 Apr 2014
Jakarta: Indonesia has agreed to pay $1.9 million (Dh6.9 million) to stop the impending execution of an Indonesian maid on death row in Saudi Arabia for murder, a minister has said.
Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad was sentenced to death in 2011 for murdering her employer’s wife and stealing money. She was due to be beheaded in the coming days.
Her case has attracted huge media attention in Indonesia and there was a campaign in recent weeks to stop the execution from going ahead.
Under Sharia followed in Saudi Arabia, the family of a victim can settle for blood money instead of an execution.
The family demanded seven million riyal ($1.9 million) but contributions from businesses and a group representing companies that send migrant workers abroad only managed to raise four million riyal.
Indonesian Security Minister Djoko Suyanto on Thursday said that the government had agreed to provide the remaining three million.
“We have agreed to fulfil the family’s demands,” he told reporters in the capital Jakarta.
“This will help to save Satinah from the death penalty.”
The family had initially asked for 15 million riyals but agreed to lower it, he added.
The Indonesian government has fought a long battle to save the maid and had already managed to get the execution delayed five times since her conviction.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest destination for Indonesian maids, with around one million in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
If Satinah was beheaded, it could have set back attempts by Indonesia and Saudi Arabia to mend ties damaged by the 2011 beheading of an Indonesian maid, who was also guilty of murder.
That execution infuriated Indonesia, particularly as Saudi officials failed to inform Jakarta beforehand, and authorities placed a moratorium on sending new maids to Saudi Arabia, which remains in place.
The countries took a step towards overcoming their differences with the signing of an agreement in February to give maids in the kingdom better protection.
Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
Women’s Rights in Africa: Land reform, gender equality and social equity
6 Apr 2014
International Women’s Day on March 8 is an annual commemoration extending back for over a century. In Africa women have been in the forefront of the movements toward national liberation, social and environmental justice as well as gender equality.
Many events have taken place in March across the African continent and in the Diaspora both recognising the contributions and advancements of women in society but also examining the ongoing challenges. With African Union (AU) member states having gone on record calling for full equality for women within governmental and economic affairs, raises serious questions about the pace of change and the commitment of the various states in implementing these goals.
In Liberia, a third regional workshop on gender, the environment and land tenure was held. Some 50 women participated in the event from 16 different countries.
After the conclusion of the gathering, 150 women from various areas of Liberia held a rally and march to present their findings to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, one of only three women heads-of-state on the African continent. Johnson-Sirleaf has promised to institute land reform which benefits the social interests of women who do much of the agricultural work inside the country and throughout the continent.
An article published by The New Dawn newspaper based in the capital of Monrovia, states that “In Liberia, as in most Central and West African countries, indigenous peoples and local communities do not own the land and forests on which they have lived and cultivated for generations. Instead, government claims ownership instead.”
This same article continues noting, “As Liberia moves towards adopting a new policy on land ownership, many customary traditions do not yet respect the rights and abilities of women in land governance and, as currently written, Liberia’s proposed land reform policy has no safeguards for women. Last year, the publication said, Liberian President Johnson-Sirleaf made an unprecedented promise to Liberian women, stating: ‘Women will have the full right to own their land like anyone else.’”
In its concluding declaration the workshop, which was sponsored by the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests (REFACOF), the president of the organization Cecile Ndjebet, posed a challenge to President Johnson-Sirleaf to honor previous pledges to include strong protections for women in the pending land reform legislation in Liberia.
According to Ndjebet, FrontPageAfrica has said, “For real political and social change to take place, there are three issues that need to be addressed, we need legislation that protects equal rights for women, mechanisms that provide for political and social equity, and a change in social and cultural perceptions of women.”
SADC Region Calls for Gender Parity and Equality
In the Republic of South Africa which has the strongest economy on the continent with the largest industrial and rural working class, the National Assembly passed a new bill mandating gender equality on March 5. The Women Empowerment and Gender Equity Bill represented the continuation of other similar pieces of legislation enacted over the last two decades since the African National Congress (ANC) came to power.
Minister for Women Affairs, Lulu Xingwana, welcomed the passage of the legislation saying “The women of South Africa have said to us that they cannot wait any longer to share in the fruits of our democracy. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Women, Children and People With Disabilities, Motalatale Modiba, pointed out that the bill “calls for the progressive realization of at least 50 percent representation of women in decision-making structures.” According to the SAPA
“It also aims at improving access to education, training and skills development. The Bill seeks to promote and protect women’s reproductive health, and eliminate discrimination and harmful practices, including gender-based violence.” (March 5)
The Bill adds to the Commission on Gender Equality Act (1996), the Skills Development Act (1998), the Employment Equity Act (1998) and the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000).
In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region despite the adoption of a protocol which mandates that 50 percent of all decision making positions should be occupied by women only one-third of the member countries are anywhere near approaching these goals. Of the five states which have the most representation by women within the legislative and administrative structures of government only Seychelles and South Africa have achieved levels above 40 percent.
These states within SADC which have the highest number of women within governing structures are Seychelles (43.8 percent), South Africa (42.3 percent), Mozambique (39.2 percent), the United Republic of Tanzania (36 percent) and Angola (34.1 percent). Zimbabwe, which introduced a quota system under the 2013 Constitution, now has 31.5 percent representation in the legislative National Assembly. (Zimbabwe Herald, March 12)
SADC Executive Secretary Dr Tax Stergomina in a statement issued honoring International Women’s Day applauded the advancement made by women in Southern Africa but also stressed that
“Many of our communities, especially women and girls in rural areas, continue to face challenges that include harmful traditional /religious practices, and violence against women and children, among other concerns. Lack of access to and ownership of resources such as land continues to be a challenge for basic livelihood necessary for poverty eradication, food security and sustainable development among others.”
In Zimbabwe, Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Minister Oppah Muchinguri, issued a statement on International Women’s Day noting that, “We are happy that the new constitution provides for the establishment of Gender Commission which will work as a watchdog in ensuring that all State institutions abide with gender equality provisions. I would like to urge Zimbabwean women to use the new Constitution as a lobbying tool to penetrate key economic sectors such as mining, tourism, and agriculture.”
Muchinguri applauded the provisions in the new constitution which places much stiffer penalties on those convicted of domestic violence and said that more work should be done to further criminalise sexual assault. “We should continue lobbying for deterrent sentences for rape and stiffer penalties for other forms of gender-based violence. Specifically Section 25(b) of the Constitution obliges the State to adopt measures for the prevention of domestic violence,” she said.
The Debate over Race and Gender Politics in the Diaspora
Outside of Africa among women of African and Asian descent in Britain a debate is still ongoing on the role of race in the struggle for gender equality.
Many Black women feel that the specific aspects of racism and national oppression are not clearly understood by many white feminists.
In an article published by the Guardian which takes up this issue, writer and activist Armit Wilson noted that
“For many of us – Black, Muslim, trans, lesbian, queer and disabled – police harassment is commonplace and specialist refuges and services for women facing violence built over decades by Black feminists are being closed down. Can anyone honestly say that these things do not represent or shape experiences of gender for a vast number of women? And yet the mainstream feminist movement says little (and does less) about these issues. This status quo needs challenging – good luck to the voices who do so.”
Another contributor to the Guardian article was Egyptian writer and activist Nawal El Saadawi summed up the intersectional relationships between race, gender and class. She said
“There have always been conflicts and disagreements between women belonging to the upper-middle classes in the global west or north and the majority of women in the south or east who belong to working classes.
For example, working-class women in the US supported African women when others called us “women of the third world” and we were not happy with that term. Even within countries there have always been different feminisms, and it is really a matter of understanding the links between oppression by gender, by race, class and religion.”
‘Mama Kanga’: Nigeria’s ‘Well Woman’
6 Apr 2014
GBOGBO, Nigeria — Fortified by a faith in God — Ololade Rabiu reckons she must have dug hundreds of wells in her time. But the 46-year-old mother of six is a rarity in Nigeria, where forging deep into the red earth to find precious drinking water has historically been a male preserve.
“I am extremely happy that I am the only woman so far in this profession of well-drilling. I love and enjoy it,” she said at her home in Igbogbo, about 40 kms east of Lagos. “There is no well I cannot drill or enter,” she said proudly.
Megacity Lagos and its surrounding state are crippled by over-burdened and neglected infrastructure, with safe, clean drinking water in particularly short supply.
A study by the Lagos State Water Corporation found that the city’s 18 million people needed 540 million gallons (2.5 billion liters) against actual production of just 210 million gallons in 2010.
It has vowed to dramatically increase production to 745 million gallons per day by 2020, by which time the city is expected to be home to 29 million people. But in the meantime, households are forced to rely on tanker deliveries for their water or private wells.
Purification to eliminate disease is not guaranteed and street vendors selling “sachet” water in cellophane bags are a common sight — as are the discarded empty packets on the streets.
The shortfalls in public supply mean there is plenty of business for well diggers like Rabiu, who first began drilling for water in 1997. She learned her craft from her Ghanaian second husband, Daniel Ajiraku, and has since carved out a niche for herself along with a nickname in the Yoruba language: “Mama Kanga” — “the well woman.”
“The beginning was difficult but now I thank God that I have overcome my initial fright and I have made a success of my chosen career,” she explained. “Daniel taught me all the rudiments of well-drilling: how to locate the water bed, determine depth, how much to charge, the implements to be used and how to overcome challenges.”
Neighbours and clients are full of praise for her ability, which once saw her drill to a depth of 130 feet (40 meters) in the Akute area of Ogun state. “She drilled my well more than seven years ago and she did it so well that I have so far had no problem with it,” said Ben Kunle Omodein, from Igbogbo. “She is gifted in the art of well-drilling. I am sure she does it better than many men,” said her former landlord, Yisa Abdul.
Rabiu’s third husband, Saliu, died at the age of 64 last month but she said that the setback would not stop her working. “Life must continue. I cannot allow the death of my husband to kill my career,” she said.
Rabiu’s children, one of whom lives in Spain, have followed their mother into the well-digging business.
Fourteen-year-old Kobina proves the point by jumping into a nearby water-filled well, only to re-emerge a few minutes later.
As for the job’s male bias, Rabiu, who is from Ile-Ife in southwest Nigeria and originally trained as a designer, said she had never let her gender stop her from doing what she wants in life. Rabiu’s living room is strewn with the tools of her trade: a wheel-barrow, water-pumping machine, a hose, spade, iron bars, shovels, buckets and two generators.
The job is dangerous and back-breaking, she admitted, but said that her faith in God had helped her overcome the challenges. Nothing, she said, gives her as much pleasure as digging wells.
“I feel elated when we have a meeting of well-drillers in Lagos and I am the only woman in the midst of hundreds of men. I am well respected because they all see me as their mother. They are my children,” she added.
Yusuf Mainasara, a well-driller from Niger, agreed. “'Mama Kanga’ is our queen, our hero and our mother. We are really proud of her,” he said.