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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 9 Jun 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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African Union to Campaign against Child Marriages

New Age Islam News Bureau

9 Jun 2014

 Schoolgirls at play in Tehran, where young couples are being encouraged to have more children Credit Newsha Tavakolian Polaris, for The New York Times


 For Afghan Lovers, Joy Is Brief, Ending in Arrest

 India’s NCW Chief for Proper Implementation of Women's Laws

 Urged to Multiply by the Government, Iranian Couples Are Dubious

 Divorce after Death! Syariah Panel Rules against Ex Sultanah

 Beirut Protest over 'Apostate' Sudanese Woman

 Experts Seek Level-Playing Field for Women

 Saudi Honours Wife for Outstanding Achievement with Elaborate Feast

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





African Union to campaign against child marriages

June 09, 2014

(GIN)—The West African nation of Niger has one of the highest rates of child marriage.

About a quarter of all girls are married by 15 and on the road to child-bearing. That rises to nearly 80 percent by the age of 18.

Prominent clerics in Niger staunchly defend the practice. Sheikh Abbas Yahaya at the Koranic school in Agadez, for example, told the BBC that marriage depends on the body of the girl and the man.

“If the two are mature the marriage can be okay also, because in Islamic religion even at age nine years, if the girl is in the right condition she can be able to get married,” he said.

Now a campaign has been launched by the African Union to bring an end to child marriage on the continent.  Olawale Maiyegun, director of the AU Social Affairs Commission, said AU member states should follow and implement legal frameworks that protect children.

“The Charter on the Rights of the Child, for example, has clear provisions on harmful practices against the child,” he said. “It’s clear in the provisions of the charter, that cultural or religious or whatever should not be an excuse and states must take measures to eliminate them.  People use all sorts of excuses to perpetuate what they are doing but it’s not an excuse as far as the commission is concerned.”

“We cannot down play or neglect the harmful practice of child marriage as it has long term and devastating effects on these girls whose health is at risk and at worst leading to death due to child birth and other complications,” said Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

“Child marriage concerns human rights, gender, health and culture and is a development issue which is complex, caused and maintained by a number of factors, such as poverty, gender based violence and gender discrimination, among others,” she said in her statement read  at the continental launch of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa, held May 29, at the African Union Commission Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Participants at the launch, including African Ministers in-charge of Social Development, UN agencies, civil society organizations, experts, and survivors of child marriage, were informed that if nothing was done in the next decade, 14.2 million girls under 18 years will be married every year, which translates into 39,000 girls married each day. If this trend continues, the number of girls under 15 giving birth is expected to rise from 2 million to 3 million by 2030, in Africa.

The costs of inaction, in terms of rights unrealized, foreshortened personal potential and lost development opportunities, far outweigh the costs of interventions.

Ms. Bineta Diop, Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security emphasized that educating girls will help improve Africa’s socio-economic development and that no child’s education should be interrupted at any time because of marriage. She noted that the real cases of child marriage happen at the grassroots and all stakeholders must work to ensure that this campaign gets to the local communities.

A two-year campaign has been organized in partnership with UNICEF, UNFPA, the Ford Foundation, Girls Not Brides, among others.



For Afghan Lovers, Joy Is Brief, Ending in Arrest

June 09, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — His Juliet thinks she is pregnant with her Romeo’s child.

So much for the good news.

Neither is now taking much joy from that, as the escape of this pair of star-crossed Afghan lovers, who eloped in March after her family threatened to kill them, came to an abrupt end on Friday.

Mohammad Ali, 21, the husband, was captured by six of his male in-laws on a street in downtown Kabul and dragged to a police station. The authorities booked him on a charge of kidnapping, which carries the death penalty in Afghanistan.

A short, slightly built man, Mohammad Ali was easily overpowered by his wife’s brothers and uncles who apparently had been tipped off to the general area where the couple had been hiding. But he defied their angry demands to divulge her whereabouts.

His wife, Zakia, 18, whom he is accused of kidnapping, was in a house only a few hundred yards from where Mohammad Ali was captured. After learning what had happened, she donned a black Abaya, covering everything but her eyes, and fled to try to meet with her father-in-law, Anwar, who supports the couple’s decision to marry for love.

It was a day of high drama. Zakia and Anwar — whose families both use only first names — are from farm families in a village in mountainous, isolated Bamian Province and promptly got lost in the sprawling capital city. They could not find each other for hours.

Throughout the day on Friday, women’s advocates from an organization called Women for Afghan Women pleaded with Zakia and her father-in-law by Cellphone, trying to convince them that she should turn herself in to one of the organization’s shelters. She would be safe from attack by her family, they said, as well as from arrest on criminal charges and the risk of sexual abuse in custody, which is common here.

But she was wary. Women charged with social crimes are protected from arrest while in such government-approved shelters, but they are not allowed to leave until their court cases are resolved — effectively kept under a form of house arrest while awaiting a possible conviction and prison sentence.

Zakia’s family members have publicly declared their intention to kill her for dishonouring them by marrying against their wishes and outside their ethnic group; she is a Tajik and her husband is a Hazara. They have accused her of bigamy, as well, claiming she had already been married — without her consent or presence — to her father’s nephew.

Bigamy carries a five- to 15-year prison sentence.

The charge against Mohammad Ali is more serious, a capital crime.

“I know this is a love story,” said Brig. Gen. Jamila Bayaz, the police chief of District 1 — the first female police chief in Afghanistan, whose station initially received Mohammad Ali. “The boy eloped with a girl who loved him.” But she added that the courts would have to resolve the charges against him. “Higher-level officials told me, ‘Please make sure he doesn’t escape,’ ” she said.

As his wife and father tried to find each other on Friday, Mohammad Ali sent word via a cousin who visited him in jail and insisted that Zakia should not turn herself in to the women’s shelter. Zakia had previously spent six months in a shelter in Bamian, where, she said, she was treated as a prisoner until she finally escaped last March by climbing over a wall after midnight to meet Mohammad Ali, who waited outside.

Shukria Khaliqi, the program manager at Women for Afghan Women and a successful family lawyer, argued that the shelter was the best option in an obviously dangerous situation.

“I can win this case,” she said, adding that the claims of Zakia’s family were so clearly false that any reasonable court would throw them out. “We have experience with cases like this, but if they do not legally solve this problem, they will always be in hiding. Their whole life will be spent like this.”

By nightfall Friday, Anwar and Zakia were together, joined by a reporter who spent several hours with them as they drove around the city deciding what to do. The father-in-law said he had nowhere to stay in the city where he would not be found by her family; their only option would be to flee into the countryside. Zakia had to go with him because women who are not accompanied by a close male relative can be arrested.

Anwar, 65, burst into tears at the thought of the arduous journey ahead. He was too old, he said, and suffered from high blood pressure; he could not climb into the mountains as the young couple had done in their own escape.

And Zakia was pregnant, he said, and not feeling well herself.

She did not respond to that revelation; pregnancy is not something that Afghan women would normally discuss in front of strangers.

Zakia had been crying, too, but stopped then and pulled the Abaya and veils off her head. She half-turned so she could address Anwar, who was sitting behind her, directly. She spoke in a strong, calm voice after a day of so many tears that they left streaks on her cheeks.

“Uncle,” she said, using a term of fondness for her father-in-law, “don’t worry about me. I’ll be safe and I’ll stand by your side and we will get the boy out. I will go to the shelter.” She arrived there after 10 p.m. on Friday.

In an interview at the shelter on Saturday, Zakia said that she was relieved that the couple’s months on the run had ended and that she was happy to be in a safe place — at least until the court case tied to her decision to run away with her husband is decided.

“At the court, I will say no one kidnapped me, because I went with him by my consent and my own free will,” she said. “I want to be with this boy the rest of my life.”

She said she remained convinced that her family members planned to kill her if they could. “If I see my father and brothers I will tell them, ‘Whatever has happened, has happened, and it is nothing you can change,’ ” she said. “ ‘You cannot change what’s in my heart, so stop trying to do anything about it.’ ”

Her father, Zaman, reached by telephone, insisted that he had no intention of killing his daughter — and, as proof, noted that his sons who captured Mohammad Ali had taken him to the police instead of taking the law into their own hands.

“If I would kill him, everyone would have blamed me for it,” he said. “All I want is that the girl should be handed to her first husband. Then it is up to him whether he accepts her as his wife or not. If that doesn’t work, I will leave it to God.”

The shelter does not allow its residents to have cellphones, so Zakia has so far been unable to talk to Mohammad Ali.

“Please,” she said, as a reporter prepared to leave the shelter, “tell him not to worry about me, not to worry that I might say something bad or confess to something. I will tell this: that I have not been kidnapped.”



India’s NCW Chief for Proper Implementation of Women's Laws

TNN | Jun 9, 2014

ITANAGAR: National Commission for Women (NCS) chairperson Mamta Sharma has called for a change in the mindset of society, besides proper implementation of laws and a strong monitoring mechanism to curb crimes against women.

Addressing participants during a day-long legal awareness programme on crime against women in Lower Subansiri district on Saturday, Sharma exhorted women to come forward and report any crime or violence against them, an official release said here on Sunday.

"Until you report, no action can be taken against the offenders. It will encourage them and the crime rate against women will increase rather than decreasing," she said, adding that police also need to be sensitized on matters where women as victims are to be questioned.

She also expressed concern over prevalence of child marriage and domestic violence in some parts of the state and advised NGOs working in those areas to address these issues.

Highlighting the importance of women in society, local MLA Tage Taki said women, being the first teachers of a child, are crucial in imparting right values which can help children become responsible citizens of the country.

SWC legal advisor Kani Nada, through a PowerPoint presentation, informed the participants about the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, while advocate Subu Koyang gave an insight on laws for protection of women and girl child.

An interactive session was also held wherein SWC chairperson Gumri Ringu responded to queries and gave constructive inputs on various issues raised by the participants.



Urged to Multiply by the Government, Iranian Couples Are Dubious

Jun 9, 2014

TEHRAN — In their early 30s, married, and with prospects for successful careers, Bita and Sherag could be contemplating the logical next step in their lives: becoming parents.

But for them and an increasing number of young, middle-class Iranians who are deeply pessimistic over their country’s future, raising a child is one of the last things on their minds.

Bita, who like her husband asked for her family name to be withheld so they could speak freely, said she had had two abortions, which are illegal in Iran. “We are really serious about not having kids,” she said.

Iran’s leaders have taken notice. Worried about a steep decline in fertility rates that experts are predicting could reduce population growth to zero within 20 years, Tehran has started a broad initiative to persuade Iranian families to have more children.

“After a few years, when the current young generation becomes old,” he said, “there will be no cure for that.”

Mr. Khamenei followed that up with a 14-point program, announced late last month, that health official’s hope will lead to a doubling of Iran’s population, to 150 million, by 2050. Hospital delivery stays are now free, and women are allowed longer maternity leave. Reversing past policies to control population growth, the government has canceled subsidies for condoms and birth control pills and eliminated free vasectomies.

Billboards in the capital show a laughing father with five children riding a single tandem bicycle up a hill, leaving far behind an unhappy looking father with only one child. Those parents who actually produce five children are now eligible for a $1,500 bonus, not that many here are likely to be tempted.

“When I see those, I wonder, how can that father even smile?” said Hadi Najafi, 25, an unemployed professional soccer player. He said he did not have the money to marry, let alone keep up with rents increasing by 25 percent a year.

“Anybody with a lot of children is either very rich or very irresponsible,” Mr. Najafi said. “There is no other way.”

The demographic problem has also become entwined with Iran’s long-running conflict with the West over its nuclear program. One of the leading sources of Iran’s economic troubles is the series of harsh Western economic sanctions imposed in recent years to punish Tehran and to bring it to the negotiating table.

Iran’s population policies have been erratic.

Though the population has doubled since 1979, most of the increase came in the years after the 1979 revolution, when sheer joy and hopes for a better future prompted many to have large families. The government also pushed procreation as a patriotic gesture during the bloody Iran-Iraq war, which ended in 1988 at a cost of at least 300,000 Iranian lives.

At its peak, in the years after the 1979 revolution, Iran’s birthrate was 3.6 children per couple, according to the Statistical Organization of Iran and experts, far above the replacement level of 2.1.

Fearing that the country’s economy would not be able to provide jobs for the growing number of young people — a situation with potentially explosive political repercussions — Iran’s more moderate clerics introduced a “fewer kids, better lives” campaign to bring down the birthrate.

But the number of children per couple has now dwindled to 1.3, more typical of a developed, high-income country like Germany, which is spending heavily to increase its fertility rate, now 1.4.

Paradoxically, Iran has never had more people of reproductive age. A little under 70 percent of the population of 77 million is younger than 35, with most living in or near cities and increasingly embracing urban culture. But many of them are profoundly pessimistic.

Like many young couples, Sherag, an architect, and Bita, a recent college graduate, cited a litany of problems as reasons for their dark outlook: an intrusive state and its conservative ideology, a sickly economy, political instability.

“When we go to bed we don’t even know what will happen when we wake up,” he said.

“I just don’t want to bring children into this hell,” she said.

That attitude is widespread among Tehran’s middle class. “Even with our combined incomes, my husband and I can’t afford to rent a place, so we alternate between our parents’ houses,” said Negar Mohammadi, the manager of one of Tehran’s most popular restaurants. “If I were to give up my job to have kids, how would we manage to rent a house for ourselves?”

Some women and human rights activists suspect that the drive for more children is also aimed at keeping women in what conservative clerics believe is their place, the home.

“It will make them more financially dependent on their husbands and the political system, prioritize the family’s well-being over women’s health and education and as a result of all these will make women’s mobilization much more difficult,” said Azadeh Kharazi, a sociologist.

The new campaign has had at least one immediate impact, prompting a doctor formerly specializing in vasectomies to shift to Botox injections. For years, the doctor, Nasir Ahmadi, performed at least 60 vasectomies a month. Now, in a good month, he says, he does 10.

“When the state stopped paying, people stopped coming,” he said.

At a shrine near Dr. Ahmadi’s clinic, the cleric in charge, Mojtaba Takhtipour, said economics should not be the deciding factor. Sitting behind a laptop, Mr. Takhtipour took a sip of hot tea and explained that Islam orders a quest for a perfect society.

“That means we need to increase the number of Muslims, so we also need more kids,” Mr. Takhtipour said. To those of his flock making financial arguments against having many children, he lectures on the scriptures of the faith. “We do believe that ultimately God will provide our daily bread. So go out and have kids and have faith, is what I always say.”

There is a sectarian cast to the fertility issue as well.

Although they dominate in Iran, Shiites are a minority worldwide, making up roughly 10 to 20 percent of all Muslims. Not only are the birthrates in Sunni-dominated countries much higher than those among Shiites, but so, too, are those of Sunni minorities living in Iran.

Tahereh Labbaf, the medical adviser to the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, which deals with the population issue, said that the birthrate for the country’s Sunni Muslims is around four children per couple. “This is very sobering,” a conservative website, Tasnim, quoted her as saying.

Experts say that while birthrates in Iran are very low, there is no real crisis just yet. But they also say that financial incentives and faith will not by themselves reverse the population decline.

The critical factor, said Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, head of the demographics department at Tehran University, is the economy.

“A young and unmarried boy or girl who does not have a permanent job and relies on one-month contracts cannot dare to marry or have children,” he said, “because in that case he endangers his job security and his or her own living condition.”

The solution is simple and very complicated at the same time, he said. “We must try to create jobs, so people can feel secure and follow their plans.”

For Mr. Najafi, the professional soccer player, words like “future” and “plans” make him queasy. “We are always told how there is a bright future ahead, but we are not allowed to live now,” he said. “If only things were better in my lifetime, I would have a dozen children to share my happiness with.”



Divorce after Death! Syariah Panel Rules against Ex Sultanah

June 09, 2014

Tuanku Zanariah Tunku Ahmad remains divorced from her late husband the former Sultan Mahmud Iskandar, despite questions remaining over how it had taken place only after the latter's death.

This follows the ruling of the state's highest religious court the Johor Syariah Court of Appeal today, which upheld the decision by the Syariah High Court that affirmed the Lower Syariah Court's initial decision in recognising the divorce.

The ruling comes despite Tuanku Zanariah not having been called at all during the divorce proceedings, which took place after Sultan Mahmud's death in 2010 and subsequently backdated to 2009.

A three-member panel headed by Syed Ali Syed Abu Bakar with Marsid @ Morsid Mahrof and Jainudin Mt Sum @ Munaj made the decision today.

Tuanku Zanariah, who was also the former Raja Permaisuri Agong, found herself in the curious predicament when she received a letter informing her of the divorce in August 2013.



Beirut protest over 'apostate' Sudanese woman

June 09, 2014

BEIRUT: A group of protesters gathered outside the Sudanese Embassy in Beirut Saturday morning, to call for the immediate release of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq.

Ibrahim was arrested in February charged initially with adultery and subsequently with apostasy, and was taken into custody with her 20-month-year-old son. She was 8 months pregnant at the time and gave birth to a baby girl in prison last week.

The court found Ibrahim guilty of both charges last month, sentencing her to 100 lashes for adultery and execution for apostasy.

The adultery charge was upheld on the grounds that she both married and bore children from a Christian man, Daniel Wani, an American citizen, while she - based on her father’s religion – is considered a Muslim. The marriage of a Muslim woman to a Christian man in Sudan can be a complex issue, subject to varying interpretations of Sharia law, as well as cultural and familial prejudices.

This is despite Ibrahim herself identifying as a Christian, having being raised as such by her Christian mother in her father’s absence. It was her assertion of that Christian identity in her trial that led to the second charge of apostasy.

“We are here in solidarity with Meriam Yahia from Beirut, and we want to express our solidarity for everybody’s right to freedom of religion and belief so everybody can choose what they consider the most appropriate religion for them,” said Saida Allaw, a journalist with As-Safir, during the brief protest.

“In the 21st Century, [there is no place for penalties] such as lashing and execution or conviction for apostasy; dictatorial regimes will have to wake up.”

The protest was organized by women’s rights group, Fe-Male, and attracted widespread media attention. Alyia Awada, one of the event organizers, read out a message to the Sudanese government from the protesters:

“We are here today to raise our voices high, calling on the Sudanese government to release Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq and revoke the death sentence against her. This is conformity with international human rights standards and in response to all appeals from Arab and international organizations calling for revocation of this verdict that is not based on anything else other than the whims of the patriarchal society. It is high time to save women from your delusory justice.”

The protesters flanked Awada as she read the statement carrying signs that read, “From Lebanon to Sudan, we are all Meriam,” and “Get Married and have a death sentence, free of charge.”

One of the founding members of Fe-Male, Hayyat Mourshad, told The Daily Star that she felt that Ibrahim’s case was an indication of a larger problem throughout the region.

“Two days ago in Akkar, a girl was killed because she decided to choose a husband that her father did not approve of. The execution is the same. True, circumstances may differ, but the suffering is the same and the type of violence that women face is similar.”

The group in front of the embassy was roughly a dozen strong but was distinctly lacking representation from the Sudanese community in Lebanon.

Mourshad stated that this was potentially the first of many demonstrations.

“Today's protest is symbolic, just expressing our position and that we are supporting this cause for the rights of Meriam. If the Sudanese continue to maintain their position we will consider a bigger mobilization in which we hope that the Sudanese community in Lebanon will take part, as well as women’s rights organizations.”

The Sudanese ambassador to Lebanon, Ahmed Hassan, said that there was too much confusion around the case at the moment.

“There is a big misunderstanding about the name of this girl, whether it is Meriam or Abrar and she was never registered in any university.”

Sudanese media have been reporting Ibrahim’s first name as Abrar, as her brother has reportedly claimed.

The Ambassador also said that several Sudanese universities released statements saying that she never attended their organizations, which brought into question whether or not she was a medical doctor.

But Hassan went on to say, “All the people are not agreeing with this decision by this court ... I hope they find a solution to the issue first of all.”



Experts seek level-playing field for women

June 09, 2014

With only 2 percent of Saudi women employed in the industrial sector, business forums are encouraging women to work in industries that require specific skills.

According to officials, women can effectively contribute to the industrial sector, such as in the design and garment industry, the jewelry manufacturing and design industry, the assembly of electronic devices, as well as in the manufacturing of chocolates, baked goods, perfumes and cosmetics.

Fahd ibn Suleiman Al-Tejekhifi, assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Labour, said the royal decree calling for the feminization and the Saudisation of the industrial jobs appropriate for women has allowed the ministry to initiate strategies and initiatives to increase the participation of women in the private sector in the short term by increasing incentives and through gradual substitution.

Long-term strategies to increase female participation in the private sector involves the development and implementation of a field study aimed to involve relevant parties, in addition to the implementation of the electronic link of the ministry to reduce the problems that occur after employment, he said.

Al-Tejekhifi explained that there is a ban on the employment of women in some businesses that do not suit their nature, but women are entitled to own or manage these businesses, noting that the employment of women does not require obtaining a permit from the Ministry of Labor or any other party. Women are also prohibited from working in factories before six o’clock in the morning or after five o’clock in the evening.

Women would be permitted to work in production lines in factories that do not fall within the prohibited activities, said Al-Tejekhifi. Further controls are in place to prevent discrimination in wages between male and female workers, as well as to monitor part-time jobs, contractual relationships, rehabilitation and training for women, financial support, and the penal system.

Production lines must employ all women, and no less than 10 women should be employed per shift. Women should account for at least one-third of the total number of workers in the total production facility, and the employer must provide safe and decent clothing for women, he said.

Al-Tejekhifi said continuing support regarding the recruitment, training and rehabilitation of women, in coordination and cooperation with government agencies and the private sector, will lead to the entry of more women in the industrial sector.

Nawal Hady, chairperson of the board of businesswomen at the Yanbu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said women can manage industries that are commensurate with their capabilities and traditions of society.

Additionally, regulations are necessary to govern the work of women in industries, such as the cosmetics industry, the small- and medium-sized plastic household items industries, the packaging industry, and many others, which have high chances of success and low market risks, she said.

Hady pointed out that women are partners in many industries and major projects, but within a distinct group of family businesses.

“The Yanbu chamber is working to revitalize industrial projects and attract strong and permanent investment,” she said. “The chamber is very keen on encouraging innovation and new ideas that encourage positive partnership initiatives, not only among businessmen but also among women entrepreneurs in the Kingdom and abroad.”

Areej Abdullatif Jastaniah, a businesswoman, welcomed the involvement of women in the industrial field.

Jastaniah, who is considered one of the first women to be nominated for the board elections at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that women have proven to have a positive role in the industrial sector and, since the entry of women in these factories, production has increased to the extent that some factories have started to export products to other Gulf countries.



Saudi honours wife for outstanding achievement with elaborate feast

June 09, 2014

JEDDAH — A Saudi citizen here celebrated his wife's winning of the Ministry of Education's award for outstanding student counsellors by hosting an elaborate feast for more than 200 guests, an online newspaper reported.

“I’m very proud of my wife. That’s why we invited our friends and relatives to share this happiness with us,” said an elated Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, flanked by his four children.

"Fatimah has set the example of a persevering teacher and a perfect wife over the past 16 years," Al-Ghamdi said.

"At school, she exerts great efforts and uses different teaching methods to get information across to her students and, at home, she does all house chores alone," he added.

“She deserves to be honoured,” Al-Ghamdi said.

As a student counsellor, Fatimah Al-Ghamdi participated in preparing cultural contests, counselling programs and school operational plans. She also organized several workshops on counselling.