Over a hundred Bangladeshi maids returned from Saudi Arabia after facing abuse from their employers (Supplied)
• Saudi Arabia Drops Dress Code for Foreign Women in Tourism Push
• Thousands of Moroccan Women Admit Breaking Sex and Abortion Laws, Risking Arrest to Support Journalist Jailed For Same Crimes
• 'Free Homeland, Free Women': Palestinians Take to the Streets to Protest Femicide
• Rapper French Montana Causes Stir for Album Cover Sexualising Muslim Women
• How Saudi Women Are Pushing the Limits of What They Can Wear
• Debilitating humidity stifles Doha women’s marathon
• Trump’s Anti-Woman Push Puts America In The Pantheon Of Human Rights Offenders
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Bangladesh Admits Female Workers Leaving Saudi Arabia Because Of Sexual Abuse
By Areeb Ullah
27 September 2019
Bangladesh admitted for the first time on Thursday that its female workers are being repatriated from Saudi Arabia because of sexual abuse, according to a new government report.
In a report submitted by Bangladesh's Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment to the parliamentary standing committee, the department admitted women had come back because of sexual and physical abuse.
This admission comes after the committee demanded answers in August on whether women are facing abuse while working in Saudi Arabia.
The ministry responded by stating that testimony from 111 women who returned in August 2019 from the Gulf kingdom showed that 35 per cent of returnees had left because of sexual and physical abuse.
The report noted 11 reasons why Bangladeshi female workers ran away from their employers. These include physical abuse, deprivation of food and holidays, denial of sick leave, and non-payment of salaries.
Earlier this year, the expatriate welfare ministry sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia and said it found no evidence that women faced abuse while working in the Gulf kingdom.
BRAC, an international development organised based in Bangladesh, that has been helping female domestic workers return home from Saudi Arabia, welcomed the Bangladeshi government's findings.
Shariful Hasan, programme head for BRAC migration, told Middle East Eye that for the last two years, his NGO had been raising the alarm about Bangladeshi female migrants returning from Saudi Arabia because of abuse.
"Our work has shown that women are coming back from Saudi Arabia because of abuse, non-payment of salaries, work overload and denial of sick leave," Hasan said.
"To solve any problem we have to identify the problems. Now that the problems have been identified, we must discuss solutions. The ministry [of expatriate welfare] has done a good job, especially considering past comments where some officials have denied that abuse has taken place.
"But we are glad that the problems have identified because we want to end the exploitation of these vulnerable women and hope that identifying the problems is a step towards that."
Pressure to help Bangladeshi women in Saudi Arabia
Bangladesh began sending female workers to Saudi Arabia in 2015 after signing an agreement with the Gulf kingdom. The agreement was signed as other countries, including Indonesia, stopped sending female workers to Saudi Arabia due to reports of abuse.
Last month, over 100 Bangladeshi maids had returned home after their employers subjected them to various types of abuse.
In 2018, Middle East Eye revealed that Bangladesh was forced to set up safe houses inside Saudi Arabia to protect hundreds of women who face sexual and physical abuse inside the kingdom.
Embassy cables leaked to MEE showed that at least three to four women had been seeking refuge inside the Bangladeshi embassy after facing abuse from their employers.
Since then, hundreds of women have been repatriated from Saudi Arabia after seeking refuge inside Bangladeshi safe houses.
Rothna Begum, a senior woman's researcher for Human Rights Watch who focuses on the Gulf, called on the Bangladeshi government to use this as an opportunity to "educate" its citizens of the dangers faced by women working in Saudi Arabia.
"The fact that the Bangladeshi government denied that such was the extent of the abuse of the workers is highly problematic. It suggests that they do not want the Bangladeshi society to know about how bad the situation is," Begum told Middle East Eye.
"But what the government should really do is ensure that Bangladeshis know about what is going on, but also what they are doing about it. Are they seeking to provide further protections?"
"Are they putting pressure on the countries of a destination like Saudi Arabia to ensure that their workers are not treated in this manner and that they have the legal protections and redress available to ensure that they are able to escape where necessary and able to get the justice that they deserve."
Begum noted that research HRW had previously done in 2015 and 2o16 showed that Bangladeshi domestic workers inside Saudi Arabia had faced various types of abuses now confirmed in the Bangladeshi government report.
Saudi Arabia Drops Dress Code for Foreign Women in Tourism Push
September 27, 2019
Riyadh: Saudi Arabia will drop its strict dress code for foreign women as it seeks for the first time to lure holidaymakers and the spending that could help develop the kingdom’s economy away from its reliance on oil.
Foreign women won’t have to wear an abaya, the flowing cloak that’s been mandatory attire for decades, though they’ll be instructed to wear “modest clothing,” said Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chairman of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and a key adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On Saturday, the government will open applications for online tourist visas for citizens of 49 countries, while others can apply at embassies and consulates overseas, Al-Khateeb told Bloomberg TV in Riyadh.
The kingdom has already grappled with a slew of social changes over the past few years, and some Saudis are thrilled by the transformation. But others remain deeply conservative, and the sight of foreign tourists roaming the streets of Riyadh without abayas will be controversial.
Plenty of Saudis are excited about the new opportunities tourism will bring.
“I can imagine how many job opportunities there will be in the tourism sector, as well as food and retail,” said Njoud Fahad, a 28-year-old travel blogger. “Society will be enriched by all the diversity of people coming in from all around the world with their culture and language.”
Al-Khateeb said the government is targeting 64 million visits by 2022 and 100 million per year by 2030 - up from 40 million today - though that includes both domestic and foreign tourists.
The new visas could attract more adventurous travelers, particularly those who want to visit pristine islands, see little-known historical sites or explore an oft-misunderstood cultur
Tour guide Wael Alkaled, 34, said he often gets inquiries from foreigners about the photos he posts on Instagram showing off the untouched beaches and mountainous terrain of his northern region of Tabuk.
“People come to me to ask where is this place, we’d love to visit,” he said. “The launch of the tourist visa will create different work opportunities and more business.”
Al-Khateeb said he believes Saudis will embrace the influx of tourists.
“We have hundreds of thousands of Saudi students who studied outside and came back, and we welcome different cultures, different religions,” he said. “We are a very welcoming nation.”
Thousands of Moroccan Women Admit Breaking Sex and Abortion Laws, Risking Arrest to Support Journalist Jailed For Same Crimes
September 28, 2019
Thousands of women in Morocco have put themselves at risk of arrest by admitting to sex outside marriage and undergoing abortions in order to show solidarity with a 28-year-old journalist who has been imprisoned for the crimes.
The North African nation’s penal code bars both sex outside of wedlock and terminations where there is no risk to the mother’s life – with official figures showing courts last year tried more than 14,500 people for “debauchery”, 3,048 for adultery, 170 for homosexuality, and 73 for having abortions.
Campaigners say thousands of women have signed a statement declaring they have broken both the unmarried sex and abortion laws in a bid to show support for Hajar Raissouni, a reporter jailed after being charged with both acts.
The 28-year-old writes for Arabic-language newspaper Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which has a history of disputes with the authorities.
She attended court on Tuesday for the third hearing of her trial.
Those who signed the statement, which appeared on the front page of French newspaper Le Monde on Tuesday, said they would continue to break “unfair and obsolete laws” until they were overhauled.
“We are having sex outside wedlock. We are ... being complicit of abortion,” says the statement.
The declaration, penned by Franco-Moroccan author Leila Slimani and Moroccan filmmaker Sonia Terrab, now has over 7,000 signatures, which includes men among them.
“When a women empowers herself she empowers everyone around her,” Ms Terrab told The Independent.
“I am amazed by how strong and courageous Moroccan women are right now – especially the young ones. We have reached 7,000 signatures and are still going. I am so proud.”
Human Rights Watch has warned the jailing of Ms Raissouni “flagrantly violates” her rights – urging authorities to drop the charges and release her immediately, and arguing her right to privacy and liberty have been infringed.
“Hajar Raissouni is being charged for alleged private behaviour that shouldn’t be criminalised in the first place,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, the group’s Middle East and North Africa communications director.
“Moreover, by publicising detailed allegations about her sexual and reproductive life, authorities trampled on her right to privacy and apparently sought to smear her reputation.”
The arrest illustrates the nation’s “lack of respect of individual freedoms” and selective use of the law, he added.
Ms Raissouni, who comes from a famous dissident family, is religiously but not yet legally married and had been due to tie the knot with her partner Rifaat al-Amin earlier in the month. She denies having had an abortion.
Her arrest has sparked protests in the country – with critics arguing it could have been politically motivated.
Police also arrested Ms Raissouni’s fiance, the doctor who is accused of carrying out the abortion, and his two aides at the end of August and they are all still also detained. The doctor and his aides are charged with conducting an abortion and complicity in abortion and face up to a decade in jail.
'Free Homeland, Free Women': Palestinians Take to the Streets to Protest Femicide
Yasmine Bakria and Jack Khoury
Sep 27, 2019
Hundreds marched on Thursday in Haifa, protesting murder of women in the Palestinian society, with similar marches taking place in nearly a dozen other cities in Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the world, including Jerusalem, Beirut and Beirut.
The death of Israa Gharib, a 21-year-old from Bethlehem, who was allegedly murdered by family members in late August, sparked the latest wave of protests.
According to the Aman center – The Arab Center for Safe Society, 11 Arab women were murdered in Israel by their partners or family members this year alone.
The demonstration, under the slogan "Free homeland, free women," was organized through an Arabic-language Facebook page carrying the same name, and spread on social media with the hashtag #Tal'at ("coming out") in Arabic.
Participants marched through the streets of Haifa's lower city, near the port area. "From Beirut to Haifa, women are murdered in the streets and at home. It is time to protect them," protesters shouted, "We want to be free, live in respect, solidarity and safety."
"We cannot free the homeland without harnessing the power women bring," said the organizers. "All we need is freedom and protection and we will be on a safe path."
Similar protests took place in other cities including Rafah, Ramallah, Jaffa, Nazareth, Arabeh and Taibeh.
On Friday, dozens protested in northern Israel, blocking the Wadi Ara road, over what they say is police inaction on gun violence in the Arab society.
Shahira Shalabi, the deputy mayor of Haifa, also participated in the demonstrations. “By crying out against femicide, we also aim to break the patriarchal structure of Arab society," she said.
One of the protesters, Mai Sada, related the struggle for women's safety to the Palestinian national struggle: "There is a connection between living in our own autonomous land and the right that every person is entitled to – especially women – to decide for themselves and choose how to live their lives."
Nusra, another protester, said: “Palestinian women suffer everywhere. In Beirut, for example, women are not only exposed to violence at home, they have no safe spaces. We need a home to be protected."
A social activist who participated in the protest, Kamar Hiyub, said she hopes the demonstration “will reach even the isolated villages and places where violence against women occurs and is not always counted.”
“The situation is bad. Every day you hear of another murder, it is not something we can deal with alone,” said Lamis Farah, who attended the protest. “People came here because they identify with the struggle. Over time, we have understood how important this gathering is, and I hope our activities will only grow."
Maher, a resident of Haifa, told Haaretz about losing a friend to gendered violence. Because of his loss, he says it's important to him to go wherever the battle against femicide is being fought. "If I had been there when I was needed, maybe that great tragedy could have been prevented," he said. "But now I'm here, like many others who identify with the need to deal with this."
Rapper French Montana Causes Stir for Album Cover Sexualising Muslim Women
September 27th, 2019
An image used as an album cover by Moroccan American rapper French Montana has caused a stir on social media platforms this week for sexualising Muslim women.
In the album cover, the 34-year-old is seen seated in the middle of a group of women dressed in Niqab and knee-high red boots.
The image for the album, which comes out in November, was released by Montana in a tweet on Monday.
"You don't have to change who you are. You can bring people into your own world," Montana tweeted.
The image has been slammed as "Islamophobic" and portraying Muslim women in a negative way.
"It capitalises on damaging portrays of Muslim women as faceless show pieces," Khaled Beydoun said on Instagram.
"The women are objectified and serve the function of providing a provocative backdrop instead of being presented as real, autonomous human beings.
"I get that art should be provocative, but this provokes some of the worst Western stereotypes about Islam and Muslim women. […] French should know better."
Others questioned the rapper's intentions.
"With all respect to you sir, what is your intention here? To help us spread knowledge about niqabis or mock niqabis? If your intention is good, I would like to let you know this is not the way it supposed to be. And I hope you enlighten your heart about it," a Twitter user said.
Montana, whose real name is Karim Kharbouch, was born and raised in Morocco. He immigrated to the US with his family when he was 13.
On Wednesday, he was named the first ambassador of I Stand With Immigrants, a campaign initiative that highlights empowering immigration stories and the ways immigrants have positively contributed to the country.
How Saudi Women Are Pushing the Limits of What They Can Wear
28 Sep 2019
Munira Al Mutairi sometimes wonders what it would be like to leave her house without covering herself in an abaya, the long cloak that Saudi women wear in public.
“It would be a kind of liberation,” she said at a private residential compound in Riyadh where a group of women are smoking hookah, another taboo. “I don’t want anyone to put conditions on me - that you’re a woman, you have to be like this, don’t show your face.”
But this is Saudi Arabia, a conservative Islamic society where many view the covering as a religious and cultural imperative, and Al Mutairi admits she’s not ready to follow the handful of women who have abandoned their abayas.
“My problem is the atmosphere that’s around me, I’m scared of it,” said the 42-year-old mother of three. “Maybe my husband would divorce me.”
She has every reason to worry. The very idea that some women might cast off their abayas is causing uproar in Saudi Arabia as rapid social change puts old fault lines between the kingdom’s so-called liberals and conservatives under unprecedented stress.
After decades enforcing the views of clerics who opposed music and gender mixing, the government made an about-face under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, relaxing social restrictions and inviting pop stars like Mariah Carey to perform, all while stifling dissent.
The kingdom’s religious police have lost most of their power, allowing women to test the limits of the dress code that officers once roamed the streets enforcing. In wealthier urban areas, it’s increasingly common for women to uncover their hair, and many wear colored abayas instead of the standard black.
There’s even talk that the government will soon make the abaya optional as it attempts for the first time to attract foreign tourists. An event on Friday to launch visas could announce new guidelines for proper attire in public for male and female visitors.
But the backlash that women experience when they push the boundaries dictated by their community is often fierce.
On a recent evening, Mashael Bin Jaloud ignored the sideways glances of other customers as she entered a trendy cafe in the Saudi capital dressed in wide-legged pants and an over-sized shirt. It’s six months since she stopped wearing an abaya, and stares are the least of what she’s faced.
Online, strangers called for her to be jailed. She’s lost friends, and after appearing in a foreign media report without her abaya, she lost her job in human resources. Her chances of marrying are zero, Bin Jaloud, 34, jokes.
“A lot of people attacked me, a lot of people cast doubt on my religion and my nationality,” she said in Riyadh. Still, she says, “it’s a matter of choice.”
In a US television interview last year, Prince Mohammed said it was entirely “for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire” they want to wear.
Yet only a small number of Saudi women have fully abandoned their abayas, and because edicts requiring “modest dress” are interpreted in a variety of ways, they risk running foul of the law.
In 2016, Saudi activist Malak Al-Shehri was arrested after posting online a photograph of herself on Riyadh’s main boulevard without an abaya. In much of the country, it’s unusual to see a woman without a face-covering niqab, let alone minus a cloak.
“It’s our religion, and it’s something we’re accustomed to,” said Layla Al Arfaj, a 42-year-old Riyadh resident who covers herself in black from head to toe. “It’s in our blood.”
Even when Al Arfaj traveled abroad and people urged her to shed her niqab - telling her no one was watching - she didn’t. “God is watching,” she said.
In the relatively liberal coastal enclaves of Jeddah and Khobar, more women have ditched the abaya. Raja’a Makki, a 29-year-old neurosurgery resident in Khobar, started going out without one more than four years ago.
“I’ve been witnessing a lot of people walking around totally fine with jeans and t-shirts,” said Makki, who’s half Moroccan.
In conservative corners of the kingdom, more Saudis are horrified by the idea. Reports about women shedding their abayas set off a firestorm on social media - one of the few places where conservatives can express outrage after a political crackdown shrank the space for permissible criticism. Women also face opposition within their families.
Makki’s father hasn’t talked to her since she stopped covering her hair. Dima, a 32-year-old software engineer who stopped wearing an abaya two years ago, said she was rejected for a job because she wasn’t a “cultural fit,” and was once chased by another woman trying to lecture her. She asked Bloomberg to withhold her last name so she could speak freely.
Back at the compound, as sweet-smelling smoke wafted through the air and the foreign staff were the only men in sight, Al Mutairi said that if more women started going out without abayas, she’d feel brave enough to try.
She’s encouraged by some of the changes that have already swept through the kingdom.
As a period of silence for Islam’s sunset prayer ended and the Riyadh cafe began blaring Arabic pop music, Bin Jaloud marveled at the scene.
“Two years ago, these songs were forbidden,” she said. “We lived in an era that wasn’t humane at all. It’s over, and now the time’s come for us to live.”
Debilitating humidity stifles Doha women’s marathon
September 28, 2019
DOHA: Women’s marathon runners were rushed for medical attention, faces contorted in pain while other competitors hobbled off the track in the inaugural road race of Doha’s World Athletics Championships.
Humidity of more than 73 percent and temperatures of almost 33°C (91°F) dogged the race, specially started at midnight to avoid peak heat, as it meandered along a course on Doha’s Corniche coast road.
“You see somebody down on the course and it’s just, extremely grounding and scary,” said Canada’s Lyndsay Tessier, 41, who was one of those to finish, coming in ninth. “That could be you in the next kilometer, the next 500 meters.”
“It was just really scary and intimidating and daunting. So that was enough to hold me back.”
Around two dozen runners in the 68-strong marathon field fell by the wayside as the sweltering conditions took their toll, in a sport which rarely sees drop outs at this level.
Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich won gold when she took the tape after 2 hours 32 minutes and 43 seconds, crediting “training in a hot area” of her home country for helping her to tame the elements.
Tessier’s fellow competitors filed behind her as she spoke to the media, some held up by their coaches and others too exhausted to stop and speak.
“I’m just really grateful to have finished standing up,” added Tessier.
The Championships’ organizers told race participants that the event’s timing could be changed if conditions proved prohibitive but ultimately pressed ahead with the original plan.
Almost all of the runners were saturated with sweat by the halfway point and most ran with bottles as some video cameras being used to film the race malfunctioned because of the conditions.
A mild breeze that lapped the corniche during the opening ceremony and fireworks display had dwindled by the end of the race leaving the runners to bear the brunt of the surging humidity.
Marathon runners and walkers do not have the luxury of competing in the championships’ principal venue, the air-conditioned Khalifa Stadium where the climate is maintained at 23°C-25°C.
France’s defending 50km walk world champion Yohann Diniz strongly criticized the IAAF for being made to compete in Doha’s humid conditions.
“I am extremely upset. If we were in the stadium, we would have normal conditions, between 24°C-25°C, but outside they have placed us in a furnace, which is just not possible,” he said on Friday.
“They are making us guinea pigs.”
Tessier said that seeing so many competitors drop out of one race was “alarming and you feel for them because you do know the training that’s gone into this.”
“You know how badly everyone wants it and wants to be here. You don’t wanna finish it or end it that way,” she said as sweat dripped off her face and a team member followed behind her with water.
Throughout the race, medical golf carts ferried runners who dropped out to a busy medical tent as a team of doctors, which included an expert on heat in sports, assessed their condition.
Namibia’s Helalia Johannes, who secured bronze, said hydration also played a key role in her strong showing.
“I cannot say I enjoyed the event — there was a song that says ‘I must finish’,” she said.
“I didn’t miss any water point.”
Trump’s Anti-Woman Push Puts America In The Pantheon Of Human Rights Offenders
September 28, 2019
CAN YOU judge a nation by the company it keeps?
President Trump’s administration spearheaded a declaration at the United Nations this week calling for the elimination of allegedly “ambiguous” expressions in the body’s documents — primarily, “sexual and reproductive health.” These terms are often used to promote pro-abortion policies, the officials claimed, and “there is no international right to an abortion.” Joining the land of the free? Some of the least-free nations on the planet, from Russia to Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya and 12 more.
This, evidently, is what the anti-globalist “America First” philosophy the president hawked at this week’s U.N. General Assembly looks like: This country standing not only among but also in front of a pantheon of human rights offenders.
The move is dispiriting but not surprising. The administration has been on a crusade to replace science-based approaches to women’s health with a focus to “defend life and family.” The State Department’s annual human rights reports have scrapped statistics on the rates of contraceptive access and maternal mortality worldwide. (Those statistics showed, among other things, that 8 percent of such deaths result from unsafe abortion.) The administration has massively expanded the gag rule that prevents organizations from receiving federal funds if they even mention abortion to clients, and it has imposed a similar stricture on providers at home.
The United States even threatened in the spring to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution on rape amid armed conflict because it mentioned reproductive-health services for victims.
All this runs counter to a robust body of research that stresses the dangerousness of stringent abortion restrictions. The U.N. Human Rights Committee issued a comment last year clarifying that international law’s right to life does include the right to an abortion for exactly that reason. States, the council said, can regulate voluntary terminations of pregnancy, but those regulations cannot jeopardize women’s lives or cause them undue suffering.
Abortion access isn’t the only thing the Trump administration means to put under assault. The language it seeks to purge protects comprehensive services that give women control over their lives. Those services include contraceptive care, gender-based violence prevention and HIV treatment. The administration says it seeks to avoid terms that evade “ international consensus,” but that gets it backward: The international community has agreed for decades on the need for all people to have access to a panoply of reproductive services, and now the United States has banded with the notoriously oppressive to attempt a retroactive hecklers’ veto.
Those who still believe in the liberal world order can take cold comfort in the likelihood that the rogue’s gallery won’t win on this one; 58 countries signed on to a counter-statement helmed by the Netherlands in favor of the status quo. But the episode has shown what’s in store for this nation and the world under Mr. Trump’s nationalist paradigm. Putting America first means putting it shoulder to shoulder with serial repressors. It also means putting women last.
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