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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 4 Dec 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Behind Closed Doors, Women Are Leading a Revolution in Saudi Arabia

New Age Islam News Bureau

4 Dec 2014

Photo: Afghan Mother Receives Medal for Killing Dozens of Taliban Insurgents


 Nigeria: 50 Female Suicide Bombers on the Prowl

 India: Women’s College Gives Wings to Girls’ Dreams

 Should Niqab Not Be Worn For Security Reasons?

 India: Take Rs 50,000 and Abort, Bihar Panchayat Tells Raped Girl

 Reducing Marriageable Age of Females New Way of Oppressing Girls: Bangladesh Women's Rights Activists

 Afghan Mother Receives Medal for Killing Dozens of Taliban Insurgents

 IS Leader's 'Captured Wife' May Not Be Who She Says She Is

 Afghanistan Has Become A Better Place for Women

 Germans Reject Calls to Ban Muslims’ Niqab

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Behind Closed Doors, Women Are Leading a Revolution in Saudi Arabia

 December 04, 2014

CBS News Foreign Correspondent Holly Williams was granted rare access into one of the most closed kingdoms in the world. In the piece below, Williams describes the remarkable transformation that's underway in Saudi Arabia in regards to women's education and a glimmer of potential ahead.

At Effat University's inner-city campus, students sprawl in the hallways, sip on take-away cappuccinos and wear the universal attire of college students -- jeans, Converse sneakers and t-shirts.

Effat is an all-women's institution that in just 15 years has transformed from a tiny teachers' college to an internationally recognized university that attracts faculty from around the world, teaches nearly 3,000 students and is graduating female engineers, architects and filmmakers.

On a recent trip to Effat, while on assignment for CBS News, one civil engineering major told me that she and her classmates intend to "invade the workplace" when they graduate in June.

"The future is open to them," the dean of graduate studies told me. "They think they can reach to the skies."

It would be an inspiring story pretty much anywhere in the world. What makes it surprising is that Effat is in Saudi Arabia, a country that still bans women from driving, and requires them to have a male relative's permission to work, go to university and travel overseas.

When the Western media look at Saudi Arabian women, they tend to focus on the problems, the restrictions and the abuses. That's hardly surprising. The ultra-conservative kingdom's male guardianship system means that Saudi women are never treated as full citizens of their own country. It's a state of affairs that elicits a mixture of disgust and sympathy from many in the West.

But what's being overlooked is a stunning transformation. Behind closed doors, in schools and on university campuses, there's a breakneck, education-led revolution unfolding that could define the country's future.

Saudi women are now graduating from university in higher numbers than men, and their government is actively encouraging them to join the workforce.

It would be premature to suggest that educational success has delivered political change. Outside the classroom, reform is still glacial. The male guardianship system has led to terrible injustices, including child marriage. The ban on driving is particularly restrictive for poorer Saudi women, who can't afford the chauffeur-driven private cars used by the middle class and the rich. And women still struggle to find employment, in part because of harsh regulations requiring sex segregation in the workplace.

But even the women who are pressing for change acknowledge the giant leaps that are taking place, and the possibilities they might open up.

Madeha Al-Ajroush has been taking part in women's driving protests since 1990. She's the star of countless YouTube videos showing her driving -- illegally and often joyfully -- on the streets of the Saudi capital. "The car," she explained, "has become the symbol of wanting our voices to be heard, and our needs to be met."

Al-Ajroush is an American-educated psychotherapist who happily appeared on camera unveiled. But over cardamom-flavored coffee and sticky dates at her Riyadh home, she told me -- with tears in her eyes -- that her mother was illiterate. It's far from being an unusual story. In 1970 just 2 percent of Saudi women could read and write. Now the figure is around 80 percent, and women's education is widely regarded as a very good thing.

In a small town near Saudi Arabia's border with Iraq, I met Mousa Abdullah -- a Bedouin goat farmer who also works as a policeman. As we drove through the desert to see his family's traditional camp, he proudly told me that he wants his three daughters to go to university. "Progress", he said with a grin, "is nice." That's a sentiment that would have been utterly alien to his father.

The push to educate women and girls is being bankrolled in large part by Saudi Arabia's all-powerful King Abdullah. At Effat University, anyone in financial need who meets the academic standards -- which one professor described to me as "very low" -- gets a free ride, courtesy of the monarchy. Women are also winning a good chunk of the country's King Abdullah Scholarships, a multi-billion dollar program that's sent hundreds of thousands of Saudis to study overseas since 2005.

What is the king trying to achieve? As an absolute monarch, he doesn't have to explain himself, so we can only guess. But he must know that education can be transformative. And -- assuming he's the reformer that nearly everyone takes him for -- that's something that can help him.

The king and his family depend on the support of Saudi Arabia's ultra-conservative Islamic establishment to stay in power. Top down change has tended to be met with a backlash from hardline Muslims clerics and their supporters. When girls' schools were first opened in the 50s and 60s, religious conservatives led street protests.

But if change comes from within society -- is demanded by society -- a backlash is less likely, and the clerics will have little ground to stand on. It's difficult to imagine the women I met at Effat University accepting the restrictions imposed on their mothers. It's improbable that the hundreds of thousands of Saudis currently studying overseas -- both men and women -- will be content with the status quo.

"Patience" was the mantra of nearly everyone I spoke to in the Saudi government during a recent two-week trip to the kingdom.

"People need to be ready for reform," said Hoda Abdulrahman Al-Helaissi, a female member of the Shura Council, the body that advises the king. "We cannot push change if we want it to succeed, and if we want it to be for the long term."

Many in Saudi Arabia agree. They are wary of the clerics and willing to bide their time. But for others, change can't come soon enough.

"It's been 24 years," said Madeha Al-Ajroush, the veteran driving protestor. "They will change the law, but when is the question."

WIlliams' reporting will be broadcast on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley and CBS This Morning this week.



Nigeria: 50 Female Suicide Bombers on the Prowl

Dec 4, 2014

A female suicide bomber, who was arrested by the vigilante group also known as civilian JTF, revealed, yesterday, that 50 other female suicide bombers have been let loose in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital with a mandate to kill 100,000 persons before the end of December 2014.

The arrested female bomber disclosed this on a day the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Kenneth Minimah vowed that Boko Haram will be defeated. This came as former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon charged the army chief and his commanders to urgently correct the negative perception about Nigerian soldiers abandoning their weapons and running away in the midst of the fight against Boko Haram terrorists.

The female suicide bomber was said to have been arrested by civilian JTF at the entrance gate of the University of Maiduguri, while another was apprehended at the busy Post Office area of the metropolis, yesterday.

The arrest came barely a day after two female suicide bombers blew themselves up in Maiduguri Market on Monday, killing 22 civilians and injuring 48 others.

Upon their arrest, one of the suicide bombers was said to have confessed before being handed over to security operatives that 50 female members of the sect have been initiated and are ready to wreak havoc in Maiduguri and environs before the end of 2014 .

Following this disclosure, sources said, tension is now very high in the Borno capital as students of the University of Maiduguri had to undergo serious check by security operatives before being allowed into the campus.

It was gathered that already, students have been banned from entering the campus with their vehicles as only lecturers enjoyed this privilege after rigorous checks and identification.

The civilian JTF have also been put on red alert. It would be recalled that, already four female suicide bombers have caused the deaths of over 100 people in two incidents in Maiduguri recently.

Troops repel attacks in Konduga

Meanwhile, attempts to launch fresh attacks in Konduga and Maiduguri have been repelled by troops of the 7 Division in Konduga Local Government area of the state.

Konduga is south east and about 40 kilometres drive from Maiduguri, the state capital. Recently troops in the area with support from civilian JTF repelled insurgents, killing more than 200.

Sources said the insurgents numbering more than 300 armed with sophisticated weapons using Hilux vehicles and motorcycles had an encounter with troops while attempting to overrun Konduga and Maiduguri towns. The insurgents were, however, overwhelmed as the troops killed unspecified number of them before they abandoned some of their vehicles, arms and ammunition.

Another source said: "The attacks on insurgents in Konduga by the military on Monday at about 9 p.m left more than 200 terrorists dead".

A top military source confirmed the killing of hundreds of insurgents in the failed attack on Konduga town.

He said: "Our troops repelled attack by Boko Haram sect on Konduga Council Area where the insurgents suffered casualties with none of our troops killed or injured".

Save image of Army - Gowon

In a related development, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon has charged the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Kenneth Minimah and his commanders to urgently correct the negative perception about Nigerian soldiers abandoning their weapons and running away in the midst of the fight against terrorists.

Gowon gave the charge just as the Chief of Army Staff, declared that the war against terrorism will be won. "We would be undertaking a review of ongoing operations in the North-East with a view to bringing a speedy end to the reign of terror unleashed on innocent Nigerians by these elements", the Army Chief said.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Chief of Army Staff Conference in Uyo, Gowon, who was represented by former Lagos State Administrator, General Buba Marwa, said: "Ordinary Nigerians in high and low places have expressed reservations that they are not happy that their military who ought to defend our territorial integrity and protect people from internal and external threat appear to be losing ground to Boko Haram insurgents.

"But from the pictures of Boko Haram seen, apart from being mounted on Toyota vehicles, they look rag-tag -- certainly no threat to well-trained and better soldiers of the Nigerian Army. The COAS and commanders need to urgently correct this negative perception about our soldiers who have in the past, a record of professionalism and competence."

Recalling how he tackled security challenges of the civil war, Gowon said: "At a critical period during the civil war, I had only 500, 000 rounds of ammunition as total reserve for the armed forces. I could not continue with operations with such quantity of ammo, and no money.

"I only relied on some patriotic and committed businessmen in Nigeria who were able to get 15million rounds of ammunition within a very short time on their own account - they were paid later by government."

While noting that the Federal Government can buy military equipment directly from friendly and obliging governments as he did during the civil war, Gowon said: "The government recently acquired a loan of $1billion for fighting the insurgency. Make demands for equipment from it".

Continuing, he said: "I have not lost confidence in our armed forces. I want you to retrieve your honour by reversing some of these lapses into successes, losses into victories; negative opinions into positive opinions. I charge you to go all out to flush those insurgents out of our territories, all the way back to where they came from. That is the task the armed forces must accomplish without delay".

The biggest threat

On his part, Lt. General Minimah noted that the upsurge of terrorism and violent extremism in the North East of the country has remained the most significant threat facing our dear country today.

"The Nigerian Army is aware of the enormity of this national challenge having fought a 30-month civil war to unite Nigeria and taken part in operations to protect the territorial integrity of other countries which faced similar threats.

"In the last 10 months since my assumption of command, our attention has been focused primarily on tackling the insurgency in the North East and other security challenges in the North Central and North West. Our key priorities have been to maintain all round professional readiness, improve the standard of training, modernize our equipment, pay attention to troops' welfare and enhance force posture.

"During the year, we also developed and implemented new strategies not only to contain current threats but also to better prepare us to combat future security challenges," Minimah said.

Safety of Nigerians, my priority - Jonathan

Also speaking, President Goodluck Jonathan, represented by the Minister of Defence, General Aliyu Gusau noted that one of the cardinal pillars of the Transformation Agenda is the safety, security and well-being of all Nigerians and other residents irrespective of their tribes or religious affiliations.

"It is a duty that I have devoted my entire being to and resolve towards its attainment. It is in line with my government's resolve that we are ever committed to provide a safe and enabling environment for all Nigerians to carry out their businesses and contribute to the building of a strong, united, prosperous and stable nation.

"Under my leadership, the Federal Government will continue to provide ready assistance to the armed forces to meet operational needs".

The President said resources have been made available to ensure recruitment and training of capable army personnel.



India: Women’s College Gives Wings to Girls’ Dreams

Eram Agha,TNN | December 04, 2014

Aligarh: Women's emancipation is what Sheikh Abdullah was striving for when he set out to establish Women's College of Aligarh Muslim University in an age when female education was considered to be blasphemous. A hundred and six years on, the college remains a beacon of hope and progress for girls in the region.

Back then, Abdullah started the college for girls across social strata. The heartening fact is that the institution remains unaltered in its principles. Today, the college at Marris Road, which is 3 kilometres away from Aligarh Muslim University, is an "opportunity" or a "stepping stone" for female students coming from diverse social and economical backgrounds.

Roughly 40% of the 2,500 students in the college hail from the economically marginalized section of the society. Daughters of vegetable sellers, contractual drivers, labourers in the interiors of Rampur or Bihar are writing their own destiny. There are several students who will be the 'first generation' female graduates of their families.

Zamzam Khanum, who is in her first year studying Urdu, is proud to have come this far. Having studied at a Rampur madrasa, she hopes to take in the experience of the campus and become a teacher in future. However, her journey till here has not been smooth sailing. "I want to be a teacher so that I can help my mother. She was the one who stitched day and night to pay for my education fee. I hope my stint at Women's College will help me bag a job so that I can financially support her," she said.

Nurshifa's story is not different either. She is the first girl from her village to study at Women's College. Daughter of a vegetable seller in Rampur village, she hopes to imbibe the cosmopolitan culture of the university. "I want to learn English and move ahead in life. I like the confidence of girls coming from urban cities," she said, before narrating how proud her father was when she got admission to the college. "My father was so elated that he went on telling everyone in the village."

Like Nushrifa, Ruby Ahmad, daughter of a contractual driver, will be the first graduate of her family. There are countless stories of girls from tough backgrounds striving to move up the social ladder.

Incumbent principal and a former student of the College Naima Gulrez said it was imperative that the College opened its doors to everyone. She admitted to few students from humble homes initially going through a rough phase in terms of adjusting to a new life. "But things iron out," she said. "They gradually learn to appreciate different cultures and lifestyle. More importantly, they become more confident about their abilities."

She spoke of how a classmate of hers from a Rampur madarsa went on to become a teacher of a central school. From Rampur to Aligarh, girls escape the drudgery of their lives to chase their dreams at Women's College, an educational utopia.



Should Niqab Not Be Worn For Security Reasons?

 December 04, 2014

Dubai: The stabbing death of an American school teacher by a Niqab-clad assailant in a women’s restroom at an Abu Dhabi mall is drawing mixed reactions across the country as to whether or not the Niqab should be worn for security reasons.

Islamic scholar Ahmad Al Qubasi said wearing the niqab is not mandatory in Islam, which is why he said if it is a matter of national security, women can be asked not to wear it.

“The Niqab is not obligatory, only the wives of the Prophet were required to wear it. Therefore, if it is necessary to ban it for the security of the country and its people, the government can ask women to not wear it.”

Al Qubaisi said in certain situations the niqab has already been banned by Arab countries.

Banned during exams

“For example, Iraq banned women taking a university exam from wearing it. They have to take it off to make sure that the actual student is taking the exam and not someone else.”

Riad Kahwaji, Director-General of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said, “This is a very touchy subject. In fact, most Islamic associations do not see the niqab as part of religious jurisprudence. Islam requires women to dress modestly and wear a hijab, but does not urge them to cover their face.”

Kahwaji said if a ban were to be implemented; it would require the local leadership to discuss it with the tribal leaders.

“The Niqab is not a religious tradition but rather a cultural one in the Gulf. In the event where a ban was being considered, the country’s leadership will first have to discuss the matter with the tribal leaders. The Niqab is a Bedouin tradition that precedes Islam. This is not something the government can impose overnight.”

Unlike Paris or Belgium, who have imposed a ban on Niqabs and Burqas, Kahwaji said: “A ban here would require time and support from the tribal leaders. It isn’t like Paris or Belgium where the Niqab is a phenomenon related to immigrants.”

Pros and cons

Shaikh Khaliq Ahmad Mufti, on the other hand, said while the Niqab can be banned in certain situations, it should not be banned from a country as a whole.

“According to my studies, Islamic scientists had not unanimously agreed on whether the Niqab is mandatory or not. In certain situations, especially if it comes to the protection of the people and the country, women can be asked not to wear it.

"For example, women are required to show their faces in passport pictures and the airport. But I don’t believe it should be banned as a whole. Other solutions can be worked out instead.”

Amal Mohammad, 35, an Emirati who wears a niqab, said if her country banned the niqab as a matter of national security then she would support its decision and not wear it.

“Islamic scientists have unanimously agreed that the niqab is not mandatory in Islam, it is optional, I wear it by choice for extra merit. If it is a matter of national security, to protect my country and its people from those who are taking advantage of the niqab to perform crimes and ruin the image of Islam, then I would take it off.”

Amal also said one can tell if someone is wearing the niqab to hide themselves or not.

“Speaking as someone who wears it, I think one can easily tell if a person is wearing the niqab to hide themselves.”


British national Jamie G., 35, on the other hand, believes even suggesting a ban on the niqab is disrespectful to those who believe in wearing it.

“To even suggest banning the Niqab in the aftermath of an incident such as this is knee-jerk. Aside from being impossible to implement, this move would be hugely disrespectful to those who believe in covering their face for religious and modesty reasons, especially in a country in which this is common. If someone is willing to stab another human to death, the inability to hide their face behind a niqab is not going to stop them.”

Ali Bashar, 25, a Palestinian, also believed that suggesting the ban is discriminating and unnecessary.

“Everyone should have the right to wear whatever they want. Any robber or murderer would hide their face before performing a crime, yet they are still found through investigations, fingerprints etc… so why should we discriminate against a group of people?”



India: Take Rs 50,000 and abort, Bihar panchayat tells raped girl

IANS | Dec 4, 2014

PATNA: A panchayat in Bihar has ordered a girl, who was raped by four brothers and is now seven months pregnant, to take Rs 50,000 and undergo an abortion, police said on Thursday.

"The victim along with her mother and informed me that four brothers of her village raped her seven months back and now she is seven months pregnant," said police official Sweta Gupta over telephone from Kishanganj, about 400 km from here.

"When she approached the village panchayat, seeking justice and punishment against the accused, the panchayat members ordered her take Rs 50,000 to undergo an abortion. But she refused it," Gupta added.

It was the panchayat of village Packola Palashmani in Kishanganj district that gave the order.

The 16-year-old victim is daughter of a migrant worker who works in Rajasthan to support the poor family of six. The victim's mother works as a daily wage labourer in an agriculture field.

Gupta said an FIR has been lodged and a probe has begun. "We are trying to arrest the accused and take action against the panchayat member," she said.

She said the victim was afraid to approach police after panchayat members threatened her.

The police official also said nearly half a dozen similar cases have been reported to her in last month.

"After I joined duty here, five girls, mostly from the Muslim community, have filed similar complaints of being raped and getting pregnant," she said.

"I am stunned to know that several girls were raped but they failed to inform their parents. Such cases come to light only when they get pregnant few months later," she said.

Kishanganj is a Muslim dominated district as the community makes up for around 70 per cent of the population. It is one of the most backward districts in the state with high poverty rate and low levels of literacy.



Reducing marriageable age of females new way of oppressing girls: Bangladesh women's rights activists

Dec 4, 2014

A new way of oppressing girls is being introduced in the country with the government pushing to reduce marriageable age of females from 18 to 16, said women's rights activists at a human chain yesterday.

They said if the move is successful, females would be at a risk of suffering damage to their reproductive health and mental health and be deprived of their right to take part in political and economical activities as a citizen of the country.

Social Resistance Movement, a platform of 63 women's rights organisations, arranged the event in front of Jatiya Press Club in the capital demanding the minimum marriageable age of girls be kept 18 in the Child Marriage Restraint Act-2014.      

They said with the world observing the “International Fortnight for Resistance against Repression on Women”, the government's move is contradictory in fighting repression of women.   

Officials of Nari Mukti Sangshad, and Ayesha Khanam and Maleka Banu, president and general secretary of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, among others, addressed the human chain.



Afghan mother receives medal for killing dozens of Taliban insurgents

December 04, 2014

An Afghan mother who killed dozens of Taliban militants to avenge the murder of her son has received a medal for her bravery.

Reza Gul was forced to pick up arms after her son was shot dead by Taliban militants in front of her eyes. Her son was leading a small group of police forces in a check post located in a village of Farah province.

The Ministry of Interior (MoI) hailed her armed campaign as a symbol of a major revolution and public uprising against the Taliban group.

Vice-President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum conferred the “Governmental Medal of Malalai” to Reza Gul on Wednesday.

“Rezagul deserved medal of heroine Malalai and we granted her. She killed dozens of insurgents last month in Farah,” Gen. Dostum said.

The “Governmental Medal of Malalai” depicts a woman giving water to an Afghan soldier in traditional dress. She is the national folk heroine of Afghanistan, being responsible for the Afghan victory at the Battle of Maiwand in the mid 1880, during the Anglo-Afghan war.



IS leader's 'captured wife' may not be who she says she is

 December 04, 2014

It is not the first time Saja al-Dulaimi has made headlines. The woman who Lebanese authorities and local media insisted was the first lady of the Islamic State (IS) was detained in late November, along with her daughter, at a checkpoint in Lebanon using a fake ID. A Lebanese security source told Al-Monitor that Dulaimi had been under scrutiny since earlier this year. “[Jabhat al-Nusra] insisted back in March on including her in the swap that ended the kidnapping of the Maaloula nuns. The negotiators said on their behalf that she was very important, and they were ready to cancel the whole deal for her sake.” He added, “It was later revealed by Abu Malik al-Talli, one of al-Nusra’s leaders, that she was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wife.”

It has come to be understood in Lebanon that Dulaimi's arrest is part of an effort by Lebanese authorities to secure a deal to free 27 Lebanese army soldiers captured by Jabhat al-Nusra and IS during battles in the town of Arsal, on the Syrian border.

“There is a need to break the deadlock,” said an official Lebanese security source. “This is not to say that the arrest of Dulaimi was a goal in and of itself, but this adds to the cards that could be used. She’s important to them, and our soldiers are much more important to us.”

Asked whether she is Baghdadi's wife, the source replied, “There’s no document that proves she’s his wife. It’s what [Jabhat al-Nusra] said. While Daesh [IS] didn’t comment officially on the allegations, some say she was his wife when he used to live in Syria, back in 2006. Speculation. Nothing more.”

On March 10, Abu Azzam al-Kuwaiti, the slain deputy emir of Jabhat al-Nusra on the Lebanese-Syrian border whose Twitter handle was Abou Azzam al-Mohajer, tweeted, “If only you knew, my brother, with the state who was released in the negotiations, you would have cried a bit and laughed a lot.” Later, Talli, his superior, tweeted from his account, “Of course, God blessed, and our sister, the wife of Sheikh Abu Bakr, God bless him, was freed by us. We did this because it’s our duty to.”

In an April 2014 interview, Lebanon’s general security director, Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, revealed part of what Lebanese security knew about Dulaimi. He said, “The Syrian security discovered on March 9 that Saja Khalaf was indeed Saja al-Dulaimi, whose two children were given to a childminder to look after them.” He further stated, “[Jabhat al-Nusra] were keen to free her. They were ready to end all talks if she wasn’t part of the deal. She doesn’t seem to be a fighter. In her mid-20s, she hid a fabulous beauty behind her veil.”

The security chief also said, “When I told her that her husband was waiting for her, she said her husband was dead.” According to him, “Her father is a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative. One of her sisters was killed in a suicide bombing, while the second one was arrested before detonating herself.”

Saja’s sister Duaa was 17 when she was arrested in Erbil before she could blow herself up. An Iraqi security source explained to Al-Monitor that both Saja and Duaa are from a jihadist family. “They are from the Dora neighborhood in Baghdad; her father, Ibrahim al-Dulaimi, was a high-ranking al-Qaeda member who later entered, with al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani, into Syria on orders from Baghdadi, who was the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq. The father was killed a few months ago.”

The source elaborated, “They are 10 — seven girls and three boys. The three brothers are jihadists. One with [IS], another with the Green Battalion and a third with al-Nusra. Duaa, the daughter arrested in Iraq, was married to a member of IS. He was later killed in Beiji, northern Iraq, and she went to Erbil to detonate herself and kill innocent civilians.”

Whether Saja al-Dulaimi is the wife of the self-appointed caliph or the daughter of a senior al-Qaeda operative or the sister of three devoted jihadists, it is obvious that the woman is not a nobody, but a somebody very important. This alone could mean a lot to the families of the Lebanese soldiers now held for months by Jabhat al-Nusra, perhaps a light in the darkness.



Afghanistan Has Become A Better Place for Women

 December 04, 2014

My message to those attending the London conference this week is simple: do not forget about the women of Afghanistan

It would be impossible to deny that Afghanistan has made enormous progress on women’s rights over the last 12 years.

During the time of the Taliban, many women were simply invisible. They had to be accompanied by men in public, and they could be punished even for appearing outdoors without a male escort. Girls were not allowed to receive an education, except for a few “lucky ones” who studied in underground schools.

Today, constitutional articles, laws and policies are in place to guarantee women’s rights, and women are far more visible, especially in towns and cities. It is a normal sight to see streams of girls going to school.

Men in government are also more supportive of women’s rights. “Doing gender” has become important to them, because they know that half the population are women and they need their support to be successful under the democratic system.

Women are more likely to report crimes against them, in particular gender-based violence, and more likely to receive justice. Five men were found guilty earlier this year of gang raping four women on their way home from a wedding. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the trial – some human rights organisations are deeply concerned about the process – it did send the message that people cannot get away with rape. In the past, I would have expected the case to be dealt with informally, or to drag on for years.

But women’s struggle for civic and human rights still has a long way to go. Three decades of war has left many Afghans both eager for change and afraid of it. There are still many instances of ordinary women experiencing domestic violence, being sexually abused, or being forced into marriage. Women in senior leadership roles – such as in parliament or the police – are still being murdered. Some men feel threatened by the presence of women in senior positions. These men see women’s rights as the “westernisation” of Afghan culture and a threat to Islamic values.

Now that foreign troops are finally withdrawing, we must not allow a narrow and incomplete interpretation of Islamic law among some groups to roll back the hard-won progress that has been made by women in Afghanistan.

The good news is that President Ghani is an advocate of women’s rights. And it may seem like a small step, but it is important that we now have a visible first lady in our government. We never saw the wife of President Karzi, so I was pleasantly surprised to see President Ghani’s wife at the President’s inauguration ceremony in September and was touched to hear him praising her publicly.

When ordinary Afghans see that our government remains committed to women’s rights even after the troop withdrawal, more people will start seeing gender as their own challenge, rather than something that has been imposed by foreigners.

But gender equality cannot be addressed by top-down efforts alone. With support from international agencies including CAFOD, the Afghan Women’s Education Centre is helping women in remote communities to educate themselves, make a living, and training both women and men to mediate in gender-related disputes. Many other grassroots Afghan organisations are also working to empower rural women.

It will take many years to change attitudes, but if the international community, the Afghan government and grassroots organisations work in tandem, we can continue to head in the right direction. My message to those attending the London conference this week is simple: do not forget about the women of Afghanistan; your support and belief in our cause will give the Afghan women the strength to continue their fight for their rights.

Zulaikha Rafiq is Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Education Centre



Germans Reject Calls to Ban Muslims’ Niqab

 December 04, 2014

CAIRO – Calls by a politician in the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling party to impose a nation-wide ban on Islamic niqab, or burqa, has sparked criticism from religious leaders and politicians as “out of proportion”.

“The burka is the least of our problems,” Aiman Mazyek, chairman of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, told The Bild German newspaper.

“As long as well qualified migrant women cannot get a job just because of a foreign name or appearance, we should tackle integration problems in the right order."

Mazyek was commenting on the suggestion made last Monday by Julia Klöckner, deputy chief of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Rhineland-Palatinate.

In her proposal, Klöckner demanded a public ban on the burka, same as the one applied in France.

Speaking to the German daily newspaper Rheinische Post, she said that the burqa "does not stand for religious diversity, but for a degrading image of women."

Her suggestion was immediately rejected around Germany by politicians and religious leaders.

On his part, Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian Minister of the Interior from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, described Klöckner's call for a ban on the burka as "out of proportion."

Similar opinion was expressed by Green Party politician Omid Nouripour.

In an interview with the German newspaper Bild, he argued "the problem is not the women that wear them, but the men that force them to do so."

"A ban would only lead to these men to not allow their wives to be outside on the street," Nouripour added.

"That doesn't help anyone."

Integration First

Church leaders have also criticized the proposal.

Though the sight of women wearing burka might make some people feel uneasy, "this is no reason to rush into changing the law," Petra Bosse-Huber, the German Protestant Church's bishop for foreign relations, was quoted by Deutsche Welle.

Mazyek, the chairman of Germany's Central Council of Muslims, pointed to integration problems in German as more urgent cause.

He is one of the attendants of national integration conference held on Monday during which chancellor Angela Merkel announced plans to improve education and opportunities for young migrants in Germany.

"First we need to get rid of discrimination," Mazyek told the Bild.

"Then the burka issue - which is a minor issue anyway - will solve itself."

Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.

Germany has Europe's second-biggest Muslim population after France, and Islam comes third after Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

The burqa has been the center of fierce debate since France banned the wearing in public places.

In February 2011, the west-central state of Hesse became the first in Germany to ban the wearing of burqa (face-veil) in public places.

Several European countries such as Spain and Belgium are mulling similar moves.

While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil.

Scholars believe it is up to women to decide whether to take on the veil or burqa, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.