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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 8 March 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Child Marriage in Niger Is a Cultural Issue, Not An Islamic One

New Age Islam News Bureau


8 March 2019


 ‘Sky Is the Limit,’ Says Aisha Al-Mansouri, The UAE’s First Female A380 Pilot

 Muslim Call Centre Gets Hundreds of Hate Calls for Promoting Hijabs on Billboard

 Noura Bendali: The Muslim Dane Fighting Against Islamophobia

 Islam Gives Great Importance to Women’s Rights: President Alvi

 Ambala Youth to Tie the Knot with Sialkot Girl amid Indo-Pakistan Tension

 Lawmaker Wafa Bani Mustafa Delivers A First For Jordanian Women

 PM Khan 'Reaffirms Commitment' To Ensuring a Secure, Enabling Environment for Women

 The Angel Giving Cast-Out Muslim Women with AIDS Hope for a Normal Life

 Saudi Tadawul’s Female Chairperson Rings the Bell for Women Empowerment

 Britain to Grant Jailed UK-Iranian Mother ‘Diplomatic Protection’

 Saudi Ambassador to US Princess Reema Hailed As ‘Inspiring Figure’ For Female Empowerment

 How Female Success Is Paving the Way for a More Progressive Saudi Arabia

 Meet the Pakistani Women Who Say the Burqa Helps Them Be Better Journalists

 Sudan Unions Call for Protests Ahead of Women’s Day

 More Women Winning Seats in World Parliaments

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Child Marriage in Niger Is a Cultural Issue, Not An Islamic One

8 Mar 2019

‘Imams are vital in this campaign’: Mariah Idrissi travelled to Niger with Islamic Relief. Photograph: Islamic Relief


Islam, for me, is a way of life and the core of my world. As a Muslim woman I have always been encouraged to be who I want to be.

I get frustrated when people say: “Why do you wear a hijab? Isn’t that a sign of women’s oppression?” I choose to wear a hijab; I choose to be an educated and liberated woman and I choose to follow Islam.

Islam states that a woman’s purpose for existence is not to serve any other human beings or be subjugated by any other person.

I recently visited Niger, where up to 98% of the population is Muslim. The country also has the world’s highest child marriage rate, with three out of four girls married before the age of 18. Key drivers for this are poverty, local customs, tradition and lack of education.

Niger is the fifth poorest country in the world, and I saw for myself acute signs of poverty. I spoke to families who told me how they gave up their daughters for early marriage because they were struggling to feed or protect them, let alone send them to school. Girls suffer more than boys. Only 15% of women in Niger aged 15 to 24 are literate, compared with 30% of men.

In Loga, 140km east of the capital Niamey, I met Mariama*, who was given up for marriage at the age of 12. Traumatised, she escaped on the night of her wedding and fled to the house of Maimouna Djibrila, a volunteer working with Islamic Relief. She of all people understood what Mariama was going through. She too had been given away for early marriage to a cousin, and had a very difficult time.

Maimouna worked with several organisations, Mariama’s school, the police and both families to get the marriage annulled. Unfortunately, two years later (a month before our visit), her father was trying to marry off Mariama again.

Early and forced marriage is a contentious subject in Niger. The country has signed up to international treaties that set a minimum age of marriage of 18. However, the legal age of marriage is 15 for girls and 18 for boys. There have been ongoing discussions in parliament to make sure that the national law respects the international treaties, but this has not yet happened.

Even if the law changes, it is unlikely that child marriage will stop overnight. It is entrenched in the culture in Niger. I want to be clear on this: this is not an Islamic issue, but a cultural issue.

For any change to happen, it has to happen at community level. Islamic Relief is training community and faith leaders, such as Imams and village chiefs, about the importance of women’s rights and child protection.

Imams are vital in this campaign. I witnessed imams preaching about the rights of women and children in their Friday sermons, known as khutbas. They pointed out that the Qur’an states it is not lawful for men to inherit their wives by force, or for parents to let their children be harmed in any way. And how a successful marriage according to Islam promotes love, tranquillity and mercy between husbands and wives.

The latter is particularly important, given the high levels of domestic violence in the country. An estimated 15.6% of women experience some form of sexual violence or harassment.

I met Adama in Loga, who was raped by an extended family member when she was 15 and then ostracised by her family for giving birth to his child outside marriage. She was kicked out of the house while pregnant. Maimouna convinced Adama’s mother to help her, and now she too is being ostracised by the family. It was heartbreaking listening to Adama. She told me that she has been reduced to begging for food and is insulted every day. I could see the pain in her eyes as she recounted her story.

It infuriated me to see Adama treated in this way, and to see so many young girls being forced into early marriage. Allah commands us to protect the honour of women, and the Qu’ran clearly states that violence against women and girls, in any shape or form, is not acceptable. It is not acceptable in the UK; it is not acceptable in Niger.

Adama’s story and many others I heard in Niger have fired me up in support of Islamic Relief’s #HonourHer campaign, which is working towards a global Islamic declaration of gender justice – a call to action against gender inequality from an Islamic faith perspective – to be launched later this year. I will use my voice to play an active part in this.



‘Sky Is the Limit,’ Says Aisha Al-Mansouri, The UAE’s First Female A380 Pilot

March 08, 2019

DUBAI: As the UAE’s first female pilot of an A380, Aisha Al-Mansouri knows a thing or two about breaking glass ceilings.

She was just one of two female cadets when Etihad Airways first opened its training program in 2007 — and seven years later made history as the first Emirati woman to take to the cockpit of the world’s largest passenger airliner.

As International Women’s Day is marked across the globe, Al-Mansouri, a first officer for the UAE’s national airline, said the day should be a marker for young girls across the region of how far women in the Middle East have come.

“The opportunities are growing and growing, especially in the region. The sky is the limit, really.”

While once aviation was a traditionally male-dominated profession in the Middle East, Al-Mansouri believes there are more opportunities for women, just as there are in any career.

“I think governments (in the region) have come to believe that women are vital for the development of society — in all sectors, in all different roles.”

Al-Mansouri’s career in aviation began by visiting an air show in Al Ain when she was 17. “They had an Etihad stand there and were talking about opening the cadet program and (I was) told if I was interested I should apply — and I did.”

Before joining the cadet program, Al-Mansouri had considered many traditional roles such as a doctor or teacher. The Emirati admitted she never thought about being a pilot, despite watching her brother Ali earn his flying credentials and join Abu Dhabi Police, and her sister, Maj. Mariam Al-Mansouri, become the UAE’s first female fighter pilot.

When Al-Mansouri began the inaugural cycle of Etihad’s cadet program in 2007, she was one of just two women among 450 trainee pilots. “It was bit overwhelming, I had come from an all-girls school and then I had moved to this flight school to train alongside hundreds of men, but I think the way the management ran the program meant I felt at ease quickly.”

After graduating, Al-Mansouri worked as a second officer on the A320, before graduating to the A330 as a first officer. It was then she made her bid to fly on the A380. “My name was among a long list of candidates, so when my name was selected, I was so excited.”

Her inaugural flight on the Airbus was from Abu Dhabi to London in February 2014. “When we were doing our training (for the A380) we had never actually seen the aircraft; we had only been in the flights’ simulator. The cockpit size really doesn’t change when it comes to the real thing, but when I walked into the aircraft for the first time, I was like ‘Wow, this is big.” And the number of props and tubes and buttons you have to check — and the size of the plane — it was like flying a building.”

Al-Mansouri has since racked up countless flights to long-haul destinations. “I still love it, every single time,” she said.

So what is next for the high-flying Emirati? As senior first officer she is second-in-command to the captain, a role she hopes to achieve within the next four years. And she would one day like to use her master’s degree, which she obtained last year in airline operation management.  “It opened my eyes to the importance of strategic planning,” she said.



Muslim Call Centre Gets Hundreds of Hate Calls for Promoting Hijabs on Billboard

By Emily Jacobs

March 7, 2019

After starting a campaign to raise awareness about hijabs and why women wear them, an Islamic call center has become inundated with hate-filled, Islamophobic calls.

The Islamic Center of North America’s Dallas, Texas branch (INCA) and sister organization GainPeace say their hotline has been receiving over 200 hate calls per week since putting up the billboard on I-35, a highway in the area.

The ad, which features an Islamic woman in a hijab along with the caption, “Hijab: the dress of modesty,” and the phrases “respect, honor, strength,” has a hotline number at the bottom to encourage passers by to call with questions.

Out of the first 200 calls the call center received after the ad was put up, 180 were hate calls, Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, director of the GainPeace call center and a representative of INCA Dallas, told The Post.

One of the hotline operators told Ahmed this week, “I have never been abused the way I’m getting abused now.”

That operator’s experience has been far from unique since the billboard went up.

Ahmed told The Post that the number of callers reaching out to bully and harass them has only grown — now to well over 200 calls per week.

Comments from callers have ranged from calling operators “terrorists,” to yelling at them to “go home.” Ahmed says many have scolded hotline operators by raving that, “this is a Christian country,” and their organization cannot turn the US into a Muslim nation.

Some callers have compared the woman wearing the hijab on the billboard to Muslim-American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and claimed that the resemblance showed why all Muslims supported anti-Semitism. Omar has recently faced controversy for tweets that were viewed by many as anti-Semitic.

Omar has since apologized, but has maintained that her criticisms of the current Israeli government is valid.

The Dallas billboard has had a far worse reaction than any of the organizations previous ads, according to Ahmed.

INCA put up the same billboard in Chicago before the Dallas branch followed suit, and the reaction was far less negative. The same ad was also put on a billboard in Houston at the same time as in Dallas, but the INCA branch there has received far less hate.

Ahmed called the reaction “heartbreaking,” adding that he and the organizations didn’t exist to impose their beliefs. “There are so many misconceptions out there, so we feel we are here to educate. We want to get rid of the fear of the unknown. When people get to know what Islam is and what we believe in, people realize there isn’t that much that’s different between us.”



Noura Bendali: The Muslim Dane Fighting Against Islamophobia

by Alice Kantor

Mar 08, 2019

Noura Bendali was leaving her workplace one evening when she saw the Danish People's Party's new campaign.

The leader of the far-right party had been putting up placards around Copenhagen, reading: "Take off your veil. Join Danish society."

A Muslim woman who chooses to wear the veil, Bendali decided to express her outrage online in a video that was viewed 350,000 times.

Bendali is a midwife, mother of five, and divorced.

She decided to enter politics a few years ago to underpin the voice of Muslims in her community.

"We feel the discrimination more and more," said Bendali. "Muslim women are being yelled at for wearing a veil."

Since 2015 and the establishment of a government coalition with the far right, parties across the political spectrum in Denmark have shifted right, leading to a worrying rise in anti-Muslim and anti-migrant sentiment.

The government introduced a law to seize items of migrants coming into the country in 2016, a few months after they had taken adverts in Lebanese papers promoting their benefits cuts to migrants.

They established stricter criminal laws for people living in so-called "ghettos" - poorer districts in Denmark, and imposed Danish classes on children there, in which they were taught Danish "values".

The government also voted to send rejected asylum seekers to a deserted island off the coast of Denmark.

They imposed a nationwide veil ban last year and a string of local laws stopping the construction of mosques, forced school canteens to serve pork and restricted Muslim women from using public baths, all of which have turned the country into one of the most inhospitable for migrants.

Yet despite this rising trend, a few women, including Noura Bendali, have decided to join politics and speak up for tolerance and inclusion, appearing on TV, Facebook, shows and around their neighbourhoods to promote an open society and fight back against the wave of Islamophobia that has gripped the country.

Bendali, who was born in Morocco to a wealthy restaurant-owner in Fez, moved to Denmark in the 1970s when its need for foreign workers made it attractive for families to try out their luck in the Nordic country.

Raised in a French school with diplomats' children, she studied midwifery and became the first midwife to wear a veil in a Copenhagen hospital in 2000.

She's worked as a midwife since.

Her party is called the "National Party" to highlight its embrace of all Danes.

"We are born equal. I want that respect back," said Bendali.

About five percent of Denmark's population is Muslim and the mood in the country has changed in recent years.

Crime against Muslims has risen, according to a study by the Turkish think-tank SETA.

There have also been instances of women attacked for wearing veils, people trying to tear them off.

For Bashy Quraishy, a local activist and ex-chair of the European anti-racism association, ENAR, Islamophobia has become ubiquitous.

"This democratic society, once the leading voice in Europe against apartheid, over 50 years has become one of the most anti-minority, anti-Islam countries in Europe," said Quraishy.

Danes have become increasingly antagonised by stories in the press and politics that portray Muslims in a negative light.

"We are stuck in a populist narrative," he said.

But women like Bendali have been trying to change that narrative.

Last year, she faced off Integration Minister Inger Stojberg during a national debate on her proposal to ban Muslim people from working during Ramadan, saying their fasting and working at the same time constituted a risk to society.

Bendali told her that she had worked her whole life and doing Ramadan never bothered her.

"I do everything that all Danes do. I'm not dangerous," she said.

But she has received death threats, with people telling her she's a "terrorist" and threatening her children.

She was recently interviewed by Ellie Jokar, a Muslim Iranian-born comedian and actress.

Jokar's show involves her taking people on a ride in her pink taxi car and discussing politics. Her interview with Bendali received over 9,000 views on YouTube.

"Denmark used to be a safe place," said Jokar, "now, I get treated differently."

Jokar said she had felt this anger against her after 9-11 but since the new government coalition, it has become worse.

"For Danes, I'm not Danish enough because I'm brown," she said, "even though I'm considered by others to be a 'good immigrant'."

To Bendali, the issue of racism became visceral when her 12-year-old daughter came back crying from handball practice.

Having made contact with a player on the field, the other child's mother called her a "fat black pig".

"They're insulting my daughters on the street," said Bendali. "When I was a kid I never felt this hatred, this racism that you can feel today in Denmark.

"I want my kids to feel like this is their country too."



Islam Gives Great Importance to Women’s Rights: President Alvi

Mar 7, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Underscoring the need for social protection to women in the society, President Arif Alvi said that Islam gave great importance to women’s right.

Addressing a seminar, in connection with awareness campaign against harassment, President Arif Alvi lauded the role of women in strengthening democracy in the country.

He said that our religion gave respect and special place to women in the society and added that Islam also gave inheriting rights to women.

The president said that a society could not be called an Islamic society until it did not ensure women’s right. He said unfortunately the woman had not equal rights to the man in our society.

Earlier, the Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, on October 12, had said the government would soon launch a campaign to provide women free legal aid regarding inheritance.Oct12

“We have already started awareness drive regarding the women’s right to inheritance and launching another drive to provide free legal aid soon,” she said while talking to Swedish Ambassador for Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law Annika Ben David and Ambassador of Sweden Ingrid Johansson who called on her here in Islamabad.



Ambala Youth to Tie the Knot with Sialkot Girl amid Indo-Pakistan Tension

Mar 08, 2019

Vishal Rambani

At a time when tension between the neighbouring countries has escalated in the wake of airstrikes on a terror launch pad across the border, a 33-year-old man from Haryana is all set to tie the knot with a woman from Sialkot in Pakistan.

The marriage between Parvinder Singh, a telecom contractor and resident of Tepla village in Ambala, will be solemnised by the end of this week at a gurdwara in Patiala as per Sikh tradition with Kiran Sarjeet (27) who along with her family reached India via Samjhauta Express on Thursday.

The two got engaged in 2016 when Sarjeet visited her maternal uncle’s house at Samana in Patiala.

Parvinder, who is the youngest of three siblings, said he had known Sarjeet for long since she is a distant relative of his aunt (wife of father’s younger brother). Her family had stayed back in Sialkot during Partition in 1947, he says.

“I first saw her in 2014 when she was visiting India. Two years later, when I expressed interest in her, both she and her family agreed. We got engaged in a simple ceremony. Sarjeet, who is the eldest of five siblings, has done master’s in English and is a teacher there. I hope she will be happy here after marriage,” he said.

Parvinder says he was twice sponsored by Sarjeet’s family for the Pakistan visa, but he didn’t get one.

“They have got visa for 45 days for Patiala and I will try to get it extended it by submitting a request to the authorities after the wedding. I will try to get her visa for Ambala so that she can stay with me or I will have to rent a house in Patiala,” Parvinder said.

“Sarjeet’s family was to board Samjhauta Express last week, but they could not as the train was cancelled due to the rising tensions. Now, they boarded the train today (Thursday) and reached Delhi from where they will come to Patiala,” he said.

“The exact date of marriage is not finalised, but it is likely to take place on Saturday,” he added.



Lawmaker Wafa Bani Mustafa Delivers A First For Jordanian Women

March 08, 2019

AMMAN: When Wafa Bani Mustafa, right, decided to run for Jordan’s Parliament in 2010, using the newly created women’s quota, few believed she could win. The mother-of-two faced resistance both in her village Suf and the Jerash district.

“I ran for office at age 31, the minimum age allowed to run for Parliament,” she told Arab News.

However, Bani Mustafa had a clear idea of her campaign platform from the outset. “I decided to focus on the needs of working mothers,” she said. Not only did the lawyer overcome the odds to emerge victorious, she has since run for Parliament twice and won.

However, it would take Bani Mustafa three parliamentary terms before she was able, along with others, to introduce and pass legislation that advances the rights of working women.

The difficulties that women in Jordan encounter daily are not limited to the workplace. The House of Representatives was a microcosm of the country’s conservative, male-dominated society. “When I ran for the leadership of a parliamentary bloc in 2011, I was criticized by some of my male colleagues,” she recalled.

Today Bani Mustafa is Jordan’s leading female parliamentarian, having served on the board of the National Council on Human Rights and campaigned for a change in the law that stops Jordanian women passing on their citizenship to their children.

But of all Bani Mustafa’s achievements, the one that gives her greatest satisfaction is her successful campaign to overturn a Jordanian law that allowed rapists to escape punishment if they married their victims. “It is the change of Article 308 that left a mark,” she said.

True to form, Bani Mustafa has not restricted her advocacy of women’s rights to the relatively limited ambit of Jordan. She has headed the committee of the pan-Arab Women’s Parliamentary Commission dedicated to combating domestic violence.

“I am a feminist and I believe in feminism and want more women to fight for feminist issues, but I also have opinions and ideas about all of society,” she said.

“We need to work a lot on our culture and society, as they have in Tunisia. Most of the rest of the Arab world is still struggling in this area.”



PM Khan 'Reaffirms Commitment' To Ensuring a Secure, Enabling Environment for Women

March 08, 2019

Prime Minister Imran Khan in his message on International Women’s Day, being celebrated across the globe on Friday, reaffirmed his government's commitment to providing women a safe environment so that they could contribute to the country's development.

"We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring women a secure and enabling environment to play their rightful role in our nation's development," said the prime minister.

He also paid tribute to Fatima Jinnah "who stood steadfastly beside the Quaid in his struggle for Pakistan".

The second ‘Aurat March’ will be held today in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and other cities to mark International Women’s Day, which is celebrated by the global community every year on March 8.

PPP's Senator Sherry Rehman, referring to the march, called to attention a number of issues women face, saying: "I march because women don’t get the same pay or opportunities as men. Because I’m done keeping quiet about sexist jokes, about snide remarks and an unspoken collusion to keep women out of decision-making. I march for my less fortunate sisters who suffer daily indignities."

In another tweet, she said: "I march because I don’t accept violence against women. I march against harassment at the workplace. I march because public spaces are domains where I too have the right to have my voice heard. I march because we still have a long way to go."

Finance Minister Asad Umar also shared a message on Women's Day: "Pakistan cannot be the prosperous and peaceful country we want it to be unless women, who are more than half the country, are given the chance to live their lives to their full potential."



The Angel Giving Cast-Out Muslim Women with AIDS Hope for a Normal Life

Ainaa Aiman

March 8, 2019

PETALING JAYA: Becoming infected with HIV/AIDS is bad enough for any woman, but to then be cast out by her own family seems like the end of the world.

Being ostracised by her community is especially tragic for the many women who are innocent victims, having been infected by promiscuous or closet bisexual husbands.

But there is one compassionate woman, Fadzilah Abdul Hamid, better known as Matron Fadzilah, who can offer a temporary home and some tough love to these rejected women and children.

Over 20 years ago, she and fellow senior officers at the health ministry started a care home under the Islamic Medical Association Malaysia.

The late 90s saw increased numbers of women and children infected with HIV, so such a facility was desperately needed.

Since it started, Solehah House has helped nearly 400 victims, 50 of whom were children as young as 20 days old.

Matron Fadzilah’s care home gets referrals from all over Malaysia.

A veteran nurse, she said all women with HIV/AIDS face stigma from their own families and community but particularly Muslim women.

“They come to us because they have been rejected. When they arrive, their self-esteem is shattered. We rebuild their confidence, and then tend to their physical problems such as skin lesions.”

She runs the treatment and counselling programme, integrated with Islamic teachings and values, which can last from three months to two years depending on the individual.

The programme includes working with the women to identify their interests and capabilities and develop their potential so they will be able to earn a living when they return to their communities.

She also teaches them health basics, like how to stay clean in order to prevent transmission of the virus.

For the past five years, there has been a decline in the number of women actually living in the home, she said. The majority of those who come for help are now home-based.

She attributes this to an improvement in public awareness, saying most are now able to stay with their own families who are more accepting.

But others with families who are not as up-to-date about how the virus is transmitted are not as lucky.

“Many families still fear HIV, even though it is just like any other infection. It cannot spread very easily.”

For the past six years, the home has been receiving funding from the Selangor Islamic Religious Council, which also funds a number of other HIV/AIDS shelters.

She believes this is a sign that the Muslim community is becoming more open.

“The Quran teaches us that God is most forgiving, especially for those who have repented,” said Matron Fadzilah.

Running a home is not easy, as staff and funds are usually lacking.

Matron Fadzilah said it is difficult to find new staff, as few are dedicated enough to undergo the strenuous tasks involved in looking after and counselling AIDS patients. Many also worry about becoming infected themselves.

“We cannot retain our staff, especially the younger ones. They are not that interested in staying with us because they have their own lives outside,” she said.

Now there are virtually no full-time staff, but regular volunteers. They also train former patients to return and work at the home.

These days, despite people becoming more aware of the disease, more people are actually contracting HIV.

Matron Fadzilah worries that now most HIV cases are due to casual and unhealthy sexual activity.

She said many people are well aware of the consequences of unprotected sex, but practise it anyway.

“It is a problem for the nation,” she said.

Luckily the angel of Solehah House is there to do what she can.



Saudi Tadawul’s Female Chairperson Rings the Bell for Women Empowerment

7 March 2019

In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Saudi Stock Exchange, Tadawul, along with 80 financial markets around the world, participated in ringing the opening bell.

The opening bell is rung on the trading floor to signify the start of the day’s trading session.

Today’s ringing of the bell by Sarah al-Suhaimi, the first woman to be the chairperson of Tadawul, symbolized a ring for women empowerment.

The ceremony also included the signing of an agreement on the principles of empowering women, reflecting the trend of encouraging more women to participate in the Saudi economy.

Experts say that al-Suhaimi’s appointment as chairperson is a step that breaks the male-dominated upper echelons in the finance sector.

The representation of women on corporate boards continues to increase but the number of women leading boards remains low globally, according to Deloitte Consultancy.

Overall, women now hold 12 percent of seats worldwide with only four percent chairing boards.

The selection of al-Suhaimi to lead the Kingdom’s $533 billion stock market underscores the Kingdom’s incessant pursuit to empower women.

Tadawul is the largest stock exchange in the region and the 21st internationally, according to the World Federation of Exchange.

Before joining the National Commercial Bank as CEO, al-Suhaimi was the chief investment officer at Jadwa Investment and a senior portfolio manager at Samba Financial Group.

In September 2013, the Harvard graduate was appointed, along with 16 others, as a member of the stock exchange’s consultancy committee.



Britain to Grant Jailed UK-Iranian Mother ‘Diplomatic Protection’

8 March 2019

Britain said Thursday that it will grant “diplomatic protection” to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a UK-Iranian dual citizen jailed in Tehran since 2016, citing a lack of due process and access to medical treatment.

“I have today decided that the UK will take a step that is extremely unusual and exercise diplomatic protection,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.

“This represents formal recognition by the British government that her treatment fails to meet Iran’s obligations under international law and elevates it to a formal state to state issue,” Hunt added.

Diplomatic protection is a rarely-used mechanism allowing nations to seek protection on behalf of its citizens on the grounds that they have been wronged by another state, according to Britain’s foreign office.

Hunt said he had “not taken this decision lightly” but considered the “unacceptable treatment” Zaghari-Ratcliffe had experienced during her three years in detention.

“We have not even been able to secure her the medical treatment she urgently needs despite assurances to the contrary,” he added.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has suffered from health issues, including undergoing tests for breast cancer and a series of panic attacks, while her emotional state has worsened during her confinement.

A project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media group’s philanthropic arm, said she was arrested in April 2016 as she was leaving Iran after taking her infant daughter to visit her family.

She was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016 for alleged sedition.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and the British government have consistently denied the charges against her.

Hunt said his decision Thursday was “an important diplomatic step” signaling to Tehran that “its behavior is totally wrong”.

However, he conceded that it was “unlikely to be a magic wand that leads to an overnight result” and repeated calls for her release.

“I know there are many in Iran who understand the unjustness of this situation. No government should use innocent individuals as pawns for diplomatic leverage so I call on Iran to release this innocent woman so she can be reunited with her family,” he said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard has been lobbying Hunt and the previous foreign secretary Boris Johnson for diplomatic protection for his wife since 2017.



Saudi Ambassador to US Princess Reema Hailed As ‘Inspiring Figure’ For Female Empowerment

March 08, 2019

DUBAI: Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan made history last month, becoming the first Saudi woman to be made an ambassador.

After she was named Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat in the US, Ridwaan Jadwat, Australia’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, called her appointment “an important milestone,” and wished her a happy and successful posting.

A recognized global figure, Princess Reema has spoken publicly about the inclusion of women in the Saudi workforce, describing the liberalization under way as “evolution, not Westernization.”

She has said, though, that the Kingdom’s efforts to allow women to drive or attend football games are only “quick wins.” More professional opportunities need to be created, and problems such as domestic violence, she believes, demand greater scrutiny.

Princess Reema spent several years in the US during her youth when her father, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was also Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the country. She graduated with

a bachelor’s degree in museum studies from George Washington University.

After returning to the Kingdom in 2005, and spending time as the CEO of Harvey Nichols in Riyadh, the princess launched a handbag brand in 2013, before founding a private equity fund and a women’s day spa. She is a member of the World Bank’s Advisory Council for its Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, is vice president of women’s affairs at the General Sports Authority, and is a founding member of the Zahra Breast Cancer Association in Riyadh. In August 2018 she was also appointed to the International Olympic Committee.

Speaking to Arab News last month, Dominique Mineur, Belgium’s ambassador to Riyadh, said the appointment of Princess Reema demonstrated the Kingdom’s resolve to give more prominent roles to women.

“Of course, she is an inspiring figure and has been supporting women in so many fields, such as sports, health, work and financial independence,” Mineur said. “It’s a logical appointment considering the role she has played.”



How Female Success Is Paving the Way for a More Progressive Saudi Arabia

March 08, 2019

RIYADH: A seminar was held in Riyadh on Thursday, the day before International Women’s Day. The event was organized by the Human Rights Council in collaboration with the UN office in Saudi Arabia.

One of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030’s goals is to empower women in all fields. Within a span of just two years, the Kingdom, under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has undergone massive changes, resulting in a sharp elevation in women’s status, level of participation in the workforce and contribution to the national economy.

A number of women whose achievements have paved the way for a more progressive Saudi Arabia took part in the seminar’s first session. They spoke about their lives, their struggles and their successes. They described their stories as a long journey involving hardship and challenges but which was definitely worth undertaking.

At the second session, King Saud University’s Vice Dean for Student Affairs Dr. Enas Al-Issa addressed the topic, “Empowerment of Saudi Women in Education from Growth to Competition.” Her talk focused on the objectives of Vision 2030 in the context of women’s education and increasing women’s participation in the labor market. She pointed out the existence of 31 programs that require the participation of women which affect the Kingdom’s ranking on the Global Competitiveness Index.

Speaking during the third session, Dr. Thoraya Obaid, a pioneer in her own right and an inspiration to a generation of both genders, said: “I am the child of the pre-oil area. I am a dinosaur between all these young ladies. My story is that of my country’s transformation. My childhood was built on my father’s vision. He had the power to allow me to continue my studies and he did.”

Obaid was the first Saudi woman to study in the US, having been sent there by King Faisal at a very young age. She said five men supported her in making her life’s “remarkable journey;” her father, King Faisal, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Kofi Annan and her husband.

Obaid spoke about the importance of men and women being partners and supporters of each other, and of the need to recognize women as the “pillar” of the family everywhere in the world.

“I am from the sunset generation and you, young ladies, are the sunrise generation,” she said, pointing to the younger members of the panel. “There must be dialogue between us, so you can learn from our experiences.”

Lina Al-Maeena, a Shoura Council member, Mount Everest climber and sports enthusiast, spoke of the valuable lessons that can be learned from the life stories of others. “It was a challenge, a big challenge,” she told the audience. “But I view progress as part of the long arc of history. Women did get their rights around the world but it took time. These experiences taught me a valuable lesson — that it takes time.

Al-Maeena said what got her interested in sports was her post-natal depression. Once she had formed the Basketball United Jeddah team, there was no looking back. “What has taken place in the last two years is unprecedented in Saudi Arabia, whether sports in schools, women entering football stadium ... It’s a miracle.”

Dr. Amal Al-Maalami, a member of the Human Rights Council, spoke on the topic of “Women in the Vision of the Kingdom 2030.” She said that she dreamed of becoming a journalist so she could have a hand in preparing the first draft of history. “There is no shortage of remarkable Saudi women in our history,” she said.

For her part, “ethical hacker” Dr. Moudhi Al-Jamea, general manager of the STC Academy, said the world took a new turn with the advent of cybersecurity. “We live in an era where both genders are empowered,” she said, adding that there was not one negative comment on social media when her appointment was announced.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to appreciate the importance of cybersecurity by creating a dedicated cybersecurity authority. The future of Saudi women in cybersecurity looks bright, especially with STC conducting courses and training programs for anyone interested in the subject, Al-Jamea said.

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Fatima Al-Hamlan, virologist at King Faisal Hospital, said: “This year was a shortcut compared with the past years of struggle. Women have made strides in many fields in a short time. This has raised our expectations. Now, we will not accept anything. We want more and consider it our right. Skilled Saudi women are available. Saudi women proficient in different skills will receive a high position. We are neither a number to fill nor a quota to reach. We are efficient and hardworking women who will do our country proud and serve in its various fields. Today, we are leading in various fields while the world is struggling.”

Earlier, during the opening ceremony, Dr. Bandar Al-Aiban, president of the Saudi Arabia Human Rights Commission, said the Kingdom is continuing on its path of empowering women and enhancing their participation in development.

He said the protection and empowerment of women’s rights is one of the most important areas of reform and development.

Al-Aiban said Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reforms plan sees women as important and active partners. He said that the plan was being implemented through national programs and initiatives, which are raising the ceiling for women’s ambitions and participation in development as is evident from the progress already made in different fields.



Meet the Pakistani Women Who Say the Burqa Helps Them Be Better Journalists

March 07, 2019

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Sabeha Sheikh was not thinking about her headscarf or burqa as she sat through a journalism workshop at Gomal University in the northwestern Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan in April last year.

But a remark from the teacher, that girls in burqas could not be good journalists, led her to question how she could use her veil — considered by many in the West as a sign of oppression — to her advantage in the deeply conservative society to which she belonged.

“It was at that moment I decided that not only will I be a good journalist, I will set up a platform for those girls who wear the burqa and also want to become professional journalists,” Sheikh, 24, told Arab News.

In May 2018, she formed Burka Journalists with her friend and fellow journalism graduate Sameera Latif. The idea was to provide women who wore conservative Muslim dress, from black chadors to bright silk scarves, a space where they could be both free to follow their religious and cultural norms, and their dreams of being journalists.

Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan, is a socially conservative region whose women have suffered repression for decades. Women of the area mostly leave their homes in full-length shrouds covering the face. Rights groups say hundreds of women and girls are killed in the province each year by family members angered at perceived damage to their “honor,” which involves anything from “fraternizing” with men to eloping.

Over the years, the Pakistani Taliban and allied Islamist militants, who regard female education as anti-Islamic, have destroyed hundreds of schools for young women. It was also in this region that in 2012 the Taliban shot and critically wounded Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Now, Sheikh and Latif want to highlight the problems faced by the women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — both from behind their cameras and their burqas, which they say give them the “confidence and sense of ease” to take up a male-dominated profession in a very tough region.

“We feel comfortable working in burqas — that’s why we decided to promote this trend in the media,” Latif, 22, said. “A lot of girls here wear burqas, but that should not stop them from coming forward and becoming reporters.”

On its Facebook page, the Burka Journalists group has covered issues as diverse as protests by women against power outages and sanitation problems to the case of a 16-year-old girl who was paraded, half-naked, through her village to redeem family honor. Though it only has around 5,000 followers, the page is gaining popularity.

“Burka Journalists is becoming a good source of news, especially on social problems,” Maryum Akbar, a university student, said. She added that the group was important for covering women’s issues because they found it easier to talk to other women, rather than male reporters.

But Wasim Akbar Sheikh, chairman of the department of journalism and mass communication at Gomal University, believes that unless government funding is forthcoming, endeavors such as this will not last. “The tragic thing is that these journalists have neither revenue nor any government support,” he said.

Latif, too, said that in order to expand the project, attract more women, gain further training and be able to cover a wider range of stories, the group needed financial support.

“Right now, we are spending money from our own pocket to provide this launchpad for newcomers. We invite all burqa-clad women to come to us for training and work, but we also need some government support.”



Sudan Unions Call for Protests Ahead of Women’s Day

March 07, 2019

CAIRO: An umbrella of Sudanese independent professional unions has called for more protest ahead of the International Women’s Day to demand the ouster of President Omar Al-Bashir.

The demonstrators on Thursday took to the streets in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere in the country.

Footage posted online shows dozens of people marching, mostly women, and chanting, “Freedom, dignity and justice.”

In some videos, security forces are seen arrested people and beating them in the backs of pick-up trucks.

The protest was called by the Sudanese Professionals Association that’s been spearheading the demonstrations, which erupted in December, initially over surging prices and a failing economy, but quickly turned into calls for Al-Bashir’s resignation.

Activists say hundreds of women have been detained or subjected to violence by security forces.



More Women Winning Seats in World Parliaments

March 07, 2019


The Inter-Parliamentary Union finds more women around the world are winning seats in their national parliaments, with the best gains being made in countries that have well-designed quota systems.

The report finds women’s representation in national parliaments rose by nearly 1 percentage point last year to 24.3 percent. This may seem a modest increase, but this figure indicates an ongoing upward trend of women’s participation in politics since the 1995 World Women’s Conference in Beijing. At that time, only 11 percent of women were in parliament. Their share has now more than doubled.

IPU Secretary-General Martin Chungong says he also is heartened by the greater diversity in the makeup of women’s representation in parliament.

“We are seeing more women of native origin," he said. "We are seeing more women of color coming into parliaments around the world. And if we take the United States, for instance, we saw a noticeable improvement in parliamentary diversity, with Native Americans making inroads into parliament, women of color increasing their share of parliamentary representation. And we even see the entry into parliament of two Muslim women.”

Chungong notes the United States shot up in the global rankings of women parliamentarians from 137th position in 2017 to 79th place last year. The survey finds women now occupy about one-quarter of all seats in both houses of Congress.

As in previous years, Rwanda continues to hold the top spot in the rankings with more than 61 percent of women parliamentarians. Two other African countries, Namibia and South Africa, are in the top 10.

The IPU finds 65th-ranked Djibouti made the most dramatic gains regionally and globally among lower and single chambers. It says the share of women in parliament rose from nearly 11 percent to more than 26 percent.

The report says the Americas continue to lead all regions in terms of the average share of women in parliament with 30.6 percent. This contrasts with the Middle East and North Africa, with the lowest regional average of slightly more than 18 percent female parliamentarians.




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