New Age Islam
Mon Jun 17 2024, 06:30 PM

Islam, Women and Feminism ( 15 Apr 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Emirati Women Embrace Abandoned Children

New Age Islam News Bureau

15 Apr 2014

An opposition fighter trains young women in the Salah al-Din in this Sept. 30, 2013 file photo. (AFP)


 Fast-Paced Parkour an Outlet for Constrained Iranian Girls

 World Cup Is Next Goal for Soccer Teens in Hijab

 Austrian Girls Leave Home to ‘Fight for Islam’ In Syria

 Alleged Saudi 'No Male-Guardian, No Shisha' Cafe Rule Sparks Controversy

 Afghan 6-Year-Old Saved From Child Marriage After Dad Used Her To Pay Medical Debt

 Physical Education for Saudi Girls Stirs Debate

 Pakistan’s Women Are Helping Identify and Counter Extremism

 Hundreds of Moroccan Women Take To the Streets to Demand Gender Equality

 Darfur HR Activist Details the Ongoing Suffering of Her People

 Newham College Student Organises Seminar on FGM and Forced Marriage

 SAARC Women Entrepreneurs’ Core Committee Meets

 Saudi Religious Police Urges Crackdown on Blackmailers of Women

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Emirati Women Embrace Abandoned Children

Amanda Fisher / 15 April 2014

An increasing number of single Emirati women is looking to adopt and the only problem is that demand is outweighing the number of abandoned children placed in Dubai’s adoption programme

The woman behind the Community Development Authority’s (CDA) adoption programme ‘Embrace’ is the picture of a modern, successful Emirati woman. CDA Family Development Department director Dr Huda Al Suwaidi is bright and articulate, frank and passionate, as she talks about the work being done by her staff to deal with the plight of children found abandoned on Dubai’s streets.

“The concept is brave,” she says of the one-year-old adoption programme, introduced to tackle the number of abandoned newborn babies — three by last year’s count. “Previously this issue had stigma because people didn’t want to say that we have abandoned children, but now we are saying it clearly, without fear ... previously there was some abuse — minimal abuse — especially of the ones that are abandoned, but nowadays they are there in the public; people know about them.”

While conventional adoption is prohibited under Sharia Law, couples are encouraged to foster abandoned children as their guardians. When asked if there has been tension in introducing the programme as a formal acknowledgement of the indirect form of adoption, she says: “Adoption has never been a new concept. Previously when we were younger, abandoned children were raised with us as part of the family, there was no difference ... they know (where they come from), but no naming and no stigma, as such.”

Embrace was one of the measures to come out of the high-profile murder of 8-year-old Emirati girl Wadeema, who died at the hands of her abusive parents in May 2012, aimed at protecting the rights of the child. Previously, there was no clarity around the legality of taking in abandoned children, and no formal channels to do so, leading to confusion.

“(Earlier, if) you found a baby, you kept him without telling anyone, and that happened ... At the end of the day, they are living without certification, no documentation ... so we were encouraging people to come forward, and some people really showed up.”

There were several cases of people appearing with children who were “living without existence”, during an amnesty after the Embrace programme was announced.

Al Suwaidi says it is important to ensure children are getting proper access to education and healthcare, but in cases where families hid abandoned children, 90 per cent were not going to school. “There are so many rights they were being deprived of by this.”

This backdoor adoption has now been replaced by a system that ensures some certainty and protection. Through Embrace, children found abandoned are taken into safe houses called ‘Alternative Family Villas’, run by foster parents. They are given an identity, citizenship, and, once preliminary procedures are completed, placed with a new family.

In 2012 and 2013, seven children were formally adopted, including the three abandoned newborn babies.

Who are the children?

For most, the idea of abandoning a defenceless newborn seems anathema, but the abundance of such cases around the country indicates that they are not isolated incidents. So where do these children come from?

“By definition (they are abandoned), meaning you don’t know the family.” However, Al Suwaidi says “there are theories”.

The hypothesis is most of the children are the product of illicit relationships between an unmarried couple, expatriates working in the UAE, on low wages. Are these babies possibly the result of a rape? “It might be.”

Al Suwaidi says the orphaned children are a host of different nationalities, but that generally presents no problems. “The UAE is an open community, you have so many locals married to Indians or (other ethnicities)... so we are becoming a mixture of people; it’s acceptable to have different ethnicities.”

For the mothers of these children, they feel they have little option. “Most of them I think (do this) because culturally in their country they cannot go back with a child, and they don’t know what to do. They’re afraid of the burden of having children and being deported from the country ... or the stigma of having an illegal child.”

Sadly, sometimes the babies aren’t just abandoned. “We do see cases of women getting rid of their children by ... killing them. Okay, it happens, don’t correct the mistake by another mistake, that’s the message I want to send to those women who get pregnant ... go home and raise (the child) the way you like.”

Al Suwaidi makes a plea to mothers in distress: “I don’t want to encourage giving (your child) to us but it’s better than killing him or doing something wrong. Though we are open now to saying the number and this (phenomenon) exists ... it’s not something we’re proud of; we don’t want to encourage it, but it’s the best solution under the circumstances.”

She says the CDA can give guidance to women who are pregnant under the assurance of confidentiality. “No one is going to judge them, we’re the social sector, we’re not the police or court. Nobody’s going to deport them even.”

In fact, the department does not involve police in any cases other than child abuse. But there are strict requirements around which children can go through the Embrace programme.

“There are two categories we are now facing. The abandoned children are by definition those who are found in Dubai with no known parents. The problem which we are facing now (is in some cases) we know the mother who left the child. Those (babies) will not be categorised as abandoned children as the mother is known. Those are the difficult cases, the mother is Indian or Filipino or whatever ... the child does not have the right to have the passport because they’re not, by definition, ‘abandoned’.”

In this situation, the CDA will approach the embassy of the child’s mother’s nationality, and ask them to issue the child a passport. “Preferably, we would like to send them back to their own country to be raised as their own nationality.”

Another tricky issue is the re-emergence of the biological mother after a child has lived with his adoptive family for a period of time — five or six years in some cases. “In this case, the law allows them to take him back ... It is awful, but she is the natural, biological mother. It is difficult situation, but at the end of the day, you cannot deprive a biological mother (of her child) by law.”

CDA’s very first adoption is a case in point: A six-month-old boy’s mother turned up after her son had been with his new family for about a month. “... The child had to leave ... but thankfully there are not many cases.”

Who are the foster parents?

The majority of parents are married couples who are unable, for one reason or another, to bear their own children. Surprisingly though, the second highest category — at 30 per cent — are single Emirati women, followed by families who already have children but want more.

“We’ve done a study about marriage and the delay in marriage. There is about 40 per cent of Emirati women who are never married or marry late ... those people, instead of waiting for the right guy to come, build their own family.”

This is momentous social change by the lights of any culture. Al Suwaidi says the general profile of these women is single, never married, about 50-years old and career-focused. “A single mum previously would never have thought of adopting a child, culturally it (was) not acceptable. A widow or divorcee might have the courage to do it, but now even these women are courageous enough to do it ... It’s a big step, definitely a positive one ... it says our community is accepting these children.”

There is a tough vetting process for candidates, with a designated committee investigating every aspect of their lives, including private, financial and personal.  “At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to find a proper family ... We’re asking them for social, psychological (and) even financial status to make sure they are capable of raising these children and bringing them up to be young Emiratis.”

There is an important caveat though: Only Emiratis can be considered as adoptive parents, something clearly enshrined in the 2012 law. “All the children who are found as abandoned are considered local. That’s the demand of them being raised by a local family ... because we want to raise them with a sense of being Emirati.”

That means the child becomes an Emirati citizen. “As we’ve said, it’s not his fault, we don’t blame him for his mum and dad’s mistakes, so he should have the right to be raised Emirati and to have the right ... to be treated equally to his siblings.”

The parents or parent must also be making a minimum of Dh10,700 per month, though there is additional support given through social welfare for single mothers who need it. The financial requirements are generally attainable though, Al Suwaidi says.

There are currently about 15 candidates on the waiting list hoping to grow their families by one, while only two youngsters in the Alternative Family Villa. “They’re calling me: ‘Doctor, we’re waiting, you didn’t call us’, and they’re upset. I say ‘What ... do (I do)?”

Asked if she supports overseas adoption options, Al Suwaidi says: “We don’t either encourage or discourage this; this comes under international adoption, we are dealing with local adoption only, (but) why not? As long as its legal, not trafficking, why not? There are so many misfortunate children all over the world — orphans or children of war.”



Fast-paced parkour an outlet for constrained Iranian girls

15 April 2014

Parkour has gained a foothold in Iran – and not only among the usual young male aficionados.

In a Tehran park, a group of young women brave sneering men and shocked looks as they perform flips, mid-air somersaults and bound from pillar to pillar in a surprising sight in a conservative Islamic country.

The group has discovered parkour, the fast-moving sport blending acrobatics and gymnastics that has become their outlet for evading social constraints and dealing with stress.

“As a woman, it’s a bit complicated,” concedes their teacher Maryam Sedighian Rad, a 28-year-old who holds a masters in physiology.

She and the others wear the Hijab, obligatory in Iran, which requires women to cover their hair and much of their body in loose clothing to prevent their figures being seen, and her group often has a male escort when they practise outside to ward off unwelcome company – and sometimes police.

Born in France in the late 1980s, parkour involves getting around or over urban obstacles, with a fast-paced mix of running, jumping, and gymnastic rolls and vaults.

Offering a cocktail of excitement, danger and risk, it caught on around the world thanks to blockbuster movies such as Yamakasi and District B13.

Now it has gained a foothold in Iran – and not only among the usual young male aficionados.

Sedighian Rad and about 50 women – teenagers and young adults – are among the hundreds of Iranians practising this non-competitive discipline that morphed from military obstacle course training into a mainly urban sport.

The parkour motto, “Never move backwards,” seems to hold particular resonance here.

Three times a week, Sedighian Rad trains her groups at three indoor sports complexes.

“We encounter problems but we try our best to cope with them because we love doing parkour,” she says.

While their baggy outfits allow for ease of movement, the jogging, jumping and somersaulting can cause hair to fall loose.

Unperturbed, Helia Goharbavar, 16, readjusts her Hijab after every move.

“It doesn’t bother me. It’s cold anyway and you have to wear something. Besides, we are used to it,” she said.

One of the most agile in the group, 17-year-old Arefeh Shoari, admits she often fears that certain moves might expose parts of her body. But she and the other girls say parkour – often billed as a holistic discipline – has given them freedom and confidence.

“There was a jump I couldn’t do at first ... learning it made me realise I am capable of doing anything and defeating any obstacle.

“I feel free,” says Sedighian Rad.

Shoari says parkour allows her to cope with everyday life.

“I am really stressed out because of my studies but parkour helps me a lot to deal with the stress.

“I feel happy,” she says.

“Practising parkour shows that even if you are a woman, you are not bound to stay at home,” says Goharbavar.

Apart from the risk of injury in this hard-knock sport, the women also brave derision in a country where mixed activities are banned.

“Sometimes, people criticise us saying this isn’t a sport for girls. They say we’re supposed to knit ... They can’t imagine a girl exercising like a boy,” Sedighian Rad says.

Athena Karami, 19, recalls how she once had to leave the park during practice after a crowd of teenage boys “made fun of us and filmed us with their mobile phones”.

To head off such problems, Sedighian Rad usually takes along male members of “Hitall” – the parkour club she joined in May 2012 – when her group trains outside.

At times, police have interrupted their workout.

“But when they see that it’s just a sport and that we are really exercising, they let us be,” Sedighian Rad says.

“Sometimes, they even express interest in parkour and ask where they can get training.”



World Cup is Next Goal for Soccer Teens in Hijab

15 April 2014

CAIRO (WOMENSENEWS)--In the Arab world, female football (soccer in U.S.) players and their coaches are celebrating the transformation of a two-year trial period for wearing the Hijab, or headdress, during sporting events into a final regulation change in early March.

Mohammed Kamal, the manager of the Wadi Degla academy in South Cairo, has been looking forward to this decision by the international football association, FIFA, based in Zurich.

"Before, there was a kind of injustice since some of our players wearing Hijab used to participate in the training, but couldn't be part of some competitions," Kamal said in an interview conducted in Arabic and held on a playing field at the academy. "From now on, they will not stay on the sidelines anymore."

His academy, which wears yellow and black, currently trains 200 girls and is regarded as the national laboratory for Egyptian female football.

He says the ruling fits with the heterogeneous nature of Egyptian society and young female players. "Egypt is like Cameroon or Nigeria," said Kamal, "a sport country which always produces talents. Among our girls here in Wadi Degla, we have Muslims, Christians, whites or blacks, girls wearing scarves or not. Basically, football is against any kind of discrimination."

Here in the most populous country of the Middle East, the final regulation change will enable many more female players to emerge, said Sarah Abdallah, a defender on Egypt's national female team.

"I believe that wearing the Hijab is a personal freedom," Abdallah said in an interview at Wadi Degla. "FIFA's decision gives us the opportunity to fulfill our ultimate dream as a footballer, which is to play one day in the World Cup."

On March 1, FIFA quietly ended a two-year trial period and lifted the ban on headdresses in a few sports, including women's football. The new guidelines say the headdress should match the colour of the jersey, which should have long sleeves. For safety reasons, pins are forbidden.

Pivotal Move

The move is considered pivotal for women's football in the entire Middle East as it means Gulf teams, formerly always absent because they require Islamic attire, will be playing.

In 2016, for instance, the United Arab Emirates plans to have a team in the global competition for female teams with players under the age of 17, the U-17 World Cup. The games will be played in Jordan, the first country in the Middle East-North Africa region to host the under-17 competition, first held in New Zealand in 2008.

While warmly received in the Middle East, the new regulation is criticized in France, where critics say it could impose constraints on players whose parents will now want them to wear the Hijab since it's allowed.

Engy Atteya, captain of Egypt's national female team, brushes aside such concerns, saying most players have already learned to set their own rules inside their families.

"We shouldn't have any fear for that," Atteya said in an interview translated from Arabic and conducted at the Wadi Degla academy. "We are totally free, because most of us had to make our own revolution in our families at the beginning, so they could accept to let us play football. That was the most difficult hurdle with being accepted by the society."

Following FIFA's historic statement, the French Football Association reaffirmed its rule against players wearing the scarf. That decision goes beyond France's borders and affects players in countries such as Egypt where girls can be recruited to European teams.

'It Will Take Time'

"Each country has its own rules and its own understanding of the facts, like France who is against the Hijab" said Sahar Al Hawary, a committee member of FIFA who spoke with Women's eNews at the Egypt Football Association's headquarters building in Zamalek, central Cairo. "But I think when they will see that every country in Europe abides by FIFA's new regulation, because it is about development, France might follow. But it will take time."

Many Arab players hope France will change its mind in time for the 2016 U-17 World Cup in Jordan.

The decision to allow the headdress was driven by FIFA's interest in boosting the number of girls playing football, said FIFA's Al Hawary. "So the international board of football had to deal with the ongoing situation and then began to discuss the Hijab two or three years ago, especially when Prince Ali from Jordan joined the committee."

In 2011 Jordan was supposed to host Iran's women's team for the 2012 Olympic qualifiers. However, the match was never played because Iran's players showed up wearing the headdress, which broke FIFA regulations. FIFA wound up disqualifying Iran's female team from the Olympics, triggering an international incident.

Female players in Egypt started breaking into the all-male football scene in 2006, after the country hosted and won the African Cup of Nations. Throughout the tournament, stadiums were packed and drew thousands of women.

In big cities such as Cairo and Alexandria, or in Upper Egypt villages like in El Sohag, girls started playing and the sport rapidly spread and became institutionalized. Today the country's national female league has seven regional teams.



Austrian Girls Leave Home to ‘Fight for Islam’ In Syria

April 15, 2014

VIENNA: Austrian police say they are conducting an international search for two teenage girls who left farewell letters announcing plans to “fight for Islam” in Syria.

Police say two identical letters left by the 15- and 16-year olds say “we have gone to Syria to fight for Islam. We will meet in Paradise.”

Both girls come from families who immigrated from Bosnia. Police determined the two flew to the Turkish city of Adana, about 125 km northwest of Aleppo, Syria, before losing track of them. Their parents reported them missing last week.

Police said Monday that Austrian authorities are taking the letters “very seriously.” Police did not identify the two in keeping with Austrian confidentiality rules.



Alleged Saudi 'no male-guardian, no shisha' cafe rule sparks controversy

15 April 2014

Saudis are having their say on a recent Twitter post showing a coffee shop announcement prohibiting women from smoking shisha without a male guardian.

The picture circulated on the popular social media website shows the coffee shop allegedly in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah with a board outside stating: “It is forbidden to serve shisha to women without the presence of a [male] guardian.”

The item was picked up by a variety of websites as well as local and regional news outlets such as the Saudi al-Jazirah newspaper, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm and CNN’s Arabic portal.

Online views varied on the announcement, with many users being skeptical whether or not the story is authentic, as no report was able to name the café where the shisha was banned without a male guardian.

“This decision was attributed to the committee which has categorically denied it,” said Twitter user @586R7al.

Others mocked the post, using it as an opportunity to criticize the male guardian system.

“What remains is for them to say that [even] eating and drinking is forbidden without the presence of a [male] guardian,” @alamakn800, Twitter user, said.

“All that’s left is for you tell us not to go to the bathroom except with a [male] guardian,” @RenFh, another Twitter user, said.

“I think serving shisha to a girl with a guardian … is scarier than serving it to a girl without one,” @almadhiM said.

“A male guardian is a double-edged sword. You can go to hajj [pilgrimage] with him and he can also accompany you for a round of shisha. So choose your guardian carefully,” @AmarapAmmar tweeted.

In Saudi Arabia, gender segregation is practiced at schools and workplaces and restaurants have both singles and a family section.



Afghan 6-year-old saved from child marriage after dad used her to pay medical debt

April 15, 2014

Taj Mohammed felt like he had no choice but to marry off his young daughter to pay off his family’s debt. Naghma was saved from child marriage when human rights lawyer Kimberley Motley intervened.

Thanks to the kindness of strangers, this shy little girl is getting another chance at life.

Taj Mohammad said it broke his heart when he realized he had to marry off his then 6-year-old daughter Naghma to pay off his wife’s hospital bills. But the dad no longer has to worry — Naghma is safe and she’s getting an education.

"When I couldn't pay my debt I felt like I'd been thrown into the fire and then someone rescued me,” Mohammad told CNN.

That person was Kimberly Motley, a Milwaukee beauty queen turned human rights lawyer who took Mohammad’s case pro bono.

Motley jumped into action as soon as she heard about the family’s plight. Taj Mohammad lived in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province with his wife and nine children. When fighting broke out in his neighborhood, he moved his entire family to a Kabul refugee camp.

But Mohammad had a hard time finding work. The family’s hardships increased during a brutal winter that sent his wife to the hospital and left his 3-year-old son dead.

The dad borrowed $2,500 from a money lender to pay his wife’s medical bills and other family debt. But he couldn’t find a way to pay it back.

In the end, he struck a deal with the money lender, agreeing to marry his beautiful little girl to the lender’s 19-year-old son in exchange for loan forgiveness.

"It was a difficult decision," Taj Mohammad said. "Everyone gives away their child but to give Naghma away like that was just so hard."

That’s when Motley came in. The lawyer put together a tribal assembly of elders, called a Jirga, that helped Naghma get out of the marriage. An anonymous donor then paid off Mohammad’s debt.

But Motley’s work is just beginning. Now the task is making sure the girl has a bright future ahead of her.

Naghma, now 7, and her 9-year-old brother have been offered places in Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music. The school takes orphans and underpriviliged children.

"I'm certainly very happy that Naghma did not have to be married off at the age of 6, so I'm pleased with that," explains Motley. "But I'd like to make sure she gets an education and becomes successful."



Physical education for Saudi girls stirs debate

15 April 2014

A step to introduce physical education for girls at Saudi government schools has become the talk of the town in the kingdom, with many hailing it as a positive development and some slamming it as a threat to social values.

Last week, the government advisory Shura Council called on the country’s education ministry to look into including sports for girls at state-run schools on condition that they are in line with Sharia rules on dress and gender segregation, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Meanwhile, Mohammed al-Saleh, secretary-general of the Higher Education Council, told Monday that the next move would be to recruit sports educators from abroad.

A previous ban on physical education for girls was relaxed in private schools in 2013. The Shura Council’s demand last week to include state-run schools has been welcomed internationally both by the International Olympic Committee and Human Rights Watch.

“It’s a good sign that Saudi authorities appear to realize letting all girls in Saudi Arabia play sports is important to their physical and mental wellbeing,” Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch told Agence France Presse.

Al-Watan newspaper published a column on Monday with a title that read: “Would you marry a girl who practiced sports?” The columnist criticized and mocked opponents of the move.

He quoted a two-year old study showing that three-quarters of the country’s population suffered obesity and 75 percent of the women are obese and that 80 percent of secondary diabetes cases were related to obesity.

The article dismissed conservative voices that are critical of making girls play sports at schools. Some conservative clerics had denounced the move as a “Western innovation,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

One cleric Abdullah Al Dawood even tweeted that “these steps will end in infidelity and prostitution.”

Speaking to Al Arabiya News from Jeddah, veteran Saudi journalist Omar al-Mudwahi said there was nothing new in the clerical opposition to the move. “The religious institution has always stood against the advancement of women’s rights.”

Abdullah Hamidaddin, a Saudi writer and commentator on religion and politics, wrote in a recent column on Al Arabiya news that the Shura Counci’s move “is not a decision about girls practicing sports. Nor is it one about women rights. This is a decision to push back the authority of the religious institution.

“The easiest way to explain what happened is to say that there are zealots whose interpretation of Islamic scripture is misogynic and thus believe that the only option women have is to lie down and die. Thus the government decided to intervene and give women some hope of a natural life,” Hamidaddin added.

Journalist Mudwahi noted that the plan to introduce physical education for girls in public schools is part of comprehensive government response to high obesity rates among women.

“Municipalities across the kingdom are also creating long pedestrian walkways special for women especially after repeated health ministry figures showing high obesity and diabetes rates among women,” he said.

“Previously all physical education centers are extensions of hospitals as if it is a disease, as if female sports is a disease and it is very expensive,” al-Mudwahi said.

“As a man, it would cost me 300 riyals ($80) per month to go to gym. But it would cost my wife or my daughter about 1000 riyals ($266),” he explained.

He noted that unlike universities, most schools in the primary and secondary education are not equipped with physical education facilities for girls.

“This issue has been passed in the Shura Council, but the important question remains: Are our schools ready for such thing? Of course no,” he said. But within a few years, most schools are likely to have physical education facilities if there is a legal framework for girls to practice sport.

The Saudi Shura Council move is seen as another step empowering women during the reign of King Abdullah, after appointing women into the legislative Shura Council and allowing them to practice different professions which weren’t allowed before such as law.



Pakistan’s Women Are Helping Identify and Counter Extremism

15 April 2014

Women in Pakistan have successfully organized to help single out potential terrorists and militants in their communities.

As Mossarat Qadeem tells the story, the big clue came from a simple source: a young woman who noticed her brother spending time with strangers.

It was about one year ago in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly called the North-West Frontier province, when the 25-year-old woman noticed a group of men she did not recognize meeting in the evenings in a house on her street. Several young men from her area were attending these meetings, including her 18-year-old brother. Yet her brother wouldn’t tell her what it was all about. His secrecy sparked her suspicion, said Qadeem, founder and executive director of PAIMAN Alumni Trust, an Islamabad-based non-profit that, among other initiatives, works with mothers in some of the country’s most conflict-ridden areas to de-radicalize their sons. Thus far, she said, her organization has turned 455 individuals away from militancy.

The young woman, a member of a local peace group created by PAIMAN called TOLANA, which means “together” in Pashto, asked her male colleagues to investigate. They went to the meetings themselves and learned that the strangers were trying to lure local boys out of the city and into their radical group. TOLANA members then informed the sister and her parents who took the boy to stay with an aunt who lived elsewhere. Their response prevented him from joining the violent ranks of militants wreaking havoc across Pakistan. All because his sister saw some strangers.

“So it was like an early warning for the community that something strange is taking place here,” said Qadeem, who calls her organization’s model of countering extremism an indigenous one, rooted in the local culture and religious traditions. “They all gathered because of the warning of just one woman.”

Qadeem told her story recently while in Washington, D.C. as part of a four-woman delegation from Pakistan here to seek support from U.S. policymakers for their efforts to increase the role of women in initiatives to counter violent extremism. Joining Qadeem were Huma Chughtai, a gender and police reform specialist, Shaista Pervaiz, who represents Punjab province as a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the National Assembly and is the general secretary of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, and Nuzhat Sadiq, a senator in the Pakistani parliament who also represents Punjab province as a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

The delegates explained that women are critical in fighting extremism precisely because of Pakistan’s conservative social norms and religious customs. These traditions mean that the genders are often segregated and thus women have access to other women in ways that men do not, like being able to enter private homes where females are present. Women are also often the first to see behavioral changes that can be signs of growing militancy in their family members, male and female alike, and women can be particularly effective in building trust between communities and law enforcement.

Strategically, this focus on women makes perfect sense, said Hedieh Mirahmadi, president of The World Organization for Resource Development and Education and a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Mirahmadi testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee recently on the topic of women’s role in preventing radicalism.

“They are the first line of defense,” she said, noting that women can help disengage relatives from violence or, through their influence within the family, thwart their descent into violence in the first place. “Countering violent extremism, we believe, it’s a prevention framework. So it’s not just the capture-or-kill focus of counter-terrorism. It’s supposed to be a prevention model. So they are part of that early prevention process.”

In conversations with policymakers including Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House, other members of Congress, and officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the National Security Council, the delegates stressed that they were not asking for money. Rather, they said they wanted to see some of the millions in aid Congress has appropriated for Pakistan allocated specifically to improving women’s roles in the struggle against radicalism. Since 2002, the appropriations have totaled more than $800 million for law enforcement and counter-narcotics alone, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The delegates focused on expanding U.S. support for grass-roots, female-led initiatives against violent extremism, strengthening women’s inclusion in creating Pakistan’s strategic priorities related to internal security, counter-terrorism and negotiations to end violent extremism, and especially the need to increase the recruitment, retention and professionalization of women in the Pakistani police force. To date, congressional appropriations to Pakistan have not prioritized engaging more women in the police, according to a report by the Institute for Inclusive Security, a D.C-based organization that works to increase the participation of women in peace processes and that hosted the women during their week-long visit.

“This is a missing link in our set-up,” said Chughtai, as she prepped with her colleagues before their meeting with Representative Pelosi. “We have women in the police force, but the number is very small, the number is less than 1 percent.”

This oversight is not one Pakistan can afford. Terrorism and insurgency-related violence may have claimed as many as 49,000 lives since 2001, according to Pakistani intelligence reports cited by the Congressional Research Service.

“Extremism and internal security—it all boils down to the fact that police is the first responder,” said Chughtai during a panel discussion with the other delegates at the Atlantic Council last week. Using her background in Sharia and international human rights law, Chughtai has advised individuals and organizations on national and international human rights and women's rights conventions, linking those with Islamic tenets. She thus counters arguments that fuel extremism and promotes peace and interfaith harmony.

Yet without women police officers, female victims of bomb blasts have been left to die because male responders cannot attend to them, thus reducing trust between the community and police. Raids into homes where females are present or searches of women are not possible, and in general, gathering valuable intelligence from women or community members is constrained.

According to Inclusive Security, citing statistics released by the National Police Bureau of Pakistan in 2011, just over 4,000 of the 453,901 members of the police force were women. Only 85 of them served in higher ranks.

Still, Moeed Yusuf, director of the South Asia programs at the United States Institute of Peace, said it’s not the number of women in the police force that matters most. It’s putting them in roles where they can be most effective. This, he said, is in building police and community relations.

“The fundamental thing that you have to do is better law enforcement,” he said, “which, in turn, requires you to have the trust of the society, which means better police-community relations.”

Yusuf explained that women officers excel in these positions by using their networks among mothers, who he said would not go to male police officers, to build trust and identify young people vulnerable to the lure of violent, intolerant ideologies. Such early identification is key, of course, to preventing the spread of extremism.

“There is no other more effective way to actually handle this than that,” he said. “And that’s lacking.”

It is also well known that militant groups already include female members and that other women, especially those left bitter from the loss of a loved one, are vulnerable to recruitment, said Haider Mullick, an adjunct professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

“So I think it makes perfect sense to have more females involved in counter-insurgency,” he said, “especially when we know that a lot of them are already involved in the insurgency side.”

Allison Peters, a policy advisor at Inclusive Security who also leads the organization’s advocacy work on Pakistan and recently spent a week with the women delegates, said there were several reasons why their visit was especially timely. Of particular concern is the drawdown of NATO troops from Afghanistan later this year and what any subsequent security vacuum along the borders will mean for Pakistan. She further highlighted the Pakistani government’s ongoing attempts to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban, the resumption of the ministerial-level U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue after a three-year break, the development of Pakistan’s first comprehensive internal security policy, ongoing terrorist attacks, and a new multinational fund announced by the U.S. and Turkey that will provide financial support to locally-led initiatives to combat violent extremism in Pakistan and elsewhere. The delegates stressed that women need to be part of many of these conversations and need to help shape the policies that result.

While it is perhaps too early to know how the women’s recent week of advocacy will turn into action on the ground, Swanee Hunt, founder and chairperson of Inclusive Security, emphasized the importance of their presence, of their voices being heard, and of the chance it brings for change. Pervaiz, the National Assembly member, agreed that having an opportunity as the “stakeholders” to meet in person with decision makers leaves a unique impact.

“It has given a very humane touch to the whole thing,” she said. “When people come into contact, when you share experiences, when you share your thoughts, that makes a lot of difference.”

Hunt, who served as the United States ambassador to Austria from 1993 to 1997, also said that the ways women are fighting back against violent extremism in Pakistan, as part of the police force and without, can be a global model.

“It’s law enforcement but it’s beyond that, it’s what women bring into law enforcement,” she said. “They are disarming extremists with no collateral damage. Unlike a drone attack, which is extremely, extremely expensive, and kills many more innocent than it does the extremists that it’s targeting.

“The basic question is why should we meet murder with murder?” Hunt continued. “When we do that we lose the war and we lose ourselves also, we lose the humanity in ourselves. And that’s what these women understand. So when they go out, someone like Mossarat Qadeem, when she goes out, she is winning back the young men and their mothers. She’s not going out to kill them. So what they’re talking about is transformation. It’s really the most noble form of foreign policy.”



Hundreds Of Moroccan Women Take To The Streets To Demand Gender Equality

15 April 2014

About 800 Moroccan protesters, most of whom were women, flooded the streets of the capital city on Sunday to demand their government implement a portion of the constitution that guarantees gender equality.

The section of the constitution in question, Article 19, states that “men and women have equal civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and freedoms” and “the state shall work towards the establishment of parity between men and women.” But it hasn’t been fully implemented by Morocco’s Islamic leaders. So hundreds of NGOs have formed the Civil Coalition for the Application of Article 19 to push political leaders to follow through.

Protesters marched to the parliament building in Rabat this weekend, brandishing banners demanding a “comprehensive review of all discriminatory laws,” “women’s safety in public places,” and “equality as a right, not a privilege.”

Violence against women is a widespread problem in Morocco. A 2011 national study found that about 63 percent of women in Morocco between the ages of 18 and 64 had been victims of some form of violence during the previous year. According to that study, over half of those acts of violence were committed by a victim’s husband — but marital rape isn’t recognized as a crime. At the beginning of this year, the kingdom finally repealed an outdated penal code that allowed rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims.

Fawzia El-Asouli, who coordinated the Civil Coalition, believes the Moroccan government is “stalling in the application of laws that protect women from violence and discrimination.” Last month, her group launched a petition demanding the full implementation of Article 19 that has garnered over a thousand signatures.

According to a recent poll, Morocco is one of several North African nations that are less receptive to policies to promote women’s equality. Although support for gender equality is growing across the continent, only about half of Moroccan residents favor giving women the same opportunities as men.

The issue of sexual violence has also sparked massive protests in India, where several high-profile gang rapes have made international headlines. And women have recently taken to the streets in Spain, where conservative politicians are poised to severely roll back reproductive rights.



Darfur HR Activist Details the Ongoing Suffering of Her People

15 April 2014

Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih has endured horrors that most of us will never know.

The 29-year-old woman, who lost 100 members of her extended family to the genocide in Darfur, was imprisoned and beaten for her activism and eventually escaped to America.

On Thursday, Salih spoke at Villanova University about the plight of her people. Even though the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has left the headlines, the conflict and suffering continues, she said.

After the Janjaweed militias destroyed her village in 2003 Salih spent 10 years in a refugee camp. During the wars for control of the country, more than 400,000 people have died.

“Since 2003 there was genocide,” said Salih, who spoke at Villanova’s 4th annual Spotlight on Leadership & Diversity. “As the government of Sudan trained the militia, the Janjaweed, so this militia, the Janjaweed, Arab militia was trained by the government of Sudan and other Arab countries to engage, to engage in the systematic ethnic cleansing of my people.”

Some 2 million people were forced to leave their homes and live in refugee camps. While living in the camp, Salih began working with international human rights organizations and advocating for women’s rights. Many women were raped, she said. People were tortured. Their homes were destroyed.

“We interviewed thousands of women,” documenting the rape, torture and beatings, said Salih. The militia fighters used rape “systematically as a weapon of war to destroy the communities themselves through their ladies and their women.”

“All violence against women, women were raped and kidnapped,” she said. As an activist, Salih brought attention to these atrocities and became a target for the government agents who tried to silence her. But she became well-known by humanitarians and United Nations peacekeepers.

“They have to meet Hawa because I was focusing all time about the human rights crisis,” she said. “Through my job I created all over Darfur women’s groups and youth groups to let them know about women’s rights and international law. It was very difficult to get people aware of what your rights [are] and what’s women’s rights and what is international law.”

A high school graduate who had planned to go to college before the violence, Salih worked for International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian group, sometimes traveling at night to evade government agents.

“My situation became terrible in 2005,” she said. She was kidnapped by government forces, imprisoned and beaten in 2005. At times in Darfur, Salih became tired of advocating but her mother encouraged her to continue, telling her the family had lost everything. Her parents and nine siblings remain in Darfur.

In 2006, she was kidnapped again for her activism but was released after a couple days.

“I continued doing it,” she said. In 2009, the U.N. found that the government of Sudan committed crimes against humanity and genocide and officials should be arrested by the International Court.

While in prison, Salih endured 200 beatings. “All of my skin was turned black [with bruises],” she said. “I tried to cry, cry, cry...Something in my heart {was] like stone and I never feel again any beatings,” she said. Her grandmother gave her courage to continue and she kept talking to the media and humanitarian organizations about what was happening to her people.

“I can feel the suffering of others,” said Salih. The government of Sudan has imposed Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law on the country, she said.

“They can’t let women get out to speak,” she said. “I promised myself to fight and to give anyone who does not have voice, to give them voice. My parents encouraged me so much.”

Eventually, after her last arrest in 2011, Salih was sentenced to death in 2012.

“I never believed that I can survive,” she said. “I was lucky to be released.”

Through the intervention of international organizations and auspices of the U.S. government, including Pittsburgh Congressman Mike Doyle and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Salih eventually left Sudan by way of Egypt and now makes her home in northeast Philadelphia. In 2012 received the U.S. Secretary of State International Women of Courage Award.

“It’s still happening,” said Salih. The Sudanese government is bombing villages. “Those women, those people in the camps need protection. They need food. And they need healthy kids and they need education, as well.”

To raise awareness, Salih, who works at a law firm, has traveled to 17 states giving speeches about the genocide in Darfur and violence against women. She also lobbies Congress to help the Darfuris.

“My advice to all people, especially students, teachers and professors and high school students, including activists, [is] to get educated about what’s going on,” she said. “They say, ‘Never again’ and it’s still again and again. In terms of genocide and suffering, in 11 years we lost more than 400,000 people’s lives, 2.5 million people displaced, no food, hunger, no shelter. I think people can do any action they get can make difference, to spur awareness of genocide and suffering.

“Just this year 20,000 people lost their homes,” said Salih. “Two months ago, 200 people [were] killed.”

Women are still being tortured “and the international community is still silent. There are 17 U.N. resolutions about peace but nothing [is] implemented.”

“Protect the women and arrest the criminals who are still free,” she said. “Make peace by force or whatever and protect the humanitarian worker. That humanitarian worker is still kidnapped, still killed. The U.N. [is not] able to protect them. And the people in the United States, you call your senator and push the President Obama administration to do something to address the issue of humanitarian aid…Still everyday violence continues…Tell everyone it must stop.”



Newham College student organises seminar on FGM and forced marriage

15 April 2014

A 15-year-old student at Newham College organised a seminar on women’s rights that featured speeches by famous campaigners

Abdul Vijad, who lives in Manor Park, held the seminar at the College’s East Ham Campus as part of his Citizenship GCSE.

Abdul, who was born in India, says he chose to invite speakers to discuss female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage because they affect the lives of many young people.

He said: “We split our class into two groups - one organised forced marriage and the other FGM.

“We know that they are culturally sensitive issues and some people don’t want touch them.

“But we also know that if we don’t look at them nothing will ever change.”

He added: “FGM can cause physical harm and long lasting health issues. Young people should be aware that forced marriage is a cultural issue, but they should also know that they shouldn’t have to go through it without their informed consent.”

The seminars featured speeches by Sara Khan, director of the Islamic women’s group Inspire, and Dina Baky, Youth Projects Officer for the FORWARD campaign against FGM.

Sara Khan said: “It’s fantastic that Abdul’s initiated these seminars. It’s really quite inspiring. He’s a model for young men in that he’s showing these issues affect not just women but everyone in the community.

She added: “A lot of young people don’t really know about forced marriage, and what they can do about it. Now, if their friends are effected they will know what to do.”

Abdul said the seminars were a success, with around 80 students attending, and would like to organise others on tackling sexism and racism.

After his GCSEs he hopes to study sociology, anthropology and journalism at King’s College London and pursue a career in photojournalism.

For more information visit and



SAARC women entrepreneurs’ core committee meets

15 April 2014

A meeting of the core committee of the SAARC Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs was held at the residence of the body’s chairperson, Shaista Pervaiz Malik on Monday.

The meeting discussed proposals for empowerment of women entrepreneurs and future plans of the organisation. The meeting was attended by Ayesha Zaheer, special adviser to the chairperson; Nighat Yawar Ali of Lahore Grammar School; Naz Mansha of Nishat Group; and Nina Nizami.



Saudi religious police urges crackdown on blackmailers of women

15 April 2014

The head of Saudi Arabia’s religious police called Monday for tougher measures against blackmailers of women in the kingdom and noted the rising number of cases of the crime on the internet.

Sheikh Abdel Latif al- Sheikh, the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, told Al Arabiya News Channel that blackmailers of women were presently getting light sentences and that tougher ones were needed.

Al-Sheikh, in a news conference earlier in the day, called for naming and shaming perpetrators as a means of deterring the crime which he said was on the rise.

The official told Al Arabiya that last week alone eight cases of blackmail had been reported in a single day at two centers affiliated with the religious police in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

Al- Sheikh said the crime was being seen increasingly online.

“Through modern technology, some methods have been used by weak, evil people … They do not have a religious deterrent and through this technology they have managed to abuse some women,” he said.

He noted cases of women having been extorted online for sex, money, forced into prostitution or peddling illegal narcotics.

“It could be that a woman committed a mistake and a person took pictures of her and managed to secure incriminating evidence and then blackmails her,” he said. “Some blackmail the women in order to force them to turn to drug dealing.”

“Others might force them to work in prostitution, may God protect us from it. There is no doubt that these issues are odds in our society and prohibited in our religion,” he said.

Al-Sheikh said women falling prey to blackmailers would be protected.

“I mean if she commits this mistake once, God forbid, the men of the Commission will protect her and will cooperate with her in order to free her from the grip of her abusers,” he said.

He said that to deter the crime, tougher sentences needed to be issued and that those convicted would be named and shamed.

He admitted that the blackmail crimes committed online were not straightforward.

“This crime is complex, and it becomes worse when some people come and justify it, or the girl's family exerts pressure on her, and waive their rights or force her to waive her right,” he said.

At a press conference earlier in the day Al-Sheikh warned that individuals involved in such crimes would would be named and shamed, with their named published in media throughout the kingdom.

He also said journalists needed to cooperate with the Commission to fight this crime.