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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 28 Jan 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Exploitation of UK Sikh Girls by Pak Youths Worries Akal Takht

New Age Islam News Bureau

28 Jan 2014

Since June 2011, dozens of women across Saudi Arabia have participated in the "Women2Drive" campaign


 Supporters of Women Driving To Launch New Plan on Feb. 25

 First Muslim Deputy Spokeswoman for German Foreign Ministry

 5 Ways Life Has Become Intolerable for Syrian Women

 Calls Mount for Indonesian Government to Retract Support for FGM

 Getting Away With Sexual Abuse in Jordan

 Turkey's Controversial Headscarf Problem

 US Universities Present Plans To Promote Women’s Football In Qatar

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Exploitation of UK Sikh girls by Pak youths worries Akal Takht

January 28, 2014

The Akal Takht, the highest temporal seat of Sikhism, has taken a serious view of reports of Sikh girls falling victim to 'love jihad' an act that involves 'charming' Pakistani youths attempting to impress, marry and convert non-Muslim girls to Islam for using them in jihadi efforts.

The Akal Takht is concerned as along with Hindu and Christian girls, Sikh girls have also become targets of the 'love jihad' movement. Reports suggest that some radical Islamic groups are behind this movement.

This matter has been brought to the notice of the Takht by some NRI Sikhs and members of the Sikh Council of UK, an organisation involved in religious, social and cultural matters related to Sikhism. Its members include some prominent UK-based Sikhs such as representatives of prominent Gurudwaras.

The issue came up for discussion during the meeting of the Sikh high priests held here on Monday. Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh presided over the meeting. Takht Keshgarh Sahib Jathedar Giani Mal Singh, Takht Damdama Sahib Jathedar Giani Balwant Singh Nandgarh, Harmandar Sahib head granthi Giani Jagtar Singh and Harmandar Sahib Granthi Giani Sukhjinder Singh were present at the meeting.

"We have asked the Sikh Council of UK to look into the matter and send us a detailed report," Giani Gurbachan Singh said while talking to the media after the meeting.

The Sikh Council brought this to the notice of the Akal Takht after getting reports of girls from England-based Sikh families being trapped in 'love jihad'. The reports also referred to these girls being exploited in various ways by their husbands and in-laws. Some of these girls were later dumped by their husbands in Pakistan, where the in-laws have been using them as domestic help.

"The Sikh Council has rescued some of the victims (girls) and brought them back to their parents," the Takht Jathedar said. When asked how many such cases existed in the UK or England, he replied, "There could be hundreds."

He made it clear that the Sikh Council had been asked to take whatever steps it considered appropriate to halt this exploitation. It has been asked to consult other Sikh religious and social groups.

"The Sikh Council can even take legal measures to check this exploitation. However, whatever it does, the Akal Takht must be kept informed," the Jathedar added.

He also called upon parents to create awareness among children about Sikh religion and ethos. Only if awareness is created can such inter-religion marriages be halted, he opined.

The 'love jihad' movement is said to have its roots in Kerala and other southern states, where Christian and Hindu girls have been targeted. It has been the cause of tension in these states.

The Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council conducted a report which highlighted the grave nature of love jihadists. The report said, "There were 2,868 female victims of the 'love jihad' in Kerala from 2006 to 2009."



Supporters of women driving to launch new plan on Feb. 25

January 28, 2014 

DAMMAM — Campaigners for women’s right to drive will launch a fresh initiative on Feb. 22, Al-Hayat daily reported.

Azizah Yousif, lecturer at King Saud University in Riyadh and one of the organizers, said it is to educate the public about the legal rights of women to drive a car and to raise public awareness about the issue.

She said: “We’ll post videos of women who drove their cars in the past and dispel the wrong views detractors have spread about this issue. “We’ll show the public these views are baseless.”

Advocates of women driving will continue to shed light on this issue until the authorities realize the right of women to drive is a basic one, she stressed.

Azizah, who has been campaigning for this right since 1990, described the campaign as a continuation of the Oct. 26 initiative.

“There is no doubt that the last campaign has achieved a lot of gains for women, despite the heavy criticism from opponents,” she said.

The campaign proved that there are staunch supporters, male and female, who believe that women should be granted this right.

In June 2011, 3,500 women signed a petition demanding women should not be banned from driving. The petition was submitted to authorities.

In 2012, a campaign called “My right, my honor” brought the issue to the public consciousness again.

The Oct. 26 campaign has so far been the largest since the one in 1990 when seven Saudi women were arrested for driving cars on the streets.



First Muslim deputy spokeswoman for German Foreign Ministry

World Bulletin / News Desk

January 28, 2014

The first German Muslim woman with Palestinian roots, Sawsan Chebli started her role as deputy spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry on Monday.

During the government press conference in Berlin, Chebli introduced herself and explained that her work as a deputy spokeswoman had officially begun.

Chebli said that she worked for 6 years at the parliament of Germany (Bundestag) but she had little experience as a press spokeswoman. She said that she was happy with her new post and underlined, "I hope that someday, that religion or ethnicity will be not in the foreground and will be perceived as normal."

It is expected that Chebli will be deputy spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry for four years.



5 Ways Life Has Become Intolerable for Syrian Women

January 28, 2014

The woman and her three young children sat in the house, growing more anxious every time the sounds of war echoed around their walls. As her neighbours fled, she knew it was time to seek safer ground.

But she couldn't leave the house. Women are forbidden to go out in public without a male relative, and she was a widow with no other male family members around. If she left, she could be beaten or abducted, like some of the other women who defied the restrictions.

So she stayed. The fighting intensified, and grew closer, until a shell hit their home. A neighbour told human rights watchers that their bodies were trapped in rubble for four days afterward. They all died.

The family lived in the town of Tell Aran in northern Syria’s Aleppo Governorate. Its part of the bigger story of how draconian restrictions on women—implemented by extremists in the country’s ongoing civil war—have curtailed freedoms and changed their lives dramatically.

Trapped indoors: They can’t go where they want, when they want

Life before the war wasn't perfect, but Syrian women had relatively reasonable levels of independence in society, especially compared with their counterparts in the Arab world. The government boasted reduced penalties for honor killings targeting females, and women had to get permission from a male relative to travel abroad. But there was participation in public life through schools and working outside the home.

Ever since armed extremist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham took control of the country’s north and north-eastern areas, said Human Rights Watch, refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey are reporting major changes in interviews.

Women could not go outside in public on their own—even to buy essentials such as food—without a male relative to escort them. Those who showed up solo to markets and bakeries were turned away by armed extremists.

One refugee told Human Rights Watch: “It was like we were in jail. We couldn’t even go outside near our house. If we went outside, Jabhat al-Nusra would tell us to go back in our houses.”

Some women were barred from driving and prevented from taking public transportation.

Going to work or school is not an option

In some places in Syria, women were prohibited from working outside the home and getting an outside education.

One 20-year-old refugee said that extremists prevented her and other female students from signing up for university exams. “They refused to talk to me, even though I was wearing a head scarf,” she told Human Rights Watch. “I was wearing Western clothes, and they said this was not acceptable.”

Another young refugee reported that she and her friends decided to stop going to school because they were afraid of the extremists.

In other areas, they were barred from going to work and school as a punishment for not following strict Muslim dress codes.

The lack of male family members makes the restrictions even more punishing

Given that 85 to 90 percent of the approximately 130,000 who have died in Syria’s civil war to date are men, said Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, the restrictions on women’s movement are especially damaging.

“A lot of men are either fighting, away, or have died,” she said. “So now, many households are headed by women who don’t have male relatives around.”

Even access to essential survival items has been limited.

All the restrictions have a domino effect. Women have a tough time buying food for their family or accessing health care.

According to two refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch, some women would go to villages far away where extremists were not present. This way, they could buy food and other necessities without fear.

Forced to cover and conform to Islamic dress

Islamic law, known as Sharia, requires women to cover their hair and most of their bodies and dress modestly—and has been enforced by the extremist groups. Makeup, close-fitting clothing, and jeans are prohibited. The groups announced these requirements at mosques and via posters and pamphlets, but thuggish enforcers got more personal if they didn’t see women comply.

One refugee told Human Rights Watch that fighters from the extremist groups would visit homes and threaten the males of the household as a way to get the women to wear head scarves and full-length robes.

“They would say, ‘This time we are saying this to you; next time we will take action,’ ” the man told Human Rights Watch.

The climate of fear keeps them from defying orders

Reports of beatings and threats of violence against women who didn't comply—as well as abductions of women who were alone in public—have made them feel that they have no choice but to obey.

Six refugees told Human Rights Watch that in the towns of Ras al Ayn, Tel Abyad, and Azaz, local women were declared what was referred to as property “Halal” by extremist leaders—which was interpreted by them that the fighters could abduct women and not be punished.

While these restrictions have played out a little differently within the north and north-eastern regions of Syria, the women and men Human Rights Watch interviewed reported that they were fairly widespread between September 2012 and October 2013, according to Gerntholtz.

Though she said that it’s difficult to say whether these restrictions are representative of conditions across the entire country, she added that Human Rights Watch has no reason to believe that the other parts of the country held by extremists are handled differently.

Gerntholtz warned that these restrictions could be just the beginning of a downward spiral for the freedom of Syrian women and girls.

“Groups like ISIS and al-Nusra claim to be part of a social movement, yet they seem more focused on diminishing freedom for women and girls than providing any social benefit,” Gerntholtz said. “As we have seen in situations in Somalia, Mali, and elsewhere, these kinds of restrictions often mark the beginning of a complete breakdown of women’s and girls’ rights.”



Calls Mount for Indonesian Government to Retract Support for FGM

January 28, 2014

A coalition of NGOs demanded the government ban female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation or FGM.

The group said that the practice was rampant despite laws and several international conventions, which had been ratified by the government, regulating otherwise.

Kalyanamitra, Watch Indonesia! and Berlin-based Terre Des Femmes said the practice violated the 1999 Human Rights Law; 2002 Child Protection Law; 2004 Domestic Violence Law; 2009 Health Law; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment.

“Every year, there are 2 million women in Indonesia who are circumcised and 92 percent of families support this practice. We want the President and the health minister to abolish this because the legitimizing of the practice validates the misogynist view of female sexuality,” Joko Sulistyo from Kalyanamitra said.

The group said that situation could get worse in the future because the government had in fact issued a Health Ministry Regulation in 2010 that sanctioned female genital circumcision procedures.

The coalition blasted the regulation as it gave medical personnel the authority to circumcise girls as long as it was safe.

“No one can guarantee that this practice is without risk. Sometimes, it is even included in birth packages alongside medical examination, ear piercing and vaccines. This is a violation of human rights,” he said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), FGM refers to procedures that intentionally injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

Rather than the practice having health benefit it can cause severe bleeding and urination problems.

It may even lead to complications during childbirth, resulting in higher risks of newborn deaths, WHO has said.

About 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide suffered from reproductive problems caused by FGM, it said in its latest report in 2013.

Indonesia along with countries in Africa and the Middle East have the highest number of FGM cases.

The organizations demanded the government comprehensively implement laws and conventions that criminalized FGM and punish anyone or any party that conducted the practice.

“We want the government to prohibit any institution that campaigns, promotes or offers the practice,” Joko said, adding that the government needed to increase public awareness on the dangers of FGM.

In January last year, The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) fought a United Nation’s campaign to ban female circumcision, demanding the government keep the practice legal.

“Circumcision is a part of Islamic teaching and is recommended for both male and female,” MUI deputy secretary-general Amirsyah Tambunan said.



Getting away with sexual abuse in Jordan

January 28, 2014

AMMAN, (IRIN) - Shop cleaner Nawal* from East Amman regrets the day she accepted an offer of extra work from her employer, who said he wanted her to clean his home. It was a trap; he took her home and raped her.

Although an investigation proved her allegations, she says the legal process did not bring justice. Her rapist benefited from controversial article 308 in Jordan's penal code, which allows rapists to escape jail if they marry their victims and stay with them for five years.

“Marrying a rape victim to her rapist is committing a second crime against her. It is the rapist who should be punished,” said Munir Idiabes, the executive director of Sisterhood Is a Global Institute (SIGI), a locally based women's rights group.

But some legal experts argue the article leaves women the choice not to marry their assailants.

“Women and their families do not have to accept it, and in some cases families demand the rapist is prosecuted,” Fawzi Al- Nahar, a judge and head of Jordan’s Grand Criminal Court, told IRIN. “It remains as an option for those who want to marry their daughters [off] and avoid the social stigma,” he said.

But women’s activists argue that women and their families may feel they have little choice. Their decision is influenced not only by social pressure to “cover a scandal” but also by difficulties brought about by other laws, especially those covering abortion and proof of parental lineage.

Dealing with the consequences

Nawal intended to keep quiet about the rape until the day she discovered she was pregnant. Most rape cases remain unreported unless there is pregnancy involved, say women's rights activists and social workers.

Abortion is prohibited in Jordan - even for rape survivors or in cases of incest - unless the pregnancy could lead to the mother's death.

“I started taking massive pain killers, vitamins, even tried punching my belly with my hands… pushing a gas cylinder on to my belly to abort the child,” she said. But after her efforts failed, she decided to report the incident to her family and the police.

The investigation and the results of a DNA test corroborated Nawal’s allegations, but rather than see her attacker punished, she found herself battling parental lineage laws.

To prove a child's parental lineage, the father's confession and a marriage contract are required, according to Judge Ashraf Omari from the Islamic Chief of Justice Department.

“Each case has its particularities, but in order to register a child with his father, a legal marriage contract is required,” said Omari.

“I had no choice but to marry him because I did not want to lose my child,” said Nawal. Children born out of wedlock are often removed from their mother’s care. They also face a lifetime of discrimination. 

 A small wedding ceremony took place, and the perpetrator escaped a jail sentence.

“I do not remember the party, because I did not care,” Nawal said. “All I had on my mind was the life sentence I was going to serve in the house where I was raped.”

Contradictory numbers

Judge Fawzi Nahar, of the Grand Criminal Court, argues that marriage to one’s rapist is not a common occurrence in Jordan. He told IRIN that on average there are only six to 12 cases per year.

But in the past four years, some 159 rapists have escaped punishment through marriage, according to lawyer and activist Taghreed Al-Doghmi who recently published an investigation about the issue.

Even those numbers are challenged by women’s rights activists and social workers, who say the incidents are underreported.

“Official numbers do not reflect reality, especially when it comes to issues regarding rape and sexual violence,” said Lubna Dawani of the Mezan Centre for Human Rights. “We come across several cases that go underreported.”

From 1998 to 2013, when gender-based violence expert Hani Jahshan servvied as a chief forensic physician at the state-run family protection unit, he says that only 20 to 25 percent of perpetrators of rape cases reported to them were prosecuted.

“Article 308 of the penal code is the major factor to blame,” he said. “It hampers all efforts to achieve justice for survivors of sexual violence.”

Religious condemnation

The law has no roots in Islam, according to Mohammad Sartawi, professor of Sharia and Islamic Studies at the University of Jordan. “Islam does not endorse punishing the victim by forcing her to marry her rapist,” he told IRIN. “Rapists should be strictly penalized to protect the society from such crimes.”

Sartawi also says marriage in such circumstances does not meet the requirements of a “valid and genuine” marriage in Islam. “Approval is the basis of marriage in Islam. In this case [when women are married to their rapist], the victim and her family were forced into accepting this marriage, and the rapist is using the marriage to benefit,” he said.

Cultural and societal expectations that women and girls are “responsible” for preserving their family's honour is what makes the practice acceptable, although it has no religious roots, according to Eman Bisher, professor of education and women's leadership at the Applied Blaqaa University.

“In our society, it is still seen as shameful when there is any sexual activity by women and girls - even if it is by force. Social norms in this context rule,” she told IRIN.

The article, if not amended, will encourage more sexual violence against women and girls, she argues. “When the article was discussed in my class, some students noted that it is making it easy for young men to rape any woman they like and force the marriage onto her and her family,” she said.

Inadequate services

Limited access to services, which many activists and aid workers describe as “inadequate”, makes it difficult for rape and sexual violence survivors to overcome the trauma.

“Women continue to suffer for years as the trauma is not addressed [in] the early stage,” says Amal Adli, a social worker at SIGI.

Psychological support and counselling remain challenging, says Hanan Thaher from the National Council for Family Affairs. “There are inadequate services that aim at providing psychosocial services for victims of rape and sexual violence,” said Thaher.

In rural areas, access to such services is even more limited. There is only one state-run shelter for women and children in Amman; the government is racing to build a second one in Irbid to accommodate growing needs provoked by the influx of Syrian refugees.

“We are stretched to the limit,” said Zain Abbadi, manager of Al Wifaq Family Centre in Amman. One-third of the 916 women benefiting from the services are Syrian, and 25 per cent of the remaining are refugee women of other nationalities.

Regional issue

Similar laws are also an issue in neighbouring countries, including Syria and Lebanon.

In Morocco, the parliament on 22 January repealed an article in its penal code allowing rapists to escape punishment if they marry victims who are minors.

The change came after two years of activism and a petition signed by one million people following the suicide of 16-year-old Amena Filali, who killed herself after she was forced to marry her rapist, who was reported to have severely beaten her during their short marriage.

“It is a complicated question where oppressive laws and societies interact against the rape of sexual survivors,” says Atifa Timjerdine, president of the Rabat branch of the Democratic Association for Moroccan Women.

The changes to Morroco’s law fell short of the expectations of many activists, who say the laws remain biased against women and supportive of child marriage. Still, campaigners in Jordan say it gives them hope to see change taking place in the region.



Turkey's controversial headscarf problem

January 28, 2014

Turkey is witnessing to important developments after the referendum process. On the one hand, some members of HSYK are changing, on the other hand Turkey’s one of the most controversial issues, headscarf problem, is becoming a current issue. After the Higher Education Board (YÖK) sent to Istanbul University warning academicians that they should not oblige students who dress headscarf to leave class, we began to debate Turkey’s years-long headscarf problem once again.

Through years, while some people talked about this issue in conferences or with politicians, others prefer to protest in every weekend in different cities of Turkey such as Kocaeli, Sakarya, Van, and Konya. They insisted on continuing to their protest because they believe that this right is not given by authorities; this right should be taken by civil resistance. According to the New York Times, In Turkey, putting on an Islamic head scarf can be an act of rebellion. So, this shows the problematic picture in headscarf issue.

Full report at:



US universities present plans to promote women’s football in Qatar

January 28, 2014

Picture this: an advertising billboard with a screen is playing a video of a footballer kicking the ball onto the road; only that the ball finds its way to another player on another billboard on the opposite side of the road.

This and many such ideas were part of the presentations made by teams from three United States universities — Vanderbilt University, Syracuse University and University of Oregon — on a visit to Doha earlier this month.

The three teams, comprising of advertising majors, were chosen from among 33 other university teams to present in front of a Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee panel on ‘Women in Football in Qatar’. The event was part of a programme called EdVentures.

To encourage Qatari girls to play football is one of the endeavours that the Committee has undertaken in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. And who better to learn from than the country which is currently No 1 in the FIFA Women’s rankings.

As part of the programme, the three teams were given a taste of Qatari culture so that they could incorporate it into their presentations. They were given a tour of Museum of Islamic Art, taken sailing on a Dhow boat, taken on a desert safari and shown the Aspire Academy.

The panel chose Syracuse University as the winner and the presentation, along with ideas from the two other teams, will be implemented in the near future.

Qatar women national football team coach Monika Staab, who was part of the panel, said: “The presentation from Syracuse was very much in details - the booklet they prepared was outstanding.”

She added: “They were very accurate and pointed out the difficulties of women football in the Qatar society. They clearly outlined the difficulties facing the parents of the girls, who would like to play… it is important to gain the parents’ approval for the girls to play football.”

Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee executive director for Marketing and Communications, Nasser al-Khater, was equally impressed by the presentations. Al-Khater, who was also on the judging panel, said, “We felt that all three teams presented us with outstanding ideas and proposals. The Syracuse team’s level of research and audience insight was the key factor in leading them to win. They understood who the key audiences were, the type of media they consumed and how best to reach them, this was reflected in their strategy and tactics, it was very impressive.”

Asked what changes would she like to see in the immediate future, Staab said, “Working together as a team on the public awareness of women’s football in Qatar. Working on the wrong perception that football can only be played by the boys and not by the girls.

“(We need to) show the society the beauty of the game. (We need to) implement some of the ideas of the universities together with the Qatar Women’s Sports Committee and Qatar Football Association, and stakeholders who really are serious to support women football in Qatar.”