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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 7 Oct 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Fate of over 30 Syrian women abducted by Daesh uncertain

New Age Islam News Bureau

7 Oct 2018

Photo: Activists from within the Druze-majority province accuse the Assad regime of “laxity” and neglecting to protect the residents. — Courtesy photo


 18 females among 55 detained by Houthis

 CII to draft divorce contract for ‘women empowerment’

 BBC's Bodyguard 'swapped one stereotype of Muslim women for another', Islamic feminist scholar says

 Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for insulting Prophet Muhammad to make final court appeal

 Muslim woman in Assam tonsured for protesting child marriage

 13-year-old girl crowned bowling champion in Riyadh

 Fire in Tabuk wedding hall injures 14 women and children in Saudi Arabia

 Iran cracks down on women's rights activists as leader offers his solution to sexual harassment, assault: Cover up

 Woman appointed to run Saudi Arabian bank for first time in country's history

 The Many Dangers of Being an Afghan Woman in Uniform

 FIFA president inquires about women entering sports stadiums in Iran

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Fate of over 30 Syrian women abducted by Daesh uncertain

October 07, 2018

The fate of more than 30 Syrian women who were kidnapped by Daesh (the so-called IS) after it carried out a series of coordinated suicide attacks and shootings in the Syrian province of Sweida, is still unknown after the militants recently threatened to kill them all.

Daesh leaked a video on Tuesday where they murdered a woman they had abducted in Sweida, south of Damascus, after negotiations through a mediator failed.

One of the masked men in the video said that they would execute all those abducted within a maximum of three days if Bashar Al-Assad’s regime did not comply with its demand to release all Daesh members the regime had detained. The deadline Daesh gave to comply with their demands ended on Thursday.

Activists on social media identified the woman in the video as Thuraya Abu Ammar. According to the Sweida24 news site, the woman was 25 years old, and was kidnapped on July 25 during the attack.

Influential social and political figures within the Druze-majority province accused the Assad regime of “laxity” and neglecting to protect the residents of the province, most of whom refused to join the military operations against other Syrians.

According to many media outlets, multiple sources from the province accused the Assad regime of causing the massacre following an agreement with ISIS that called for their transfer from southern Damascus to the eastern desert of Sweida. The sources added that this transfer enabled Daesh to carry out its military operation easily, especially in the absence of Assad’s militants.

The committee in charge of following-up on the kidnappings has made a public apology and stated its continued efforts to negotiate with Daesh. The committee also stressed that they faced many “obstacles”, the details of which they declined to disclose at the moment.

The committee’s apology reveals that they did not know of the murder at the time of its release. The statement said that the kidnappers did not make “any demands [that were] to be discussed [by the committee]”.

However, the video released by Daesh on October first shows a fighter demanding that the Assad regime release its captives and stop its military operation in Al-Safa region in exchange for the Druze abductees. — Al Arabiya English



18 females among 55 detained by Houthis

October 7, 2018

Witnesses said the detained men and women were chanting: "We will sacrifice our soul, our blood for you, Yemen."

Yemeni rebels on Saturday detained dozens of students protesting in the capital Sanaa against poverty in the war-torn country, activists and witnesses said.

Local activists, asking not to be named, said that the Houthi rebels detained at least 55 students, including 18 women, near Sanaa University.

Houthi authorities had warned it would "beat and arrest" anyone taking part in demonstrations in the rebel-held capital, residents said, after local activists called for a mass protest against inflation and famine.

The Houthi rebels did not immediately comment on the arrests.

Witnesses said the detained men and women were chanting: "We will sacrifice our soul, our blood for you, Yemen."

The students were taken to a nearby Houthi-run police station, after which they were transported to "unknown locations", the activists said, adding the rebels closed the university as part of security measures.

Houthis have launched a crackdown on activists and deployed heavy security across Sanaa.



CII to draft divorce contract for ‘women empowerment’

October 07, 2018

Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) Chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz said the council is looking to draft a divorce contract with additional provisions for women’s rights.

“Triple talaq in one go is becoming a social problem now and the reason behind its occurrence has been changing with the passage of time. Previously in various cases, it used to be internal family conflict or clash of interests between the bride’s and groom’s family. Of late, however, the reason is social media and social openness of extramarital relationships which lead to mutual suspicion between couples resulting in instant divorce,” He said.

Taking a view of the situation, the CII announced plans to hold meetings with renowned scholars from all provinces and draft a comprehensive talaqnama for women empowerment, which will include provisions to secure their rights of inheritance.

“The aim of these meetings and seminars would be countering the rise in divorce cases, depriving a woman of her property rights and inheritance among others,” said Dr Qibla Ayaz.

CII plans to hold a meeting with President Arif Alvi in this regard.



BBC's Bodyguard 'swapped one stereotype of Muslim women for another', Islamic feminist scholar says

October 07, 2018

The hit television show Bodyguard swapped one stereotype of Muslim women for another, an Islamic feminist scholar has said.

Ziba Mir-Hosseini, an author, director and legal anthropologist, said she found the plot of the show "really puzzling".

She added that although she "loved the series" she was surprised with the final twist at the end.

"Why we had to make this woman Nadia, who is so timid and everything, which was a stereotype of Muslim women, and then suddenly she became a stereotype of another Muslim woman, one that is a jihadist," she said while speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

"That was really puzzling for me. Why a film like this has to do that, which actually says a lot to us about how the image of Muslims are made and projected."

The character of Nadia, who was stopped by the show's hero David Budd from detonating a suicide vest on a packed train in the opening episode, was initially portrayed as a weak woman oppressed by her jihadi husband.

By the series finale, Nadia was revealed as a skilled engineer who had built the bomb that killed Home Secretary Julia Montague.

Nadia told police: "You all saw me as a poor, oppressed Muslim woman. I am an engineer. I am a jihadi."

Dr Mir-Hosseini said shows like Bodyguard do not help the struggle Muslim feminists face daily around the world.

"How we, without questioning it, we are getting indoctrinated into it. Feminist voices in Islam just can't... it is an oxymoron... because that is the image we have," she said.

"Islamic feminists face a lot of resistance, especially in Muslim majority countries. When you argue for equality in the family, men feel threatened and it is like the whole of society is going to collapse.

"You also face accusations that you have been brainwashed by the West because you are asking for equality and feminism. At the same time you face resistance from those Muslim women who see arguments for equality and justice within Islam as a betrayal.

"What was heresy in one time can become orthodoxy. Change will come."

Aliyah Saleem, a British-born Pakistani who is now an atheist, said Muslim women today have to overcome many stereotypes and prejudices.

"There is a stereotypical view of Muslim women as passive, as lacking in autonomy, and Muslim men are brutes," she said.

"That is very problematic and it is old. It is not a new thing and it has only come about because of 9/11.

"At the same time, not talking about the way Muslim fundamentalism is genuinely damaging the lives of Muslim women around the world is also a problem.

"How do you find the fine balance? I try and speak about both sides as equally as I can."

The ex-Muslim, who is the co-founder of advocacy group Faith to Faithless, said the debate on whether woman should wear the hijab is more complicated than it appears.

"You can say that, Islamically, you do not have to wear a hijab, but that doesn't deal with the shame or the guilt that women feel," she said.

"To say that Muslim women are all oppressed by it is to take away their autonomy and to see them as stupid children.

"But to not talk about that there are millions of children living under laws that force them to wear hijab is disingenuous and demonstrates an ambivalence and I think it is one of the real struggles facing Muslim women today."



Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for insulting Prophet Muhammad to make final court appeal

October 07, 2018

A Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan for insulting the Prophet Muhammad will have her final appeal heard by the Supreme Court on Monday, her lawyer has said.

Asia Bibi has spent nine years in prison after being accused of contravening the country’s strict blasphemy laws following a dispute in June 2009.

The case has drawn international attention to Pakistan’s treatment of its religious minorities and Ms Bibi's supporters, including Pope Benedict XVI, who called for the charges to be dismissed, saying she is being persecuted for her faith.

Ms Bibi has already received one stay of execution from the Supreme Court, in 2015, after lower courts rejected the appeals.

If her appeal fails the mother of five, from the rural village of Ittan Wali, Punjab, will become the first woman to be executed for blasphemy in Pakistan.

The international community has condemned blasphemy laws in Pakistan and elsewhere for being regularly invoked against religious minorities to settle local squabbles.

In Ms Bibi’s case she was working in the fields alongside several Muslim women who refused to drink from the same water supply as an “unclean” Christian.

Several days later a local imam, who was not present during the argument, claimed she had defamed the prophet.

Despite her insistence that she was being persecuted for her faith, Ms Bibi was sentenced to death the following year.

The governor of the Punjab at the time, Salmaan Taseer, was murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in January 2011 after he attempted to get clemency for Ms Bibi.

The bodyguard, who was executed in 2016, was showered by rose petals by supporters when he was taken to the courthouse to face charges in the days following the assassination.  

In August, a Buddhist woman in Indonesia was jailed for insulting Islam after she complained a mosque was playing the call to prayer too loudly.

The Republic of Ireland has committed to a referendum on its blasphemy laws which in 2017 saw comedian Stephen Fry investigated by police.



Muslim woman in Assam tonsured for protesting child marriage

October 2018

GUWAHATI: A Muslim woman in Assam was tonsured and her clothes were torn apart for protesting the marriage of her minor son. The incident occurred at a remote village in Lower Assam's Dhubri district bordering Bangladesh on October 2. Three women, allegedly involved in the crime, were arrested by the police. They are now in jail.

In a video of the incident which has gone viral on the social media, some people were seen erupting in wild celebration after the victim was made to go through the ignominy. The police said Rashima Bibi, 39, was tonsured by the three arrested women who are the relatives of her second husband Mantu Sheikh. Rashima, who had married thrice, lives separately with her third husband Moinul Haque.

"The marriage of Rashima Bibi's 19-year-old son from her second husband Mantu Sheikh had taken place in October last year. Later, based on her complaint, we had arrested some people and they are still in judicial custody. The family of the second husband has been upset with her for a long time as the arrested people are not getting bail. On October 2, Sheikh's relatives had a quarrel with Rashima over the issue of marriage. During the tiff, she was tonsured by the relatives of Sheikh. Her clothes also got torn off in the incident," Dhubri superintendent of police, Longnit Teron, told TNIE.

He said three women were immediately arrested for their role in the incident. The SP also said that Rashima was annoyed that Sheikh had arranged the marriage of her minor son. The minor boy lives with his father.



13-year-old girl crowned bowling champion in Riyadh

October 07, 2018

RIYADH: The Saudi Bowling Federation launched its first women’s tournament, the Saudi Women Bowling Championship, in Riyadh on Saturday.

Sponsored by Arab News and Al-Riyadh newspaper, it is the first of the federation’s initiatives to support women in sports, and will be followed by a tournament in Alkhobar on Oct. 13, and in Jeddah on Oct. 20.

Dr. Razan Baker, a member of the federation’s board of directors and head of media and women’s participation, said the number of participants in the Riyadh tournament exceeded expectations. Registration is still open for the Jeddah and Alkhobar tournaments, she added.

Riyadh has “the best bowling center in Saudi Arabia,” she said, “with international standards and the capacity to accommodate this large number of competitors.”

The exciting event began with important instructions from player Nahla Adas to prevent any sports injuries.

“Proper stretches before the game help prevent injuries,” she said.

Participants are aged between 12 and 47. The winner will receive a cash prize of SR5,000 ($1,335) and the first and the second runners-up will get SR3,000 and SR2,000 respectively.

The Saudi Bowling Federation is taking serious steps to promote this game. Seven months ago, a national bowling team was formed in the Eastern Province. The team members receive training daily for three hours under the federation’s supervision.

Baker said the federation’s plan to form a bowling team received an overwhelming response. “We received a lot of messages from people requesting information on the details.”

“We are also getting in touch with all the bowling centers in the Kingdom. We have girls contacting us from Khamis Mushait, from the northern border in Arar for example. They’re both happy and upset, asking why don’t they have a championship like this in the northern province. Hopefully, we can organize more tournaments in different cities,” Baker added.

Princess Najla Abdulrahman, a member of the Saudi Mass Participation Federation, is pleased with the event. “First, we are happy to be part of this event that is organized by the Saudi Bowling Federation, and we as the Saudi Mass Participation Federation always strive and are delighted to have such events with our other partners to increase the percentage of practicing sports in our society in general.”

Adas, who is also part of the national team, said she used to play this game in the US just for fun.

“But now I take it seriously and wish to play at the international level. I am lucky to be a part of this team. I wish to see this game become more popular than football in the Kingdom. We always hear about football, now is the time for bowling,” she added.

Another talented player, Mashail Anas Abdulwahed, surprised everyone with her brilliants strikes. She has been bowling since 2005.

“I have been waiting for this moment since 2005.”

Stressing the importance of sports, Abdulwahed said: “It changes one’s mood and gets rid of negative energy. Bowling is energetic and we can play it comfortably.”

Thirteen-year-old Mica Ecalnir won the championship trophy followed by Jellah Mae Alba Mondoy and Mariam Pablo Cruz who won the second and third places respectively.

“During the game, I felt nervous, and I told myself that I should work hard,” Ecalnir said. The champion said she used all the techniques she had learned to win the game.

The championship, organized in cooperation with the Saudi Federation for Community Sports, is open to Saudi women and women born in the Kingdom of all ages.

The Saudi Bowling Federation has decided to support the Zahra Breast Cancer Association and change the championship’s color to pink in order to raise awareness about women’s health.



Fire in Tabuk wedding hall injures 14 women and children in Saudi Arabia

October 07, 2018

JEDDAH: A fire erupted in a room inside a wedding hall in the Hamra district of the city of Tabuk, causing 14 women and children to suffer smoke inhalation.

“The operations room received a report of a fire in the designated section for women, and when the civil defense teams arrived, some of the women who were inside the room were evacuated,” said Maj. Abdulaziz Al-Shammari, a civil defense spokesman for the Tabuk area.

Al-Shammari said the fire was confined to a small room, and firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze that was caused by an electrical fault with “technical equipment.”

Ten of the injured were treated at the scene, and five were transferred to hospital.

Al-Shammari said an investigation was underway and that the safety measures available on the site helped the teams to extinguish the fire.



Iran cracks down on women's rights activists as leader offers his solution to sexual harassment, assault: Cover up


OCT 06, 2018

On the one-year anniversary of the global #MeToo movement, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared a solution for Western women facing sexual harassment: wear a hijab.

His statement comes amid growing unrest over the law that mandates that Iranian women wear the hijab, or headscarf, in public. In recent weeks the Iranian government has arrested several activists who have protested the law.

Khamenei took to Twitter Wednesday to give his advice, posting a two-minute-long video that accompanied his tweet, which he titled “The disaster of countless sexual assaults on Western women — including incidents leading to #Metoo campaign — and Islam’s proposal to resolve it.”

It showed women across the U.S. and Europe talk about their personal stories of harassment and included a link to an article chronicling speeches Khamenei has given over the years about the headscarf.

The remarks demonstrate Khamenei’s attempt to leverage the power of the #MeToo movement to criticize “immodest” attire that women in Western societies wear, while praising Islam as the solution.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are the two countries that require women to wear headscarves in public. Still, millions of Muslim women across the Middle East and the West choose to wear the hijab on their own.

For many, the decision to wear a headscarf goes beyond religion. It can be tied to culture, as well as fashion and politics.

In Iran, the hijab has long been politicized.

In 1928, Reza Shah Pahlavi banned the hijab to encourage Iranians to dress more like people in Europe. In 1941, the ban on hijabs was lifted for university students and professors. Shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women were forced to wear the hijab in public.

Human rights advocates this week were quick to call out the supreme leader’s hypocrisy, pointing to longstanding laws that have discriminated against women and punished those who speak out.

“[Khamenei] is trying to take the moral high ground. But within Iran, the government and hardliners’ views towards women has very much not been in the defense of women,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an advocacy group. “He’s been calling for policies that roll back the rights women have gained on their own. He is being opportunistic.”

The video begins with a shot of two-time Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman confronting former U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar in court over sexual assault allegations. It then jumps to various clips of well-known figures accused of sexual harassment, such as film mogul Harvey Weinstein. It also includes politicians, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, speaking about the plight women face.

Toward the end of the video, Khamenei is shown delivering a recent speech that suggests how the hijab protects women against harassment.

“You might have heard, a few months ago, that a large number of Western, female politicians announced, one right after another, they had been subjected to abuse, harassment or violence at times when they were working in government offices ...” Khamenei said. “By introducing hijab, Islam has shut the door on a path that would pull women towards such deviation.”

Over the last decade, women in Iran have been growing more aware about the legal and political impediments that stand in their way of achieving equality. For instance, women still need their husband’s or father’s permission before they are allowed to leave the country.

Frustrated over such discriminatory laws, a burgeoning women’s rights movement has emerged in recent months that challenges the mandate that women must wear headscarves in public.

Women have called for anti-hijab protests, and videos that show women pulling their headscarves off in public spaces have gone viral.

In response, the Islamic Republic has clamped down on dissent, arresting several women’s rights activists and human rights defenders.

In June, prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested and taken to the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. Sotoudeh, who has defended women arrested in the anti-hijab protests, started a hunger strike in August.

In September, three women’s rights advocates were arrested. Hoda Amid and Najmeh Vahedi were arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a few days before they were scheduled to host a workshop, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. Women’s rights activist Maryam Azad was arrested a few weeks later before boarding a plane en route to Istanbul.

As President Trump imposes further sanctions on Iran, the arrests suggest how hardliners within Iran’s establishment, particularly its intelligence and security services, are gaining more control and are trying to discourage women from protesting, Ghaemi said.

“It's a signal to activists. They are trying to intimidate them. The security enforcers are assuming more control of the domestic environment as sanctions come in. It’s a bad omen for the limited activism that was allowed in Iran up till now and signals more oppression that’s to come,” Ghaemi said.



Woman appointed to run Saudi Arabian bank for first time in country's history

Shehab Khan

October 07, 2018

A woman has been appointed to run a Saudi Arabian bank for the first time in the country’s history.

Lubna Al Olayan, a Saudi businesswoman, will lead a new lender that has been formed after the merger between Alawwal Bank and Saudi British Bank.

Ms Olayan, 63, has been the deputy chair of Alawwal Bank for four years and will now lead a bank that is the third-largest lender in Saudi Arabia.

The new bank will be part owned by HSBC and have a capitalisation of £13.2bn.

Ms Olayan has long been a pioneer for women in Saudi Arabia. In 2004 she was elected to the board of Saudi Hollandi Bank, becoming the first woman in the country to feature on the board of a public company.

In the same year she was the first Saudi woman to give the keynote speech at the Jeddah Economic Forum and 12 months later she co-chaired the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Ms Olayan has frequently appeared in a range of “most influential” lists and in 2018 she topped the ranking of Forbes Middle East’s most influential women.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has launched a range of proposed reforms under his Saudi Vision 2030.

Part of the changes includes empowering of Saudi women.

Earlier in 2018 a ban on women driving was lifted and women were allowed into football matches for the first time.



The Many Dangers of Being an Afghan Woman in Uniform

By Sophia Jones

Oct. 5, 2018

Two dozen Afghan women in their early 20s, dressed in camouflage uniforms, trudge through prickly thistle plants under a nearly full moon. No one dares speak, the silence broken only by too-big army-issued boots crunching to a chorus of stray-dog howls and midsummer cricket chirps. It’s one of the first times these women, all seniors at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul, have taken part in a nighttime exercise. Normally they would be tucked away in their dorm — its hallways plastered with posters of Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart and Col. Latifa Nabizada, Afghanistan’s first female helicopter pilot — surrounded by barbed wire.

Female cadets must adhere to a strict 9 p.m. curfew. But on this warm night, the women smile in the darkness, leaping over ravines and clambering up hills of dirt, spreading out into formation with their rifles in tow. Off in the distance is a flurry of commotion — the pop pop pop of blank rounds fired by their male counterparts; their flares pierce the night sky and set the dry grass ablaze. (The female cadets’ Afghan superiors have not yet allowed them to fire blank rounds or flares as part of a nighttime attack drill; so far, they’ve only had limited daytime firearms training.) Led by a female sergeant known to the women as Sergeant Hanifa, the group is flanked by American and British advisers who advocate drills like this while trying to navigate cultural norms that dictate how Afghan women must act and how they are viewed. In this case, in a bid to recruit more women, academy leadership has assured parents that female cadets won’t be out unsupervised at night, for their own protection.

“I have to do a head count, make sure we have all the lambs,” said Maj. Alli Shields of the British Army, using the nickname given to the women by Afghan male staff. “Or else this will be the first and last exercise.” Next to her stands Lt. Cmdr. Rebekah Gerber of the United States Navy, a senior gender adviser for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, who watches the drill with her hands on her hips, mentally taking notes. She’s one of a dozen advisers from NATO countries working with the Afghan government to integrate and support both men and women across the security sector. The lofty end goal: gender equality. A self-described fiery redhead pushing what she jokingly calls a “ginger gender agenda,” Gerber comes bearing a bold message for the Afghans and her coalition colleagues: “Get on board or get out — it’s happening.” It’s a job Gerber doesn’t take lightly. Deployed halfway across the globe from her four daughters — her second overseas deployment, after serving on a Navy ship in the Persian Gulf — she’s driven by thoughts of her girls back home “and for the women to come.”

Since NATO formally ended its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, drawing down a huge deployment of international forces, the United States and its allies have turned their attention to training, advising and assisting Afghan armed forces, trying to carve out a reality in which Afghanistan is able to defend and secure its own country without billions of dollars in foreign funding and assistance. Within that complex and intensely scrutinized mission is another, perhaps even more difficult, one: bolster the ranks of Afghan women in security forces, train them, promote them and keep them alive. Advisers like Gerber are tasked with leading that charge, part of a NATO policy born in the wake of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, passed in 2000, which stresses the importance of women’s involvement in global peace and security. Since then, a growing body of evidence has found that when women play a role in the security sector, take part in peace negotiations and are involved in rebuilding after war, women feel more comfortable reporting sexual violence and nations enjoy a more stable and lasting peace. To enact the resolution and appease international donors eager to support women’s rights, Afghanistan, a United Nations member state, adopted an internationally funded national action plan that details everything from engaging men in addressing violence against women to including women at decision-making levels nationally, regionally and locally.

But 17 years into America’s longest war, in which the argument for protecting and “saving” Afghan women has long shaped the rhetoric to invade and maintain troop presence, their advancement in the security sector is still largely at odds with cultural perceptions of women’s place in society. Progress, as defined by the United States and NATO leadership, has been painfully slow, and there’s concern that programs to recruit and train women have only put them in more danger. Despite billions of United States tax dollars spent on bolstering Afghan troops and paying their salaries — nearly $160 million budgeted in the last three years alone to support female forces — Afghanistan has never come close to its set recruitment benchmarks for women. Those involved in and familiar with NATO gender efforts say it could take generations before real, lasting progress is made for Afghan women in uniform.

Before the Taliban overran war-torn Kabul in 1996, cementing its control over most of the country, women had served in the security forces for decades, though in limited capacities and often facing great backlash. (Col. Latifa Nabizada and her sister braved male colleagues’ pelting them with rocks after enrolling in military flight school in 1989 to become helicopter pilots, the first Afghan women ever to do so in 1991.) Under the Taliban, though, Afghan women found themselves stripped of their rights and confined to their homes, their ambitions tabled — or driven underground. Mothers risked everything, even their lives, to educate their daughters in secret. In 2001, American-led Afghan militias drove the Taliban from the capital. And with their exit came a trickle of renewed freedoms for at least some Afghan women: They’ve been able to attend top universities, anchor television shows and hold jobs in government. But a majority of Afghan women are still absent from public life. Across the country, they live under the firm grip of men. Decisions on marriage and on access to medical professionals, education and employment are not their own to make and are instead made by male relatives. While the current Afghan Constitution, approved in 2004, awards women some hard-earned rights, conservative interpretations of Islamic law still guide Afghan culture. In 2012, the national Ulema Council, Afghanistan’s top religious body, which advises the Afghan presidency, declared that women should be seen as secondary to men, advising women not to mingle in offices or schools with men to whom they’re not related or travel without a male guardian.

Women who dare speak up — about anything — almost instantly find themselves a target. In 2015, a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda Malikzada confronted a group of men who were reportedly trafficking amulets and Viagra at a shrine in central Kabul. The men responded by falsely accusing her of burning a Quran, which incited a mob to furiously beat her in broad daylight and light her bloodied body on fire, shouting that the Americans had sent her. Police officers nearby — including a female officer named Shamila, who risked her own life by screaming at the men to back off — weren’t able to save her. She died of her injuries.

Even joining the security forces is today considered a dangerous act, one that challenges the very fabric of Afghan culture and notions of how women should live their lives. In this male-dominated environment, Afghan women in uniform are often met with disdain. The community views them as “whores,” according to an Afghan woman in the special forces who serves alongside men and is tasked with searching women and children during raids. She is the sole provider for her family of seven. Many women who sign up to join the security forces, particularly the police, do so for financial reasons. Many are widows or women without a male guardian to support them and, as a result, already face ostracization in their communities. It’s not just a job; it’s a last resort for survival.

For women like Shamila, a 39-year-old police sergeant and single mother, joining the police force was an act of defiance after escaping from her violent Taliban husband, who forcefully married and raped her as a child. “I’m going to kill you,” he would say at night, dangling a noose. She would hold up the Quran and beg for her life. In 2008, her son helped her flee from Pakistan to Kabul, after she spoke up against the suicide vest hanging in their house and her husband nearly beat her to death. Italian doctors pieced together her broken limbs. After she healed, Shamila worked as a part-time cook and cleaner. But she wanted more: job security and a higher wage. Mostly, she said, grinning widely and flashing a silver tooth, she “wanted to be someone.” Now she works at a police station in Kabul, where she earns a steady wage managing the station’s finances, but also, at times, she handles criminal cases: a woman who lit herself on fire to commit suicide; a woman who killed her husband after he demanded that she sell sex for money; a woman killed by her brother, who slashed her open with a knife. It’s a dangerous job, she said, one that barely pays enough to support her and her teenage son and daughter and to afford their one-bedroom apartment, and one in which she has “only made more enemies.” Even so, she wakes up excited for work every day.

Previously, the effort to recruit women was seen as a numbers game, with the Afghan Ministry of Defense pushing for bigger recruitment numbers in the face of intense international pressure. Resolute Support, the NATO-led “train, advise and assist” mission in Afghanistan, calculates that there are currently 3,231 women in the Afghan National Police, 1,312 women in the Afghan National Army, which includes the air force, and 122 women in the Afghan Special Security Forces, making up, in aggregate, roughly 1.4 percent of Afghan security forces. All but 75 of them are based in Kabul. Those numbers are estimates, said Resolute Support, because NATO and Afghan records detailing force strength often do not match.

Resolute Support has shifted its focus away from lofty recruitment goals. In 2010, the goal was to have 10 percent of security forces be women by 2020. In 2015, that goal was scrapped for a more attainable one: 5,000 women in the army and 10,000 women in the police force by 2025. Now, the goal is to have at least 10 percent of the Afghan National Police and 3 percent of the Afghan National Army filled by women by 2021, with an eventual goal of 10 percent in the army. With those goals come new focus on supporting and carving out opportunities for the women who have already come forward to serve — for whom there is little room for advancement — through language and professional development courses, overseas training opportunities, mentorship and improved access to adequate facilities and equipment. NATO gender advisers say they are instructing Afghan counterparts to slow down recruitment of women “until we know where to put them,” according to Gerber.

“We can get them in the door, but without positions for them, they’ll never be used effectively,” said Capt. Kirrily Dearing of the Royal Australian Air Force Group, head of Resolute Support’s gender directorate, to whom Gerber reports. “It’s not just about numbers.” Afghan women lament that there is often no clear, or honest, path to promotion. Well-trained and educated women find themselves forced into tea-making and cleaning roles, regardless of their job descriptions. And there are not enough mid- to high-level women in security forces or supportive men to whom younger women can look for guidance. To meet the new benchmarks, Resolute Support will have to work with the Afghan government to recode existing male-only positions to be gender-neutral and increase the number of women-only positions so that women are able, and encouraged, to apply for jobs ranging from intelligence to mechanics. Previously, pilot positions to fly the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle — a small, low-altitude surveillance drone — were closed to women. Those positions will be recoded so women can fill them, a bid to recruit more women into intelligence. Once the positions are recoded and NATO has a better of idea of the positions available to women, and where they’re needed, Gerber said there will be a push to recruit women in schools, computer firms, libraries and engineering firms. “We’re focused on quality, not quantity,” Gerber said. “We want educated women. They have to be smarter and stronger than the men.” That’s a steep task in a country where an estimated 80 percent of Afghan women are illiterate. And many women like Shamila can read but do not have a high school education. Language and literacy courses can help with recruitment in areas like Kandahar and Helmand, where there’s a critical need for women in security forces but a shortage of candidates with the requisite language or professional skills. “Everything is gradual,” Gerber said. “But honestly, we have to steer the ship slowly. Making too many sudden changes will cause the ship to list and maybe even sink.”

NATO and the Afghan government have tried a variety of ways to recruit women, with limited success — from recruitment posters to handpicking promising women to offering incentive pay. But incentive pay has also led to resentment and harassment by male colleagues because women end up making more money than the men. Such incentives run the risk of causing more harm to the very women they’re meant to support, said Wazhma Frogh, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and founder of the Kabul-based Women & Peace Studies Organization. Rewarded by NATO for their recruitment and determination, the women are often seen as “the darlings of the West” by both colleagues and their communities, Frogh said, who has for years worked on issues of women’s integration across the security, political and civil society sectors. It’s a dangerous label, one that points to Afghans viewing women’s empowerment in the security forces and elsewhere as a Western-initiated and funded endeavor. “People say they’re being pushed by the foreigners,” she said.

In November 2017, a video anonymously posted to social media went viral in Afghanistan; it reportedly showed Col. Ghulam Rasoul Laghmani, the head surgeon in the Afghan Air Force, in a graphic sexual encounter with a female subordinate. She asked for a promotion, only to have him demand sex in return. She secretly filmed the encounter, seeking accountability in a system where women have little means to report harassment and abuse without further endangering themselves. “An investigation did not yield results,” says an Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman, who states that Laghmani was still penalized and is no longer employed by the air force. NATO and Afghan sources familiar with the situation said that he is still working with the military in a different capacity.

There is no complaint mechanism, said Humaira Rasuli, director of Medica Afghanistan, an Afghan organization advocating and providing legal assistance for survivors of violence and harassment. Some of their clients are women in security forces. “Women need to be able to complain and trust that there will be confidentiality and no effect on their work,” she said, a point she’s stressed in conversations with the Ministry of Interior. “We’re actively working on that.” The incident captured in the video wasn’t an isolated one. Women are often told they must offer sexual favors to male superiors in exchange for advancements or raises. “They want to put you in their trap,” said one mid-ranking Afghan army lieutenant, who holds a leadership position training Afghan women. She asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution. Women seen as threats by their colleagues are often punished with rumors of sexual impropriety — rumors that can ruin careers, and lives, in a culture where a woman’s “honor” is everything. Sex outside marriage, called zina, is illegal under Afghan law, and hundreds are in jail for these, often unfounded, “moral crimes.” The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has noted that there are several hundred reports every year of Afghan women dying by domestic violence or “honor killings,” in which brothers, fathers or other relatives kill women — and sometimes men — to restore “honor” to the family after a suspected moral indiscretion, like a romantic relationship out of wedlock or a marriage refusal. But many killings and attacks are never reported.

There are not even sexual harassment and assault policies in place to protect women employed by the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior from the many types of threats they face. It’s a major, though long delayed, goal of Resolute Support to help draft and promote better policies, as well as ways in which men and women can report sexual harassment and assault. After missing a deadline in March to deliver the new policies, Resolute Support held a round-table discussion in June with NATO advisers and representatives from the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior. The meeting started off tense, with one gray-haired Afghan policy adviser in fatigues proclaiming that there was no need for change and that “people already know where to report sexual harassment.” Gerber’s eyes widened. “We need to shake the tree,” said Marghaly Faqirzai Ghaznavi, an Afghan Ministry of Interior adviser on human rights, women and children’s affairs, and the only Afghan woman who was in the room. The meeting ended with a promise: Representatives from the ministries would take the NATO-drafted policy into consideration. Months later, no policy has been formalized. American advisers are still hopeful that they can firm something up in the coming months. “Our job is not to hand them an international community-accepted policy or a plan easy for us to implement,” said Gerber. “We want them to do it themselves.”

While they wait on their government to take action, Afghan women continue to face great risks. Death threats drove Latifa Nabizada, the pioneering helicopter pilot, to leave Afghanistan. She’s now living in Austria, where she and her daughter have been granted asylum. In May, the United States granted asylum to 26-year-old Niloofar Rahmani, Afghanistan’s widely celebrated and America-trained first female fixed-wing pilot. She became an icon for women after graduating from pilot school in 2013, and also a target, she said. Rahmani’s lawyer insists her life would be at “grave risk” if she were made to return.

There are critics — not just the Taliban — who say that the United States has no place dictating how Afghanistan should run its country. And there are others who say that American and international funding and pressure are essential to push forward gender efforts, but that such efforts have been marked by flawed execution and limited results. Women across the security sector are “what Afghanistan needs,” said Frogh of the High Peace Council. They’re essential to everything from responding to domestic violence cases to searching the homes and bodies of suspected militants when women are involved — something that is culturally unacceptable for men to do. But there’s a lack of political will, she warned. “If [Afghanistan] wants it or not — that’s a different thing.” One thing is certain, she said: The current strategy is simply not working. There’s an inherent power difference between foreign troops — often stationed in Afghanistan for a year or less before rotating out — and their Afghan counterparts. “You cannot mentor people with a language and attitude you don’t understand,” Frogh said.

Gerber, an intelligence officer trained as a missile analyst, had no experience working on gender policy before arriving in Kabul, apart from serving as a victim’s advocate at United States Northern Command in Colorado. Instead, she largely learned on the job in what started out, she said, as a “throw spaghetti against the wall and hope it sticks kind of thing.” Despite what are usually good intentions, Frogh said, rather than top-down efforts, more attention must be paid to community-based and community-led security reform, where Afghan women are engaged with their own communities at a local level, providing direct solutions. That way, she said, “people start connecting” and see the women are honorable. “It’s long past the time where we should be ‘winning hearts and minds’ directly,” said A. Heather Coyne, who worked on community policing and women issues in Afghanistan with the United States military and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014. She added that the international community has largely not taken into account what Afghan women truly need and has put them into more danger. “If they’re working with advocates and helping to empower those advocates, that’s great. But when you do it as the international community trying to convince people . . . you know what? You’re going home. It’s not your business to go in and try to convince ministries to do certain things.”

The international community’s top-down approach, pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the country, has stoked what the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction calls “rampant” corruption. For years, the United States provided funds with “no conditions” to the Defense and Interior Ministries, the latter institution called the “heart of corruption” by President Ashraf Ghani. It’s been a major hurdle for NATO forces working on programs meant to empower and support Afghan women, with advisers monitoring ministry budgets worth millions. Part of the problem, said Afghans working with women in the security sector, is that NATO pushes forward gender initiatives themselves or contracts directly with American companies who don’t have their feet on the ground. The United States Agency for International Development recently came under fire for its $216 million Promote program that is meant to support more than 75,000 Afghan women in leadership, development, economic and civil society roles over five years. Contracting with America-based Chemonics International, Tetra Tech ARD and Development Alternatives, three firms that have collectively reaped more than a billion dollars from the war in Afghanistan, USAID cannot say whether the program has made a positive impact despite spending $89.7 million over three years.

“So much money is spent,” laments one Afghan women’s rights advocate who asked not to be named out of fear of losing Western funding. The United States thinks big, she said, but mechanisms are often “not well adapted to the context” of Afghanistan.

For NATO troops, interacting with civil society is almost impossible because of the crippling security situation. They have very little face time with their Afghan counterparts, apart from on military bases and in ministries. Gerber is not allowed to leave Resolute Support or other NATO bases without several “Guardian Angels,” NATO units tasked with providing force protection to coalition troops and advisers from threats like green-on-blue insider attacks — when an Afghan ally, like a police officer or army lieutenant, attacks coalition forces. The Marshal Fahim National Defense University, where Gerber helps train women at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, has been targeted numerous times (most recently in January), both by suicide bombers and threats from within, most notably a 2014 attack in which an Afghan soldier fired on Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene of the Army, killing him. He was the highest-ranking American officer to die in combat on foreign soil since the Vietnam War.

On a recent June afternoon at Resolute Support, an Australian sergeant opened the door of the gender office and stuck his head in, grinning big. “How’s the war? Are we winning?” he asked, joking that it didn’t look good from his side of the base. Gerber rose from her desk. Above her, the iconic World War I icon Christy Girl stared down from a poster, exclaiming, “Gee!! I wish I were a man, I’d join the Navy.” “We’re winning,” Gerber said. “One woman at a time.”

But away from the heavily fortified NATO headquarters, the war looks different for women like Shamila. From inside her sparse and filthy police station, she fights to support her children as a single mother, to help the women who need her, to stay alive. In grainy, graphic cellphone video showing Farkhunda’s 2015 brutal murder, captured by onlookers and attackers, Shamila stands guard in front of the shrine where Farkhunda hid. She had been at the tailor when she heard a woman was in trouble and rushed over with her daughter in tow, hoping she could somehow intervene. In the video, Farkhunda pleads for a female police officer. Shamila arrived unarmed and out of uniform, placing her body between Farkhunda and the mob. “Get her!” the men scream, climbing over the metal fence to breach the shrine, holding rocks and pieces of wood. Within 10 minutes, Shamila had to flee: They could have killed her daughter. “If I didn’t have my daughter with me, I would have done something,” Shamila said with regret. “I would have died there [to save Farkhunda]. Or I would have killed someone.”

Still, it’s moments like this that keep Shamila going, to send a message to Afghan women. “Never lose hope,” she said, wiping away tears with her head scarf.



FIFA president inquires about women entering sports stadiums in Iran

06 October 2018

President of the World Federation of Football Federation (FIFA) sent a letter to the Iranian regime, demanding an answer for lifting the ban on women entering sports stadiums in Iran. This is the third letter sent to the clerical regime on the basis of the promise made by Hassan Rouhani on lifting the ban on female fans to attend matches in stadiums.

Last March, during his meeting with Rouhani, Giovanni Vincenzo (Gianni) Infantino, President of FIFA called for a solution to the problem of women entering sports stadiums and watching matches. The meeting was attended by the Minister of Sports and Youth, Massoud Soltanifar as well as Mehdi Taj, the President of FFIRI.

Infantino said at the time that Rouhani had promised that women in Iran will have access to football stadiums soon and there were plans to allow women attend football matches in the country, soon.

Eight months after FIFA President’s visit to Tehran and sending two letters to the Football Federation in Iran to follow up on the fixing of infrastructural problems to allow women entering sports stadiums, this issue has not yet been resolved, and the third letter was sent to the Football Federation several days ago.

The FIFA President had also recently written in a letter to the Iranian Football Federation that if the problem of broadcasting the women's tournaments in Iran were not resolved, he would not travel to Iran any more. (The state-run Fars News Agency - October 1, 2018)

After a meeting with the Minister of Sports on May 7, 2018, Ahad Azadikhah, a member of the parliamentary Sports Commission, had stated that the problem of women entering indoor sports arenas during matches such as volleyball, basketball and athletics have been resolved. However, on the eve of Iran’s hosting of the volleyball league, it became apparent that the ban was still in place.

Preventing women’s entry to sports stadiums and volleyball matches has been formally imposed by law enforcement officers since 2013, and since then, this problem has never been resolved for football stadiums and even women's sports venues.

A number of government officials and religious scholars, including Makarem Shirazi and Nouri Hamedani, have emphasized on the ban on women’s entry into sports stadiums in Iran.




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