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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 5 Nov 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Fears of Afghan Woman Who Secretly Filmed Taliban on Bus

New Age Islam News Bureau

5 Nov 2015

ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES: A woman protests Hijab law on Hijab and Chastity National Day in Mashhad, Iran on July 12, 2014


 Fears of Afghan Woman Who Secretly Filmed Taliban on Bus

 Saudi Woman Elected As UN Urbanization Adviser

 Judge Rules for Female Limo Drivers in Saudi Prince Lawsuit

 In Saudi Arabia, Women’s Fitness Boom Defies Norms

 Here's How Iranian Women Are Protesting Forced Hijab

 Afghan Woman Who Ran Secret Schools Wins Prize

 Muslim Women Group Dares Modi Govt to Release Draft of Uniform Civil Code

 Fitness Brand Tima Empowers Sporty Saudi Women

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau




Fears of Afghan Woman Who Secretly Filmed Taliban on Bus

November 5, 2015

KABUL: Halfway through the journey home to Kabul, a Taliban militant stopped Fatima's bus, boarded, and began making a speech so extraordinary that the 23-year-old began to surreptitiously film it on her phone.

The footage, partially obscured by Fatima's fingers as she tried to hide what she was doing, offers rare insight into what appears to be a "charm offensive" by the insurgents as they attempt to shed their brutal image in the minds of ordinary Afghans.

It shows the thickly bearded and turbaned militant speaking gently in a mix of Dari and Pashto, Afghanistan's two national languages.

"Peace be upon you, I hope you aren't too tired, welcome," he begins, exchanging a few words with passengers before requesting any government employees — taken to mean officials as well as soldiers — to "please resign" from their posts.

"Do not be worried," he tells the group, before adding: "Some people say the Taliban are cannibals, I am a Taliban, but not a cannibal. But I would eat the heads of the Americans."

Video of the incident, which took place in late October at a Taliban checkpost in Baghlan province as Fatima travelled home from the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, went viral after she posted it on her Facebook page.

"I was very anxious," recalls Fatima, who declined to give her last name.

Now a psychologist, she grew up as a refugee in Iran in the late 1990s during the Taliban's brutal reign in Afghanistan.

"My perception about the Taliban was formed by their actions, like the suicide attacks they carry out in Afghanistan," which kill many civilians, she says.

Once safely in Kabul, she showed the video to friends who found it "very interesting." After three days, she uploaded it to her Facebook page, with most commenter's telling her things like "you are a brave girl", she said.

The Taliban, meanwhile, do not seem to have taken notice of the attention the video is attracting — a relief for the young woman, who, despite the militant's gentle speech, does not believe the group have changed their violent methods.

Fatima's scepticism was solidified following the insurgents' brief capture of northern Kunduz city in late September, where they set fire to a refuge for women and, according to residents, sacked a girls' school and vandalised the offices of a women's rights agency.

Read: 'Northern Afghan city of Kunduz collapses into hands of Taliban'

"If the Taliban come back... based on what happened in Kunduz, I would be very scared," she said.

'Gap between words and actions'

Female, young, educated, and a member of a minority Shia sub-sect, Fatima is everything the Sunni Taliban have traditionally hated.

During their five-year hold on power, which was ended in 2001 by a United States (US)-led invasion, they were widely condemned for their treatment of women.

"We were not allowed to go out without a male companion. We could not go to school," recounts Hasina Safi, director of the Afghan Women's Network.

She is far from convinced by the video — or by the rhetoric of new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who in September described modern education as a "necessity."

"There is a huge gap between words and actions," she said, citing the recent alleged violence in Kunduz.

Beyond Mansour's speech, the Taliban ordered fighters to help victims and provide aid to charities after last month's 7.5 magnitude earthquake in the country's north that left thousands homeless.

They also denied claims of atrocities in Kunduz, and used their official Twitter account to blast the US for its bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital which left 30 people dead, contrasting the attack with their own "protection" of aid workers.

Fatima says she does not believe the Taliban can overthrow the government by force, so they "want to win the hearts of civilians and prove that if they were in power, they would govern better" than President Ashraf Ghani.

She is now considering leaving Afghanistan — even though the Taliban appear to be uninterested in what she has done.

Many people tell her that "staying puts us all in danger, my family and me," she sighs.



Saudi Woman Elected As UN Urbanization Adviser

5 November 2015

JEDDAH: A Saudi woman has been elected onto the United Nations Habitat Youth Advisory Board for two years as an adviser on the Future Saudi Cities Program.

Lama Al-Ghalib Alsharif is the only representative from the Gulf on the board, according to a press release issued recently by Dar Al-Hekma University, the institution where she graduated a few years ago.

Alsharif is one of 16 young people voted onto the advisory board from the 600 who applied worldwide. Suhair Hassan Al-Qurashi, the president of Dar Al-Hekma University, praised Alsharif and said the institution was proud to have helped her develop skills needed for the “real world.”

Alsharif is the founder and manager of Shababuna Consultancy Firm and Awareness Program and Forum, which focuses on youth empowerment, and has been involved in volunteer projects since she was 11.

At 17, she was selected as Saudi Arabia’s youth representative to the Two Kingdoms Conference in London. She has also participated in the 63rd UN General Assembly Conference in New York, was part of the World Economic Forum in Jordan, and joined the Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue Center in Austria.

Alsharif graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems from Dar Al-Hekma University and earned a diploma in international relations and diplomacy from Tufts University. She has recently completed her Masters in International Relations at Dar Al-Hekma University.

Alsharif is a published poet. Her first volume of poetry was published in 2006, and her second volume “Swimming in the Desert — the Uncensored Poetry of a Saudi Social Activist” has been published by a United Kingdom publisher.

Alsharif started her work as an adviser on Oct. 1 this year. This is not a fulltime job. Each representative works from his or her own country sharing input and case studies on social media platforms and through meetings organized through the body’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Being elected as an adviser was a competitive process over six months. Each applicant had to nominate themselves. In August UN Habitat announced the shortlisted 60 candidates, and then left the matter open to an online voting system that closed on Aug. 31.



Judge Rules for Female Limo Drivers in Saudi Prince Lawsuit

NOVEMBER 4, 2015

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that three Rochester women were sexually discriminated against when they were dismissed from their chauffeur jobs after a Saudi prince demanded only male drivers.

The women, Gretchen Cooper, 40, Barbara Herold, 68, and Lisa Boutelle, 53, were among 40 drivers hired in October 2010 to escort Prince Abdul-Rahman bin Abdul-Aziz and a large group of family members and friends while the prince was in town for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic, their suit says.

The women say they were immediately let go when the prince and his entourage told the U.S.-based companies that hired them that he wanted only male limousine operators.

They filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 in Minneapolis, alleging sex discrimination by the prince. The suit also named as defendants Mohamed Ali Elbashir, who does business in Rochester as Crown Prince Limousine, Premier Crescent Services of Rochester and Highland International Transportation Services of New York. The latter two firms allegedly hired drivers for the prince.

The women settled with Premier and Highland in March.

Cooper had previously driven a Saudi princess and made good money, so she was excited to pick up the prince at the airport two years later for what was supposed to be a monthlong job, she told the Star Tribune in 2012.

But when she arrived at the Kahler Hotel the next morning to resume driving, the suit says, Cooper was told by Elbashir to clear her things out of the limo. A representative from Premier Crescent Services told her the prince did not want female drivers.

The suit says Boutelle and Herold were told the same thing. “They said their hands were tied, and not to take it personally,” Cooper said.

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, according to the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch.

U.S. District Judge Joan N. Eriksen granted a default judgment after the prince and Elbashir failed to respond. Upon default, factual allegations of a complaint are taken as true. Eriksen ruled the evidence sufficient to support a cause of action for sex discrimination.



In Saudi Arabia, Women’s Fitness Boom Defies Norms

Nov. 05, 2015

RIYADH: With blacked-out windows and a tiny sign, NuYu fitness center in Riyadh looks abandoned from the road. But inside it’s bustling, with Saudi women stripping off black abayas to reveal colorful athletic gear and pedaling furiously in a burlesque-themed spinning studio.Founded by a daughter of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, the gym exemplifies the tensions inherent in women’s fitness in the Arab world’s biggest economy and birthplace of Islam. The growing number of women-only gyms in the kingdom is reporting a booming business, part of a gradual opening of women’s lives as they enter the workforce in greater numbers and are exposed to other cultures through social media and travel.

At the same time, the gyms struggle with licensing and must tiptoe around religious conservatives.

Since opening in 2012, NuYu has spread to three locations with almost 4,000 members and can’t keep up with demand, chief executive Susan Turner said. International chains Gold’s Gym and Curves both have branches for women in the country, and Saudi fitness guru Fatima Batook plans to open 20 women’s spinning studios over the next five years.

“There is a huge market,” said Batook, who also created a line of women’s sportswear, TIMA. “We still need more and more.”

In Saudi Arabia, religious police enforce gender segregation, female unemployment stands at 32.8 percent and there are few social activities outside the family.

A 2013 survey found that three quarters of Saudi women pursued little or no physical activity and a third were obese.

Batook used to be overweight herself. She began exercising and trained as a spinning instructor as part of a “personal transformation,” she said. The idea of a Saudi female trainer was so new that students would approach her speaking English, assuming she was a foreigner.

Women’s fitness is still viewed warily by the kingdom’s religious conservatives. Sheikh Abdullah al-Manea, a member of Saudi Arabia’s Council of Senior Scholars, told online newspaper Sabq in 2011 that practicing sports endangered women’s honor. Last year, when the Shura Council, an advisory body, supported the introduction of sports to public schools for girls, religious vigilantes demonstrated against the proposal.

“Some people very much still see it as the forbidden, so we’re very careful with how we market, how we put ourselves out there,” said Turner, a British woman who came to the kingdom to help set up NuYu. The gym stops music during prayer times, while the covered windows and a sign warning men away give women the privacy to shed their headscarves. “Where we can be respectful we are, but there are always going to be people that might disagree,” Turner said.

With limited encouragement from the government, attitudes are shifting. The Health Ministry runs a national campaign to raise awareness of healthy food and exercise. In 2012, Saudi Arabia for the first time sent two female athletes to the Olympic games, held in London.

While it’s easy to find a women’s gym in Riyadh today, many operate in legal limbo. The lack of a specific license for female fitness centers is a challenge, gym owners said. NuYu, founded by Princess Sara bint Mohammed al-Saud, is licensed as a women’s center.

“There is not a regulatory body for women’s fitness yet,” Turner said. Batook said she is working with the General Presidency of Youth Welfare, which licenses men’s gyms, to develop guidelines for women’s fitness centers.

Some gyms that operate as spas or salons risk running afoul of authorities who previously shut down women’s fitness centres for operating without licenses. But with demand growing, businesses feel safe enough to invest in expansion. Turner said NuYu has “huge growth plans.”

“It’s a challenging environment to have a business,” she said. “But I think from a reward perspective it’s a big boost because you can make a massive difference here.”

Fitness centres are increasingly popular in Saudi Arabia partly because they provide a social outlet, said John Hooke – Tappin, event director for this month’s International Sport and Fitness Exhibition in Jeddah. The exhibition has set aside an area exclusively for women this year.

“To be honest, there isn’t much to do here in Riyadh for females,” said Aljohara al-Modaimigh, who opened Kore, a women’s gym in the capital, with two sisters and two cousins. “A lot of us studied abroad. You come back and you kind of try to bring the lifestyle with you.”

As in the West, many fitness centres seem more like clubs than gyms, with cafes alongside the treadmills. Riyadh’s Spectrum Wellness for Women, with a spa downstairs and a gym upstairs, charges 2,700 riyals ($720) for a three-month membership.

The price excludes low-income Saudis. Because exercising outside is taboo for women except in restricted areas such as Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter, those who cannot afford to join a gym have few options for physical activity.

But even walking is more common than it used to be, said May al-Fadda, a Saudi woman who joined a gym for the first time last month. Wiping off sweat after a workout, Fadda, 30, said she came to NuYu after hearing about it from her sister.

Awareness is spreading, with more Saudi women paying attention to weight loss and fitness, she said.

“People are caring about healthy food, the gym,” she said.

“I’m an example.”



Here's How Iranian Women Are Protesting Forced Hijab


Fixers are a series from What's Working that profiles the people behind the most creative solutions to big problems.

In Iran, the media widely reports that journalist Masih Alinejad was once raped under the influence of mind-altering drugs in London. This is entirely false. But it is part of the vicious smear campaign in her home country that prevents her from returning there anytime soon. Despite this, she has managed to become one of Iran’s leading women’s rights activists thanks to her deft hand with social media.

Through her Facebook community, My Stealthy Freedom, Alinejad has been encouraging Iranian women to post photos of themselves without the mandatory hijab, or veil, to protest the restrictive policies of the Islamic government. Since she started the page in May 2014, it has garnered over 897,000 likes.

She's been admiringly profiled in Vogue and fêted by the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. But at the same time, she's been slandered by Iranian domestic media, leaving her in the unique bind of being a powerful voice for Iranian women while being unable to set foot on Iranian soil.

Alinejad grew up in Iran -- not in Tehran, but in a small village called Ghomikola, she is quick to point out -- and was forced to wear a veil from the day of her birth. She was imprisoned at 19 for student activism protesting the regime's human rights record, was released early to give birth to her son, and moved to the U.K. in 2009 to study journalism at Oxford Brookes University.

She now lives in Brooklyn and works at Voice of America, the official broadcast institution of the U.S. government, alongside Iranian-American satirist and journalist Saman Arbabi. Arbabi, dubbed the "Jon Stewart of Iran" because of his hit satirical news show "Parazit," is helping Alinejad create a 15-minute weekly video series called "Tablet" based on the My Stealthy Freedom community.

Alinejad and Arbabi have an easy rapport, and when she gets excited, she sometimes runs rapid Farsi phrases by him for translation. They met in 2009 in London, when she was a guest on his radio show. Alinejad had taken to wearing hats around town, recalls Arbabi, because she was transitioning out of the Hijab yet still uncomfortable with a fully bare head. "My body was there, but my soul was still in Iran," said Alinejad, who is diminutive and has a prodigious head of curls.

While still an Oxford Brookes student, Alinejad had organized a social media campaign for the Iranian student activist Majid Tavakoli. In 2009, Tavakoli was arrested for protesting, and Iranian authorities forced him to wear female dress, including hijab, in an attempt to humiliate him. Alinejad organized a social media protest called "men wearing hijabs" in solidarity with Tavakoli, by writing a call to action that was taken up by several young activists in Iran. In a subversive (and prescient) twist, Alinejad also suggested that men's discomfort with the hijab underscored how unfair it was to force women to wear it.

A state media image depits Majid Tavakoli, the student activist arrested in Iran, wearing a chador and headscarf.

That viral protest, along with Iran's "green movement" protesting then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, helped Alinejad realized the power of social media. Its revelation, for Alinejad, is that one doesn't need to be a celebrity to effect change. Alinejad is reticent to self-promote ("I don't even like selfies") and even says she doesn't "want to change the world" so much as the lives of the women affected by her very specific cause.

In addition to her original project to show women sans hijab, Alinejad sometimes takes up the mantle of other civil rights issues through canny hashtags like #LetsKissInIran, which protests the fact that kissing members of the opposite sex on the cheek is punishable by 99 lashes. Or #ItsMensTurn, her attempt to incorporate Iranian men into the struggle for women's rights.

These days, Alinejad and Arbabi, along with their producer, spend long days ensconced in a federal building in downtown Manhattan working on the "Tablet" video series. Since neither of them is allowed to be in Iran or even hire crew in Iran, they rely on the women profiled in each episode to film themselves and send them footage. Several volunteers both in Iran and the U.S. help them with post-production and translation, and the episodes are posted to Facebook.

Each week, the show profiles an Iranian woman dealing with the struggles of everyday life in Iran. Alinejad sends them a list of questions, and sometimes coaches her subjects remotely on how to be more telegenic.

Another recurring segment addresses Iranians' civil rights, like a recent spot explaining women’s rights inside Iran based on the Islamic Republic’s constitution.

The Huffington Post caught up with Alinejad in her office after hours to discuss what the word "stealthy" means to Iranian women, why people underestimate the power of compulsory hijab, and what Western politicians can do for Iranian civil rights.

Is it dangerous for any of these women to put their photo on this site?

For these women, even without sending their pictures, they are already in danger. Being a woman is itself dangerous in Iran. Because you cannot sing, you cannot even travel without getting permission from your husband.

So what I want to say through "Tablet" and My Stealthy Freedom is, don’t victimize these women. Although they are like hostages in the hands of men and the laws inside Iran, they are strong, and they’re fighting for their rights and they’re really successful.

These women don’t want to keep silent when they’re forced to wear hijab.They want to speak out, and they need a platform. And thanks to social media, My Stealthy Freedom has the opportunity to be their voice. So all these women know about the risk of what they have been doing. But living like a hostage is more dangerous.

According to Iranian police, there are 3.6 million women who were warned just for not wearing a "proper" Islamic hijab. In one year, 18,000 of these women were sent to the court for this. Those 18,000 women were not the ones who sent the pictures to me. So without sending me pictures, they were already in danger. So when I ask the women who submit photos several times, "Are you sure you want to publish your picture," they say, "Yes, absolutely, because this is the only way that we can protest against compulsory hijab."

How has being featured on My Stealthy Freedom changed the lives of Iranian women on the ground? 

One of my favourite examples is Mohabbhat, a disabled Iranian woman whom we profiled on "Tablet" last month. She originally sent a photo to MSF saying, "Not only do I have to deal with these obstacles with my wheelchair every day, but I also have to worry about my head scarf." So I asked her if she wants to tell her story on video, and she filmed herself going around her city, Isfahan, in a wheelchair, and showed how inaccessible it was. And after the video aired, it had a tremendous response.

Her name, Mohabbhat, means "kindness" in Farsi, and she told us, "I lost touch with kindness both with myself and with society, and after this video, I even meet people in the street how offer me help and rides and kind words."

Being on film was like putting a mirror to her, saying don’t worry about what other people think. It reinforced that she’s a great person, and that she’s talented, and now she is even going to have an art exhibit!

So the audience for My Stealthy Freedom is active, and can enact real-life changes for these women?

Yes, definitely. Just as another example, Masoumeh Atai was another woman we profiled on "Tablet," and she had acid thrown on her face by her father-in-law during a divorce battle. Since we aired the story, the support for her has been overwhelming, and she managed to win custody of her child, which is very difficult to get in Iran.

Are the women who submit photos supported at all by their families? Or are really they putting themselves out there in every way?

In a lot of cases, they are not initially supported, but their loved ones come around. One time I posted a woman's photo, and I got a text from an Iranian man saying, "She is my wife and you're not allowed to publish her picture." And I was really scared, so I deleted it. Then she found out that I deleted the picture and emailed me, and I told her that her husband forbade me from publishing her photo. And she replied, "So you're fighting for women’s rights, but you're not even giving me a chance to fight for my right inside my house? You listen to my husband and you deleted my picture?"

So I put it back up, very reluctantly. Recently, about six months later, I got a video submission of a schoolgirl showing how restrictive her chador [full body garment] was, and I heard a man's voice behind the camera. And that, I found out, was the husband from the earlier story! So he went from condemning his wife's action to supporting his wife and daughter in their fight against hijab. And I was very pleased.

So it is a question of change within households as much as it is a civil rights issue.

Right. What we do on the show is not necessarily anti-government or anti-religion or anything like that. It’s a social issue, and a lot of the problems in Iran have nothing to do with the government. It’s within the society. It’s what happens with the husbands and the brothers control everything at home.

Why is the compulsory hijab so central to human rights in Iran? And what do you say to people who suggest it's more of a secondary issue in the grand scheme of things?

Certainly people try to dismiss it by saying that Iran has many, many other problems, and this is just a little piece of cloth – but it’s not. To the government it’s very important. It’s the backbone of this government. Because if you go to Iran, how can you understand that this is the Islamic Republic of Iran? Through women, through their veils.

If you had heard [the late] Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches or the [current] Ayatollah Khameini today, you would know that it’s definitely the number two most important cultural issue to them, after like, "the West."

Iran's Cultural Minister Ali Jannati essentially said in a recent speech, "Be careful, the West just asked us for a nuclear deal, and the second step might be equality for women!" That's the prominence of this issue for them.

So what we are fighting is not just hijab. Hijab is just the first step towards full equality, and that’s why they don’t want to give us this first right. From the age of seven [when girls begin primary school], they force you to be someone else. And when they take your true identity away from you, how you can control what’s going on inside your head? When you don't control your head, you don't control anything.

When you don't control your own head, you don't control anything.

Masih Alinejad

It seems like both you and the government are keenly sensitive to the power of language. Has My Stealthy Freedom impacted the official rhetoric around hijab at all?

Yes, I think so. Ever since the 1979 revolution, whenever the government discussed hijab they called it an "order from God." But in recent years, whenever they have conferences inside Iran, they refer to it as the issue of the “compulsory hijab.” And I think My Stealthy Freedom changed their terminology, in that they changed their tune from divine law to acknowledging that this is an artificial ruling.

Before My Stealthy Freedom, there were a lot of women activists trying to talk about hijab. But now the whole society is talking about it.

What exactly do you mean by the word "stealthy" in your project's name? What is the Farsi word that it approximates?

Which isn't to say it doesn't happen. We are just stealthy about it. Whatever you want Iranians not to do, just tell them not to do it.

How has the civil rights situation changed since [relative moderate] Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013?

Nothing has changed about women’s rights. Nothing has changed about human rights. Actually, the number of executions is even higher. The main focus with Rouhani is the nuclear issue. He is there to deal with the West, not with his own people. I would argue that it’s even gotten worse for human rights, because the people have taken their foot off the gas, so to speak, because of the Iran deal issue. Since Rouhani lifted sanctions a little, the people who were once unhappy with the government don’t speak up anymore, because they think the little that’s been given to them will be taken away.

You have spoken before on how you think foreign female politicians should protest Iran's policies.

Yes. Iran is the only country that requires all women, even visiting women, to wear the hijab. Even Saudi Arabia doesn't do that. So I think when foreign dignitaries visit Iran, they should refuse the hijab. When foreigners are silent, our government becomes more powerful. I think many are too scared of political correctness to do this, but I think it's absolutely necessary.

When foreigners are silent, our government becomes more powerful.

Masih Alinejad

Have you received support or submissions from other Islamic countries in the Middle East?

Yes, we've received support from Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. One woman submitted a photo from Saudi Arabia, but then decided it was too risky and retracted it. Iraq: No, nothing. One of our "Tablet" mini-documentaries is about two sisters from Afghanistan. They’re Afghan refugees, aged 19 and 22, who lived in Iran, had very religious parents, just decided to escape to Turkey. They said that they never had a chance to dance, that it was a crime for them, so that’s why they dance on Facebook and film themselves dancing and even singing. They do everything in Facebook. Their real life now is on Facebook.

That's such an interesting way to phrase that. How do you think people in repressed societies use Facebook and social media differently?

The unique and kind of crazy situation in Iran is that this regime is not operating like North Korea, without Internet. So even if its citizens can't travel out of the country, when they're connected to the outside world online, it’s easy to realize how ridiculous the government is. People in "underground" Iran live a normal life, and it’s the surface that’s just a totally unnatural, fake façade.

Facebook is our weapon. Between [Arbabi and myself], we have a reach of almost 2 million on Facebook. And I think the next revolution in Iran is going to be the woman revolution. That’s why the government is really scared of us, really just the Facebook page. They’ve got weapons, they’ve got prisons, they’ve got money, they’ve got everything. We’ve got only Facebook. And that still scares them. Why? Because they don’t want women to be empowered. They don’t want women to be that loud.



Afghan Woman, Sakeena Yacoobi, Who Ran Secret Schools Wins Prize

November 05, 2015

LONDON - An Afghan woman, who supported underground schools at a time when the Taliban banned education for girls, was awarded the fifth annual WISE prize on Wednesday for taking education to marginalised communities.

Sakeena Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in 1995, providing schooling and healthcare in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan as well as setting up the secret home schools, which closed down when Taliban rule ended in 2001.

Since then the charity has expanded its work, helping 12 million people, many of them girls, in rural and marginalised parts of Afghanistan, according to the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE).

“It is particularly meaningful because this is such a crucial time in Afghanistan,” said Yacoobi, accepting the prize in Doha, Qatar.

“I dedicate the prize to the AIL and all of the women, men and children we are educating.”

The Taliban have launched sustained attacks since the withdrawal of most foreign troops late last year, straining the limited resources of Afghan forces.

Many districts across the country are now fully or partly under Taliban control.

The $500,000 education prize awarded by WISE, set up by the Qatar Foundation, recognises individuals or teams who successfully address global educational challenges that can bring real change to communities.

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama also spoke at the conference.

“With this prize, we know that we can continue to educate more and more Afghans, giving them hope and encouraging them to go forward no matter what they are facing,” said Yacoobi.

She has also opened private schools under her own name, set up a radio station, and plans to establish a university for women as well as a television network.

Last year the prize was won by Ann Cotton, a British entrepreneur who set up Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, which has helped educate more than one million girls in Africa.

Other past winners include Vicky Colbert, a Colombian, Madhav Chavan, an Indian, and Fazle Hasan Abed, from Bangladesh.

Afghanistan orders probe after young girl stoned to death: Afghanistan’s president Wednesday ordered a probe into the fatal stoning of a young woman in a Taliban-controlled area after she was accused of adultery, a savage punishment that sparked nationwide outrage.

The woman, identified as Rokhsana and believed to be aged between 19 and 21, had been forced to marry and was accused of adultery after she tried eloping with another man, officials said.

“President Ashraf Ghani calls the stoning of a girl in Ghor province extra-judicial, un-Islamic and criminal, condemning it in the strongest terms,” a statement from his office said.

“The president assigns a delegation to seriously investigate this incident.

” Rokhsana was placed in a hole in the ground as turbaned men gathered around and hurled stones at her with chilling nonchalance, footage released by broadcaster Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty showed.

The woman was heard repeating the shahada, or Muslim profession of faith, her voice growing increasingly high-pitched as stones struck her with sickening thuds.

The chilling footage went viral on social media, sparking strong public criticism.

Afghan officials said that the killing took place about a week ago in a Taliban-controlled area just outside Firozkoh, the capital of Ghor.

Rokhshana was stoned by a gathering of “Taliban, local religious leaders and armed warlords”, Ghor’s Governor Seema Joyenda told AFP.

The man she was eloping with was let off with a lashing, her office said.

The brutal punishment meted out to Rokhshana highlighted the endemic violence against women in Afghan society, despite reforms since the hardline Taliban regime fell in 2001.

In March a woman named Farkhunda was savagely beaten and set ablaze in central Kabul after being falsely accused of burning a Koran.

The mob killing triggered protests around the country and drew global attention to the treatment of Afghan women.

Public lashings and executions were common under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, when a strict interpretation of Sharia law was enforced, but such incidents have been less common in recent years.



Muslim Women Group Dares Modi Govt to Release Draft of Uniform Civil Code

November 5, 2015

Mumbai: In the midst of a raging debate in favour of and opposed to the Uniform Civil Code, an influential group of Muslim women with members having grassroots support Wednesday challenged the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi to come out with a draft of the proposed law it intends to impose in the country.

"If the government's intention is not to gain political mileage out of it, and if it really wants to end the debate over the Uniform Civil Code which has already become murkier, it should without further delay release the draft of the proposed law", Zakia Soman, Founder-President of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan (BMAA), said while talking to

"The country is waiting to see how does the government want to tackle the varying traditions of different colors and customs practiced in the length and breadth of the country", she added.

Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan (BMAA) is since last few years actively working for the social empowerment of Muslim women. The NGO having members in almost every part of the country is also working on reforms in the Muslim Personal Law and codification of Muslim family law.

"Forget Muslims, there opposition to the Uniform Civil Code is known. But, are you prepared to challenge the marriages taking place between real brothers and sisters and practiced in some parts of the country?

"Have you guts to challenge the people who marry and share as wife a single woman with two, three and four brothers as can be seen in other part of the country?" she asked.

She also reminded the government that that national integration cannot be achieved by a common family law but by treating all citizens equally.

Agreeing to the questions posed by Zakia Soman, Dr. Abdul Shaban, renowned social scientist and Deputy Director at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), wondered what kind of national integration and unity we will achieve by marrying and divorcing in the same way.

"It will be interesting to see how this uniformity will be reinforced and with what consequences", he said.

Stating that the agenda of the Uniform Civil Code seems to be driven more by an agenda of demoralising minorities, Dr Shaban said, "Marriage rituals in Hindus are more diverse than in Muslims, and therefore it is going to be more opposed by Hindus themselves than Muslims or any other religious groups including other minorities.

"The tribal marriage rituals also differ as per tribes and regions in the country. How their customs will be harmonised with the agenda of those preaching uniformity?" he asked.

Raising doubts over the viability of a Uniform Civil Code that equitably manages personal relations like adoption, marriage, divorce and inheritance, Maja Daruwala, Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi, said, "Ideally, a new code should be guided by the need to ensure gender equity and destroy all elements of gender discrimination that plague us today.

"But too often the debate cannot get past loudly shouted morality. But whose morality shall we use?" she asked in one of her recent article.

"Shall we go for the living societal customs and practices of the Hindus or of the Muslims or the variations among the Buddhists or the Jains, or Sikhs, Parsis or Christians? Is there uniformity within religions that law makers can rely on?

"Are tribal customs more sensible than all of these? Will they ever be countenanced let alone be influential in the mix?" she asked.

"Then there is the issue of the elements of the Uniform Civil Code. Which elements do you take? For instance, is marriage to be treated as a contract as it is amongst the Muslims or as a sacrament?

"The former is seemingly the more modern idea but the notion of marriage as a sacrament is deeply ensconced amongst other social groups.

"There is also the whole issue about equity between the sexes. Can it be solved by forcing everyone to have only one wife or husband at one time or do we solve it by allowing everyone – man or woman – to have any number at one time?

"While one idea may sound more acceptable and the other outlandish there is no reasonable basis for deciding that one at a time has more merit than many at the same time, except personal opinion, which in itself is based on one’s own upbringing and not on any objective truth", she said.



Fitness Brand Tima Empowers Sporty Saudi Women

November 5, 2015

Fatima Batook is living proof that a ground-breaking business can begin with a ‘random idea’.

Personal trainer Fatima, whose mother is from Tibet and father is from Saudi Arabia, is bringing her women’s sports apparel company Tima, to MEFIT 2015 fitness festival, taking place at Dubai Autodrome between November 5-7.

On November 6 at 10am, and November 7 at 11am, Tima’s brand ambassador, Jennifer Chalouhi, will offer free fitness classes to visitors.

Fatima, 31, will also be selling her fitness clothing range (priced between Dh150-Dh350), which came into existence just three years ago, when Fatima and a friend witnessed a ‘negative social media frenzy’ surrounding women and fitness in Saudi.

“[My friend] came to me and said, ‘Listen, the solution would be that you have t-shirts that have Tima on them, and take it all across Saudi, and tell them that yes, women do work out, and there are women trainers in Saudi,” she said.

“My sole mission is to reach out to women in Saudi, specifically. To reach out to them to move and exercise, because exercise isn’t part of their lifestyle at all, and obesity is higher in women than in men in Saudi because of the lifestyle and the constraints that we have. We can’t do anything outdoors because of the regulations of wearing the abaya, the cape and the veil and all that.”

And so, a company was born. By September of that year, Fatima had formed her company Tima, a short form of her first name. She ran it out of an office in Khobbar, a large city in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. She came from a corporate marketing and business background — her family owns a chewing gum manufacturer, among other businesses — and so fashion was a whole new ballgame to her. Until then, fitness was also just a hobby, though she’s a certified instructor and trainer across several different disciplines, including TRX, YogaFit, kickboxing and piloxing, a cross between pilates and boxing.

“I had to do my research. I didn’t know where to start. In the Middle East, we don’t have manufacturing for fitness apparel at all,” she said.

Fatima flew around the world in search of the perfect team and suppliers. She looked in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Australia, but finally found a trainer in America, who was a recent Muslim convert, that led her to a Brazilian designer in Los Angeles, who ultimately introduced her to a Brazilian factory-owner, whose passion for supporting women lined up perfectly with Fatima’s.

“Tima is all about empowering women, and showing them that they can love themselves and find themselves and achieve everything they put their mind to, regardless of the constraints we face,” said Fatima.

“I fell in love with the owner of the factory. She had women who are from broken homes, or divorcees, or widows, and she taught them trades of stitching, seamstressing and styling. She gave them this job and they all work for her in her factory. I fell in love with that — she had a bigger purpose than just making clothes.”

The fabrics were more expensive than those she find elsewhere, but she said the difference was worth it for the quality.

“It’s just so soft, but at the same time so conforming. You have to try it to really understand. You don’t feel like something is suffocating you, or that it’s so hard to move in it because it’s so tight, but at the same time, it really holds everything in place,” she said.

It can also can expand to about 40 per cent. One of her brand ambassadors, Eva Dvorackova, was able to continue wearing her workout clothes even when pregnant with twins. Additionally, Fatima says, it requires no special treatment when it comes to washing and drying, and retains its signature bright colours ‘forever’.

Because the brand was created primarily for the Saudi market — it’s currently being sold out of SportsOne and Youth Sports Store — the vision for it didn’t include a more conservative ‘hijabi’ range.

“Saudi women, when they train, they’re always training in women-only facilities. So it doesn’t really make sense for them to be wearing something for hijabis — actually, they want to be free and wear something that they can’t wear anywhere else,” she said.

“But this is something that we’re looking at, because we’ve had so many requests from Kuwait, Bahrain and also here in the UAE, where local women do train outdoors and they would like to have those items,” she said.

Her range is currently available online through her website,, and through the occasional pop-up store in Dubai. She’s in talks to bring it into SportsOne stores in the UAE.

*Tickets to MEFIT2015 start at Dh495 per day, through