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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 23 May 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Focusing on a Woman’s Disobedience to Husband Wrong Way to Read Quran

 New Age Islam News Bureau

23 May 2015

Dutch Cabinet Backs Partial Islamic Veil and Burqa Ban


 Saudi Women of the Desert Set Example of Determination and Will

 Dutch Cabinet Backs Partial Islamic Veil and Burqa Ban

 For Some Malay Muslim Women, Divorce Not the End of Marital Hell

 One Woman’s Crusade for U.K. Town’s Young Rape Victims

 Developing Kelantan More Central to Islam than Hudud, Women’s Group Tells PAS

 In Fuel-Starved Yemen, Women Turn To Bikes

 Turkish Women Speak With ‘Single Voice’

 Up To 5,000 Fistula Cases Surface In Pakistan Every Year

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Focusing On a Woman’s Disobedience to Husband Wrong Way to Read Quran

23 May, 2015

Beating women for being “disobedient” to their husbands is not allowed in Islam and the focus on female obedience is a misinterpretation of the Quran, Sisters in Islam (SIS) said today.

Head of the Muslim women’s rights group Ratna Osman said the literal interpretation of the Surah An-Nisa (verse 34) has been used to justify domestic violence in Muslim marriages; when in reality, the Quranic verse urged men to treat women fairly at a time when wife-beating was acceptable in patriarchal Arab society.

“The argument justifying beating women who are disobedient (nusyuz) is a gendered interpretation placing the burden of obedience only on women,” Ratna told Malay Mail Online in an email.

“‘Nusyuz’ is the act disruptive to marital harmony, [and] thus should not be restricted to women. The Quran places great importance on a state of harmony between husband and wife in a marriage and the responsibility to maintain this harmony [is] on both husband and wife.

Therefore, the justification to beat your wife on the grounds of disobedience is unacceptable because ‘nusyuz’ cannot mean obedience to a husband as usually assumed,” the SIS executive director added.

According to the activist, Surah An-Nisa (verse 34) states: “As for those whom you fear ‘nusyuz’, admonish them, then banish them to beds apart and strike them. But if they obey you, see not a way against them”.

She said the Quran acknowledges that husbands can cause disharmony in the family and be in “nusyuz” too, noting that wives will then have the right to initiate mediation.

Ratna was commenting on the controversy sparked by a man who slapped his female partner on the head several times at the Kota Kinabalu airport on Monday until she cried, which was witnessed by a filmmaker who posted the alleged assault on Facebook.

Beatrice Leong, whose complaint about how she was the only person who intervened in the alleged beating went viral, said yesterday that several Muslims told her that she did not understand the Quran, claiming the holy book allows a man to discipline his wife by beating her “lightly”.

Ratna stressed today that Islam does not allow any form of violence towards women, pointing out that Prophet Muhammad abhorred spousal abuse.

“An authentic Hadith quoted the Prophet as saying, ‘Could any of you beat your wife as he would a slave, and then lie with her in the evening?’” said the women’s rights activist. 

“The so-called method of how to handle a disobedient wife as revealed in the Quran came as a guidance to Muslims not to commit violence against their wives as they please. We are talking about a society that accepted beating wives as the right of husbands.

“Today such a practice must not be allowed as it goes against the principle of justice that the modern world has accepted. Muslims today cannot live under the standard of justice of medieval times,” Ratna added.



Saudi Women of the desert set example of determination and will

23 May, 2015

The difficult circumstances and hard life many Saudi women face in the desert have not stopped them from providing for their families. Al-Riyadh Arabic daily spoke to two women who have shown extreme resilience in the face of financial and personal loss and who used their own talents to provide for their families. The women, showing extraordinary perseverance, talked about their experiences of living far from the relative comfort of major cities and how they earn money to provide for their families.


Umm Saeed, who estimates her age to be around 52, lives 140 kilometers north of Najran in a small governorate called Thar. She got married at a very young age due to traditions and customs observed in her family. She had 15 children – eight sons and seven daughters – with her husband who died after suffering a brain stroke.

“My husband had a brain stroke that left him completely bedridden. Our life has changed ever since the day he suffered the stroke. We took several loans out and tried to treat him at different hospitals in Riyadh but to no avail. He eventually died after a long struggle with his medical condition,” Umm Saeed recalled.

The death of her husband had taken a big toll on her. Suddenly, she found herself alone to take care of her 15 children. She began learning how to make handicraft products including traditional utensils and used her talents to earn money. She also taught one of her sons how to drive a car so he could drive her around and take her to the nearest city to buy supplies for her handicraft business.

“I didn’t and still don’t need anyone. My children and I can take care of ourselves,” she said.

New challenge

Ever since her husband passed away, Umm Saeed has bravely faced any problems in her life. When two of her children had an accident that left them with permanent disabilities, she stood by them and helped them through the rehabilitation process. Later, she found suitable brides for them and both her sons now have children and live happily with their wives while Umm Saeed continues to meet her sons’ as well as her grandchildren’s needs.

‘The bakery saved us’

Another success story of a woman who has struggled and sacrificed her youth to see her children happy is of Halwa Al-Masni, who runs a small bakery with the help of her daughters.

“My husband is very old and my children are illiterate and unemployed due to problems with their National ID papers,” Al-Masni said. She came up with the idea of making and selling bread together with her daughters in order to earn enough money to get by.

“It is not an easy job to knead a large amount of dough every day and mix it with oil, eggs, milk, and vanilla then place it in a big tray? ?to carry it to the bakery shop. We make good money from selling bread and sometimes we prepare large amounts of bread for weddings and other events,” she said.



Dutch Cabinet Backs Partial Islamic Veil and Burqa Ban

23 May, 2015

The Dutch cabinet on Friday approved a partial ban on wearing the face-covering Islamic veil, including in schools, hospitals and on public transport.

"Face-covering clothing will in future not be accepted in education and healthcare institutions, government buildings and on public transport," the government said in a statement after the cabinet backed interior minister Ronald Plasterk's bill.

The ban does not apply to wearing the burqa on the street, but only "in specific situations where it is essential for people to be seen" or for security reasons Mark Rutte, the prime minister, told journalists after the cabinet meeting.

"The bill does not have any religious background," Mr Rutte said.

The government said it had "tried to find a balance between people's freedom to wear the clothes they want and the importance of mutual and recognisable communication".

A previous bill banning the burqa even on the street and dating from Mr Rutte's last government, which was supported by anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders, will be withdrawn.

The government said it "sees no reason for a general ban that would apply to all public places."

It was agreed that a new bill would be drawn up by the coalition partners of Mr Rutte's Liberal VVD party and the Labour PvdA when they formed their coalition in 2012.

Those flouting the ban can be fined up to 405 euros (around £290).

State broadcaster NOS said that between 100 and 500 women in the Netherlands wear the burqa, most of them only occasionally.



For Some Malay Muslim Women, Divorce Not the End of Marital Hell

23 May, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 ? Aida Melly Tan Mutalib spent eight years in an arranged marriage until, in 1996; she decided to divorce her abusive husband who had taken a second wife. She was then 29.

It took her nearly eight more years before she finally got her divorce? Years spent going in and out of courts due to the tortuous bureaucracy in the Shariah court, which women’s group said continues to be hostile towards Muslim women.

Aida Melly’s case has served as the watershed moment for the Muslim women’s rights movement, but almost 20 years on, single mothers and activists told Malay Mail Online little has changed with the Islamic legal system.

Stonewalled by Shariah courts

“I’ve experienced going in and out of courts a long time ago. Sometimes these court, whenever we came to the court, the judge was suddenly on leave.

“They should inform us before we come to the court. It’s a waste of time,” said an older single mother named Mariam Abdul in a recent interview.

Mariam, popularly known as Kak Yam, was instrumental in coordinating the formation of the first support groups for single mothers in every state back in the 1990s, through her role in charity group Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (Pertiwi).

Through almost two decades of aiding single mothers, Kak Yam said she had counselled many frustrated and furious Muslim women who were allegedly stonewalled by the Shariah courts in their divorce cases.

“It is very sad for them, the single mothers. We have stigma [against] single mothers; until now we have that stigma,” said Kak Yam, as she recalled the case of Aida Melly.

Kak Yam related an incident where Aida’s husband was already in the court’s canteen, but the court had cancelled the hearing because of his absence, and refused to call the husband over to the courtroom.

“For us single mothers, there were just too many forms to be filled. Even when we have submitted them, they would not be enough,” said single mother Latifah Ab Rahman, 55.

“Sometimes we have to open new files, it was very confusing … I had to skip work just to reopen my case, but when I arrived there, my files were already gone!”

Reform of Family Law

The case of Aida Melly eventually led to the formation of rights group Sisters In Islam (SIS), which until now is still pushing for the reform of Shariah laws involving women, especially the amended Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) Act 1984.

“[The Act] was very good, and it became a model Muslim family law,” SIS executive director Ratna Osman told Malay Mail Online.

However, Ratna said the law was then amended several times over the years, with the latest in 2006, and became increasingly regressive and biased against women.

“In classical jurisprudence, fasakh has always been the right of women according to the majority of scholars. But in 2005 it has been allowed for men in Malaysia,” said Ratna, referring to the process of seeking divorce.

There are three types of divorce is Islam: talaq, where a husband initiates a divorce with a proclamation; fasakh, where a wife seeks divorce by petitioning a court; and li’an, where a husband accuses the wife of adultery.

“The implication is that upon divorce, men do not need to give nafkah (alimony) to the wife … And the most dangerous, the wife may lose the chance of getting child custody,” Ratna said, referring to men opting for fasakh instead of talaq.

Among those at the forefront of the drive for reforms was the late Dr Nik Noriani Nik Badli Shah, an influential Islamic legal academic and SIS legal adviser, who had been elected into the Shariah Technical Committee to reform the Shariah legal system in 2005.

The proposed reform was accepted by the authorities, but in 2009 was pulled back just before it was due to be tabled in Parliament, allegedly because the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) did not first consult the Conference of Rulers.

That spelled the end of the reform proposal.

‘Money is number one’

The biggest challenge most Muslim women divorcees face involve money, especially with protracted legal case to demand the alimony that is obliged on the ex-husband, and to receive their share of matrimonial property.

“Too many of the single women we help work on a daily wage basis. For each day that they have to go to the court, they don’t have wage for that day. They are not paid for that day,” said Zainah Anwar, one of the founders of SIS.

Zainah said other costs borne by women seeking divorce include covering their transport and childcare for every court appearance.

SIS estimated that at least RM250 is needed just to file a case in court, and should the case gets heard, a Shariah lawyer would cost anywhere from RM5,000 to RM15,000 per case.

“For single mothers, our main problem is our economy. Money is number one. Anybody can shed tears. But when you have the money, you will no longer shed any tear,” said Latifah, who sought divorce when she was 36.

The mother of two from Muar, Johor said she was an unemployed housewife when she was divorced, and had opened a food stall with what little saving she had to keep feeding her children.

She is now an entrepreneur with two businesses to her name. “If my ex-husband gives any money now, I would not even want it,” she said, laughing.

To alleviate the financial burden of Muslim women seeking justice in the Shariah court, SIS launched this week a Legal Aid Fund named after the aforementioned Nik Noriani.

The fund is an extension of SIS’ Telenisa legal advisory service, which had handled 729 cases last year alone, of which 148 were on divorce.

The Dr Nik Noriani Legal Aid Fund has so far gathered nearly RM130,000 from the late academic’s personal estate and SIS’ previous collection, and is aiming to collect at least RM500,000.



One Woman’s Crusade for U.K. Town’s Young Rape Victims

23 May, 2015

ROTHERHAM, England— Jayne Senior worked for more than a decade to expose rampant child sexual abuse in this rusting steel town in South Yorkshire, but she met mostly indifference and scorn from authorities.

The youth-charity director amassed evidence that a network of paedophiles “groomed” nearly 2,000 girls in her hometown, creating emotional bonds with them before raping them. Police largely dismissed her reports. In 2011, town hall revoked her funding.

Things seemed to change last August, when an independent investigation confirmed the widespread sex abuse Ms. Senior identified, concluding that at least 1,400 girls in Rotherham had been sexually abused from 1997 through mid-2013, allegedly by a gang from the Pakistani community. The police commissioner, town-council leader and child-services head resigned. After its own probe, the U.K. government in February ordered outside administrators to take over the town’s management.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency is now examining the Rotherham cases. The national police-internal-affairs agency is investigating misconduct allegations against at least 42 officers who worked in Rotherham and the surrounding South Yorkshire police district. The NCA says it is determined to bring all offenders to justice. The police agency declines to comment on misconduct allegations.

Yet despite national attention on Rotherham, police have made only three arrests since last fall among the dozens of gang members identified as alleged perpetrators; the three haven’t been charged. Since Ms. Senior began reporting assaults in 1999, only five men have been convicted in cases she reported.

“Now everyone knows what is going on in Rotherham,” says Ms. Senior, publicly revealing her identity as the town’s abuse whistleblower for the first time, but “these men are still at large.”

Rotherham is the centrepiece of a British national soul-searching about how its society and institutions could allow such abuse to continue for years. Home Secretary Theresa May, the country’s top law-enforcement official, described child sex abuse as “woven, covertly, into British society.”

Multiple paedophilia scandals have emerged since the 2011 death of British television celebrity Jimmy Savile. He denied being a paedophile, but recent police investigations indicate he was a serial sex abuser.

British police, including Scotland Yard and the NCA, have at least 17 operations investigating historic allegations of sex abuse at children’s homes, hospitals and other institutions, up from two in 2011. The probes include politicians alleged to have participated in a 1980s pedophile ring and whether authorities helped cover up those allegations.

Since last summer, officials from two other British towns have announced that local authorities long ignored paedophile gangs similar to what Ms. Senior identified in Rotherham.

The Rotherham scandal stands out for the sheer number of victims, but it bears many hallmarks of other scandals: The abused were young, often from working classes; they faced contemptuous authorities who declined to pursue evidence and largely ignored advocates who defied a British deference toward the establishment.

The Rotherham inquiry published in August concluded that town leaders and police dismissed allegations of sex abuse in part because they deemed the girls to be willing participants, often calling them “slags,” slang for promiscuous women.

“Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers,” says the August study’s author, Alexis Jay, who interviewed more than 100 people and reviewed town documents and email. And police, she says, “dismissed the girls as unworthy of their protection.”

Her Jay Report paints a picture of an entrenched bureaucracy willfully turning a blind eye while snubbing an advocate they considered a gadfly. Some victims’ parents also allege police complicity in the abuse; among issues forwarded to the police-internal-affairs agency for review are possible links between individual officers and the alleged abusers, says a person familiar with the review.

The Jay Report noted perceptions that local police and town leaders hadn’t confronted the alleged perpetrators from the Pakistani community for fear of being branded racist. According to the report: “Several councillors interviewed believed that by opening up these issues they could be ‘giving oxygen’ to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion.” Still, Ms. Jay says the problem wasn’t that police were under pressure to be politically correct, but that police didn’t prioritize sex crimes for investigation.

The Pakistani community in Rotherham, around 3% of the population, has been established for decades as part of the steel workforce. Police say that by the early 2000s, an ethnic-Pakistani criminal gang had gained control of the region’s crack-cocaine trade.

Ms. Senior began documenting abuse in 1999, when, as a bored stay-at-home mother, she started a youth organization funded by a town grant. She named it “Risky Business,” after the Tom Cruise movie favoured by several girls she was mentoring.

‘Grooming’ for abuse

Many girls told her stories about British-Pakistani men befriending them after school in arcades, fast-food restaurants and parks. The men would pick them up in expensive cars, buy them gifts like cell phone cards and ply them with alcohol—and, they said, eventually rape and sometimes prostitute them.

The girls were describing what is often called “grooming,” the psychological process pedophiles use to establish a bond before assault. But when Ms. Senior attempted to report the allegations, she found police and town officials unreceptive.

Over the next years, the numbers of abuse cases she documented and reported rose to more than 100 a year. Until 2009, police didn’t forward to prosecutors any child-sex-abuse case to which Ms. Senior had alerted them, according to prosecution statistics.

In one case, when a 12-year-old girl reported being raped, Ms. Senior concluded a group of men was routinely abusing her and others. She reported the allegation to Rotherham’s child-protective services. The agency opened a file on the girl, but Ms. Senior says they didn’t protect her from further abuse. The agency didn’t respond to inquiries.

Around the same time, police questioned the girl after finding her drunk in a car with an adult, says a person who read the police file on her. The man had indecent photos of the girl, but the officer left them without taking action.

Several months later, police found her in a derelict house with a group of men and arrested her for being drunk and disorderly—but didn’t arrest the men—says this person. Police didn’t pursue a case against the girl. The girl became pregnant from one of her abusers, but police didn’t investigate because they judged the girl had consented to sex.

The U.K. age of consent is 16. Ms. Senior says the majority of the girls she tried to help were between 12 and 16.

One victim’s father believes someone in the police tipped off the abuser gang when he sought authorities’ help. His daughter says her grooming began at age 12, when a group of British-Pakistanis befriended her at a strip-mall arcade.

Rapes started when she was 13, usually after school. She told her mother at age 15 after a gang rape left her too injured to walk. Her parents called the police, to whom she gave her clothes as evidence.

Days later, the police told them the clothes had been lost and prosecutions would be difficult. Soon after, the alleged rapists showed up at her home, threatening to beat her and rape her mother for going to the police, the family says. The family dropped charges and moved out of town. The men weren’t charged in the incident.

The U.K.-government inquiry published in February found South Yorkshire police had a “phenomenally low conviction rate” for non-familial child sexual abuse.

Police decline to discuss specific allegations. “Tackling child sexual exploitation and bringing offenders to justice is a priority for South Yorkshire Police and a great deal of progress has been made over recent years,” a spokeswoman for the force says. “We treat victims of child sexual exploitation with the utmost sensitivity.”

Ignored evidence

Ms. Senior wasn’t alone during the decade in concluding Rotherham police ignored evidence. In 2002, the force hired a narcotics analyst, Angie Heal, to map the growing regional drug trade. She discovered Ms. Senior had some of the best intelligence for her work.

Ms. Heal saw links between Ms. Senior’s database about child sex victims and new British-Pakistani gangs she identified as running the town’s crack-cocaine trade.

Ms. Heal says she reported these links in dossiers every six months from 2002 through 2006, when she left the force in part because her superiors weren’t acting on her information on either drugs or sex abuse, she says.

“The situation couldn’t have been clearer,” says Ms. Heal, who works with children for neighbouring Sheffield. “Drugs gangs who were a clear danger to public safety were also a danger to young girls.”

The Jay Report and government inquiry found apparent links between the gangs and the paedophile ring.

British-Pakistani leaders in Rotherham say they are appalled at the allegations and the apparent police failure to keep all communities safe, including their own, from such predators.

“We really have an epidemic” of child sex abuse, says Muhbeen Hussein, the British-Pakistani founder of nongovernmental group British Muslim Youth. “I’m proud to come from Rotherham, but it’s hard to say that publicly now.”

In 2007, Ms. Senior sensed change when a senior police commander, promoted from outside South Yorkshire, enlisted her to help with training on child sexual abuse. She also found a new willingness from a precinct sergeant to investigate her intelligence that about 80 girls had been assaulted at Clifton Park, a garden in Rotherham’s historic downtown used for community events.

“It’s like I was screaming in the wind” until then, she says. “Somebody finally listened.”

In 2008, the police force used evidence she helped collect to carry out its first investigation, leading to the November 2010 conviction of five men for sexual crimes.

In January 2011, police launched an operation to pursue other suspects. It foundered, in large part because of animosity between Rotherham officials and Ms. Senior, the Jay Report found. In 2011, the town council revoked funding for her Risky Business organization, ending any official relationship between her and victims.

Rotherham had begun drawing national attention as a model of a town clamping down on abuse. Ms. Jay’s report concluded the town pushed Ms. Senior out due to professional jealousy among officials attempting to take credit for the successful prosecution.

“They found Risky Business so troublesome, that they killed it,” Ms. Jay says. Rotherham officials viewed Ms. Senior as a pesky outsider on a misguided crusade, Ms. Jay says. Ms. Senior’s detractors criticized her as lacking the academic credentials to identify abuse, she says, and dismissed her as shrill.

Ms. Senior says she knows she antagonized officials and her blunt criticism strained relationships.

The town-council chief at the time, Roger Stone, didn’t respond to inquiries. He told Parliament this spring that, in hindsight, the decision to cut the funding was a mistake. The current council says it is committed to protecting children.

Blowing the whistle

By 2012, the Savile allegations were rocking Britain. Seeing an opportunity, Ms. Senior says she leaked information to the Times of London, which then published a series highlighting Rotherham’s failures to stop child sexual abuse. (The Times is part of News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal.)

Rotherham’s town council investigated the leak and hired lawyers who questioned Ms. Senior. A town official warned her that leaks could lead to jail, Ms. Senior says, but the town took no action. The current council confirms the investigation but didn’t respond to inquiries on the warning.

In September 2013, Rotherham commissioned an independent review to clear its reputation, hiring Ms. Jay, who had created Scotland’s child-services agency.

Her report castigated the town, finding that “as a conservative estimate” at least 1,400 girls Ms. Senior identified were sexually abused, that the abuse was continuing and that the full scope of the problem wasn’t known.

“The collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant,” the report said. Town leaders publicly disputed the report’s conclusions about the scale and scope of abuse and its characterization of the council as dictatorial.

In September, Parliament called hearings on Rotherham. The Jay Report didn’t name Ms. Senior, but word reached London she was fundamental to its revelations. She agreed to testify—but in secret, she says, to avoid being in tabloid coverage.

After the hearing, the Parliamentary committee’s chairman asked what was in a folder she kept consulting. She handed him emails and photos documenting the Rotherham police commissioner’s prior knowledge of abuse allegations.

The chairman later used the documents to undermine testimony by the commissioner and Rotherham’s child-protective-services head, who said they hadn’t been aware of specific abuse instances. Both resigned in September. Neither responded to Journal inquiries.

The commissioner, Shaun Wright, said at the time of his resignation that “much progress has been made over the last two years” in protecting child-sex-abuse victims. Joyce Thacker, the child-services head, in September apologized “to those who were let down by our services.”

Mr. Stone, the town-council chief, resigned in November. He later told reporters he had relied on information from other officials that child sex abuse was being tackled appropriately.

The NCA—the FBI equivalent—started investigating Rotherham’s alleged-sex-abuse case files this month. Ms. Senior fears justice won’t some soon enough.

“The community has been torn apart,” she says. “Until those responsible go to jail, we will never move on.”



Developing Kelantan more central to Islam than Hudud, women’s group tells PAS

23 May, 2015

PAS and the Kelantan government it heads should prioritise developing the east coast state, which is still the country's poorest, and focus on post-flood reconstruction instead of rushing to implement Hudud, Sisters in Islam (SIS) said.

The Islamic women's rights group said saving Kelantan's economy is more central to the Maqasid Shariah (the goals and objectives of Islam) than introducing the controversial penal code, which prescribes punishments like amputation for crimes like stealing.

"SIS would like to express its disappointment with Marang MP Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang's open disregard and disrespect of the Federal Constitution with his move to debate the (two) Private Members' Bills to amend the Shariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965," the group said in a statement.

The two Bills, which are meant to remove legal blocks to the rollout of hudud in Kelantan, appeared in the order paper for today's proceedings in Parliament, which is due to end this week.

However, it remains to be seen if the Bills will actually be debated as there are currently 23 other motions and items in the queue.

But should the Bills be debated, SIS urged all federal lawmakers to reject them, pointing out that they violate several provisions in the Federal Constitution.

"We would once again like to stress that the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Enactment II 1993 violates the Federal Constitution," SIS said, referring to the Islamic enactment in Kelantan that was amended last month to pave the way for the implementation of hudud.

"We hope that the Private Members' Bill scheduled for debates today will be rejected," the group added.

Kelantan’s state assembly approved the Shariah Criminal Code II (1993) 2015 Enactment last month with 31 votes from PAS lawmakers supported by 12 from Umno.

However, in order to enforce the amended state Shariah criminal laws, PAS-led Kelantan needs bipartisan support from Umno and other federal lawmakers to pass Hadi’s two bills in the Dewan Rakyat.

Hadi served notice to Parliament on the proposed Bill on March 18, but de facto law minister Datuk Nancy Shukri said it may not make it into the order paper for the current session as there are many others on the schedule.



In fuel-starved Yemen, women turn to bikes

23 May, 2015

SANAA - With a Saudi-led bombing campaign leading to severe fuel shortages in Yemen’s capital, men in Sanaa have been forced to innovate. Some have run motorbikes on paint-thinner, others have hooked their car engines up to cooking-gas canisters to avoid the extortionate price of petrol.

But women in the capital, also trying to adapt to the turmoil, face an obstacle men do not: tradition.

Last week, when freelance photographer Bushra al-Fusail told her friends that she was considering riding a bike to work, they warned her against it.

Female bike riding is almost unheard of in Yemen - many conservative Yemenis believe it's immodest or reveals too much of a woman's body.

But after creating a Facebook group, 'Let's ride a bike' on Friday, Fusail convinced some of friends to join her on a women-only bike ride across the city, the first of its kind in Yemen.

"It is totally unfair that men can move easily by using their bicycles when women are expected to stay home. No more fuel means that we can't go to work, that we are unable to provide and help our families. Join us!" Fusail posted on the group.

At noon on Saturday, 20 young women converged on al-Sabeen, a busy highway that runs past the presidential palace.

Most wore veils and didn’t themselves own bicycles but the few who did cycled for an hour and a half, looping around the mosque as Fusail snapped photos on her camera.

The pictures of the ride, which spread like wildfire online, were met with dozens of furious comments.

“This can’t be real, these images were photoshopped,” commented one Yemeni man under a picture. “Those are not women, they are men dressed as women,” said another.

Fusail, though, said that many of the Yemenis who saw the bike ride on the day reacted positively.

"I thought that people would come and laugh at us or try to prevent us from cycling, but this did not happen at all, instead there were some people who tried to encourage us, and this motivated us to continue."

"Biking was our way of showing that nothing can stop us - not bombing not cultural taboos, this is our right; we have a right to live and the right to movement."

‘An intellectual invasion’

Basem al-Qubati, a 35-year-old car mechanic who saw the women biking on Saturday, told MEE he was glad they were using the bicycles as a mean of transport, but that he worried men would harass them.

“One positive is that many have been distracted from the ongoing war," she said. "Instead of feeling depressed by the conflict they’re talking about women riding bicycles.”

When asked for his view on the bike ride, Yahya Afeef, a cleric from a nearby mosque, told Middle East Eye: "This is incompatible with Islam; Islam says that the women should be a symbol of virtue and this is not a kind of virtue."

Afeef said that the families of the women should “advise them to stop this thing and live as other women do,” adding that the bike ride was a kind of "intellectual invasion" that came from the Western countries.

Samar Ahmed, a middle-aged housewife from the outskirts of Sanaa, seemed to agree with the Imam: "We are women and our religion and culture prevent us to bike… we should respect our religious principles and our society," she added, accusing the women of “looking for fame”.

A question of time

Marwa Qaed, a 23-year-old accounting student, said she would love to ride a bike if she could and that some of her friends had started learning in their back gardens.

"Ten years ago it was considered shameful for a women to drive a car… now you can see women driving everywhere," she said.

Qaed said she was not bothered by imams who criticised cycling, asserting that if imams were going to comment on the issue, they should offer solutions.

"I do not have a bicycle, but I will try to get one from my friend to teach me how to bike and I will join the women to do a revolution against the society," she said.



Turkish women speak with ‘single voice’

23 May, 2015

Turkey’s leading women in politics and the economy have met for the “Single Voice for Women” event in Istanbul, stressing the importance of gender equality for the development of democracy and economy.

“We know that our voice is stronger when we are together,” said Vuslat Doğan Sabancı in her opening speech, as daily Hürriyet’s chairwoman and the founder of “Haklı Kadın Platformu” (Righteous Women Platform), which organized the event on May 22.

In her speech, Sabancı praised how Turkish women have excelled at “the art of unconditional help” even as fierce competition rules in the world.

After telling the story of a farmer who grew the best corn but shared its seeds with everyone else to improve the whole region’s crops with wind pollination, Sabancı added that “we should hear this wind to allow the world progress.”

Female parliamentary candidates from all parties were present at the event. The platform argues that the role of women in Turkish society will improve if all woman parliamentarians unite to change party agendas and the public mindset while improving women’s rights.



Up To 5,000 Fistula Cases Surface In Pakistan Every Year

23 May, 2015

KARACHI: While International Day to End Obstetric Fistula is being celebrated across the world on Saturday, up to 5,000 women in Pakistan needlessly suffer from the medical condition every year, said doctors on Friday.

“Obstetric fistula is preventable and, in most cases, can be surgically repaired. However, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 new cases surfaced each year in Pakistan,” said Dr Sajjad Ahmed Siddiqui, programme officer, Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health (PNFWH) while addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club.

The press conference was organised by the PNFWH, Pakistan Medical Association, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Pakistan (SOGP).

It was announced that a campaign would be launched to get the entire society aware of how easily fistula that devastated lives of millions of women for no reason could be treated.

The medical experts said one of the most serious injuries of childbirth; obstetric fistula was a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged, obstructed labour due to the lack of timely and adequate medical care.

In most cases, they said, the baby was either stillborn or died within the first week of life, and the woman suffered a devastating injury — a fistula — that rendered her incontinent.

“Many women and girls with fistula are shunned by their families and communities, deepening their poverty and magnifying their suffering,” said Dr Mirza Ali Azhar, PMA secretary-general. It was said the vulnerable women were at the heart of UNFPA efforts to ensure that every pregnancy was wanted, every child birth was safe, and every young person’s potential was fulfilled.

Dr Qazi Wasiq of Karachi PMA said victims of obstetric fistula were usually among the hardest to reach, and often illiterate and with limited access to health services including maternal and reproductive health care.

The persistence of the problem reflected broader health inequities and health care system weaknesses, as well as wider challenges facing women and girls, such as gender and socio-economic inequality, lack of schooling, child marriage and early child bearing — all of which impeded the well-being of women and girls and their opportunities.

Over the past eight years, they added, the UNFPA had directly supported more than 5,000 women and girls to receive surgical treatment for fistula in the country through their seven regional centres. The campaign was based on the three key strategies of prevention, treatment and social reintegration of the patients.

Dr Siddiqui said his organisation was implementing that project across the country by providing surgical treatment, training for doctors and mid-level healthcare providers and raising awareness of the social issues related to obstetric fistula.

Last year the UN general assembly had designated May 23 as the official International Day to End Obstetric Fistula.