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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 22 May 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Give All Girls 12 Years of Free Schooling at School: Malala

 New Age Islam News Bureau

22 May 2015

Want To Be a Doctor with Social Commitment: Kerala Muslim Girl Who Topped MBBS Entrance


 ISIS Plot Exposed To Lure British Schoolgirl, 16, To Syria as Jihadi Bride

 Forced Sex Camps Prepare Girls for Child Marriage in Zambia and Mozambique

 Morocco Looks Set To Ease but Not Scrap Ban on Abortion

 Malala, Manipur youth activist chosen for global icon award

 UN Envoy Zainab Bangura Calls for Global Response to Islamic State’s Sexual Atrocities

 Want To Be a Doctor with Social Commitment: Kerala Muslim Girl Who Topped MBBS Entrance

 Saudi Girls Finally Get to Drive, but Only in a Videogame

 Pakistan Is On Course to Defeat Polio: Senator Ayesha Raza

 Chad: Zarah's Choice - One Woman's Story of a Family Separated By War

 Masterchef's Amanda Saab Is the First Woman in a Hijab on an American Cooking Show

 Iranian Expat Shirin Neshat Looks Back At Her Country’s History At Hirshhorn

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Give All Girls 12 Years of Free Schooling at School: Malala

May 22, 2015

LONDON — Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who won a Nobel peace prize for education campaigning, called on world leaders on Thursday to give 12 years of free schooling to every child following a major education summit, saying this was critical for girls.

The World Education Forum, which ended in South Korea on Thursday, involved government ministers and non-government organizations from 160 countries to set education goals for the next 15 years to be embedded in a new set of global targets. Malala, 17, who has become a leading education campaigner since surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban in 2012, in a statement urged world leaders to back these goals, saying 12 years of free education was critical, particularly for girls.



ISIS Plot Exposed To Lure British Schoolgirl, 16, To Syria as Jihadi Bride

May 22, 2015

An ISIS plot to lure a British schoolgirl to Syria and marry her off as a Jihadi bride has been foiled after it was uncovered by the Mail.

Counter-terror officers swooped on the 16-year-old girl’s family home after the Mail passed on evidence she was planning to run away to Syria next week.

She was being lured by her older sister, who is today revealed as a prolific IS recruiter who fled her London home last year to be a Jihadi bride.

The younger sister – a ‘friendly and innocent’ East London schoolgirl – had been planning to fly on Wednesday, straight after finishing her GCSEs.

After first flying to Switzerland, she was to travel on to Istanbul, across Turkey and to the Syrian border, where IS fighters would smuggle her over the border to marry a Jihadi.

The plot had been laid out in extraordinary detail in secret online messages, with timings and prices planned for every train, flight and hotel she has to stay at on the way. But it was foiled when the older sister tried to persuade an undercover reporter from the Mail – posing online as a girl of the same age – to accompany the younger sister to Syria as a chaperone.

Last night, the Metropolitan Police said it was ‘grateful’ to the Mail and praised its journalists for uncovering the sickening plot and ensuring the girl’s safety.

Commander Richard Walton, of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: ‘Following an undercover investigation by the Daily Mail, we were made aware of a vulnerable young girl on Monday.

‘Officers acted promptly and were able to identify the girl concerned and preventative steps have now been taken. We are grateful for the detailed information the journalist was able and willing to give us.

‘It was obvious from the conversations we had that the safety of the girl was the priority for everyone concerned.’

Home Secretary Theresa May said: ‘This Daily Mail investigation shows the seriousness of the threat we face from IS. The police and security services are working hard every day to keep our country safe.

‘But it is up to all of us to stand united against extremism and stop young and vulnerable people from being drawn into this kind of trouble.’

In a major investigation into Islamic State’s online grooming methods, the Mail also today reveals how:

School children are being groomed using secretive encrypted apps on their tablets and smartphones that are thought to be beyond the sight of the police;

The apps are run by Left-wing activists, who turn a blind eye to the terrorists because of their concerns about ‘Big Brother’ surveillance;

British teenagers are now being advised to travel to Syria via several other European countries so it looks as if they are just going on holiday;

They are being told to pack nothing Islamic, make sure they are not wearing Islamic clothing in passport pictures, and to wear Western clothes and make up to the airport.

The investigation comes amid growing concerns about the number of teenagers – and particularly girls – travelling to Syria to join Islamic state.

There are now around 60 British women and girls who have fled the UK for this reason – an increase of ten over the past year, experts say.

In all, around 250 British jihadis are thought to be now living in Syria – though some groups believe the true figure is much higher. In most cases, teenagers who travel to the Islamic State are believed to have been groomed online – including three girls from Bethnal Green in East London who ran away to the Islamic State in February.

Yet until now, little has been known about how extremists are using secretive encrypted messaging services to groom British teenagers.

In order to expose exactly how the Islamic State was using the internet to groom impressionable teens, reporters from the Mail Investigations Unit posed online as a vulnerable 16-year-old Muslim girl from Hackney, East London.

A Twitter profile was created which suggested she might be vulnerable to grooming by extremists. In a terrifying insight into the scale of online grooming by IS, more than a hundred extremist accounts had connected with the girl within just a few hours.

But the conversations between the IS recruiters and the fictional girl quickly moved – at their request – from Twitter to the private messaging apps.

One recruiter who made contact with the fictional girl was a British Pakistani girl aged 21, who fled to Syria a few months ago after marrying an IS recruiter on Skype.

This girl – who is well known to authorities as a prolific online groomer for IS – tried to use the Mail’s reporter as part of a plot to lure her own 16-year-old sister to Raqqa without their parents’ knowledge.

The conversations were immediately reported by the Mail to the police.

On Wednesday at 7am, two counter terrorism officers swooped on the girl’s parents’ home.

The schoolgirl, who the Mail is not naming on police advice, is now being closely monitored under the Government’s Prevent strategy, a programme aimed at stopping people being drawn towards violent extremism.

She will be given advice about the dangers of travelling to Syria, and put in touch with charities and organisations who can offer support to her and her family.

She is expected to undergo de-radicalisation involving psychologists, social workers and religious experts.

A Twitter spokesman said: ‘We do not proactively monitor content. Our rules… prohibit violent threats and the promotion of terrorism.’

A spokesman for Wickr said: ‘Private communication is a universal human right that is extremely important to a free society.’

Surespot Telegram and Kik did not respond to requests for comment.



Forced Sex Camps Prepare Girls for Child Marriage in Zambia and Mozambique

May 22, 2015

CASABLANCA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Girls as young as eight in Mozambique and Zambia are forced to go to camps where they are shown how to please a man in bed in order to prepare them for married life, activists said at an international conference on ending child marriage.

These sexual initiations begin once menstruation starts and sometimes involve sticks being inserted inside the girls, Persilia Muianga of international aid agency World Vision said.

She added that some mothers force young daughters to sleep with a man in the belief this can bring on menstruation.

Anglican priest Jackson Jones Katete said initiations in Zambia happen among girls between the ages of eight and 13, and may involve girls being cut by women for not performing sexual movements correctly.

"You ... pay these (elderly) women to do this torturing to your child," he said, adding that men do not want to marry girls unless they have been initiated.

"Immediately the girls come out of the camp, they are saying ... you are now ready for sex. And then the men come ... and then they begin to do the betrothals."

The training, which can last a week and is shrouded in secrecy, also teaches girls about hygiene, domestic duties and how to conduct themselves in the community, Muianga said, adding that community leaders fine parents if they do not take their daughters to the initiations.


Muianga, a child protection expert, said the sexual age of consent in Mozambique is 12 and many girls have babies very early, putting their lives at risk.

Serious childbirth injuries such as fistulas are a big problem because so many girls have babies before their bodies are ready, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during the conference in the Moroccan city Casablanca.

Nearly half of girls in Mozambique and more than 40 percent in Zambia are married before they turn 18, even though child marriage is illegal in both countries.

Bride prices paid to the girl's family drive early marriage in poor rural areas, Muianga said.

She said World Vision is training church leaders to tackle issues around early initiations and child marriage, and will help develop a similar initiative for Muslim communities.

Katete, who is director of the Anglican Street Children's Programme in Zambia, said church leaders carry great authority in his country and have a role to play in addressing initiations and child marriage with their congregations.

He added that keeping girls in school is crucial for fighting early marriage, but most rural communities do not have schools nearby and teachers in these regions are usually men, which sends girls the signal that only boys deserve education.

"We are now saying that you should build schools in villages and have female teachers there as well who can act as role models."

The three-day conference ending Thursday is hosted by Girls Not Brides, a global partnership committed to eradicating child marriage which affects some 720 million women worldwide.



Morocco looks set to ease but not scrap ban on abortion

May 22, 2015

CASABLANCA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Every day hundreds of Moroccan women and girls put their lives at risk by seeking backstreet abortions or trying to end unwanted pregnancies themselves with needles and poison.

Others who give birth in secret discard their babies in rubbish bins or dump them in forests, says Professor Chafik Chraibi, a senior gynecologist who has led efforts to get abortion legalized in the North African country.

Extramarital sex is illegal, and the stigma attached to having a child outside marriage is so strong that some girls are driven to commit suicide, he says, while others become victims of 'honor killings'.

At least 600 girls and women in Morocco have illegal terminations every day, Chraibi says.

"These are situations we cannot accept, we cannot allow," he said by phone from the Moroccan capital Rabat.

Abortion is illegal in Morocco except where the woman's life or health is at risk. But in March, King Mohammed VI asked the ministries of justice and Islamic affairs and the National Human Rights Council to hold a consultation on relaxing the ban.

Last week the king announced that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities or where the woman's health is at risk.

Chraibi, who has seen the damage done by botched abortions, argues that the definition of a woman's health should include her mental and social health as well as her physical health.

He believes abortion should therefore be allowed for social and economic reasons as well as to protect a woman's physical health.

The proposals outlined by the king will inform parliament when it votes on reforms to the penal code later this year.

But they have already angered both some conservatives - who oppose any relaxation - and women's rights campaigners who want abortion fully legalized.

"We are extremely frustrated, we are very disappointed," said Samira Bikarden, president of the Association Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc.

"But we are not going to give up. The struggle continues."

She said they would keep pushing for the law to include a broad interpretation of health, in line with the World Health Organization definition.


Chraibi, who was not involved in the consultation, has been calling for abortion to be legalized since 2007. But his campaigning has cost him professionally.

In December French TV broadcast a report on underground abortions in Morocco. Chraibi was dismissed from his post as head of gynecology and obstetrics at the Matérnité des Orangers in Rabat after allowing the camera crews in.

The incident spurred an outpouring of support and helped galvanize the current debate.

Speaking in an interview before the king's announcement, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that his hospital often saw the consequences of abortions gone wrong.

"Girls and women come with grave complications like infections, hemorrhages, acute poisoning, damage to genitals," he said. "Or mothers break their waters at five or six months with a needle and give birth to a baby weighing 600, 700 or 800 grams who dies.

"And you have other consequences - young girls who commit suicide because of the stigma, because they cannot get an abortion, because they are thrown out of the house. There are also what are called honor crimes - young girls who are killed by their brothers, mothers or fathers."

He said around 24 unwanted babies were left in Moroccan hospitals every day.

Girls who have abortions face up to two years in jail, while doctors who perform them face up to five years' jail, or 20 years if a girl dies.

Chraibi said there was now much greater awareness of the consequences of the abortion ban among civil society, doctors, religious leaders and politicians.

"There is nothing which formally forbids abortion in the Muslim religion," he added. "This has been said by senior religious figures in Morocco and elsewhere."

He pointed to other Muslim countries, including Tunisia, Turkey and Bahrain, which allow terminations.

But - with the exception of Tunisia - abortion is illegal throughout North Africa. The World Health Organization estimates 900,000 unsafe abortions a year are performed in the region, where they account for about 12 percent of maternal deaths.

Campaigners for unrestricted legal abortion say laws banning abortion do not stop the practice, they simply put women's lives at risk.

"It's a fundamental right to have control over your own body. It goes with human dignity," Bikarden said. "How can you force someone who doesn't want to have a child to go through with a pregnancy?"



Malala, Manipur youth activist chosen for global icon award

TNN | May 22, 2015

Imphal: Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, youth activist from Manipur Kangujam Karnajit Singh and young German activist Felix Finkbeiner have been selected for the prestigious Global Youth Icon Award 2015.

Former President APJ Abdul Kalam will hand over the award to the three at Marg Swarnabhoomi, Chennai, on July 25 in the presence UN officials, ministers and other Nobel laureates.

"I am so happy to hear the news. I'll be sharing the stage with Malala, the winner of the Nobel peace prize, and 13-year-old Felix, who has planted million of trees since he was just 9," a jubilant Karnajit told TOI on Thursday.

"This will encourage me to keep up my work for youngsters," said Karnajit (24), who recently led a 30-member team from the northeast to help quake-struck Nepal.

A resident of Bashikhong, he was the chef-de-mission of the team.

Of the 30 members who went to Nepal, 15, including a doctor, are members of the Youth Disaster Response Team, a unit of the Manipur unit of Club25 International of which Karnajit is the founder.

"I'm proud to have joined the global campaign for rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the victims of the Nepal earthquake. During our 10-day campaign, we helped people in three of the worst-hit districts there," he said.

Karnajit, who has donated blood 25 times, organized the Global Youth Meet 2014 and the World Youth Summit 2015 for the first time in the country in Imphal.

"I love to talk to young people and help them escape violence and drugs, receive education and find work. I'm working to provide them with the education, freedom and opportunities they deserve," the activist said.

Karnajit has already received a number of prestigious awards.



UN envoy Zainab Bangura calls for global response to Islamic State’s sexual atrocities

May 22, 2015

Seized. Separated from family. Stripped. Sorted according to beauty and “virtue.” Then shipped into the dark heart of the Islamic State.

Sold to the highest bidder. Brutalized. Sold and brutalized again. En masse.

The UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict heard the sadistic, soul-crushing whole of it in April as she travelled, country by country, collecting accounts from survivors of Islamic State sex atrocities now huddled on the overwhelmed refugee fringes of the self-declared caliphate.

And now Zainab Bangura is calling for a global flexing of humanitarian muscle to restore hope to these shattered young women.

“We need a humanitarian surge. It can’t be just Canada, it can’t be just Europe — everyone has a role to play in attending to the sheer scope to the damage,” Bangura told The Star in an interview Thursday.

“There are 40,000 men from more than 100 different countries inside the Islamic State using brutal sexual violence as a strategic tactic to terrorize. We need all 100 countries involved, helping to deal with the aftermath.”

In Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and finally northern Iraq, Bangura sat with escapees from enslavement. Some Christian, others Turkmen Shia. But mostly Yazidis — worshippers of a Mesopotamian faith that claims direct lineage to the Garden of Eden.

One 10-year-old Yazidi girl told her, “How can I be worth anything now?” Another described being traded 22 times as a sex slave before fleeing her last captor. Another described being among a group of 14 Yazidi women who consumed diluted rat poison in a collective attempt at suicide. Rescued by their captors, some were treated at hospital, and then beaten for disobedience. Seven managed to escape out a window and slip away to freedom.

Bangura met with the mother of 20-year-old Zuhour Kati, who was set on fire in January by an Islamic State fighter from Saudi Arabia for refusing to perform “extreme sexual acts.” Rescued by a brother with burns to nearly 90 per cent of her body, the young Yazidi woman died in hospital in the Turkish city of Malatya.

“Her mother told me, ‘My daughter is better off dead.’ ” Bangura tabled her findings at the UN two weeks ago, briefing Security Council members. She spoke separately to Arab League delegates. Then it was wheels-up for Europe — consultations with the International Criminal Court in the Hague, then to Sweden and now Germany, where she met Thursday with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Bangura, a native of Sierra Leone whose work has taken her to Bosnia, Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic, said nothing in her past travels remotely compares to the “systematic war on women” being waged in Iraq and Syria.

According to one UN estimate, as many as 3,000 women remain enslaved by Islamic State group members. Other Yazidi organizations have pegged the number at nearer to 5,000. About 1,000 are Yazidi women and girls are known to have made their way to freedom, either by escape or through the payment of ransom via intermediaries.

“The girls that I sat with, I told them, ‘They tried to strip away your humanity. Now we must do everything possible to help you strip victory away from the Islamic State — we will have your backs, we can provide counselling, we can help you go to school and make something of yourselves, become whole again,” said Zainab.

“This is precisely what ISIS does not want. It can be a kind of vengeance, helping these women recover and giving them a path to thrive. But they need qualified medical and psychosocial support and neither the UN nor the regional authorities are in a position to provide it.”

Mirza Ismail, head of the Canada-based International Yazidi Human Rights Organization, welcomed Bangura’s efforts, but said that relocation of the escapees to western countries should also be considered, given the precarious state of human rights in non-Islamic State-held Iraq.

“There are escaped Yazidi girls pregnant as young as nine years old and the government here says it is against Sharia law to provide abortion, even though we are not Muslim,” Ismail told The Star in an email from Iraqi Kurdistan, where he is currently travelling.

“They do need help. But if the UN cannot protect their human rights, we would prefer these innocent girls be brought to Canada where they can recover and live in peace and freedom as human beings with dignity.”



Want To Be a Doctor with Social Commitment: Kerala Muslim Girl Who Topped MBBS Entrance

May 22, 2015

Malappuram: P Hiba, the Muslim girl from Manjeri in Malappuram district, who topped the 2015 Kerala Medical Entrance Examination, while dedicating her success to her late father said she wanted to become a doctor with social commitment.

"I want to be a good doctor with social commitment and will use the opportunity to serve the society", Hiba said while talking to reporters after the results.

“If you are driven by stern decision towards something, you will get for sure,” she added.

As per the state medical entrance exam results declared Wednesday, P. Hiba of Malappuram scored 954.7826 and stood first in the list.

Hiba had not expected the rank. “I was confident that I could make it to a government medical college in the State,” she said, without hiding her surprise at winning the first rank.

Hiba completed her Class 12 last year with 98 per cent marks from the Manjeri GBHSS and worked hard for the entrance examination last year.

She had joined an entrance examination centre at Pala in the beginning but left it owing to home sickness.  She then joined Bhabha Institute of Sciences at Manjeri which proved to be a key factor in her success.

Hiba is keen to join MBBS at the Government Medical College, Kozhikode. But she is waiting for the results of the All India Medical Entrance Examination. She would not be in two minds if she gets admission at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.

Hiba was followed by Marium Rafi from Aluva who stood second with 944.3478. The third rank went to Ajeesh Sabu from Kollam, who also scored 944.3478.

Mariam termed her victory as grace of Allah and help and support extended by the parents and sister. She told a local news website that she never expected such an achievement.

Mariam is also preparing for the All India Medical Entrance Examination and will join All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) if she is blessed with a chance.



Saudi Girls Finally Get to Drive, but Only in a Videogame

May 22, 2015

Saudi Arabian women this year will finally get the right to drive. It will just have to be in a post-apocalyptic world filled with baboon kings, crystal giants, fire dancers, mutants and zombie cyber soldiers.

That’s the setting for the coming mobile videogame “Saudi Girls Revolution,” in which a group of young Saudi women race souped-up motorcycles to fight the evil tyrannical rulers of a corrupted Arabian Empire. It is being made by NA3M, a company with offices in Jordan and Denmark whose founder and chief executive is Saudi Arabian Prince Fahad bin Faisal Al Saud, grandson of the brother of the king.

“I hope every single individual who owns a phone plays,” says the 31-year-old prince. He even means his royal family members. “Their status doesn’t change the fact that they’re still consumers,” he says.

“Saudi Girls Revolution” is set in the late 21st century, where a world war over the loss of natural resources has wiped out three-quarters of Earth’s population. The one city untouched by war: Riyadh, rich with water. After the death of the king, unrest leads to brutal government camps for women.

Enter the eight heroines of “Saudi Girls Revolution.” Dressed in abayas—the full-length black robes worn by some Muslim women—they drive high-speed motorbikes equipped with magical shields and energy blasters, fighting villains and oppressors across treacherous landscapes.

These “Mu’tazilah,” a name with roots in Arabic and Islamic culture that means those who break away or stand apart, possess distinct personalities and backgrounds that loosely reflect various groups of Saudi Arabian society, according to the game’s creators. Um Bandar is the wise, elderly ringleader who teaches women to fight for themselves. Asma and Allanoud are twins who push against religious sectarianism. Hussa is gay; Leila is from the disconnected upper class of society.

There is even an “ass-kicking” cyborg, Prince Fahad says. He likens their skills to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

A 35-second video on YouTube gives a taste of the game. In the teaser, the shadow of a woman stands beside a motorcycle, her hair and abaya blowing in the wind. Smoke rises amid debris and rain, as a red meteor falls from the sky. In the background, a woman sings: “From far away they came to life with knowledge. They changed our world then left us without warning.”

Choosing an alternate-universe version of Saudi Arabia for the game’s vehicular setting might seem pointed, considering women there are forbidden to drive. While no law explicitly prohibits them from getting behind the wheel, the government has refused to grant licenses to women.

Dozens of Saudi women in recent years have protested the decadeslong ban by driving cars in the kingdom. Still, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry reaffirmed the ban last October, warning that strong measures would be taken against offenders. Earlier this year, two women were detained for more than 70 days for challenging the ban.

Prince Fahad says there is no political motive behind “Saudi Girls Revolution,” though he hopes it will “inspire women to see themselves in roles that are equal to men.” The website for NA3M says concepts like the one behind the game can “challenge convention.” (Mostly, though, it says it wants people to “enjoy a kick-ass game.”)

Prince Fahad, who lives in London, grew up playing foreign-made games with powerful female characters like Lara Croft from “Tomb Raider.” After graduating from Stanford University in 2007, he spent two years at Facebook Inc. working on an Arabic version of the social network.

He wanted to empower Saudi women by showing them—literally—in the driver’s seat. “If we can tell people stories about women driving, maybe they will, maybe it will actually happen,” he says.

Several characters, Prince Fahad says, are named after relatives, like his grandmother.

The inspiration for some villains, such as the game’s evil baboon kings, comes from plants and animals in Saudi Arabian cities. Take Ta’if, for example, where baboons there roam freely, coercing bananas, dates and other fruits from passersby. “If the baboons don’t get what they want, they jump on your car,” he says. “You have to pay the toll.”

It isn’t the first time Prince Fahad has drawn from real life for games. He says an earlier NA3M game, “Run Camel Run,” was inspired by his father, who collects hundreds of camels. Some compete in camel beauty pageants.

“My dad is very conservative,” the prince says, adding that his father wanted him to become an engineer. “He had reservations about me doing anything untraditional when it comes to working. But now he loves [“Run Camel Run”]. It’s his favorite game.”

“Saudi Girls Revolution” is slated for release on the Apple Inc. and Google Inc. app stores sometime later this year. It will be free to download and paired with a digital comic book that tells the back stories of the eight heroines.

“I wanted to engage the Saudi community…to allow them to be comfortable and familiar and used to these types of visuals,” Prince Fahad says. He says he anticipates some backlash in Saudi Arabia over the driving theme, but not from his immediate family because he was raised by strong, independent women.

Videogames that touch on politics, religion and social issues aren’t new. The Sims allowed players to create gay characters since the first game in the life-simulation series was published in 2000. The annual Christian Game Developers Conference promotes games made “specifically to glorify God.” And in the 2014 mobile game “Kim Jong Jetpack,” players take on the role of the North Korean leader and try to save the world from an invasion of evil unicorn pigs, or “unipigs.”

But few, if any, videogames can boast developer credentials linked to royalty. “It makes a huge statement,” says Asi Burak, president of Games for Change, a nonprofit that focuses on inspiring social change through videogames. Prince Fahad spoke at the group’s New York gathering in April.

“You have someone [who’s] part of the establishment in a huge Arab country…starting a game company to deal with Arab culture and Arab themes,” Mr. Burak says. “It’s edgy.”



Pakistan Is On Course to Defeat Polio: Senator Ayesha Raza

May 22, 2015

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq on Thursday has assured the global community that Pakistan was on track to defeat polio

While addressing the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Ayesha informed the World Health Assembly that all agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are now accessible to the health workers.

In the backdrop of targeting of polio workers that finds no precedent elsewhere in the world, security has received the greatest attention, she said.

With improved monitoring and coordination by the federal government there has been a marked improvement in campaign coverage with 70 percent reduction in polio cases.

There was enhanced focus on missed children with establishment of data support centres to track missed children in 554 high-risk union councils.

The Senator informed health leaders of the world that refusal to polio vaccination was at an all time low and religious leaders were fully supporting the noble cause.

Speakers from different countries of Europe, Africa and Middle-East in their remarks commended efforts made by Pakistan in the face of major challenges.

The countries called for redoubling of efforts to free the world of polio.

Most recently, in a view of a porous border and frequent movement between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the International Health Regulations of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared both countries a single epidemiological block.



Chad: Zarah's Choice - One woman's story of a family separated by war

May 22, 2015

"My heart palpitates when I remember," says Zarah, a tall, slender woman in her forties, her long legs folded beneath her as she sits on a mat. "I'm OK during the day," she continues, "but at night it all comes back to me - the soldiers killing three people, right in front of me, at the market."

She pulls her Paisley pattern scarf to cover her hair. Despite the 45C degrees in the refugee camp in Chad, she is swathed in a floor-length blue and yellow dress, miraculously clean, given the dust and rubbish everywhere. It defies logic that this woman, who narrowly escaped death in her native Central African Republic, can emerge from her UN tarpaulin tent looking so elegant, her make up flawless, her ruby nail varnish unchipped.

"After what happened at the market I rushed home," Zara resumes, "I was afraid of what I'd find, and there was no one in the house, just chaos, furniture pulled apart. Everything worth taking was gone."

She sniffs back the tears, her rhinestone earrings swinging as her breathing shudders. "The people next door came over and told me my husband and kids escaped the soldiers and headed for the airport. So that's where I went next. I didn't stop to think I might not get a chance to return to the house for my possessions. I just fled."

But at the airport in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), Zara found more chaos. Muslims like Zara were being evacuated by soldiers from France and African Union nations who had been sent to the CAR to restore order. Zara was put on a plane to N'djamena, in neighbouring Chad. From N'djamena she was taken hundreds of miles south, to the remote camps on the border with the CAR.

A shopkeeper by day and a taxi driver by night back in Bangui, Zara has little in common with many of the other refugees, beyond shared nationality and faith. They are traditional herders, illiterate and conservative. They disapprove of educating girls or letting women have lives beyond the home ("a waste of their eggs when they could have babies and take care of their men"). Their world, revolving around the value of a goat, is in contrast to the life Zara left behind in Bangui, where she was involved in civic society.

For months Zara has been trying to locate her husband and children, all the time wondering if they ever made it to the airport or were killed by the roaming bands of looting, anti-Muslim militia. Through the refugee grapevine she heard they had been sent west to Cameroon, and she was given a phone number. When she called it someone answered and then cut the connection when they heard her voice. No one answers the phone now when she calls. Either her family is dead, or they don't wish to be contacted by her. So Zara's choice is between two different forms of heartbreak: rejection or bereavement.

Thousands of refugees face this uncertainty, wondering what has become of their families. It can take months, and a lot of persistence, to trace relatives who have been sent to different camps or countries. Inevitably, the suspicion grows that missing loved ones lie in unmarked mass graves. If ever there was a need for "closure," it is this.

In the meantime, Zara prays the violence in the CAR will end so she can return to her big city life. She is reluctant to discuss the roots of the war. This isn't

surprising since she shares the refugee camp with people who were 'ethnically cleansed' by the largely Muslim Seleka ('union' in the Sango language) militia.

Zara's family was targeted by the non-Muslim anti-balaka ('machete') militia who are avenging the deaths of Christians at the hands of Seleka. There may be tensions between Christians and Muslims in the camp, but they are mostly unspoken because no one wants the violence to erupt here, in their place of safety. Moreover, Muslims and Christians have previously lived in harmony until stirred up by various irresponsible factions. Everyone prays negotiations - the Bangui Forum, which resumed in early May - will lead to genuine peace so they can leave this baking hot, inhospitable region and go home.

The conflict in CAR is often characterized by commentators as religious because it is convenient to do so. Yet, there are other factors requiring long-term solutions; livestock herders and nomads against farmers, all in competition for viable land as the Sahara shifts south due to climate disruption; merchants versus farmers and herders; the privileged and corrupt ruling elite against the unemployed, illiterate young men who have no hope of breaking the elite's grip on wealth and power.

Back in the camp, the elders, all male, are dumbfounded when asked if they will adapt their way of life, following the changes brought about by the war. Will they encourage their children to go to school and learn skills that might be applied beyond the keeping of livestock? In contrast with Zara, who is always looking for commercial opportunities within the camp, the elders cannot imagine anything other than their traditional lifestyle. In this respect the traditional rural Muslim elders have more in common with fellow livestock-herding Christian elders than they do with big city Muslims like Zara.

In refugee camps across the world women like Zara have little choice but to adapt. Hence the attention they give to looking their best, never allowing their

circumstances to defeat them. Those with children must make an extra effort to provide some normality. Like thousands of others, Zara left home in a hurry without her identification papers, and with only the clothes on her back. She had to convince the UN authorities she is who she says she is. Otherwise she would be stateless, without the card needed to claim her weekly World Food Program ration. That ration gets smaller all the time because the nations contributing to the UN budget are sending their money to other conflicts that have grabbed more headlines.

Meanwhile, Zara keeps phoning the number she was given, praying someone will answer.



Masterchef's Amanda Saab Is the First Woman in a Hijab on an American Cooking Show

May 22, 2015

Amanda Saab is Muslim and wears a hijab, a traditional Muslim headscarf for women. She is a contestant on this season's Masterchef on Fox and is, according to Muslim Girl, the first Muslim female chef to appear in a hijab on an American primetime cooking show. Saab never intended to be a trailblazer; she simply wanted to follow her passion for cooking. She has, however, inadvertently become an inspiration for many.

In an interview with Muslim Girl, Saab acknowledged the preconceptions of those who see Muslim women in headscarves. "As with any profession," she said, "Muslim women wearing hijab can be faced with ignorance. In my experience, many stereotypes have been quickly dispelled as people get to know me. I believe my presence in the culinary world is breaking stereotypes that Muslim women are oppressed and cannot follow their passions."

Masterchef Australia had a contestant two years ago, Samira El Khafir, who was Muslim and wore a hijab. Her exit generated quite a bit of controversy due to the nature of the cooking challenge that led to her exit: cooking a pork hot dog. Pork is a prohibited food under traditional Islamic custom, and many questioned the fairness of asking El Khafir to prepare a meat that was in violation of her religion.

Saab is a social worker, and originally used cooking partly as an outlet for the amount of stress she experienced at her job. "I needed an outlet; a way to process the traumas and grief that I had witnessed," she said. "I would come home to prepare dinner and would feel better. I soon realized that cooking was my way to process my day, my creative outlet, my 'me time.'"

Saab began experimenting with recipes and started her own blog. Last fall, she saw a casting notice for the sixth season of Masterchef and applied. The season premiered last night. Saab is less concerned with stereotypes others have of hijab-wearing and women and more on her own cuising: "My cooking is a representation of me — East meets West. I love American food and I also love Mediterranean food. I love blending the flavor profiles and putting my own twist on classics."



Iranian expat Shirin Neshat looks back at her country’s history at Hirshhorn

May 22, 2015

Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat’s first solo show in Washington features a sequence of black-and-white photographs of women clad in black chadors. What’s striking is that some of the women are holding guns, and their faces, hands and feet are covered with Persian calligraphy that Neshat inscribed on the photos with ink.

With these portraits from her mid-1990s “Women of Allah” series, Neshat set out to subvert the Western stereotype of powerless Muslim women. By adding the Persian texts, which come from poetry by contemporary female Iranian writers, Neshat gave her protagonists a voice.

“The Western view is that Iranian women or Muslim women are very repressed, but the reality is that in my country, women are far more radical and rebellious than men are,” Neshat says. “My work is an allegorical sort of remark on the reality as I see it, as I feel it.”

The images are featured in the exhibit “Shirin Neshat: Facing History,” which opened at the Hirshhorn this week and takes up an entire floor of gallery space. It’s the inaugural exhibition organized by Melissa Chiu, who took over as museum director in late 2014.

Over the past two decades, Neshat’s photography, video installations and films have offered a distinctive commentary on her native Iran through her personal lens as a longtime exile based in New York.

The 58-year-old artist has had solo exhibitions everywhere from New York and Paris to Detroit and Seoul in recent years, but little of her work has been shown in Washington until now.

“As the world has changed, especially post-9/11, [Neshat’s] work has acquired even more importance as research for a counterbalance to the prevailing idea of the Middle East and particularly Iran,” Chiu says.

The Hirshhorn has structured the exhibit around three defining moments in Iranian history that Neshat’s works reference: the 1953 U.S.-backed coup that overthrew democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the 2009 pro-democracy Green Movement.

For example, Neshat’s surrealist 2008 short film “Munis” — about a woman’s apparent suicide in response to familial and political repression during the 1953 upheaval — is presented alongside news photos and documentary material from the period, with the aim of providing context in a way that other shows haven’t.

“There’s been a tendency to read her work in terms of representing the Middle East and Islam and women. And I think sometimes the specificity is lost in those generalizations,” Chiu says. “It’s really Iran that is the central driver, the central reference point, in her work.”

That this exhibition has opened during a time of seemingly historic rapprochement between Washington and Tehran is not lost on the artist.

“We’re sitting here in Washington, Iran and the USA are in negotiation, and there is an exhibit by an Iranian woman artist that is targeting three different pivotal periods of Iranian history,” Neshat says. “I just find that fascinating. But certainly, I didn’t plan on it.”