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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 1 Nov 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Hollow cries: Fury as Saudis execute Indonesian maid without warning

New Age Islam News Bureau

1 Nov 2018

Photo: Tuti Tursilawati became on Monday the latest Indonesian migrant worker to have been executed by Saudi Arabia.


 Pakistan province bans males from all-girl schools

 Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan to leave country

 Iraq clears Swedish woman accused of belonging to Daesh

 Filipina women detained in Saudi Arabia after taking part in Halloween party

 Afghan women in uniform face many dangers

 Two Muslim women on track to win elections to US Congress

 Why this film has Iranian hard-liners breaking out in cold sweat

 Incentives draw more women into Turkey’s workforce

 Egyptian female bodybuilder wishes to return to Egypt despite success abroad

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Hollow cries: Fury as Saudis execute Indonesian maid without warning

November 01, 2018

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): Tuti Tursilawati became on Monday the latest Indonesian migrant worker to have been executed by Saudi Arabia. She was found guilty of murdering her employer’s father. Since her arrest in 2010 she had pleaded self-defense against frequent sexual harassment that she said finally led her to beat Suud Mulhaq Al-Utaibi to death with a stick.

The Foreign Ministry expressed “deep concern” over the execution that it said lacked prior notification, violating international diplomatic ethics like in almost all executions of foreigners in the kingdom.

The family of the deceased is in shock as they had clung on to the hope that lobbying by the government, including by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, would save Tuti.

Since 2015, the government has imposed a moratorium against sending migrant workers to the Middle East, its termination pending the conclusion of negotiations of bilateral agreements to better ensure the protection of our workers.

Amid all the grieving with each report of an execution, we sense helplessness on Indonesia’s part.

The government even concluded a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Saudi Arabia to allow a limited number of workers to enter the kingdom despite the moratorium.

Workers’ advocates affiliated with Migrant Care, an NGO, demanded the agreement be scrapped as the execution violated the MoU pertaining to the rights of the workers. Many employers reportedly withhold workers’ passports.

Despite many efforts to strengthen protection and advocacy for migrant workers, Indonesia has failed to improve such basic protection, leading to the nearly zero guarantee of migrants’ well-being when employed in Middle Eastern countries.

These include the kafala (individual sponsorship) system under which employers control their workers’ mobility — including their entry, renewal of stay, termination of employment, transfer of employment — which the International Labor Organization warns is prone to forced labor.

Since the 1980s young and healthy men and women have left their poor villages, trusting experienced agents and “success stories” of earlier migrants who they hear have sent home considerable remittances after finding work in the Middle East.

That so many have suffered and even become crippled or killed after suffering abuse at the hands of their employers, while others ended on death row, prove how Indonesia has still failed its citizens.

A major root of our helplessness is obviously our own death penalty. Another major source of our zero moral credibility to protest the conditions of our workers in the Middle East is our similar attitude to modern slavery.

Like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia still lacks a domestic workers’ law, hence maids remain the most vulnerable in the workforce.

Regarding the death penalty, we only need to learn from our neighbor where Malaysia’s government said the punishment will end.

Without legal recognition of our maids and the value of their work and humanity, and by upholding capital punishment, our protests for the likes of Tuti and many more on death row in Saudi Arabia only invites mockery. – The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network



Pakistan province bans males from all-girl schools


OCTOBER 31, 2018

A province in Pakistan that was once a Taliban stronghold has placed restrictions on gender integration in educational institutions and banned males from working with female students.

On Sunday, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s chief minister Mahmood Khan enforced an Islamic ethos by banning males from entering female educational institutions across the province. He also restricted all male guests and banned media coverage at events at girls’ schools.

Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Nobel laurate Malala Yousafzai, tweeted: “Dear PM @ImranKhanPTI, Is this the “Change” and “Naya {new} Pakistan” you promised us? Institutionalization of Talibanization?! “No male minister, MNAs, MPAs & officers shall be invited to the girls’ schools as Chief Guests. Entry … strictly banned”

Liberals, academics and moderates criticized the bans, saying the move was politically motivated to appease religious forces amid the fast depleting popularity of the government.

“Religion is a tool that Pakistani politicians use frequently to further their ambitions and just as often to cover up for their financial or other crimes. The out-of-the-blue announcement by KP’s chief minister banning males from entering all-girls’ schools is certainly despicable and stupid,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani nuclear physicist, activist, columnist and a distinguished professor at the Forman Christian College and the Quaid-e-Azam University told Asia Times.

He said it left one wondering what had motivated the chief minister.

“Is the man just a run-of-the-mill fanatic who thinks women should never be seen or heard or is his newfound holiness connected with his dubious past?” he asked. He recalled that in 2014 the Peshawar High Court had removed him from the position of provincial minister on charges of embezzlement and corruption.

“Unfortunately crookedness and professed piety are known to get along famously well in Islamic Pakistan,” he added.

Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, while banning gender integration in girls’ schools, also directed the education department to discourage the publicity of social, literary, sports and annual day activities of female students on social and mainstream media.

By doing so, he claimed, girls would get an education “in the true spirit of social, culture and Islamic values” in the province. The advisor to the chief minister, Zia Ullah Khan Bangash, who passed on the chief executive’s instructions, was not available for comment despite Asia Times’ repeated attempts.

“The founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had no qualms in involving his sister Fathma Jinnah in the political struggle for Pakistan in 1947 and his party men used to honor her as a colleague without gender discrimination,” Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) senator Pervaiz Rasheed told Asia Times.

He said Jinnah’s ideology and vision needed to be followed. Jinnah, he pointed out, always stood for gender, racial, sectarian and linguistic integration.

“Every citizen irrespective of his or her sexual categorization has equal rights and obligations. The constitution does not allow discrimination because of sex, creed, sect, color, language and race,” the veteran politician said.

PTI chairperson Imran Khan, who is known to be soft on the Taliban, demanded reproachment with the Islamist group and called for the provision of offices in Pakistan for their leadership. Khan’s opponents, including the leader of the right-wing nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), called him “Taliban Khan.”

The spokesperson for the ANP, Zahid Khan, when contacted by Asia Times asked what else could be expected from a man who was an ardent supporter of the Taliban.

A senior government official, who asked not be identified, said the ban on the entry of males at girls’ schools was initially enforced at the primary and middle level. It will be extended to the higher level once the order is fully implemented and the system is purged of “un-Islamic tenets.”

The chief minister, he said, instructed the province’s education department that “the schools should invite female dignitaries as chief guests in the sports and other functions.”

Unlike the general perception in educated and liberal circles, which do not see eye to eye with the provincial government on the gender discrimination issue, the lower middle class, whose children study in government schools, are quite content with the order.

“It’s a very good decision and hopefully our girls would be feeling more secure and happy now,” said Muhammad Aslam, who runs a grocery shop in the Tehkal area of Peshawar. Two of his daughters were studying at a local girls’ primary school.

Firdous Khan works in a shop on the main road in Peshawar city and has two daughters going to school. He said the ban would benefit the school-going girls as they would get more freedom to participate in the functions and sports events.

“One should realize that CM instructions would help preserve the KP-specific cultural and religious values,” he said.



Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan to leave country

November 01, 2018

ISLAMABAD: A Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan after eight years on death row for blasphemy plans to leave the country as radical Islamists mount rallies against her.

Asia Bibi’s brother says she will leave Pakistan after her formal release from an undisclosed place where she’s being held for security reasons.

James Masih says his sister isn’t safe in Pakistan and that paper work for her release and departure to an unspecified country is being processed. Masih wouldn’t say where Bibi plans to go. France and Spain have offered asylum.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned Bibi’s 2010 conviction of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

Her acquittal raised fears of violence as religious extremists hold angry protests over the verdict, blocking roads and rallying for the second day on Thursday against her acquittal.



Iraq clears Swedish woman accused of belonging to Daesh

October 31, 2018

BAGHDAD: A court in the Iraqi capital on Wednesday cleared a Swedish woman of allegations that she belonged to the Daesh group due to lack of evidence, a judicial source said.

Under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law, courts can sentence to death anyone found guilty of belonging to IS, including non-combatants.

cthe judicial source told AFP.

But she was sentenced in a separate case to six months in prison for illegally entering Iraq, the source added.

During questioning, Lazar had told interrogators she had come to Iraq with her husband and their three children, now aged five, four and three.

She said her husband had been killed in 2016 during bombing of Tal Afar, near Mosul in the north of the country.

More than 300 people, including around 100 foreigners, have been sentenced to death and many others to life imprisonment in Iraq for joining Daesh, the Sunni extremist group which at its peak controlled nearly a third of the country.



Filipina women detained in Saudi Arabia after taking part in Halloween party

November 01, 2018

Nineteen Filipina workers in Saudi Arabia have been detained after taking part in a Halloween party, the Philippines foreign ministry has said.

The women were taken into custody on Friday by intelligence officers who raided a compound in the country’s capital Riyadh after neighbours complained about the noise.

While it is not yet clear what charges they are facing, the foreign ministry noted Saudi laws bar unattached men and women being seen together in public.

Adnan Alonto, the Philippine ambassador in Riyadh, told the ministry initial information indicated the party’s organisers had been charged with hosting an event without a permit and for disrupting the local area.

Saudi Arabian authorities agreed to temporarily release the women who were arrested at the Halloween party raid, the Philippine's Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Tuesday.

The DFA said the women – who are all overseas Filipino workers – will be released and handed over to the custody of the Philippine embassy in Riyadh.

In an earlier report, the department said at least 17 Filipinas were detained after local officials raided the party in a private compound. The DFA gained the report from the Philippine Embassy which has been requesting access to the Filipinas, detained at the Al Nisa Jail since their arrest.

The DFA later confirmed that 19 Filipinas, rather than 17, were detained following the raid.

Mr Alonto said local authorities may file charges against the Filipinas for violating the Sharia law.

The DFA also reminded overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East to make sure they follow the local customs and laws of their host countries.

"Saudi laws strictly prohibit unattached males and females from being seen together in public," the DFA statement said. "Ambassador Alonto said the Embassy issued an advisory urging members of the Filipino community to be mindful of local sensitivities."

Saudi Arabia does not tolerate public worship by adherents of religions other than that of Islam.



Afghan women in uniform face many dangers

October 31, 2018

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

Female cadets must adhere to a strict 9pm curfew. But on this warm night, the women smile in the darkness, leaping over ravines and clambering up hills of dirt, spreading out into formation with their rifles in tow. Off in the distance is a flurry of commotion — the pop pop pop of blank rounds fired by their male counterparts; their flares pierce the night sky and set the dry grass ablaze. (The female cadets’ Afghan superiors have not yet allowed them to fire blank rounds or flares as part of a nighttime attack drill; so far, they’ve only had limited daytime firearms training.)

Led by a female sergeant known to the women as Sgt Hanifa, the group is flanked by US and British advisers who advocate drills like this while trying to navigate cultural norms that dictate how Afghan women must act and how they are viewed. In this case, in a bid to recruit more women, academy leadership has assured parents that female cadets won’t be out unsupervised at night, for their own protection.

“I have to do a head count, make sure we have all the lambs,” said Major Alli Shields of the British army, using the nickname given to the women by Afghan male staff. “Or else this will be the first and last exercise.”

Next to her stands Lt. Cmdr. Rebekah Gerber of the US Navy, a senior gender adviser for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, who watches the drill with her hands on her hips, mentally taking notes. She’s one of a dozen advisers from Nato countries working with the Afghan government to integrate and support both men and women across the security sector. The lofty end goal: gender equality. A self-described fiery redhead pushing what she jokingly calls a “ginger gender agenda,” Gerber comes bearing a bold message for the Afghans and her coalition colleagues: “Get on board or get out — it’s happening.”

It’s a job Gerber doesn’t take lightly. Deployed halfway across the globe from her four daughters — her second overseas deployment, after serving on a Navy ship in the Arabian Gulf — she’s driven by thoughts of her girls back home “and for the women to come.”

Since Nato formally ended its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, drawing down a huge deployment of international forces, the US and its allies have turned their attention to training, advising and assisting Afghan armed forces, trying to carve out a reality in which Afghanistan is able to defend and secure its own country without billions of dollars in foreign funding and assistance. Within that complex and intensely scrutinised mission is another, perhaps even more difficult, one: bolster the ranks of Afghan women in security forces, train them, promote them and keep them alive.

Advisers like Gerber are tasked with leading that charge, part of a Nato policy born in the wake of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, passed in 2000, which stresses the importance of women’s involvement in global peace and security. Since then, a growing body of evidence has found that when women play a role in the security sector, take part in peace negotiations and are involved in rebuilding after war, women feel more comfortable reporting sexual violence and nations enjoy a more stable and lasting peace.

To enact the resolution and appease international donors eager to support women’s rights, Afghanistan, a UN member state, adopted an internationally funded national action plan that details everything from engaging men in addressing violence against women to including women at decision-making levels nationally, regionally and locally.

But 17 years into America’s longest war, in which the argument for protecting and “saving” Afghan women has long shaped the rhetoric to invade and maintain troop presence, their advancement in the security sector is still largely at odds with cultural perceptions of women’s place in society. Progress, as defined by the US and Nato leadership, has been painfully slow, and there’s concern that programs to recruit and train women have only put them in more danger.

Despite billions of US tax dollars spent on bolstering Afghan troops and paying their salaries — nearly $160 million budgeted in the past three years alone to support female forces — Afghanistan has never come close to its set recruitment bench marks for women. Those involved in and familiar with Nato gender efforts say it could take generations before real, lasting progress is made for Afghan women in uniform.

Before the Taliban overran war-torn Kabul in 1996, cementing its control over most of the country, women had served in the security forces for decades, though in limited capacities and often facing great backlash. (Colonel Latifa Nabizada and her sister braved male colleagues’ pelting them with rocks after enrolling in military flight school in 1989 to become helicopter pilots, the first Afghan women ever to do so in 1991.) Under the Taliban, though, Afghan women found themselves stripped of their rights and confined to their homes, their ambitions tabled — or driven underground. Mothers risked everything, even their lives, to educate their daughters in secret.

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

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

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

To meet the new bench marks, Resolute Support will have to work with the Afghan government to recode existing male-only positions to be gender-neutral and increase the number of women-only positions so that women are able, and encouraged, to apply for jobs ranging from intelligence to mechanics. Previously, pilot positions to fly the ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle — a small, low-altitude surveillance drone — were closed to women. Those positions will be recoded so women can fill them, a bid to recruit more women into intelligence.

Once the positions are recoded and Nato has a better idea of the positions available to women, and where they’re needed, Gerber said there will be a push to recruit women in schools, computer firms, libraries and engineering firms. “We’re focused on quality, not quantity,” Gerber said. “We want educated women. They have to be smarter and stronger than the men.”

That’s a steep task in a country where an estimated 80 per cent of Afghan women are illiterate. And many women like Shamila can read but do not have a high school education. Language and literacy courses can help with recruitment in areas like Kandahar and Helmand, where there’s a critical need for women in security forces but a shortage of candidates with the requisite language or professional skills.

“Everything is gradual,” Gerber said. “But honestly, we have to steer the ship slowly. Making too many sudden changes will cause the ship to list and maybe even sink.”

Nato and the Afghan government have tried a variety of ways to recruit women, with limited success — from recruitment posters to handpicking promising women to offering incentive pay. But incentive pay has also led to resentment and harassment by male colleagues because women end up making more money than the men. Such incentives run the risk of causing more harm to the very women they’re meant to support, said Wazhma Frogh, a member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council and founder of the Kabul-based Women & Peace Studies Organization.

There are not even sexual harassment and assault policies in place to protect women employed by the Afghan Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior from the many types of threats they face. It’s a major, though long delayed, goal of Resolute Support to help draft and promote better policies, as well as ways in which men and women can report sexual harassment and assault.

After missing a deadline in March to deliver the new policies, Resolute Support held a round-table discussion in June with Nato advisers and representatives from the Afghan ministries of Defense and Interior. The meeting started off tense, with one gray-haired Afghan policy adviser in fatigues proclaiming that there was no need for change and that “people already know where to report sexual harassment.” Gerber’s eyes widened.

“We need to shake the tree,” said Marghaly Faqirzai Ghaznavi, an Afghan Ministry of Interior adviser on human rights, women and children’s affairs, and the only Afghan woman who was in the room. The meeting ended with a promise: Representatives from the ministries would take the Nato-drafted policy into consideration. Months later, no policy has been formalised. US advisers are still hopeful that they can firm something up in the coming months.

“Our job is not to hand them an international community-accepted policy or a plan easy for us to implement,” said Gerber. “We want them to do it themselves.”

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

There are critics — not just the Taliban — who say that the US has no place dictating how Afghanistan should run its country. And there are others who say that US and international funding and pressure are essential to push forward gender efforts, but that such efforts have been marked by flawed execution and limited results.

Women across the security sector are “what Afghanistan needs,” said Frogh of the High Peace Council. They’re essential to everything from responding to domestic violence cases to searching the homes and bodies of suspected militants when women are involved — something that is culturally unacceptable for men to do. But there’s a lack of political will, she warned. “If (Afghanistan) wants it or not — that’s a different thing.”

One thing is certain, she said: The current strategy is simply not working. There’s an inherent power difference between foreign troops — often stationed in Afghanistan for a year or less before rotating out — and their Afghan counterparts. “You cannot mentor people with a language and attitude you don’t understand,” Frogh said.

–This article is a partnership between The Fuller Project for International Reporting and The New York Times Magazine.



Two Muslim women on track to win elections to US Congress

October 31, 2018

Chicago: US voters are poised to elect two Muslim women to Congress in the midterm election next week, marking a historic first even as anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric has been on the rise.

Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee, is all but certain to be elected to the US House of Representatives in a heavily-Democratic district in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, where she is the party’s nominee.

Rashida Tlaib, a social worker born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrant parents, will win a House seat in a district where she is running unopposed.

The two will be the first Muslim women to serve in the US Congress. They will increase the total number of Muslims in Congress to three.

Congressman Andre Carson, who is Muslim and African American, is likely to win reelection in his safely-Democratic district in the state of Indiana.

The expected electoral milestone is in stark contrast to the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment around the country. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported a 21 per cent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the first six months of 2018.

Trump ‘a wake-up call’

Both Tlaib and Omar have positioned themselves as polar opposites of President Donald Trump and his Republican Party.

They oppose Trump’s restrictive immigration policies, support a universal health care system which Republicans oppose, and want to abolish US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE has conducted raids throughout the country, leaving immigrant communities terrified of deportations — including longtime Iraqi refugees in Michigan.

“The election of Donald Trump was a wake-up call,” Colin Christopher of the Islamic Society of North America told journalists.

“Now we’re seeing communities that were once absent from public conversations ... all of a sudden are really engaged.”

The two women are part of a historically diverse crop of candidates — by race, gender, and sexuality — challenging Republican incumbents.

They reflect a Trump era in which race and women’s rights and empowerment have emerged as flashpoint issues for Democrats, and identity politics are increasingly important.

Polls indicate next week’s election will likely hand Democrats control of the lower house of Congress in a rebuke of Trump’s administration. The Senate is seen as more likely to stay in Republican majority control.

Anti-Trump message

Tlaib was born and raised in Detroit — the eldest of 14 children. In 2008, she became the first Muslim woman to serve in the Michigan state legislature.

The 42-year-old has positioned herself as a champion of the working class and strongly anti-Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she heckled then-candidate Trump during a speech in Detroit.

Tlaib won the Democratic party’s primary election in August in a predominantly African American district.

“Her district does not have many Muslims in it,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter.

“I don’t believe that her ethnic or religious identity has had much of a part to play in her victory nor any opposition against her.”

Tlaib has been mindful of the historic nature of her candidacy. During her tearful primary election victory speech in August, with her mother by her side, she said relatives in the West Bank were watching her success.

“It just shows how incredibly wonderful our country can be,” she said. “All the ugliness and the hatred that you hear out there, it’s not who we are.”

With no Republican opposing Tlaib, she will be elected next week to a two-year term to replace longtime Congressman John Conyers who stepped down in December amid sexual harassment allegations and failing health.

First Somali-American lawmaker

Ilhan Omar also has forged a progressive political identity. She supports free college education, housing for all, and criminal justice reform.

The hijab-wearing Minnesota state lawmaker’s personal identity has played a big role in her campaign. She is the first Somali-American legislator in the US.

Omar fled her native country’s civil war at the age of eight, and later immigrated with her family to the US.

She was inspired by politics early on, when accompanying her grandfather to his first election vote.

“I just fell in love with politics and with what it could do,” she told Elle magazine in September.

“I decided to run because I was one of many people I knew who really wanted to demonstrate what representative democracies are supposed to be.”

In 2016, the 36-year-old won an uncontested seat in the legislature of her Midwestern home state, where there is a sizeable Somali population.

Running for a congressional seat in a heavily-Democratic district that includes the city of Minneapolis, she is expected to easily defeat her Republican challenger.

She would replace Keith Ellison, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress in 2006. He gave up his seat to run for the state’s attorney general’s office.



Why this film has Iranian hard-liners breaking out in cold sweat

October 31, 2018

Soheil Beiraghi’s "Cold Sweat,” an award-winning film based on a real story of a woman’s struggle to play futsal (indoor soccer), has raised the ire of the Iranian hard-liners who accuse the film of being unsuitable for families and undermining family values.

"Cold Sweat" narrates the story of Afrooz, the captain of the women's national futsal team, who scores a goal in a key match, leading her team to the finals in the Asian Cup in Malaysia. When she and the other players arrive at the airport, it turns out that the captain has been barred by her husband from leaving Iran.

Under Iranian law, a husband can stop his wife from traveling abroad.

The film appears to tell the story of Niloufar Ardalan, the captain and left midfielder of the Iranian women's national futsal team, who wasn’t allowed to attend the Asian Cup in 2015 when her husband forbid her from accompanying her team.

Despite the similarities, Ardalan and Baran Kosari, who plays the leading role in “Cold Sweat,” have both denied that it is the same story. When the film was first screened — and won two awards — at the Fajr International Film Festival in February, reports emerged in the local media that Ardalan’s husband, Mehdi Toutounchi, a well-known sports journalist, filed a lawsuit against the film, but he refuted the claims later.

More gravely, in early September, when the film opened in cinemas across Iran, Hozeh Honari, one of the country’s largest cultural institution, boycotted the film. Hozeh Honari is affiliated with the Islamic Propaganda Organization, a Tehran-based body whose budget is funded by the Iranian state. Hozeh Honari owns more than 100 cinema halls across Iran, whose boycott would have severe consequences on any film's box office earnings.

Following the boycott, the Association of Iranian Film Directors issued a statement Oct. 16, criticizing Hozeh Honari for its illegal boycott of "Cold Sweat."

"The illegal and baseless prohibition of screening … is a violation of the rights of filmmakers and … cinema viewers," the local press quoted the statement as saying. The statement also claimed that Hozeh Honari had recently formed a group to censor films before screening them in its cinema halls.

In response, Hozeh Honari explained that "Cold Sweat" was not suitable for families. Yazdan Ashiri, its public relations director, told the local YJC news agency Oct. 17 that the body did not consider the film to be in line with the family values they uphold. “We have the right to choose which films to show in our cinemas,” he said. "Every institution and organization has its own policies. We reached the conclusion that given the issues brought up in 'Cold Sweat' and its content, we cannot put [this film] on our priority [list] for screening. That’s why this film was not screened in any of our cinema halls.”

Speaking at a conference at Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tayebeh Siavoshi, a senior member of the parliamentary Committee on Culture stated Oct. 21 that Hozeh Honari officials had told her that the film contained “erotic scenes.” But Siavoshi took a stance against the boycott, saying, "The Iranian youth who are mostly cinemagoers don’t accept the arguments of Hozeh Honari.”

Kosari, who lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) to play the role of the captain of the women's futsal team, believes the film's revenue will decrease due to losing the opportunity of being screened in more than 100 cinema halls.

"The boycott by Hozeh Honari has turned into an effective advertisement. It attracts more people to watch the banned film. However, the fact that it cannot be screened in certain cinemas will have an irrepairable negative impact on its box office revenue. Directors, producers and actors have issued statements asking Hozeh Honari to stop flexing its muscles," wrote Kosari on her Instagram page Oct. 5, adding that she was “disappointed and angry" with the decision.

Several other cinemas expressing solidarity announced that "Cold Sweat" would be screened for a longer period, so it can maximize its profits.

Meanwhile, Iran's state TV, which is also controlled by the hard-liners, is not broadcasting the trailer of "Cold Sweat.” Explaining the reason behind the TV channel's opposition, the film's director, Soheil Beiraghi, told Reformist ILNA news agency Oct. 6, "IRIB [national TV organization that holds the monopoly of domestic radio and TV services in Iran] told us that we should give them a trailer with no scene showing Baran Kosari, but given the structure of the film it wasn’t possible for us to create such a trailer. We were [then] deprived of the TV channel broadcasting our [trailer]."

In an interview with Reformist Etemaad daily Oct. 22, Kosari said that she has been on the blacklist of state TV for a long time. "Due to my position in 2009 [Kosari supported Reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in the presidential elections], state TV placed a ban on me. Although this is not important to me, when it comes to advertising it is different, [because] state TV is violating the rights of producers," Kosari noted.



Incentives draw more women into Turkey’s workforce

November 01, 2018

Striving to break male domination in the country's workforce, Turkey has managed to significantly boost its women's employment rate. Cafer Uzunkaya, the head of the state-run Turkish Employment Agency (İŞKUR) said the rate now stands at 34.7 percent, a substantial increase compared to figures more than a decade ago. The increase is partly the result of incentives by the government for working women, especially mothers who often choose caring for their children over full-time jobs.

Uzunkaya says the rise is far higher than the increase in women's participation in the workforce in European countries and they aim to have more working women.

"Women's employment is one of the areas we are most successful at as an agency. We endorse employers with incentives through our funds to boost employment," he said.

Gender equality and affirmative action for women are high on the agenda of the government. In his party's manifesto ahead of the June 24 elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged to end "every tradition of the age of ignorance targeting women."

The Ministry of Family and Social Justice already works to empower women with projects to improve gender equality for women, which have lagged behind men in every field, courtesy of a patriarchal mindset.

In recent years, the government rolled out a series of incentives for working women, from longer maternity leaves to financial support for daycare needs, as well as payments to grandparents caring for their grandchildren with working parents.

The government set the bar higher to increase the employment rate to at least 41 percent in the near future and decrease illegal labor by women to at least 30 percent. As for female entrepreneurs, the government plans to extend loans to more women willing to set up their own business. Women are already provided up to TL 50,000 ($11,588) for loans.

Uzunkaya said İŞKUR managed to raise the number of women who found jobs through the agency this year and provided "efficient incentives" to enroll more women in jobs in industry and production.

Traditionally, the number of women in the agriculture sector has been higher in Turkey in parallel with female employment in rural parts of the country where both men and women have to work for the household, unlike the "housewife" concept more common in cities.

However, figures of the past 10 years show a drop in women employed in the agricultural sector and a shift to the service sector. Experts tie it to migration from rural regions to cities where women usually find low-paying jobs in the service sector to support their families.

Between 2008 and 2017, the number of women employed in the agricultural sector decreased to 28.3 percent from 42.1 percent, while it rose to 56.1 percent from 42.3 percent in the service sector.

Through the "Mother at Work" project, the agency also helps women to adapt to a work environment with vocational training. Women attending vocational training are given a daily allowance and cash to cover nursery care costs of their children during the training period. The project also covers training programs and guidance for women running or planning to establish cooperatives for business purposes.

Uzunkaya said they also extended the period of incentives given to employers, which prioritize employment of women, youth and the disabled, to 18 months.



Egyptian female bodybuilder wishes to return to Egypt despite success abroad

October 31, 2018

You have muscles like a boy’s,” was a usual sentence received by Egyptian champion bodybuilder Dina Abdel-Maksoud, the 20-year-old engineering student who won first place and the gold trophy in Ukraine’s bodybuilding championship.

Abdel-Maksoud is also classified as “the first Egyptian girl to practice bodybuilding abroad, specifically in the Ukrainian Union.”

Many years ago, Dina, from Port Said, wanted to build a strong body like the bodybuilders she saw while walking with her father to the gym, but she was always criticized and faced sarcastic comments for that wish. She turned to her dream of weightlifting and strict dieting, then searched for a coach.

Dina did not find a bodybuilder coach for women, so she traveled to Ukraine. “Our society is oriental and fears breaking customs and traditions. They see the girl who lifts weights as a mannish woman. I travelled because women are afraid of practicing the sport in Egypt; they tell her you look like a man.”

During a phone-in with Kol Youm talk show on “On E” channel, she said, “I traveled, played and became a professional in Ukraine. My parents supported me financially to work there. I wish I were in my country and represented my country. My family helped me to travel, but there are others who don’t have the money to do that.”

In Ukraine, Dina is studying engineering in addition to practicing bodybuilding. She has also received several sports certificates, including ISSA and UBPF, which are certified training and nutrition certificates from the Ukrainian Bodybuilding Federation. She has also participated in many world championships.

Dina hopes to return to Egypt again, despite achieving successes abroad. “I wish to return to Egypt, and God willing I’ll try to return soon, and I’ll try to help women achieve their dreams and practice bodybuilding without fear,” she said.




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