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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 9 Jan 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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In Pak Gujrat: 36 Women Put To the ‘Sword of Dishonour’ In 2014

New Age Islam News Bureau

9 Jan 2015

Women walk as they shout slogans during a rally calling for gender equality, two days after International Women's Day, in Istanbul, March 10, 2013. (Photo by REUTERS/Osman Orsal)


 Pakistan TV Show Talks Sex for Housewives

 Study Proves Pak Child Marriage Linked To Domestic Violence

 No Restriction on Iranian Women’s Dress Colour: Vice President

 U.S. School Makes Girls Follow Islam Dress Code

 Actress’s Morphed Picture: VHP Says Actress Is Free to Sue Them

 Could Massive Group Weddings Be The Answer To Pricey Afghan Wedding?

 Turkish Women Receive Mixed Messages on Work-Life Balance

 Indonesia to Lift Maid Ban If Better Conditions, Pay Offered

 50,000 School Bags Filled With Care for Gaza Children

 UN Chief Appeals to Extremists Groups: Free the Children

 Daesh Prevents 670,000 Children from Attending School: UN

 Transgender Woman Denied Access to Female and Male Sections of Western Wall

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





In Pak Gujrat: 36 Women Put To the ‘Sword of Dishonour’ In 2014

January 9, 2015

GUJRAT: At least 36 women were killed, mostly on the pretext of preserving honour and over domestic disputes, in Gujrat in 2014. The number came down from previous year’s 51.

According to the data collected from the district police office, a majority of the women had been slain by their kin and the complainants in these cases also had been the family members. There was no conviction in these cases as the complainant would reconcile with the accused, giving an impression that the family of the deceased supported the gruesome incident.

Most incidents occurred in the rural areas especially those in the jurisdiction of three police stations -- Kunjah, Karrianwala and Dinga. There were some incidents in areas in the Kakrali, Daulatnagar, Gujrat Saddar, Lalamusa Saddar and Sara-i-Alamgir Saddar police remit.

Even in Gujrat city, the police stations covering the recently urbanised areas located in the outskirts of the city did have an alarming number of such cases as the Civil Lines and Lorry Adda police stations had registered six such cases in the year.

There were 34 incidents of murder of women which were lodged in different police stations in 2014 compared to 49 cases registered in 2013. The police recovered three bodies of women during the last one year and these remain unidentified as the police say sometimes people from neighbouring districts throw the bodies (with mutilated faces) in Gujrat.

The Kunjah police station’s areas were on top with six cases of murder of women -- five over honour and one land dispute. There were five such incidents in the Tanda police station of Saddar circle, followed by the Larri Adda, Dinga and Karrianwala police stations each of which saw murder of four women.

In 2013, the Dinga police station was on top with seven women murdered. The Karrianwala and Kakrali police stations had five incidents each and the Kunjah, Gujrat Saddar, Jalalpur Jattan Saddar, Civil Lines and Daulatnagar police stations had four each.

Some of the women had also been killed over marriage disputes, family feuds and during robberies.

The district police officer told Dawn that the culture and so-called traditions of society had been the main cause of violence against women. He said the police had brought the number of incidents down last year but still the ratio in rural areas demanded effective legislation and awareness campaigns.

He said a policing centre was being established in Gujrat to facilitate women, children and senior citizens who often remain neglected. He said trained and efficient police officials including women would be deputed at the centre and they would be sent to the rural areas as well.

Social scientist Prof Dr Muhammad Nizamuddin, chairman of the Punjab Higher Education Commission, says Pakistan has high prevalence of violence against women for which various factors can be identified. Patriarchal society, where gender inequality at various levels has been accepted as norm, leaves much room to exercise power over women.

Men have been given high status irrespective of cast, creed, finance and education, he says.

“Pakistani society is a complex society with various ethnic groups but when it comes to gender inequality almost all ethnic groups, classes and sects seem to follow this rule although intensity varies. Men are taught that they are superior and structure of society has been evolved and developed to give men more power. This unequal power lies at the root of violence against women,” he explains.

He says low level of literacy also leads to unquestioned acceptance of religious doctrines. In many cases, cultural practices are protected by various religious interpretations mostly given by clerics. Complex interplay of cultural and religious values that focus on subordination of women may result in gender discrimination that leads to violence against women, he says.

While suggesting measures to curb the menace, he stresses the need to have an egalitarian approach towards gender issues, equal status for women and opportunities of education and employment. He also says implementation of laws barring discrimination against women is one of the surest ways of improving things.



Pakistan TV Show Talks Sex for Housewives

In Pakistan, a TV Show Focuses On A Topic Once Taboo: Sex

The Associated Press

January 9, 2015

KARACHI - In religiously conservative Pakistan, a television call-in advice show is tackling an issue rarely discussed in public: Sex.

Once a week, a doctor appearing on HTV's "Clinic Online" focuses on sexual issues, fielding questions about sexually transmitted disease, fertility and how to deal with husbands having multiple wives in this Muslim-majority country of 180 million people.

"It wasn't an easy decision," said Faizan Syed, the CEO of HTV, a private satellite channel. "The biggest question was how society would perceive or handle it."

The answer is surprisingly well. Before the first episode aired, Syed said producers discussed every aspect of the show, including whether to air it late at night to ensure that the audience was mostly adults and not children. In the end, Syed said they decided to air it during the day when men likely would be at work and women at home alone, making it easier for them to call the show.

The show doesn't mirror the occasional salaciousness of American daytime television talk shows or the winking raunchiness of Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Instead, the Karachi-shot show aired nationwide features Dr. Nadeem Uddin Siddiqui clinically answering questions, mainly from women calling in from villages or remote areas of the country. Many women in Pakistan don't even have a basic education, let alone a working knowledge of sex.

"We decided our prime target is the housewives, who are the vulnerable of the society compared to men," Syed said.

Most of the women ask about impotence and infertility of their partners and how to get them to go to a doctor for a consultation. One woman described how her husband would go to his second wife for sex, leaving the first wife neglected. In Islam, men are allowed to have four wives although the practice is not universally accepted.

The caller asked Siddiqui how she could fulfil her own sexual desires. Siddiqui said all he could advise her to do was to turn to religion and prayer.

During another call, a woman described how her 29-year-old single nephew was becoming sexually aggressive with the women in the house. Siddiqui advised her to take him for a psychological consultation and arrange for him to be married as soon as possible.

But even in this show there are boundaries, as it is conscious of not appearing to promote sex outside of marriage.

Dr. Meraj-ul-Huda Siddiqui, a religious scholar associated with the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, who is not related to the show's host, said a television show discussing sexual problems and diseases is not against Islam. But he cautioned that the show must keep its content within the religious and social values of society.

Some Pakistanis, asked about the show, said it filled an important niche.

"It is a good effort to address the issues of people who live in remote areas of the country and especially women," said Salman Ali, a banker in Karachi who occasionally watches the show.



Study proves Pak child marriage linked to domestic violence

January 9, 2015

PESHAWAR: A study published last month in the Journal of Adolescent Health revealed that child marriage in Pakistan is linked to increased spousal violence and extreme controlling behaviour among husbands.

This study called for federal intervention against the early marriage of females along with increased awareness surrounding the heightened risk of spouse violence against child wives. Child marriage is defined as marriage under the age of 18 by international standards.

The study analysed national data from the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey of 2012-2013 of married women between the ages of 15 and 24. Of this group, nearly half (47.8%) were married prior to the age of 18. Approximately one-third of these women had endured spousal violence and controlling behaviour from their husbands.

Child marriage, as compared to adult marriage, was learned to be significantly associated with increased occurrences of violent husband behaviour, both physically and emotionally. Last year, the Council of Islamic Ideology confirmed its stance that a child is ready for marriage once he or she has reached puberty.

Critics of Pakistan’s legislature allowing females under the age of 18 to be married cite husband violence as well as loss of educational and consequent economic opportunities as reasons females should not marry before the age of 18. The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) firmly maintains that the legal, national marrying age should be 18 for both men and women.

NCSW Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz told The Express Tribune, “NCSW opposes early age marriages for a number of reasons including adverse effects on reproductive health, violation of bodily rights and increase in domestic and other kinds of violence. It is a constitutional right of every girl to get education. NCSW believes that biological maturity does not establish adulthood and if a girl is considered to be an adult at 18 years of age in order to vote, get a driver’s licence, or be eligible for CNIC, the same criteria should be applied for the age of marriage.”

Last year, Sindh and Punjab assemblies both passed resolutions making marriage illegal prior to 18 years of age. At the national level, Child Marriage Restraint Act dating from 1929 states that no male under 18 and no female under 16 may be legally married. However, the Child Marriage Restraint Act does not accord with the November 2014 UN decree signed by 116 countries setting an international prohibition on child marriage.

Pakistan signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), also known as a prototypical international women’s bill of rights, in March 1996.



No restriction on Iranian women’s dress color: vice president

January 9, 2015

TEHRAN – Not only there exists no restriction or ban on the color of clothes Iranian women choose it is also recommended that they use colorful garments, says the Iranian vice president for women and family affairs.

Choosing colorful garments is rooted in “our national and traditional attire”, Shahindokht Mollaverdi said while visiting the Tasnim Festival in Tehran on Monday.

Mollaverdi added the style and color of Iranian traditional dresses are rooted in nature.

Choosing the style of Islamic clothing is the right of any Iranian girl, IRNA quoted Mollaverdi as saying.

From an aesthetics point of view, different styles and colors of Iranian-Islamic clothing are presented in the festival, she said.

The Tasnim Festival is aimed at promoting Iranian-Islamic lifestyle and introducing Islamic clothing.

The eight-day festival opened in Goftegoo Park on Dec 30, 2014.



U.S. school makes girls follow Islam dress code

January 9, 2015

The Douglas County School District in Colorado, under fire for saying that schoolgirls might have to cover up from head to ankle for a field trip to a Muslim mosque, has confirmed that such Shariah requirements will be enforced on the outing.

“Students who choose to attend the [Rocky Heights Middle School] world religion field trip are expected to respect the dress code of the host facility,” the school said in a statement posted online.

The explanation followed a firestorm of criticism of the school for announcing the field trip for seventh-grade students and including a note that the Shariah dress code could be enforced.

The note sent to families, according to a report from Islam expert and commentator Pamela Geller, said: “The world religions field trip is next Tuesday, January 13. We will be visiting the Denver Mosque, the Assumption Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and the Rodef-Shalom Synagogue. We will then eat lunch at Park Meadows Food Court. Students must either bring a sack lunch or money to purchase lunch at the food court.”

It continued: “THERE IS A DRESS CODE FOR THIS TRIP: All students must wear appropriate long pants. Ankles must be covered. Girls must bring wide scarves or hooded sweatshirts for the mosque.”

Geller said the “subjugation and oppression of women are enshrined under the Shariah.”

“Young school girls should not be forced to ‘respect’ a dress code that represents honor violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage, et al,” she wrote.

The field trip was featured on the Peter Boyles radio talk show on Denver’s KNUS.

“Public schools are forbidden from holding girls to different standards than boys,” Boyles noted. “They’re holding these girls to a different standard – it’s a religion reason.

“Islam dictates many, I believe – personal belief – repressive practices against women and Islamophobia will trump womens’ rights. Animal rights every time, and the environment. That’s their belief – that’s wonderful. But don’t apply it to public school kids,” Boyles said.

In response to the criticism, the district posted a notice called the “Rest of the Story.”

Officials explained the field trip is an option, not a requirement.

“If the decision is made to not participate in a field trip, alternative educational opportunities are provided,” the district said. “This is true for any DCSD field trip, including the RHMS world religion field trip.”

If students do choose to participate in the field trip, they are subject to the Shariah dress requirements of the mosque, the school said.

“As part of providing an authentic learning opportunity for students, DCSD provides an optional field trip to further support the world religion course, thus allowing students who choose to participate to discuss what they experienced on the field trip with their family members and eventually leading to the development of their own views,” the school district said.

Geller observed: “Here again we see that anywhere American law and Islamic law conflict, it is American law that has to give way.”




Actress’s Morphed Picture: VHP Says Actress Is Free to Sue Them

Written by Sonal Gera

January 9, 2015

The cover photo of the latest issue of Himalaya Dhwani, a magazine brought out by the women’s wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad called Durga Vahini, has gone viral for it features the morphed face of actress Kareena Kapoor Khan half covered with a ‘Burqa’. A strap underneath reads, ‘Dharmantaran Se Rashtraantaran’ meaning ‘conversion of nationality through religious conversion’. Durga Vahini has apparently launched a campaign to convert Hindu women who married Muslim men, claiming the ghar wapsi campaign must address ‘love jihad’.

According to a report published in the Hindustan Times, Rajini Thukral, the coordinator of the magazine, has reportedly said, “She (Kareena) is a celebrity. The youth try to emulate celebrities. They think if she can do so, why not us?” Commenting further on the possibility of Kareena Kapoor suing the publication over the morphed picture, Prakash Sharma of VHP said, “If actress Kareena Kapoor has a problem with this, the doors of court are always open for her,” as reported by agencies. Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan tied the knot in 2012 after five years of courtship. Saif had, recently, in an exclusive column on Love Jihad for Indian Express, wrote what issues the couple had to face, owing to their religious differences, when they decided to get married. “When Kareena and I married, there were similar death threats, with people on the net saying ridiculous things about ‘love jihad.’ We follow whatever religion or spiritual practice we believe in. We talk about them and respect each other’s views. I hope our children will do the same,” Saif had quoted. (Read the full article here: Saif Ali Khan: Intermarriage is not jihad, it is India)



Could massive group weddings be the answer to pricey Afghan wedding?

January 9, 2015

People from all over the world are reportedly spending more and more on weddings, and since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan is no exception. With recent government attempts to put a cap on wedding costs proving futile, the popularity of group weddings has increased.

Could massive group weddings of up to 100 couples be the answer to Afghanistan’s soaring wedding costs?

“During the Taliban regime, weddings were very different. Music was not allowed at the ceremony, nor was dancing. In the last ten years things have changed and now people can celebrate their weddings as they want without any problem,” said Temorshah, a shopkeeper Fasial Business Centre.

It is these venues that were warned by the previous administration to put a cap on their prices, in a bid to cut down on the pressure poor Afghan families face to match the elaborate weddings of the country’s small, rich elite.

3But still today in Kabul, a single rental of a wedding hall costs on average 10,000 to 20,000 US Dollars. This does not include the expensive dowries expected of the groom’s family, or the costs of the traditional henna party or the engagement party.

A groom, Mohammad Yosuf, said “The reason that many Afghans can’t get married is because the bride’s family has many requests, and the demands from the groom’s family are so high that a person cannot afford to get married for many years.”

However, where the Ministry of Justice’s efforts have had little impact, the recent popularity with group weddings seems to be filling a void.

Abdul Rahim Rashi, Governor of Meer Bacha Kod District, Kabul said “The reason for organising today’s wedding was because many families that are living in Meer Bacha Koot and Kohdaman districts of Kabul have economical problems and their young sons and daughters are single. So we approached Khair Khowah Organisation and they agreed to support us.”

4The Khair Khowa Organisation is one of many organisations throughout Afghanistan that are funded privately by wealthy Afghan businessmen.

Another groom, Mohammad Yousuf said “Fortunately after two years of waiting, I am getting married today. There are other grooms – 32 in total. I was engaged for two years, but there are other grooms here who have been engaged for up to five years. But today we are all getting married.”

It’s not just the hiring of the wedding halls which costs Afghan couples a fortune, the bride’s dress is pricey too. Most brides begin the big day wearing a green dress. This can cost from 100 to 700 dollars. For the ceremony, they’ll often rent a white dress for anything up to 2,000. And that’s to rent. Because of cultural sensitivities, this is as close as we can get to filming a bride.

“I feel very happy today because I am getting married. Marriage will make my faith strong, that is why I am very happy today,” Mohammad Yousuf added.

This is the script of a NATOChannel story by Lauren Muchan



Turkish women receive mixed messages on work-life balance

January 9, 2015

On Jan. 1, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu welcomed the first baby of 2015 with news cameras rolling. Muezzinoglu made instant headlines by saying, “Mothers have the career of motherhood, which cannot be possessed by anyone else in the world. Mothers should not put a career other than motherhood at the center of their lives.” Looking right into the eyes of female hospital staff, he said, “Motherhood should be women’s sole career.”

The strongest reaction to the minister's words came from Gulten Kisanak, the mayor of Diyarbakir and a member of the People’s Democracy Party (HDP). She said, “Dear women, let us promise we will build the strongest career by toppling [the AKP’s] tyranny.”

The health minister gave an interview Jan. 4 to address the criticism. Muezzinoglu complained he had been misunderstood, and what he meant to say was, “Motherhood is not a career for men.” He shared his views on women’s “biological clock,” adding that he had told his daughters, “By 22 or 23 years old, find a man and marry him.” Luckily for Muezzinoglu, both of his daughters complied and are married. They are also both college-educated and work full time.

If it were a single isolated statement from the minister, the issue could be seen as one odd remark by a right-wing politician, yet there seems to be a trend gaining strength in Turkey since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intensified his confusing rhetoric on women. In late November, Erdogan commented, "Women are not equal to men, and motherhood is the highest position. … But you cannot explain this to feminists, because they don’t accept motherhood.” In December, Erdogan declared that birth control was treason. His unrelenting obsession with regulating women’s wombs has encouraged other prominent figures to make outrageous comments. Here are some of the latest perplexing statements:

On Sept. 28, pro-AKP daily Yeni Safak’s columnist Yusuf Kaplan referred to the Erasmus program, a European Union university exchange program, as "Orgasmus," accusing the students of hedonism and sexual obsessions. In mid-December, the media found out that Kaplan’s own daughter has studied in Paris as an Erasmus participant.

On Dec. 4, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said, “Men do not have the chance to be mothers; motherhood is the highest honor.” However, he did not stop there, but elaborated on the high rate of suicide in Scandinavian countries and concluded, “Gender equality triggers suicide.” He repeated many times the importance of women taking care of their families. Davutoglu’s wife is a successful medical doctor.

On Dec. 14, Tugrul Inancer, an Islamist lawyer and commentator on religion also known as the sheikh of the Cerrahi Dervish Lodge, said in an interview with a female journalist, “Women are not obliged to bring home income. Working women frequently get divorced. They may be independent of their husband, but then they go succumb to the services of other men. Why would a happily married woman be working outside the home? The fault is with the husband. A woman’s sole duty is to be a mother.” In the subsequent outcry, it was revealed that Inancer’s daughter is the CEO of a company.

On Dec. 31, Minister of Family and Social Policies Aysenur Islam criticized the media for publishing reports on the skyrocketing number of women’s murders. Sharing rather dubious statistics, she claimed that more women were murdered in Germany than in Turkey in 2014, and added, “No one hears of the murders in Germany, but everyone talks about the cases in Turkey.”

On Jan. 2, theologian and well-known commentator on Islamic issues Nurettin Yildiz issued a new fatwa: “It is not permissible for men to look at women who are not their immediate family. To give an example, it is not allowed for men to watch female newscasters on television.” Reactions were strong. Female anchor Pinar Isik Ardor protested, “I am not a sex object” after sharing the news of Yildiz’s fatwa on live television.

One cannot help but see a pattern of hypocrisy. All these men commenting on women’s rights and leading to the further devaluation of women’s bodies indeed have wives or daughters who are benefiting from secular educational and public services and establishing successful careers.

The AKP has waged an impressive war to open up space for religious women in schools and the workplace. Why has it changed course to push women back to the home? Why did the AKP support the rhetoric of increasing hijabi women’s participation in public spaces and providing them with economic freedom, if motherhood is all that they are to achieve? The mixed messages seem to divide the pro-AKP media as well. While most Islamist outlets have been quiet on the issue, pro-AKP Sabah Daily columnist Emre Akoz penned a column saying that women should be in the work force, and also arguing that it is not the AKP but the Fethullah Gulen movement that would like to erase women from public spaces.

If women opt out of employment, then who will serve the other women, especially pious women? Most observant Muslim women would prefer female hairdressers, doctors and customer service personnel. Sema, an observant Muslim whose husband is a high-level bureaucrat, told Al-Monitor, “The personal is becoming increasingly and irritably political. Will there be male beauticians, OB/GYNs for Muslim women? I am no longer sure their statements about women’s bodies are acceptable to Islamic standards. If your own life cannot set an example, how can you preach to other people?”

When asked by Al-Monitor about the mixed messages from the AKP, Hatice Altinisik, an outspoken human rights activist and the HDP’s deputy chairwoman responsible for "people and their beliefs," provided a disheartening answer: “That is the line the Islamist ruling elite draw between themselves and everyone else. This is the mind-set of those intoxicated by political power and arrogance in seeing it is their right to tell others what to do. All is permissible for them. The rules apply to others, who lack privilege.” She added sarcastically, “If one day we wake up and they tell us, 'How dare you breathe in the same universe with us?' I shall not be surprised.”

Zeynep Bozdas, a young Muslim woman and the foreign relations adviser of the Sunni-Islamist Kurdish party Huda-Par, told Al-Monitor, “Motherhood is most important, yes, but how healthy would a mother who is kept away from the public be? We should also talk about that. Women should contribute to society without ignoring their families. That would make them better mothers. And remember, the Prophet Muhammad’s wife was a businesswoman. Should we say more?”

Indeed, there seems to be confusing messages in the examples AKP women provide to the public.

While Turks were busy debating over social media what kind of a career motherhood is, Deputy AKP Chairman Suleyman Soylu suggested, “Politics is a matter of genetics. From the father, it could pass on the kids. If [Erdogan's youngest daughter] Sumeyye Erdogan ran for office, it would be lovely.” Others in the AKP rejoiced in the possibility. Social media users ridiculed the proposition, one tweeting, “What should Sumeyye do? Should she get married and have three kids, should she get involved in politics or assist her helpless brother?" Pundits have also asked how Sumeyye can remain single in her early 30s, while her father advises female high school students not to be too picky and marry soon, and the health minister sets the marriage age cap as 22-23 for women. One social media commentator asked the health minister, “Would you dare make this suggestion to Sumeyye Erdogan?”

So far, the AKP’s concerted efforts to redesign the place of women in society seems to be working rather well in conveying the message that equal opportunities for women are no longer guaranteed.



Indonesia to lift maid ban if better conditions, pay offered

January 9, 2015

The Indonesian government has announced that it would only lift the ban on its citizens working in Saudi Arabia if sponsors meet several new demands including monthly salaries of SR1,700, Fridays off, and overtime payment.

Officials from the Indonesian Labor Recruitment Federation are expected in Riyadh on Saturday to finalize the deal with members of the Council of Saudi Chambers’ national recruitment committee.

The federation also wants Saudi sponsors to pay workers SR100 for working on a Friday or any other off day, or SR6 for every hour worked during these holidays.

Saudi recruitment committee officials believe the new conditions would increase the cost of recruiting domestic help from the country to SR12,000 a worker.

Saudi Ambassador to Jakarta Mustafa Al-Mubarak said that salaries are not the problem delaying the lifting of the ban. “It needs the Indonesian government’s approval,” he said. He said the labor ministries in the two countries have already signed an agreement on recruitment including contract terms. The Indonesian government’s approval was delayed due to internal politics that has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia, he said.

“Public opinion on the protection of Indonesian workers in foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia, is a major issue because it is highlighted by the media, putting pressure on the government,” Al-Mubarak said.

During the Riyadh meeting, Saudi officials are likely to press for a SR1,200 salary, which they consider a fair one. The Indonesian federation wants Saudi recruitment companies to deal with only one Indonesian company instead of several.

Badr Almotawa, a business analyst, said labor-exporting countries have been exploiting Saudi families by increasing salaries of domestic workers and recruitment charges. He said some Indonesian political parties want to exploit the situation by raising human rights issues.

“Many Saudi families seeking domestic help are not very rich. They are either teachers or civil servants. Families in Jordan and Lebanon hire maids at lower salaries compared to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Almotawa said recruitment from other countries is needed to meet the shortage and avoid exploitation.

Yahiya Al-Maqbul, head of the recruitment committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also supports the idea. Al-Maqbul said the Labor Ministry plans to sign agreements with four new countries to solve the recruitment crisis in the country.



50,000 school bags filled with care for Gaza children

January 9, 2015

Dubai — As many as 50,000 children in Gaza will have a reason to smile when they see their new school bags. Packed with school stationery and books, the school kits have been put together by thousands of UAE residents as part of a new initiative launched by Dubai Cares.

Hossein Omeid, a student of Philadelphia Private School was among the volunteers who turned up on the first day of the community campaign.

“Most of my classmates have come here to help in the initiative,” said Hussain, an Iranian national.

The school kits include notebooks, pens, calculator, sketchbooks, erasers, sharpeners and crayons among other stationery. The campaign is being hosted under the initiative “Rebuild Palestine. Start with Education.”

The latest round of fighting took a particularly devastating toll on Gaza’s youngest and most vulnerable. Families lost, houses destroyed, classrooms razed — the hopes of a young generation were gunned down in the carnage.

Farzana Usman Zarifi, a university student, was upbeat about being a volunteer for the good cause of packing school bags for these children.

“This is the only way I can help and I didn’t want to miss it,” remarked Farzana.

Holding three empty school bags in her hand, Farzana set out on her mission to fill the bags with essentials laid out on tables. With 10 tables turning into an assembly line, volunteers walked across a table to fill each school bag with a list of utilities.

“This bag will end up with a child in Gaza who will use these goods to continue going to school. It is wonderful to see so many people turn up for a good cause,” said Farzana.

Once the bags are filled, quality control teams check every bag to count if the right quantity has been packed. The bags are collected into large boxes, before being loaded onto trucks for their onward journey. Dubai Cares is inviting UAE residents to come and volunteer in assembling the school kits.

UAE residents, businesses and schools can register on site at Al Boom Tourist Village in Dubai anytime between 10am and 6pm until January 11.

Dubai Cares will then deliver the kits to the students currently studying in UNRWA schools in Gaza, in time for the start of the second half of the academic year.

Speaking with Khaleej Times, Tariq Al Gurg, CEO of Dubai Cares said: “We want to engage the community and help bring back smiles on the faces of children of Gaza. Once loaded, the trucks will head to Jordan via road where they will be handed over to UNRWA.” He added, “We want more people to come here and assemble the school kits.”



UN chief appeals to extremists groups: Free the children

January 9, 2015

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations secretary-general is making a personal appeal to the Boko Haram and Islamic State extremist groups to "immediately and unconditionally" free the hundreds of children they have abducted.

Ban Ki-moon spoke out Thursday during informal remarks to the U.N. General Assembly and again to reporters afterward. He said he was making the appeal "as a father and grandfather" in addition to his global role.

Boko Haram horrified the world last April when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls, of whom more than 200 remain missing. The group has abducted hundreds of other boys, girls and young men and women.

The Islamic State group also has been accused of kidnapping children, especially girls, in its sweep across parts of Syria and Iraq.

Read more here:



Daesh prevents 670,000 children from attending school: UN

January 9, 2015

An estimated 670,000 children in Syria are being deprived of education after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group ordered the closure of schools until the curriculum is made to conform with its medieval reading of the Islamic Sharia, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

ISIS declared a “caliphate” on land it seized in Syria and Iraq in a sweeping offensive back in June, committing wide scale massacres, sexually enslaving women and girls and recruiting children as fighters.

"In December there was a decree of the Islamic State [ISIS] ordering the stoppage of education in areas under its control," UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac told a news briefing.

The militant group decreed that schools be closed until the school curriculum had been made "compliant with the religious rules," he told Reuters, adding that children enrolled in primary and secondary schools in Raqqa, and rural areas of Deir al-Zor and Aleppo provinces are affected by the closures and teachers are forced to undergo “retraining.”

Prior to 2011, Syria had one of the best rates of basic education enrollment in the Middle East with 96%. The number is currently estimated to be lower than 40%, according to a 2014 report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

The report also said that the effects of this drop in enrollment and access to proper education is expected to impact the country severely for many generations to come.

In early August, ISIS announced it was banning philosophy and science in Raqqa schools, claiming that the subjects “do not fit in with the laws of god.”

ISIS has also banned many other subjects in the Syrian state curriculum, including social studies – namely civic engagement and nationalism – fine arts, music, history, and religion, including Islamic and Christian studies.

In all, 4.3 million Syrian children are enrolled nationwide this school year, according to the education ministry, but between 2.1 million and 2.4 million are currently either out of school or attending classes irregularly, UNICEF said.

Moreover, UNICEF said that at least 160 children were killed and 343 wounded in attacks on schools across Syria last year. The toll was probably an under-estimate due to difficulties of access and obtaining data, Boulierac said.

"In addition to lack of school access, attacks on schools, teachers and students are further horrific reminders of the terrible price Syria's children are paying in a crisis approaching its fifth year," Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria, said in a statement.



Transgender woman denied access to female and male sections of Western Wall

January 9, 2015

A transgender woman has shared her frustration on social media after she was denied access to both the men's and women's sections at Jerusalem's Western Wall.

Kay Long, an Israeli who works as a costume designer, visited the holiest site in Judaism on Monday (5 January) with a friend who had travelled from Spain.

When she tried to enter the women's section of the Western Wall, she was prevented from doing so and told she was "not a woman." When Long subsequently tried to visit the men's section of the wall, she was told she could not enter as she was not wearing a cap and was "not a man."

"All that remains is to be photographed and say a prayer with the hope that it will be answered," she wrote on her Facebook page on Monday.

The post received hundreds of likes and messages of support in the comments section.

Long later made a second post, stating that she was not religious and did not intend to pray at the Western Wall.

"The point is I decided to respect humans wherever they choose to live and they didn't respect me," she wrote on Tuesday. "Live and let live is my motto."

Israel is one of the region's most progressive nations when it comes to LGBTI rights but Ultra-Orthodox Jews have become increasingly assertive of their rights at the Western Wall in recent years.

Female women activists from the 'Women of the Wall' group have protested over the separation of men and women in prayer at the site.

Men and women are segregated at the site, while women are prevented by Orthodox law from practising the same rituals as male worshippers.