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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 28 Dec 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Iran's Billboard Guide to Family Planning Teaches 'the More, the Merrier'

New Age Islam News Bureau

28 Dec 2013

Debt and penury often force many Afghan families to marry off girls for money at a very young age. (file photo)


 Afghan Authorities Probe Child Marriage

 Uproar over Legendary Fairuz’s ‘Love’ Of Hezbollah Chief

 French Muslim Woman Celebrates 20 Years in Saudi Arabia

 Pahang Muslim Authorities Gun after 'Mak Nyahs' and 'Pengkid' Cross-Dressers

 Veiled Egyptian Rapper Speaks for Women’s Rights

 Mixed Reaction to Change of Wadeema’s Law Title

 The Women’s Majlis: Green Living Starts At Home in the Carbon Footprint Battle

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Iran's Billboard Guide to Family Planning Teaches 'the More, the Merrier'

Dec 28, 2013

About 47 years ago, the motto “Fewer children, better life” penetrated deep into Iranians’ homes and affected reproduction norms in the quest for a more comfortable lifestyle. The slogan was a major effort by the Pahlavi administration to curb population growth, a campaign to persuade families to have fewer children.

Last year, Iran’s supreme leader presented an extremely different and updated approach to people’s private lives, encouraging them to produce more children and adding that the Iranian population should move toward at least 150 million people (almost double that of today).

Over the past year, the government and non-government organizations have attempted to spread Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s words discouraging people from using contraception.

During the early years following the 1979 revolution, the newly founded Islamic Republic tried its best to persuade people to produce more children. Soon after the conclusion of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, the administration commenced organized efforts to dissuade couples from reproduction and basically emphasized the same exact message that the previous government had been so adamant to spread.

“A single blossom is not spring.”

Early in December, a billboard with this slogan began to pop up along major highways along with others encouraging families to have more children. Other billboards saying, "More children, better lives" depicted a large family bicycling happily on a single bicycle, with a father and son not so happily trailing behind. There was one notable exception on both bicycles. The mother was missing.

In an interview with Fars, Ehsan Mohammad-Hassani, executive director of the Owj media production company behind the billboards, tried to respond to questions and criticism about the illustration appearing on newly installed billboards in the capital. When asked why there is no mother shown in the picture of a happy family pedaling a tandem bike, he answered, “Out of concern for appearing to promote cycling for women, we decided to exclude the family’s mother from the picture.”

While cycling is not illegal for Iranian women, it has been discouraged and frowned upon for more than thirty years. Faezeh Hashemi, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s daughter, succeeded in pushing the issue and persuading authorities to greenlight women’s biking, starting by dedicating bike paths to women. However, nowadays women are practically limited to biking in parks, as cycling on the streets has been described as “shameless and lust-provoking” by some hard-liners. Iranian women are rarely seen cycling on the streets.

Aside from the issue of women cycling, the new billboard campaign to encourage reproduction has also sparked much debate and anger among a large group of Iranians who view having more children as economically unfeasible, given Iran's abysmal economy. They express frustration with the status quo and grave concern over adding to their family members. Iranian cartoonist Ehsan Ganji even redesigned the billboard by adding, below the happy cycling family, the mother at home, pregnant and with a child strapped to her back, looking unhappy and standing over an a boiling pot.

Some other points have been brought up as untrue or fudged in the ad, such as the color of the sky (which is blue despite the lingering pollution that seldom allows the sky to be seen in Iran’s bigger and busier cities), but what many took issue with was the absence of the reproductive pillar of any family: the mother. Many believe the mother of a “model family” has been purposely slighted. Others jokingly say the mother has not been overlooked — she is just resting after her latest child-making and childbearing efforts.

Farzin, a graphic designer who holds a master’s degree and owns an advertising company in Tehran, tells Al-Monitor, “While I could list at least 10 gaffes in this painting that stand out as signs of illustration weakness, the most outstanding shortcoming is the absence of a mother figure.”

In another billboard promoting the same subject, the modern family is shown on a rowboat, with the father sitting at one end of the boat and the mother at the other. The boys sitting in between have life jackets on, while the little girl does not. This is another piece of advertising regarded as insensitive toward women.

Mina, a university professor in Tehran who holds a doctorate in sociology and specializes in women’s studies, tells Al-Monitor that omitting women from the billboards is a serious insult to the most significant element of a family: its nucleus. She adds, “I am, however, not surprised at all. It seems like whatever had been done for the advancement of women prior to the '79 revolution, and all the effort focused on empowering women within the framework of the Islamic penal code — mostly made during President [Mohammad] Khatami’s era — has gone to waste. Sadly, I don’t anticipate things becoming drastically better for women during [Hassan] Rouhani’s presidency.”

An old Persian proverb says, “Mothers are only passers-by in their children’s lives,” emphasizing the significance of fathers’ roles in families. Not many Iranians of this era have ever heard the saying, and some of those who have repeat it sarcastically. The extent to which the new administration will push this new national reproductive policy will certainly have ramifications for women's issues, women's rights and field of communications, in which this policy was disseminated.



Afghan Authorities Probe Child Marriage

Dec 28, 2013

Authorities in the Afghan province of Jowzjan have annulled the marriage of a seven-year-old girl, whose father admits giving her away in return for $2,000.

Authorities in the northern Afghan province of Jowzjan have launched a probe against a father, who has acknowledged forcing his seven-year-old daughter to marry a man five times her age.

Ramadan, who like many Afghans goes by one name, blamed his action on poverty that has plagued his family.

"We didn't have a place to live, we were hungry, we had debts," he said. "I regretted doing this the day I did it. I regret it now."

He acknowledged marrying off his underage daughter in return of some $2,000, and foodstuffs, including rice and wheat.

Jowzjan police officials say a criminal case was opened after Ramadan's wife complained to local human rights groups and officials that her eldest daughter was being subjected to violence by her in-laws.

"My daughter was married for nearly one year, and during this time she ran away from her home twice," said the mother, who didn't give her name. "Her husband beat her frequently. I didn't want my daughter to go back to her marital home but her husband would come and take her back by force."

Police have arrested Ramadan and his 35-year-old son-in-law, Asadullah, as well as the mullah who conducted an Islamic marriage ceremony for the couple.

The mullah, Mawlawi Noor, who was released on bail, insists the parents lied to him about the girl's age.

Many Afghans do not have birth certificates, and it's not uncommon for religious marriage ceremonies to be conducted without the bride's and the groom's identity documents.

Instead, two witnesses and two representatives of each party are invited to be present at the marriage ceremony to testify about the couple's real names, ages, and marital status, if the mullah requires such information.

Poverty, Drug Addiction

According to Ewazali Saberi, a children's rights advocate for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, the authorities should also punish the witnesses and the family representatives for "withholding information about the girl's age" during the marriage ceremony.

"The two witnesses and the two family representatives should be held responsible for their actions," he said. "Police haven't investigated these people so far."

Authorities have annulled the marriage, as the investigation continues.

"This marriage violates both Afghan laws and religious norms," said Abdulmalek Mamnun, the head of the criminal investigation department of Jowzjan Province.

Human rights groups as well as women and children's organizations have been involved in the case.

Maghferat Samimi, the head of the regional Human Rights Organization said "locking up a few culprits doesn't resolve the problem, we need to do more."

"The father of the girl is a drug addict," she added. "He doesn't understand his children's rights. Poverty in one hand, and drug addiction in the other, has led the man to take such actions against his own children."

In a joint meeting this week in the provincial capital, Sheberghan, local authorities, court representatives, and human rights officials decided to send  Ramadan to a drug rehabilitation center in neighboring Balkh Province.

The mother was placed in a Sheberghan safe house for women, while her four children have been transferred to a nearby children's home.

Local authorities say they are considering "finding a suitable job for the mother -- in the women's shelter or children's home -- to help the family rebuild their lives."



Uproar over legendary Fairuz’s ‘love’ of Hezbollah chief

Dec 28, 2013

Controversy has snowballed this month over prominent Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani’s statement that his mother, the legendary Arab singer Fairuz, supports Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Fairuz, a Syriac Orthodox Christian born in Beirut, is among the best known and most beloved living vocalists in the Arab world.

Rahbani shocked many of her fans throughout the region when he said last week that his mother supports Nasrallah, whose Lebanese Shiite guerrilla group is fighting in Syria to defend President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Hezbollah is a contentious and polarising force in Lebanon, where Rahbani’s statement has caused uproar. It is the strongest military force in the country, and is often referred to as a “state within a state.”

Khalid Majzoub, an avid Fairuz fan and a presenter for the Middle East Broadcasting Centre, wrote an open letter to Rahbani on his personal Facebook page, which was shared by his friends and Lebanese blogs.


Majzoub wrote: “No one, not even you - the prodigal son - should even contemplate ensnaring Fairuz in some daft political agenda! Yes, it’s an immense privilege to be her son, but last time I checked, you weren’t her official spokesperson! She may be your biological mother, but she’s a spiritual idol to hundreds of millions of us!”

Majzoub told Al Arabiya News that Fairuz is “the most important cultural figure to come out of Lebanon in the last century,” and so transcends being associated with regional political affairs.

Rahbani’s remarks stunned Lebanese and other Arabs, as his mother has stayed quiet on political affiliations, and is largely seen as a supporter of nations and people, not of specific groups or agendas.

Majzoub told Al Arabiya News: “Making her political is daft. She’s never taken sides or leaned toward one group over another. It’s belittling to her status, to her persona, to actually suddenly suggest that she’s with a group against another.

“Fairuz isn’t that kind of celebrity. She’s in a league of her own. She’s bigger than all that petty stuff. She’s the only singer out there who has never sung for personalities or presidents. She’s for everybody.”

Lebanon’s Daily Star quoted Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt as saying: “Fairuz is too great to be criticized, and at the same time too great to be classified as belonging to this or that political camp, or to this or that axis.

“The high-quality art she performed and still performs is far greater than drowning in narrow political and group interests. Let us keep her in her supreme position, and not push her to something she has nothing to do with.”

Nasrallah responded to critics by saying: “We’ve reached a stage in the country that when someone says he loves someone, others say this could lead to the country’s destruction. No one is allowed to love.”

‘Master of resistance’

Rahbani hit back at critics in an interview with al-Mayadeen TV, saying: “Apparently it isn’t allowed in the age of strife for the princess of classy Arab art to voice love for the master of resistance,” in reference to Nasrallah.

Rahbani said he speaks on Fairuz’s behalf because she “prefers to remain silent.”

He himself expressed support for Nasrallah, saying: “How could Hezbollah not go to Syria? In doing so, it’s defending the whole region.”

He added: “If Fairuz didn’t support the resistance, there would’ve been an issue between me and her, and I wouldn’t have composed her songs.”



French Muslim woman celebrates 20 years in Saudi Arabia

Dec 28, 2013

A French woman celebrated on Thursday her 20th year in Saudi Arabia, reported Al Arabiya News Channel.

Originally from Paris, Marjuite Bastermadjan chose to live in the kingdom after she married a Syrian man and converted to Islam, a religion she called “clean, pure and true.”

The French citizen, who moved to Jeddah in 1993, said she enjoyed living in the kingdom despite the loss of her husband and the absence of many of her friends from home.

“The country [Saudi Arabia] is pure,” she said, adding that this was part of the reason she liked living there.

After spending two decades in the kingdom, the French lady hopes “to live in peace without needing anybody and in good health.”



Pahang Muslim Authorities Gun After 'Mak Nyahs' & 'Pengkid' Cross-Dressers

Dec 28, 2013

KUANTAN - Cross-dressers will face stiffer penalties under the new Syariah law introduced by the Pahang Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council (Muip) on Dec 1.

Muip deputy president Datuk Seri Wan Abdul Wahid Wan Hassan said under the new Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 2013, those nabbed could face a maximum of one year behind bars or be fined up to RM1,000. He said the lack of stern punishment against mak nyahs (men dressed as women) and pengkid (women dressed as men) had resulted in a rise in immoral activities in the state.

“Previously, when it came to cross-dressing, Muip only detained and advised them to change their behaviour.

“However, such activities have become rampant, forcing the council to introduce a more severe punishment,” he said yesterday. Wan Abdul Wahid said no arrest had been made by the council since the law was introduced on Dec 1.

He said all Syariah criminal offences previously listed under the Pahang Islamic Religious Administration and Malay Customs Enactment 1982 would come under the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 2013.

“Earlier, when both family and Syariah criminal law were under the same enactment, there was confusion involving its enforcement and implementation.

"Now, with the new law in place, it will allow enforcement personnel to carry out their duties effectively to combat immoral activities, such as khalwat (close proximity), consuming alcohol and not fasting during Ramadan," he said, adding the new enactment received the consent of the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah, on Oct 25.

The new Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment 2013 comprises 71 sections which carries a fine of up to RM3,000 or a maximum two years' jail, or both, upon conviction.

Women's Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah expressed her doubts about the cross-dressing law being effectively enforced.

"Modern attire is eclectic in nature and many women these days wear trousers and sport short hair.

"How do we even define what cross-dressing means?"

Ivy said religious authorities should focus on teaching and raising awareness about religious doctrines rather than punishing offenders.

"There is also the question as to why we are focusing on behaviour that is basically harmless.

"Cross-dressing is not about hurting other people or taking property from anyone. It's a personal choice."

In contrast, Malaysian Muslim Consumers' Association chief activist Datuk Nadzim Johan welcomed the move, saying the law would stop young people from getting involved in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activities.

However, he hoped that the authorities would inform the people about the new law before enforcing it.

"It's important to raise awareness about the religion's requirements so that the people understand why this law is needed.

"Religious officers also need to be trained to ensure that the law is enforced effectively."



Veiled Egyptian rapper speaks for women’s rights

Dec 28, 2013

CAIRO — As soon as the beat started, the young veiled woman bobbed her head to the rhythm, raised her hands to get the crowd clapping and then unleashed a flood of rap lyrics that tackled some of the biggest social challenges women face in the Arab world.

With the Middle East’s hit TV show “Arabs Got Talent” as her stage, 18-year-old Myam Mahmoud rapped about sexual harassment, second-class treatment of women, and societal expectations of how a young religious woman should behave.

The Egyptian teenager didn’t win the program — she crashed out in the semifinals — but she did succeed in throwing the spotlight on something bigger than herself.

“I wanted to tell girls in Egypt and everywhere else that they are not alone, we all have the same problems, but we cannot stay silent, we have to speak up,” Mahmoud told The Associated Press.

In Egypt, a country where politics have grabbed most of the headlines for the past three years, little space has been dedicated to addressing social problems. So Mahmoud, who is a first-year student of politics and economics at the October 6 University in a western Cairo suburb, decided to draw attention to women’s rights through rap.

“Everybody speaks about politics, but nobody tackles the topics that relate to me the most,” Mahmoud said.

She said she gets the ideas for her songs from the surrounding community, and that sometimes girls send her their problems to write about and give them a voice.

“Many girls want to say what I rap about, but they cannot for many reasons,” she said. “I speak for them.”

One of the biggest problems for woman in Egypt is sexual harassment. A U.N. report released in April said the issue had reached “unprecedented levels,” with 99.3 percent of women in the country reporting that they have been subjected to sexual harassment.

“There is no single female in Egypt that has not been harassed, regardless of her looks,” Mahmoud said. “As soon as a girl is born in Egypt, she is repressed with many pressures.”

Part of the problem, in Mahmoud’s eyes, is that women don’t speak out against harassment.

“I wish we would not be silent about our problems,” she said. “We have to snatch our freedoms, nobody will just offer them.”

Her lyrics take the issue head on.

“Some of us see the answer is to cover up, and if the girl is hidden she will not be assaulted,” she raps in one song. “My body is only mine.”

Initiatives to counter the problem have increased in the past year in Egypt, where volunteer groups have started protecting women at street protests. On the other side of the debate are conservative religious clerics who blame women, saying they invite harassment and sexual abuse by mixing with men.

The issue is, in part at least, linked to the broader expectations that many men in religiously conservative Egypt have about women and their roles in society. Mahmoud, with her quiet self-confidence and animated performances in a genre that has gained more acceptance among younger Egyptians in recent years, has challenged those expectations.

She said she received a flood of messages after her performance on TV accusing her of misrepresenting Islam with her look — read veil — and attitude. But she dismissed the criticism, saying “religion has never been a constraint — we put the curbs on.”

“The veil was never a problem for me because it is my personal choice,” she said. “If I’m going to add anything new to my life it has to go with my initial choices.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



Mixed reaction to change of Wadeema’s Law title

Dec 28, 2013

ABU DHABI // The Federal National Council’s move to change the name of the country’s first child protection law has brought mixed reactions.

The Minister of Social Affairs, Mariam Al Roumi, put up a strong fight to have the Child Rights Law named after Wadeema, 8, a girl who was tortured to death by her father and his girlfriend.

Ms Al Roumi told FNC members that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, wanted the law named after Wadeema.

But the FNC voted to change the name at a session this month, saying it could tarnish the family’s image and would only serve as a constant reminder of the little girl’s tragedy.

Wadeema’s mother had welcomed the law being named for her daughter when Sheikh Mohammed announced it last year.

“Wadeema’s name symbolised her, what she went through,” said Fatima Saif, 53, from Abu Dhabi.

“Why name it ‘child’ when she is the one who suffered? She was the victim. There are others, yes, but it was Wadeema’s case that shook us all.

“Everyone knew her. Her case became famous and her name was related to it, so people got used to calling it Wadeema’s Law. Now that the name changed, a lot of people will talk.

“Certain cases were not ‘out’ until Wadeema’s case was broadcast, so in a way she has helped other children and families to know their rights.”

Dr Rima Sabban, a sociologist at Zayed University, said it was understandable that society was in disagreement over the name.

Dr Sabban said it was a western tendency to introduce such labels, whereas Arab society tended to burden itself with grief.

Although labelling sometimes played a legitimate role, she said, it could also be destructive.

“There are two different ideas: one is we went through the trauma, we admitted it, it helped in developing laws and regulations,” Dr Sabban said.

“But today at a different moment in time for society, there is a different awareness level and they are ready to move on and not to carry on the trauma with them, because it is important that societies and collective memories disconnect with all traumas.”

She said the case of Wadeema had been given its space and a strong stand by the legal process had given society the chance to grieve, so the law now needed to complete its course by protecting the rights of all.

“It was a great move to call the law Wadeema but now since we are at a different moment we now are saying we want to protect all children,” Dr Sabban said. “We are saying let’s move on from this tragedy. There is nothing wrong with that.”

AK, 59, from Abu Dhabi, said naming the law after one victim excluded others.

“It cannot be called Wadeema because many other children are suffering from the same fate,” he said. “Calling it Wadeema’s Law is like saying only her case is worth mentioning.

“This law is there to protect all the children and by changing the name the committee is trying to reach out to all the others, I believe.”

Issa Mohammed, of Dubai, said he did not know the new name of the law. To him it will always be Wadeema’s Law.

“Her story has been engraved in us all,” Mr Mohammed said.



The Women’s Majlis: Green Living Starts At Home in the Carbon Footprint Battle

Dec 28, 2013

Each month, Weekend will pose a different question to be debated on by a series of female Emirati columnists. This month, we ask Ayesha Al Khoori:

What can the UAE do to reduce its carbon footprint?

Comparing the UAE’s carbon footprint with other countries, it might not be as much as the United States or China, which have the highest levels. Yet the UAE’s 8.4 global hectares per person is several times higher than the global average.

Reducing this number requires efforts from both individuals and the Government.

One of the things that we can do is turn off the lights at home when we are not in the room. Also, now that the UAE is enjoying a cool, wintery season, we are able to try to keep away from the air conditionings. Having natural breeze in the household not only reduces the energy used by air conditioners, but also fixes one’s mood. Also, sleeping with the windows open and letting in the cool night air helps one sleep comfortably.

The Government has provided the country with various means of public transportation including buses and the Metro. But something should be done to encourage more people to use them. The increased use of public transportation will surely reduce the carbon footprint of the country.

Another easy way of conserving energy is to provide free, mandatory school buses. Not only will it save on bus fees and the family petrol finances, but it will cut back on the long lines of cars that sit idling on the school run.

In the UAE, where most families are generally big, it is common for households to have several cars. Cutting back on the number of cars, as hard as that may sound, is possible.

Other little things we can do at home include recycling and reusing. In my family, we tend to reuse paper, plastic and aluminium. My mother uses the plastic plates and boxes we get from takeout food to store extra food in the fridge and freezer. That way, she doesn’t need to use her precious plates daily and wear them out, and also helps the environment.

Instead of throwing away scraps of paper, my sister uses them to create beautiful art designs on wood, plastic and glass. Even though I don’t know how she does it, it does seem like fun and at the same time it prevents those pieces of paper from getting burnt or thrown in landfills.

There should be more campaigns to make people aware of this issue. Every person should take part in this.

Ayesha Al Khoori is a leader writer with The National.