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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 3 May 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Morocco Still Divided Over Marriage of Minors

New Age Islam News Bureau

3 May 2012

 Saudi women flaunt artistic talent

 Hatred of women exists in the West as well as the Arab world

 Women's rights in Mali 'set back 50 years' by new 'Family Code' law

 Barbie changes the lives of Indonesian sisters

 Michigan students hold girls-only prom set excellent example

Complied by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: Morocco Still Divided Over Marriage of Minors




Morocco Still Divided Over Marriage of Minors

By Abderrahim El Ouali

 May 03, 2012

CASABLANCA, May 2, 2012 (IPS) - The widespread practice of marrying minors continues to be one of the most incendiary legal and political issues in Morocco today, causing open confrontations between hard-line Islamists and moderates throughout the country.

Speaking on national television last month, Mohammed Abdenabawi, an official of the Ministry of Justice, declared that 30,000 minor girls are married every year – roughly 10 percent of the 300,000 marriages recorded every year in this country of 32 million inhabitants.

The phenomenon is widespread, the consequences for young women and girls severe, and the efforts of civil society sustained, though maintaining momentum against a tide of cultural and religious conservatism is challenging.

A campaign to gather one million signatures to forbid the marriage of minors is already in progress, sparked by the death of Amina Filali, a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist.

Supposedly to protect family and female "honour", a court evoked legislation in the penal and family codes to force Filali to marry the man 10 years older than she who forced her, at knifepoint, to submit to him.

Both the court case and Filali’s suicide opened the floodgates to a deluge of public debate and activism around the issue, which had hitherto been a taboo topic in traditional Moroccan society.

Jamal Rhmani, a member of the opposition Socialist Union for Popular Forces and former Minister of Employment, told IPS, "The campaign has gathered more than 780,000 signatures up to now."

Despite being a member of the political opposition and one of the lead organisers of the campaign to ban marriage of minors, Rhmani sees his involvement in activism first and foremost from his perspective as the father of a 14-year-old daughter.

"Before being a politician, I am a father. We cannot be indifferent to what is happening around us," he explained.

Activists, rights groups and members of the opposition have been clamouring for the abolition of article 475 of the penal code, which allows rapists to get off scotfree if they agree to marry their victims; as well as articles 20 and 21 of the family code, which allows the marriage of minor girls.

But the root of the problem runs deep, and will require more systemic change than the abolition of one or two laws

"The culprit is archaic jurisprudence implemented by ignoramuses," Chakib Khettou, a citizen of Casablanca, told IPS, referring to the Muslim law allowing the marriage of girls older than nine years, according to traditional law.

Back in 2008, Sheik Mohamed El Maghrawi, a well-known Moroccan Muslim scholar, published a Fatwa reiterating families’ right to marry off their daughters over the age of nine. His position provoked a major scandal but the scholar suffered no consequences.

During a press conference in the city of Marrakesh last April, El Maghrawi even expressed his attachment to his position, "based on the Quran and the words of the Prophet " according to him.

However, opposition to this particular reading of Sharia’a law has become widespread.

Ahmed Faridi, a teacher who holds a licence degree in Sharia’a law, told to IPS, "Nothing in the Quran allows marrying a nine-year-old girl," he explained. Even if it turns out that the Prophet of Islam himself had married a minor girl, "he is in that case an exception and cannot be a rule," Faridi stressed.

Traditionalists won’t let go

Minister of Justice and Liberties, Mustapha Erramid, is not as moderate as some of the activists pushing for the marriage ban.

In a national televised address last March, the Minister said, "The marriage of minor girls is not forbidden by the law."

A lawyer by trade, Erramid is "tolerant" towards the amendment of article 475 of the penal code, but refused to speak about the amendment of articles 20 and 21 of the family code.

The Islamist Minister hinted that demonstrations similar to those held against the National Plan for Women’s Integration in Development, enacted under the socialist government of Abderrahmane Youssoufi in 1999, were not far off.

Back then, thousands of Islamists hailing from the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) took to the streets of Casablanca against Youssoufi’s plan to include women in political and economic development, which they judged as "incompatible" with Sharia’a because it forbade polygamy and fixed the minimum age of marriage for women at 18 years old.

Still, current members of parliament are not too worried that today’s activism will see such a vehement reaction by conservatives.

"A national debate on this subject is at present necessary to amend the penal code and the code of the family. A legislative initiative is already being taken by the socialist group in parliament to guarantee more protection to minor girls," Rhmani said.

The second chamber of parliament held a meeting on the subject last week. The president of the chamber, Mohamed Cheikh Biadilah, said the proposed amendments should be viewed in "the spirit of the new constitution", adopted during the turbulence of the Arab Spring, which "commits the State to guarantee the social and economic rights of the family" and "to protect minors (regardless) of their family or social position" and "forbids any shape of discrimination based on gender."

Biadilah also said, "The legislative power has the obligation to intervene every time it notices that a law has become incompatible with the development of the society."

"All the laws that go against the dignity of women must be amended or even abolished ", said the president of the Chamber of Councilors in Moroccan parliament.



Saudi women flaunt artistic talent


May 3, 2012

JEDDAH: The art exhibition of Saudi artists Hiyam Al-Khurdy and Mariyam Sudayri were organized at Hilton Hotel under the auspices of Princess Najla Bint Saud bin Abdulaziz.

The art exhibition was held for a day for artists to showcase their work in cooperation with an event management company. Princess Najla expressed joy over the unique artwork of the artists.

“Hiyam Al-Khurdy is young but very talented, which shows how talented our Saudi girls are. Her work is an excellent piece of art. Most of the Saudi artists have excellent talent, which they show not only in the Kingdom but on an international level as well. This is very promising, but our artists should stick with their goals, work hard and share their talent with others. It will help a lot to promote Saudi talent and Saudi artists on an international level,” said Princess Najla.

Al-Khurdy is a Saudi artist who already participated in a number of art exhibitions, but this time it was her first solo exhibition. Her work was inspired by Makkah folklore and Islamic art, and she displayed around 15 paintings of 3D art.

“My art is different from other artists. Although I did oil paintings, I used the techniques of light to show my paintings in a way that it appears 3D,” she said. “I always try to use different techniques to make my paintings innovative.”

She also said that she was extremely happy to participate in this exhibition and that her husband helped and supported her a lot. In the future she is planning to showcase two more displays of her work in Jeddah and Riyadh and after that she will take her 3D art exhibition on a world tour.

Al-Khurdy advised other fellow artists to keep going even if they fail in the beginning, and one day they will be successful in achieving their goal. She also explained that it is her wish to be known first in her country and then on an international level. She wanted her country and nation to be proud of her. She thanked Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for supporting women’s contribution to the country’s development.

Sudayri also displayed her innovative paintings, which she painted on silk cloth and also displayed her photography talent. Sudayri has participated in different exhibitions for the past 11 years and gave a new dimension to cloth paintings, especially those on silk.

“I learned all the artistic work by myself, and even photography. The art of painting on silk cloth is not that easy. For a few paintings I used oil colors and others using silk cloth. It was just a hobby that turned into a profession,” said Sudayri.

She said she has been participating in different exhibitions for the past 11 years and wants to open an art school in the future. Dr. Abir Al-Jundi, a marketing and public relations expert and organizer of the exhibition, said that there is a lot of talent in Saudi Arabia, which can be showcased with the efforts of artists and help of organizers. Saudi artists Munira Abul Khail and Wafa Hidaya’s paintings were also on display.



Hatred of women exists in the West as well as the Arab world

Ruby Hamad

May 3, 2012

Misogyny has reduced women to headscarves and hymens.

'WOMEN have very little idea of how much men hate them,'' wrote Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch. So outraged were men that wives reportedly took to concealing their copies by wrapping them in plain brown paper.

More than 40 years later, Egyptian-American commentator Mona Eltahawy has caused a storm with her Foreign Policy essay, Why Do They Hate Us? ''They'' being Arab men and ''Us'' Arab women. Forget America's so-called inequality, Eltahawy implores, ''The real war on women is in the Middle East.''

Women, she writes, have not benefited from the Arab Spring because they remain oppressed by the men in their lives who consider all is ''well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home''. ''Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.''

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Not surprisingly, Eltahawy has also sparked outrage. What is surprising is that so many of her detractors are Arab women. Gigi Ibrahim, a blogger and activist who came to prominence in the Egyptian revolution, called the essay ''disgraceful''. Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan-American writer retorted, ''Dear Mona Eltahawy, You Do Not Represent 'Us'.''

The consensus is that Eltahawy uses simplistic, Orientalist arguments to ''otherise'' Arabs and drive a wedge between Arab men and women. ''Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance,'' writes Ibrahim. ''They are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power).''

This is a facile argument. Men do not just ''happen'' to find themselves in power. Men are in power because the patriarchal system that dominates the world favours men by systematically demeaning and marginalising women based on sex and sexuality.

Astonishingly, Eltahawy's critics have managed to miss her central thesis: men hate women out of a deep fear of female sexuality, which has reduced women to ''their headscarves and hymens'', and it is up to women to wrestle control of their sexuality back from men.

Eltahawy made two vital errors leaving her open to those claims of Orientalism. The first was her decision to ''put aside what the United States does or doesn't do to women''. The second was her failure to explore how women themselves also perpetuate patriarchy. Consequently, she divorces the struggle of Arab women from millions of others around the world, thus making misogyny appear a peculiarly Arab problem. In doing so, she unwittingly adds fuel to the myth that Arab men are more monster than human.

As an Australian woman of Arab Muslim background, I have often been struck not by how different but by how similarly women are treated in the West and in Arab/Islamic cultures. In both societies women's sexuality is treated with suspicion and distrust.

Muslim women are required to dress ''modestly'' to ward off attention from men. With the onus on women to alleviate male desire, victims of sexual assault are likely to find themselves blamed for their attack.

So too in the West. How many rape victims have had their sexual history and choice of clothing called into question? How many times have we wondered if ''she asked for it''?

They may not be required to cover their hair or faces, but Western women are derided for being sexually active in a way men never will be, as Sandra Fluke, the US college student who testified before Congress about the necessity of including birth control in health insurance, can attest. Fluke was called a prostitute and a slut by shock jock Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh is not known for his reasoned commentary but, sadly, women also joined in the attacks. Political pundit Michelle Malkin called Fluke ''a poster girl for the rabid Planned Parenthood lobby'', while Everybody Loves Raymond actress Patricia Heaton tweeted: ''you've given yer folks great gift for Mother's/Father's Day! Got up in front of whole world & said I'm having tons of sex - pay 4 it!''

The Fluke saga demonstrates how patriarchy isn't just men oppressing women. It's a system so entrenched in our collective psyche that it demands and acquires unconscious participation of both men and women in order to perpetuate itself.

Moroccan teenager Amina Filali swallowed rat poison after being forced, by the courts and her mother, to marry her rapist. Shortly after her death her mother pleaded, ''I had to marry her to him, because I couldn't allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried.''

This mother is not a monster. She has simply internalised misogyny to where she honestly believed her daughter, no longer a virgin and thus doomed to a life of spinsterhood, would be better off married to her rapist.

Yes, the magnitude of Arab women's suffering is greater because of the lack of laws protecting them. But, while their oppression is different in degree, it is the same in kind. It all comes down to sex. How can women ever hope to attain equality when an act as natural, and vital, as sex is regarded an acceptable means to devalue them?

Both Greer and Eltahawy are correct. But I would change ''men'' to ''patriarchy''. Patriarchy hates women.

That some of Eltahawy's fiercest critics are female only serves to show that many women continue to have very little idea of just how much.

Ruby Hamad is a freelance writer and associate editor of feminist website The Scavenger.



Women's rights in Mali 'set back 50 years' by new 'Family Code' law

May 3, 2012

Opposition to legislation dashes equality hopes in West African country's strongly patriarchal society

Farima Samake, a widow living in the village of Gwelekoro in the south of Mali, regrets obeying her husband when he took their first daughter out of school to take care of her younger brother. "Her father decided it and I didn't refuse," says Farima. "Now she is married in another village not far from here. I think our decision has been an injury to her because if she had studied her life could have been different." Farima didn't oppose the decision because the law dictates that a woman must obey her husband.

"In all the villages of this region, girls get married at 15 or 16, even if they go to school," she says. "Their parents must ask the husband to let their daughter attend school once she is married."

Not having finished school, Farima's daughter, Wassa Diarra, cannot read or write. She's not alone – 69% of women aged 15 to 24 are illiterate, compared with 53% of men, according to Unicef.

"Wassa has eight children," Farima explains. "The only way for her to make money is going to fetch firewood in the bush for sale to people coming from Bamako. This is what almost everyone is doing. We are all poor here but I'm worried about my daughter's situation. Her husband has three wives and he is doing what he can to feed his family. But the harvests always fail because of rainfall shortage. So each wife has to look for money to take care of her children's needs."

In this strongly patriarchal society, where many women need to ask permission from their husbands just to leave the house, women's groups have been pushing for change for the last 10 years. The hopes of women activists were pinned to a new Family Code to strengthen the legal rights of women. Its provisions included raising the minimum legal age of marriage for girls, improving women's inheritance and property rights and removing the clause demanding a wife's obedience to her husband. The law was adopted by the National Assembly in August 2009 but was withdrawn following uproar from conservative Muslim groups.

Provocative headlines in newspapers warned that women would no longer have to obey their husbands and thousands took to the streets in protest. A task group formed by Mali's top Islamic council called it an "open road to debauchery" and the National Union of Muslim Women's Associations said the law reflected the wishes of a tiny minority of women. When the Family Code was finally enshrined in law in January this year, it was substantially watered down. Campaigners say that far from protecting women's rights, the code perpetuates discrimination.

According to Safiatou Doumbia, a member of the Malian Association for Care and Assistance to Women and Children, the new law has set women back. "The new law brings women's rights back to more than 50 years ago because some rights women had in the former law have been banned. Before, a woman would automatically keep her children if her husband died. This is not the case with the new law, which allows a family counsel to decide who should keep the children."

Under the new Family Code, as in the original 1962 law, a woman must obey her husband, men are considered the head of the family and the legal age for marriage is 16 for girls, and 18 for boys.

In Mali 90% of the population is Muslim and certain aspects of family life, such as inheritance, divorce and marriage, are based on a mixture of local tradition and Islamic law and practice. One major point of contention between Muslim groups and women's activists is around religious and secular marriage. The 2009 bill would have made secular authorities the only ones allowed to perform marriages. Now religious ceremonies are also recognised as legally binding.

The acknowledgment of the religious wedding will "lead to chaos", according to Doumbia. "Muslim and traditional weddings allow men to marry many wives and divorce them easily if they want without protecting women's rights," she explains. Religious ceremonies are now recognised even if there hasn't been a civil marriage, giving women little protection.

Women's rights groups say the Family Code needs to harmonise local laws with international ones. The age at which a girl can marry is a case in point. "A girl is still a child at 16, according to the international convention on children's rights that our country signed," says Bintou Coulibaly, Secretary for Education at the Association for Women's Progress and Development (APDF, in French), sitting at her computer in her office in Bamako. "And our constitution guarantees that all the international laws we signed have legal status. So the new family law is opposed to our constitution."

Farima Samake, and the other women in Gwelekoro village, have not heard about the new law, or its controversial reception, but they know little has changed in their lifetime. "We are different from men; we don't have the power of decision and things have been like that since God made this world," says Binta Samake, another villager.

Though these women know little about women's rights, they know they don't want to depend entirely on their husbands. "Now I don't have to ask my husband for permission to fetch the firewood I sell to earn money," says the widowed Binta. "[When he was alive] I could not travel without his authorisation or go out somewhere else in the village when he was absent."

Many women of the village of Gwelekoro attend adult education courses, which they say have opened their minds. "I regret not going to school when I was young," says Binta. "If you are not educated you will only follow the others and depend on them."



Barbie changes the lives of Indonesian sisters

 May 03, 2012

MOUNT BATUR, Indonesia (AP) — Putu Restiti and her little sister, Alit, have felt invisible most of their lives, hidden in a run-down shack because they were born with twisted limbs some believe were caused by evil spirits.

They were kept out of school and had no friends. But like children everywhere, they had powerful imaginations. After being given a Barbie doll, they started stitching tiny, intricate outfits for her from their mother's sewing scraps. And in doing so, they created a new world for themselves.

Word of their beautiful and delicate designs spread. They were displayed for sale in Bali's top tourist area and neighbourhood kids started visiting, first to watch and then to request their own.

"She's beautiful, isn't she?" 21-year-old Putu says to Alit after adding a final stitch to a traditional batik gown, pulling it over Barbie's golden locks and then tightening a clasp around the iconic doll's petite waist and high bust.

Full report at:



Michigan students hold girls-only prom set excellent example

Jamie Frevele

 May 03, 2012

American teenagers generally look forward to their high school proms, if, for any reason, to spend a night in a fancy dress for once. But mostly, because many see it as your standard teenage rite of passage. And while some are not interested in going to the prom, there are some who have been dreaming about it since they heard it was going to happen — but had a feeling they couldn’t go or wouldn’t go for a variety of reasons. In the case of Tharima Ahmed of Hamtramck High School in Michigan, her Muslim religious beliefs forbade her from dancing with or dating boys; her everyday life — without dancing — requires her and other Muslim girls to wear a headscarf in the presence of males. So, your regular prom was not a possibility for her. Then she had a brilliant idea: throw a girls-only prom where she and others could (literally) let her hair down, or just attend a prom without a date. A girls-only prom with the theme “Once Upon a Dream.”

Full report at: