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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 27 Feb 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muslim Women with Hijab Disadvantaged on Czech Job Market

 New Age Islam News Bureau

27 Feb 2015

A counselor talks to a group of women to try to convince them that they should not have female genital mutilation performed on their daughters, in Minia, June 13, 2006. (photo by REUTERS/Tara Todras-Whitehill)



 Bethnal Green Girls Need To Know There Is A Way Out of Islamic State Cult

 Islamic State Militants Met 3 British Schoolgirls at Border

 Why This Christian Woman Is Wearing Hijab for Lent

 Baptist Group Joins Cry For Muslim Women to Be Allowed To Wear Hijab at Work

 National Roundtable on Missing, Murdered Aboriginal Women ‘A Beginning’

 Respect Students’ Religious Rights or Face Sanctions - President John Mahama

 Ann Osman Carries Women’s MMA in Asia on Her Shoulders

 Female Genital Mutilation Persists In Rural Egypt

 Palestinian Girl Recounts Imprisonment in Israel

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Muslim Women with Hijab Disadvantaged on Czech Job Market

27 Feb, 2015

Prague (CTK) - A Muslim woman with a hijab has a much smaller chance of gaining a job than the rest, as shown by an experiment in which some firms were sent a CV with a photo of a female job seeker with or without the headscarf, activist Klara Popovova said at the seminar Muslim Bogeys Thursday.

The woman without any veil was invited to the interview by one-fifth of prospective employers, but none of them answered the application sent by the veiled woman, Popovova, from the research and education project, said.

"I chanced to be told that the photo of a job applicant with a hijab was circulating in one of the addressed companies. The staff were sending it for amusement to one another, considering it a joke," Popovova said, adding that she then had made photos of her with and without the hijab that was enclosed with the CV for the experiment.

The activists sent the CVs to 66 companies that were advertising the job of an assistant.

One half of them received a photo with the hijab, one half without it. One-fifth of the prospective employers invited the unveiled young woman for interview, Popovova said, adding that the success rate was quite common.

The Muslim job seeker did not obtain any reply.

"We thought the companies could employ a Muslim woman with a scarf at least in the positions where she will not be seen, such as sorting and processing the mail," Popovova said.

"However, she did not succeed even there," she added.

Popovova said some companies abroad had modified the staff uniforms for Muslim women.

However, the employers in the Czech Republic are not so obliging, she added.

Popovova said one of the employees of a bakery was forced by her boss to work without the hijab.

Another young woman was afraid to go to work wearing the hijab, Popovova said.

She mentioned the problem before her boss who reacted very positively, not having the slightest problem with the scarf, she added.

A discussion on wearing the hijab was started roughly 18 months ago when two foreign-born students left a nursing school in Prague over the ban to wear the hijab.

Ombudsman Anna Sabatova demanded that the school rules be changed saying the school indirectly discriminated against the girls. The hijab is a manifestation of their religious belief, she argued.

The 2011 population census recorded roughly 3,300 Muslims in the Czech Republic, but estimates put their real number at 10,000-20,000.

Copyright 2015 by the Czech News Agency (ČTK). All rights reserved.



Bethnal Green Girls Need To Know There Is A Way Out of Islamic State Cult

27 Feb, 2015

The promises of IS are not realised. There is discrimination against Western Muslims and extreme violence permeates IS territories. The life of a Jihadi wife is short-lived, quickly becoming the life of a Jihadi widow, where status and purpose is less clear. But as an error – a rebellious decision that rejects the ideas of Islam in the west but also those of feminists, secularists, and many others – it seems particularly tragic that IS is perceived as the best alternative for young women like those who have just left from East London.

Presenting Islamic State as a cult is not to suggest that young men and women who travel to Syria or Iraq have been brainwashed. There are truths within the political messages sent out by IS, which is why they resonate. It is also not to suggest that the young men and women are emotionally seduced by charismatic speakers and false promises alone. There are personal connections built up over time and a sense of adventure in travelling away from home.

But treating IS as mimicking a cult could be of benefit to the young people who make the mistake of joining it. They could look at the many stories of victims of cults escaping and starting their life again. That would allow for the potential for a future beyond IS for its members. The way we talk about it now, as a security and terrorism issue, offers them little optimism for life on the other side.

Three young women from Bethnal Green have joined dozens of other British Muslim women in Iraq and Syria as members of Islamic State.

These teenagers challenge stereotypical conceptions of Muslim women. Rather than weak, passive, and meek victims, they are proactively engaged in shaping their own future. Tragically the future they appear to have chosen is not that offered by Western states, but a gilded utopian vision presented to them by the cult of Islamic State.

IS operates like a cult, it identifies weaknesses, exploits them, and entices with promises of a new Utopian future and then creates dependencies. Thinking about IS as a cult allows a better understanding of its allure. Not all new recruits are wannabe terrorists – they are groupies.

Introducing disillusionment

When communicating with young Muslims living in the west, IS recruiters start by identifying vulnerabilities. They emphasise political grievances and the oppression historically suffered by the Ummah (the worldwide community of Muslims). They point to the fall of the Caliphate and the crusades as evidence of a clash of civilisations that dates back through the centuries and has been more recently confirmed by military aggression from non-Muslims.

IS recruiters also argue that western states have failed to deliver on promises about opportunity, equality and human rights in liberal democracies. Muslims have instead been persecuted, victimised, and discriminated against, they say.

A recent report by the Muslim Council of Britain reveals some of these same difficulties so it’s possible to see how Islamic State’s claims might resonate. And Amnesty International has highlighted how civil liberties, human rights and basic freedoms in the UK have been systematically eroded. Other research shows how the negative consequences of counter-terrorism measures are disproportionately felt by Muslims.

Selling the dream

Having identified vulnerabilities IS offers a solution – a new caliphate in which ethnicity and language are not barriers and what matters is faith and belief. By touting a shared belief in a new state and practicing what they consider to be correct Islam, IS recruiters purport to offer a safe-haven for persecuted Muslims.

In various issues of IS magazine Dabiq, there is talk of a new beginning, the opportunity to fulfil God’s purpose by achieving statehood. To realise this, schools, medical facilities, local police forces and courts are being established. These institutions ensure the everyone in the state is “helped” to live a life according to their understanding of Islam.

In this new state, they say young Muslim women are not treated as a problem, but are welcomed as the mothers of the caliphate. In a recently translated manifesto IS is clear that marriage and bearing children is an expected part of life for women in its territories. But more than just being “Jihadi brides”, these are “Jihadi wives”. It is not just a romantic one-off event that lures them to Iraq and Syria, but the possibility of a life as a wife and mother whose direction and status are guaranteed. Here the personal is political, and the political is personal.

Closing in

The next stage is isolation. This begins once individuals accept the critique of global politics offered by IS and the solution it proposes. Similar to grooming techniques, targets are told not to communicate their feelings to others, especially friends and family because, they are told these people will not understand, and will betray them.

This has the effect of denying potential recruits access to sources of information or support. Confirmation bias is visible in the tweets and blogs of young women already in IS territories, rejecting alternative points of view as impossible or propaganda. Supporters frequently deny that IS has committed any crimes because everything it has done is permissible under Sharia law. They say all accusations have been fabricated by enemies of IS or that, if anyone has committed such crimes, they have been punished accordingly.

No going back

Finally, Islamic State place these women in a position of dependency. The cost of backing out becomes unbearably high. They are reminded that they “owe” Islamic State for the cost of bringing them to Iraq or Syria, especially if they are provided lawyers in Turkey should they be detained. Their new bonds tie them to the organisation and if they leave they sacrifice welfare payments, housing, and a husband.

The families of Amira Abase and Shamima Begum appeal for their return. PA

Then when they see what happens to people convicted of activities in Syria back home, they are further dissuaded from returning should they ever realise their error. Yet those who do return are perhaps the most legitimate dissenters of IS. However these individuals are denied a voice or incentive to redeem themselves.



Islamic State Militants Met 3 British Schoolgirls at Border

February 27, 2015

THREE British schoolgirls who fled to Turkey to join Islamic State were met at the Syrian border by jihadists in cars, according to a people-smuggler.

The smuggler, who called himself Ali Kathem, said the runaway girls, Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15, were driven to the Turkish border before taking several steps into Syrian territory. They were then met by men from Islamic State and driven away.

The girls, who left their homes in east London and boarded a Turkish Airlines flight unaccompanied, are thought to have left Turkey near the Kilis border crossing about six days ago. Mr Kathem, who said the information he had received was reliable as he knew their driver, told the BBC he believed the girls entered Syria willingly.

Turkish Airlines chief executive Temel Kotil insisted that policing jihadists was the job of the security services, not international airlines.

“I am an airline, passengers come to me and I check various of their documents. Can I do anything beyond that?” he said.

He insisted that the airline was “100 per cent sensitive” to security issues. “If there are measures we can take we take them, but we are not the police.”

Mr Kotil and the Turkish ambassador to London will be called to appear before the House of Commons home affairs select committee. MPs will press them on what can be done to combat the increasing number of young people travelling to join Islamic State.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “It is shocking that at least four girls have flown unaccompanied using Turkish Airlines as part of their journey to reach IS without the British authorities being alerted.”



Why This Christian Woman Is Wearing Hijab for Lent

27 Feb, 2015

In an effort to break down barriers between Islam and Christianity, an Illinois mother and church director has elected to wear hijab for all 40 days of the Lenten season

Jessey Eagan is a good Christian. She says following Jesus is her main focus in life, and it’s evidenced by her position as children’s director of her local church. Which is why it’s slightly puzzling to learn she has decided to wear hijab, the traditional head-covering worn by Muslim women, for all 40 days of Lent.

She’s aware this sounds a little strange, especially in light of the current tensions between Christians and Muslims across the globe, but she sees it as a way to foster understanding and challenge perceived differences. “In Lent you give something up or take on a specific practice, so I decided I would take on the practice of hospitality by putting myself in the shoes of another,” Eagan says over the phone from her home in Peoria, Illinois. “I wanted to see what their life is like, to see how it’s different from mine, and to remind myself of what it feels like to be an outsider.”

Eagan’s interest in Muslim culture and the experience of “the other” is not an accident. It began when she and her husband, Jeff, decided to move to Jordan seven years ago on a whim. They wanted to “do something crazy before settling down,” and after meeting a missionary who lived and worked in the Middle East country, they decided to give it a try.

While there, they volunteered at an Iraqi refugee clinic and taught at an Islamic school. They made many Muslim friends, but being a Christian with blond hair and blue eyes, Eagan “stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Still, this turned out to be a transformative experience. “Going over there, we didn’t know anything about Islam,” she says. “But we totally changed our perspective on the religion. We realized we had a passion for these people.”

Today Jeff works for Crescent Project, an organization that teaches North American Christians about Islam and works to build bridges with Muslims. After returning from Jordan, Eagan herself briefly taught at the local Islamic school and began making friends in the large Islamic community she discovered in her hometown. This, in addition to what she believes is the media’s misguided tendency to conflate terrorism with Islam, is what eventually led her to make the decision to wear hijab every time she leaves her home throughout Lent.

But before committing to her new uniform, Eagan decided to call a Muslim friend to ask her opinion. To her surprise, the friend expressed 100 percent support and even offered to lend Eagan her headscarves. “My hijab drawer is yours, come and pick what u like,” she wrote over text message. “If u don’t have time I can bring them to u, just let me know what colors.”

Eagan is currently on Day 9, and apart from the staring, her hijab-wearing has proved to be a largely uneventful—which is to say positive—experience so far. Both her friends at church and her Islamic friends have received her new look well, and she even had the opportunity to wear a “birkini” when she took her children to the YMCA pool. For those unfamiliar, this is a three-piece, lycra swimsuit that covers the wearer from head to toe.

Eagan is aware her empathy quest may be seen as offensive by some Muslims—as a form of cultural appropriation designed to benefit her own conscience and not much else—but Eagan insists this is not the case. “The last thing I want to do is offend,” she says. “I am trying to break down cultural barriers, and I’ve found that this is a very simple way to do it, and I hope that people will understand that, and maybe walk along with me in this journey.”

She is also blogging about the experience, with the goal of encouraging her readers to begin a dialogue with someone of another religion, so they can better understand each other. “In doing this I hope that people, especially Christians, can be a little more brave in just saying hi, or starting a conversation [with a Muslim] in the grocery store,” she says. This seemingly simple gesture is something many of us fail to do, whether out of prejudice, or more often, because we fear an awkward situation.

To demonstrate this, Eagan relays a story about Jeff, who introduced himself to two Saudi students on a Chicago-bound bus after he heard them speaking Arabic. They invited him into their conversation and told him that they had been studying in the United States for nine months. In that time, they said, he was the first American who had ever said anything to them. The two students did not say that people had treated them unkindly or with malice, but that people chose not to see them at all can be seen as another form of intolerance.

The same can be said for the retail giant Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyor of skimpy prep-wear, which chose to ignore the fact that 17-year-old Samantha Elauf was highly qualified for the salesperson position she was applying for, solely because she chose to wear a headscarf. The company denied her the job, citing its “Look Policy,” and Elauf subsequently filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which Abercrombie has continued to fight. The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments yesterday for the discrimination case and is expected to side with Elauf this June.

Eagan feels fortunate to have had an easier experience than Elauf thus far, but she also wonders if she has been overcompensating by being especially friendly with people, just because she is wearing hijab.

“I’m not getting my hopes up that this will stay positive the entire time,” Eagan says. But no matter how the next 31 days go, she’s sure she’ll come out of the experience with a more informed perspective than she had before. “In reminding myself what being an outsider is like, I can learn to better love and serve them—Muslim or otherwise.”



Baptist Group Joins Cry For Muslim Women to Be Allowed To Wear Hijab at Work

27 Feb, 2015

In a case heard at the U.S. Supreme Court today, a diverse coalition is standing up for workplace religious freedom, noting that employers have a duty to reasonably accommodate the religion of employees and avoid discrimination against prospective employees.

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC) joined the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and 13 other groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, American Civil Liberties Union, Christian Legal Society and American Islamic Congress, in a friend-of-the-court brief defending a person’s right to wear a religiously-mandated headscarf while at work.

The case, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., involves Samantha Elauf, who was denied a retail job because of her headscarf (called a “Hijab”), which she believes her Muslim faith requires her to wear. Elauf has worn a Hijab since she was 13 years old.

K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel for the BJC, said religious belief should not disqualify anyone from employment. “In many employment contexts, an individual’s religious needs can be met more easily than an employer first assumes,” Hollman said. “This case is about making sure prospective employees are not categorically disqualified from work opportunities based upon religion.”

The brief makes clear that this case is not just about an individual’s desire to wear religious garb. “Protection of religiously motivated conduct in the employment setting is highly important to believers of virtually all stripes, and to the religious bodies to which they belong,” according to the brief.

In her job interview for the Abercrombie Kids store, run by Abercrombie & Fitch, Elauf wore her usual hijab. The interviewer did not inquire about it or suggest that wearing one would be prohibited, and she rated Elauf as someone who should be hired. But, a higher-ranking employee said the headscarf would violate Abercrombie’s “Look Policy” that prohibits “caps” – a term that is not defined. Elauf was not offered a job, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Abercrombie on Elauf’s behalf.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees based on religion. The brief signed by the BJC notes that federal law banning religious discrimination in employment requires employers to “reasonably accommodate” all aspects of an employee’s religious practice if it can do so without causing an “undue hardship” on the business.

Conflicts between work and religion are common, but they can often be resolved through conversation between employer and employee. The brief says the issue at the heart of this case is “how to ensure that employers as well as employees have adequate incentives to initiate and participate in such problem-solving dialogue.”

The brief says Title VII’s prohibition on religious discrimination is necessary to protect religious belief and conduct. “[O]utward displays of one’s faith are usually evident during job interviews, and compromise can often be found” when there is incentive to do so.

The Supreme Court is expected to release its decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. before the end of June.



National Roundtable on Missing, Murdered Aboriginal Women ‘A Beginning’

27 Feb, 2015

OTTAWA—Dawn Harvard says the short amount of time devoted to a long list of speakers and a packed agenda at the national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women Friday need not be an obstacle.

“It only takes a few seconds to say, ‘Yes, we will commit X amount of dollars,” said Harvard, interim president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, as she spelled out — with some hopeful humour — her desire for a strong commitment from provincial and federal government representatives at the meeting here.

“I think everybody is coming with the consensus idea that something needs to be done, so I think this is really about what is going to be done . . . . This is a big enough crisis and a complex enough crisis that there is plenty of work to be done by all in order to have any significant impact in this area.”

The consensus on just what to do about the fact that, according to the RCMP, about 1,200 aboriginal women and girls have been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the past three decades, may be harder to come by.

And the Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women, a group of organizations including Amnesty International, released a report on Thursday concluding that the federal government has ignored most of the more than 700 recommendations contained in 58 reports on violence against aboriginal women and girls, raising the question of whether any agreements made at the roundtable will come to life.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde views the one-day gathering — to focus on prevention and awareness, community safety, policing and the justice system — as the beginning of a national dialogue.

“We never deprive people of hope. It’s a beginning. It’s a start,” Bellegarde said Thursday, adding there has already been talk of a follow-up meeting to make sure whatever comes out of the roundtable is implemented.

The Conservative government, which has long resisted the idea of holding a national inquiry into the issue, is likely to focus on the $25-million action plan it promoted last fall.

“We’re very focused on what we’ve committed to, and we will be rolling that out as of April 1 of this year, which I think will mean substantive action for these communities,” Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch said Thursday.

Leitch and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt are representing the federal government at the roundtable,

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is calling for a pan-Canadian prevention and awareness campaign and a better way to share police statistics, said Ottawa’s action plan would not be enough.

“I see this whole conversation as being part of a national discussion around how do we basically rewrite the relationship, rewrite the history of the relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people?” said Wynne, adding that it also involves clean drinking water and closing the education funding gap for First Nations children living on reserves.

“I certainly wouldn’t expect that the federal government would say, ‘(We have committed) $25 million, we’ve come to the meeting, that’s all we have to say about this relationship.’ That would be incredibly irresponsible and so I’m really hoping that doesn’t happen,” Wynne said.

Representatives from an emotional closed-door gathering of families of victims in Ottawa Thursday will also be given a chance to share their ideas.

For Bernadette Smith, whose sister, Claudette Osborne, went missing from Winnipeg in 2008, that does not include a national inquiry.

“What could that money, instead of an inquiry, do in terms of preventing violence in communities and helping to support the families that are still dealing with the healing that is going on . . . ?” said Smith.

Smith said family delegates will be suggesting things like cultural sensitivity training for police officers, a civilian to act as a liaison between police and families, better access to shelters, changes to the school curriculum and supporting violence prevention programs for boys and men.

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, who also believes more funding is needed, said the roundtable will also provide an opportunity to educate those who are skeptical about the idea of socio-economic context playing a role in violence against aboriginal women and girls.

“Those of us who are aboriginal, that have attended residential schools, that have lived in smaller communities, isolated communities, where you see the effects of poverty, poor housing . . . and very low educational opportunities and very little opportunities for jobs, I think you certainly get a different perspective,” McLeod said.



Respect Students’ Religious Rights or Face Sanctions - President John Mahama

27 Feb, 2015

President John Mahama has issued a stern warning to school heads and institutions that infringe on the religious rights of students to stop it or face punishment.

He told Parliament on Thursday, in his state of the nation address that school heads or institutions who force Muslim students to worship in churches on Sundays, or force Christian students to observe Islamic rites, will be dealt with appropriately.

Mr. Mahama condemned the practice where Muslim girls are asked to take off their hijabs in schools or at work places.

Similarly, he said it was inappropriate for any school or institution to force nuns to take off their black veils.

President Mahama’s warning follows a recent demonstration by Muslims in the Western Region in protest to what they described as discrimination against them on grounds of religion.

The Muslims called on schools in the country not to infringe on the rights of Muslims by forcing them to attend Sunday church activities.

Secondary school girls, who were among the estimated 300 demonstrators, were seen with placards with inscriptions such as “Hijab my pride,” “Respect our rights,” “Respect Ghana’s constitution freedom of worship” among others.

The Government, after the demonstration, issued a statement signed by Communications Minister Dr Edward Omane Boamah saying: “We consider it not only as religious intolerance, but also a breach of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, for Muslim students to be forced to take off their hijabs in schools.

“In much the same way, it is unacceptable for Muslim students to be forced to attend church services in schools, especially when it seeks to introduce those students to a religion, which they may not subscribe to, nor be adherents of,” the statement noted.

The statement noted further that it is government’s position that Muslim women must be allowed, and not forced to take off their hijabs at work, to the extent that their wearing them do not pose a danger to themselves or to others on the job.

“We wish to point out,” Dr. Omane Boamah said, “that under Article 21(1)(c) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, ‘all persons shall have the right to freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice’”.

“Given that the Constitution guarantees, as part of the fundamental freedoms, the freedom of any religion and to manifest such practice”, it would be wrong to force any individual to abandon her/ his faith.

“It is equally wrong to force Muslim women and girls to disrobe or take off their hijabs at their places of work or schools.

The statement warned that heads of any institution, including schools and workplaces, found to be contravening this basic constitutional right would be liable to sanctions.



Ann Osman Carries Women’s MMA in Asia on Her Shoulders

27 Feb, 2015

The 28-year-old made a name for herself last year, besting multi-time boxing world champion Ana Julaton for her first official MMA victory.

She followed that up with a first round TKO over Aya Saeid Saber in October, and can make it three in a row next month at ONE FC: AGE OF CHAMPIONS when she takes on Walaa Abas of Egypt.

Osman, the first Muslim female professional mixed martial artist, made history with her first appearance inside the ONE FC cage.

She's trying to clear her own path in the world and the sport, much like that of fellow WMMA standouts Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Cris Cyborg.

When she makes that walk to the cage in her native home of Malaysia for ONE FC: AGE OF CHAMPIONS, Osman will do so just as she wants.

"I have my own way," she said, during a previous interview with FOX Sports. "I don't eat pork. I pray. I don't cover up and stuff.

"People judge me for that. I'm like, whatever. I know what I'm doing. I still think of God. It's not like I don't have a belief. It's my lifestyle."

That's exactly the kind of ideas and thoughts Osman needs to succeed at this level.

When Rousey left judo and became a mixed martial artist, she wasn't expected to reach the pinnacle of the sport so rapidly. Holly Holm, a former world boxing champion, is looking to do the same in the States.

For Osman, finding the right balance hasn't always been easy, but she has support from ONE FC, including CEO Victor Cui.

"We're lucky in that not only do they like fighting, they are articulate, attractive and media savvy," he said of Osman and other female fighters on the roster. "Once in a while you get athletes who put all that together and it makes a big difference."

Showing that her skills and career have already reached North America, TIME Magazine included Osman as a positive influence in the sport in Asia, to which she told The Hype Magazine she is "very grateful for the recognition given by such a prominent magazine. Having TIME Magazine recognize the effort we put in (at Team Borneo Tribal Squad), not just in winning but also in inspiring people, that means a lot to me."

It will help grow her brand and that for future Muslim female fighters if she can continue to win, but Osman has the ability to branch out even without success.

She's developed her portfolio with magazine shoots, a thriving business and other ventures, and ONE FC has provided her the perfect platform to shine.

"I feel very honored to be able to help and inspire women to be more independent, confident and healthy through martial arts," she said in The Hype Magazine interview.

"There are definitely critics and comments about me being a Muslim female competing in the sport, but I usually don't think too much about it.

"I think everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs due to culture or upbringing, but I do not let that get to me. There are also many people who are supportive of me in Asia, and I prefer to be motivated by that."



Female genital mutilation persists in rural Egypt

27 Feb, 2015

CAIRO — I vividly remember, when I was little, those collective ceremonies that our neighbors from rural areas — from Upper Egypt in particular — used to have for their daughters. They used to hand out sweet rice dishes and the girls used to wear brand new white clothes, as if they were brides. However, I never understood why they would lean against their mothers to be able to walk and why they couldn’t play with the rest of us during ceremonies that were held specifically for them.

This scene, depicting female genital mutilation (FGM) ceremonies, is no longer common in Cairo or in other big Egyptian cities. This is probably due to several reasons, including the fact that many rural families have gotten used to urban civil life and abandoned such traditions known in the countryside. In addition, the Egyptian community’s negative look at FGM also had a role in it, as well as the fact that civil society organizations came together with the Egyptian government to fight this tradition and criminalize it in 2008 under the Egyptian Child Law.

Unfortunately, the absence of FGM ceremonies in Egyptian cities has not been accompanied by the absence of the phenomenon itself. Egypt has the highest rate of FGM in the world, according to the latest UNICEF reports, as 91% of girls in Egypt undergo FGM. However, the law has now compelled families to perform these ceremonies — designed to preserve their daughters' chastity — in secret.

The death of Rasha, 13, one of the victims of "secret FGM" in Egypt in 2013, sparked a new revolution against the phenomenon, as the Egyptian judiciary took action to punish the perpetrators. An Egyptian court issued its first ruling against FGM on Jan. 26, 2015, sentencing the doctor and the father to prison.

The National Population Council in Egypt declared Feb. 6 the "International Day for the Elimination of FGM." It also launched in 2015 the “Enough with FGM” campaign, in which television ads depicted the suffering of women from the effects of this practice and how science and religion view this tradition.

The government's plan aims to reduce the rate of FGM practices by 15% for girls between the ages of 10 and 18. According to the last official population health survey in 2008, the practice of FGM for married women between the ages of 15 and 48 reached 91%. The indicators of the new survey, which should be announced by mid-2015, suggest that the practice has decreased among girls between the ages of 15 and 18 to about 50%.

The 2008 survey revealed that only 70% of the practiced FGM are performed by doctors, which means that 30% are performed by non-specialists outside of hospitals in unsanitary settings.

The representatives of civil society in Egypt held the religious movements — such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists — responsible for the re-emergence of this phenomenon in Egypt’s rural areas.

Hany Helal, chairman of the Egyptian Center for Children’s Rights, noted that the Freedom and Justice Party took advantage of medical convoys — which it led in Upper Egypt — to promote the return of FGM after Mohammed Morsi became president in 2012. The doctors present during the medical convoy were accused of raising banners promoting free FGM procedures for girls. “The Doctors' Syndicate should follow up on this issue in order to prevent the spread of this practice under the medical banner,” he told Al-Monitor.

Meanwhile, head of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, Nuhad Abu Qomsan, told Al-Monitor, “The sheikhs of the extremist Islamic groups — especially the Salafists — are still trying to ruin any progress we accomplish in the awareness-raising campaigns on the dangers of FGM.”

Helal and Abu Qomsan both agreed that the Egyptian government’s tightening its grip on civil society negatively affects programs that aim to defend children’s rights and fight this phenomenon.

Abu Qomsan said, “There are three groups of people who practice this horrible tradition in Egypt. The first are the ones who believe that it’s a part of their religious faith, and this applies to both Muslim and Christian religious extremists, who are against women’s rights. The second are the ones who believe that it guarantees the girl’s chastity and honor. The third are the ones who believe that it is a ritual celebrating the girl’s transition from childhood to womanhood.”

She pointed out that the last group, which used to represent 30% of the population that practices this tradition, refrained from performing FGM following the issuance of the law in 2008. Therefore, collective FGM ceremonies disappeared before reappearing after the January 25 Revolution due to lack of security.

“The ones who believe that it’s about the girl’s chastity still need more awareness to understand that chastity and honor are not about cutting a piece of the girl’s body. As for the religious extremists, they are really hard to convince,” said Abu Qomsan.

Helal called for harsher punishment that would include both parents. He pointed out that despite the fact that Al-Azhar has assumed the responsibility of raising religious awareness on the dangers of FGM, the issue is still a bone of contention among sheikhs. He stressed that the church settled its position a long time ago, as there is no dispute between priests on whether FGM is a religious ritual. The number of Christian families that still practice this tradition is very limited.

He emphasized the government's responsibility in activating the child protection committees formed in 2008 to follow up on the law's application in various villages.

“Enough with FGM” is a resonant phrase that has recently entered every Egyptian household through TV in an effort to stop this phenomenon in all Egyptian communities.



Palestinian Girl Recounts Imprisonment in Israel

27 Feb, 2015

RAMALLAH, West Bank — “As I returned home from school, I was surprised by four Israeli soldiers who were armed to the teeth. They attacked me and dragged me to the ground as they handcuffed me and threw me inside a military vehicle,” Malak al-Khatib, a 14-year-old Palestinian from the town of Bitayn in the eastern province of Ramallah, told Al-Monitor.

Khatib was arrested in front of the gate to her school in Bitayn on Dec. 31 and accused of three offenses: throwing stones, possessing a knife and blocking a public road. Khatib was brought before Israeli courts four times and sentenced to two months in prison and a fine of 6,000 shekels ($1,560). She was released on Feb. 13.

Khatib said during a telephone interview with Al-Monitor, “I was surprised by how I was arrested and by the two-hour-long interrogation, during which I was terrified and panic overtook me. ‘Confess!’ the Israeli officer screamed. I cried, and all I could say was ‘I did not do anything.’”

Khatib explained her horror during the detention period. She kept asking the soldiers if she could see her mother so she could hug her. However, Khatib said that the Israeli authorities categorically refused to let her see her parents throughout the duration of her imprisonment.

“Throughout my detention period by the occupation authorities, I was denied heavy clothing; they let me freeze. They did not care that I was an eighth-grader, and the prison administration refused to let me have any school books,” the teenager added.

According to the director of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, Qadura Fares, about 270 minors are currently held in Israeli prisons and are serving various sentences in poor conditions quite similar to those experienced by adult prisoners, such as solitary confinement and physical abuse. Prisoners are blindfolded and strip searched while their hands and feet are tied — and family visits are banned.

Fares said that Palestinian children are suffering from cruel and inhumane conditions in Israeli prisons, which don't meet the minimum international standards when it comes to the rights of children and prisoners.

Approximately 10,000 Palestinian minors have been detained in Israeli prisons since 2000, according to the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Prisoner and Detained Affairs Association, Issa Qaraqeh, in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Global Movement for Children’s Rights in the Palestinian Territories said in a statement posted on its website Feb. 11, “The Palestinian children who were detained by the Israeli occupation forces in the occupied West Bank in 2014 were victims of systematic violations aimed at extracting confessions from them.”

The movement indicated that it collected 107 sworn testimonies last year from Palestinian children in the West Bank between the ages of 12 and 17. These children stated that they had been subjected to various forms of ill treatment during their detention or interrogation.

The statement added that “12% of Palestinian children who were arrested last year were held in solitary confinement as part of the investigation process, which is one of the most worrisome types [of detention], and 76% of the children were subjected to physical violence, whether during the arrest or investigation. Moreover, 97% had their hands and feet shackled, while 79% had their eyes covered, and 79% were not informed of their rights during detention.”

The movement reported that “87% of the children who were arrested in the West Bank were not informed of the reason of their arrest, and in 94% of the cases, the children’s relatives were not allowed to attend the interrogation, while the children were not allowed to consult a lawyer." It also said "52% were strip-searched, and 30% were arrested during the night.”

Raafat Hamdouna, director of the Gaza Center for Prisoners’ Studies, told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian children in Israeli jails “are subject to a number of serious violations, including the lack and poor quality of food intake, the lack of hygiene, the spread of insects and the lack of recreation, entertainment and rehabilitation. [Prisoners also suffer from] detachment from the outside world, deprivation of parental visits, a lack of mentors and psychologists, verbal abuse, beatings, isolation, sexual harassment, collective punishment and the spread of diseases.”

Hamdouna explained that 40% of the diseases that affect child prisoners result from unhealthy detention conditions, and pointed out that the testimonies of minor prisoners registered with his association indicate that the prison administration refused many times to grant patients access to doctors, as there is generally no permanent doctor in the prison infirmary.

For his part, Fares said that Articles 91 and 92 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly state the need for medical care in prisons along with a suitable infirmary in each detention center under the direction of a qualified doctor. They also state the need to conduct medical examinations for the detainees at least once per month.

He also stressed that Israel has issued a series of laws that circumvent international law. “Israel issued a military order called Command 132, in which it set the age under which a Palestinian is considered to be a child to below 16, which is a clear violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, whereby a child is every human being below the age of 18.” He said that this allows the arrest of Palestinian children under the age of 12.

Fares said that 15-year-old Khalid Hussam al-Sheikh of Jerusalem is currently the youngest Palestinian prisoner in an Israeli jail. He has been held by the authorities for nearly 55 days on charges of throwing stones.

Khatib’s dream is to become a lawyer and defend the rights of Palestinian children prisoners in Israeli jails. “What is happening is absolutely inhumane,” she said.