Female literacy rate in Balochistan has plunged to greater depths. — Reuters/ File
Iranian Police Arrested 50 Women For 'Un-Islamic' Dress
ISIS Demands Release of Leader’s Ex-Wife in Lebanon Hostage Talks
200 Sunni Women and Children Detained By Shi'ite Militias in Iraq
Lebanese Women Not Safe Despite Domestic Violence Law
Female Literacy Hits New Low in Balochistan
Saudi Shoura Divided On Women TV Anchors’ Dress Code
Islamophobic Attacks Rising Against Women in UK
Zumba Dance, among girls in Jeddah, Effective in Fighting Depression
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Myanmar Women Object to Proposed Restrictions on Interfaith Marriage
Religion News Service
01 Jan, 2015
YANGON, Myanmar Governments and religious leaders might control marriage in Myanmar, but laws can’t restrict love and faith, say women of different races and religions in the country.
Myanmar President U Thein Sein sent a controversial draft law to parliament that would restrict the ability of Buddhist women to marry non-Buddhist men. Supporters say the law, which lawmakers are expected to debate in January, would “protect race and religion.”
The law is one of four “protection laws” that would affect religious conversion, interfaith marriage, polygamy and population control. These bills, known as the “protection of race and religion laws,” were proposed in 2013 by Ma Ba Tha, a group of nationalistic Buddhist monks.
Some opponents, however, say that rationale is nonsense.
“Love and marriage is a social issue – a clash between parents and partners. It shouldn’t be dictated by religion,” said a Muslim woman in Yangon who is married to a Hindu man. Like other women interviewed, she asked not to be identified in hopes of not showing disrespect to Buddhism and Buddhist leaders.
Despite social pressure from other Muslims and from her husband’s family, the couple has been married for 25 years. The couple has three children, which has further complicated matters with their devout families.
“I don’t want to restrict my children’s religion. It is their choice,” she said. “Now that they are young, we share our faiths with them now, but they can decide for themselves when they are older.”
The draft marriage bill would govern unions between Buddhist women and men of other faiths. Under the provision, interfaith couples would need to apply to local authorities, gain the approval of the woman’s parents if she is under age 20 and post a public notice announcing the engagement.
The marriage could only then take place if no objections were raised. Non-Buddhist men who violate the proposed law would face up to three years’ imprisonment, a $50 fine and mandatory divorce, and they would forfeit their share of any property and guardianship of children born through the illegal union.
Theravada Buddhism, practiced by the majority of Myanmar’s citizens, does not restrict interfaith marriage. Local customs, cultures and differences among sects affect whether Hindus, Christians, Muslims or Jews can marry individuals of other faiths.
Taboos on interfaith marriage permeate much of Myanmar society, not just Muslim and Hindu communities. Some question what new laws to restrict the practice will actually accomplish.
“We already have restrictions on marriage because we need to marry in the same faith and caste,” said a Hindu woman from Yangon. “I’m curious how this law will actually protect Buddhist women.”
It won’t, said Daw Thin Thin Aung, a member of the Women’s League of Burma. She told The Myanmar Times the proposed law would infringe women’s rights.
“If they intend to control interfaith marriage and monogamy, this law only covers women. What about Buddhist men, and others?” she asked.
Thin Thin Aung is a Christian who married a Buddhist man. She said she opposes the law not because of her own interfaith marriage but because she believes it places an unreasonable and unacceptable burden on women.
The law implies that “women are weak and need protection from husbands, family and society,” Thin Thin Aung said. “Yet women are blamed when they are raped because of how they dress.
Last May, more than 100 civil society organizations issued a statement denouncing the legislation, calling it undemocratic and discriminatory. Some of those who spoke out received death threats, phone calls, text messages and online messages.
Some women who have suffered domestic abuse applauded the bill, saying it would protect women who are too shy to speak out against such abuse for traditional or cultural reasons.
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Iranian Police Arrested 50 Women For 'Un-Islamic' Dress
01 Jan, 2015
Morality police arrested a number of women for immodest dress in Tehran last week, according to reports from the Islamic Republic.
Officers reportedly confronted and arrested a big group of women walking near Vanak square, in an affluent area of the Iranian capital's northern region.
According to police, they were guilty of wearing "shameful and immoral dress in public," not in accordance with the Islamic code, which was put in place by Ayatollah Khomeini in the beginning of 1981. He ordered covering all the parts of the body except the face and wrists.
Some of the women's husbands tried to stop the arrests, to no avail, running to clothing stores to buy their wives more suitable attire.
The women were detained for several hours and then were forced to sign a statement not to repeat their actions and to follow the Islamic and Iranian culture traditions.
The latest fashion trend for Iranian ladies is high heeled winter boots with tight leggings ("supports" in Persian). This style is considered a symbol of social status for young women, as well as a revolt against the strict rules of the regime.
ISIS demands release of leader’s ex-wife in Lebanon hostage talks
01 Jan, 2015
Militants in Syria have threatened to execute Lebanese servicemen they hold captive unless Lebanon releases the ex-wife of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group's leader and another militant-linked woman, a negotiator said Tuesday.
Salafist Sheikh Wissam al-Masri is mediating the release of 25 police and soldiers held by ISIS and the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, the Al-Nusra Front.
Masri told reporters ISIS wrote a letter to him demanding the release of Saja al-Dulaimi, the former wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as well as Ola Sharkas, the wife of Al-Nusra commander Anas Sharkas.
The militants also called for "the liberation of all female Muslims detained in Lebanon in connection to the war in Syria," Masri said.
Lebanese authorities announced earlier this month the arrests of Dulaimi and Sharkas's wife. Dulaimi had tried to enter Lebanon from Syria with two sons and a daughter, the interior minister said.
The soldiers and police were captured when Syria-based militants briefly overran the Lebanese border town of Arsal in August.
The fighters withdrew after a truce negotiated by clerics, but took 30 hostages.
Four have since been executed, while a fifth died from his injuries in captivity.
200 Sunni women and children detained by Shi'ite militias in Iraq
World Bulletin/News Desk
01 Jan, 2015
Behind black gates and high walls, Iraqi national security agents watch 200 women and children.
Boys and girls play in the yard and then dart inside their trailers, located in a former U.S. military camp and onetime headquarters for Saddam Hussein's officials in Babel province's capital Hilla.
The women and children are unwilling guests, rounded up as they fled with their male relatives in October from Jurf al-Sakhr, a bastion of ISIL, during a Shi'ite militia and military operation to clear the farming community.
Once they were arrested, security forces separated out the men, accusing them of being ISIL fighters. They have not been heard from since.
Security forces say the women and children are being investigated, but have not been brought to court.
Their status shows how central Iraq's mixed Shi'ite and Sunni regions are being altered.
As Shi'ite forces push into territories held by ISIL, many Sunnis have fled for fear of both the Shi'ite-led government and the Sunni militants.
Shi'ite leaders insist ISIL must never be allowed to strike them again, nor return to areas now abandoned.
Shi'ite groups now decide who can stay in a community and who should leave; whose houses should be destroyed and whose can stand.
In one case, a powerful Shi'ite paramilitary organization has started redrawing the geography of central Iraq, building a road between Shi'ite parts of Diyala province and Samarra, a Sunni city that is home to a Shi'ite shrine.
"The ideas of what Shi'itestan's limits are is changing," said Ali Allawi a historian and former Iraqi minister.
"Some of these towns and villages, which were neutral or partial to ISIS, have been retaken. I don't think the people living there will go back. We are talking about depopulated areas that may be resettled by different groups."
More than 130,000 people, mostly Sunnis, fled central Iraq in 2014, counting just Baghdad's agricultural belt and northeastern Diyala province, the International Rescue Committee told Reuters.
The exodus has left villages empty as Shi'ite paramilitaries, tribes and security forces fill the void.
Iraqi government officials including Prime Minister Haider Abadi stress the importance of helping people return home.
But in the current chaos it is questionable whether officials can help, or that the displaced will want to return.
"I AM TRAPPED"
Already dramatic changes are happening on the ground. For the 200 women and children from Jurf al-Sakhr, it has meant an undefined period of detention.
When they ran from their homes in October raising white surrender flags, security forces and militias separated the women from their male relatives.
Now the women, jailed in Hilla, worry about their fate.
"I'm trapped here living on charity without understanding why all this happened to us", said Um Mohamed, sobbing during a visit Reuters made to the heavily secured compound last week.
"All that I wish is to have my husband back and to return to our small farm."
Security officials say the women and children have not been brought before a court, and will not be freed soon.
"These families were joining or harbouring ISIL," said Falah al-Rahdi, head of the Babel provincial council's security committee. "The judicial system will decide their fate."
Privately, officials in Babel province vow never to welcome back its Sunni residents.
As Shi'ite militia leaders and tribal allies surround Sunni villages in central Iraq, they insist they have strong intelligence from inside those communities.
"Our orders come from the government: whoever is with ISIL, we will confiscate their land. Those who aren't ISIL will be allowed back," a national commander from Asaib Ahl al-Haq told Reuters.
He said he contacted sources in ISIL-held areas and waited until all civilians had escaped before liberating a community.
However, those who have lost their homes say the militias make little distinction between fighters and civilians when they storm areas.
Akram Shahab, 32, a Shi'ite in Diyala's Saadiya district, fled with his family last June when ISIL were about to overrun the town.
He heard from a Sunni neighbour that a militant family had moved in. For Shahab it was a relief his house was not blown up.
But after Iraqi militias and security forces kicked ISIL out of Saadiya in November, Shahab was stunned to learn that the militias had burned his house assuming it was a terrorist's.
The next day, Shahab went with Shi'ite militiamen to inspect the ruins.
"I blamed the militia members at the scene for burning my house and they defended themselves, saying how could they tell a Sunni house from a Shi'ite house."
Shahab, who comes from a family with both Shi'ite and Sunni relatives, said he managed to save his Sunni aunt's house by telling the militia she belonged to their sect.
"They spray-painted (Shi'ite) on the gate to alert the other militia groups," he said.
"They told me,'We need to clean your town from those germs who supported ISIL. You might have lost your house but as a Shi'ite you will live with your head high from now on'."
Not only are homes being demolished, but new infrastructure is being built.
A Shi'ite paramilitary organization is constructing a road to strengthen its positions across the mixed areas of Diyala and neighbouring Salahuddin province.
The Badr Organization, a leading political party and militia with ties to Iran, is supervising the new road, which leads to Samarra.
It means Badr can resupply troops guarding Samarra, currently surrounded by ISIL.
The 35 km road will also allow Shi'ite pilgrims from Iran to visit Samarra, one of Shi'ite Islam's most sacred shrines.
On a recent day, in olive green sweater and commander's cap, Badr Organization chief Hadi al-Amri toured the 35 km road.
Arguably the most popular Shi'ite politician in Iraq for defending Diyala, Amri placed orange work cones on the ground and directed bulldozers.
"The road is of strategic importance to finish off ISIL in the outskirts of Diyala and to put pressure on them in Salahuddin," said Badr lawmaker Mohammed Naji.
"Hadi Amri suggested this road and he supervises it daily in spite of the dangers."
Senior Iraqi politicians say Amri is the commander closest to Iran on the battlefield.
Amri's new project -- the Samarra road -- passes through one trouble spot: an area called Hawi, which Badr considers to be filled with ISIL cells.
"We have started neutralizing the villages, putting guards on the road," Naji said. "We have not displaced the people there. We put forces there to make sure ISIL cannot enter the villages."
Lebanese women not safe despite domestic violence law
01 Jan, 2015
The Lebanese parliament passed a new law on domestic violence April 1. The idea for such a law was born in 2007 in the offices of the group Kafa [Enough] Violence Against Women. The project for a law protecting women against violence brought together 64 non-governmental organizations, which submitted the draft to the government in 2009. Five years and two revisions later, the new law little resembles the original text. The wording used in the final draft says it all — “domestic violence,” not “violence against women.”
Two days after the vote on the law, Human Rights Watch declared the legislation “good, but incomplete.” Maya Ammar, Kafa's media officer, shared this opinion, telling Al-Monitor, “This is a big step for women's rights, but it is not enough.” According to Ammar, the only real breakthrough is that the law simplifies some legal mechanisms. Among the undesirable changes made to the original text is the provision involving marital rape, which is now “marital rights by force” and is condemned only if it involves physical evidence of violence.
After six months of adapting the association's work to the new law, Ammar came to the conclusion that the implication of the law is not so bad. She said, “Most of the judges are fair in their decisions, protecting the children as well, which is good.” Regardless, Ammar still thinks improvements are necessary. She stated, “We should unify the [complaint] procedures, so there is a straight line of action to follow, and also expedite the process. Sometimes, women don't have the time to wait for the judges to decide!”
This was the case for Nisrine Rouhana, killed by her husband while she tried to obtain a divorce after complaining of domestic violence. Ammar stated, “Her parents said that the police didn't arrest the husband, who didn't respect the restraining order, a fact that was never declared to the authorities by her own lawyer.”
Kafa's priority is to raise awareness among Lebanese women about their rights. To this end, the organization created Zalfa, a fictional character who explains the law and provides answers to those wanting to know what they can do in specific situations.
“Women are often scared to file a claim, but speaking up early limits the risks,”Ammar explained. “We hope that this approach will give them tools to pull through. Since January, 1,050 women have been supported by Kafa, which is much more than usual. We are overburdened, this is too much for a small center like ours. The state has to take responsibility and act. One of the actions could be to open shelters for women.” Kafa plans to open its own shelter in 2015, joining private such initiatives as Le Bon Pasteur and Maryam and Martha in this regard.
Rebuilding damaged lives
Maryam and Martha, a shelter for female victims of violence, sits on the road to Balloune, a village in the mountains. It was founded in 1999 by Father Abdo, a priest who purely by circumstance assisted three women after they had fled their homes a year before and ended up at his church.
“I looked to see if there were associations that could take care of them in Lebanon, but I did not find any,” Abdo recalled to Al-Monitor. “They were neglected, both morally and economically. So I had the idea to form a small group of women to engage under the patronage of the bishop.”
The center began with an apartment in Ain al-Remmaneh. In 2009, the team moved into a new center, built with the support of private and group donations, but the road has not been easy.
“At first we were not well-viewed,” the president of Maryam and Martha said. “We were not ready to deal with the most difficult cases, but we have learned from our mistakes, and we are now working with qualified staff, including social workers and psychotherapists.” Fifteen years later, the center can accommodate up to 42 women ages 18 to 50 in addition to 15 children, whom it helps reintegrate into society.
Today, the community of Maryam and Martha opens its doors not only to women who have suffered domestic violence, but also to those affected by parental abandonment, rape, incest, depression, and it assists unmarried mothers, former prisoners, drug addicts and “circumstantial prostitutes.” Those seeking assistance are from all religions. They are sometimes accompanied by their children. Kids under three are cared for in-house, while the rest attend surrounding schools.
“We coordinated with all the embassies, women's organizations and also the police,” said Roula Abou Diwan, the center's director. “We organized a rehabilitation program in four stages to allow reintegration into society. First, the women get to know the place and receive medical, social and psychological care. Then we give them work based on their skills and invite them to volunteer with disabled people, as well as give them internal responsibilities, such as laundry and cleaning. If they wish, they can follow specific trainings or return to school or begin to look for a job. Eventually, we help them prepare their way out, but each case is unique, so we adapt according to legal documentation.”
Daycare is provided at the center to allow everyone to attend classes and trainings. There is also a gym, so women can work out their anger and sadness, and a chapel, where one finds both the Bible and the Quran.
Salma, 23, is one of the women at the center. Beaten by her family and tortured by her husband after a forced marriage, she escaped from her home a year ago. “I did not know that there were associations that could help me, but now I feel like I have a family,” she said smiling. “I have a new life. I learn English and baking. I have no fear. I even feel capable of loving and being loved.”
Meanwhile Nisreen, an 18-year-old Syrian woman who arrived at the center while not legally an adult, is expecting a judicial decision allowing her to leave. “I want to become a nurse in order to give to others all the kindness that was given me, so that no one feels alone, ever.”
Female literacy hits new low in Balochistan
01 Jan, 2015
Education is a right denied to many children across Pakistan,but the state of literacy, particularly of females is dismal in Balochistan with as much as 70% girls dropped out of school.
The statistics paint a bleak picture, with less than two per cent rural women educated and only 26 per cent overall female literacy in the province, as cited by sources in the education department.
Co-education schools and colleges exist in the Makran belt but the emergence of new militant organisations, who have warned girls of dire consequences, have prevented females from enrollment, plunging Balochistan to the lowest female literacy in Pakistan.
But the statistics and headlines hardly tell the story.
With limited access to schools in the province; most of the girls enroll themselves in primary classes but drop out as they get older. According to officials, the dropout rate is as much as 70 per cent with the highest being in Dera Bugti.
“Dera Bugti stands first in terms of low female literacy rate across the country,” said Saboor Kakar, Secretary Education Balochistan.
Kakar believes militancy is the root cause.
“The dropout rate in girls’ schools is worst in Balochistan out of all other provinces owing to militancy in the area,” he said while talking to Dawn.com.
In Panjgur, a district in Makran, the private co-education schools were targeted and threatened to shut down by militants, earlier this year in May. Parents were also intimidated into not sending their girls to school.
A school van was burnt in Panjgur and teachers were warned not to pursue their profession. After this attack, schools remained closed in the district for days, the closure prompted Baloch nationalists groups to stage protest demonstrations to mount pressure on the government to re-open schools.
“We will not allow forced-closure of schools in Makran,” said Ghullam Nabi Marri, the Central leader of Balochistan National Party.
A similar pattern was seen in other districts of Makran division which include Turbat and Gwadar. Even though the government is aware of the threats, they have failed to arrange separate classes for girls or to find an alternative.
The influx of teachers in Quetta
In Quetta, the female literacy rate is better as compared to far-flung areas of Balochistan. Female teachers in Khuzdar, Mastung and other troubled districts have either abandoned their profession or transferred their jobs to Quetta.
According to statistics provided by education department Balochistan, there is only one female teacher for every three students in Apwa Girls High School Quetta. In comparison, there is only one teacher for more than one hundred students in Kuchlak, Ghabarg and other cities in the outskirt of Quetta.
“Female teachers cannot do there job in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation”, said Gul Bushra Kakar, a renowned educationist.
The state of education in Balochistan has been grim for many years due to instability in the province.
“Although I am a native of this land, I refuse to teach in troubled parts of the province,” said Kakar who has been teaching for last 20 years.
Gul Bushra stated that owing to these threats, most of the teachers in rural Balochistan have either gone on long leave without pay or have quit the profession for the safety of their lives. “Several professors from Balochistan University were also forced into leaving their job.”
Not only are schools hard to access, but there are fundamentally fewer schools in the province with respect to its population.
According to Pakistan’s 1998 census, there are more than 22,000 settlements in Balochistan whereas the number of government-run primary, middle and high schools is approximately 12,000. The ratio suggests that almost half of Balochistan is deprived of schooling.
“We need establishment of at least 10,000 more schools to enroll children who are deprived of education,” said Sardar Raza Muhammad Bareech, the Advisor to the Chief Minister Balochistan on Education.
Constructing more schools does not seem to be the only solution for improving the education standard in the province. The legitimacy of the current few thousand schools is also under question. The number of ghost schools have been quoted to be as much as 3000 with more than 5000 ‘ghost’ teachers. These ‘teachers’, who have never stepped inside their schools, are regularly drawing their salaries.
Worsening law and order situation coupled with budgetary allocations, teachers’ absenteeism, and lack of schools, facilities and growing corruption have been the underlying factors behind low literacy rate in Balochistan.
Then there is the issue of poverty.
Children often do not attend school because most of them are working to support their stricken families for survival.
This year, the government of Balochistan had declared an education emergency in the province but it has largely remained confined to papers.
Saudi Shoura Divided On Women TV Anchors’ Dress Code
01 Jan, 2015
The Shoura Council was divided on Tuesday over whether to force women television presenters on Saudi-funded private channels to abide by a dress code, which includes wearing abayas and scarves.
The members had been discussing an amendment to the country’s audiovisual law proposed by Noura Al-Odwan, a woman member of the Shoura, and backed by the culture and media affairs committee. A fine of SR10,000 has been proposed for those failing to comply.
Saudi Al-Shammari said there are no regulations in place that defines the national dress for women, and to introduce this paragraph into regulations overseeing the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) would be illegal.
Modi Al-Doghaither supported the committee’s findings to oblige anchors to wear what he termed Islamic dress. Saad Al-Baizi said the GCAM is not responsible for Saudi television and only supervises non-Saudi channels working in the Kingdom, in addition to the Internet and publications. Committee chairman Ahmad Al-Zeali withdrew this paragraph for later discussion.
The discussion comes a few weeks after Al-Odwan criticized women television presenters, saying they used too much makeup, drawing flak from some Shoura members and women television presenters.
Meanwhile, Shoura members said King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital was deteriorating. A total of 33 doctors had resigned apparently because they had not been treated properly.
Khawla Al-Krei’ said there have been mounting problems at the hospital, with 41 research projects underway costing millions, but with no proven value. Salwa Al-Hazza said the hospital produces virtually the same report every year. The last survey it had undertaken was 30 years ago.
Islamophobic Attacks Rising Against Women In UK
01 Jan, 2015
A UK charity organization says more Islamophobic attacks are now being carried out against Muslim women in Britain, as concerns rise over the growing number of such hate crimes, Press TV reports.
According to Tell MAMA, a national project keeping track of anti-Muslim incidents, the number of Muslim women reporting hate crimes has risen by up to 10% over the past 18 months.
Afreen Rizvi, from Project Zainab, an independent organization dealing with the concerns of Muslim women, told Press TV, “The head scarf essentially symbolizes that this person is a Muslim. If there was a person not wearing a scarf or [if it was] even a male, [they] have got a less chance of being targeted or even spoken to disrespectfully.”
She further noted that Muslim girls wearing the head scarf are frequently told to “get out of the country” or typically labelled as a “Paki.”
Like any other hate crimes, the perpetrators of Islamophobic attacks often act in a cowardly, anonymous fashion. However, Rizvi called on Muslim women to report the crimes straight away and spread the message.
Islamophobic hate crimes take many forms, including offensive graffiti, physical intimidation, and even assaults.
Earlier in December 2014, Islamic Human Rights Commission, an independent organization, planned a conference on Islamophobia at a London university, but had to relocate after being threatened by far-right-wing groups.
The conference aimed to discuss and develop practical strategies to deal with rising Islamophobia in the UK.
Zumba Dance, among girls in Jeddah, Effective in Fighting Depression
01 Jan, 2015
ABHA — Zumba dance is gaining in popularity among girls in Jeddah and is favoured by experts as a way to battle depression, Alsharq reported.
Aliyah Adel is a Zumba dance trainer and one of the pioneering trainers in the Middle East. She has been teaching girls how to Zumba on more than 200 occasions since 2009.
She has taught over 16,000 students and she offers her lessons on Instagram and WhatsApp.
She said: “Zumba is a Latin dance and a mix of samba, salsa, cumbia, merengue, belly dance and reggaeton. “It is one of the most popular exercise routines in the world and you can burn up to 800 calories an hour.
“In addition to it being a physical exercise, Zumba is advised for patients of depression as it encourages the production of endorphins, known as the happiness hormones.”
Adel added that Zumba routines can even be choreographed to strengthen a certain part of the body and can help with arthritis, resistance exercises and flexibility.
The dance form also combats cardiovascular diseases but it must be done under professionals’ supervision.
She said: “I would advise that people do some Zumba at least half an hour every day. “To maintain a healthy lifestyle one must also take care of his nutritional diet. “People should quit smoking and avoid sugar and fat. “Eat as much fish, fruit and vegetables as you can and drink a lot of water.”
Nouf Wazna, 24, said she was happy to have her Zumba lessons with Adel as she was a professional trainer.
“I neglected my body when I was a student in university. “But now I am happy to pay attention to it and return on the healthy and fit path. “And Zumba is the best way to do it as it mobilizes all of your muscles.” Khadija Bahaij, 28, said Zumba releases all of the negative energy and stress and replaces them with positive energy.
“Zumba relaxes me and increases my ability to concentrate and think clearly. “It balances between the neurological energy and the physical organs in your body. It also gives you confidence and joy.”