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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 26 Jan 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Obese Women ‘Not Welcome’ In Private Sector Companies in Saudi Arabia





Students stage a protest denouncing child marriage in Sana’a, Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Yemen are the only Arab countries in the Middle East that do not have laws that set a minimum age for marriage. Image Credit: AP














More Emirati Couples Divorce before Their Wedding Day

'65% of Females in Yemen Marry Underage'

Indonesian Women Face New Discriminatory Regulations

Taboo Topic Stymies Breast Cancer Efforts in Pakistan

New campaign in Egypt sheds light on the Breast Cancer of women

Sudanese First Lady Receives Director of Arab Women Organization

UAE Athletes Set Targets for Arab Women Sports Tournament

Saudi Women Occupy 38 Percent Govt Jobs: Report

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Obese Women ‘Not Welcome’ In Private Sector Companies in Saudi Arabia

 January 26, 2014

JEDDAH — Slimness and general appearance are the most important factors for young women who want to get jobs in some private sector establishments.

Many women have postgraduate degrees in required specializations but are rejected because of their appearance. Women who want jobs should be tall, slim and have an acceptable appearance. Those who are not will find it difficult to be employed. Some women are graduates of world-class universities and speak several foreign languages, but as they are not slim and do not have an acceptable appearance, they do not get jobs, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

Fatima Siraj, who has a master’s degree in business administration from the US, said that after her return to Saudi Arabia she was surprised that the company she applied to refused to employ her despite the fact that it specialized in business administration projects.

She did not understand their reluctance to hire her since she has a master’s degree and practical experience in a company in the US where she worked as a trainee.

However, she was in for a big shock when she talked to one of the young women in the company with only a secondary school certificate who told her she was employed because she had a good appearance.

At this point, Siraj realized that her appearance and obesity was not what the company was looking for. As for her postgraduate degree, she can hang it on the wall at home and look at it whenever she wants.

Rania Mahmood, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer programming, said she applied for a job at the Ministry of Civil Service but did not receive a reply, so she decided to look for a job in the private sector.

She applied to several companies specializing in computer programming. She also went to employment offices and submitted her CV, but did not receive a reply from any of them. Whenever she talks to them, they tell her to wait, as they do not have any vacancies at the moment. She went to an employment office and submitted her papers, but the woman in charge of the office said she could not find a job for her in any computer programming company.

Mahmood said she was surprised because her degree qualifies her for a job in one of the best companies.

The woman said she could find a job for Rania as a saleswoman or cashier in a women’s shop with a low salary. She told Rania that companies do not like to employ obese women.

A year and a half has passed and Mahmood is still waiting for a job that suits her specialization. All she is being offered is a job as a saleswoman or a security guard.

Mona Al-Harbi, who took courses in executive management in Britain apart from her specialization in business administration, said the private companies she applied to refused to employ her because she is obese.

Al-Harbi weighs 100 kg but she has good qualifications and is capable of working in any company or establishment. Furthermore, she is fluent in spoken and written English. Earlier she worked in a temporary job as an office manager for a prominent female official in the government sector, but when the official transferred to another country, her job ended.

Aliyah Al-Jihani, the female owner of an office for employing women, said: “I don’t deny that the majority of private sector companies say they want to employ women who are tall and slim and have an acceptable general appearance. We try to explain to these companies that it is important to accept women with experience and postgraduate degrees who also know foreign languages."



More Emirati Couples Divorce before Their Wedding Day

January 26, 2014

Meeting her future husband for the first time, Sara was too shy to look at him directly.

“At that time I was a girl and I felt shy to sit with my family and some guy. I only remember his feet. My head was down and I couldn’t look in his face, in his eyes,” she says. “All that I saw was his foot.”

In Sara’s family, it was unacceptable for an unrelated man and woman to spend time together before marriage. They spoke for the first time after the union was agreed. After that he phoned and visited her house regularly.

“He would come and he would sit and eat and talk to my brothers and watch TV and play the PlayStation – all of these silly things,” says Sara, an Emirati woman in her early twenties who did not want to give her real name. “I would sit with him like I was his sister.

“At that time I recognised that this was not what I wanted. This was not the right guy because his way of thinking was different than mine. He was not educated.”

Their marriage agreement ended two months after the contract was signed, and long before the wedding parties that would have sealed them as man and wife.

Yet while the marriage was never consummated, Sara is classed as divorced women.

For Sara and other Emirati newlyweds like her, the honeymoon is over before it even begins.

Divorce statistics paint a bleak picture. Among Emirati couples in Dubai it increased by a third from 2010 to 2012, according to Dubai Courts. A 2008 study by the Sharjah Supreme Council for Family Affairs found 47 per cent of Emirati divorces happened in the first three years of marriage.

But the figures do not tell the full story. Not every divorce is necessarily a failed relationship or a broken family. A growing number of divorces happen before the wedding ceremony, during the period after the wedding contract has been signed and before the wedding night.

Just how many is hard to say, because official figures do not distinguish between these and other divorces.

Known as the “Milcha period” between the signing of the marriage and the wedding party, this time can last weeks, but sometimes months or even years. And with divorce rates rising, so does the number of those who decide their new partner is not Mr or Mrs Right during the time before the marriage is consummated.

Courtship for Emirati couples usually does not begin until the engagement, or more often, until after the marriage contract, or milcha is signed. Only then can couples start to spend time together, chaperoned by relatives, talk on the phone and get to know each other.

Women seeking divorces before the wedding night often feel that the relationship will sour in future, despite risk of stigmatisation and financial loss. If a woman has the strength to request a divorce before the wedding party, her chances of remarriage are much higher because there has been no physical side to the relationship.

“In my casual conversations with young Emiratis about divorce, tales of couples who sought divorce even before the official wedding party were common, with many problems arising after disagreements concerning details related to the wedding party,” says Nicole Bromfield, an assistant professor in the department of social work at United Arab Emirates University, in an upcoming paper on Emirati divorce.

“Older Emiratis I spoke to informally repeated similar stories and some felt that the younger Emirati generation was overindulged and frivolous over serious life matters, which allowed them to find it acceptable to seek divorce over relatively small disagreements.

“Yet despite tales of divorce over seemingly trivial matters among younger Emiratis, divorce is a serious issue, especially for the bride.”



'65% of females in Yemen marry underage'

 January 26, 2014 

Dubai: Two little girls aged eight and nine celebrated last year a Sana’a court ruling that allowed them to annul their marriages.

A third young girl in the second grade was about to marry a man in his thirties when the civil society groups intervened and stopped the wedding a few months ago in the southern part of the country. Unconfirmed reports said an 8-year-old Yemen girl died after being married to a man in his forties.

Child marriages are rampant in Yemen. A study revealed that the bridal age in more than half of the finalised marriages in Yemen was under the age of 15. According to the study conducted by Sana’a University, only 7 per cent of “husbands” were under the age of 18. 

It also added that nearly 65 per cent of females are married “underage,” while that number rises to 70 per cent in rural areas.

Despite efforts to put an end to “this catastrophe”, experts and activists differ on whether setting, by law, a minimum age for marriage will solve the problem. Some say the issue has been receiving considerable attention and growing approval to setting a minimum age for marriage that will be agreed on by the society.

Others disagree.

“The issue is related to the country’s culture,” said Yousuf Abu Ras, head of the Yemeni Organisation for economic and social development, one of the NGOs in the country.

For the efforts to change the child marriage to succeed there is a need to change peoples’ perceptions and not just make a legal or legislation amendment, he told Gulf News.

“Any legal amendment will come from above, and it doesn’t reach the roots of the society. The issue (tackle child marriage) needs more awareness and enlightenment efforts, (to succeed)” Abu Ras said.

Even within the same Islamic groups, people differ in their opinion on a minimum age group. There are “religious extremist and traditional” powers that refuse any legal move to set a minimum age for girl, arguing that there is no minimum age for marriage in Islamic law.

“Accordingly, these groups that have popular basis don’t want to lose these bases by supporting the move.”

But other activists believe the light shed on the issue locally and internationally after reporting some cases as boosted the efforts to put an end to the child marriage. It also united more people in their rejection to child brides.

“Until now there is no social opposition, because of the massive damage endured in the past few years on different levels, including social and economic,” said Youssef Abdou, a consultant with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Yemen.

He described numbers of child marriages as “scary” figures, and said they led to a decline in the health indicators of mothers and children in the country, one of the most improvised countries in the world.

With an infant death rate of 51 deaths in early 1,000 live births and a maternal death risk of 200 deaths in every 100,000 live births, infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are high in Yemen.

Abdou noted that child marriages is also related to high illiteracy rates in Yemen and the high number of people living under the poverty line. Many poor families receive some “generous” dowry, while they get rid of an extra member in the family to feed.

Setting a minimum age of marriage of 18 years for girls in Yemen was among the main recommendations of national dialogue held in Yemen as part of the Gulf initiative to end the tension in the country after people took to the streets to demand change.

Former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, according to the initiative, handed over the power to his deputy, Abed Rabou Mansour Hadi, and a national dialogue was held.

And even if it is approved, the law of minimum age needs nearly two years to come into effect, experts and activists said.

Until then, Yemen and Saudi Arabic remain to be the only two Arab countries that don’t have a minimum age for marriage.



Indonesian women face new discriminatory regulations

 January 26, 2014

A new report by the NGO, Human Rights Watch, highlights the heightened discrimination that Indonesian women faced in 2013, largely as a result of a slew of new discriminatory regulations by local governments.

The report quotes Indonesia’s official Commission on Violence against Women which reported last August that national and local governments in Indonesia had passed 60 new discriminatory regulations in 2013.

These are in addition to the 282 such rules already on the books, which include 79 local bylaws requiring women to wear the hijab, or head scarf.

Although the Ministry of Home Affairs has announced its intention to revoke a handful of these, the majority remain in place.

For example, Lhokseumawe, a city in northern Sumatra’s Aceh province, banned women from straddling motorcycles. They are only permitted to ride side saddle, supposedly to prevent women from violating “Islamic values.” Aceh, an area with considerable autonomy from Jakarta, is the only province in Indonesia to follow Shariah law.

In the neighbouring city of Bireuen a further local regulation enacted in May prohibits women from dancing.

These new local by-laws only perpetuate the discrimination that women face across the entire region as the result of earlier laws, such as the one related to “seclusion, “ that criminalises the co-presence of two adults of the opposite sex, who are not married or related by blood, in an “isolated place.”

The report however makes it clear that discriminatory practices are not restricted to Aceh. In Gorontalo province on the island of Sulawesi, for example, the government transferred its entire female support staff to other offices in July last year, in a bid to discourage putative extramarital affairs between male officials and their female secretaries.

Plans were also announced in Prabumulih city in southern Sumatra to make it mandatory for high school girls to submit to virginity tests, to battle premarital sex and prostitution.

These plans were, however, withdrawn following a public outcry.

Indonesia is a Muslim-majority nation. However, it is not a theocracy, and with the exception of Aceh, Shariah law is not observed in the archipelago.

The country was ranked 95th out of the 136 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report.



Taboo topic stymies breast cancer efforts in Pakistan

The Associated Press

January 26, 2014

ISLAMABAD – In Pakistan, a country where breast cancer kills more women than terrorist attacks, an awareness group couldn’t even say the word “breast” while talking at a university about mammograms and how to check for lumps.

They had to use the euphemism “cancer of women” to discuss a disease often shrouded in social stigma in this majority Muslim nation.

One in nine women in Pakistan will face breast cancer during their life, with the country itself having the highest rate of the disease across Asia, according to the breast cancer awareness group PinkRibbon, oncologists and other aid groups.

Yet discussing it remains taboo in a conservative, Islamic culture where the word “breast” is associated with sexuality instead of health and many view it as immoral for women to go to the hospital for screenings or discuss it even within their family.

Now, women like breast cancer survivor and prominent Pakistani politician Fehmida Mirza and groups are trying to draw attention to the disease and break the silence surrounding it.

“There’s nothing to be shy about it,” Mirza told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “No woman, no woman should die of ignorance and negligence.”

No national database tracks breast cancer statistics but people who combat the disease say it kills nearly 40,000 women every year in Pakistan. That’s about the same number as in the U.S., though Pakistan only has 180 million residents to the U.S.’ 313 million.

With a health care system in shambles and more young women getting the disease, breast cancer rates only are expected to get worse. World Health Organization official Shahzad Aalam in Pakistan said it was difficult to determine the exact magnitude, but that the disease is rampant.

“It is the leading cancer killer among women,” Aalam said.

Among Pakistani women there is very little knowledge about the disease. A study done at Rawalpindi General Hospital about breast cancer awareness among 600 women found nearly 70 percent totally ignorant of the disease, while 88 percent did not know about breast self-exams and 68 percent did not understand the significance of finding a lump in the breast.

“If women are being diagnosed with breast cancer, they don’t even share the news with their family members,” said Omar Aftab, who heads PinkRibbon in Pakistan, which put on the university presentation where organizers couldn’t even say “breast.”

Those cultural taboos have been one of the biggest issues preventing women from seeking treatment or even knowing about the disease.

Another challenge is Pakistan’s abysmal health care sector that is starved for money, the latest technology and drugs. Oncologist Saira Hasan at Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad said most major hospitals lack a screening center or mammogram facility. Many patients first go to a traditional healer and by the time they visit a reputable doctor, the disease is often too far advanced to treat, Hasan said.

Women in the developing world, like Pakistan, tend to die at greater rates than in more developed countries because the disease is generally detected later and health care options aren’t as good.

Hasan said several factors have contributed to the rise in the disease – above all the cultural taboos. Breast cancer survivor Sameera Raja, who owns an art gallery in southern Karachi and supports women facing breast cancer, says that it has to be changed.

“You’re surprised to hear how women actually sit on things,” Raja said. Recalling how a woman would feel too embarrassed to talk about it even with her husband, she said: “Don’t hide behind closed doors.”

Unlike in the U.S. where celebrities like singer Sheryl Crow or actress Christina Applegate have freely discussed their fight with breast cancer, few such public figures have come forward in Pakistan. That’s changed with Mirza, though she had to delay her treatment for three months after she was diagnosed in March 2012 to handle her work, which included how to rule on whether a criminal conviction against the serving prime minister should disqualify him from politics.

“There was lot of pressure on me, work pressure,” she said. “Everybody (would) say it’s an excuse I’m using to run away.”

Mirza described her friends and family being shocked by the diagnosis, as the cancer is considered by many as a death sentence. But during her diagnosis and treatment, she attended international conferences, ruled on the then-prime minister’s case and later ran for re-election and won while undergoing chemotherapy.

She now uses her position in parliament to advocate for women’s health issues. She plans to propose a bill making it mandatory for women to have breast cancer screenings and mammograms yearly, as well as to teach girls in schools to do breast exams themselves. She also pushed the health ministry to explain why there is no national database on breast cancer deaths.

“I think the role models will have to come forward,” Mirza said. “That is one reason I had to.”



New campaign in Egypt sheds light on the Breast Cancer of women

January 26, 2014

The Breast Cancer Foundation in Egypt launches a campaign shedding light on cervical cancer, little talked about and dubbed the silent killer of women

January marked Cervical Cancer Month worldwide — a month of raising awarness on a type of tumor that ranks number two in causing fatalities among women.

The Breast Cancer Foundation in Egypt (BCFE) seized this opportunity to launch a campaign encouraging women to know more about the dangers of cervical cancer, the risk factors attributed with it, and what they can do to dodge the bullet. Early detection through regular smear tests allows a very high probability of total recovery, while some vaccines can even protect the female from a very early age.

Dr Mohamed Shaalan, professor of surgical oncology and head of the Prevention and Early Detection Unit at the National Cancer Institute, says that although the main factor known to be the primary cause of cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted virus called HPV, there are four risk factors that should be considered by every woman. These are:

Long term smoking

Giving birth to three or more children

Having immune system health problems that leaves the body incapable of fighting infections, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS

Having used the contraceptive pill for five years or more

Although cervical cancer is a serious condition, women can follow five measures to help prevent its occurrence, says Dr Shaalan. He lists them as follows:

Steer clear of smoking

Spread the word on the importance of regular smear tests for early detection, which should take place every three years starting from the age 21

Girls from the age of 11 should take the HPV vaccine, which is available in local pharmacies and requires three doses

Women should consult with a physician in case of the occurrence of any abnormal discharge or bleeding

Safe sex is a vital measure of prevention

According to the World Health Organisation, cervical cancer is the second cause of cancer-related fatalities in women worldwide, and the second most common cancer type. A whooping 80 percent of cases are in developing countries, partially due to a lack of awareness of detention and prevention practices. Most cases appear in the forties and fifties.



Sudanese First Lady Receives Director of Arab Women Organization

January 26, 2014

Khartoum - The First Lady, Widad Babikir received at the Friendship Hall the Director of the Arab Women Organization, from the United Arab Emirates, Dr. Shaikha Saif Al-Shamisi, on the sidelines of the meetings of the Higher Council of the Arab Women Organization, which began Saturday at the Friendship Hall.

Dr. Shaikha appreciated the hospitality accorded to her by the government and people of Sudan, explaining that her meeting with the First Lady was an important one and fruitful, adding that they discussed the issues of women at the Arab World level.

She said that the objectives of the Arab Women Organization include work for the unity of rank, support to the strategic role of women all over the Arab World, working for the development of women and reactivating their role in the society.

Dr. Shaikha disclosed that a forum will be held by the organization in collaboration with Morocco to discuss women issues in all fields



UAE athletes set targets for Arab Women Sports Tournament

January 26, 2014

Sharjah: With the second Arab Women Sports Tournament (AWST) just round the corner, the anticipation is clearly visible among the UAE athletes. Wholly aware of the tough challenges they would be facing during the event, the girls are confident of producing results that can take them a step closer to their mission of qualifying to the Olympics.

“Participating in the Olympics is my ultimate dream,” said UAE fencer Al Anoud Mabrouk Al Saadi.

“Such tournaments help us work towards our dream and also builds our confidence,” she added.

The second edition of the AWST will be held in Sharjah from February 2 to 14 after the inaugural edition was held in 2012. A total of 14 countries – hosts UAE, Algeria, Qatar, Bahrain, Palestine, Oman, Kuwait, Sudan, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt and Iraq – have confirmed their participation.

The AWST had five games in the inaugural edition in 2012 that included basketball, volleyball, table tennis, shooting and athletics. Fencing and archery are the two new sport included this year.

“We are fully prepared and we hope to accomplish the target of finishing on top. We are aware of the tough challenges but our team has been working really hard,” said Al Saadi, who will be competing in the Epee category.

“Our training has been intense every day with our coaches. We are getting two guest players who will also provide their expertise during the event. This event will also help us learn by watching other quality players.”

The events will be hosted at different venues in Sharjah which include Sharjah Ladies Club, Sharjah Cultural and Sports Club, Al-Shaab Cultural & Sports Club, Al Dhaid Sports & Cultural Club, Al Thiqah Club for the Handicapped, Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, Sharjah University, Wasit Youth Center, Al Andalus School.

“I have already started counting the days and can’t wait for the tournament to start. It’s my first time and I want to prove a point that we can also do it,” said archer Mariam Hassan Bin Hadya. “My biggest objective is to participate in the Olympics and I have to perform here if I have to pursue my dream,” said the 17-year-old, who has been training with Egyptian coach Amira Nadir. “I have no idea how my opponents are and that probably is the reason I’m not tensed and totally relaxed.”

Javelin thrower Hanan Al Zyodi, 18, said: “This is a first step towards my dream. I’m chasing a dream to be part of the Olympics and have been working very hard towards that. I’m already the UAE national champion and this time I want to better my national record.”

Table tennis player Majd Alblooshi, who recently participated in the GSC Group World Grand Final, said: “It’s a great opportunity for us to particpate in this tournament. I know my competitors are strong and they have the experience. I will try to put my best performancee and win a title. If not, I at least hope to put a great performance which will be noticed. The Grand final experience has given me the confidence and should help me take on the big players.”



Saudi women occupy 38 percent govt jobs: Report

 January 26, 2014

DAMMAM — A report issued by the Human Resources Planning and Development Department of the Ministry of Civil Services revealed that 38.27 percent of government jobs are occupied by Saudi women, Al-Hayat daily reported.

The report demonstrates that out of a total 19,129 employed women within the kingdom, 8,397 were employed during the past year.

During the same period, out of a total of 19,302 employees who resigned from their jobs, 7,090 were women.

According to the report, women are employed based on their educational qualifications, which includes: 365 with post graduate degrees, 11,630 with bachelor degrees, and 4,370 without higher education.

The report mentions that 10,690 women were employed in the educational sector, while 5,675 were employed in various other sectors.

A source in the human resources department said that the employment of women is steadily increasing, and surprisingly exceeding the employment rate of men.

According to the source, during the past three years the percentage increase in female employment was between 15-25 percent, while the increase in men employment was between 8-14 percent.

The source added that there are three ministries that deal with employment and issue more precise data.  These ministries include: the Ministry of Labor (concerned with employing citizens in the private sector), the Ministry of Economics and Planning (concerned with statistics), and the Ministry of Civil Services (concerned with employment in the government sector).

Dr. Latefah Al-Shalan, member of the Shoura Council, however pointed out that women employment in the Kingdom is the lowest between neighboring countries.

She pointed out that Saudi women have obtained the highest possible education in various specialties, which has enabled them to represent the country in many international organizations, as well as occupy very high government jobs.

However, women participation in the private and government job market is still low.

She added that women account for 49.1 percent of the total population in the Kingdom, while their participation in the work force is only 10 percent. Al-Shalan noted that, according to the minister of labor, 70 percent of women are unemployed within the Kingdom, while only 30 percent of their male counterparts suffer the same fate.

Al-Shalan believes that work opportunities in the government sector are still limited, and there is a need for a national strategic plan to allow more employment opportunities for women, especially in government sector that have no or very limited female employees.

She said that the low employment level of women contradicts with the large number of expatriate workers, whose transfers were the second largest in the world between the years of 2002-2012.

Al-Shalan further said that there should be gradual replacement of expatriates with qualified and trained Saudis to reduce such transfers, decrease unemployment, and provide better living conditions for Saudis. She also pointed out that the decision to employ Saudi women as cashiers in women shops is a great development.

Such decision was met with great resistance from some parties during the period of the late Dr. Ghazi Al-Qusaibi.

However, the decision was finally implemented, and submitting to rejections will only cause delay the economic and social growth of the country.

She added that female investments account for 6 percent of total private sector investments, and that the number of businesswomen in Riyadh alone is around 4,000.  In addition to those developments, the number of commercial registers of women in the country reached 72,494 in 2012.

Al-Shalan stressed that these numbers are a clear indication of women's increasing status in society, and that they are in fact qualified to venture into the private sector.