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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 14 March 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Proposed Iranian Laws Are Setback for Women

New Age Islam News Bureau

14 March 2015

Rabia Hassan’s project Scene Unseen that aims to “highlight the absence of the female gaze within the process of film-making”- White Star


 Single-Hood No Longer an Obstacle for Yemeni Girls

 Europe Tries New Tack to Keep Young Women from Joining Islamic State

 ‘Scene Unseen’ Reverses Gender Roles to Emancipate Women

 Filipino Maid’s ‘Death’ In Qatif Goes Viral

 Breed Or Else! Iran’s Ultimatum to Women

 Muslim Women in Canada Explain Why They Wear a Niqab

 Young Saudi Ladies Tell Their Business Success Stories

 Women Empowerment Important To Qatar

 Gazan Women Surge Ahead With Start-ups

 Palestinian Women Demand Quota Increase

 St. Ambrose Lecture Focuses On Women in Iran

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Proposed Iranian Laws Are Setback for Women

LONDON— March 13, 2015

Proposed new laws in Iran would restrict women’s access to birth control and jobs, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

The group expressed alarm at two bills, moving through Iran’s parliament that aims to arrest the country’s plunging birth rate and declining population, seen in Tehran as major threats to the Islamic Republic’s future.

In a report issued this week, Amnesty International said the government wants to turn young women into “baby-making machines” by restricting their use of contraceptives and excluding them from the labour market.

"The Iranian authorities are trying to, first of all, ban voluntary female sterilization, which is interestingly the second most-common method of birth control in Iran after pills," said Raha Bahreini, Amnesty’s Iran researcher. "They are also restricting access to information about sexual reproductive health and, specifically, methods of contraception."

The bill also would ban vasectomies. 

Impact predicted

Such restrictions could have far-reaching consequences for Iranian women, Bahreini said.

"They will have no option but to continue with their unwanted pregnancies when it’s not their choice to do, or terminate their pregnancies through illegal and unsafe abortions."

The hardship of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, combined with government policies aimed at reducing family size, led to a plunging birth rate, said Shereen Hussein, a demographer and senior research fellow at King’s College London.

"The fertility decline hadn’t started until the late 1980s in Iran. But then it declined very sharply," she said.

The Amnesty report said policies introduced in 1989 led to "a steady decline in the country’s fertility rate – from 7.0 births per women in 1980 to 5.5 in 1988, 2.8 in 1996" to 1.8 last year, below the so-called replacement level of roughly 2.2 births per woman.

In this country of 77 million, marriage rates also are falling and divorce rates are rising.

It adds up to a declining population, Hussein said.

"It’s not only contraceptives and family planning, it’s also the dynamics of marriage, the divorce rate, the remarriage, the age of marriage," Hussein said. "That, combined with economic hardship, made it very difficult for people to start families and have children."

Workforce restrictions

Amnesty said a second proposed law would entrench discrimination by giving priority for job vacancies to men and to women who already have children. Young women without children would be at the bottom of the pile.

"And that means women will be further excluded from the labor market in Iran," Bahreini said. "Also, it tries to make divorce more difficult to obtain. Women already face a lot of obstacles in getting divorced and they do not have equal divorce rights as men."

Iran’s objective is to combat a declining and aging population. But the policies would incur additional short-term economic pain, Hussein said.

"Having more children could be a solution in the longer term. But that is again attached to a higher economic value, especially in the short term, when you have increased demand for health services and education services," the demographer said.

Hussein said demographic challenges are being felt across the region as aging populations put an increasing strain on government services.



Single-Hood No Longer an Obstacle for Yemeni Girls

March 13th, 2015

Because women are single, they prevented from the simplest things that they wish to do, things that are allowed for married women.  The Yemeni society still believes that there are some acts that can’t be done by single women, even if they are in their thirties.

Don’t put make-up on, don’t be late, don’t change the style of your hair, don’t chew Qat, don’t smoke Shisha are just some of the ‘don’ts’ single women continue to hear in a daily basis in Yemen. Samer is a teacher with 30 years old. She is the oldest  girl among her sisters. She is the only single one; her four younger sisters are married. When they met at parties or any other women meetings, Samer is the only one who can’t join them chewing Qat or smoking Shisha and even her clothing options are limited just because she is single. “I am old enough to do the things I want, but my mother believes that I can do whatever I want only after marriage because it is shame and not allowed for singles to do such things,” Samer said.

Samer gets very angry because of all the things she is prevented from because of the culture of shame, not because those things are forbidden or unhealthy.

“I sometimes like to attended meetings and parties to change the mode of work but I feel like a strangers among the married women although we are in the same age or sometimes younger than me. I just keep watching them and if I try to chew Qat with them, my mother is gazing at me and her eyes say “don’t” as if I am a child,” Samer stated.

Because of this narrow view about unmarried women, they separate themselves from married women’s lives. They have created their own world by starting to make their own parties and meetings where all the attendees are single girls. Their meetings are not only for Qat and Shisha but are also accompanied by a singer.

Yousra al-Manssor said that they really love such meetings because they entertain themselves and can be far away from home and work problems. “We do it far from married women to be more comfortable and far from their annoying comments, such as looking at our clothes, make up, and shame. Qat and shisha are just for entertainment and not addiction.”

In these meetings, they can wear what they want, eat, talk, and put on makeup; all the things that are not allowed for them in the view of married women.

According to Salwa Ahmed, she doesn’t need to hide herself, and she doesn’t care about people and does whatever she wants because it is not forbidden or against religion. “They can say what they want, I don’t care. My mother sometimes told me that no one will come to marry me because I am not doing shameful acts. I really don’t care to be married and I don’t want to be a wife for someone who has such stupid views and traditions.”

Hanan Abdullah said that they hold single women meetings once a month in one of their houses. They all pay for a singer and everyone brings their own Qat and shisha with them. “Sometimes I steal Qat from my father or brother or sometimes I ask the taxi driver to buy it for me because it is shame for a girl to go to the Qat market,” she said with a smile.

For Samer, the social gatherings are not just for fun, but they are a chance to talk about private matters specifically with regard to women’s affairs. “Every girl has her own problem, love story or concerns, and there we can talk freely.”

The place of gathering is prepared with incense, Sana’ani songs, and drinks like cold water, Pepsi, barley and ginger.

On the other hand, Ahlam said that she doesn’t like such gatherings and prefers to have a meeting with her friends in a park or a coffee house. “Qat and Shisha are harmful and for me it is not appropriate for women.”

Samer added that the situation in Yemen doesn’t encourage them to have meetings outside the home. Although she believes that Shisha is harmful, it brings them happiness.

Despite such meetings, unmarried women are still suffering from the culture of shame in different fields in their life because mothers and fathers still believe that unmarried women must wait for a groom in their home and prevent themselves from everything until the awaited future groom comes and frees them.



Europe Tries New Tack to Keep Young Women from Joining Islamic State

March 14th, 2015

While the self-described Islamic State continues to attract many young European men with its sophisticated social media campaign and mesmerizing brutality, the extremist group has also demonstrated eye-catching success with a less visible group: young Muslim women.

An estimated 550 Western women are believed to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic extremist groups. The propaganda arm of IS has appealed to them with everything from online cookbooks for the wives of Mujahideen to parenting guides for raising future jihadists.

But across Europe, concerned observers from teachers to family counsellors, are striking back with their own set of gender tactics. Counterterrorism experts now see such a tailored strategy as central to detecting girls who could fall prey to IS propaganda. And they are pointing in particular to mothers, with their outsized influence in Muslim households, as forming one of the best lines of defence.

Recommended: How much do you know about the Islamic State?

Ross Frenett, the director at Against Violent Extremism in London, says Western European governments need to modify their anti-radicalization programs to target women who are increasingly being lured into extremism.

“When it comes to counter-radicalization, there is an appreciation of the gender aspect of this in a way there didn’t use to be," Mr. Frenett says. “Narrowing down the focus is a very important step of any program.”

Such a need became clear last month at the Bethnal Green Academy, a redbrick building dating from 1900 in East London, after teenagers Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana, and Amira Abase travelled to Syria allegedly to join IS.

Three of the school’s highest-achieving students, the girls are said to have shown none of the typical signs of extremist thinking. But one teacher who taught the three at the academy, who preferred not to speak on the record, says the school may have missed signs by misunderstanding how alluring IS can be to girls from conservative religious backgrounds.

On a recent day, the school fences were covered with photos of the school's extracurricular activities, including cooking and cello classes that are intended to expand a student’s horizons. But many girls from conservative Muslim households have little prospects of life beyond the home, the teacher says, a realization that makes them ripe for the taste of freedom that they believe IS offers.

“They come from families where their mothers only stay at home and don’t encourage their daughters to expand their interests and open their eyes to new lives,” he says, adding that he’d like to see Muslim women, family, and school teachers alike, talk to them about the reality of their lives in conservative Muslim homes and what it’s like to join a terrorist network. Those conversations have been too few, he says.


Gender could also play a more prominent role on the Internet, says Mr. Frenett. “My Facebook account has very different ads to my wife’s, and we can use that same technique to make sure we have bespoke messages and reach the right audience,” he says.

Although men and women join extremist groups in the Middle East for some of the same reasons, from visions of utopia to a sense of injustice, men more often do so to fight, while women are pulled by family decisions. They have different reactions to birth and death. "These could and should be exploited by family and state alike as an opportunity for disengagement,” he says.

Magnus Ranstorp, an expert on extremism at the Swedish National Defence College, says de-radicalization programs that focus on women have only started to take shape in Europe in part because until now their motivations have been misunderstood. “I think the general perception is that women are victims and that they are passive, which is not the case,” he says. They might not fight in combat, as is prohibited by Sharia law, but they are vital accomplices and recruiters. “Behind Jihadis you have women who are equally extremist and radical.”

Daniel Koehler, the director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies (GIRDS) in Berlin, says the process of de-radicalization is best done on an individual basis. With women comprising a much smaller fraction of extremist groups and resources to help them already stretched, growing concerns of female jihadists is unlikely to translate into a glut of new programs specifically for them, he says.

But strategies that employ women in prevention are growing in large part because they are both easier to reach and the first ones to reach out. In Mr. Koehler’s previous job as a family counsellor at an anti-radicalization program in Berlin, he says 80 percent of calls to the program’s hotline were from women: mothers, daughters, and sisters. When men called, they almost never did so alone, he says.


Because of the status given to mothers in Islam, they have one of the most influential roles in the fight against extremism, says Koehler. Although mothers were not involved in the work he did de-radicalizing Neo-Nazis, GIRDS has created a new program called Mothers for Life. The program is for those with children affected by radicalization, intended as a support group and as a way to create counter-narratives to extremist propaganda.

“In the Koran the role of the mother is essential,” Koehler says. As the prophet Muhammad’s saying goes: “Paradise lies at the feet of mothers.”

Edit Schlaffer, the founder of Women Without Borders in Vienna, says mothers have been the missing link in preventing new recruits from joining groups such as IS: A mother’s instinct is the strongest radar for detecting radicalization.

In 2012, Ms. Schlaffer launched a training program called Mothers Schools in Pakistan, Indonesia, and four other countries. The schools equips mothers of at-risk adolescents with the confidence to take a lead role in the family, stand up to stubborn and righteous teens, and overcome the shame that often keeps extremism a family secret – until it is too late.

Schlaffer says she never thought she’d establish a school in her own country. But with young Europeans heading to Syria and Iraq, her group recently announced the opening of one in Vienna – the first on the continent. She also hopes to have schools running in Sweden and Belgium by fall.

For Sclaffer, mothers are the key to de-radicalization. “I think we’ve found a goldmine with mothers,” she says.



‘Scene Unseen’ Reverses Gender Roles to Emancipate Women


March 14th, 2015

KARACHI: Contextualising sexuality from a female perspective runs many risks. For starters, it may come off as stereotypical; the risk of offending people also runs deep. But what may well be the greatest risk is of the message being lost. And that is what happened on Friday evening at the screening of Rabia Hassan’s project Scene Unseen that aims to “highlight the absence of the female gaze within the process of film-making”.

The screening, held at the Sanat Gallery, was an intimate gathering yet glitches in the sound system did no favour to the muddled presentation of an overall commendable idea.

Employing a visual narrative technique to question the rampant display of reducing women to mere “spectacles” in the film industry, both local and international, Rabia has directed several short films in an effort to change the narrative. No longer willing to allow such a marginalised view of film-making to prevail, these short films amalgamate a range of visual frames, of prominent actors and actresses of Lollywood fame.

Rabia has tried to narrate a story of female emancipation, by rearranging the sequence of the original images.

Selecting black and white as well as coloured images from the films going back to the 1970s, the first short film, Dekh had clips of heroes and heroines locking eyes, with an effort to capture the nuances of facial expression. The frames were blurred to form a cohesive unit; from Waheed Murad to Babra Sharif, Shaan and Reema, the entire act of falling in love through the eyes was explored. What set the film apart was an emphasis on allowing the female gaze to become equal to the male gaze. By editing out the female actor retreating her gaze, Rabia aims to disregard male dominance by maintaining “equal power relations between the two sexes”.

All the films focused on the importance of acknowledging female sexuality as a normal drive and need, allowing it to flourish without a sense of stigma attached to it. Aarzo challenges this stigma through clips from the movie, Zinda Laash, that incorporates an explicit dialogue focusing on a woman’s sexuality. This is a counter perspective to a male gaze and reverses the gender roles society tends to reinforce, consciously and unconsciously.

Naach reversed the roles literally with clips of men dancing to the delight of a female gaze. Exploring various “cinematic techniques that have allowed men to enjoy an ideological hierarchy”, the film allows the role reversal to be almost essential to the gradual evolution of society. The narrative uses digital mosaics to subvert cinema and its portrayal of the female body, and sexuality.

A more thorough understanding of the project would have greatly benefited the message being conveyed had Rabia shared her journey behind choosing this particular medium to narrate a story.



Filipino maid’s ‘death’ in Qatif goes viral

14 March 2015

Nearly 48,000 Facebook users have shared the passport photograph of a Filipino maid allegedly killed by her sponsor’s son in Qatif. Arab News has not been able to verify the story and is waiting for confirmation of her death from the Philippine Embassy.

An overseas foreign worker (OFW) was the first to upload the picture of the woman, with a post that claimed she had been killed. The OFW identified the woman as Faidza Utos Kilo from Kabuntalan Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao, the Philippines, employed to work in Qatif. Her date of birth on her passport is April 23, 1983.

“She has been killed by the son of her employer,” the OFW alleged on her Facebook page on Wednesday, March 11. “She is now at the hospital where I am right now. Whoever knows anything about her should inform her kin and seek justice for her death,” the OFW stated.

“This image was given to me by her employer who was also in the hospital for treatment. My intention is to draw the attention of her kin so that they can come and learn about what happened to her,” the OFW stated.

The OFW had also uploaded an image of what appeared to be a body wrapped in a white sheet. However, she said that she did not take the picture herself, but had found it on another Facebook page.

The OFW also claimed that the alleged perpetrator had apparently returned recently from abroad and has mental problems. She claimed further that the alleged victim’s cousin had informed the embassy about the incident.

The message has gone viral. Many Filipinos across the world have responded to the post and sympathized with the alleged victim.

In response to inquiries, Philippine Ambassador Ezzedin Tago said he was overseas and would send a message to the embassy in Riyadh to seek confirmation of the story at the hospital.



Breed Or Else! Iran’s Ultimatum to Women

March 14th, 2015

The leaders of Iran want to boost the country’s population. But new laws being proposed would severely restrict contraception, ban voluntary sterilization and discriminate against childless women.

When Iran was trying to do the opposite – reduce population growth in the 1990s – it did so in a way that was compliant with human rights and a model for the world.

In stark contrast to China’s one-child policy, the Iranian government campaign launched in 1989 was based on giving women control over their own fertility and coincided with a dramatic increase in the educational level of younger women. It worked – Iran achieved the fastest fertility rate decline in the world, from 6.6 children per woman in 1970 to 1.9 in 2010.

In an issue of New Internationalist five years ago ([Jan/Feb 2010] Too Many of us? The population panic) Iranian family planning expert Farzaneh Roudi said of the 1990s campaign: ‘People outside Iran imagine the family planning programme must have been coercive, but it wasn’t. There was widespread public education about family planning, everyone was talking about it.’

Speaking of the new laws now being proposed, John Seager, president of the NGO Population Connection commented: ‘These proposals are an outrageous violation of the human rights and wellbeing of Iran’s citizens. Access to modern contraceptives and family planning services should not depend on the political objectives of governments. Being able to choose when, whether, and with whom to have children is a basic right.’



Muslim women in Canada explain why they wear a niqab

Mar 13 2015

Muslim women in Canada say they choose to wear the niqab out of religious obligation and as an expression of their identity, but are flexible about uncovering their faces in specific circumstances, a recent survey found.

A majority of the women included in a Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) report agreed that in certain instances it would be necessary to lift their face coverings, including when going through airport security, accessing health services, or driving. “Probably the main takeaway of that is that all the people we talked to were very anxious to emphasize that they could be flexible. Clearly they do have boundaries . . . but what they wanted to emphasize is ‘yes, I could lift this, I could do that, that’s fine,’” said Lynda Clarke, the report’s author and a professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal.

“We didn’t want to go out and save women or correct misconceptions or anything else. It was scholarly research,” Clarke said.

A niqab is a face and hair veil that leaves only the area around a woman’s eyes visible. It differs from a hijab, which covers a woman’s hair and ears, and a burqa, which covers the full head and body.

For the report, 38 women responded to online surveys, 35 participated in focus groups in Mississauga, Montreal, Ottawa and Waterloo, and eight conducted more extensive, individual interviews.

But since the sample size was small, and no firm numbers exist on the total number of women who wear a niqab in Canada, the results “should be understood to be tentative indications only,” the report said.

Most women surveyed online said they wore a niqab out of religious obligation or as an expression of their Muslim identity. Other answers included encouragement from their spouse or friends, setting an example for their children, comfort, and religious pilgrimage.

None of the women said they were forced to wear the niqab, or were encouraged by a family member — excluding spouses.

“I think if a woman wants to wear niqab, she should be allowed to do it. Most of them are not actually asking for anything more, and if they were asked, they would show their face for identification purposes,” one woman said in the report.

A majority of the women were foreign-born Canadian citizens or permanent residents in their 20s or early 30s. Most were married housewives, and 85 per cent had household incomes below the national average.

Most also said they began wearing the niqab after they arrived in Canada.

According to Clarke, the report shows that a compromise is possible.

“Out of this small group, a large part of them . . . have a very positive attitude, (and) are quite accommodating. This is something that one can work with and build on, rather than initiating conflict,” she said.

Earlier this week, Stephen Harper said that the niqab was “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”

The statement prompted questions and condemnation from opposition parties, and ridicule on social media, as users took up the hashtag #dresscodePM to ask the prime minister if their clothing choices were appropriate.

In 2011, the government barred the niqab from citizenship ceremonies. Last month, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that the decision was “unlawful,” and ordered Ottawa to lift the ban.

A recent University of Michigan survey asked people in six Muslim-majority countries across the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia to choose how they preferred women to dress in public.

A woman covering her hair and ears in public, but not her face, was the preferred option, chosen by 55 per cent of people in Tunisia, 52 per cent in Egypt, 46 per cent in Turkey, 44 per cent in Iraq, 32 per cent in Lebanon, and 24 per cent in Pakistan.

Saudi Arabia was the only country to overwhelmingly choose the niqab as the best clothing option for women, at 63 per cent.

Forty-nine per cent of respondents in Lebanon, 32 per cent of Turks, and 15 per cent of Tunisians said it was preferable for women to be uncovered completely.

High percentages of people in Tunisia (56 per cent), Turkey (52 per cent), Lebanon (49 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (47 per cent) also said it should be up to women to decide what to wear.



Young Saudi ladies tell their business success stories

14 March 2015

The Productive Families Center has made possible many success stories of young Saudi women who rose from poverty to become business owners after acquiring the organization’s easy loans.

These Saudi women started from scratch and now own large factories and companies. Many of these factories also manufacture a traditional item called Safifa, a bridled piece of hay or other natural material. Rouqia Al-Saeed believed in the importance of maintaining traditional handicraft, which is a part and parcel of the national identity and learned how to craft Safifa, despite a weak market demand for the item.

“I started to learn how to do Safifa since I was 8 years of age. I inherited the craft from my mother and now it is almost 18 years since I started working in this tradition,” Rouqia told Arab News. “I received the financial aid for my project from the center and began participating in bazaars and festivals inside and outside the Kingdom. I seek to maintain and preserve this popular and national inheritance,” said Rouqia.

Another woman, Goumasha Ibrahim (Umm Waheed), who works sewing traditional dresses, said she has been working on this project since she was 15 years old. “The project gives good profits for me and helped me to pay the university expenses for my daughter,” she said.

Umm Nada also recounts a similar success story. “I can continue my studies now at the university and cannot wait up to get a job. I got a loan from the Productive Families Center and bought some merchandise, clothes and accessories, and I sell them at the women’s market in Unaizah to pay for my university expenses,” Umm Nada explained.

Many of these women, even if they didn’t become big business owners, can make a living and have hope for the future now, even if they already have finished their education. “I got a loan from Productive Families to start my project breeding livestock, I did not wait to get a job although I graduated from Qasim university,” Umm Ramiz told Arab News. “My monthly income from the project exceeds 2,000 riyals,” she said.

The director of the Productive Families, Khairiya Al-Tahir Deboush, pointed out that all these success stories are only a drop in the ocean of other achievements gained by Saudi women who initiated a variety of projects in the industrial, service and commercial fields.

“The center extended financial help and morale assistance to these ladies,” Deboush explained. “We gave loans to these women without any interests, of course, because our only aim is to

encourage and support them through the integrated efforts of our teams and the board of directors and senior management,” she said.



Women Empowerment Important To Qatar

March 14th , 2015

NEW YORK, March 14 (Bernama) -- Qatar pays special attention on women empowerment, especially in the areas of political, social and economic rights, which have been enhanced through the constitution and legislations, Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-Thani, Qatar's permanent representative to the United Nations, as saying.

Addressing the 59th session of the commission on the status of women, she said that Qatar was keen to exercise equality between citizens and has worked to integrate women issues, particularly those related to providing proper work and enhancing social protection for women.

She added that Qatar is also member of several international and regional conventions and agreements that enhance human rights for women such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Qatar has also adopted a preventive policy to protect human rights in general and women rights in particular in the form of Qatar National Vision 2030, in which one of the pillars point to the promotion and empowerment of women, the Qatari diplomat said.

Sheikha Alya thanked the UN secretary general for the comprehensive reports that reviewed major issues and underlined the significant role of the UN in gender equality and empowering women in promoting gender equality.



Gazan Women Surge Ahead With Start-ups

March 14th , 2015

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The unemployment rate among Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip has risen in the last decade. A sharp rise was witnessed after Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2006, making it difficult for many Palestinians to secure jobs. However, business incubators such as the one at the Islamic University of Gaza have provided pioneering women with the chance to start their own independent projects, making them leaders in the world of business, namely in the technology field.

Rana al-Qirnawi, 25, did not wait for her graduation from university to arrive at the bitter reality that she would not find a job, despite her creative capabilities in computer engineering. Qirnawi believed in her abilities and started searching for funding for her idea to establish a specialized company in web development. It was then launched by one of the business incubators in Gaza.

Today, after having won the contest for the business and technology incubator at the Islamic University of Gaza, Qirnawi has become the manager of Genius Soft, a company for web development and programming, smartphone application production and online statistical and research projects.

“The Islamic University incubator contributed to financing my idea. Today, six people have been hired for our project and sometimes, when needed, we provide part-time jobs for other people,” Qirnawi told Al-Monitor.

“The information technology domain has provided us with a chance to challenge the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, as we use our engineering capabilities and creativity to develop the work of large business companies that are based outside Gaza. This is done through the development of different customized programs and designs via the Internet,” she said.

Qirnawi added, “This work provides us with an entire salary, instead of fixed-income jobs that are difficult to secure, because of the lack of job opportunities due to unemployment in Gaza.”

Qirnawi, like hundreds of other young women (although no official statistics are available), turn to business incubators in the Gaza Strip to transform their ideas into projects for entrepreneurs, including newly graduated creative young women in their respective fields.

Women in the Gaza Strip, like men, suffer from the scarcity of job opportunities as a result of the blockade. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, during the fourth quarter of 2014 the unemployment rate for both men and women in the Gaza Strip stood at 42.8%, and the highest rates were recorded for those ages 20-24.

Young women who have completed 13 years of schooling have the highest rates of unemployment, in 2014 rising to 47.1% of the total number of women of working age in this category.

Researcher Basma Barhoum conducted a study in 2012, which was not published in the media, on the role of business and technology incubators as a tool to solve the problem of unemployment in Gaza, which earned her a master's degree in development economy from the Islamic University in 2015. According to the study, business incubators have served as a main factor for providing job opportunities for entrepreneurs, mostly women, as they are more likely to apply for financial aid, to start their own projects.

According to Barhoum, there are no more than five business incubators in Gaza, including the most important one at the Islamic University, which was established with support from the World Bank. The Islamic University receives 1,000 ideas annually from Gazan entrepreneurs. This is in addition to business accelerators recently launched by international institutions in the Gaza Strip — such as the Gaza Sky Geeks accelerator, launched by the Mercy Corps.

In her study, Barhoum focused on the Islamic University incubator, where the incubated technology projects have reached 61%, the services projects 41% and industrial projects 11% — a percentage of more than 100% of the total incubator projects, as there have been many projects working in more than one domain.

“The technology projects rate is on the rise, as these projects depend on young people’s capabilities to design and develop applications, which does not necessitate the opening of crossings, or the entry of certain needed products as a result of the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip,” Barhoum told Al-Monitor.

The participating companies that emerged based on incubator universities belong to different industries, with companies from the local domain constituting 40.5%, regional companies 10.1% and international ones 14% from the total incubator projects. Also 35.4% of the total number of companies took part in projects in various domains,” she added.

According to Mohammed Skaik, the director of the Business and Technology Incubator at the Islamic University, “Projects by female entrepreneurs constitute about 53% of the incubated projects, and have been the most successful among the work of young people.”

“Female entrepreneurs remain steadfast throughout the completion of their projects and thus yield greater successes than young men. The government job opportunities are limited given the economic and political situation. Meanwhile, the private sector mostly hires men as it entails difficult jobs,” he told Al-Monitor.

“The incubator has funded 73 projects since 2012 among the thousands of ideas received every year. Projects have been provided with amounts ranging between $3,000 to $10,000 per project, which was enough for a pioneering idea to turn into a project making business on the market,” he added.

After the incubator’s role comes the role of the business accelerators, which the Islamic University has yet to include. Thus, the Gaza Sky Geeks, launched by the Mercy Corps in 2013, was the first business accelerator in Gaza to speed up entrepreneurs' projects. The incubator provides financial aid for the projects' ideas, ranging between $3,000 and $10,000. However, business accelerators bring more financial aid, after promoting the project to international and regional concerned parties.

This accelerator receives most of the projects that started in the Islamic University incubator, in addition to other projects from the private sector and other entrepreneurs, preparing them to make a strong entry into the market.

Saeed Hassan, the Gaza Sky Geeks program manager, told Al-Monitor, “The business accelerator has funded four startup projects in the past few years with $30,000 for each project. The accelerator’s role is also focused on promoting projects within international investment networks.”

He added, “Women participating in the business accelerator constitute 50%, while 25% of projects that secure funding are run by young women.”

While Qirnawi managed to receive funding for her project after interviews with Gaza Sky Geeks, and is still waiting to advance after her first submission was rejected, Maryam Otaiwi, 25, was the first woman to receive funding from the business accelerator for her project called "Wasselni’" (Drive me). The project allows you to share information on transportation services and to book taxis through a mobile application and a website. It allows clients to effectively share data on transportation services in cities such as Cairo, Gaza and Amman.

Otaiwi has been chosen as one of the top 25 startup companies in the Arab world in the competition, which was held at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, to be the first pioneering step in technology in Gaza on the international path.



Palestinian women demand quota increase

March 14th , 2015

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A video of a Jordanian parliament session went viral Dec. 3. The clip, shared widely as “Sit down, Hind!,” shows parliament member Yahya al-Saud cursing the quota system that brought female member Hind al-Fayez to parliament in 2013 after he repeatedly demanded that she sit down and listen to him. Though it may have angered some, the quota system is the only solution guaranteeing the presence of women in Arab parliaments.

A 2006 study of the media coverage of electoral campaigns by researcher Nibal Thawabteh stated that the percentage of women in Arab parliaments stood at 4.6%, compared to 12% in African parliaments and 16% in Europe and the Americas. The average female representation in world parliaments does not exceed 13%, the same percentage of women in the Palestinian parliament.

In comparison to five women elected to parliament in 1996, 17 women won in the 2006 parliamentary elections, following feminists’ struggle to impose a 20% quota for women. Today, in coordination with feminist organizations, the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) is preparing to increase the quota to 30%.

On Jan. 5, the GUPW started organizing meetings with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) parties as well as with teachers, journalists and lawyers unions to discuss the increase in female representation in their councils.

GUPW activist Nawal Zaqout told Al-Monitor that there is intensive work going on to raise the quota that guarantees the presence of women in unions, political parties and parliament. She noted that this activity is part of a leap forward in the promotion of women’s participation in political decision-making positions, in collaboration with the UN Women organization.

She added, “So far, there is unanimous consent [during the GUPW meetings] on raising the women's quota in Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem, to 30%” from 20%. She stressed the need for a quota in a patriarchal society.

On why the demand to raise the quota has increased at this particular time, feminist activist Andalib Adwan said that the parliamentary and presidential elections, which could be announced at any moment, must be prepared for. It is time for the feminist movement to apply pressure for the electoral law to be amended.

She told Al-Monitor, “A 20% quota was required in the 2006 elections, yet only 13% was achieved. For this reason, we are now demanding that the quota be raised to 30%, so that at least 20% of parliament seats are gained by women.”

Adwan attended the meeting on Feb. 10 between the GUPW and Palestinian parties, including Fatah and leftists, and explained that the reality of women's representation in these parties, according to their leaders, is as follows: Female members make up 12% of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and 17% of its leaders. Female members make up 40% of the Palestinian Arab Front and 30% of the Palestinian National Initiative. Female leaders exceed 30% in the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), and the party is headed by a woman, Zahira Kamal.

It is noteworthy that the only competitor to candidate Yasser Arafat in the first Palestinian presidential elections in 1996 was a woman, feminist activist Samiha Khalil.

During the 2006 parliamentary elections, the West Bank allocated the 20% quota for women according to the proportional representation system, including half of the parliament’s seats, while the other half is subject to the electoral district system, which does not have a quota.

Hamas is still excluded from the GUPW meetings, as it is not part of the PLO factions. Yet, women in Hamas support the quota system and participate in the GUPW meetings, though the GUPW does not seem to want this.

Hamas-affiliated parliament member Huda Naim told Al-Monitor, “Although the quota system does not awaken in me a sense of rivalry and competition with men, it is important at this stage.”

She added that women are unlikely to win in the elections without the quota system, and noted that no independent female candidate has won in the West Bank and Gaza without the support of the party she is affiliated with. The quota system, she said, is only applied in patriarchal communities that do not support women running for elections.

On the GUPW activities to increase the quota, Naim said that women in Hamas, including herself, are not asked to participate in the GUWP and feminist institutions’ activities for political and formal considerations.

She added, “I definitely support the 30% quota increase. We need more women in parliament to endorse laws that treat women fairly. Extraordinary efforts are [currently] needed to pass women's rights laws, given the lack of female parliament members.”

The percentage of female members in Hamas and Hamas’ Shura Council has not been approved for publication by Hamas. Based on Naim’s statements, the percentage of women in Hamas’ Shura Council is calculated based on the percentage of female Hamas members.

“The Shura Council is the only Hamas body where women are integrated, while there is a female counterpart to all other male-dominated bodies,” she said.

For women to win a large number of seats in the next election, more than the quota increase is needed. A shift to the proportional representation system is required, rather than the current parallel voting system. In the current voting system, 50% are elected through a proportional representation system, with the other 50% elected through contests between individual candidates in multi-member districts. The latter is highly influenced by families and tribes rather than the party-list system, heavily contributing to why women have been losing.



St. Ambrose lecture focuses on women in Iran

March 14th , 2015

DAVENPORT, Iowa—Born and raised in Iran, Hamideh Sedghi ranks among the leading scholars of gender politics in Iran and the Middle East. On Monday, April 6, at 7 p.m., the political scientist will present “Engendering Politics in the Middle East” at St. Ambrose University. The lecture, which will take place in the SAU Rogalski Center, will explore the intersections between gender and politics in the Middle East, focusing on Sedghi’s home country of Iran.  Sedghi is serving as the university’s first Middle East Institute Scholar-in-Residence.

A pioneer in Middle Eastern studies, Sedghi has conducted field research and ethnographic studies in Iran, and has served as a consultant to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the UN Division for the Advancement of Women, and the United Nations University. She has written extensively on women and gender in Iran, US-Middle East relations, perception of Muslims in the West, gender and the state, and women and global feminism, including her acclaimed book, “Women and Politics in Iran: Veiling, Unveiling and Reveiling.”

Sedghi has delivered lectures at Yale University, Duke University, Oxford University and Cambridge University, among others, and has taught at Harvard University, Villanova University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Vassar College. She served as a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Columbia University Department of Political Science and New York University's Middle East and Islamic Studies.

The St. Ambrose University Middle East Institute is the first academic institute in the state of Iowa devoted to the study and discussion of one of the world's most geopolitically important regions. Its mission is to provide a nonpartisan public forum for the university and the community to engage thoughtfully about key issues impacting the Middle East. Initial funding has been provided by the Adler-Schermer Foundation.

For information, contact MEI Coordinator Ryan Dye at 563-333-6389 or Learn more about the St. Ambrose University Middle East Institute at