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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 30 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Saudi Arabia Reassessing Ban On Women Drivers

New Age Islam News Bureau

30 Nov 2013

 Nor Fazira Saad, 13 at marriage (right) and Mohd Fahmi Mohamed Alias,  her husband. Fazira’s case has led women’s rights groups to criticise the Syriah Court for allowing child marriages. – November 30, 2013.


 Critics Slam Malaysian Shariah Court for Allowing Child Marriages

 Muslim Women's Hostels in 'High Demand' In UK

 Egyptian Women Demand Cultural Revolution against Domestic Violence

 Egyptian President to reconsider status of 21 female protesters after final verdict is reached

 French Parliament Debates Controversial Prostitution Bill

 Tony Blair's Sister-In-Law to Open Shelter for Syrian Children

 Syrian Women Exploited In Lebanon: Rights Watchdog

 Empowering Women: Project to Train Home Workers Planned

 Zonta International, Bangladesh Launches 16-Day Campaign against Violence on Women

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Saudi Reassessing Ban On Women Drivers

Nov 30, 2013

RIYADH: Saudi authorities are reassessing a controversial ban on the right for women to drive in the kingdom, activists said, citing the interior minister.

“Rest assured that the issue is being discussed, and expect a good outcome,” Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said, according to Aziza al-Yusef who met him along with fellow activist Hala al-Dosari.

Yusef said the meeting took place at the minister’s office, but through a video conference, in compliance with strict rules of segregation between men and women.

But the top security chief stressed that the globally unique ban on driving for women was “a matter to be decided by the legislative authority,” Yusef told AFP.

Saudi Arabia has an all-appointed consultative Shura Council, with no elected parliament. The council makes recommendations to the government, but the king remains the absolute legislator.

“We expect a royal decree that gives us this right,” Yusef said.

Three of the recently appointed 30 female members of the council presented a recommendation last month that women be given the right to drive.

But the male-dominated 150-member assembly rejected the recommendation without passing it to the government.

Prince Mohammed told the activists the kingdom was “governed by Sharia” Islamic law, Dosari wrote on Twitter, adding that activists insisted women’s “rights do not violate Sharia law, and should not be measured by the opinions of extremists”.

At least 16 women were stopped by police during a driving protest day last month and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the kingdom’s laws.

In addition to the driving ban, women in Saudi Arabia are subjected to various restrictions, including needing a male guardian’s consent in almost every aspect of their lives, and having to cover from head to toe when in public.



Critics Slam Malaysian Shariah Court for Allowing Child Marriages

Nov 30, 2013

The Shariah Court has come under fire from women's rights groups for allowing an alleged rapist to marry his victim who was only 13 years old when she tied the knot last year.

Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Ivy Josiah said the court should not have consented to the marriage, explaining that it was not a “young marriage” but a “child marriage”.

"Since the girl was only 12 years old, the court must have given them permission to marry. This decision is unacceptable and wrong," she told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.

Under Shariah law, girls below the age of 16 and boys below 18 must get the consent of the Shariah Court before they can marry.

A local daily today reported that Nor Fazira Saad and her alleged rapist Mohd Fahmi Mohamed Alias were married last year because she had been raped.

Their marriage made the news last year, where Nor Fazira's father Saad Mustafa had insisted that “it was better for them to get married than to do something that is not good”.

The couple, who have since divorced, have been thrust into the spotlight again when allegations of rape resurfaced.

Saad was reported as saying that his daughter had lodged a report in July last year claiming that she was raped by two teenagers and Mohd Fahmi.

However, Mohd Fahmi’s parents apparently begged Saad to withdraw the report, fearing that their son will have to bear a harsh punishment for his actions.

"They pestered me for five nights until I decided to withdraw the report six days later... as a father I understand their concern for their son," Saad was quoted as saying.

The marriage was solemnised after both families obtained permission from the Kulim Syariah Court.

Sisters In Islam, which has been a long-time advocate against child marriages, noted that the law had failed to protect the interest of the child.

"The case highlights a legal loophole in Islamic family law that allows an alleged perpetrator to escape further investigation through marriage... by becoming a husband," said its programme manager, Suri Kempe.

"It is deplorable that marriage is being used by alleged rapists as a way to escape prosecution."

The government, she said, had a responsibility to “act upon its pronouncements” and stop rapists from “manipulating religion and culture”.

"The law should reflect the weight Islam puts on protecting children and simultaneously recognise a child’s right to life, health and education as a basic human right.

"The best interest of the child was clearly not a consideration when the Shariah Court approved this marriage application," she said, adding that Muslim and non-Muslim children should not be treated differently.

Josiah said the Shariah Court should be educated that child marriages were unacceptable and outrageous.

"Even health wise, a 13-year-old's body is not ready for child-bearing and such. She is still a child," she said.

She revealed that in the 30-year history of the WAO, there had been similar cases, where men have deliberately raped women to marry them.

"And when their families find out that their daughter has been tarnished and violated, she is deemed not valuable. That no one else will marry her.

"So they marry her off to the perpetrator.”

WAO and other women's groups, Josiah said, have to educate people that rape is a violation and that the woman is the victim.

"That is why rape survivors feel their life is over and why not many of them report their ordeal to the police. This public perception has to change."

Meanwhile, Suri called on the government to amend the “flawed” provision in the law which allowed child marriages.

"We urge the government to make child protection a priority by amending this flawed provision in the law.

"They must put a complete stop to the practice of child marriage, as it entails many economic, social and health risks, and does not protect girls or secure their future," she said, and urged the police to investigate Nor Fazira's rape claims.



Muslim Women's Hostels in 'High Demand' In UK

Nov 30, 2013

An Islamic charity is to open a third hostel to cope with the demand of homeless Muslim women.

The National Zakat Foundation (NZF) already has two refuges, in London and Birmingham.

The charity said that since the hostels opened a year ago, almost 100 Muslim women have contacted them, most of them victims of abuse.

Fifty four women have been given places and NZF has now secured funding for a third hostel in Greater Manchester.

It is expected to open in the next couple of months.

'Helped me escape'

The charity said many of the women who had contacted it - ranging in age from 18 to 72 - were victims of mental and physical abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse and forced marriages.

One 19-year-old Bangladeshi teenager from the North West, who does not want to reveal her identity for fear of reprisals from her family, said: "My mum and sister would beat me up and would falsely accuse me of jumping into men's cars.

"One day, I heard my mum and my uncle talking on the phone about my marriage to a relative in Bangladesh. I could not believe they had gone behind my back, so I decided to leave before it was too late.

"These sort of things can end up in honour killings."

Sarah, a Pakistani woman in her 20s, from Staffordshire, who contacted NZF, said she had also suffered violence. She said she had arrived in the UK two years ago and found she was treated like a domestic slave.

"My in-laws would hit me if they did not like the food. My husband did not love me, he said he did not even like me. I had to call the police and they helped me to escape," she said.

Although, the NZF homes are funded by the Muslim community, the charity has worked with the national social housing organisation, Trident Reach The People, and Women's Aid, to find suitable locations.

'Exceeded expectations'

Trident, a Midlands-based charity which runs two refuge hostels in Birmingham and Derbyshire, said it had also seen "high" demand for accommodation from Muslim women in recent years, particularly in the Birmingham area.

The manager of the Birmingham hostel said: "If we were to look back roughly 10 years ago, a lot of Muslim women used to be afraid to speak openly about suffering domestic abuse as most women were unaware of the support services that were available to them, and also culture based issues prevented them from accessing services.

"But there has been a turn around since then, more Muslim women are coming forward and reporting abuse to the police."

Parveen Javaid, a domestic violence officer who works at the Pakistani Resource Centre in Manchester, said she had also noticed an "influx" in the number of women from Pakistan and Bangladesh who were looking for support in the last year.

"I think they are now aware of the help that is available to them," she said.

Iqbal Nasim, manager for NZF, said: "When we went into the project we didn't know exactly how many women would be referred into the service, but it is certainly the case that the level of demand has exceeded our expectations.

"The main difference between the new hostels and the ones that already exist, is that they also cater for the religious, spiritual and cultural needs of women who are often left traumatised by their experience."

'One big family'

There are Islamic texts on the walls of the lounge, copies of the Koran are available on the bookshelf and halal meals are also provided.

There are also no male staff and no alcohol is allowed on the site.

Some of the women have previously stayed at other hostels and one Bangladeshi teenager said she found the experience "uncomfortable" on religious grounds.

Salma, 27, said: "I feel safe here, I can practice my religion freely with the other women. We pray together and read the Koran. Sometimes there are also discussions about what the holy book says and it gives me inner peace."

Another resident, Simi, is an asylum seeker from Somalia. She fled her home after her family discovered she was a lesbian.

She said: "I like it here because we are just like one big family, all the other women are Muslim, we fast together during the month of Ramadan, it gives me a sense of community."



Egyptian women demand cultural revolution against domestic violence

Nov 30, 2013

Although domestic violence is a widespread phenomenon in Egypt, it also a taboo subject that remains generally misunderstood.

Women in Egypt are highly susceptible to such abuse; experts suggest that most have fallen victim to domestic violence at some point in their lives.

In a 2005 survey by the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS), 47 percent of ever-married women reported being victims of physical violence.

Although the survey identified an intimate partner as the perpetrator in most cases, nearly half (45 percent) had been subjected to physical violence by a male other than their husband, and a third (36 percent) branded a female the culprit. Fathers were reported twice as often as brothers (53 percent compared to 23 percent) and the female perpetrator was typically the mother.

While experts in domestic violence concede that it is pervasive, they criticise the deficiency in up-to-date, accurate data, which they attribute to a lack of reporting, cultural endorsement, and misinterpretation of the term.

“Our society has an incorrect understanding. When a man hits or cheats on his wife it is socially accepted, but not vice versa. The same is true of divorce,” complains Rabaa Mohamed, administrative clerk at an NGO which supports victims, who was herself a victim of domestic violence.

Domestic violence defined

Domestic violence does not only come in the form of physical abuse.

"Domestic violence… incorporates physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, psychological and financial abuse,” explains Dr Heba Habib, a psychiatrist and board member at the Psychological Health and Awareness Society in Egypt (PHASE), an NGO providing psychological treatment to victims.

Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional or mental abuse, is one of the most rampant and unreported forms of abuse in Egypt, suggest experts, given its intangible nature. It constitutes subjecting an individual to behaviour that could instigate psychological trauma, anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Degradation of the other is typical of this type of abuse; for example, the perpetrator might continually demean their spouse, children or family members, denying them the right to be different, to have a unique opinion, and encouraging self doubt.

One female victim who requested anonymity, a common request among victims of violence given social stigmas, recounted how she had married the love of her life, but immediately after marriage had began experiencing emotional abuse.

“He continually swore at me and went as far as making me kill my second baby,” she says, describing how she had been subjected to an unwanted abortion.

For some victims, emotional and physical abuse goes hand-in-hand.

“I married my cousin; he used to hit me every week. One time I was in bed for a week after which I filed a police case against him and requested a divorce," says Basma, a 29-year-old divorcee who had requested a divorce after only eight days of marriage, but was forced to endure prolonged violence due to societal constraints. 

Her then-husband metered out beatings for no apparent reason, if for instance the rug was not straight or if he found dust on the balcony. Humiliation outside the home was also common; on one occasion he publically ripped off her veil.

Typical of many women in this predicament, owing to the disapproval of Basma's family, it took four years for her to attain a divorce.

Habib also believes that cultural and structural violence within Egyptian society has an impact on domestic violence.

She points to female genital mutilation (FGM), a practice which UNICEF suggests around 72 percent of Egyptian women have been subjected to, as one example of both cultural and domestic violence.

Interfering relationships with in-laws in particular were also identified as a major source of abuse.  

“A lot of my patients suffer big traumas from their in-laws. The impinging role of the mother-in-law in Egypt is a common grievance,” she says.

Men are not immune from these various kinds of abuses. Habib describes one male patient who was subjected to psychological abuse by his wife, who constantly chastised him over his inability to provide the material lifestyle she craved. As a result, the man attempted suicide. 

Legal framework

Egyptian law does not safeguard women, although there are protective laws they are not practiced, the culture not the law is the key issue stress experts. There is an implicit need for a paradigm shift in the cultural mentality.

“Many Egyptian women expect to be beaten, they perceive it as the norm, a macho characteristic,” explains Mohamed.

It is not surprising therefore that the few existing women’s shelters remain empty, as it is culturally not acceptable for a woman to leave her family, says Habib.

Trapped and without legal recourse or other ways out, victims often become desperate and some attempt suicide.

“I first put my leg out of the window and jumped from the fourth floor. I had nothing to live for, no family or even friends,” says one young girl, who also wanted to remain anonymous.

She had been one of six children in a poor family, with no choice but to study while also working as a maid. In her position as a domestic worker she was sexually abused by the son of the family she worked for, who took advantage of his position of authority.

As in many cases of domestic violence, the victim's family refused to stand by her. The lack of accountability and law enforcement makes such stories more unnerving, say legal experts. Migad El-Boraey, an attorney at the court of cassation and a human rights advocate, stresses that too often the victim refuses to report the crime due to the social taboos, eliminating the role of the authorities as law enforcers.

As well as culture, other factors are often identified by victims of violence. The country’s economic decline was linked with domestic violence by one victim who believed the negative impact of the revolution on the economy had been a contributing factor heightening her ex-husband’s brutality.

“After the revolution, my ex-husband’s silver shop in Hurghada had no business. This I believe made him more violent towards me,” says Basma.

The severity of domestic violence and its impact should not be underestimated, stress mental health practitioners. Repetitive abuse will have a long term impact, creating a huge trauma and deep internal scars which often lead to post traumatic stress disorder.

Post traumatic stress disorder in most cases starts soon after the trauma but sometimes the tension and stress are suppressed and totally forgotten for ten to twenty years explained Dr Alaa Mursi, a psychotherapist consultant of relationships. The main cause for this depression is either: ill treatment, the inability to cope despite acknowledgement, or an incident of abuse as a child that has been suppressed and forgotten. Witnesses of abuse can also suffer this disorder as was the case of one girl who had witnessed her father regularly beating her mother.

Domestic violence also has a negative impact outside the house often leading to victims becoming the abusers. Ironically, for instance children whose mother is victim of domestic violence will often become abusive at school. A study on 3,000 children in Alexandria and Cairo indicated school children who bully tend to be suffering from the most domestic violence.

Hope for the future

Experts in domestic violence as well as victims stress the need for increased awareness from and collaboration with the community. A paradigm shift in Egyptian culture remains the most critical factor. Many victims also task the new government with facilitating this vital cultural shift.

“We need to choose right people for governance,” insists Mohamed, who says that both the Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood regimes had failed to make any improvements in this sphere.

For Habib, hope could lie in the younger generations, which are keen on change and, she argues, have embraced more progressive attitudes through greater exposure to the internet.



Egyptian President to reconsider status of 21 female protesters after final verdict is reached

Nov 30 2013

Sekina Fouad, Egyptian presidential advisor for women's affairs, says interim president Adly Mansour will consider the status of the 21 female Islamist protesters who were given 11-year jail sentences by an Alexandria court this week.

Following news reports that Mansour would give the detainees a pardon after their sentences spurred domestic and international controversy, Fouad clarified that Mansour can interfere only after a final verdict is returned in the case following the forthcoming appeal.

The 21 female protesters, seven of whom were between 15 and 17 years-old, were slammed with jail sentences of 11 years and one month by an Alexandria misdemeanour court for destruction of private property, attacking security forces and stirring violence. The seven convicted minors were order to be placed in a detention centre until they reach the age of majority.

The severity of these sentences has sparked outrage in Egypt and from international observers.

Nasser Amin, the director of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and a member of the National Council for Human Rights, told Ahram Online that the ruling was "extremely harsh" and should be cancelled immediately.

Amin added that he was certain the appeal would be accepted because "the court will be conscious of the harshness of the verdict."

Amnesty International has stated that Egypt "must immediately and unconditionally" release the 21 detained female protesters.



French parliament debates controversial prostitution bill

Nov 30, 2013

France's National Assembly is to begin debating a controversial bill that cracks down on prostitution - but spares sex workers - by penalizing people who buy sex rather than those who sell it. The bill, which was proposed by the governing Socialist Party, marks a new departure in the country's efforts to combat the sex trade.

Sex workers currently face fines for touting their services. The text before parliament would scrap those fines and penalize their customers instead.

People caught procuring sex would be fined 1,500 euros (2,030 dollars), would be required to attend a course about the conditions in which prostitution is carried out, or both.

Sex workers, meanwhile, would be given help to quit the profession and, for foreign nationals, in achieving residency in France. The number of sex workers in France is estimated at between 20,000 and 40,000. Most are foreign women working for sex trafficking syndicates.

The bill, which has broad cross-party support, is expected to pass a vote next week, despite opposition from French sex workers and health groups, who warn it will drive prostitution underground.

The Socialists say they are inspired by Sweden, which criminalized the purchase of sex in 1999. Since then, the number of sex workers on the street has fallen.



Tony Blair's sister-in-law to open shelter for Syrian children

World Bulletin / News Desk

Nov 30, 2013

Lauren Booth, a Muslim convert and the sister-in-law of ex-British prime minister Tony Blair, has declared that she will open a shelter for Syrian children in Turkey.

Booth's UK-based charity Peace Trail is working alongside children’s organization Atfal to open an orphanage in Turkey's southern resort city of Antalya for kids who lost their parents in the Syrian civil war, the charity said in a statement.

"A property, donated by Turkish sponsors has already been secured and qualified UK trainers in the field of social care have committed their expertise to this vital project," said Booth.

"Regarding child care, every aspect of the home will fully vetted to standards that fit Islamic principles of love and care," said the statement.

In the past two years, more than 40,000 Syrian children have been killed and thousands more injured in the war between forces loyal to Bashar al Assad's regime and the opposition.

Booth, sister of former British premier's wife Cherie, converted to Islam in 2010 following a trip to Iran.

An English broadcaster, journalist and pro-Palestinian activist, she currently works for Iran's state-run English language news channel, Press TV.



Syrian women exploited in Lebanon: Rights Watchdog

Nov 30, 2013

Women refugees from Syria are being sexually harassed by employers, landlords and others in Lebanon, adding another layer of suffering for those who have fled their homes in search of safety, an international human rights watchdog.

In a report, Human Rights Watch said most of the incidents have gone unreported to local authorities due to the women's fear of reprisals by the abusers or arrest for not having a valid residency permit.

"Women who have fled death and destruction in Syria should find a safe haven, not sexual abuse, in Lebanon," said Liesl Gerntholtz, women's rights director at the New York-based group.

Lebanon is the biggest recipient of Syrians fleeing the nearly three-year civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions. The country of 4.5 million people has taken in more than 1 million Syrian refugees, straining its resources.

Many Lebanese have opened their homes to them, but there are underlying tensions and, as the numbers swell, the Syrians often face hostility and discrimination. They have been blamed for a rise in burglaries and accused of cutting into the job market.

Rights group say female refugees are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by landlords and employers.

Ninette Kelley, the U.N. refugee agency's representative in Lebanon, said the agency has received over 500 cases of women who have been sexually abused or exploited in Lebanon.

"But we know that those numbers aren't entirely accurate because there's a lot of taboo against coming forward and expressing these incidents and these risks in the open," she said in an interview.

Human Rights Watch said it interviewed a dozen women for the report, who described being groped, harassed, and pressured to have sex. Eight of the women are widowed, unmarried, or in Lebanon without their husbands. All 12 women are registered as refugees with UNHCR, it said.

One of them, a woman from Damascus identified by her first name Hala, said she suffered sexual harassment or attempted exploitation in nine of the 10 households in which she had worked in a Beirut suburb to support herself and her four children.

Hala said she now rejects job offers and depends on a church for aid. She said she did not report the incidents to Lebanese authorities or the UN because she did not believe they would help her.

"Government and aid agencies need to open their eyes to the sexual harassment and exploitation of these vulnerable refugees and do everything in their power to stop it," Gerntholtz said.



Empowering women: Project to train home workers planned

Nov 30, 2013

LAHORE: The Women’s Development Department is collaborating with the International Labour Organisation and the All Pakistan Women’s Association in a Rs20 million project to train 1,000 women in Lahore as domestic workers and place them in jobs, The Express Tribune has learnt. The project is to be launched on December 15.

Durr-e-Shahwar, a project manager at APWA, said that the association’s premises would be refurbished to make it a training facility and four staff members would be trained as “co-facilitators” who could in future conduct similar training sessions as part of the project. The trained workers would be registered with placement service providers to find them jobs.

The project will also explore legislation to set a minimum wage for domestic workers, and to mandate written contracts between employees and employers specifying worker responsibilities, work hours, time of wage payment, benefits and notice periods, Shahwar said.

These are common issues that domestic workers face, she added.

An assessment by the ILO in 2013 and other studies show that domestic workers make up a substantial part of the informal economy, which makes up 73 per cent of Pakistan’s total economy, said Shahwar. “This means that a major portion of Pakistan’s labour force is operating without any formal legislative framework for the protection of their rights,” she said.

The research shows that most domestic helpers belong to very poor families or female-headed households, she said. Many are separated, divorced, widowed or married to drug addicts. They are migrants with large families who are illiterate or semi-literate and have little or no access to knowledge or employment opportunities. They are also usually unable to negotiate with their employers to protest their rights, she said.

Most domestic workers tend to keep moving from one household to another, she said. They lack information about their responsibilities and rights and are vulnerable to various forms of exploitation and violence. Though they have been cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, taking care of children, and so on, for a number of years, they are not formally recognised as having those skills, she said. This limited recognition of their competencies, she said.

Skills development programme

APWA Chairwoman Ruhi Sayid said that the programme aimed at training women as certified domestic workers with enhanced capacities to manage multiple household tasks, to establish a databank of trainees and link them to placement service providers, to initiate a legislative framework for domestic workers, and advocate for the ratification of the ILO Convention on domestic workers.

She said that they expected at least 90 per cent of graduates from the scheme to secure jobs which would Increase their income levels by 30-50 per cent.

She said “soft skills” would be a key part of the training. These include occupational health and safety, personal hygiene and grooming, time management, protection against various types of harassment, communication and negotiation skills, and awareness of their rights and responsibilities.



Zonta International, Bangladesh launches 16-day campaign against violence on women

Nov 30, 2013

Bangladesh chapter of Zonta International, a platform of professional women and women leaders, yesterday launched a 16-day campaign to end violence against women and girls.

Marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women yesterday, Zonta International launched the worldwide campaign, which will continue till December 10, said Shahruk Rahman, area director of Zonta Bangladesh and Nepal chapters.

“Around 90 percent of women of our country are victims or will become victims of domestic violence. We will not tolerate this anymore,” she said at the launching ceremony at a hotel in the capital.

The organisation’s six clubs in the country will hold seminars and discussions, among other programmes, in the 16 days, she said.

More than 300 members of the Bangladesh chapter, along with 30,000 international members, will be involved in the campaign, said Rahman.

Dilruba Ahmed, director of Zonta International, said the organisation works to empower women through ensuring their education, economic and political rights.

In a message for the worldwide campaign, Zonta International President Lynn McKenzie said, “We can’t and mustn’t ignore the fact: violence against women and girls is still pervasive in all kinds of countries and societies. It’s in our back yard. Zonta International has been committed to its prevention and eradication for many years”.