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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 29 March 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Saudi Princesses 'Seek Obama's Help for Freedom'

New Age Islam News Bureau

29 March 2014

Tunisians had one of the highest reported rates of workplace discrimination against women at 53 percent. (File photo: Reuters)


 Girls 'Treated as Cattle': Child Brides Divide Pakistan

 Yemen’s Child Brides and Beggars Fend for Themselves

 Morocco: Let’s Talk Calmly About the Marriage of Minors

 Saudi Women Renew Push for Right to Drive Ahead Of Obama Visit

 The Custom of Vani: Girls Pay the Price for Crimes Committed By Men of Their Family

 UNICEF Calls to Focus More On Specific Needs of Women and Children

 EDL March on Peterborough Again Over 'Muslim Grooming White Girls' Claims

 Poll: Women’s Discrimination High in North Africa

 Indonesian Women Marginalized At the Polls Too

 The Space between the Hijab and Niqab Is Where Our Anxieties Lie

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Saudi Princesses 'Seek Obama's Help for Freedom'

March 29, 2014

A former wife of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah appealed to US President Barack Obama on Thursday for help in the case of four daughters she says are being held in a royal palace.

Alanoud AlFayez, 57, a Jordanian national who has lived in London since her divorce from the Saudi monarch in 2003, said her children needed to be "saved".

Her comments come ahead of Obama's visit to the kingdom on Friday, during which US lawmakers have urged him to address rights violations in Saudi Arabia.

"Since 13 years, my daughters Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher are being held captive," AlFayez told AFP. "They need to be saved and released immediately."

She added: "Mr Obama should take this opportunity to address these grave violations committed against my daughters."

AlFayez, who married the Saudi king when she was only 15, said her daughters had recently had their twice-monthly trips to buy food, water and medicine for themselves and their pets stopped.

Her eldest daughter Sahar, 42, has complained about her situation on the social media website Twitter.

"We have no passports or ID, we are under house arrest, with little food left for ourselves and pets," she told AFP in an email, without saying how she had access to the Internet.

She accused the royal family and members of the household of "unlawfully detaining" them and of "physically and psychologically abusing us for years."

"On their orders, they have been literally starving us since last Wednesday. We are now living on one meal a day, leaving the little remaining meat for our pets and sipping little water in this heat, to save up. Our energy is quite low and we are trying our best to survive."

Diplomats in Saudi Arabia said the princesses were being kept in Jeddah but were able to move around in the city accompanied by bodyguards.

Roland Dumas, the lawyer for Alanoud AlFayez and a former French foreign minister, said they had applied to the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva in October regarding the case but had received no response.

Obama is due to meet King Abdullah on what will be his second visit to Washington's decades-old ally Riyadh since taking office in 2009.

Dozens members of the US Congress have urged Obama to bring up the prickly subject of rights in Saudi Arabia, including efforts by women activists to challenge the country's ban on female drivers, despite recent tensions over Washington's efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran and its reluctance to engage more forcefully in Syria.



Girls 'Treated as Cattle': Child Brides Divide Pakistan

Reuters contributed

29th March, 2014

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A proposed law seeking tough new penalties for marrying children has triggered intense debate in Pakistan.

At the moment, females can legally tie the knot at 16 while males must wait until they are 18. However, it is customary for younger teen girls to be married by their families in some parts of the country. Girls are also sometimes offered as compensation to end feuds between families.

Anyone involved in underage wedlock currently faces a $10 fine, possibly accompanied by up to a month in jail. But lawmaker Marvi Memon is fighting for this to be increased to $1,000 - which is about a month's wage for a recent graduate working at a bank -- and a possible jail sentence of two years.

"These girls are being treated as cattle," Memon told NBC News. "They are dying. We cannot have little girls being married off at 15 and 16 and being forced to produce kids. It doesn’t make sense medically, and it doesn’t make sense economically."

According to UNICEF's State of the World's Children Report 2014, seven percent of Pakistani girls are married under the age of 15.

“Our prime objective is to ensure that our women are productive members of society,” Memon added. “For that to happen the injustices that are meted out to these child brides have to be curbed.”

Her bill in the country's National Assembly has been met with fierce opposition from Pakistan’s conservative religious parties, including her own. And some clerics want the penalties scrapped altogether. Pakistan's government does not track the issue or keep statistics on child marriage and few cases are reported to police.

Memon's battle has been dubbed by some as "Marvi vs. Mullahs" and #mullahsvsmarvi trended briefly on Twitter, a rare religious debate on the country's social-media scene.

Arguing that even the current laws forbidding child marriage contradict the Koran, the influential chair of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has spoken out against the proposals.

Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani believes that parliament could not legislate laws which are against the teachings of the Quran. He did not return repeated calls seeking comment from NBC News.

Gibran Peshimam, the political editor of Pakistan’s influential Express Tribune newspaper, highlighted that Sherani's advisory body wields considerable power.

“The CII’s edicts may not be legally binding, strictly speaking, but they have enough value to affect legislation," he said. “Basically, the CII is meant to interpret laws and legislation by done by parliament to ensure that the basic provision in Pakistan’s Constitution, that 'no law shall be made repugnant to the Qurán and Sunnah (the Muslim way of life),' is followed.'"

Under Islamic tradition, any person is free to marry after reaching puberty, according to Werner Menski, a professor of South Asian laws at SOAS, University of London.

After the Islamic contract of marriage has been agreed upon and a dowry paid, if the bride consents to marriage the argument has traditionally been that God has heard the offer. That makes it binding under Islamic law and sex would be permitted, Menski added.

Once married, young girls can become isolated and they are often forced into early sex, according to Ann Warner, a senior gender and youth specialist at the International Center for Research on Women.

“This leads to early pregnancy and very high risk pregnancy,” she said. “Younger girls are at a much higher risk of death and disability during pregnancy and their children are also at much higher risk of not surviving and dying as young children."

Warner said that early marriage "has an extremely negative impact on their lives."

She added: “They are not physically and mentally ready. They are almost always pulled out of school so their potential for education is cut off and with that, their potential to work and contribute to their societies both economically and socially.”

Marilyn Crawshaw, who is involved with a non-governmental organization that works with women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, said such marriages put girls' health and welfare at risk.

“If you children as some sort of bargaining chip or commodity that has a value attached to it that is always bad for them" said Crawshaw, who is chairwoman of the UK Friends of Khwendo Kor. "The price is paid by the child."

Memon, who launched the bill, says she plans to turn the tables on clerics opposing the tougher penalties by using Islamic doctrine to justify it.

“Islam is the religion which is the most progressive for women,” she said. “We are looking forward to the committee hearing where we will give Islamic arguments and data from Islamic countries to prove that the amendments we are suggesting are Islamic, democratic and progressive.”

Henry Austin reported from London. Reuters contributed to this report.



Yemen’s child brides and beggars fend for themselves

March 29, 2014

Maha is a 10 year old girl. She is the youngest of twelve and is now getting ready for her big day. She is to be married to a man who is thirty seven years old. Her mother is packing her bag. It’s a small bag. The family is so poor that Maha barely has ten pieces of clothes all together. Before she closes the bag, the mother puts in two plastic dolls. Maha found them while foraging for toys with her friends in the trash of an upscale neighborhood in Sanaa. I wonder what the mother is thinking now. She must be happy that Maha will have three meals a day. Before her engagement, Maha would only eat one meal daily and sometimes she had to sleep hungry. Now things seem brighter than before. The father spent part of her dowry on some food to fatten Maha up. Her fiancé remarked that she was getting too thin, and her parents were worried that he would call off the engagement started so they started feeding her more. Maha of course didn’t understand why she was eating alone. Why her mother wouldn’t share her oat meal and fresh cow’s milk. Meat was too expensive; but they would make soup from the fat which butchers usually throw away or feed the stray cats with.

I can’t imagine what Maha is thinking right now. I can’t imagine what she will be thinking when she is in a bedroom with her husband. How will she face her nakedness in the presence of this stranger? How will she look at his hairy body? It is such a disgusting thought for me. How is it for her? Does she see it that way? Well, everyone is excited. For the parents: one mouth less to feed; one less suffering to watch every day. For Maha: she will eat better, and she was told that she has a real bed to sleep on.

Maha is lucky, the parents think as they watch her walk away with her husband.

Maha’s story is not unique. Perhaps it is unique for those who stand by her; they consider her lucky. She – as far as her peers are concerned - was able to move up and cross the extreme poverty line. But from where I stand Maha’s predicament is that of millions of Yemenis and billions more around the globe.


The numbers are there, and repeating them is becoming an obscenity. Even if I repeat them, do any of us really know what those numbers mean? They are too large for our minds to imagine. Can anyone of us fathom the death of a child every few seconds? Can we really comprehend the millions and millions of hunger pangs? Can we come close to the heart aches of billions of mothers every single second?

Here I must pause. I find it very difficult to write about Maha or anyone in such dire poverty. I feel disingenuous. Here I am sitting in a fancy coffee-shop typing off some words about a person I will never meet, nor see, nor share an experience with. To add to the irony Jason Mraz’s “life is wonderful” is playing in the background! I also find it hypocritical to write about poverty in Yemen alone. The image of Maha summons so many faces from around the globe and I feel it immoral to speak about the poor of a specific nation. Does poverty have a nationality? Is human suffering bounded by Westphalia?

Yet I write.

Another painful story I read was that of Um Saleh. She is a beggar who wakes up every morning to beg in one of Sanaa’s busy areas. She spoke of a handicapped six year old child whom she called Mohammad. She said that someone brings him and puts him near a bank where he is to beg all day. In the afternoon someone passes to collect and he is left again for the rest of the day. No food. No water. Um Saleh was actually crying while she spoke about Mohammad. This is really beyond me. What degree of suffering was Muhammad going through to make a fellow beggar – with her own set of suffering – cry? Um Saleh is a mother of two, and she begs to feed them, yet the story of Mohammad broke her heart. I would have thought suffering makes us more selfish, survivalists, cold hearted. But in reality it’s our hearts which have grown cold and indifferent.

Studies show that 60 percent of the people of Yemen are extremely poor. They starve while their political leaders spend hundreds of millions of dollars yearly in political wheeling and dealing. While the World Bank imposes conditions that only helps the rich. While the United States demands that the government focuses most of its attention on the security of the U.S.. While Gulf countries are squandering billions on corrupt Yemeni leaders. While the middle class citizens of the Gulf come to Yemen looking for cheap child brides to enjoy for a summer.

What I hate most about writing about human suffering is that once I am done, I will go on my life. I will email this to my editor. Order a meal. Enjoy a drink. Later, I will join my friends for a night out. I will forget. But the suffering will not.



Morocco: Let’s Talk Calmly about the Marriage of Minors

29th March, 2014

Rabat – The institution of the family and its place in society is not an Arab or Islamic characteristic. Many civilizations have emphasized the “family” within their communities. For example, in Chinese culture the family includes the parents, children and elderly who all live in the same place. It plays an important role in the social life in China by preserving the historical achievements and creating social relations.

The subject of family involves several elements of reflection: social, legal, and religious. The social aspect looks at the society in which the family abides, the legal takes into account the rights of the family, and the religious aspect, perhaps, is one of the most important because there are laws made in regards to how a family should function.

In Morocco, there is an ongoing debate on the minimum age of marriage for minors. This debate must be conducted on the basis of a number of factors that distinguish the legislation concerning the family in relation to other laws that focus on various fields.

It is impossible to deny the parliament its legislative attributions about family responsibilities, and the parliament will, in all cases, have the last word.

In my humble opinion, though, the Islamic law does not set a minimum age for marriage. Rather, it is open to all options and suggestions that comply with society and lead to family stability, as long as it is in accordance with Sharia law and international legal texts.

The principle of law is first and foremost social; it is for this reason that the legislator must consider and take into account all the different opinions in the society and the social reality.  The subject is far more important than any ideological position. Let’s consider the case of marriages before the age of eighteen– studies by the Department of Justice and Freedoms established that there were many of these marriages before 2011, but since then, their number has began to decline. Yet, is it enough to be reassured that these marriages are not happening?

No, absolutely not because the judge who may have refused to marry a girl under the age of 18 might see her again two or three years later, trying to validate her wedding, which she contracted herself by the simple reading of Surah-al-Fatiha. This not to mention that she might already even be a mother by the time she comes back at the age of 18.

In Casablanca courts, judges refuse to marry any girl under 17. This case law is as much commendable as brave; however, young people who are denied marriage in Casablanca migrate to other parts of the country where they can get their marriages approved by a judge.

Ultimately, let’s say that the magistrate with his professional conscience must keep in mind all the factors surrounding and governing the marriage. He has his power/exercise of discretion that leads him to judge each case according to its specificity, based on his own wisdom and his understanding.

The case, therefore, oversteps the narrow framework of an ideological struggle and affects public policy in the fields of education and rural areas development. Many young girls who don’t find a way to go to school or university eventually become an additional burden on their parents, which leads the parents to give them away as soon as the first suitor comes around.



Saudi women renew push for right to drive ahead of Obama visit

March 29, 2014

DUBAI: In the six months since Saudi activists renewed calls to defy the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, small numbers of women have gotten behind the wheel almost daily in what has become the country’s longest such campaign.

Organizers are calling on more women to join in Saturday, when U.S. President Barack Obama is set to visit Riyadh.

The activists say their long-term goal is not just to win Saudi women the freedom to drive, but to clear a path for broader democratic reforms.

This week, 70 members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan letter to Obama urging him to raise critical human rights cases in Saudi Arabia and meet with female activists. So far, the White House has only announced plans for Obama to meet King Abdullah and U.S. Embassy staff.

Amnesty International urged the president to go even further and select a female Secret Service agent as his driver while in Saudi Arabia – a move that is highly unlikely, since Obama is coming to the kingdom for the first time since 2009 to repair strained relations between the U.S. and its ally.

Since Oct. 26, the first day of the renewed campaign, over 100 women have gotten behind the wheel, said Eman al-Nafjan, an organizer.

So far, the government appears unwilling to launch a crackdown.

While it is still uncommon to see women driving in Saudi Arabia, they have been sending videos and photos of themselves behind the wheel to the campaign’s organizers, who then upload the footage to YouTube almost daily.

“It’s very hard to strategize in a place where political activism has no history,” Nafjan said. “So our strategy is to keep marching on and to see if people join or not.”

Naseema al-Sada has driven in the eastern region of Qatif. She said public attitudes had changed in the past six months, as evidenced by the way the campaign was openly talked about in the Saudi media.

“Women’s rights are no longer a taboo subject,” she said.

In an opinion piece this week published by the Saudi-based Arab News website, columnist Sabria Jawhar wrote that Saudi society either accepted or was indifferent to women getting behind the wheel now.

“If Oct. 26 has taught us anything, the driving ban is a government position. I have said many times in this column that I and most of the women I know want the right to drive whether we actually get behind the wheel or not,” she wrote.

Activists say allowing women to drive will have a domino effect for civil rights in Saudi Arabia, where a strict interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism is effectively the law of the land. Women must get permission from a male relative – usually a husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son – to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo certain surgical procedures.

“And this is what scares people: That women will be out of the total control of men,” Sada said.

Though there is no law on the books that explicitly bars women from driving, the Interior Ministry, which oversees the traffic police in Saudi Arabia, will not issue driver’s licenses to women.

So far, the ministry has warned violators will be dealt with firmly.

Police have also privately told the campaigners not to speak to the media, warned them not to drive and followed some around for days.

Women caught driving have been forced to sign pledges not to do it again. If they are caught again, they are pressured to sign another pledge. A male relative is called to pick them up from a police station or on the side of the road. The men are then made to sign pledges they will not let the women drive.

In one case, a woman’s car was confiscated and has not been returned to her since January. In another, writer and schoolteacher Tariq al-Mubarak was detained for several days and interrogated when police found out that the mobile phone number used by organizers was registered under his name.

Still, the government response is more muted than in the past. During the first major protest, in 1990, around 50 women drove. They were jailed for a day, had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. Their male relatives were also barred from traveling for six months.

Then in June 2011, about 40 women got behind the wheel in a protest sparked when a woman was arrested after posting a video of herself driving. One woman was later arrested and sentenced to 10 lashes. The king overturned the sentence.

Madeha al-Ajroush, who was part of the first driving campaign more than two decades ago, said she wants Obama to address human rights while in Saudi Arabia.

“We’re not oil; we’re also people,” she said. “The humanity of Saudi Arabia needs to be looked at seriously.”



The Custom of Vani: Girls Pay the Price for Crimes Committed By Men of Their Family

March 29, 2014

FAISALABAD: What started as an elopement has devolved into a criminal case involving forced marriage, gang-rape and torture. 22-year-old Saleem*, of Chiniot’s Mawar Bhattian locality, eloped with 19-year-old Baano* on 27th February this year, after the girl’s parents did not consent to the marriage. Baano’s father, Mukhtar*, then called for a panchayat [a form of jirga held in tribal regions of Punjab] and demanded his daughter’s return.

The Panchayatees [elders at a Panchayat] came to an agreement that Saleem had disgraced Mukhtar’s family and so, Saleem’s 20-year-old sister, SB*, should be handed over to Baano’s 24-year-old brother, Zulfiqar*. When SB refused to comply, she was kidnapped and her thumb impressions forcibly made on her Nikaahnama to Zulfiqar on 1st March.

Two weeks later, Zulfiqar reported that his new wife was ‘out of his control’; she was subsequently divorced and remarried to Zulfiqar’s 50-year-old uncle, Noman*. At his Haveli, SB was reportedly gang-raped by her new husband and three other men. She was stripped and tied to a tree inside the Haveli. Noman then sent a message to SB’s family, saying, “Hand over Baano to us and take SB from here.”

The practice of Vani

In tribal areas, girls pay the price for crimes committed by men of their family. A man commits a crime and in return, a girl from his family, aged between 4 to 14 years, is ‘forcibly’ married to a man from the aggrieved party’s family. This is the tribal tradition of Vani. A 400-year-old tradition, this practice was initially used to settle feuds between tribes. Later, tribal elders called for jirgas in which girls were declared Vani. Although banned and declared illegal by the government in 2011, the custom still exists and has spilled over into other provinces in the country.

SB’s family informed the police of the treatment meted out to her, and she was rescued by elders from the Haveli and returned to her home. When the media took notice of the case on March 19th, an FIR was registered – five days after the incident took place – at the Muhammad Wala police station in Chiniot.

“We did not register an FIR earlier because SB had not approached us immediately after the incident,” said an official at the police station. On the other hand, SB says she went to the police station but was told to go to another station. “I was running from one police station to another,” SB told The Express Tribune. SB’s father is said to be under pressure from the accused party to withdraw the case. Additionally, locals have refused to give testimony in the case, fearing retaliation.

Making a case

According to Advocate Chaudhary Umar Daraz Aasi, SB’s lawyer, the police did not handle the case correctly. “If a female is married twice without completion of Iddat, it is considered Manhoos (ominous). The panchayat deliberately did this to disgrace SB,” he said.

Aasi said the accused rapists are in police custody and are being treated well as they are ‘influential people’ in the area. While speaking to The Express Tribune, Aasi shared that the police is pressuring SB to retract her statements. “She is being threatened. The police have told her that they will implicate her in fabricated cases if she does not take her case back.”

SB’s advocate also revealed that sections 310-A and 354-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) were not added to the FIR. According to section 310-A, “Whoever gives a female in marriage or otherwise in badal-i-sulh shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to ten years but shall not be less than three years.” On the other hand, section 354-A says, “Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman and strips her of her clothes and in that condition, exposes her to the public view, shall be punished with death or with imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

District Prosecution Officer Imtiaz Ahmad said the FIR includes only section 376 (2). It says: “When rape is committed by two or more persons in furtherance of common intention of all, each of such persons shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life.”

Investigation Officer Ahmad Khan Sapra, a sub-inspector at Muhammad Wala police station, said that 10 out of the 12 accused have been arrested while two were given bail. He said that evidence and statements collected in defence of the accused have questioned SB’s account. “They have created doubts as to whether the gang rape and torture ever took place,” he said. Sapra further revealed that an initial medical report, conducted by a female medical officer of District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital Chiniot, revealed that injuries on SB’s body were 10 to 12 days old.

“The statements recorded in favor of the accused by notables of the area pointed out that the accused has been implicated in the case for taking revenge at the instigation of their opponents,” Sapra claimed.

*Names have been changed to protect identities



UNICEF calls to focus more on specific needs of women and children

29th March, 2014

DUBAI: UNICEF has called to focus more on specific needs of women and children during humanitarian crises. According to Ibrahim El Ziq, Gulf Area Representative of UNICEF, girls, boys, women and men experience humanitarian crises in different ways.

“When their distinct needs are not taken into account, humanitarian assistance may fail to reach the most vulnerable,” explained El Ziq.

“ We are delighted that this year, DIHAD has adopted the theme of Women in Aid. It is an important first step towards recognizing the need for emergency planners and relief agencies to analyze and understand the particular ways that women and girls are likely to be affected by disaster as well as the contributions that women typically make to coping with and recovering from such events,” he added.

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al-Qasimi, UAE minister of Development and International Co-operation, has noted the importance of strengthening cooperation, partnership mechanisms, and exchange of views between the UAE and international humanitarian organizations.

Sheikha Lubna made the remarks when she met with Kristalina Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, on the sidelines of her participation in the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference and Exhibition (DIHAD).

The two sides exchanged views on ways of bolstering cooperation between the European Commission and the UAE with respect to humanitarian aid, as well as the exchange of personnel and experience between the European Commission and the Ministry of Development and International Cooperation.

Sheikha Lubna also met with Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the United Nation World Food program. They exchanged views on the humanitarian situation in Syria and stressed on the importance of cooperation of all parties in delivering aid to Syrian refugees and displaced, particularly in light of the aggravation of the Syrian crisis, which has become one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time.

Three-day DIHAD conference also hosted special presentations on the importance of the women’s role in decision making, and the roles and responsibilities of media.

On the sidelines of DIHAD, Noor Dubai Foundation, a Dubai based NGO active in prevention of avoidable causes of blindness, and Dubai Islamic Bank Foundation, signed a partnership agreement under which the foundation will support NDF's eye care programs with AED 2 million.

Dar Al-Ber Society, announced at DIHAD that they will support Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program in Africa. The initiative will aim to both vaccinate 2,000 girls with the HPV vaccine, which has been found to be safe and effective in the prevention of cervical cancer caused by select types of HPV.

Relief and Charitable Foundation of India signed a MoU with Global Rohingya Centre (GRC ) mutually to support and rehabilitate to uplift and do all the welfare activities for the Rohangyan (Burmese) refugee in India. RCFI will be the only partner of GRC in India.



EDL March on Peterborough Again over 'Muslim Grooming White Girls' Claims

29th March, 2014

The Chief Executive of Peterborough City Council, Gillian Beasley, has urged locals to carry on regardless this weekend despite the threat of an English Defence League demonstration in the town as well as a counter demonstration which together have led police to shut roads and draft in extra officers.

The EDL, which claims to be non-racist but opposed to Islamic extremism, last marched through Peterborough in 2010. The organisation says it chose Peterborough for this latest march following a number of high-profile criminal cases in the city involving Muslims and young girls.

On its website the EDL says:

"The EDL will be demonstrating in Peterborough on March 29th in the hope of preventing Islamic extremism from once again being swept under the carpet."

The EDL march starts at 2 pm and will congregate at Peterborough Magistrates' Court on Lower Bridge Street. Peterborough Trades Union Council (PTUC) is holding a counter-march at 12:30 pm starting at Bishops Road car park and ending at Key Theatre car park.

President of the PTUC, Ron Graves, said:

"We are organising a peaceful event. There will be a small demonstration, and when we get to the Key Theatre car park there will be a few public speakers. It is better to express opposition to the EDL as a group, rather than alone. We want to deliver a clear public statement that Peterborough is a multicultural city, a happy city and a good city."

Most local people seemed unimpressed by the prospect of another demonstration. On Twitter one user said:

"EDL march in Peterborough today..#steerclear"

Another added:

"Peterborough people, please dont let the EDL boneheads who are "marching" through our city put you off going into town. #shoplocal"

Police reinforcements have been drafted in from surrounding counties including Essex, London and Hertfordshire to keep order. Peterborough District Commander Supt Tony Ixer said he accepted people had a peaceful right to protest so long as disruption for local people was kept to a minimum. Ixer said:

"Our operation is supported by colleagues from 11 forces as well as specialist units. This will enable us to have sufficient resources to police the protests, as well as carrying out patrols in the city centre and key locations.

"There will be extensive fixed and mobile CCTV in operation throughout the city centre and we will take firm action and prosecute anyone who uses the right to protest as an excuse to break the law. We have thorough measures in place to ensure any unlawful behaviour is recorded and dealt with swiftly."



Poll: Women’s discrimination high in North Africa

March 29, 2014

Attitudes toward women’s equality are dimmer in North Africa than in the rest of the continent, according to a new poll of about 50,000 people across 34 African countries.

The Afrobarometer poll, conducted in 2011-2013 and released Thursday, found women are at a disadvantage compared to men across Africa, but support for women’s equality is growing.

Those polled in the predominantly Arab Muslim north gave the lowest level of support for equality and described the highest frequency of discrimination.

North Africa in general reports greater wealth and higher levels of economic development than the rest of the continent.

Yet, while 68 percent of respondents across Africa felt women could be leaders, that figure was 50 percent in North Africa, where people in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia were interviewed.

In eastern and southern Africa, nearly three-quarters of those polled felt men and women should have equal opportunities. In North Africa only 50 percent thought so.

The education gap between men and women was also the largest in North Africa, even though the overall education levels there were higher than elsewhere on the continent.

The report was presented in Tunisia, which has long been considered the most progressive Arab nation concerning women’s rights. Despite a conservative Islamist party being voted into power recently, politicians have just completed a new constitution that closely safeguards women’s rights.

Still, Tunisians had one of the highest reported rates of workplace discrimination against women at 53 percent. The continental average was 40 percent.

North African women were also much more likely to report discrimination by police and in the court system, with some 43 percent describing it as common. In eastern and southern Africa, two-thirds said it was rare or never happened.

Pollsters conducted 51,000 face-to-face interviews between October 2011 and June 2013. The survey left out many countries in Central Africa, including Congo, Chad, Central African Republic and Gabon. The error margin was 3 percentage points.



Indonesian Women Marginalized at the Polls Too

March 29, 2014

Jakarta. “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus” may have been the title of a best-selling book, but it also emphasizes how women have always been depicted differently to men. It also happens in politics. Physical and psychological differences aside, women are indeed a special group in politics, women’s rights activists say.

“In democracy, each group has its own specific needs and that goes for women,” says Eva Kusuma Sundari, a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). “In our society, women are marginalized and somehow discriminated. So yes, they do have specific needs and specific interests.”

“Women need to be a special segment [in elections] in the sense that they have limitations compared to their male counterparts,” says Titi Anggraini, a political expert from Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem). “They have limited access to information [compared to men in general].”

Titi claims that despite being large in number, women voters are more prone to being “directed” on who to vote for according to the wishes of the dominant figures in their family or society — husband, father, religious leader or community chief — since the males are seen as the “more rational ones.”

Looking back to previous elections, she says, it is clear that women, as a group, have been treated as an emotional — not rational — voting bloc.

Back in 2004, for instance, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tried to attract women voters by depicting himself as a handsome and gallant person by burnishing his “manly military background,” Titi says. The stunt might seem silly, but it worked, and Yudhoyono went on to win the presidency, twice.

Titi blames the “insufficient access to information” that women have, not the gender stereotype.

“It’s because of the lack of information that women have,” she says. “They have been conditioned to follow the male figure’s choice. [But even when they can choose freely] they still don’t have the information needed. They are treated as if they don’t need to know [the candidates’] vision and goals, which are needed when making a rational choice. That’s why they turn to emotional reasons when deciding who to vote for.”

Eva echoes the same concern. She says that women might be seen as incapable of choosing a leader, but once they are informed about their needs, they can make a stand and have their own voice.

“It’s not about the gender, it’s about citizenship and their lack of political education,” she argues. “They are not seen as targets of political education. Take the case of military wives. Nobody educates them about politics, and when the election comes, they just follow what their husband’s commanders say.”

For now, according to Titi, the most urgent thing to do is to inform and educate women, starting from changing their mind-set.

“They need to have the independence to choose without any influence from their male relatives, and they have to realize that they also can take part in changing their own and this nation’s condition,” she says.

There have long been efforts by government bodies and nongovernmental organizations to educate women on politics.

The local chapter of the General Elections Commission (KPU) in Central Lampung district, Lampung province, for instance, has been distributing information to the public about the upcoming elections since September last year. The module covers basic information on the elections, including how to choose competent candidates. The 28-page module also discusses how women should be independent voters and how women have influenced the nation’s development condition in the past.

The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has raised concerns about the need for women to make an informed choice at the ballot box, and called for women to choose tolerant and capable leaders in the April 9 legislative election. The commission is also working with NGOs to urge voters to be rational and calling on candidates to sign a political contract with them.

However, political parties seem to be keeping their distance from this issue, with none of the 12 parties taking part in the polls stating any intention of providing women voters with a political education. Even when they do hold a workshop or seminar, the information session is usually a cover-up for a campaign activity.

An incumbent legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB), an Islamist party, earlier this month held an information session for women in Yogyakarta. He claimed he wanted to inform them about the importance of their votes and choosing the right people to govern the country. But the session included the distribution of food packages, making it unclear whether it was a campaign or solely a public service session.

The House of Representatives deliberates women’s issues through House Commission VIII, which also oversees religious affairs and social welfare. In the past five years, however, the commission has failed to come up with any significant programs to create better awareness among women of the democratic process.

“The effort to produce legislation [relevant to women issues] by the House hasn’t been optimal,” Titi says.

“This includes laws on gender equality and women’s role in politics. Such issues haven’t received enough attention. First of all, it’s because of male domination [in the House], and second, it’s because of the background of the members — not many of them are competent.”

In numbers, women are a minority in the House. The current batch of 101 female legislators accounts for just 18 percent of the 560-seat House. Only 12 of the 45 legislators on Commission VIII is a woman. By comparison, World Bank data show that in neighboring Malaysia, women made up just 10 percent of the total number of legislators, while Rwanda led the way with 64 percent at the end of 2013.

For the ongoing campaign period, though, women are still everywhere to be seen, thanks to the 30 percent quota mandated for each party.

In approaching women voters, women candidates seem to have several advantages, according to Titi. “It’s easier for women candidates to identify with women voters because they can relate to each other and put a personal touch on their proposed solutions,” she says.

However, it doesn’t have to be women. “What really matters is whether they’re on the women’s side, even though it’s relatively easier to talk with women candidates. But this requires people to know who the candidates are,” Titi says.

Eva says she believes gender and looks should not be a consideration in choosing a leader. A member of House Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, she says she fought for women’s and children’s issues when she first ran for office.

“I don’t ask people to choose me because I’m a woman, or because I’m pretty or solely because I’m from the PDI-P,” she says, referring to her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

“It’s about the quality, my political agenda, not primordial values. That’s what we need to change here. Politicians sometimes only sell their image, not the issues. Women voters need to disregard any gender bias, that’s not important. Don’t choose candidates who don’t have any policies.”

For Fike Kireina, 21, a recent university graduate, the question of gender is not a factor when it comes to voting.

“Just because I’m a woman that doesn’t mean I’m going to vote for a woman. I’ve never considered gender [when choosing a candidate], it’s about the capability. If the men are better, I’ll choose them,” she says.

She also believes women are wiser than they used to be in choosing leaders.

“I admit women tend to choose popular people in elections, like actors,” Fike says. “But I think now women are more educated, they have stopped choosing people based on their looks. [Indonesian] women in general are getting wiser, they’ve learned their lesson from those they previously [voted for].”



The Space between the Hijab and Niqab Is Where Our Anxieties Lie

29th March, 2014

Canadians may well be the world’s leaders in the journalistic cottage industry of dressing up Muslim. Seven years ago, a Huffington Post editor put on a burka for a week, and attempted to play it for laughs in a piece titled “Does This Burka Make Me Look Fat?” Last year, Quebec’s favourite hothead, Richard Martineau, wore a burka on his French-language rantfest, “Franchement Martineau” — mirroring a stunt performed by Sun News personality Ezra Levant, who pronounced the garment “bloody uncomfortable” before ripping it off after a minute or two. His Sun colleague, David “The Menzoid” Menzies, put a Burka on a 14-year-old child and filmed him buying 24 ounces of hard stuff at an Ontario liquor store.

The latest installment in this genre comes courtesy of Queen’s Journal copy editor Anisa Rawhani, a young non-Muslim woman who wore a hijab (a veil that covers the head and chest, but leaves most of the face exposed) for 18 days to see how people would react. Unlike the above-mentioned stunts, Rawhani’s journalism seems to have been motivated primarily by genuine sociological curiosity.

The Queen’s University campus and its Kingston, Ont. environs are full of well-educated liberals. So right off the bat, Rawahani tells us, “I suspected I wouldn’t be the target of racial slurs, threats or ill-treatment.” And indeed, she wasn’t. Just the opposite: “If anything, people were being  nicer . Much nicer.”

“At first I thought I was just imagining things,” she writes. “So what if strangers smiled at me in the street? [But] you can imagine my surprise when I realized that the friendlier-than-usual interactions — with friends and strangers alike — were by no means unique episodes, but a common theme. I started to experience instances where I was treated in a noticeably different manner from others.” She supplies one vivid example from a low-rent pizzeria “where the man on cash wasn’t in the best mood.” He treated Rawhani’s friends with disdain when they asked him for condiments, but “smiled broadly” when serving the hijabbed author.

The only awkwardness that crept into the experiment unfolded when Rawhani put up her hand in class, and a teacher mistakenly called on her using the name of the class’ one other hijab-wearing student (who happened to be absent). As one might expect in this day and age, the professor was mortified by his error, and made a great show of apologizing. To her great credit, Rawhani describes the incident matter-of-factly, and does not seize on it as an indicator of seething racism. (Given the way these incidents often are treated by campus star chambers, the professor no doubt was terrified that he would spend the next few years of his life being investigated for thoughtcrime.)

What explains the extremely non-Islamophobic — indeed, outright Islamophillic — response to Rawhani’s hijab? She puts that question to Leandre Fabrigar, a Queen’s psychology professor who specializes in the study of “attitude and persuasion.” Fabrigar describes the phenomenon as one of “impression management”: Most of us realize we may be bigots, but our rational minds tell us that this bigotry is wrong. So we “engage in an overcorrection process, which, ironically, would then lead [us] to be more friendly to the minority member than others.”

That sounds plausible to me, as does most of Rawhani’s own sociological speculation. Still, it left me wondering whether the nature of the author’s experiment allowed her to dodge the real concerns that even non-bigotted Canadians have about socially conservative Muslims. Hijab or not, Rawhani presented herself to the world as what she apparently is: a modern, confident, well-integrated, socially engaged young woman who attends college, goes out on weekends with her friends, and works for a student newspaper. If this is your way of interacting with the world, what difference does a headscarf make?

Rawhani’s pizza example hit home for me. Last weekend, I happened to be enjoying a glutinous late-night meal at Angela’s Pizzeria on Montreal’s de Maisonneuve Blvd., when a gaggle of hijabbed women came in and began carrying on in Arabic while feasting on fries and a veggie pie. (This area has had a large young Arab contingent for several decades now.) In the manner typical of all teenagers, they babbled at each other incessantly while ignoring anyone over the age of 20 who wasn’t serving them food. In the way they presented themselves to the world, they might as well have been French-Canadians, or Anglos, or Jews, or Greeks, or Italians. The hijabs changed nothing.

Where things become more complicated is when a Muslim woman ups the ante by exchanging the hijab for the full face mask of the niqab (or, when combined with body covering, a burka). You do see some women like this in large Canadian cities (though not a hundredth as many as one might think from reading the commentary of certain overheated culture warriors). But they are never (by my observation) having a rollicking good time in pizzerias. Instead, they are more apt to be traveling silently on the subway with a baby carriage, or unobtrusively taking notes in the back of a trade-college classroom.

This is not to say that the niqab is a complete social death sentence. Travel along Overlea Blvd, through the commercial heart of Toronto’s heavily Muslim Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, and you will see women in Burkas traveling in groups, talking with one another, doing their shopping at East York Town Centre, or dropping their children off at school. But socially, it’s a closed shop: The face covering sends the clear message that they conceive of the world around them to be largely one of leering men and other vulgar social contaminants, against which they must protect every inch of their body — except an eye-slit just big enough to make sure they don’t bump into cars and lampposts.

Islamic fundamentalists claim that niqabbed women do so out of their own free will, rather than the threat of a beating by their husband. But even if that is so, their “free will” obviously is informed by a paranoid and highly regressive understanding of women’s place in society. And it is perfectly understandable — and not in any way “Islamophobic” — that ordinary Canadians (including Levant, Martineau and The Menzoid) would be creeped out by it.

Eighteen days would be a long time to wear a niqab. But I’d be interested to hear the results if Rawhani were interested in repeating her experiment, but this time in full face covering as opposed to a mere headscarf.

I’d be interested to hear the results if Rawhani repeated her experiment, but this time in full face covering as opposed to a mere headscarf

My guess is that she would find, once again, that people would be perfectly civil to her. But I suspect that this friendliness would come from a different, much more anxious place.

One of the effects of the niqab is that it strips away all of the informal social cues that we typically rely on when we talk to people: the smiles, raised eyebrows, furrowed brows and such that tell us if our jokes are funny or not, our stories interesting or not, our presence welcome or not. The Burqa signals to the non-burqa-wearer that, to the extent he is capable of arousing any emotion at all, it is of the negative variety. In such a situation, most of us non-burqa folks are likely to put on a nervous smile, say something harmless, and get any necessary social or commercial interaction over with as quickly as possible so as not to induce the fear of sexual predation that, the niqab’s existence implicitly signals, is but thinly suppressed in all of us.

Since 9/11, all Western societies have become obsessed with the way Muslim women dress. (Indeed, in parts of Quebec, it has become a sort of full-blown neurosis.) But Rawhani misunderstands the issue if she thinks that this is really about the hijab. It is about our basic, socially felt human need to see the faces  of those we interact with. The fact that we politely tolerate those who live behind masks bespeaks Canadian civility. But it does not mean the underlying practice is in any way healthy or desirable.

National Post