New Age Islam
Sat Sep 23 2023, 11:04 AM

Islam, Women and Feminism ( 13 Aug 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

TTP Commander Favours Conditional Female Education

New Age Islam News Bureau

13 Aug 2013

Tunisian Islamists Call For Demonstrations to Mark National Women's Day (File photo: AFP)


 Islamic Movement of Turkistan's Female-Bomber Strategy Criticised

 Tunisian Islamists Call For Demonstrations to Mark National Women's Day

 When Brothers Turn Monsters: Tale of a Saudi Woman

 End-Of-Service Award for Housewives in Saudi Arabia

 Saudi Women Married To Expats Must Get Real Estate Loans

 Ethiopian Housemaid Attacked Her Employer after a Phone Call: Police

 Tunisian Woman Denies Will Head Alternative Cabinet

 ‘Harassing Harassers:’ How Egyptian Activists Combat Abuse Against Women

 Muslim Women Cheer the Sick on Eid-Ul-Fitr Celebrations

 IUML Women Wing Leader Prof Thasreef Jahan Felicitated In Abu Dhabi

 Fashion Magazines Mix Faith with Beauty Advice in Indonesia

 'The Glass Ceiling Is Incredibly Low For Muslim Women'

 “Burqua Avenger”: Pakistan’s Middle Class Gets a Feminist Cartoon

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





TTP Commander Favours Conditional Female Education

 August 13, 2013 

KOHAT: An al-Qaeda-affiliated commander of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Abu Zar Azzam, in a video message on Monday said the Taliban were not against educating girls in the Muslim world.

 He said the Taliban were not preventing girls from getting education if they observed Purdah and stayed within the parameters of the Islamic code of conduct. The TTP commander said Muslims, including women, could spread the message of Islam by acquiring higher education. He said Muslim women took part in jihad 1,400 years ago while following the Islamic code of conduct, particularly Purdah.

 He pointed out that the Western society banked on the research and learning of early Muslim thinkers and educationists as they were leading the world at the time in terms of knowledge and scholarship. He said the Taliban wished the Muslim youth to receive education in the Islamic way of life. He said the Taliban were in favour of providing equal opportunities in terms of education to all the Muslims, including girls.



Islamic Movement of Turkistan's Female-Bomber Strategy Criticised

By Muhammad Sohail

 13 August 2013

PESHAWAR – A video by the Islamic Movement of Turkistan (IMT) that shows women being trained to carry out militant attacks is being declared morally wrong by religious scholars.

"Though terrorism cannot be justified, the use of females to commit suicide attacks is even more uncivilised and against the teachings of Islam," Hafiz Mohammad Ghafoor, who teaches Islamic studies at the University of Peshawar, told Central Asia Online.

"None favour suicide attacks executed by women," he said of his colleagues in the religious sector, calling the practice "barbaric."

The IMT, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group sometimes called the Turkistan Islamic Party, released a one-minute video showing five Burqa-clad women firing assault and sniper rifles, machine guns and grenade launchers under instruction of unidentified man.

More than 50 of Pakistan's top muftis July 2 issued a fatwa against suicide bombings, the killing of foreign guests and all other forms of terrorism at a Lahore meeting of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), a body of different religious scholars.

Similarly, Afghan and Egyptian religious scholars in Kabul April 18 proclaimed suicide bombings as forbidden by Islam. Ulema and other scholars from around the world – including Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan – condemned the militant tactic at a March conference in Istanbul.

Female suicide bombers exploit cultural loophole

"Jihadists have been using their sisters, mothers and wives in wars, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan," said a Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) report.

Pakistani authorities in 2009 arrested a few young women trained to commit suicide attacks in Swat. And since 2010, women have committed six suicide attacks in Pakistan and three in Afghanistan, the Long War Journal website said in July.

The first attack in Pakistan occurred in Bajaur Agency in December 2010, six months after one in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

The exact number of woman terrorists is not known, PIPS researcher Mansur Khan Mahsud said. "I'm sure they are in the dozens and not hundreds."

Cultural traditions allow female bombers to reach their targets much more easily than men can in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Performing a body search on women is not common in our societies," said security analyst Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, adding that a woman with a suicide vest strapped to her body can take advantage of this cultural inhibition.

However, in response to the emerging trend, governments will have to train female security staff to handle female attackers, Shah said.



Tunisian Islamists Call For Demonstrations to Mark National Women's Day

 13 August 2013

Tunisia's ruling Islamist Ennahda party and the opposition called rival rallies for Tuesday to mark national women's day, reflecting deepening divisions in the North African country.

The country is in the grip of a political crisis sparked by the murder of an opposition politician last month, the second such killing this year.

Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi met Houcine Abassi, head of the powerful UGTT trade union confederation to discuss the crisis and the talks continued well into the night.

The UGTT, which has backed some but not all of the opposition's demands, has been touted as a possible mediator between the Islamist-led government and the opposition.

Critics of the government are calling for demonstrations on Tuesday evening to defend women's rights followed by a march outside parliament, where the opposition has held nightly demonstrations since the July 25 assassination of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi.

Tuesday is the 57th anniversary of the Personal Status Code that was adopted on August 13, 1956, giving Tunisian women rights unequalled in the Arab world at the time.

Critics of Ennahda, including the UGTT, charge that those rights are now under threat from the Islamists.

"This will be a historic demonstration given the difficult circumstances the country is going through: political killings, terrorism and attempts to roll back women's rights," UGTT official Najoua Makhlouf told a news conference.

Amel Radhouani, from the Femmes Libres (Free Women) group said the march would send a clear message to the Islamists in power.

"This will not be a celebration but a march against terrorism, and Ennahda's attempts to take back women's gains," Radhouani said.

Critics say Ennahda has been too passive in dealing with radical imams who have called for the return of polygamy and child brides -- traditions banned in Tunisia under the 1956 law.

The party drew further criticism last year when it called for sexual equality to be replaced in Tunisia's new post-revolution constitution by "complementarity" of the genders.

But Ennahda strongly denies it is against women's rights and called on its supporters to gather from 1500 GMT on Tuesday in the capital's Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The party said the rally would be held under the slogan: "Tunisia's women, pillars of the democratic transition and national unity".

Sexual equality has been one of the stumbling blocks to achieving consensus on the much delayed post-revolution constitution.

The speaker of the National Constituent Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, last week suspended work on drafting the new charter until the government and the opposition hold talks to resolve their differences.

Opposition members of the assembly have been boycotting its sessions since Brahmi's murder.

But Ennahda and its coalition partners, including the centre-left President Moncef Marzouki, on Monday rejected the speaker's action as "illegal" and called for the assembly to resume it work on Wednesday.

Ennahda has offered to broaden the governing coalition in the run-up to elections it hopes can be held in December after the completion of the new constitution and electoral law.

But it has rejected opposition calls for it to step down immediately and for the constituent assembly to be dissolved.

It has also rejected the appeals of both the UGTT and employers' organisation UTICA for it to hand over to a government of technocrats.

As the political crisis has deepened, the army has been engaged in a two-week offensive against Al-Qaeda-linked militants near the Algerian border.

On Monday, troops recovered the bodies of six suspected militants on Mount Sammama, which has been the target of multiple air strikes, a military source told AFP.

The mountain lies to the northeast of the Chaambi Massif, where the bodies of eight soldiers were found with their throats slit after an ambush on July 29.



When Brothers Turn Monsters: Tale of a Saudi Woman

August 13, 2013

MAKKAH – Makkah Social Protection Centre has rejected a request filed by female lawyer Amoona Tawakul in which she asked the Centre to step in and save a Saudi woman in her 40s from her three brothers who have forced her to stay home and not get married. They had even tied her hands in order to prevent her from leaving the house.

The Centre told the lawyer that it cannot do anything about the case because it is not responsible for such cases. It only receives the cases referred by police stations and prisons.

The woman has been mistreated by her brothers ever since she filed a divorce case against her drug addict husband more than 14 years ago, Tawakul said.

She was forced by her brothers to get married to a divorced man who had three children from a previous marriage. After marriage, she moved with her husband to the Eastern Province and was surprised when she discovered that his apartment did not have furniture except some mattresses and pillows.

She sold her jewellery and bought furniture for the apartment. Few days into the marriage, she discovered the bitter truth about her husband.

He was a drug addict and an abusive man. Not a day went by without him beating her up or insulting her.

Her brothers never asked her how she was doing. Her father had died a long time ago while her mother was very sick and could not do anything to help her daughter.

After getting sick and tired of her husband’s abuse, she filed a divorce case against him at the court. Her brothers considered her action a big stigma to the family and declared that she should be punished for it. After her divorce, they took her back home and locked her up, not allowing her to go outside except to the hospital or when she wanted to visit her brothers. They also deprived her of the right to get married again and took away her ATM card and ID card so that she does not receive social aid.

They kept a close eye on her to prevent her from going to the police or Makkah Social Protection Center. Every time she demanded that they give her rights and allow her to get married again, they would beat her up. She had threatened that she would commit suicide or run away from home.

The lawyer received a call from the woman a few months ago asking for help. She requested Tawakul to take her matter to higher authorities and free her from the ‘prison’ she has been put in for 14 years.

Tawakul said the woman’s elder brother convinced her father to make her drop out of school when she was a third grader and stay home in order to help their mother and raise their brothers.

Tawakul has called upon authorities concerned to step in and help the poor woman. A source at the Center said they cannot accept cases of physical abuse directly and that such cases have to be referred to them first by the police or any other social institution. The Center’s official cannot free the girl from her prison at home without the intervention of security forces, the source added.

Sultan Al-Harthy, a legal consultant, advised the woman to find a way to approach the police and report her case to them.



End-Of-Service Award for Housewives in Saudi Arabia

 13 August 2013

Saudi statistics compiled five years ago show that 73 percent of university educated women are unemployed despite their eagerness to work. This has forced them to become mere housewives. About 21 percent of these women are unwilling to or cannot work.

The topic here is not about work and unemployment; it’s about our insistence that our women be respected and live in luxury, while the truth is the exact opposite.

Similar conditions got the Ministry of Social Affairs in a neighbouring Gulf country to provide a salary of SR7,311 to housewives when they turned 55 provided that they have no other personal source of income. This includes their husbands’ finances.

About 90 percent of the applications were accepted, and the rest were rejected after it was revealed that they had commercial activities registered under their names.

The program also included women who received social security. The same was done with retired women. This program is part of a modernized social affairs policy.

Why am I making this comparison?

First, I found no statistics on the conditions of Saudi housewives — it seems that they’re forgotten even in official statistics.

Secondly, the Ministry of Social Affairs has been late in updating its policies to include needy women who refuse to beg, in a framework that preserves women’s dignity.

The question is: Have we fallen behind our Gulf brethren? What are we expecting from a 55-year-old woman? Do we want her to enroll in Hafiz, work as a caterer, or work as a cashier?

Ministers of labor and of social affairs need to intensify efforts on systems benefiting us as citizens and safeguard our civic rights.

And if the Ministry of Labor has reached the brilliant conclusion of giving each foreign worker who worked here for more than four years an end-of-service award, I think our women, and our mothers, are more deserving of such awards and brilliant ideas.



Saudi women married to expats must get real estate loans

 13 August 2013

JEDDAH — Real estate investors are eagerly awaiting implementation of several decisions to open up investment opportunities in the Kingdom’s rapidly-growing real estate sector.

Abdullah Al-Ahmari, Chairman of the Real Estate Appraisal Committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), was confident  that the real estate sector will witness a boom during the coming few months due to decisions taken by the Ministry of Housing over the past few months.

Al-Ahmari focused on the decision of the Shoura Council to treat female and male Saudi citizens equally in obtaining land and housing loans, Al-Sharq Arabic daily reported Sunday.

“I demand quick implementation of this decision and I demand equal treatment of Saudi women married to foreigners in Saudi Arabia. They should be given the same treatment as Saudi women married to Saudi men get,” he said, while warning that traders of building materials will exploit the decision and unnecessarily hike prices.

The Shoura Council approved a decision to treat male and female Saudi citizens equally as far as conditions for obtaining a loan are concerned. Al-Ahmari said 30 years ago, Saudi women used to get loans and their husbands would get additional loans, something which made it easier for couples to buy or build a home.

“These loans used to be sufficient to build a home. The area used to range between 400 and 700 square meters and the prices ranged between SR20,000 and SR40,000. This indicates that the value of the land did not exceed 15–20 percent of the total building cost, unlike these days wherein the prices of plots of land reach 60 percent of the total building cost.”

Al-Ahmari added that restoration of the regulation which treats female Saudi citizens equally to male Saudis in obtaining loans is a step in granting equal rights to both sexes.

“Implementation of this decision will restore the balance for the family, as the husband and wife will get nearly SR1 million to build their home. However, amid these increasing price hikes in the real estate sector, this amount will not be sufficient. Finishing the structure alone will need 40–50 percent of the building’s cost,” he said.

Al-Ahmari warned against exploitation by traders and importers of building materials and called on the Ministry of Housing to establish its own company for importing and selling building materials at reasonable prices.



Ethiopian Housemaid Attacked Her Employer after a Phone Call: Police

Ashwaq Al-Tuwairqi

 13 August 2013

MAKKAH — A 17-year-old Ethiopian housemaid who stabbed her employer several times in Makkah called her home country just before the attack last week, a local police station told Okaz/Saudi Gazette.

The victim was stabbed in the hands, neck, chest, and shoulders but survived, sources at Al-Aziziya police station revealed.

According to police initial investigations, the maid had worked for a year with her employer, a 40-year-old widow, before she decided to try and kill her.

The maid told police the widow treated her well and never did anything wrong to her. Toward the end of Ramadan, she went with her employers to buy Eid groceries.

Her employer bought her a calling card to talk to her family in Ethiopia and wish them happy Eid.

A few hours following the phone call, just before Fajr prayer, the maid jumped on her victim as she was leaving the bathroom.

The first thing the maid did was hit the widow on her head and then started stabbing her in her hands, chest, and face.

Somehow, the victim got away and locked herself in her room before calling her brother, who contacted her neighbours.

The maid kept trying to force her way into the room to get to the widow, who was screaming and shouting while blood gushed out from her wounds.

The neighbours called Civil Defence officers, who broke the apartment door open and helped the widow.

The widow is currently being treated at Al-Noor Specialist Hospital, where she received over 50 stitches.



Tunisian woman denies will head alternative cabinet

 13 August 2013

TUNIS – A prominent female Tunisian businesswoman said on Sunday she was not interested in becoming prime minister, playing down speculation she might head an alternative cabinet that the opposition plans to announce this week.

Media had reported that Wided Bouchamaoui, 52, the first woman president of Tunisia’s Chambers of Commerce and Industry, might be named alternative prime minister by the secularist opposition Salvation Front which is trying to topple the Islamist-led government.

“I thank all those who considered me able to take a political responsibility. I confirm that I am not interested in any position or political responsibility,” Bouchamaoui said in a statement.

“My efforts are aimed at ensuring the economy survives this critical stage,” she added. Emboldened by the army’s toppling of Egypt’s Islamist president and angered by the assassination of leading leftist figures, Tunisia’s opposition said on Saturday said it would announce an alternative government in the coming days.

Bouchamaoui, who took the prominent business role after the 2011 revolution swept away much of Tunisia’s traditional elite, told Reuters last year that political uncertainty was hampering the government’s response to economic problems. – AP



‘Harassing Harassers:’ How Egyptian Activists Combat Abuse Against Women

13 August 2013

Egyptian activists have set up an initiative called “harassing the harassers” aimed at curbing the phenomenon of sexual assaults in the country.

The group was set up in response to the alleged killing of a young woman who was run over by her harasser after she refused his advances, an incident that occurred in the city of Mansoura last week, the campaign’s founder Shadi Hussein said on Monday.

He said his group seeks to spread the initiative to all of Egypt’s provinces, noting that they are currently engaged in awareness-raising campaigns in several cities.

Hussein explains his group’s tactics saying volunteers always divide themselves into several teams and wear a special uniform so that they can combat harassment by detaining alleged perpetrators and writing the words “I am a harasser” on their backs.

It is just one attempt to reduce the spate of sexual harassment in the country; a movement called “You Witnessed Harassment,” has also been launched. Through this forum people can take photos or videos of the apparent incident of harassment, publish the images online and expose the alleged molesters, reported Al Arabiya on Monday.

Sexual violence against women in Egypt increased during post-revolutionary Islamist rule, according to official reports and rights activists, Al Arabiya English reported in June. According to Hussein sexual harassment is a phenomenon that still pervades the daily life of many women in the country.

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality said in a report published on May 23 that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual violence.



Muslim Women Cheer the Sick On Eid-Ul-Fitr Celebrations


 13 August 2013

Machinga — Muslim women in Machinga, Saturday cheered the sick at Machinga District Hospital where they distributed assorted food and non-food items worth K500, 000 to the sick as part of Eid-UI-Fitr celebrations. The group of women which included Member of Parliament for Machinga Likwenu, Mwalone Jangiya felt the need to cheer the sick after noting that most of them failed to celebrate the Eid-UI-Fitr with friends and relatives.

The Muslim women distributed snacks to children in pediatric ward, squash, tablets of soap, salt, packets of rice and sugar to male, maternity and other female wards.

In her remarks, Jangiya encouraged Muslim women to donate to the sick in times of celebrations such as Eid-UI-Fitr.

She, therefore, pledged more support to women groups in her constituency to encourage the spirit of giving among women towards the needy.

The women group's chairperson, Amina Mussa commended fellow women for the donation.

Mussa also commended the Member of Parliament for Machinga Likwenu for supporting the women with finances that enabled them to cheer the sick.

Responding to the gesture, one of the administrators at the Machinga District Hospital, Robert Bema thanked the women for cheering the sick.



IUML women wing leader Prof Thasreef Jahan felicitated in Abu Dhabi

 13 August 2013

Abu Dhabi : Quaide Millath Forum ( QMF ) a wing of Indian Union Muslim League Tamil Nadu organised a reception to Tamil Nadu State Women Wing convener Prof Mrs Thasreef Jahan on August 9, 2013 Friday at Abu Dhabi.

QMF Vice President Kalamaruthur Samsudeen Hajiyar presided over the function. Moulavi Abdul Rashid has recited the Quran.

Thittachery Jafer Sadiq Faizee welcomed the gathering. Organizing Secretary Lalpet Abdul Rahman gave the introductory speech about QMF.

Mrs Thasreef Jahan is the former principal of Meenakshi Govt College for Women in Madurai. She is also the vice president of Federation of Muslim Women Aid Societies of Tamil Nadu and secretary of Madurai District Muslim Women Society.

She was honoured with memento. Mrs Thasreef Jahan in her speech thanked the organizers for the wonderful event. She requested the organizers to strengthen the party's women wing in Tamil Nadu and to support the needy.

QMF office bearers participated in the program



Fashion Magazines Mix Faith with Beauty Advice in Indonesia

By Cempaka Kaulika

 13 August 2013

Magazines targeting young Muslim women have been very popular in Indonesia for the last few years, riding the growth of the Muslim fashion industry.

These days, glossy magazines for young Muslim women are big sellers in Indonesia. While fashion is their main focus, they also help readers learn about their faith and raise awareness about living a lifestyle based on Islam.

Recently two new Muslimah magazines have entered the fray, Laiqa and Hijabella, mixing fashion and faith, beauty and brains, and pastel-hued femininity with stories of women who are strong and brave.

The September 2012 debut issue of Laiqa – which means "intelligent" in Arabic – headlined the theme, "Are you a leader or a follower?" The second issue of Hijabella featured a profile of glamorous young race car driver Alexandra Asmasoebrata.

The magazine, which has run three issues thus far, carries articles on "do it yourself" projects, beauty, women entrepreneurs, Muslim fashion, food, and question-and-answers on finance, religion, health, and style.

Editor-in-chief Fifi Alvianto, 28, and editor-at-large Hanna Faridl, 30, got their start with the Hijab Scarf blog, which reached 4 million people. "Laiqa adds more Islamic values for the readers, based on Islamic teaching and values," Hanna told Khabar Southeast Asia.

"For example, our second edition, with the theme of 'Wonder Womenpreneur', encourages businesswomen to share their knowledge and experience. Don't be stingy sharing knowledge with other Muslims. This is one of the values in Islam that we want to convey."

Hijabella has published three issues since March 2013 with a target audience of Muslim girls and women aged 13 to 25.

The magazine shows "a friendly face of Muslimah," according to 22-year-old fashion designer Dian Pelangi, who answers readers' fashion questions for the magazine.

"I like the idea on how they want to gather all Muslimah, not only Muslimah with hijab but also muslimah who haven't worn hijab... Together we put the same intention to be a better Muslim, inside and out," she said.

Inspiring readers

The rapid growth of the Indonesia's Muslim fashion sector has driven the proliferation of Muslim fashion magazines. Fashion content is approximately 60% of each edition.

The magazines' tone is soft – not monotonous, extreme, or patronizing – which is welcomed by young readers.

"I like to read Muslimah magazines," Ayu Wulandari, 21, told Khabar during Jakarta Islamic Fashion Week 2013. "The first one I read was Hijabella. The 'hijab tutorial' inspired me to improve my hijab style. I also like inspiring stories about Muslim women."

For Ramadan, Hijabella published an article about Imane Asry, a Muslim woman who wears the hijab while living in Sweden, Ayu said.

"I was inspired by her decision to continue to use the hijab and how she copes with the situation if there are negative assumptions about Islam. From her I learned that with a smile and being nice to others, negative opinions of Muslims will be annihilated as a whole," Ayu explained.

"Muslimah magazines instill Islamic values in every article," said Ninik Rahma, 28, who reads them to learn about fashion trends and styles. "For example, the article 'Syari' but Stylish' in Hijabella, which discusses a Muslimah who is stylish and living in accordance with the Qur'an."

A way to explore your faith

Endang Purwaningsih, a 40 year-old Islamic leader, said that Muslimah magazines are good for Indonesian youth.

"Thank God, I feel grateful about the self-awareness of our young generation today. Starting with the use of hijab and then continuing with the science of Islam – it is a good first step to follow God's command. Muslimah magazines are not the only way to encourage Muslimah to study Islam. But it can be a way to appeal to young people to explore Islam," she told Khabar.

According to Endang, a good Muslimah magazine is a magazine whose content aligns with the teachings of the Qur'an and Hadith.

"It should inspire young people to become a better person," she added.



'The Glass Ceiling Is Incredibly Low For Muslim Women'

Huma Qureshi

 13 August 2013

Muneera, a 19-year-old art student from London, wants to set up her own business selling her paintings. But she wears a headscarf, and she is concerned that it might be difficult. "I don't know if it'll be a real problem, or if it's all in my head. I want to know how to deal with it if people in the business world act differently towards me because of my scarf." Muneera's friend Nour, meanwhile, wants to be a doctor. "I don't really get career advice at college," she says. "So talking to other Muslim women helps. When I see them doing their own thing and getting on with their careers, it's really motivating."

Muneera and Nour went to the Urban Muslim Woman Show, an annual networking event that took place earlier this summer, in order to meet new contacts who might guide them in their careers. Like many Muslim women, they fear their professional identity may be distorted by the hijab and the presumptions people have about it.

Some of the barriers facing them affect all women, such as unequal pay and gender discrimination. But many Muslim women face extra difficulties, such as prejudice based on their religious clothing and faith, while others feel sidelined in terms of career advice or guidance.

In December last year, an all-party parliamentary report found Muslim women of south Asian origin are susceptible to triple discrimination because of their gender, ethnicity and religion. The report, published by the Runnymede Trust, expressed concern that Pakistani and Bangladeshi women were more likely to be made redundant in comparison with other women and found employers made generic stereotypes about them, such as expecting them to want to stop working after having children. Many Muslim women interviewed for the report spoke of disparaging comments made about their dress. Others, including second-generation, highly-educated graduates, said job offers only materialised after they removed their Hijabs; many felt written off by recruitment companies.

When Fauzia, 32, first started work in the banking sector as a graduate, she was determined to make a good impression on her predominately male colleagues. But she found they didn't take her seriously and rarely noted her contributions. She feels certain it was because she was not just the only woman in the office, but also because she wore a headscarf.

"They used to refer to me as 'the girl with the sheet on her head'. They thought it was funny, but it was incredibly hurtful," says Fauzia. "I felt belittled every day. It was like they didn't want to acknowledge me as a real person by using my name."

Sara Khan from the Muslim women's rights group Inspire says: "The glass ceiling is incredibly low for Muslim women. The Muslim women I work with say that they don't understand why they aren't given the same chances as other women. They question whether it's their name or the way they dress."

Numerous recommendations were put forward after the publication of the Runnymede Trust report, such as increasing the take-up of "blankname" job application forms. But few, if any, of the report's recommendations have been implemented.

"It's incredibly complex," says Khan. "The transition from leaving education to entering the labour market is where Muslim women can find themselves disadvantaged. There's an assumption that Muslim women will marry younger and have children younger whereas, really, there are so many Muslim women who want to work. Recruitment agencies could do a lot more with graduate Muslim women in terms of putting them forward for positions, but job centres also have a role to play in helping women with writing their CV and basic interview skills."

Many Muslim women, like Muneera and Nour, are looking elsewhere for career advice. Initiatives like the Muslim Women's Network, which offers training schemes and highlights female role models, and the Urban Muslim Woman Show are proving popular.

Nuna, a 38-year-old banker, says she has never encountered discrimination in her career (she does not wear a headscarf). But she feels it is important for Muslim women to support each other: "What's missing for me is simply having a concentration of like-minded Muslim women in the workplace. So surely it can only be a good thing to bring women who share similar beliefs together."



“Burqua Avenger”: Pakistan’s Middle Class Gets a Feminist Cartoon


 13 August 2013

While the new Pakistani cartoon “Burqua Avenger” has gained media attention due to its combination of Islamic veiling—often perceived as sexist—with overt promotion of gender equality, the show’s most insightful statement may be about change in education.

The program follows the adventures of Jiya, a schoolteacher who responds to challenges by transforming into a Burqua-clad superheroine. As the titular alter ego, she uses pens and books as weapons to fight Islamic fundamentalists who want to close a school for girls. The cartoon is being lauded as a form of resistance to the Pakistani Taliban’s repressive standards on education for women.

Gender equality in education has been a flashpoint in Pakistan for years. While literacy has risen steadily, the rate was still only 54.9% nationally by 2009, with just 52% of students reaching grade five. Unsurprisingly, girls have been disproportionately effected, partly because of Pakistani Jihadists’ staunch opposition to female education, typified by the Taliban shooting of teenage education activist Malala Yousafzai.

But the big picture masks significant regional variation. In the Northwestern Frontier Province, where literacy is 50%, only half as many girls as boys attend primary school; by secondary school, five of every six students are male. In Sindh province, on the other hand, female enrolment is actually higher than male enrolment in both primary and secondary schools—for every three boys there are four girls.

At first glance, lack of education parity appears to correlate with hardline religious allegiances. The impoverished Northwest Frontier, a long-standing hotbed of Islamic fundamentalist organizing, has endured the majority of Taliban-related conflict, while Sindh province has seen little of the violence. From this perspective a Burqua-clad, equality-minded schoolteacher could signify a potent political act—the Burqua as a Trojan horse of equality promotion, or reclamation of Muslim identity from the Taliban’s distortions.

No such potent pattern is likely to exist, however, as the connection between education and Islamism is complex. Punjab province, the wealthiest in Pakistan, reports near-perfect gender parity in primary and secondary schooling—and it happens to be the other province where the Taliban has boomed.

In fact, Burquas and repressive Islamism are not that closely connected. Sahar Yameen, a 29-year-old Hyderabad woman now living in Karachi, says the Burqua has taken root in Sindh province as educational equality has improved: “A decade ago young girls didn’t like to wear Burqua…. Nowadays I see young girls/college girls wear this willingly with most modern styles. I think they want to be moderate Muslims. Girls are getting education, moving in society, but… they feel in it safer.”

This appears contradictory, perhaps, to the Western view of the Burqua as oppressive and backward. But Yameen agrees with religious scholar Karen Armstrong, who has called Islamic veiling a reaction to swift installation of Western standards in non-Western societies. In her 2000 book The Battle for God, she identified Burquas as “a tacit critique of the darker side of the modern spirit” and a way for Muslim women to maintain their identity while transitioning from rural traditions to industrialized urban living.

“Burqua Avenger,” in other words, may do more to encourage the large majority of Pakistanis already enjoying relatively strong education than to convince uneducated people of the value of schooling. Indeed, wealthier people may find it easier to see the show at all as they’re more likely to own a TV.

Then again, a 2007 economics study (PDF) documented an upswing in gender equality and education in India after the arrival of cable television. “Introducing cable increases the likelihood of current enrollment for girls by 3.5 percentage points,” the authors wrote, describing a shift over four times larger than the 0.83% increase created by the Pakistani government between 2005 and 2011.

The show could have the same effect in Pakistan, particularly if public interest stays strong. (The creators, Unicorn Black Productions, have said on Facebook, “We are blown away by the overwhelming response.”) By promoting middle-class values to the Pakistanis who do see the show, “Burqua Avenger” might make the show’s tagline a real promise to Pakistan’s Islamist minority: “Don’t mess with the lady in black.”

In any case, the English-subtitled first episode below shows that it sure beats the heck out of Disney.