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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 16 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Two Arab Female Filmmakers Have Been Nominated For An Oscar

New Age Islam News Bureau

16 March 2021

• For Activists in Turkey, the Headscarf Is a Women’s Rights Issue

• Hanan Ashrawi: Palestinian Champion of Women’s Rights

• Madawi Becomes First Licensed Saudi Female Jockey

• Once Again, Pakistan’s Women’s March Is targeted with a Vicious Smear Campaign

• Malala Yousafzai Receives Women Leaders Award

• Tunisia's Gender Violence Law Struggles To Get Beyond Paper

• Somalia Women Drivers Dare Country's Islamists, Conservatives

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Two Arab Female Filmmakers Have Been Nominated For An Oscar


“The Present” by Farah Nabulsi has been nominated for an Oscar. Supplied


March 15, 2021

DUBAI: The Oscar 2021 nominations are finally here, and there are two Arab films competing for an award at this year’s ceremony set to take place on April 25.

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s “The Man Who Sold His Skin” and Palestinian filmmaker Farah Nabulsi’s “The Present” have both been nominated for an Academy Award.

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” is competing in the category of the Best International Feature Film. It is up against Jasmila Zbanic’s war drama “Quo Vadis, Aida?,” the Alexander Nanau-directed “Romania, “'Another Round” from Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg and Kwok Cheung Tsang’s “Better Days.”

Meanwhile, “The Present” is up for the “Best Live Action Short Film” award.

The short film is competing against Doug Roland’s “Feeling Through,” short drama film directed by Elvira Lind “The Letter Room,” “Two Distant Strangers” by Travon Free and the Tomer Shushan-directed “White Eye.”

“The Man Who Sold His Skin,” stars Yahya Mahayni as a Syrian refugee who allows his own body to be turned into a work of art. Part love story, part art-world satire, the film is a complex study of a refugee’s struggle with borders and residency permits.

Inspired by the story of a Swiss national who was tattooed by the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, the film already won Mahayni the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.

“The Present” is a short film that tells the story about a man named Yusef and his daughter who set out in the West Bank to buy his wife a gift.


For Activists In Turkey, The Headscarf Is A Women’s Rights Issue


AKP has viewed headscarf-wearing women as loyalists


Burcu Ozcelik

Mar 16, 2021

Turkey has a long history of pigeonholing women. Women who chose to cover their heads were labelled “backward” and uneducated while those who went uncovered represented the modern ideal of a woman bravely rejecting religious conservatism. The headscarf symbolized the battle between the forces of modernity and arch-conservatism. But for a new generation of women, it is as much a political statement about their rights as about their religion.

Wearing the headscarf was banned in public institutions, including universities, in the early 1980s, but morphed into a women’s rights symbol in the 1990s and 2000s as Muslim women campaigned on university campuses all over Turkey for the right to wear it. Often, the campaigners found themselves doubly isolated. Harassed by the secular authorities and denied public-sector jobs, the wider women’s movement also shunned them as a “single-issue” regressive group.

The battle appeared to be won when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002. Veiled women had worked hard for the party, canvassing door-to-door, but it was another eight years before the ban on head coverings in universities was lifted. Worse, the AKP took full credit for it, trivializing, denigrating or simply ignoring the part played by the many women activists who had strived for years to bring about that outcome.

And now the headscarf – and those who wear it – is again at the centre of a protest movement.

For a long time, the AKP has viewed headscarf-wearing women as loyalists, and in truth, many were. The party is popular among a significant portion of religious women who credit the AKP for making it possible to live their faith openly and for legitimizing Islam as a central pillar of Turkish national identity. Many of these women fear losing those rights if Erdogan were no longer in power.

So it came as a shock to the party to see young, headscarf-wearing women protesting against the appointment in early January of an AKP member as rector of Boğaziçi University, Turkey’s most prestigious seat of learning. Traditionally, rectors are chosen by teaching staff. Students, present and past, and academics alike decried the appointment of Melih Bulu, a former parliamentary candidate for the AKP, as an abuse of political power, an attack on academic freedom and further evidence of Turkey’s diminishing commitment to democracy.

Covered Muslim women were also among those defending a students’ art exhibition that featured a poster depicting Islam’s most sacred site surrounded by LGBT+ flags. Once praised for their piety, they found themselves recast by the authorities as un-Islamic, amoral, unpatriotic puppets of the West. The interior minister denounced them on Twitter as “deviants.”

Sociologist Feyza Akinerdem, a Boğaziçi graduate, summed up the reaction thus: “When a woman in a headscarf is visible or heard in a way that the patriarchy deems politically damaging to their cause, she is denigrated as morally corrupt or as failing her religion.”

In reality, pious women in Turkey – as everywhere in the Middle East – have never been a homogenous bloc. The main opposition party, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) has religious women among its membership. Muslim women took part in the protests against urban development plans for Istanbul’s Gezi Park in 2013 and some joined the left-wing group, Anti-Capitalist Muslims. No one paid them much attention then and things are no better now, they claim.

“I cannot breathe, my friends cannot breathe,” says Seyma Orhan, a literature student at Boğaziçi. “We live in perpetual limbo where we don’t belong in either the government’s neighbourhood or the secular neighbourhood. We are in no-man’s-land.”

Another student, Seyma Altundal, was arrested and handcuffed during the Bulu protest and claims she was not allowed to put her headscarf back on after it fell off. News of her arrest exploded on social media and when she was released later the same day, she posed outside the courthouse making the peace sign with one hand and holding up the index finger of the other, signifying the indivisibility of God. She explained, “We are servants of Allah and not the state and we know Him as the only authority.”

Recent years have seen the emergence of women’s groups and bloggers talking about the challenges of womanhood, motherhood and feminism from a Muslim perspective. In December, the Havle Women’s Association, which claims to be the first Muslim feminist organization in Turkey, hosted an online conference on how Muslim identity is compatible with feminist goals. One of the speakers was Amina Wadud, an American Muslim theologian, known variously as the Lady Imam and the “rock star of Islamic feminists.”

“The Muslim women’s movement evolving into a Muslim feminist movement has expanded the parameters of what is permissible for us to talk about and stand up for,” says Rümeysa Çamdereli, one of the founders of Havle.

Unlike the previous generation of women, who were forced to remove their headscarves if they wanted to work in the civil service, the young Muslim women of today demand the right to express their culture, their religiosity and their dissent. For them, their faith is not incompatible with speaking the truth to unchecked political power.

They have also highlighted the need to keep an eye on the future. Turkey is a young country; more than 15 per cent of the population is aged under 25. It is difficult to gauge the influence this young generation of proudly headscarved women wields, but it is not negligible. As student Seyma Orhan put it, “We may not represent the majority of Muslim women in Turkey today, but we are also more than just a handful.”

Hanan Ashrawi: Palestinian champion of women’s rights

MAR 16, 2021

Hanan Ashrawi, the distinguished Palestinian leader, legislator, activist, scholar, women’s rights advocate and best-known spokesperson for the Palestinian cause in the Western press, quit her senior post in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) at the end of 2020, calling for political reforms.

The daughter of Daoud Mikhael and Wadi‘a As‘ad, Hanan was born in 1946 in Nablus, where her father worked as a physician. The family moved to Tiberias before fleeing to Amman in 1948, eventually settling in Ramallah, where Hanan grew up with her four older sisters Huda, Muna, Abla and Nadia.

Upon graduating from Ramallah’s Friends Girls School, Hanan enrolled in 1964 at the American University of Beirut to study English literature. Here, she joined the local branch of the General Union of Palestinian Students – becoming its spokesperson – and the General Union of Palestinian Women, participated in the activities of several associations, such as the Fifth of June Society, and worked in the social and media fields in Beirut’s Palestinian refugee camps.

Ashrawi’s political activism was inspired by her father, whom she described as an “advocate of women’s rights ... quite progressive,” and a “socialist.” She told the Sojourners magazine in 2005 that her father explicitly told her that, “We raised you not to feel in any way that you are handicapped by your gender or your upbringing, so do not accept to be defined or limited by others.”

She recalls that her parents instructed her to be daring and courageous, speak up and stand up, engage actively in matters of justice, and act on issues important to her according to her own convictions.

Having earned a bachelor’s and a master's of arts in English literature from the American University of Beirut, she traveled in 1969 to the United States, where she continued her graduate studies at the University of Virginia. But she returned to Palestine in 1973, before completing her thesis in comparative and medieval literature, to found Birzeit University’s Department of English Language and Literature, which she chaired until 1978 and again from 1981 to 1984.

While on leave, she returned to Virginia to complete her doctoral thesis, defending it during the 1981-82 academic year.

In 1986, Ashrawi was appointed dean of Birzeit University’s Faculty of Arts and remained in that post until 1995. A founding member of the Committee for Legal Aid and Human Rights, established at Birzeit University in 1974, she was a member of this committee also until 1995. Furthermore, she helped establish Birzeit University’s Professors and Employees Union.

As a Birzeit university faculty member, Ashrawi was frequently the target of harassment by the occupation authorities because she joined demonstrations and strikes organized to protest Israeli soldiers’ violent incursions into the campus or their repeated closures of the university. She was detained for one day on many occasions, frequently on specific dates on which mass protests were organized to commemorate events such as the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip on June 5, as well as the issuing of the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2 in 1917.

Ashrawi’s political and advocacy engagement has been a lifelong pursuit. She was a member of the political committee of the first popular intifada that erupted in December 1987.

Entrusted by the PLO leadership, she then became a member of the Palestinian delegation that met with then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker before the opening of the Madrid Peace Conference in October 1991.

Subsequently and during the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations in Washington, Ashrawi acted as the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation, headed by Haydar Abd al-Shafi, articulating the Palestinian quest for statehood to the world. She also served as a member of the delegation’s steering committee.

In January 1996, Ashrawi was elected a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), representing Jerusalem, and headed the council’s political subcommittee for one year and the Legislative Reform Committee between 2000 and 2005.

Between 1996 and 1998, she served as the minister of higher education and scientific research, resigning from her post to protest the Palestinian Authority's (PA) failure to implement government reform plans and due to differences with the Palestinian leadership over the conduct of peace negotiations. In 2006, she was reelected to the PLC, representing the list "the Third Way," headed by Salam Fayyad.

A champion of women’s rights, she was in 2009 the first woman to be elected a member of the PLO’s executive committee where she also served as head of the Culture and Information Department. In 2018, she was reelected, heading its Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy until her resignation in December 2020.

The timing of the news

Ashrawi did not provide an explanation for her resignation from the PLO Executive Committee but did say that the committee had been marginalized. “I believe it is time to carry out the required reform and activate the PLO in a manner that restores its standing and role, which includes respecting the Executive Committee’s mandate rather than marginalizing and excluding this body from decision-making,” Ashrawi said in her resignation letter.

“The Palestinian political system needs renewal and must be reinvigorated through the inclusion of youth, women, and further qualified professionals,” she added.

Sama Aweidah, the general director of the Women’s Studies Centre human rights organization, commented on Ashrawi’s resignation, saying: “I’m sure that Dr. Hanan has good reasons for resigning. She is not a careless person and takes no decision lightly. Dr. Hanan refused to accept that the PLO Executive Committee was prevented from playing a meaningful role and that all decisions were taken by the president’s circle. I certainly respect her position and agree that she should not accept such an inactive role.”

Aweida added: “Dr. Hanan means a lot to me. When in 1978, I was dismissed for political reasons from the University of Jordan, Dr. Hanna Naser (the exiled president of Birzeit University, who was living in Amman) was very supportive and recommended that I meet with Dr. Hanan once I was back in Palestine. I did, and she was very reassuring and helped me enroll in Birzeit University without any obstacles.

“Moreover, Dr. Hanan has always supported women and stood by feminist organizations, participating in their activities and advocating for their demands at various levels. To me, like every Palestinian woman, Dr. Hanan is truly an example of a strong woman. She is one of the women who have proven that women can make their voices heard,” Aweida asserted.

When asked about his opinion on Ashrawi’s sudden resignation, business consultant, writer and activist Sam Bahour said: “I have a lot of respect for Dr. Ashrawi. Growing up in the diaspora in Ohio, I knew of her activism in the first intifada that began in 1987. When she made headlines at the 1991 Madrid Conference, I witnessed how impactful she was in articulating our struggle to foreign audiences, especially in the United States. Being a woman, Christian, fluent in English, and rational in her politics carries a lot of weight in the West. As I have lived in Palestine during the last 25 years, I have been able to follow her work more closely. I gained a more nuanced understanding of her character when I watched her operate locally – as tends to be the case with Palestinian leadership figures who are idolized abroad – even though most Palestinian leaders’ engagement with the grassroots is limited.

“Sentimental values aside, Dr. Ashrawi has been part and parcel of the PLO leadership apparatus that has been part of the problem for decades now. Having accepted to go with the flow for so long – even though we can assume that behind closed doors, she was a voice of dissent – her stepping down this late in the game seems more an indication of jumping a sinking ship than real opposition, even though she calls for reforms.

“When I think of her generation of Palestinian leaders, I recall a line I recently read, published in Medium by the writer Sal who wrote that sometimes, the aura of a person becomes more significant than the person itself. I think this applies to many of our movement’s leaders,” Sam concluded.

Her organization legacy

A number of organizations have been founded and headed by Ahsrawi, most significantly the Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights (renamed the Independent Commission for Human Rights in 2007) that aims to protect the individual’s rights in Palestinian legislation and PNA practices; the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) that aims to uphold the principles of democracy and sound governance in Palestinian society and advocates decision-makers and world public opinion regarding the Palestine cause by engaging in dialogue and information exchange; and the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), a civil society movement that seeks to combat corruption and enhance integrity, transparency, and accountability in Palestinian society.

Ashrawi is a board of trustee member of several Arab and international institutions, including Birzeit Universit, the Institute for Palestine Studies, the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) and the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.; she serves on the World Bank’s organizational unit for the Middle East and the northern Africa region.

Several honorary doctorates have been awarded to Ashrawi from a number of Arab and foreign universities, including Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada (2000); the American University in Cairo (2003) and the American University of Beirut (2008).

Among the prizes and medals she has won are the Exceptional Arab Woman Prize for Political Activism from Dubai’s Center for Arab Women’s Studies (2005), Sweden’s Olof Palme Prize (2002), the Sydney Peace Prize (2003), UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Medal (2005) and the French Ordre national du Mérite (2016).

An inspiring figure

Ashrawi will remain a pioneering Palestinian national, political and feminist figure, remembered as one of the outstanding women of Palestine and the Arab world, excelling in politics, diplomacy, the media, academia, culture and on the social level.

Her contributions to the development of Palestinian civil society include the founding of civic institutions and the transmission of the voice of Palestine to the world. Her writings include works on Palestinian literature, literary criticism and articles on Palestinian culture and politics, as well as poems and short stories.

Ashrawi worked tirelessly to bring democracy and gender equality to Palestine and her advocacy for human and women's rights, policy formation, peacemaking, and nation-building efforts have had a significant impact on the region.

One of the most influential women in the Arab world, she will remain an advocate of Palestinian self-determination and peace in the Middle East as she continues to highlight “the importance of raising your voice on behalf of peace, justice, human dignity, and,” as she asserts, “the integrity of life itself.”

* Palestinian author, researcher and freelance journalist; recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers


Madawi Becomes First Licensed Saudi Female Jockey

March 15, 2021

RIYADH — Madawi Al-Qahtani broke into the world of horse racing by becoming the first Saudi woman rider, obtaining jockey license from the Equestrian Square in Janadriyah.

Madawi, who started riding 15 years ago, had earlier secured show jumping training license from the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation.

“Saudi women have determination and persistence, but we lack academies that have race tracks for us to learn and practice, and so we are making our best efforts to compete in open fields,” she said while speaking to

Madawi established the first female horse riding school in the Janadriyah region in 2016. “During my learning days in horse riding, I sustained injuries, but such odds did not prevent me from accomplishing my ambition until I got the license that qualifies me to compete in races.”

Madawi said that her goal is not to win championships, but to train riders in show jumping, endurance and other races. “I participated in show jumping tournaments, the most recent of which was in 2019 when I won the second position,” she added.

Areej Al-Qahtani, sister of Madawi posted a video clip of her sister on social media as she prepared to enter one of the official races at Janadriyah Square, thus becoming the first Saudi woman to obtain a jockey license and participate in horse races in the Kingdom.

Reacting on getting the jockey’s license by Madawi, Areej tweeted: “I am honored to announce, with love and happiness, that my sister, the rider, Madawi Al-Qahtani, has obtained a jockey’s license, so as to become the first Saudi woman to obtain it and become the first jockey to enter the world of racing in the Kingdom...congratulations, my love.”

Several popular social media users celebrated Madawi’s winning of the rare honor. Ahmed Al-Rashed, head of the competitions committee of the Saudi Professional League reacted: “Saudi women are today a partner of the Saudi men in the development of the homeland without discrimination... We are inspired by the Prince of the Youth — Muhammad Bin Salman.”

“The rider Madawi Al-Qahtani has got a jockey’s license as the first woman in the Saudi equestrian history. She recently went to the world of racing, and worked hard to obtain this honor... we are proud of her...,” he added.


Once Again, Pakistan’s Women’s March Is Targeted With a Vicious Smear Campaign

By Allia Bukhari

March 16, 2021

On March 8, dozens of Pakistani women in all major cities took to the streets to highlight discrimination, inequality, violence, abuse, and injustices against them and other marginalized communities in the country. Despite threats and right-wing attacks on the Aurat March last year, the demonstrators were resilient and undeterred in putting forward their demands, which emphasized prioritizing healthcare for women during the pandemic and ensuring protection against patriarchal violence among others. But as is all-too-typical for Pakistan, the women’s day demonstration — on the only day when women voice their concerns in large numbers — was met by resistance and a smear campaign.

A disinformation campaign was unleashed on social media with a doctored video purporting to show “blasphemous” slogans taking over Twitter. The video was even shared by some right-wing TV anchors and journalists without fact-checking. A feminist organization, Women Democratic Front’s (WDF), had its flag misrepresented on social media as that of France to portray the movement as anti-Islam, given the anti-Muslim discourse is on the rise in the European country.

When opponents of the march couldn’t justify their anti-women arguments with reason and intellect, they resorted to propaganda – and that too involving extremely volatile and sensitive sentiments around religion and blasphemy in a society where people have been jailed or even killed over such accusations. Clearly certain quarters will go to any lengths to malign the women’s rights campaign without regard for the repercussions the move may have, including endangering innocent lives. The Pakistani Taliban also threatened the march organizers and demanded that the government prosecute them for blasphemy.

The horrific motorway rape incident last year along with the steady stream of honor killings and forced marriages are a shameful reminder of the country’s collective failure to ensure women’s safety. At a time when cases of violence against women have recently doubled, as revealed by a report titled “Tracking Numbers: State of Violence Against Women and Children in Pakistan,” women’s rights campaigns are crucial to highlight atrocities against them.

On the economic front too, Pakistan is one of those countries where limited opportunities are available for women. Just 20 percent of women are part of the workforce in the country, while the pay gap between men and women has also increased. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report revealed that Pakistan topped the list of countries holding prejudiced views against women; the percentage of people holding at least one sexist bias was the highest in Pakistan of the countries surveyed, at 99.8 percent.

Despite such worrying statistics and the abysmal state of affairs for women, any attempt to empower and speak up for the female population in Pakistan, whether it’s the global #MeToo movement or the annual Aurat March, has largely been met with sheer ignorance, toxic chauvinism, and intolerance from society at large. Misogynistic, hateful comments on social media and demeaning posts become a regular occurrence every Women’s Day. While elsewhere in the world, people celebrate women’s achievements and advocate for their better representation and rights, in Pakistan the moral brigade takes over to issue judgements on what is socially acceptable and what is not, seemingly protecting the non-egalitarian norms and values that have been largely formulated to control and suppress women and gender minorities.

Several factors have contributed to this backlash and hate against women, who are already greatly discriminated against. Opponents term these yearly marches as un-Islamic and “immoral” based on some of the slogans like “mera jism meri marzi” (my body, my choice”) that are used in marches.

In a country where conservative values are central to the national narrative, this phenomenon traces back to the time of independence. With the demand to have a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent, religion became the basis for Pakistan’s very existence. Thus non-egalitarian religious nationalism has always been at the core of society’s values. The rise of fundamentalist leaders, however, especially military dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization and the absence of real democracy, meant that these values got instilled deeper and deeper into the country’s social fabric and were started getting misused to maintain a certain balance of power. Rules have been made by men for men.

Feminist scholars argue that there are “limits to Muslim women’s piety” – again, as defined by men in patriarchal societies – and there is a need to promote the potential for females’ autonomy and liberal freedoms in such societies. Pakistani women are now standing up to intimidation, injustice, and an environment of fear and inequality. They demand autonomy and structural and transformational changes. In doing so, they are seen as challenging male dominance, and are therefore bearing the brunt of online vitriol and smear campaign from all corner


Malala Yousafzai Receives Women Leaders Award

16 Mar, 2021

ISLAMABAD – In commemoration of the International Women’s Day, Pakistani activist, UN Messenger of Peace, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient and the co-founder of Malala Fund, Malala Yousafzai was honoured at the 2nd HUM Women Leaders Award, for her outstanding public service and contributions in the field of education, and for being a symbol and source of hope, courage, determination, and inspiration for girls and women across the globe.

Dr. Maliha Khan, Chief Programming Officer at Malala Fund, who received the accolade on behalf of Malala Yousafzai, who joined the award ceremony via video link at the event hosted at the President’s Secretariat in Islamabad. The honourable President of Pakistan His Excellency Dr. ArifAlvi graced the occasion as the Chief Guest along with various other notable personalities from a diversity of fields.

“I dedicate this award to all the young girls who wish for a bright future, who have a desire to learn and get an education. The pandemic has amplified the education crisis in Pakistan, even more so for girls who continue to pay the highest price Poverty, gender, and marginalisation have intersected to accentuate inequalities, making it harder than ever for girls from poorer, rural households to learn. With Malala Fund and our new projects, it is our mission to prioritise the education of girls with an even greater emphasis during this pandemic, so they can continue to learn during [the pandemic] without hindrance. I hope for a day in Pakistan when every girl is able to go to school, get an education, be able to fulfill her dreams, and lead without fear.” said Malala Yousafzai on receiving the HUM Women Leaders Award.

Co-founded by Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala Fund is working to ensure every girl around the world can access 12 years of free, safe, and quality education. The organisation supports girls’ education programmes in Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Turkey. Inspired by Malala and Ziauddin Yousafzai’s roots as local activists in Pakistan, Malala Fund established the Education Champion Network which invests in education advocates and activists who are challenging the policies and practices that prevent girls from going to school in their communities. Today, Malala Fund supports 57 Education Champions.    

Malala Fund, in its November 2020 report on Girls’ Education and COVID-19 in Pakistan highlights how the pandemic has impacted students and their families in Pakistan, especially girls. Although Pakistan has made significant progress for girls’ education in the last decade, over 12 million girls remain out of school, with only 13% of girls reaching grade nine. Malala Fund Education Champions in Pakistan aim to work closely with federal and provincial governments as well as independent bodies to ensure the safe, gender-responsive reopening of schools, alleviate the economic effects of the pandemic to help families prioritise education, protect education gains and build back Pakistan’s education system with gender at the centre to promote inclusive growth and ensure every girl can learn.


Tunisia's Gender Violence Law Struggles To Get Beyond Paper


When Nadia told police about her husband's violence during a coronavirus lockdown in Tunisia, she nearly lost custody of her daughter, illustrating a chasm between a gender law and enforcement.

Adopted in 2017, the celebrated law greatly expanded the scope of punishable violence against women and in theory provides wide-ranging support to victims, making the country a pathfinder among regional peers.

But getting justice remains a battle without any guarantee of success, due to waning political will and scant funding.

For several years, Nadia, in her forties, weathered threats and mistreatment at the hands of her husband.

With no income of her own, she did not feel she could complain.

"He would do it when drunk, then apologise," Nadia said.

"He left for several months every year to work abroad, so I preferred to do nothing" about the abuse, she added.

But things became intolerable during a three-month lockdown to forestall the spread of the coronavirus a year ago.

"He was stuck in the house, stressed. He drank a lot," Nadia said.

"One day my daughter told me of inappropriate advances" of a sexual nature.

Nadia immediately called the police, who summoned her a few days later.

She was one among many Tunisian women who suffered a surge in violence during the March to June lockdown, as reported cases spiked five-fold, according to authorities.

And cases remain high.

- 'Nearly lost everything' -

But Nadia says she was completely blindsided by what happened next.

While her initial interaction with the police was positive, things quickly turned sour.

Her husband was able to afford a lawyer, while she is destitute and fears he may have bribed the police or magistrates.

The police requested she put together an evidence file herself.

After several weeks without any progress and by now desperate and terrified of losing custody of her daughter, Nadia turned to a women's group for help.

The Association of Women Democrats (ATFD), which provides everything from shelter to legal help, linked her up with a lawyer who found that the police station had not even sent her evidence to court.

The file was then sent to a second magistrate and a few days later her husband was finally arrested.

"Fortunately I found some support," Nadia said.

But by that stage, "I had nearly lost everything, even my daughter."

The 2017 legislation, known as Law 58, was drafted in consultation with women's activists and associations.

In theory, it covers prevention, suppression and protection against violence, along with compensation.

To improve the care of women seeking police protection, the interior ministry has established 130 specialist brigades since 2018.

Specific education on such violence is now provided in police schools, while officers who attempt to discourage women from lodging cases face prison terms.

Several hundred police officers, including many women, have received specialist training in order to lead investigations or enforce restraining orders.

But activists say they still face an uphill slog.

"There is an enormous gap between the law of 2017, which is still very recent, and institutional and social practises," said Yosra Frawes, who heads the ATFD.

Her organisation reports that many more women are seeking support than this time last year.

Enforcement of the law "requires infrastructure, counselling centres, refuges -- but the state has no budget" for such things, Frawes noted.

"The issue of women has disappeared from the public debate" since elections in 2019, when avowedly conservative candidates performed well, she lamented.

A 2018 bid to overhaul Tunisia's inheritance law -- currently based on Islamic law, meaning that women inherit only half of their male siblings' share -- has subsequently foundered.

"We must fight two parallel battles -- those of laws, and those of attitudes", said Frawes, noting that much work still needs to be done in training the police, judges, lawyers and doctors in appropriate responses.


Somalia Women Drivers Dare Country's Islamists, Conservatives


At 19 years old, Asha Mohamed is divorced and drives a taxi in Somalia, defying conventions to support her family in one of the world's most conservative and dangerous countries.

For the past year, the young woman has crisscrossed the capital Mogadishu in her white taxi, with a faux fur throw covering her dashboard.

Her career choice was driven by passion, but also necessity, after she divorced her husband -- whom she married at age 16 - and was left to take care of her two children and her mother.

Taxi driving in Mogadishu is not only typically reserved for men, but is also dangerous in a city where Al-Shabaab Islamists regularly set off car bombs at intersections and security checkpoints.

In a recent blast on February 13, three people were killed and eight wounded.

But car-loving Mohamed, who enjoys playing racing video games on her phone, was not put off.

"In my childhood, it was my passion to be a driver one day, but I was not thinking that I will work as a taxi driver," she told AFP.

She said she had been given the opportunity by a relatively new company called Rikaab taxi.

"The number of women working as taxi drivers were small for security reasons, but... the number of women taxi drivers is gradually growing," said Ilham Abdullahi Ali, the female finance chief at Rikaab Taxi.

However, only three of the company's 2,000 taxis in Mogadishu are driven by women.

Mohamed earns up to $40 a day, allowing her to take care of her family, and hopes that by defying tradition, she can contribute to changing the minds of her countrymen about the role of women.

Clients are often taken off guard when they climb into the white taxi and see Mohamed, wearing light make-up and a colourful hijab, behind the steering wheel.

Sadiq Dahir, a student at the Salaam University, admits he was surprised when he first saw her arrive to pick him up, but that his view has changed.

"Recently I have been using this Rikaab taxi service. Although it is male dominated work I prefer the female taxi drivers because they drive safely and arrive on time."

'Alarming' gender inequality

The Somali capital, situated on a pristine white coastline with turquoise waters, remains dogged by violence a decade after the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab was ousted from the city by African Union peacekeepers fighting alongside government troops.

The 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre's military regime ushered in decades of chaos and civil war.

Thirty years later, the internationally backed federal government has yet to gain full control of the country or hold the first one-person, one-vote ballot since 1969, which had been promised this year.

Even the holding of a complex indirect vote has been delayed by political infighting, which recently led to gun battles between opposing camps in the capital.

Women's rights are low on the list of priorities, and the most recent data, in 2012, showed the country among the bottom four on a United Nations gender equality index.

The report described gender inequality as "alarmingly high", in a country where 98 percent of women have undergone genital mutilation.

"Women suffer severe exclusion and inequality in all dimensions of the index -- health, employment and labour market participation," it noted.

"Somali girls are given away in marriage very young, and violence against girls and women is widespread."



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