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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 16 Aug 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Afghan Female Stars Defy Clerics' Pressure

New Age Islam News Bureau

16 Aug 2013

Photo: Indian Religious leaders are attempting to show their followers that infanticide and gender testing are wrong. [Narinder Nanu/AFP]


 60 Female Beggars Nabbed In Tabuk, Saudi Arabia

 Saudi Council of Engineers Fails To Attract Women

 Somali Woman Says She Was Gang-Raped By African Union Forces

 ‘Domestic Violence Victims Have the Right to Protection Order’

 Indian Religious Leaders Condemn Female Infanticide

 Spoon in Underwear Saving UK Youths from Forced Marriage

 Man Executed In Madinah for Torturing Wife to Death

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Afghan female stars defy clerics' pressure

By Edouard Guihaire

August 16, 2013

KABUL, Afghanistan — Judges on TV talent shows always attract controversy for making or breaking the careers of desperate wannabes -- but for Aryana Sayeed, the job is also a fight for Afghanistan's future.

The glamorous 28-year-old singer is a judge on worldwide hit series "The Voice" that launched in Kabul in May, immediately attracting huge audiences and an array of angry critics.

As a symbol of female independence in a strictly conservative Islamic country, Aryana receives regular death threats and lives in fear of being kidnapped by religious extremists.

On the set outside Kabul where the show is filmed for private channel Tolo TV, armed guards outnumber contestants and have machine guns held at the ready.

"I'm here to make a difference for women," Aryana told AFP. "I want women to have rights, to talk freely, to walk freely, to be able to go shopping when they wish.

"I'm not saying that they have to take their clothes off, or even remove their head scarves. Freedom is being able to live as a human being."

As contestants belt out songs that could propel them to stardom, Aryana nods encouragingly and sways gently -- acutely aware that her every move is studied across the country.

"I have to be so careful as they're constantly checking what you are doing, what you are saying, even how you laugh," she said.

"I said 'I love you' to one contestant because he was so good. He was 15-years-old. Even that caused trouble. People asked 'What did she say? This is not something normal in Afghanistan'."

Aryana was born in Afghanistan before moving to Pakistan as a child and then to Europe. She now divides her time between Kabul and London.

As one of Afghanistan's biggest stars, she has taken a stance against Islamic clerics who insist that women should remain at home and never earn a living of their own.

In one of her songs, Aryana sings "Because I am a woman, I am a slave" against a background of images of women in burqas.

"Women have no rights whatsoever here, so I want to be an example as somebody who is constantly fighting," she said, admitting that her beliefs mean that security concerns dominate her life.

"I have a lot of trouble online, receiving messages from people telling me that they will kill me or that they'll put acid in my face. They tell me to stop singing.

"Kidnapping is something to keep in mind all the time. You'd rather die than be kidnapped. I don't get out a lot."

One young Afghan actress, Benafsha, was stabbed to death last year, and some religious hardliners recently declared a jihad against popular reality shows based on Western hits such as "The X-Factor" and "Pop Idol".

One lawmaker calling for the programmes to be banned branded them "blasphemous and vulgar".

"Islam cannot accept girls and women who become singers, dancers or film actresses," Enayatullah Baleegh, a leading cleric in Pul-e-Khishti mosque in central Kabul, told AFP.

"Our culture and traditions do not allow it. I prefer a woman to wear fabric that covers her body with only her eyes and hands visible. If girls and women choose this life (of singing and acting), it will degrade their dignity."

Actress Fereshta Kazemi, who was born in Kabul but grew up in the United States and returned to Afghanistan only last year, accepts that her profession is often equated with sexual availability.

"Actresses are considered by some to be prostitutes," the 33-year-old told AFP. "My private life outside work is not respected. I get crazy phone calls from people because they think I am available.

"After many months here, it has become very difficult. I feel that I'm being objectified and not human, because I'm choosing a job that is about putting myself out there.

For sociologist Barayalai Fetrat, a lecturer at Kabul University, the challenges that Aryana and Fereshta face exemplify how Islamic conservatives are pushing to regain ground since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 particularly with NATO troops due to leave in 2014.

"As foreign troops pull back, traditionalists who have been largely silent for the past decade -- and who still have strong backing in society -- are reappearing to attack the gains that Afghan women have achieved," he said.

"They are now boldly attacking the rights of women to work in offices, to become artists, or even the right to education.

"The women who have been pioneers in the fight for their rights are now facing more and more pressure and are fearful for their future. Artists like Aryana and Fereshta are the primary targets."

But Fereshta does find some reasons to stay optimistic despite the gloomy outlook and mounting challenges.

After her performance in recently-released film "The Icy Sun", which tackles the taboo subject of rape, she said she was surrounded by admiring fans.

"There were all these girls who came to kiss me. They were happy, because I had made a film that speaks honestly about the situation of women."

Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved.



60 Female Beggars Nabbed In Tabuk, Saudi Arabia

August 16, 2013

TABUK – Sixty women who had formed a begging ring were arrested by Tabuk police in Ramadan, according to a source in the Ministry of Social Affairs. The source added that the ringleader was also arrested, thanks to the police’s intensive crackdown. The beggars, from different countries, had no IDs but a lot of money in their pockets.



Saudi Council of Engineers Fails To Attract Women

August 16, 2013

No more than 50 Saudi female engineers are registered at the Saudi Council of Engineers, according to Hamad Al-Shakawi, the organization’s chairman.

Al-Shakawi described the issue as “shameful” and a poor reflection on the development of existing programs.

“I honestly do not know exactly what problems female engineers face and I do not know what the causes of these issues are, but social status appears to be certainly one of the main reasons because we are a conservative society,” said Al-Shakawi. “Views that the overall work environment in the engineering field does not fit the Saudi woman are not true. We need their engineering creativity at special engineering consulting offices.”

He said there is lack of balance between the number of female graduates in engineering colleges and the need of the labor market for them after graduation.

“The number is shameful and I shall give an example of the University of Dammam, formerly called King Faisal University,” he said. “When the university established a design division, it continued for five years and then closed for a period of another five years, after which it reopened as a college of design by itself.”

What surprised him, he said, is that the number of alumnus barely reached 350 engineers, with an average of 10 to 15 graduate female engineers enrolled each year.

“This means that there are fewer than 1,000 female engineers out of a population of 20 million,” he said. “This is not normal at all, especially that the number of Saudi female engineers enrolled in the council does not exceed 50 engineers.”

Al-Shakawi said that female engineers were invited to form committees in all parts of the Kingdom as a way to encourage interaction with one another and overcome any problems they face.

He also said that the council is about to initiate a process of educational campaigns in schools to demonstrate the importance of engineering departments in general. He noted that the most important act that must be followed to increase the number of female engineers is to make obtaining a license to practice the profession a necessity to prevent intruders in the profession.



Somali Woman Says She Was Gang-Raped By African Union Forces

August 16, 2013

Allegations that a group of African Union soldiers brutally gang-raped a Somali woman earlier this month has reportedly left many outraged in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, prompting protestors and women's rights activists to demand justice.

The Agence France-Presse reports that a Somali woman has accused a group of soldiers from both the Somali national army and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) of abducting, drugging and "repeatedly" raping her.

According to the BBC, the woman is still recovering from the horrific incident in the hospital.

Leadership of AMISOM -- the 17,700-strong African Union force of soldiers from Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda that supports the Somali government -- announced this week that it has launched an investigation into the matter and promised that "appropriate action will be taken once the facts of the case have been established."

"The AU mission strongly condemns any incidents of alleged sexual abuse or exploitation and takes the issue extremely serious as it reiterates the mission commitment to enhancing the safety of women and indeed protecting all Somali citizens," a statement released Wednesday reads.

Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon has also vowed to "ensure that such crimes do not occur again," according to the BBC.

For years, violence against women, including rape and sexual abuse, has been a widespread problem in Somalia, where female genital mutilation is still fairly common. In 2011, the New York Times reported that the United Nations had received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence over a two month span from female residents in Mogadishu alone.

With many displaced people still living in camps following the country's years of conflict and the 2011 famine, activists say that those numbers continue to remain at alarming levels. In 2012, for instance, the UN recorded 1,700 rapes in the capital's 500 camps, per the BBC.

Troublingly, since Somali women fear reprisals from reporting rape or sexual abuse, this number is likely also an underestimate.

In January, a 27-year-old woman in Mogadishu who reported that government security forces had raped her was convicted with the criminal charge of "insulting a state institution." The journalist who interviewed her was also arrested. They were both sentenced to a year in prison but have since been released.

In response to the shocking charges, Fartuun Adan, director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, wrote this in a blog post in February:

This case has sent us all a chilling message that women who dare to report abuse risk this young woman's fate: abusive police interrogations without a lawyer, police threats and intimidation to recant the allegation, public shaming before our country's media, and then an unfair trial capped by a prison term […]

This case is serious step back for us.



‘Domestic violence victims have the right to protection order’

August 16, 2013

PETALING JAYA: Police, welfare officers and NGO representatives must inform victims of domestic violence of their right to an interim protection order (IPO), says the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO).

WAO executive director Ivy Josiah said that despite all the advocacy work done, victims still complained that the police tended to treat such cases as domestic issues and not give protection to them when police reports were made.

“Not all officers give information on the IPO,” she said in a telephone interview yesterday.

On Wednesday, two footages of women being severely beaten up, one by her husband and the other by her ex-boyfriend, went viral on Facebook.

Josiah said the protocol on how the IPO was served should be changed, adding that the IPO should be served to the perpetrator in court.

“If the alleged perpetrator does not turn up in court, the court could subpoena for him to be arrested,” she said, adding that the couple could then go through mandatory marriage counselling.

Currently, she said the IPO was served directly by hand or by post and no one would know if he had received it or understood its meaning.

She said the women’s groups also wanted the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to hold regular meetings to address domestic violence issues and carry out reviews on the Domestic Violence Act for it to be more effective.

Empower executive director Maria Chin Abdullah said the police should treat domestic violence as a criminal case and not just a domestic issue.

“They need to be sensitive to these issues and not just turn victims away,” she said.

Maria said no one deserved to be beaten, regardless of the severity of the issues between couples such as extramarital affairs. “They should sort out their issues without resorting to violence.”

Wanita Barisan Nasional chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said she viewed domestic violence seriously and felt that the court should impose a heavy sentence to ensure that it did not become widespread.

“As a woman and wife, I regret to see the two victims being excessively beaten until it caused public anger, especially among women throughout the country,” she said in a statement yesterday.



Indian Religious Leaders Condemn Female Infanticide

By Altaf Ahmad for Khabar South Asia in New Delhi

August 16, 2013

With India struggling to curb female feticide and infanticide, a widespread practice that is skewing the country's demographics, religious leaders are getting involved in the effort to raise awareness.

Despite stringent laws governing the protection of female children and stern punishments for offenders, an ever-growing number of female infants are aborted due to their sex, and even killed after birth.

According to the government study "Children in India 2012- A Statistical Appraisal", the number of children aged 0-6 declined by 5.05 million from 2001-2011, even as India's overall population increased by 181 million. The decline was sharper for female children (2.99 million) than for male children (2.06 million).

The child sex ratio – the number of girl children per 1,000 male children – showed a declining trend as well, and was "alarmingly low" -- under 900 -- in ten states in the 2011 census.

"There are now 48 fewer girls per 1,000 boys than there were in 1981," the study said.

A sin across faiths

Religious leaders of different faiths agree that the trend is disturbing, and are taking steps to try and combat it.

"Aborting or killing a girl child is an un-Islamic and serious offence, punishable under law," Maulana Hifzur Rehman, imam at India Islamic Cultural Centre Delhi, told Khabar South Asia.

"It is high time for religious leaders to work together and ensure the protection of girls. We will hold awareness camps in educational institutions, public places and urge people to refrain from this un-Islamic activity."

Pandith Akash Pathak, a priest at a Delhi temple, said Hindu clergy are also getting involved.

"Priests in temples will vigorously take up the issue in their sermons and educate people about its long-term implications. Messages by priests in Hindu temples to large gatherings will prove as an effective measure in dealing with this serious problem," he said.

According to Hasan Siddiqui, a comparative religions professor at Jamia Millia Islamia University, deep-seated attitudes are at the root of the problem.

"The masculine domination has controlled the minds of people. Against her free will, women are hated for giving birth to a female child, and a male child is considered as an honour and a sign of pride in the family."

A misuse of technology

Although pre-natal sex determination is illegal in India, the practice continues, leading some parents to terminate pregnancies when they find out the fetus is a girl.

"The misuse of technology in determining the sex has contributed a great deal to the decreasing female population in the country. There is a need to strictly enforce laws governing the protection of female children," media group Network 18 Vice President Shah Raza told Khabar.

Under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act (PNDT) 1994, sex determination is a punishable offence with penalties of up to five years jail and a fine of Rs 50,000 ($840).

"Despite laws [that punish] offenders, government is unable to deal with the problem. The clinical laboratories across India should be brought under round-the-clock surveillance and offenders should be dealt with sternly under the law of the land," Raza said.

Satyamev Jayate (Truth Prevails), India's most influential TV show anchored by Bollywood star Aamir Khan, has helped foster awareness concerning the issue. Its opening episode featured female feticide as a curse common in all religions and cultures across India. The programme highlighted the role of doctors in assisting couples to break the law.

After the programme aired, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh cancelled licences for hundreds of clinical laboratories.

"The widely watched programme should be resumed and social issues like female feticide should be discussed at length and people should be urged to refrain from this sin," said Shabistan Gaffar, chairwoman of the Committee on Girls' Education for the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions.

"Although sex determination has been declared illegal in India, people continue to take recourse to it to fulfil their dream of having a son. Apart from effective monitoring of clinical laboratories, increased awareness especially in remote villages is a must to put a check on the sex determination," she told Khabar.



Spoon in underwear saving UK youths from forced marriage

August 16, 2013

LONDON — As Britain puts airport staff on alert to spot potential victims of forced marriage, one campaigning group says the trick of putting a spoon in their underwear has saved some youngsters from a forced union in their South Asian ancestral homelands.

The concealed spoon sets off the metal detector at the airport in Britain and the teenagers can be taken away from their parents to be searched — a last chance to escape a largely hidden practice wrecking the lives of unknown thousands of British youths.

The British school summer holidays, now well under way, mark a peak in reports of young people — typically girls aged 15 and 16 — being taken abroad on “holiday”, for a marriage without consent, the government says.

The bleep at airport security may be the last chance they get to escape a marriage to someone they have never met in a country they have never seen.

The spoon trick is the brainchild of the Karma Nirvana charity, which supports victims and survivors of forced marriage and honor-based abuse.

Based in Derby, central England, it fields 6,500 calls per year from around Britain but has almost reached that point so far in 2013 as awareness of the issue grows.

When petrified youngsters ring, “if they don’t know exactly when it may happen or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear,” said Natasha Rattu, Karma Nirvana’s operations manager.

“When they go though security, it will highlight this object in a private area and, if 16 or over, they will be taken to a safe space where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they’re being forced to marry,” she told AFP.

“We’ve had people ring and that it’s helped them and got them out of a dangerous situation. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do with your family around you -- but they won’t be aware you have done it. It’s a safe way.”

The charity is working with airports — so far London Heathrow, Liverpool and Glasgow, with Birmingham to come — to spot potential signs, such as one-way tickets, the time of year, age of the person and whether they look uncomfortable.

“These are quite general points, but there are things that if you look collectively lead you to believe something more sinister is going on,” said Rattu.

People who come forward can be escorted out of a secure airport exit to help outside.

Marriages without consent, or their refusal, have led to suicides and so-called honor killings, shocking a nation widely deemed to have successfully absorbed immigrant communities and customs.

Officials fear the number of victims coming forward is just the tip of the iceberg, with few community leaders prepared to speak out and risk losing their support base.

One woman, whose identity was protected by Essex Police in southeast England, was forced to get married in India.

She said she was threatened by her father “because he said if I thought about running away he would find me and kill me”.

“I was shipped off with a total stranger.

“That night I was raped by my husband and this abuse continued for about eight and half years of my life.”

She eventually fled.

Last year, the Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with some 1,500 cases — 18 percent of them men.

A third of cases involved children aged under 17. The oldest victim was aged 71; the youngest just two. The cases related to 60 countries: almost half were linked to Pakistan, 11 percent to Bangladesh, eight percent to India, and two percent to Afghanistan. Other countries were Somalia, Turkey and Iraq.

Calls to Karma Nirvana tend to spike before the British school summer holidays and again at the end, said Rattu.

“The holidays are a really good time for young people to go missing because there is nobody accounting for where they are at school,” she said. Since Ramadan ended last week, calls have risen again, including one from an 18-year-old who has fallen pregnant and her family is trying force her into marriage to conceal it.

Burdened by South Asian codes of “izzat”, or family honor, youngsters can be under extreme physical and emotional duress to marry relatives in a culture and country they were not brought up in.

If they refuse, they are often threatened with being thrown out of the family -- or worse.

“It really takes a brave person to stand up against their family,” said Rattu. — AFP



Man executed in Madinah for torturing wife to death

August 16, 2013

Authorities in Madinah on Thursday executed a citizen convicted of torturing his wife to death, the Saudi Press Agency said.

Fawzi Al-Khaibari was found guilty of beating and burning his wife with an iron before “crushing her skull” and leaving her to die, said the report, quoting an Interior Ministry statement.

It was the first execution in the Kingdom since July 8, two days before the start of Ramadan, which ended last week.

A total of 58 people have now been executed in Saudi Arabia since the start of the year, according to an official count. In 2012, the Kingdom executed 76 people.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are punishable by death under the Kingdom's laws.