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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 3 Sept 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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China Offers Reward for Mixed Marriages in Restive Xinjiang

New Age Islam News Bureau

3 Sept 2014

 A Chinese wedding couple pose with the bridal car as they arrive for a reception at a hotel in Urumqi, in China's Xinjiang region. (File photo: AFP)



 The Lives of the British Jihadi Women Who Have Left To Fight with Islamic State

 Stop Harbouring Torturers of Women: Bangladesh Mahila Parishad

 Iran VP Says Banning Women from Café Work Will Boost Joblessness

 Gender Segregation Violates the Rights of Women in Iran

 Jimmy Carter Decries Global Abuse against Women

 92 Talented Saudi Female Students Sit for Academic Accelerating Exams

 Women-Only Medical College in Jeddah

 Woman in Social Media Outburst at Yogyakarta (Indonesia) Set Free

 Britain Bans American Apparel Ads for Sexualizing Schoolgirls

 'Thousands' at risk from FGM in Greater Manchester

 Fighting Against Forced Marriages in Niger

 Campaigning For a Child Marriage-Free Tanzania

 India: Nursing Home Owner Held for ‘Forcing’ Woman to Convert

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





China Offers Reward for Mixed Marriages in Restive Xinjiang

Sep 3, 2014

A city in China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang is offering cash rewards and welfare benefits for marriages between minority ethnic groups and majority Hans to promote unity in the province hit by Islamic militancy.

Xinjiang’s Qiemo county government announced an annual cash reward of 10,000 Yuan (USD 1,627) for five years for mixed marriage couples besides welfare benefits but sceptics argued that it may not work.

“We are no longer publicising the policy, but we will still go ahead with it,” an official from the county’s government office told state-run Global Times. The policy offers family members of mixed marriage couples privileged access to housing, education, employment and welfare benefits.

Ninety per cent of these couples’ medical expenses after insurance fees will be covered by the local government. Their children will also be exempted from school fees within the county until high school, while an annual 5,000 Yuan scholarship will be given to those who reach university.

Their parents will also be eligible for housing and medical benefits if their marriage lasts longer than three years. The scheme was announced as Xinjiang witnessed a spate of attacks, which China blames on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an al-Qaeda backed outfit fighting for independence of the province.

“The intention of the policy is good, but it has to be carefully implemented,” said Li Xiaoxia, a professor with the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences. “It might end up strengthening ethnic identity and create social pressure on (mixed-race) families,” he said.

Li said such mixed marriages are rare in Xinjiang and are not likely to spread. The new move, mirroring similar cash incentives offered

in Tibet, is believed by some to be a measure to ease social conflicts amid increasing incidence of terrorist attacks in the region.

However, analysts believe the policy will remain limited to the single county and is unlikely to spread across Xinjiang. “I put a call into a Xinjiang official immediately after I heard the news, and he said he disapproves of the policy,” said Pan Zhiping, a research fellow with the Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences.

“Marriage is a personal freedom and cannot be encouraged using money. We should not stop mixed marriages, but neither should we encourage them (through policy),” Pan said.



The Lives of the British Jihadi Women Who Have Left To Fight with Islamic State

Sep 3, 2014

Women are the new target for recruitment for the Islamic State (IS), with researchers seeing "unprecedented" calls for fighters to marry British and European women.

The women, some just teenagers, are bombarding IS fighters with marriage proposals during social media 'Q&As' and researchers estimate as many as 50, most of them British, could have already gone to join fighters in Syria and Iraq.

Four women from the UK have been identified by experts for the first time this week, though they are believed to have been in Syria together since early this year and tweet in English from the country.

"We found a gang of four girls who appear to be living near each other in Raqqa [an IS stronghold which is the town closest to where US journalist James Foley was beheaded]," said Melanie Smith, a research associate at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), King's College, who monitors the recruitment of women by Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS.

"Usually, it is hard to tell if they are British, if they tweet in English, but these girls were using particularly British slang. We don't know where they are from but they have been there since around February, and they don't appear to have known each other before they went out.

Women are the new target for recruitment for the Islamic State (IS), with researchers seeing "unprecedented" calls for fighters to marry British and European women.

The women, some just teenagers, are bombarding IS fighters with marriage proposals during social media 'Q&As' and researchers estimate as many as 50, most of them British, could have already gone to join fighters in Syria and Iraq.

Four women from the UK have been identified by experts for the first time this week, though they are believed to have been in Syria together since early this year and tweet in English from the country.

"We found a gang of four girls who appear to be living near each other in Raqqa [an IS stronghold which is the town closest to where US journalist James Foley was beheaded]," said Melanie Smith, a research associate at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), King's College, who monitors the recruitment of women by Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS.

"Usually, it is hard to tell if they are British, if they tweet in English, but these girls were using particularly British slang. We don't know where they are from but they have been there since around February, and they don't appear to have known each other before they went out.

Full report at:



Stop harbouring torturers of women: Bangladesh Mahila Parishad

Sep 3, 2014

Bangladesh Mahila Parishad yesterday urged the political parties to stop harbouring the persons who are accused of torturing women.

BMP, which works for women's rights, also urged the administrations, elected bodies and citizen organisations to work together to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against women.

The demands came at a discussion on “International CEDAW Day on 3rd September” in the capital's Cirdap auditorium. The day will be observed across the world today.

BMP International Affairs Secretary Rekha Saha presented a keynote paper on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

She placed some recommendations including the withdrawal of the reservation about articles 2 and 16.1 of CEDAW, as implementation of those, what they say, can play a role to protect women's rights.

Some other recommendations include proper implementation of the government-ratified articles of CEDAW, and formation of required laws and principles.

Salma Khan, former chairperson of Bangladesh CEDAW committee to the UN, said the state should implement the CEDAW articles, as those were consistent with the articles of the constitution.



Iran VP Says Banning Women From Café Work Will Boost Joblessness

Sep 3, 2014

Banning Iranian women from working as waitresses to preserve their modesty will only deepen female unemployment, an Iran vice president said of the latest effort to make women less visible in the workplace.

“We need to approach this matter with care and expertise,” said Shahindokht Molaverdi, the vice president for women’s affairs, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. “To close the road for these women without providing any other options in return will make them prey to social difficulties.”

Police commander Khalil Helali announced last week that Iranian women “by law” aren’t permitted to work in public areas of tea houses, coffee shops and restaurants, the Tehran-based Shargh newspaper reported. They may work in kitchens and other areas, the Etemaad newspaper said.

Attempts to restrict the presence of women in the workplace have come at a time when one of five Iranian women is jobless, according to government data. Last month, Mohsen Kazemeini, Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards commander called for sweeping gender segregation in offices, saying it is distasteful “for men and women to sit next to each other all day and joke.” In July, the Tehran municipality fired several women and replaced them with men, saying work hours were long and the move was in their best interest, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported at the time.

Iranian unemployment of 10.5 percent reflects a jobless rate of 9.1 percent among men and 18.9 percent among women. President Hassan Rouhani, who took office a year ago, pledged to strive for equal work opportunities for women and back their increased participation in Iranian society.



Gender Segregation Violates the Rights of Women in Iran

Sep 3, 2014

The recent sharp exchange during a press conference between Morteza Talai, Deputy Chairperson of the Tehran City Council, and a female journalist from Sharq newspapers over Talai’s support of a recent gender-segregation initiative in the Municipality of Tehran, reflects the intensifying struggle between hardliners intent on controlling the domestic sphere and more moderate elements of Iranian society who resist relinquishing their basic rights.

The initiative separates men and women’s offices in the municipality and limits women’s access to managerial and clerical positions. Talai, who was clearly angered by the journalist’s persistent criticism of the policy, accused her of “compromising her dignity.” The incident received considerable attention by the media inside and outside Iran as the latest manifestation of hardliners’ recent measures to enforce more conservative rules in the country and regulate women’s presence in the public sphere.

Since the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been enforcing gender segregation  regulations in certain public spaces such as schools (from primary to high school), sports centers, and public transportation. Although there is not comprehensive nationwide legislation regarding gender segregation in Iran, various organizations have adopted internal rules to ensure it is observed.  When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005, gender segregation gained more attention by the authorities.

In 2011, his administration formed The Committee of Protection of Modesty and Hijab to draft a series of regulations which would enforce their interpretation of modesty in public spaces, which included gender segregation in workplaces. However, the policy was not enforced and many governmental and non-governmental offices did not adopt it.  However, during the last few weeks, gender segregation has again turned into a leading issue, with the decision by Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, to order the separation of his male and female employees in the municipality.

Ghalibaf’s decision is facing strong opposition by progressive journalists, civil and women’s activists, and officials such as Shahindokht Molaverdi, Vice President of Women’s Affairs in Rouhani’s cabinet. She criticized Ghalibaf’s initiative and explicitly asserted that the administration does not approve of gender segregation in the workplace. Ghalibaf’s comments also angered social media users on Facebook and Twitter, who expressed their dissatisfaction and ridiculed the move.

To date, however, despite the fact that this policy has the potential to profoundly affect the livelihood of all women across Iran who work in various governmental offices, there has not been a significant outcry beyond these largely liberal and middle class segments of society.

In a speech at Tehran Friday prayers, Ghalibaf defended his decree in the name of dignity and Islamic discipline. He said: “We are an Islamic system and have a religious dignity and we should not let unrelated men and women intermingle [in the workplace] more than they spend time with their family members.”

He also claimed that gender segregation is for the good of Iranian women and that they support his segregation projects. Ghalibaf’s actions and remarks were welcomed by Iranian hardliners who control the Parliament, the Judiciary, and the intelligence and security organizations. This widespread power grants hardliners an upper hand in pursuing their conservative agenda in domestic affairs, despite the large electoral victory of the more centrist Rouhani.

The extent to which other municipalities will follow Tehran’s model is as yet unclear. The municipality of Ardabil in Northwestern Iran, known for the religiosity of its residents, also ordered the separation of men and women in the workplace. The mayor of Ardabil argued that this arrangement would increase efficiency and security in the organization.

However, in Mashhad, one of Iran’s major cities and the site of one of its most sacred Shiite shrines, a City Council member brushed away the idea and told reporters that “the Council has not approved any such policy as of yet.” In the absence of an institutionalized policy, gender-segregation is usually enforced locally and arbitrarily, and in most cases it is solely based on decisions taken by the head of an organization.

At the time the segregation initiative was introduced, it was reported that Tehran’s municipality dismissed an unidentified number of female employees holding secretarial and managerial positions, all of whom were to be replaced by male personnel. Farzad Khalafi, Media Affairs Deputy of Tehran’s Municipality, told reporters that management is a “time consuming and lengthy job” and therefore this was “for the comfort and well-being of the women”.

Though it is not known how many employees were dismissed, the number of women potentially affected is great: the Municipality of Tehran’s website states it has 8,275 female employees (14.9% of all employees). Mohammad Taqi Hosseini, the Deputy of Minister of Labor, criticized the dismissal of female employees in an official letter and called it “discrimination based on gender,” and against international conventions, but he did not directly question the segregation policy.

Despite Rouhani’s position opposing discrimination against female employees and gender segregation, his administration has largely refrained from taking on the hardliners on gender issues. It is unclear whether this reflects fear of a harsh backlash from the hardliners and thus unwillingness to confront them, or simply a preference to concentrate for now on what they see as the more pressing issue of moving forward with the P5+1 nuclear negotiations. Regardless, there has been little challenge to the conservatives’ violations of the civil rights of Iranian citizens.

Gender segregation regulations during the past 35 years have been a pretext to deprive Iranian women of access to high-ranking positions, such as the presidency and judgeships. Women are also barred from attending certain public spaces such as sports stadiums. During the last few years, hardliners have also limited women’s access to higher education institutions and programs.

In 2012, the state excluded women from 77 majors in specific universities, including management, mathematics, physics, and computer engineering. Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, condemned the measure as “part of the recent policy of the Islamic Republic, which tries to return women to the private domain inside the home as it cannot tolerate their passionate presence in the public arena.”

Women and men’s mingling in public and private spheres has also been a concern for the government since the 1979 revolution, although the level of enforcement has ebbed and flowed depending on the administration, reflecting the lack of comprehensive institutionalized legislation on the matter.

The police have regularly raided private parties to arrest young men and women solely for having a mixed gathering. Questioning men and women’s relationship on the streets by morality police (a branch of security forces co-directed by the Revolutionary Guards and Interior Ministry) and arresting them if not related has been a common phenomenon.

Iranian conservatives’ recent concentration on social and cultural issues such as gender segregation in the middle of the ongoing political and economic crises faced by the country is seen by many as a reaction to Hassan Rouhani: while hardliners have not been able to prevent Rouhani’s foreign policy initiatives and his efforts to improve the country’s relations with the West, they are determined not to lose their power to their moderate opponents in the domestic sphere.

As such they seek to secure their dominance over interior affairs by implementing more conservative policies. It is yet to be seen whether Rouhani’s administration will take concrete and meaningful steps against such measures. If not, women across Iran will pay the price of these violations of their basic rights.

Women’s Rights Activist and Journalist



Jimmy Carter decries global abuse against women

Sep 3, 2014

DETROIT — Worldwide abuse of women and girls is “the most terrible human-rights violation on Earth,” and the United States is not immune, former President Jimmy Carter said Saturday during an address to the convention of the Islamic Society of North America.

Among the grave statistics Mr. Carter cited during his speech before an audience of more than 3,000 in Cobo Hall is the routine strangulation of infant daughters, particularly in poor countries because poverty impels some families to desire sons for economic support when the parents grow old.

“At this moment, now missing from the face of the Earth are about 160 million girls because their parents strangled their daughters at birth,” Mr. Carter said.

Besides poverty, he said, “the second cause is in China and India, the two largest countries on Earth, the government mandates small families: one [child] is best; two is most.”

In the United States, Mr. Carter said, there are now “60,000 people living in human bondage. Slaves. In the United States of America. These kinds of things grieve me very much, but I realize the same problem exists in other nations and other problems as well.”

Abuse is “basically ignored or condoned by the leaders in many countries,” Mr. Carter said. The Carter Center’s goal is “to turn that around and give women equal rights.”

After he spoke, more than two dozen Muslim leaders from the United States and other countries joined him in signing a declaration promoting peace and equality for women.

Learning that “160 million girls and women were killed by their parents or their families was very striking to me,” said Abdel-Wahab Soliman of Toledo. “I think it is very good that an American president was willing to talk about human rights issues and the crises all over the world. It’s very important.”

Other examples of abuse to women, Mr. Carter said, are genital mutilation, sexual assault in U.S. colleges and the military, and when underaged girls are forced into marriage .

During the hourlong session, Mr. Carter had words of both action and faith, drawn from the work focused on by his Carter Center, and much of it expanding on his current book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.

Before his talk on women’s equality being a human right, Mr. Carter spoke at a luncheon for 1,100 people recognizing community service leaders nationwide. He highlighted the Carter Center’s work.

“We don’t duplicate what other people do,” he said, “we just fill vacuums in the world, and one of those vacuums is peace, particularly in the Middle East. One of our endless commitments at the Carter Center is to bring peace to the Middle East.”

He said the Carter Center has full-time offices in Jerusalem, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, and in the Gaza Strip, and that the Carter Center’s position matches that of “the United Nations, United States government, and all the European countries and most countries on Earth, and that is that Israel should withdraw from all the occupied territories to the 1967 borders.”

He said that one part of the historic peace accords he negotiated at Camp David in 1978 hasn’t had “one word” violated, but Israel has not honored the agreement regarding Palestine.

“You can’t bring peace to Israel and Palestine without justice and human rights for the Palestinians,” he said. “And when my prayers are answered and we have peace in that holy land, then the Israelis as well as all their neighbors will be blessed by a chance to live in peace and prosperity, where human rights and freedom and democracy can again prevail.”

Northwest Ohioan Samiya Hasan said she was thrilled that Mr. Carter spoke at the convention.

“When I was in school, because I was a debater and I was involved in coalitions and other stuff,” she said, “they used to call me ‘Jimmy Carter.’ I was in medical school at that time, and it was such a great honor” because she said she considers Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Carter “the most idealistic presidents for me.”

Dr. Hasan is a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Pakistan.

A Saturday evening session, “Generations Rise: Elevating Muslim-American Culture,” took place with the president of ISNA, Imam Mohamed Magid, and four others speaking about advancing Islam and its people in America.

The session took place without the scheduled “secret special guest,” the 20th sultan of Sokoto, Amirul Mu’minin Sheikh as Sultan Muhammadu Sa’adu Abubakar III, who is considered to be the spiritual leader of the 74.6 million Muslims in Nigeria.

Because of the crisis concerning Ebola in West Africa, the sultan remained in Nigeria, said Syed Mohiuddin, adviser to the convention steering committee.



92 talented Saudi female students sit for academic accelerating exams

Sep 3, 2014

Some 92 talented female students are sitting for the academic accelerated program jointly organized by the Talented Care Program and Academic Progress Evaluation Unit.

The students are representing primary (31), intermediate (12) and secondary schools (49). The exams are intended to give talented and qualified students the chance to be promoted to a higher level than the one they were meant to attend.

Samira Al-Sheabi, assistant director-general of education in Riyadh, made a tour of the exam halls in a gesture of support to the students.

Maha Falata, director of the Talented Care Program said they held an awareness meeting with the students and their families recently to acquaint them with the exams and the accelerated program.

Meanwhile, Iman Al-Otaibi, the exams coordinator, said the primary students would be examined in Arabic, Islamic studies, Social Education, Science, and Mathematics while English will be an added subject for intermediate students. In addition to the above disciplines, the secondary school students will have additional subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology.



Women-only medical college in Jeddah

Sep 3, 2014

JEDDAH — The College of Science and Health Professions at King Saud Bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences intends to open a medical college for women in Jeddah. Associate professor at the university, Dr. Adnan Al-Sheikh, said all preparations are completed for the opening of the college to accommodate graduates of the preparatory program who wished to complete their education the medical field. He noted studies are also under way for launching dentistry and pharmaceutical colleges, adding the College of Science and Health Professions is expected to accommodate 500 students of both genders this year. “The college is expected to bridge the health sector’s needs with the cooperation of universities in the US and Australia,” he said.



Woman in Social Media Outburst at Yogyakarta (Indonesia) Set Free

Sep 3, 2014

Jakarta. Police in Yogyakarta have released a woman arrested over the weekend in connection with an offensive post that she put up on social media about the city, amid mounting condemnation of her detention.

Florence Sihombing, 26, a postgraduate student at Yogyakarta’s Gadjah Mada University, was released on Monday afternoon after the UGM School of Law formally requested a stay of detention.

Police granted the request after the school gave its guarantee that Florence would cooperate in the investigation of alleged defamation, according to Heribertus Jaka Triyana, the secretary of the law school’s ethics committee.

Florence was reported to police last week by Yogyakarta-based non-governmental organization Jati Sura after she called Yogyakarta “poor, stupid and uncultured” in a post she published on the social networking site Path.

“In the near future, we’ll also educate her,” Heribertus said as quoted by Tempo. co, but did not elaborate.

Florence, meanwhile, issued another apology for her social media ire, after the UGM law school earlier posted her apology to the public.

“I’m again asking for forgiveness for the wrong things I’ve said, to the people of Yogyakarta, to the sultan, and I hope you will forgive me,” she said upon her release at the Yogyakarta Police headquarters.

She was accompanied by Heribertus and her parents.

Heribertus also issued an apology on behalf of the UGM law school faculty.

Yogyakarta Police special crime director Sr. Comr. Kokot Indarto said the UGM president, Pratikno, had come to meet the Yogyakarta police chief to discuss Florence’s case.

Pratikno, according to Kokot, wants the UGM ethics commission to deal with Florence’s social media outburst internally.

Legal charges against her, though, will continue, and she may be summoned anytime for other police inquiries.

Florence is also obliged to report to the Yogyakarta Police every Monday and Thursday while the investigation proceeds, Kokot said.

On the Path status that soon went viral in Indonesia’s social media sphere, Florence wrote: “Jogja is poor, stupid and uncultured. Friends in Jakarta and Bandung, please don’t stay in Jogja.”

She later explained that she wrote it because she was infuriated after trying to fill up her motorcycle with gasoline at a Pertamina gas station in Yogyakarta, only to be barred from using the lane for cars and unwilling to wait in the much longer line for motorcycles.

Her post elicited a barrage of criticism and abuse from the online community, and her apology did little to ease the ire.

However, her arrest on Saturday, after police deemed her uncooperative in the defamation probe sparked by Jati Sura’s complaint, won Florence some sympathy.



Britain bans American Apparel ads for sexualizing schoolgirls

AFP | Sep 3, 2014

LONDON: Britain's advertising watchdog on Wednesday banned two adverts by clothing brand American Apparel for being offensive and normalizing sexually predatory behaviour.

The adverts showed a model wearing a pleated school-style skirt bending over, with a low camera angle revealing her underwear.

Two people had complained about the adverts, saying as they were inappropriate for a skirt advertised as school wear. The adverts also attracted criticism on social media when they first appeared.

"We considered the images were gratuitous and objectified women, and were therefore sexist and likely to cause serious and widespread offence," the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.

The watchdog said the images "imitated voyeuristic 'up-skirt' shots which had been taken without the subject's consent" and therefore had the potential to normalize "predatory sexual behaviour".

"From the context in which the ads appeared, it was likely that those who viewed them would understand that the model was, or was intended to appear to be, a schoolgirl," the watchdog said.

"We considered the ads had the effect of inappropriately sexualizing school-age girls and were therefore offensive and irresponsible."

American Apparel defended the adverts, saying the model was a 30-year old woman, that the ads were not pornographic, and that they had appeared only briefly on the company's website and Instagram page.

It also said the images were not part of a back to school campaign, but this was disputed by the ASA which said the ads had featured in its "school days" collection of photographs.

Known for its racy advertising, American Apparel ousted its founder and CEO Dov Charney in June following an investigation into alleged misconduct and a series of sexual harassment allegations.



'Thousands' at risk from FGM in Greater Manchester

Sep 3, 2014

Up to 2,000 girls are believed to be at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Greater Manchester, the area's police and crime commissioner has said.

Tony Lloyd said the practice was "barbaric" as he campaigned to raise awareness and support victims.

In the past two days, officers intercepted 20 families at Manchester Airport, mostly on flights from Africa.

Police are also investigating cases in Wigan and Bury and have reports of girls at risk in Trafford.

FGM involves procedures that include the partial or total removal of the external female genital organs for cultural or other non-medical reasons.

Although banned in the UK, thousands of girls are subjected to FGM each year, with Greater Manchester identified as one of six "hotspots" in the UK.

Based on intelligence from community members, officers stopped specific families at Manchester Airport returning on flights from countries such as Somalia.

Det Insp Jeremy Pidd said: "We simply say to them, 'have you had this procedure done, how are things, you've been out in a risk area with a risk child for an awfully long time, have you had any problems, have you had this done?'.

"Based on their reaction and if there are grounds to do so, we may take that further."

Jaria Hussain-Lala from the Greater Manchester FGM Forum says it does incredible damage.

"The health impacts are immense. We have to remember it's mainly carried out by medically untrained professionals.

"One of the other issues is that the same instruments are used to cut several girls."

The practice is particularly common in some African, Asian and Middle Eastern communities, but has become increasingly prevalent across the UK.

Mr Lloyd has made tackling FGM one of his priorities as police and crime commissioner. He said it was "tantamount to child abuse".

"It is illegal, life-threatening and has a long-term emotional and physical impact on young victims. In short, it is barbaric.

"It is a very secretive practice, with many victims suffering in silence. We all - police, health and education services and councils - have a responsibility to bring this issue into the spotlight and protect vulnerable members of our communities."

As part of the campaign, Greater Manchester Police, health services and all 10 councils have signed up to support victims and educate those who work with vulnerable children.

Frontline staff will be taught how to spot the signs of FGM, identify vulnerable young girls and how to protect and help girls at risk.



Fighting against forced marriages in Niger

Sep 3, 2014

Niger has the one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world. In some rural areas, girls are still considered to be heir parents’ property. But some girls are fighting back - with desperate measures.

In the deserted, slightly grimy restaurant, Zeinabou Moussa is sitting on a wobbly plastic chair, nervously pulling at her headscarf. Although she is a slight girl, who averts her eyes every time she's asked a question, the 16-year old commands respect and fear in the male translator, sitting besides her. After all, she is Zeinabou, or as many call her now "the penis biter."

Without looking up, Zeinabou reveals why she is known as such. It was because of her desperate plan to fight back, should her newly-wed husband try to rape her. "I thought if I bit him really hard, he would let me go."

Zeinabou was 15 and a student in Yekoua, a small village in southern Niger, when her parents decided to marry her off against her will. She was forced to abruptly end her schooling in order to become her parents’ neighbor’s second wife. Although she didn’t really know anything about sex, Zeinabou said, she did have at least a vague notion of the male anatomy, thanks to several friends.

She had run away no fewer than four times, spent a night hidden away in a derelict house, even escaped to the local capital - only to be beaten by her parents and returned to her husband. And so, when Mustafa Sanoussi, the husband she didn't want, tried to force himself upon her following her last futile escape, she bit his penis, hard. "He fainted," Zeinabou said smiling.

Child Marriages 'are forced marriages'

Zeinabou is one of countless Nigerien children, some as young as ten or eleven, who are taken out of school and married off every year in Niger. The world's least developed country has one of the highest rates of child marriages in the world. According to figures published by the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, 76 percent of all girls under 18 are married in Niger. Child marriages, according to the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, constitute forced marriages and are outlawed.

The consequences of early marriages can be devastating: An end to an education which could offer girls a better chance of escaping poverty and illiteracy, as well health problems, including complications following painful births for which their teenage bodies are not yet ready.

While forced marriages continue in rural areas, things are improving in Nigerien urban centers, says Dodo Ouma Abani. She heads the local branch of a small human rights organization funded by international donors, called SOS Femmes et Enfants Victimes de Violence Familiale.

The organization provides shelter to women in need in Niger's capital Niamey and runs outreach programs in the provinces. Abani and her colleagues have been working hard to change local attitudes and persuade parents that their daughters have a right to a childhood and education. The organization also supports young girls and women filing for a divorce, accompanying them to local judges and traditional leaders.

So far this year, Abani has been able to help annul three cases of forced marriage. Although local judges and traditional tribal leaders are mostly supportive of the move, many women in rural areas are still afraid to speak up against their conservative culture that undermines their rights, said Abani’s colleague Maman Salissou Zakari.

"In those areas, people still believe that their child is their property which they can give away when and to whom they want."

At last, divorce

In urban areas, people have begun to understand that their children have a right to marry whoever they want, Zakari added. "It's a universal right enshrined in international law," said Zakari and yet Zeinabou Moussa had to fight for it so desperately.

After she bit her husband, Zeinabou escaped, once again, to her parents' house. Yet again, her parents beat her for disobeying them. But after long meetings between her husband, her parents and elders, Zeinabou’s husband asked for a divorce.

It was then, Zeinabou said, that she knew it was all over. "I was no longer afraid." Her parents have now grudgingly agreed to let her finish her schooling before they look for another husband. It will take her another four years to finish her education - and then maybe, just maybe, her parents will let Zeinabou choose her own partner. "I want to marry someone who respects me and looks after me properly," she said.



Campaigning for a child marriage-free Tanzania

Sep 3, 2014

A new drive to end child marriage is underway in Tanzania. In a country where almost two out of five girls will be married before their 18th birthday, the "Child Marriage-Free Zone" campaign faces an uphill struggle.

At the age of 16, Mahija Mwita was forced into marriage to a man 12 years older than her, so that her parents could get a bride price to help them solve the family's problems.

Mwita, who lives in the village of Ikoma, in the Mara region, was secretly pulled from school nine years ago to start a new life with a man her father had chosen. "I was not surprised, because in our village most girls are married off like that," she said. "If the father decides, there's no way you can go against his wishes."

The 24-year-old woman, who has two children, recalled a harrowing ordeal she went through during the delivery of her first child in 2006, when she experienced complications. "I was bleeding terribly immediately after delivery, but instead of rushing me to hospital, the midwife made me drink some herbs, which made it even worse," she said. Eventually Mwita was taken to a district hospital about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the village. She was treated and survived a life-threatening condition.

Mwita's story mirrors the plight of hundreds of girls in Tanzania who are forced into early adulthood. Child marriages jeopardize the girls' health and most often cut short their education.

Broad coalition launches national campaign

Now a national campaign has been launched to address the problem. The "Child Marriage-Free Zone" campaign supports efforts to end child marriage, including advocacy for the review of discriminatory laws and prevention efforts undertaken in the health, education and legal sectors.

The campaign was initiated by the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund Tanzania, the Graca Machel Trust, the Children's Dignity Forum, the Tanzania Media Women Association and others.

Speaking in Dar es Salaam during the launch of the campaign on August 26, 2014, the international children's and women's rights advocate Graca Machel said Tanzania's ongoing constitutional review process provides an opportunity to also change laws that facilitate gender-based violence.

Machel, who is the widow of South Africa's anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, pointed out that traditions are not God-given: They are developed by humans and can be changed. "We can change them because they are harmful to us and they make us small. We have to change the thinking that there's less value in the girl child," she said.

The founder of the Graca Machel Trust thinks the new constitution must clearly state the legal age for getting married. "We cannot continue with practices that harm children, because it's against any human value that we stand for," Machel stressed.

Tanzania has one of the highest child marriage rates in the world. According to the United Nations, almost two out of five girls will be married before their 18th birthday.

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India: Nursing Home Owner Held for ‘Forcing’ Woman to Convert

Sep 3, 2014

The Muzaffarnagar police arrested a 50-year-old owner of a nursing home for forcing a 32-year-old nurse to convert to his religion before forcibly marrying her. The woman has accused Abdul Kalam of illegally detaining her and raping her for over a year.

The woman has also accused 10 others for the forced conversion and marriage.

Kalam was produced before a local court Tuesday and sent to judicial custody.

The medical examination of the woman has been conducted and its report is awaited. The victim has also recorded her statement before the magistrate.

SHO of Meerapur police station, Kamal Singh said the woman reached the police station Monday and told the police that she has somehow escaped from Kalam’s house where she has been detained since September last year.

On the basis of her complaint, the police have registered a case against 11 persons, including Kalam, on various charges including rape.

The SHO said the woman belongs to Delhi and had come to Muzaffarnagar after she married a local youth in 2003. She has two children. She had joined Kalam’s nursing home as a paramedical staff, he added.