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

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Female Genital Mutilation 'Rising In Soft-Touch Scotland'

New Age Islam News Bureau

16 Nov 2013

Two Iranian beauticians and a housewife attend an English language class in Tehran. Photograph: Wendy Marijnissen


 In Iran, Among the Beauty-Obsessed Women

 Let Women Drive for the Safety and Welfare of Their Families

 Doctor Tells Of Fight to Stop Rape Being Used As a Weapon

 Judiciary to Employ 60 Saudi Women

 Pakistan Works On Bridging Gender Gap

 Students Honour Malala Yousafzai for Her Fight for Educational Equality for Girls

 In Fight to End Female Genital Mutilation, Teachers Play Key Role

 Syrian Women Suffer Inside Their Country And Out

 Reuters Errs on Polygamy, Contraception in Women’s Rights Poll

 Iran: Order to Ban Women from Watching Automobile Races!

 Culture of Impunity Surrounds South Asia's Child Marriages - Report

 Some Indian Laws Reinforce Gender Inequality: UN

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Female genital mutilation 'rising in soft-touch Scotland'

16 November 2013

A BBC investigation has revealed concerns that young girls are being brought to Scotland to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) because the country is seen as a "soft touch".

Agencies claim that families from England and Europe have travelled to Scotland to have their daughters cut.

They also said girls living in Glasgow and Edinburgh have undergone FGM in Scotland and the problem is increasing.

The equalities minister said anyone who was aware of FGM had a duty report it.

Shona Robison said people who had aided or carried out the procedure, either in Scotland or abroad, faced up to 14 years imprisonment.

FGM takes different forms but traditionally involves the full or partial removal of young girls' genitals for non-medical reasons.

The cutting is carried out for a number of reasons but in many areas girls are cut to improve their marriage prospects.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East.

It has long been associated with countries such as Mali, Somalia and Sudan and some parts of the Middle East.

It is estimated about 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.

UK legislation to criminalise FGM was introduced in 1985 but since then there has not been a single prosecution. Scottish legislation in 2005 made it illegal to take girls abroad to conduct the practice.

Det Ch Supt Gill Imery of Police Scotland said every daughter born in Scotland to a woman who had undergone FGM should be considered a child protection case.

"It most definitely is a form of child abuse and would be investigated as such," she said.

New Scottish government figures, seen by the BBC, revealed that between 1997 and 2011, 2,403 girls were born in Scotland to a mother from an FGM-practicing country.

However Det Ch Supt Imery revealed that police had not received a single referral from the health authorities.

Raising awareness

The BBC sent Freedom of Information requests about FGM to each of Scotland's 32 local councils and 14 health boards.

The majority of health boards were unable to say how many cases they had encountered. Less than a third of the 32 councils had specific local guidelines on FGM and less than 10 cases had been referred to social work.

Police Scotland has also dealt with less than 10 cases this year but none has resulted in a referral to the procurator fiscal.

Det Ch Supt Imery added: "Across Scotland we've dealt with a total of six investigations or incidents in relation to FGM that have resulted in a form of intervention which we hope has prevented children undergoing this procedure, but none of those reports has resulted in an investigation of a crime, or a report to the procurator fiscal.

"We're doing a huge amount of work to raise awareness within our own staff, unexplained absences from school and clearly working with our partners in education to intervene in that way.

"Health also has a significant role to play, and it's through the process of perhaps ante-natal care, or midwifery, that we will actually have tangible evidence of FGM, and that certainly hasn't been reported to us."

Anela Anwar, of Scottish charity Roshni, said: "Because Scotland has been lacking somewhat in a prosecutions, families are coming up from England and Wales into Scotland to have the practice carried out and that is certainly concerning if Scotland is now being viewed as a place that doesn't take the issue of female genital mutilation seriously."

'Safe place'

Police Scotland has identified almost 3,000 school pupils in Scotland from countries where FGM is prevalent.

They are talking to education directors to look at how to raise teacher's awareness of the issue.

In Glasgow they plan to target more than 1,600 children who may be at risk.

Fatou Baldeh, of the Dignity Alert and Research Forum (DARF) in Edinburgh, is originally from The Gambia and underwent the procedure at the age of seven.

"I was blindfolded," she said. "Some people held my hands, other people held my legs.

"I remember I was screaming for my mum and grandmother, to help me. But no-one did."

Ms Baldeh said some parents saw Scotland as a safe place to perform female circumcision.

She said: "The UK is behind and among the UK, Scotland is very poor in tackling FGM and supporting victims."

She added: "Because it's getting expensive to take a daughter back home and circumcise or mutilate them, women are putting together money and bringing over someone who can cut the girls and it's cheaper."

UK guidelines state pregnant women should be asked about FGM. However, new research by Ms Baldeh, seen by the BBC, found that pregnant women in Scotland with FGM were not asked about it.

"I spoke to women in Edinburgh and Glasgow who have had children in Scotland within the past three years and I spoke to them about their experience of child birth," she said.

"They were hoping that the health care professionals would ask them if they have undergone FGM and see how they could help them. Unfortunately, all the women that I interviewed were never asked about if they had undergone FGM."

Lothian health board and Greater Glasgow NHS disputed this finding.

Dona Milne, NHS Lothian's deputy director of public health and health policy, said: "Every pregnant woman in Lothian is asked whether they have suffered female genital cutting or piercing at their first ante-natal booking appointment.

"We have one gynaecologist and one obstetrician with specialist expertise in treating female genital mutilation and this is part of their annual caseloads.

"We recently carried out a survey of consultant obstetricians and gynaecologists in Lothian which showed that the numbers of people presenting with FGM was very low.

"Despite the low numbers of presentations we offer advice, support and appropriate treatment for individuals who have suffered FGM."

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "As we do not have the details for the cases referred to in the Dignity Alert and Research Forum research, we cannot comment on these individual cases.

"We can however confirm that as part of the routine booking process for pregnant women they are asked if they have had any surgery or piercings which may affect their ability to give birth."

'Soft touch'

Dignity Alert and Research Forum estimates that in 2009 there were 3,000 women living in Scotland who had been cut. Since then they say the figures have increased.

Sarah McCulloch, director of ACCMUK, a charity set up in response to concerns about girls and women from African, Asian and Middle East backgrounds, said: "I think what we need is a change in approach - the legislation is there.

"In the UK, I think the government, the police, the social services are too politically correct to want to do anything."

She said other countries viewed Scotland and England as a "soft touch".

France has already had 100 convictions over FGM, which it prosecuted under human rights legislation. The French authorities also conduct physical examinations of all girls under the age of six.

There is work ongoing in Scotland to tackle the practice. The Scottish Refugee Council (SRC), along with the Women's Support Project and the Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership, convene a network of professionals and organisations to work on a more co-ordinated response to FGM in the west of Scotland.

The SRC provides advice and referrals to support services for refugee women who have disclosed FGM. They are also working with NHS Greater Glasgow on a "bridging" project to assess the health of all new asylum seekers.

The NSPCC set up a national FGM helpline this year, and over the course of the first three months, there were 102 calls relating to girls at risk of FGM.

Ms Robison, Scottish equalities minister, said: "Anyone aware of FGM taking place has a legal and moral duty to report it. The police have assured us that they investigate all reported incidents and there is strong legislation in place to prosecute in cases of FGM.

"Between 2012 and 2015, £34.5m has been allocated to tackle violence against women, including FGM. Monitoring a sensitive issue like FGM is difficult. The government will continue to tackle this abuse of human rights."



In Iran, Among the Beauty-Obsessed Women

November 16, 2013

WHEN MY GRANDMOTHER turned 90 a couple of years ago, I decided to take my husband and children to visit her in Iran. I spent many a night awake before our trip, worrying about our safety, about how my husband would feel returning to Iran for the first time since leaving at the height of the 1979 revolution. Could my 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son abide by the Islamic Republic's rules? Would I be able to show them the country I used to love?

It didn't occur to me to fret about my face.

We landed in Tehran at night, entering the country without incident. As we waited for our luggage in baggage claim, we looked up to see a trio of beautiful young women smiling and waving at us from the other side of the exit. They wore colorful tunics over blue jeans. Their head scarves looked like wisps of silk that had accidentally landed on their heads. Even their sneakers were chic. Who were these people?

"Marjan Joon!" they mouthed through the glass partition. I realized then that these were my cousins, who had grown into adults since the last time I saw them. After exchanging hugs and kisses and exclamations, we loaded up their car and set off into the city.

Different regimes can change many things about a place. But the fragrant trees lining Tehran's boulevards, and the terrible traffic, even at midnight, seemed the same under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as under the Shah. The smell of kebabs wafting from the food trucks, the shouts of men pushing a car stuck on the side of the road (with a bride and groom inside, of course) all felt familiar.

Still, I was hyper-aware of the "modesty" laws that were instated after the Islamic revolution. Among other things, they mandate that women cover their hair and bodies in public. So the next morning, before stepping out for a walk with my family in one of the city's more upscale neighborhoods, I donned an oversize raincoat and wrapped my head in an enormous Pashmina, making sure to hide every strand of hair.

The first thing we noticed as we strolled to a fancy shopping mall were the couples. Young women in bright tunics and scarves that slipped back to show their hair walked with guys in jeans and tight T-shirts. The women's eyes were accentuated with eyeliner and shadow. Their lips shone with color, their hair was sprayed to stand out boldly in front, a la Elvis. Their nails were red and green and hot pink.

"I didn't know they were allowed boyfriends here," my daughter said. "I didn't think they could do lipstick."

We walked past blue-tiled buildings, shops lined with cheese puffs and detergent, couples in cafes drinking cappuccinos. Lumbering along in my Lawrence of Arabia get-up, I received puzzled looks.

Later that evening, over a feast of jeweled rice and walnut and pomegranate stew at my aunt's home, we caught up on family and politics. Suddenly my aunt said: "I can take you if you want."

"Take me where?" I asked.

"To our best beauty salon."

"I didn't come here for a beauty salon."

"As you wish," she sniffed. "But what is this look that's no look that you have?"

At another relative's house, it was the housekeeper who pulled me aside. "Madam," she whispered. "Those eyebrows. Please. You're a mother of two. You need to be tweezed."

My naked face stood out among a sea of lipsticked and glamorous Tehranis glowing under their Hijabs. The surprise bordering on concern at my un-made-up ways was everywhere. "Why don't you wear more makeup?" asked women whose cheeks were caked with foundation. "What do you have against lipstick?"

In Tehran, it turned out, the standards for fashion and appearance were extremely high. Women dieted and went to Pilates and yoga. Though by law they had to cover up outside their homes, many women rebelled, especially the young. They let their head scarves slip as far back as they could and wore tunics that, while not revealing any skin, were vivid and tight. And they obsessed about their faces, moisturizing and plucking and exfoliating.

"It's the only physical part of me I can show," my young cousin said as she made up her face. "Why wouldn't I color my lips? And, usually, you get away with it."

I took a taxi to visit my grandmother; along the way, the driver reflected on the government's ills.

"Ahmadinejad keeps taking away more freedom," he said. "But it all backfires. Do you see how our young girls are obsessed with their looks? In the West, where you are free, tell me, are people so vain? Of course not! I mean, look at your bland face. It's admirable!"

My reunion with my grandmother was tearful and sweet. Decades ago, when westernization was encouraged, she was one of Iran's first career women. Photos of her in chic business skirts and shiny high heels, her hair perfectly coifed, were burned into my memory. Now widowed and living in a nursing home, she wore a plain dress and babushka scarf. We chatted and reminisced. Finally, I thought, I could be free of beauty judgment.

Then my grandmother leaned in and told me that I could really use some lipstick.

Ms. Kamali's debut novel, "Together Tea," was published in May. She teaches writing at Boston University.



Let women drive for the safety and welfare of their families

Samar Fatany

November 16, 2013

The recent crackdown on undocumented drivers has disrupted the daily lives of  many families in Saudi society. Professional women were immobilized and kindergarten schools suffered the most. The brave Saudi women spearheading the women’s driving campaign are motivated by their concern for the safety and welfare of their loved ones, which is why they continue to demand permission to drive. These women refuse to be dissuaded by  ignorant fatwas and the narrow-mindedness that continues to dominate the mindset in society creating an attitude hostile to the concept of women driving in this country. 

The struggle between reformers and hardliners continues despite the official ban on extremists’ fatwas. There are still powerful and influential clerics who are blocking the changes that could modernize the existing system and they control and infringe on people’s privacy rights. One example is the fatwa that bans women from driving because it could affect their ovaries or encourage immoral behavior.  

Many Saudi families today do not wish to comply with the strict lifestyle of the hardliners, who proclaim modernity to be un-Islamic. Many families want a modern Muslim lifestyle that supports a more flexible attitude that is in tune with the realities of the 21st century.

In 2010 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah banned all fatwas that were not authorized by the Council of Senior Ulema. However, such fatwas continue to be issued by some extremist Ulema causing much public frustration and international criticism. Websites and call-in shows on religious channels continue to promote and interview ultra-conservative Ulema who see themselves as superior to others and are hostile to anyone who does not conform to their views They use social media to express their condemnations and their rigid interpretations of Islamic Shariah laws. That is why the Saudi women’s driving campaign is not gaining momentum. We need a stronger campaign countering the negative fatwas supporting the ban.

Social activists and researchers should address the negative aspects of the continued ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and expose how it is a source of misery to many Saudi homes, leading at times to divorce, broken homes and juvenile delinquency.  There is a dire need to educate the public and spread awareness about how women who drive can contribute to the welfare of the family. It is time to put into action a plan that would honor the role of women and protect the Saudi family from further abuse.

Economists stress that the high cost of living and inflation make it difficult for single-income families to provide the basic needs of the average family living in Saudi Arabia today. The participation of women in the workforce is no longer a luxury; it has become an economic necessity. In the absence of public transportation, it is a daily frustration for women to get to work.  How and who takes the children to school is also another daily ordeal that middle class families are forced to struggle with. The frustration over the lack of a driver or the expenses of a driver combined with having to deal with his reckless driving, abuse of the vehicle, rude behavior and untrustworthiness are a source of tension in every Saudi household.  Lifting the ban on women driving can make life much easier for many families and can contribute to their social and economic welfare.

The media should play a bigger role in highlighting case studies of Saudi families who suffer daily because of the ban. Researchers should conduct studies to address the negative aspects of the ban and prompt government action to resolve the social, psychological and economic injustice inflicted upon the educated middle class. Women should be allowed to drive for the well-being of their families. In other countries, the luxury of a chauffeured car is a privilege that only the rich in society are able to enjoy, but in our case it is a great burden.  

Social scientists should address the psychological and economic needs of average middle class families to protect them from stressful conditions and a depressive lifestyle. When the family is faced with daily stress and the frustrations of immobility or its members become prisoners in their own homes, this ultimately leads to many negative consequences, especially unhappy women and children. It is time we implement well-researched strategies that can  provide efficient traffic laws and safe roads so that women can drive. The State remains responsible for enforcing the necessary laws that can guarantee the safety of women drivers and ensure the well-being of the average middle class family. 

The government must recognize that today’s professional young men and women are a different generation; they are more exposed to the world and have access to a more comfortable and convenient lifestyle across the globe. They continue to express their frustration and discontent in Internet forums and YouTube messages. Calling on the government to allow women to drive and to help them cater to the needs of their families by driving their children to school or their parents to a doctor’s appointment is a legitimate demand that would guarantee the average Saudi family a life of dignity and prosperity on a par with the more advanced societies of the world.

The ban on women driving has a negative effect on the lives of women and their families. It is unacceptable treatment of the Saudi family of the 21st century. The happiness, safety and welfare of Saudi families could influence the direction of our nation and the future of our younger generation.

Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at



Doctor Tells Of Fight to Stop Rape Being Used As a Weapon

16 November 2013

Her name was Sakina. She was 28-years-old when her husband was murdered in the violence that engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2002.

Fearing for her life – and those of her three children – she fled to a neighbouring village where she was gang-raped by five men because she came from another tribe. The men also inserted the barrel of a gun into her, tearing her internal organs.

Sakina became the first patient of Dr Jo Lusi, then the only doctor in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to offer corrective surgery to women, men and children who had been raped.

Dr Lusi now runs one of only three hospitals in DRC (which is four times the size of France) to carry out surgery on victims of rape. His hospital in Goma is supported by Heal Africa and funded by the British development agency Tearfund. So far this year, he and his team have treated 8,000 women. The youngest was just nine-years-old. The oldest was 70.

“Rape is endemic in Congo,” says Dr Lusi. “Tribes use rape to show that they are stronger than each other, to humiliate each other. When a village is invaded, all the women will be raped.”

Dr Lusi says his work as an orthopaedic surgeon changed direction overnight when Sakina was admitted 11 years ago. “My wife cried all day,” he says. “She pushed me to do something. I feel really, really angry about these rapes. But I have to live positively. I have to fight. You have to focus on what you can change.”

He was in London this week to address a meeting of delegates from UN, the Department for International Development (DfID) and NGOs, which are seeking further international action to protect women and girls from violence and sexual exploitation after natural disasters, and in conflict zones such as DRC. The UK pledged £21m towards the cause.

There are no reliable statistics for the number of women and girls – who make up the majority of victims – raped every year in the world’s trouble spots. Rape is commonly used as a weapon of war, often as a means of ethnic cleansing, and the number of rapes perpetrated increases at times of political instability or after a natural disaster, when law enforcement is weak.

According to DfID, in Haiti 18 months after the earthquake sexual abuse was widespread. In Kenya after the droughts of August 2011, reports of violent attacks on girls and women in the Dadaab camps nearly doubled. In Syria, as the civil war continues, the number of rapes is believed to be rising.

Dr Lusi says admissions to his hospitals doubled in the past three months, as the M23 rebel movement desperately attempted to cling to their strongholds in the east of the country against the Congolese army and UN forces. Following fierce fighting, the M23 rebels surrendered, and a tentative peace deal is in the works.

Dr Lusi says there are queues of women who have been raped waiting for beds in his hospital in Goma.

“When all 12 beds are full and there are 30 more women waiting to be treated, then I can’t sleep. It is chaos, darkness.”

The Congolese army and militias have been accused of using sexual violence against women in conflict, and DRC remains one of the world’s most dangerous places in the world for women and girls to live.

A study carried out by researchers by the World Bank and International Food Policy Research Institute at Stony Brook University in New York, published in 2011, estimated that 1,152 women are raped in DRC every day.

Violence is also used in the home. Based on figures from a nationwide household survey of 3,436 Congolese women aged 15 to 49 in 2007, the study also said around 22 per cent of women said they had been raped or forced to perform sexual acts by their partners.

Generations have grown up thinking sexual violence against women is part of life, Dr Lusi says. Soon after treating Sakina, he was elected to parliament as a senator. A year later, in 2003, the government passed a law he proposed, giving a mandatory 25-year prison term for convicted rapists.

“Before that if you raped a lady, you had to pay two chickens as a fine,” he says. “So rape was an easy crime. Now you go to prison. No one shuts up about rape any more.”

There is plenty more to be done in DRC to protect and enlarge the rights of women. The 69-year-old told international leaders at the meeting that all development schemes must begin with empowering and educating women. “Women must be the mother of all priorities in development,” he said.

After her surgery, Sakina was helped to find work, and has married again.

“[Physically] Sakina was healed completely... Things like that make me feel very glad. It’s the most joyful thing.”



Judiciary to employ 60 Saudi women

16 November 2013

The Board of Grievances will soon employ 60 Saudi women in various jobs after checking their qualifications next week.

In a press statement, the board said over 25,000 women had applied for the 60 vacancies. The candidates have been interviewed and the selected candidates will start working in the female sections of the board and its affiliated courts.

The jobs include legislative researcher, case researcher, statistics researcher, assistant legal researcher, registry clerk and clerk and documents warden, the statement said.

The nominees have been contacted and dates set for them to produce their original national identity cards, two copies of their university certificates and two copies of each training certificate.

The appointees will support judicial work, receive applications and cases, deliver rulings, handle applications and inquiries and other administrative jobs.

The Ministry of Justice recently licensed four Saudi women lawyers to handle cases.



Pakistan works on bridging gender gap

November 16, 2013

LAHORE – Pakistan, recently named the second-worst country in terms of gender equality, is working to improve its image in terms of women's right and equal opportunity.

Of 136 countries listed, Pakistan ranked second only to Yemen in terms of gender bias issues, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2013, which was published October 26.

The index focuses on the economic, political, educational and health sectors and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups and over time.

"Women's empowerment is not a sudden phenomenon," Dr. Waqar Masood Khan, federal finance secretary, told Central Asia Online while commenting on the report. "It might take longer for these girls to taste empowerment at home, but the economic prospects created by their hard work ultimately revealed the value of their labour."

Encouragingly, Pakistan ranked 64th when it came to political empowerment of women, having a history that includes a female prime minister, the late Benazir Bhutto.

Improvement of education

One way to boost the country's gender-equality index is through improving education for girls, advocates said.

"Education is the need of the time," Punjab School Education Department Secretary Abdul Jabbar Shaheen said. "No nation can develop without investing in girls' education because they constitute half of the human resources and skills of the country."

While talking about the report specifically, which tagged Pakistan as the eighth worst in terms of equal access to education, he pointed out to recent progress in the field, particularly in Punjab and Sindh.

Lahore has 20,001 boys' schools, 18,040 girls' schools and 1,564 mixed schools, educating more than 2.1m boys and almost 1.8m girls, he said, citing a 2012 Lahore primary school census.

"The local and federal governments are working to provide better education facilities," he said. "Since 2003, they've provided free textbooks and a monthly Rs. 200 (US $1.86) stipend for girls in classes 6 through 10 in 15 low-literacy districts," he said.

Effective legislation

Pakistan has much to be proud of in terms of women's political power, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said, noting its ranking in that arena.

The women's parliamentary caucus, a bipartisan group of woman parliamentarians, is trying to pass legislation that would set aside 10% of seats in parliaments and union councils to female candidates, he added.

A number of laws meant to harness the economic potential of half of the country's population and to improve women's standing in society have taken effect.

They include the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill. It prohibits depriving women of their inheritances and forcing them to marry someone or a copy of the Koran simply to settle a dispute.

The Protection against the Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, National Commission on the Status of Women Bill 2012 and an amendment to the Criminal Law Act (section 509) all provide additional safety nets for women, Memon added.

More than 9m women have entered the workforce during the last decade, Waqar said. "Young girls from the lower and lower middle classes are exposed to a new world when they come to work," he added.

For the government, the Millennium Development Goals remain a top priority, as do other international commitments on women's empowerment that it is pursuing, he said.

The government is striving to develop the economy, enable Pakistanis to live better lives and foster gender equality, Waqar said, citing the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2012-13.



Students Honour Malala Yousafzai for Her Fight for Educational Equality for Girls

November 16, 2013

Students at St. Raymond Academy, an all-girl school in the Bronx, honoured a young Pakistani girl for her role in fighting for equal educational rights for women.

Malala Yousafzai is known for her activism in Pakistan and around the world. She was shot in the head and neck in 2012 by the Taliban in an assassination attempt.

The students re-enacted Yousafzai's speech that she gave at the United Nations. They also performed an interpretative dance and song.

It is the first time the students put together a performance on social justice.



In Fight To End Female Genital Mutilation, Teachers Play Key Role

November 16, 2013

Teachers should be trained to spot the warning signs of female genital mutilation, says a leading women’s rights campaigner.

Ngozi Eze, of charity Women for Women International, said that schools must help to identify victims of the “obnoxious” practice, which had to stop.

Speaking on a visit to London, Ms Eze, who has set up programmes worldwide against cutting, said: “There are ways of training people so they can spot the distress caused by FGM.

“Teachers need to have this training so they can be alert to students where something is not right. These girls end up psychologically as well as physically damaged. They can be more susceptible to HIV and sexually transmitted infections and they end up having problems in their sexual relations with men. There should be tougher laws to prosecute anyone who indulges in such obnoxious and outdated practices.”

The Standard reported yesterday that two people had been arrested by Met detectives over the genital mutilation of a baby girl. The alleged perpetrators and their victim, understood to have been five to six weeks old when the “cutting” was done, all live in Britain. Police hope the arrests could lead to a landmark first British prosecution.

The Big Lottery Fund has announced a grant to combat gender-related violence including FGM. Nearly £300,000 has been awarded to charity Southall Black Sisters and will go towards an advice helpline, one-to-one counselling and English lessons.

An estimated 2,000 women have sought treatment in London hospitals for the damage caused by FGM. A report published this month called for the practice to be treated like any other kind of child abuse.

Women for Women International have helped 384,000 women in war-torn countries rebuild their lives. Ms Eze is country leader for Nigeria where she has educated women on FGM. Nigeria has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, partly because of cutting, which means women are more likely to die during childbirth.

Ms Eze said women in immigrant communities in London often cannot speak out, so male community leaders should join the fight against FGM.

She said: “I’m not shocked this is going on in London. It’s so entrenched in people, although you have laws against it. Many women still don’t have a voice so we also need to target men to speak out.”



Syrian women suffer inside their country and out

November 16, 2013

BEIRUT — Some Syrians say outrage over the sentencing of a teenage girl was a spark that started the country’s two-and-a-half year revolt.

A month before protests started in March 2011, Tal Al-Mallohi — a 19-year-old who blogged about wanting to shape her country’s future — was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of spying.

Having already been imprisoned for over a year, Mallohi was brought to the court chained and blindfolded. Her mother, who was waiting in the courtyard, burst into tears.

A Syrian court granted Mallohi amnesty last month as part of a three-way hostage swap. When she emerges from prison, she will find her country radically changed.

Women in Syria have been targeted by Syrian security forces during the revolt and civil war, rights groups say. Thousands have survived rape and torture and Syrian jails have filled with women and girls.

But forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad are not the only enemy to women in Syria — hard-line Islamists are stripping them of their rights, too. Outside Syria, refugees say desperation is forcing some to marry off their daughters as child brides and aid workers report an emerging sex trade in camps.

Syria ranked 19th out of 22 Arab states in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on women’s rights ( The survey of gender experts carried out in August and September was based on key provisions of a UN convention against gender discrimination that almost all Arab states, including Syria, have signed.

Experts rated Syria badly in most categories, including gender violence, reproductive rights, economic inclusion, treatment of women within the family and attitudes towards women in politics and society.

They also said the war had had a devastating impact on women’s rights, putting millions of women and girls at risk of trafficking, forced and child marriage and sexual violence.

Abuse In Jail

A Syrian lawyer, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity from the capital, said that female detainees she visits in jails have bruising, open blisters on their feet, skin and eye infections and dried blood on their bodies.

Another Damascus-based rights lawyer, Anwar Al-Bunni, said women were often imprisoned without charges. Some are held because they smuggled food through army checkpoints. Others had photos of anti-Assad rallies on their phones.

“None of them have carried weapons and fought against government troops,” he said, estimating that 3,000-4,000 female prisoners still live in detention in Syria.  He said many died due to torture, lack of medical care or asphyxiation. He said they were often kept in underground dungeons that have no sunlight, and some with small children. In one of his cases, an entire family with six children was detained, Bunni said. Some women are also imprisoned as hostages to be traded with their male relatives wanted by the state, he said.

“There’s the added humiliation of being tortured by men, and the women sometimes are forced to be nude,” he said. “There are cases of rape while in detention, and if she’s not raped, she’s probably been threatened with rape.”

Bunni has a pregnant client who says she was raped in jail.

A Message To Society

New York-based Human Rights Watch has documented accounts of sexual assault in jail and during army raids — one on a girl as young as 12 — in what it says is a tactic “to humiliate and degrade”.

Sema Nassar, a Lattakia-based activist documenting rights abuses against women, says that because the government doesn’t acknowledge that these abuses occur, it has been hard for her to openly reach out to survivors.

“For example, we have a system in place to help raped survivors to test for pregnancy and diseases and offer psych help. And we help if they want to abort and we even have a shelter for children who are the result of rape, all funded by Syrian expatriate doctors,” she said.

“But we can’t advertise it, or work in the open, because no one admits to it, starting with the regime itself.”

Women have played an integral part in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil-war, from supporting rebels to smuggling contraband and running underground networks of humanitarian relief in besieged areas.

The Syrian revolt started with peaceful protests that were met with gunfire by state security. After several months, the revolt armed itself and now more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions displaced.

Rebel Rules

Although members of Assad’s Alawite sect hold the most powerful positions in the country, Syria was run as secular state. Women say the misogyny and oppression they now face at the hands of the Islamists is a regression.

A Syrian woman from the east, who says she supports a secular peaceful opposition movement, told Reuters she prefers to stay on the government-held side of Syria because, although she faces dangers, she is not harassed because she is a woman. “I don’t trust our opposition in Syria. I don’t think our lives will get better, especially for women,” she said on condition of anonymity, adding that some rebels say women should reduce their role to household tasks and food shopping.

Islamists in one neighborhood of Aleppo issued an order in July banning women from dressing in what it considered provocative styles, angering some who accused the group of overstepping its powers. — Reuters



Reuters Errs on Polygamy, Contraception in Women’s Rights Poll

November 16, 2013

Tunisians had harsh words for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, after noting inaccuracies in their latest report on women’s rights in the Arab world.

The survey which was released on Monday erroneously stated that “polygamy remains widespread and contraception is illegal” in the country.

Tunisia was the first country in the Arab region to ban polygamy under the 1956 Personal Status Code. Abortion has also been authorised since 1973 and contraception is legal and available.

This year’s survey was Thomson Reuter’s third annual women’s rights poll on the state of women in the Arab World.

The foundation polled 336 gender experts, including activists, human rights, media, and development professionals, academics, healthcare providers, shelters, and legal advisers.

According to the poll’s findings, Egypt ranks the lowest in the Arab world, with Comoros coming in first.

Nessryne commented on Thomson Reuters’ twitter bio which describes the foundation as a “the world’s leading source of intelligent information for businesses and professionals.”

Hours after publication, Thomson Reuters updated the initial report. The piece now states that “contraception is legal, but polygamy is spreading” in Tunisia. The report does not elaborate on their findings.

Tunisia Live contacted Thomson Reuters Foundation for clarifications about how they conducted the survey.

“The survey is an expert perception poll and as such is only based on the opinions of respondents, who were chosen for their general expertise on gender issues,” Thomson Reuters said.

To respect respondents’ anonymity, the foundation declined to give names of the gender experts surveyed on the situation of women’s rights in Tunisia. They did, however, give a statement regarding their updated article.

“Tunisia did not allow polygamy but after the revolution and the rise of Islamists, polygamy has been secretly practiced by Salafis – though never officially recognized,” Thomson Reuters explained.

In a second email, Thomson Reuters provided these anonymous responses from the survey:

“There are a lot of women who serve as members National Constituent Assembly and honestly they are a disgrace. Those women are pro-polygamy, shariah law and having women role defined as “complementary” to men in the drafting of the constitution.”

“…When you go back home with a second wife and your first wife is sitting right there, you reduce her esteem to half, to third and to fourth.’’



Iran: Order to Ban Women from Watching Automobile Races!

November 16, 2013

A day after FIFA President Sepp Blatter called on Iranian officials to lift the ban on Iranian women's participation in sporting events, Iran's ministry of sports issued a directive on orders from the security bureau of the intelligence ministry which bans Iranian women from viewing auto-racing events at Tehran's Azadi stadium.

Blatter was in Tehran last week for a two-day visit where he requested Iranian officials such as President Hassan Rouhani, Majlis head Ali Larijani and Vice-president Ms. Ebtekar to allow women to participate in sporting events. But a day later, during an auto race at Tehran's Azadi stadium, women were prevented from going into the stadium to see the event because of a specific order from the ministry of intelligence's security office at the ministry of sports.

The following day, Fars news agency announced on behalf of Fariba Javanmardi, the deputy chairman of Iran's automobile racing federation that she would follow up with the issue. She expressed hope that by the end of the year this issue would be resolved and added that cultural work had to be done on this issue.

In defense of banning women from participating in soccer events, Iranian authorities have said that the language that men visitors at such stadium events use language that is inappropriate for women. No such instances have been reported in auto races.

Ms Javanmardi also told Fars, "Unfortunately, I do not know the reason for the ban. Women have in the past participated s visitors at such events at Azadi stadium, but they were prevented from going there yesterday." She added that she had managed to participate in the event with "great difficulty."

She cited "high cost" to be the reason for banning women from participating in such events. She added that in the first auto races after the suspension, women drivers participated with men. But because of high costs of this sport, women have not continued participating in them. She promised that women would "most certainly" compete in future auto racing events.

During former president Ahmadinejad's term, the most expensive film about automobile racing in Iran, which was about a woman driver named Leyla Sedigh, managed to get a production permit from the ministry of culture. But the shooting of the film was abandoned after incurring heavy costs and some government funding. There were also rumors at the time that her victory was attributed to the illegal engine size of the car she raced in.



Culture of impunity surrounds South Asia's child marriages - report

November 16, 2013

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Despite laws banning child marriage in South Asia, deep-rooted social acceptance of the practice and a failure by authorities to crack down and punish perpetrators has led a culture of impunity in the region, the Center for Reproductive Rights said on Friday.

According to a new report by the New York-based charity, 25,000 children worldwide, most of whom are girls under the age of 18, are married every day - with the South Asia region accounting for almost half of all child marriages.

Yet the practice - which activists say is a gross violation of human rights, exposing young girls to a multitude of abuses such as rape, domestic violence and forced pregnancies - continues unabated largely due to government inaction.

"South Asian governments are standing silently by while countless young girls are married off against their will, and in violation of international human rights law," Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said at the launch of the report in the Indian capital.

"All governments must be held accountable for not meeting their legal and moral obligation to end child marriage."

Human rights campaigners say child marriage triggers a series of violations that continues throughout a girl's life.

It starts with forced initiation into sex and on-going sexual violence, resulting in early and unplanned pregnancy, which may put her life or that of her child's at risk.

Girls married as children are often denied the chance to go to school and are isolated from society and forced into a lifetime of economic dependence as a wife and mother.

The report said 46 percent of women in South Asia between the ages of 20 to 24 report having been married before the age of 18, translating to 24.4 million. This figure is likely to increase to a staggering 130 million by 2030, it added.


The report entitled "Child Marriage in South Asia: Stop the impunity" said that in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, patriarchal attitudes played a significant role in the lack of political will to ensure stricter laws and their enforcement.

In Bangladesh, for example, the punishment for contracting, performing or failing to prevent a child marriage is only a maximum find of 1,000 taka, one month in prison, or both, said the report. While in Nepal, the Supreme Court recently issued a three-day jail sentence and a fine of 25 Nepali rupees to the father of a 13-year-old girl who confessed to entering her into a child marriage, the report said.

"There are minor punishments for violations of laws on child marriage in several South Asian nations," said the report.

"Further legal prohibitions on child marriage are only as strong as their enforcement at the local level. Prosecution for child marriage remains low in the region indicating impunity for the practice."

The report said there was a failure by governments to appoint designated officials to investigate, intervene and create awareness about consequences of child marriage, adding that the few officials which did exist did not have adequate training.

Officials and activists involved in fighting child marriage practices, said the report, often faced hostility from local communities who see it as a personal or family issue - yet there was no or little protection available to them.

In Nepal and Sri Lanka, although registration in marriages involving children is illegal, registrars report immense social pressure to falsely register such marriages. Similarly in India, activists seeking to enforce child marriage laws have faced violent retaliation.

"The single most important finding ... is that by failing to enact and enforce laws that clearly and consistently prohibit child marriage, governments in the region are complicit in the grave violations of human and constitutional rights experienced by married girls," the report said.



Some Indian laws reinforce gender inequality: UN

November 16, 2013

New Delhi: Some Indian laws promote a preference for sons over daughters, the United Nations said on Thursday in a report that highlights the country's struggle to reverse a long-term decline in the number of girls.

Bans on child marriage, pre-natal sex selection tests and dowries are poorly enforced, while laws excluding daughters and widows from inheriting land still exist, a study by the UN World Population Fund (UNFPA) found.

"This study is significant because it holds up a mirror to the laws that overtly or covertly fail to address discrimination or promote it," Lise Grande, U.N. Resident Coordinator in India, told activists and reporters at the launch in New Delhi.

India has skewed child sex ratios that rights campaigners describe as alarming. The number of girls under six years old has fallen for the past 50 years and there are now 919 girls to every 1,000 boys, against 976 in 1961, according the 2011 census.

Experts say a strong preference for sons is the root cause behind the uneven ratios, with some parents taking illegal gender tests to abort female foetuses.

Twelve million Indian girls have been aborted in the last three decades, a 2011 study in the British medical journal Lancet found.

Other girls die due to preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea, because they are sidelined in favour of their male siblings when it comes to access to health care and nutrition.

Kirti Singh, a lawyer and author of the U.N. study entitled "The Law and Son Preference in India: A Reality Check", said a lack of political will meant many gender laws are not enforced.

Others, she said, are blatantly discriminatory and encourage the view that a male child is more valuable.

"There is, for example, the Goa polygamy law which actually permits a second marriage for the husband when there is no son from the first marriage," Singh told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the coastal Indian state.

"There are also laws in some states which do not allow daughters and widows to inherit land."

Singh said this lowered the status of Indian females and legislation not only needed to be strictly implemented but also amended. New laws, she said, were required to criminalise marital rape and so-called "honour killings".

According to the latest U.N. Gender Equality Index, India has one of the worst gender differentials in child mortality of any country, ranking 132 out of 148 nations, worse than Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In much of India, a preference for male children is built into cultural ideology. Sons are traditionally viewed as the breadwinners who will carry on the family name and perform the last rites of the parents - an important ritual in many faiths.

Girls are often seen as a burden that parents can ill afford, largely due to the hefty dowry of cash and gold jewelry that is required to marry them off.