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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 27 May 2015, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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French Muslims Say Veil Bans Give Cover to Bias

 New Age Islam News Bureau

27 May 2015

French Muslims say constant talk about banning veils has made them targets of abuse. Credit Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times


 Muslims 'Dehumanised' Warns Member of the Qatar Royal Family

 Mumbai Muslim Woman Alleges She Was Asked To Vacate Flat Because Of Her Religion

 Afghanistan's First Lady Breaks Taboos But Insists She 'Doesn't Do Politics'

 Last Message of Girl Who Joined ISIS: "Do Not Look For Me"

 UN Official Reports on Islamic State's "War on Women"

 Islamic State’s Atrocities against Women: It’s Getting Worse

 Underprivileged Women Helped By Muslim Centre

 'Grateful To Be Alive' - Says Young Woman Attacked With Brick by Man Disguised In Burqa in Mitcham

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





French Muslims Say Veil Bans Give Cover to Bias

27 May, 2015

WISSOUS, France — Malek Layouni was not thinking about her Muslim faith, or her head scarf, as she took her excited 9-year-old son to an amusement site near Paris. But, as it turned out, it was all that mattered.

Local officials blocked her path to the inflatable toys on a temporary beach, pointing at regulations that prohibit dogs, drunks and symbols of religion. And that meant barring women who wear head scarves.

Mrs. Layouni still blushes with humiliation at being turned away in front of friends and neighbours, and at having no answer for her son, who kept asking her, “What did we do wrong?”

More than 10 years after France passed its first anti-veil law restricting young girls from wearing veils in public schools, the head coverings of observant Muslim women, from colorful silk scarves to black chadors, have become one of the most potent flash points in the nation’s tense relations with its vibrant and growing Muslim population.

Mainstream politicians continue to push for new measures to deny veiled women access to jobs, educational institutions and community life. They often say they are doing so for the benefit of public order or in the name of laïcité, the French term for the separation of church and state.

But critics say these efforts, rather than promoting a sense of secular inclusion, have encouraged rampant discrimination against Muslims in general and veiled women in particular. The result has been to fuel a sense among many Muslims that France — which celebrates Christian holidays in public schools — is engaging in a form of state racism.

The ban, some critics argue, also plays into the hands of Islamists, who are eager to drive a deeper wedge between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.

So far, France has passed two laws, one in 2004 banning veils in public elementary and secondary schools, and another, enacted in 2011, banning full face veils, which are worn by only a tiny portion of the population.

But observant Muslim women in France, whose head coverings can vary from head scarves tied loosely under the chin to tightly fitted caps and wimple-like scarves that hide every strand of hair, say the constant talk of new laws has made them targets of abuse, from being spat at to having their veils pulled or being pushed when they walk on the streets.

In some towns, mothers wearing head scarves have been prevented from picking up their children from school or from chaperoning class outings. One major discount store has been accused of routinely searching veiled customers.

Some women have even been violently attacked. In Toulouse recently, a pregnant mother wearing a head scarf had to be hospitalized after being beaten on the street by a young man who called her a “dirty Muslim.”

Statistics collected by the National Observatory against Islamophobia, a watchdog group, show that in the last two years 80 percent of the anti-Muslim acts involving violence and assault were directed at women, most of them veiled.

“What is revolting is that such things take place in broad daylight and with the total indifference of the people around,” said Abdallah Zekri, the group’s president.

France, where Muslims make up an estimated 8 percent of the population, has long displayed discomfort with Muslim women who cover their heads, behavior that is standard in the Muslim world and is in keeping with the Quran’s teachings on modesty.

But in recent years, French leaders appear ever more focused on banning veils. They have been driven by a number of factors, including the rise of a far-right movement that openly deplores what it calls the Islamization of France and the reality that homegrown Muslim extremists have carried out two of the worst attacks within France, including the shootings at the headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January.

Mainstream politicians on the right, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, are calling for veiled women to be barred from universities. Others in Mr. Sarkozy’s party want to see women who cover their faces in public brought up on felony charges. On the left, a small party has pushed for a law stopping veiled women from working in day care centers with government contracts.

Even in President François Hollande’s Socialist government, Pascale Boistard, the junior minister for women’s rights, said in January that she was “not sure that the veil had a place at the university level.”

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, who noted the high number of attacks on veiled women as an area of particular concern in his 2014 report on France, is critical of what he called the country’s “preoccupation” with Muslim women’s attire.

“It only highlights and stigmatizes them,” he said.

Many French officials defend the anti-veil laws. The ban on full face veils is needed for security reasons, they say, noting that Belgium has a similar ban, and the Netherlands is considering one. They say the ban in schools, prompted by an incident in 1989 when three young girls were sent home from public school for refusing to remove their head scarves, is in pursuit of laïcité. (Skullcaps and large crosses and other ostentatious religious signs were banned too, they point out.)

The concept of laïcité was developed during the French Revolution, and was intended to limit the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the government.

More recently, however, experts say it has become the rallying cry of the right, which has redefined it as a weapon to defend the traditions of French life against what many see as the frightening influence of a growing Muslim population.

Yet, even as there are more and more calls for restrictions on the veil, France’s most recent law, which bars veils that cover the face, has proved problematic. Some question why it ever came into being as experts believe that only a tiny fraction of French Muslims dress that way — no more than 2,000 and perhaps as few as 500, many of them converts.

In the three years since the law took effect, only about 1,000 fines, which can go as high as 150 euros, have been issued. Several women, it seems, have enjoyed goading the police. One woman received more than 80 fines. Few paid themselves. A wealthy Algerian businessman created a fund to pay for any ticket issued.

Meanwhile, researchers say that some Frenchwomen who are committed to being fully veiled have become shut-ins, afraid to leave their homes.

“It is the worst-case scenario,” said Naima Bouteldja, who wrote two reports on the subject for the non-profit Open Society Foundations, which supports human rights. “They are not liberated; they are imprisoned by this law.”

Many French Muslims scoff at the law, saying wealthy tourists from the Middle East wearing full face veils and carrying expensive handbags are able to stroll down the Champs-Élysées or vacation on the Côte d’Azur without ever being ticketed.

They also say that the constant debates over veil laws have confused many people about what is illegal.

In Méru, a town north of Paris, veiled mothers have not been allowed to chaperone class trips in public schools for about 18 months. Nor can they help in holiday parties for the children, many of which continue to be linked to Christian celebrations.

Ouassila Arab, 34, one mother barred from such activities, said the first veiled mother who was told she could not come on school property had been at work on the class Christmas party. The case is still making its way through the courts.

“France wanted us when they needed us,” said Ms. Arab, who grew up in Méru after her father came from Algeria to help build roads. “Now they are not so interested.”

Ms. Arab said she started covering her hair in her 20s as her faith grew. But, like many veiled women, she said it was a decision that came with a price. She has had trouble finding work and now commutes into Paris — about an hour — to work as a secretary in a Muslim-owned construction company.

Veiled woman — like anyone else wearing obvious signs of religious affiliation — are officially barred from working in the public sector because of the original laïcité laws. There is little doubt that, in practice, this restriction has broader impact on Muslim women who cover their heads.

On a recent Sunday, a group of young Muslim women who attend a monthly meeting to discuss religion and morality gathered to discuss the veil in an apartment in Montreuil, a suburb of Paris. In their private lives, they all wore the veil, though almost all of them said they felt obliged to take it off for work, some making the changeover in their cars.

Among them were women who work in finance and marketing, a pharmacist, an optician and a nutritionist. Many said that they had tried to find employment with their veils, but that employers had balked when they saw them in person.

A 33-year-old engineer from another Paris suburb said that for years she did not have the courage to cover her hair at work, but decided after 10 years in a large construction company to try.

She found it “very, very hard,” she said.

Her boss was supportive, she said, but emphasized that she needed to wear “pretty” and “colorful” veils that did not cover her neck. Some of her co-workers, however, just stopped speaking to her. And some went to her bosses saying that she should not be allowed to “represent the company.”

“I am pretty sure they just wanted me fired,” she said.

Defending his ban on veiled women at the temporary beach, Richard Trinquier, the mayor of Wissous, told a court that he was protecting France’s commitment to secularism.

According to newspaper accounts, the mayor, a member of Mr. Sarkozy’s center-right U.M.P. party, said that the increasing presence of religious symbols in public was becoming “an obstacle to living together.” Mr. Trinquier declined to be interviewed.

The judge in the Wissous case disagreed and the beach was eventually opened to Mrs. Layouni. But the event left her traumatized and split this tidy village of modest homes as friends lined up on one side or the other.

“My husband said that I lost my inner light,” said Mrs. Layouni, with a sigh. In the aftermath of the ruling, the couple, who owned a tearoom in Wissous, also saw their business fall off. They closed it this year, and moved to a neighbouring town.



Muslims 'Dehumanised' Warns Member of the Qatar Royal Family

27 May, 2015

A senior member of the Qatar royal family has warned that Muslims are being "dehumanised" by the coverage of violent extremism in the Middle East.

"Why do Muslim lives seem to matter less than the lives of others?" asked Sheikha Moza bint Nasser in a speech at Oxford University on Tuesday.

The division between east and west was creating a "fear and suspicion of all things Islamic", she said.

Sheikha Moza also warned against "violent repression" in the Arab world.

Widely seen as one of the most influential women in the Middle East, Sheikha Moza warned an audience at Oxford University of the dangers of negative stereotypes in the West.

And the failure of progressive politics in the Middle East was fuelling "distorted and perverted" interpretations of Islam, she added.


Speaking at the opening of the Middle East Centre at St Antony's College, Sheikha Moza warned that while there was an "intellectual curiosity" in the West about Islamic culture, individual "real, living Muslims" faced growing distrust.

She described this as being "Muslim-phobia", as distinct from claims of "Islamophobia".

And she questioned whether globalisation was really achieving more "pluralistic" societies.

"A Muslim is first and foremost identified as a Muslim, rather than simply a human being.

"Whether they are Pakistani, Malaysian, Senegalese, or even British born, their multiple identities are levelled under a constructed monolith of Islam," she said.

This collective identity was seen as something "fearful and unknowable", said Sheikha Moza, mother of the current Emir of Qatar and wife of the previous ruler.

The consequence was "double standards" in the reaction to the casualties of conflict, said Sheikha Moza, a senior political figure in the oil and gas-rich Gulf state.

"Only silence follows when innocent Yemeni and Pakistani children and civilians," are killed by drones, she said.

She challenged the increasing use of the word "medieval" to describe the actions of radicals in the Middle East.

"Global media, both western and Arab, often claim that Islam does not believe in freedom of expression and is stuck in medieval times," said Sheikha Moza.

'Isis is as modern as Guantanamo'

But she said it was a failure of "our collective responsibility" not to admit that the violence of groups such as the so-called Islamic State were the result of our own modern era.

"Isis is as modern as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They are all products of our age."

But she also challenged the political culture in Muslim countries that had produced radical militants whose version of Islam is "nothing more than a violent political slogan".

The wave of upheavals of the Arab Spring had "planted the seeds of freedom", but she said these ideals had been "crushed underfoot" and such "dreams might find another, more aggressive channel of expression".

"This is the price we are paying today for our lack of courage when it mattered. Every act has a consequence but so does every inaction.

"Activism can quickly change to militancy when there is no recourse to democratic change."

She argued that such a failure to dismantle violent autocracies in the Middle East could be a reason why Muslims have "lost confidence" in being able to apply positive, peaceful Islamic traditions.

The Gulf state has itself faced criticism over the working and living conditions of migrant workers on construction projects for the 2022 World Cup.

Sheikha Moza told her audience that young Muslims needed to be able find a "new modernity" showing their religion as a "rich, living moral tradition".



Mumbai Muslim Woman Alleges She Was Asked To Vacate Flat Because Of Her Religion

27 May, 2015

A 25-year-old woman in Mumbai has alleged that she was asked to vacate a flat because she is a Muslim, reports said on Wednesday.

Misbah Quadri, who moved into a 3-BHK apartment at Sanghvi Heights in Wadala, was told by the broker that the housing society did not accept Muslim tenants a day before she was to shift, according to the Hindu.

Her flatmates — two working women — had found her on Facebook.

"I have been in Mumbai for 5 and a half years. This is not the first time I have faced this issue. Sometimes brokers did not even show me houses. But this time, I was asked to leave the house within a week because I am a Muslim," Quadri told ANI.

"I told the broker that if he wants, some living conditions can be laid down - like what I cannot cook in the house," she said.

The broker also asked her to sign a "no-objection certificate" saying that if she faced any harassment from her neighbours because of her religion, the builder, the owner and the broker "would not be legally responsible".

"The broker asked for the NOC saying that I cannot hold anyone responsible in case I face harassment for being a Muslim in the building."

She was also asked to submit her resume.

Quadri moved in even though she did not agree with the terms because the notice period at her previous flat expired and her flatmates supported her and she hoped things would be fine later.

The agent contacted her again within a week.

"He threatened to call the cops and throw me out of the flat. It got very ugly," Quadri was quoted by the Hindu as saying.

When she approached the builder's representative, she was told that it was "a policy" of the company not to have Muslim tenants. She was then served an ultimatum to vacate the house and was forced to leave. Her flatmates too had to vacate the house.

Society supervisor Rajesh told ANI that they do allow Muslims to live in their flats and said that the broker should be questioned on the issue.

"The broker should be asked about the matter. The problem seems to be between the girl and the broker. I do not have any idea about this," he said.

Quadri has also approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) after she was thrown out of the apartment.

Last week, a 22-year-old MBA graduate was denied employment by a Mumbai diamond export firm which said it hired only "non-Muslim candidates".

Zeshan Ali Khan posted the rejection email by Hari Krishna Exports Private Limited on the social media.

Following widespread condemnation, the company said it "deeply regretted" the incident clarifying that it "does not discriminate against candidates based on gender, caste, religion, etc" and blamed it on an "error" by a human resources trainee.

Khan later approached the police and filed a case against the firm.



Afghanistan's First Lady Breaks Taboos But Insists She 'Doesn't Do Politics'

 Associated Press

27 May, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's first lady has broken numerous conventions in a society that traditionally sequesters women behind closed doors — speaking out on issues such as violence against women, the rule of law and the power of religion. But perhaps Rula Ghani's biggest taboo breaker is simply being the country's first presidential spouse in decades to be seen and heard in public.

When her husband, President Ashraf Ghani, took the helm of the nation eight months ago, he did something unprecedented — he introduced his wife in his inaugural speech.

From that moment on, Rula Ghani has done what first ladies often do in democracies, attending public events alongside her husband and speaking before audiences on current issues. But her words have always been soft-spoken, measured and delivered away from the center stage of the Afghan political scene.

"I don't do politics," she tells The Associated Press. What she does do, she says, is listen.

Since September, hundreds of people have streamed through her cool, wood-paneled meeting room to share their problems and seek the first lady's advice. She says she sees herself as "a counsellor ... a listening post" — someone fulfilling a need for a feminine presence close to the heart of the Afghan government.

The last time Afghanistan had a first lady with such a public profile was almost a century ago, but few today remember Queen Soraya, who was forced into exile in 1929 after King Amanullah abdicated. Soraya's modern approach to women's issues and her refusal to wear a veil shocked many Afghans, and history texts hold her partly to blame for the demise of the monarchy.

Zinat Quraishi Karzai, the wife of President Ghani's predecessor, Hamid Karzai, was called the "invisible first lady" and in one of her rare interviews, she said Afghanistan wasn't ready to see a first lady at her husband's side.

Rula Ghani begs to differ and insists that Afghanistan is going through profound change. "I seem to have answered a need that was there. I think previous first ladies were not accessible," she says. "And I am accessible."

The learning curve has been steep and she learned from her missteps.

Early on, she was quoted as approving France's ban on the all-encompassing women's veil, known as the burka or niqab — comments that were taken out of context, she says. A ferocious backlash from conservative and religious figures followed, and her husband's political enemies claimed she and her children were neither Afghan nor Muslim and as such unacceptable to the Afghan people.

But she is Afghan, as well as American and also Lebanese by birth — a heritage that has given her fluency in English, French, Arabic and Dari.

Born in 1948, she was brought up in a Christian family and met her future husband at the university in Beirut. After they were married, the couple moved to the United States, where they lived for 30 years. She studied journalism at Colombia University and had two children — daughter Mariam, who is an artist in Brooklyn, and son Tarek, an economist who also lives in the U.S.

The Ghanis returned to Kabul 12 years ago, "so I have some inkling of what is happening" in Afghanistan, she said.

She has resisted the expectations of others — such as suggestions she become an advocate for women's rights in a country regularly labelled as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Her inclusion in Time magazine's 100 most influential people of 2015 was flattering but premature, she said, recalling Andy Warhol's quote that everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

"What I've said from the beginning is that I am going to try to help all the vulnerable populations in Afghanistan — and to a certain extent that's the majority of Afghanistan," she said.



Last Message of Girl Who Joined ISIS: "Do Not Look For Me"

27 May, 2015

Nairobi, May 27: The biggest fear of a mother has come true when she discovered that her daughter had fled to Syria and left behind a message that said: "Do not look for me. I am very fine." Tawfiqa's mother still holds her daughter's picture close to her heart and begs her to come back. Clad in a headscarf, the girl in the picture is pretty, but her expressionless face does not reveal anything. A month ago, she had a friend-Salwa Abdulla-visiting her. A short time later, Tawfiqua left the house to Salwa off and the girls never returned. Both the families started looking for the duo, but to no avail. Four days later, a message to Tawfiqua's cousin partly read,"Assalam aleykum cuz, how are you? Am now in Syria ... Tell everyone not to look for me am doing very fine." Her mother was shocked on receiving the shocking news. She said, “I fainted, and the entire family, who were with me, was also shocked and cried." While Tawfiqa never showed any signs of extreme radicalism, she was considered a devout Muslim and was seen reading a Quran whenever she had free time. While she is just one of a hundred cases, security experts say Kenyans form the largest recruits to al Qaeda-linked Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab. Meanwhile, when asked, Tawfiqa's mother said,"Maybe it is Satan who has changed her mind. Maybe people came and told her something -- told her wrong stories, and tell her maybe this is good." In a plea to her daughter, she further said: "I beg her to come back to me. Because as a mother, I am hurting."



UN Official Reports on Islamic State's "War on Women"

27 May, 2015

A United Nations official has painted a chilling picture of how the Islamic State group oversees a vast network of sexual slavery, including an elaborate pricing system, violent treatment by slave masters and casual branding of female bodies and reselling of "used goods."

ISIS is organized and coordinated and "operates on a widespread and systematic basis to commit a staggering array of atrocities," said Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. "They are institutionalizing sexual violence; the brutalization of women and girls is central to their ideology. They use sexual violence as a 'tactic of terrorism' to advance key strategic priorities, such as recruitment, fundraising, to enforce discipline and order—through the punishment of dissenters or family members—and to advance their radical ideology."

Bangura, herself a Muslim from Sierra Leone, spoke with Middle East Eye May 7 after a fact-finding trip to Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. She said the focus of the tour was ISIS' "war on women, including from Yazidi, Christian and Turkmen Shia minorities."

ISIS, which has been fighting to establish an Islamic "caliphate" in the Middle East, wastes no time in finding women for sexual slavery, she said:

After attacking a village, IS splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness. The youngest, and those considered the prettiest virgins fetch higher prices and are sent to Raqqa, the IS stronghold.

Sheikhs get first choice, she said, followed by emirs and fighters.

They often take three or four girls each and keep them for a month or so, until they grow tired of a girl, when she goes back to market. At slave auctions, buyers haggle fiercely, driving down prices by disparaging girls as flat-chested or unattractive.

We heard about one girl who was traded 22 times, and another, who had escaped, told us that the sheikh who had captured her wrote his name on the back of her hand to show that she was his ‘property’.

Bangura said her fact-finding mission heard about a 20-year-old girl who was "burned alive because she refused to perform an extreme sex act," as well as "other sadistic sexual acts."

The appetite for such slaves is, apparently, enormous. Bangura reported that in addition to native soldiers, ISIS has "tens of thousands of fighters from 100 nationalities." Women’s bodies are used as part of supporting the jihad. "There are tens of thousands of men who expect that they will 'get' women to 'marry,'" she said.

Answering interviewer James Reini's question about fighting ISIS, she said that in addition to the military intervention and sanctions, "we need first to tackle their access to communication means including social media that they use to terrorize communities and the whole world and attract new recruits."

Information is its oxygen—we must suffocate them. Their tactic is to destroy individuals, communities, laws and society and build a medieval social order. We also need to use economic divestments to halt IS sources of income and supply lines. We must also explain the scope of the atrocities being committed, and look at accountability, which is difficult in the context of more than 40,000 fighters from more than 100 countries. We need to look at jurisdiction – does it fall under Iraq? Syria? We cannot only react emotionally, we must understand their tactics and defeat them.



Islamic State’s Atrocities Against Women: It’s Getting Worse

27 May, 2015

Young girls kidnapped from their beds. Yazidi women and girls sold into sex trafficking. Rumors of female Muslim teens being used as suicide bombers. It is hard to imagine that Islamic extremists could make things more difficult for women and girls in war-stricken areas, but they are.

A United Nations team of sex crime investigators has been working in and around Islamic State war zones since 2009. Middle East Eye reports:

According to its head, Zainab Bangura, the Islamic State (IS) group has taken atrocities to a whole new level.

Bangura has just returned from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where she gathered data on IS sex crimes, including those against captured Yazidi women.

Bangura describes what happens when Islamic extremists take over a region or village:

IS splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness. The youngest, and those considered the prettiest virgins fetch higher prices and are sent to Raqqa, the IS stronghold.

There is a hierarchy: sheikhs get first choice, then emirs, then fighters. They often take three or four girls each and keep them for a month or so, until they grow tired of a girl, when she goes back to market. At slave auctions, buyers haggle fiercely, driving down prices by disparaging girls as flat-chested or unattractive.

We heard about one girl who was traded 22 times, and another, who had escaped, told us that the sheikh who had captured her wrote his name on the back of her hand to show that she was his ‘property’.

She also had this very disheartening bit to say about IS:

[They are ] organised, coordinated and operates on a widespread and systematic basis to commit a staggering array of atrocities. They are institutionalising sexual violence; the brutalisation of women and girls is central to their ideology.

Bangura said some women escape or are sold back to their families, but many of these women have been so brutalized that they live in a state of shock. Beyond that, these families are often refugees and are trying to simply find basic necessities like food and shelter. Bangura added this personal note about her work:

It was painful for me. The countries I have worked on include Bosnia, Congo, South Sudan, Somalia and Central African Republic; I never saw anything like this. I cannot understand such inhumanity. I was sick, I couldn’t understand.



Underprivileged Women Helped By Muslim Centre

27 May, 2015

The newly built Makoi Women’s Vocational Training Centre in Suva will provide skills training and employment opportunities for underprivileged women including those who are found begging on our streets.

This was revealed at the official Memorandum of Agreement between the Fiji Muslim Women’s League and the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation on Friday last week.

The ministry has provided a grant of $100,000 and sewing machines worth $17,000 to equip the new centre that will be opened to women of all faiths.

Ms Akbar said the new centre would boost the income generating opportunities for women by enhancing their self-confidence and talents.

“The Centre will be instrumental in equipping the women with skills and tools to help them acquire an independent living. Those women who are currently found into street begging will also have the opportunity to change their lives through this Centre,” she said.

“From the Ministry’s profiling exercise, we have found out that women who beg on the streets usually have homes, so the Centre will just be a place where they will be trained and equipped with tools to help them find a decent living.”

Speaking on behalf of Fiji Muslim Women’s League, its national president, Nisha Buksh, said the centre would enable women to achieve highest potential in their lives.

“It will provide skills development and employment opportunities for destitute females of our society, who through some unforeseen circumstances are out begging in the streets, widows, divorcees, single mums, women and young girls who come from broken families,” she said.

“We thank the Bainimarama government for the assistance given to this centre, it will help us to furnish this centre that will also provide accommodation to the trainees.”

As the centre progresses, it will also look at offering opportunities for women in Samoa and Tonga.



'Grateful to be alive' - says young woman attacked with brick by man disguised in burka in Mitcham

27 May, 2015

A young woman has spoken out about the terrifying moment when she was hit over the head with a brick wielded by a non-Muslim man in a black burka as she walked home at midnight.

Hong Nguyen chased the 23-year-old along Cairns Avenue, a residential road near Streatham Park on December 6 before smashing her on the head with a brick from behind, hitting her on her forehead and in the eye.

On Friday,Nguyen, originally from Waltham Forest in north-east London, pleaded guilty to attempting to cause grievous bodily harm.

Nguyen was seen patrolling the streets of Mitcham wearing a burka and carrying a plastic bag on several occasions between December and February.

Speaking today, the Rowan Park woman, who does not want to be named, said: "I'd just got off a bus at about quarter to midnight.

"I walked down my main road and then I saw him at a distance and I thought it was quite odd because it was freezing that night and I was wrapped up in a giant coat and he was just wearing a burka.

"I walked just another 100 metres and I had a weird feeling. I had my hood up and took it down and the next thing I knew he was running towards me.

"I put my hood down because I couldn't hear anything and then I heard a pat, pat, pat of his footsteps running at me and before I could turn around and look he had his hand on my shoulder.

"He grabbed my shoulder with his left hand and struck my head, on my forehead near my hairline and then on my eye."

"After he hit me a second time he pushed me over and because I was shaken I fell and I had a really big backpack on and it was packed full of stuff and he pinned me with his whole body and I couldn't even bring my legs around him because everything was so restricted.

"I was doing my best to struggle and I managed to get one hand free.

"He had me pinned on my side so I couldn't see him because he was behind my back. I got my arm free and grabbed his head scarf and pulled it off and grabbed his hair.

"He was strangling me at that point but then he ran away because my neighbour heard me screaming when I could and he poked his head out of the window and said, 'Oi!'."

Asked if she feared for her life, she said: "I thought it was more of a mugging but then when he started strangling me, I was like, now they are trying to kill me?

"I wasn't really sure what was happening, I thought I was going to pass out, I was so shocked."

The woman, who lives with her parents, fled home and her mother called an ambulance.

She was treated at St George's Hospital in Tooting, and was left with such severe bruising and swelling she could not open her eye for two weeks.

Fortunately, no bones were broken but she is still scared to go out at night and could not sleep for several months after the attack.

"I couldn't sleep at all [before he was caught]", she said.

"I'd be too scared of shutting my eyes and anything black freaked me out because he was dressed all in black but it's better now because I have really good support from friends and family and I'm grateful that I'm still alive.

"It could have been so much worse."

Nguyen, who police originally thought was a woman because of his long hair and slim build, was not caught until three months later, when a group of residents spotted him patrolling the estate with a bag containing a hammer and pinned him down after a short chase.

Chief Superintendent Stuart Macleod said: "I would like to formally record my thanks to the alert members of the public for tackling this man and detaining him."

Nguyen was charged in February with causing grievous bodily harm in Cairns Avenue in December and carrying an offensive weapon in Toblin Mews on February 10.

The grievous bodily harm charge was later changed to attempted grievous bodily harm.

It is understood he moved to Mitcham two years ago after leaving his family home in Waltham Forest where he had been a performance arts student.

His brother, Vu Nguyen, said: "We haven't really heard anything from him until he was in court so it was quite a shock to us to hear what actually happened."

Describing his brother's personality he said: "He's friendly, polite, so to be honest I don't know what actually happened. It's really, really strange."

Nguyen is due to be sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on July 2.

A Residents of Rowan Park (RORP) spokesman wrote on Facebook: "RORP would also like to express their thanks to the quick-thinking residents for their actions.

"This goes to show that Rowan Park is a great and safe community to live in with residents who look out for one another and will not tolerate this or any other wrong doings."