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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 5 March 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indonesia Says Schools Can’t Make Girls Wear Head Scarves

New Age Islam News Bureau

05 March 2021

• Female Doctor Killed In Eastern Afghanistan after Murder of Media Workers

• 'I've grown Tenfold': Zara Mohammed on Her Whirlwind Start as Muslim Council of Britain Head

• Edmonton Racialised Muslim Women Rally in Solidarity after Hate-Fuelled Attacks

• Women in Mosques: Fixating On the Number Of Female Imams Overlooks The Progress That Has Been Made

• 30-Year-Old Woman On Trial In Norway Provides Glimpse of Life under IS Captivity

• More People Talking about Rugby in Egypt Following Women’s Arab Sevens Success

• Egyptian Singer Fatma Said Nominated For BBC Music Magazine Award

• Canadian Govt Has Various Programs To Empower Women In Pakistan: Wendy Gilmore

• Women Conference from Saturday

• 'Strong Women of Strong Turkey' Inspires Progress in the Country

• Egypt Draft Law Condemned As Setback for Women's Rights

• Egypt’s National Council for Women Launches Awareness Campaign on Nutrition Education

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



 Indonesia Says Schools Can’t Make Girls Wear Head Scarves


Indonesia says public schools can no longer force girls to wear the hijab headscarf. (File photo: AFP/Adek Berry)


By Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono

March 5, 2021

The father, a Christian, was upset that his 16-year-old daughter had been ordered to wear an Islamic head scarf at her public school in Indonesia. He met with the school’s vice principal and protested the rule. And he didn’t stop there: He streamed their conversation on Facebook Live.

“This is a requirement,” the vice principal, Zakri Zaini, sternly told the father, Elianu Hia, during their recorded conversation. “It has been stated in the school regulations.”

The video of the two men’s January conversation, which has been viewed more than 830,000 times, sparked a discussion across the majority-Muslim nation about religious discrimination, and it brought a swift declaration from the national government in support of religious freedom.

The government of President Joko Widodo last month issued a decree, which took effect on Friday, ordering public schools to respect religious freedom and prohibiting them from enforcing religious-based dress codes.

Indonesia, whose population is nearly 90 percent Muslim, officially recognizes half a dozen religions. But over the past two decades, the country has increasingly embraced a conservative form of Islam, giving rise to greater intolerance of minority groups.

The government’s decree, which declares that public schools cannot “require, order, oblige, encourage or prohibit the use of uniforms with attributes of specific religions,” was lauded by civil rights groups. More significantly, it was held up by the minister of religious affairs as a reaffirmation of Indonesia’s status as a tolerant nation.

The minister, Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, called the head scarf case “the tip of the iceberg” and said the decree was intended, in part, to remind the public that Indonesia is a diverse nation built on pluralism.

“Indonesia is neither a religious state nor a secular state,” said Mr. Yaqut, a leading Muslim cleric and former Member of Parliament. “It unites and harmonizes national values and religious values.”

More than 60 local and provincial governments have adopted rules requiring women and girls to wear Islamic clothing in Indonesia’s public schools since 2001, according to Human Rights Watch. Those requirements have remained in effect despite a regulation adopted by the education ministry in 2014 banning such dress codes.

The new decree applies to religious wear for students, teachers and school staff. The ministry of education can withhold funding and other assistance from schools that refuse to comply.

The decree was an unusual move by the ministers of education, home affairs and religious affairs to join together to defend pluralism. But it remains to be seen how vigorously it will be enforced by the central government, which sometimes struggles to implement its policies.

Indonesia is one of Southeast Asia’s leading democracies, having had two decades of free elections and successful presidential transitions since it emerged from military dictatorship. But under its Constitution, the power of the national government is limited, and provinces and cities frequently flout the laws and regulations it adopts.

Religious dress codes typically require girls and female teachers and staff to wear a jilbab, as it is called in Indonesia, which covers the head, neck and chest.

“For two decades many state schools have required schoolgirls and female teachers to wear the jilbab, leading to bullying, intimidation and even expulsion or forced resignation,” said Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The new decree is a long overdue step to end discriminatory dress codes for girls and women in state schools across Indonesia.”

The central government’s decree banning religious dress codes applies to all of Indonesia’s 166,000 public schools except those in Aceh Province, which is semiautonomous and operates under a modified form of Islamic, or Shariah, law. Indonesia’s many religious schools are also exempt from the decree.

Jenni Hia, the Christian girl whose father challenged her school’s head scarf requirement, lives in Padang, the predominantly Muslim but not particularly conservative capital of West Sumatra.

The origin of Padang’s head scarf rule came to light when the former mayor, Fauzi Bahar, said he had implemented the policy in 2005. Many people protested at first, he said in an interview, but eventually they complied.

Non-Muslim students were not forced to wear a jilbab, but it was “recommended” because of its “many benefits,” he said. “If non-Muslim students do not wear the jilbab,” he said, “it will show them to be a minority.”

Mr. Hia, 56, an air-conditioning installer, has lived in Padang since 1986, and he and his family are part of a small Christian community.

“I live in harmony in my neighborhood,” he said. “I have good relations with my neighbors. They even support me on this issue and they are Muslim.”

After previously attending Christian schools, Mr. Hia’s daughter, Jenni, started attending classes at Padang Vocational Senior Secondary School 2, a public high school, in early January.

The school had not informed the family of the head scarf rule when she enrolled, Mr. Hia said, and she refused to wear one. She received five warnings before the school summoned Mr. Hia to meet with the vice principal.

Before the meeting, he searched for a provincial or education ministry rule requiring religious attire. He found none.

The situation was so “bizarre,” he said, that he decided to record the meeting and stream it live.

“This is the first time I encountered an incident like this,” he said. “I put it on live so there would be no accusation that I was making things up.”

During the meeting, Mr. Hia argued that it was a violation of his daughter’s rights, and of Indonesian law, for a public school to require her to wear the symbol of another religion.

For her to wear a head scarf, he said, was akin to lying about her religious identity.

“Where are my religious rights?” he asked. “Where are my human rights? This is a public school.”

But Mr. Zakri argued that the requirement was in the rule book. “It becomes awkward for the teachers when there are children who do not follow the rules,” he said.

After the meeting, father and daughter signed a statement that she was not willing to wear a head scarf as dictated by school regulations, and that they would await a decision from “a more authoritative official.”

Two days later, after the video went viral, the school’s principal, Rusmadi, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, offered a public apology for the way the dress code had been applied. He acknowledged that 23 non-Muslim students had been inappropriately required to wear jilbabs.

“I apologize for any mistakes of the staff,” he said. “It is obligatory to obey the rules. It is not obligatory for non-Muslims to wear Muslim clothes.”

He added, “I guarantee that Jenni can still go to school as usual.”


Female Doctor Killed In Eastern Afghanistan after Murder of Media Workers


Relatives move the body of the doctor killed in the bomb blast in Jalalabad. Photograph: Ghulamullah Habibi/EPA


March 04, 2021

JALALABAD, Afghanistan: A female doctor was killed in a bomb blast in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad in what appeared to be another targeted hit, officials said Thursday, just days after three women media workers were gunned down in the area.

Journalists, religious scholars, activists and judges have all been victims of a recent wave of political assassinations across Afghanistan, forcing many into hiding — with some fleeing the country.

In the latest incident, the doctor was killed after a magnetic bomb was attached to the vehicle she was traveling in, according to a spokesman from the provincial governor’s office. A child was also injured by the explosion.

“She was commuting in a rickshaw when the bomb went off,” the spokesman told AFP.

Another spokesman from a provincial hospital also confirmed the incident and toll.

The blast was later claimed by the local affiliate of Daesh, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, with the extremist group saying the victim was “working as an apostate Afghan intelligence element.”

The attack comes two days after three female media workers were gunned down in Jalalabad in separate attacks that were just minutes apart.

That attack was also claimed by Daesh.

Afghan and US officials have blamed the Taliban for the wave of violence in the past, but the group has repeatedly denied the charges.

The assassinations have been acutely felt by women, whose rights were crushed under the Taliban’s five-year rule, including being banned from working.

Intelligence officials have previously linked the renewed threat against female professionals to demands at the peace talks for their rights to be protected.

The attacks come as speculation is rife over America’s future in Afghanistan after the administration of President Joe Biden announced plans to review the withdrawal agreement signed with the Taliban last year that paved the way for foreign troops to leave the country by May.


'I've grown Tenfold': Zara Mohammed on Her Whirlwind Start as Muslim Council of Britain Head

Harriet Sherwood

4 Mar 2021

In the past few weeks Zara Mohammed has been living, breathing and even dreaming about her new role as the first female and youngest ever head of the Muslim Council of Britain. “My mind doesn’t stop. There are times when I need to go see the ducks in my local park, just to take a break.”

Apart from the responsibilities of leading the UK’s foremost Muslim umbrella group, with more than 500 affiliates, Mohammed, 29, has also experienced an “ongoing media blitz” – including a now notorious interview on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. “I didn’t really expect the extent of this celebrity, if you can call it that,” she says.

But “what’s been really lovely is the support, encouragement and positivity, especially from young women and women of all colours, all faiths. It’s been a whirlwind but it’s also been challenging. You use the stress to power you forward. I have grown tenfold.”

Four days into the role, the BBC posted online a clip from an interview with Mohammed by Emma Barnett on Woman’s Hour concerning female imams. The corporation received hundreds of complaints, and an Open letter signed by 100 public figures including the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi claimed the line of questioning reinforced “damaging and prejudicial tropes” about Islam and Muslim women.

“I have to admit I was really taken aback [by the interview]. It was particularly hostile and aggressive,” says Mohammed. She felt like she was having “an out of body experience” as she went through what “felt like an interrogation if I’m honest. I have no problem with bold conversations or being challenged, but [this was] again about stereotyping us and vilifying us and not allowing us to define who we are.”

She says the open letter “highlighted the broader issue of Muslim women being sick of being represented in a certain way. The media has stigmatised Muslim women and continued to perpetuate these very negative stereotypes. The letter [was saying] ‘we’ve had enough of this’.”

On Barnett’s question about female imams, Mohammed says: “It shows an ignorance [of] religious hierarchy in Islam. Muslim women do not lead men in prayer. But the imam is a procedural role. What’s really important is the role of Muslim women in leadership roles, including scholarship, over 1,500 years, shaping and influencing our traditions in faith.”

A second encounter also generated headlines – this time a meeting with Penny Mordaunt, the paymaster general, that contravened the government’s longstanding policy of not engaging with the MCB.

“It’s not clear to us why they will not engage,” says Mohammed. “Of course there’s a conversation to be had, and a relationship, because [government] policies are impacting our communities – look at Covid, the perfect example. Why wouldn’t they want to talk to us about these things? I would welcome that engagement, and I do think the government should grow up. Let’s not get stuck in the past.”

In response to a question from the Guardian about the reasons for its policy of non-engagement with the MCB, a government spokesperson declined to comment.

Mohammed, the eldest of four siblings, grew up in Glasgow and attended a state school that she says was “pretty much all white”. She studied law and politics at Strathclyde University, followed by a master’s degree in human rights law.

“In my second year [at university] I put my headscarf on. I was affirming my identity as someone confident to be Muslim. And that’s when I really began to face differential treatment.”

She has felt vulnerable, especially on public transport, she has witnessed and challenged abuse, and she believes some of her job applications have been rejected because of her name.

Now she advises companies on training and development, but that has been put on hold since being elected to the voluntary, unpaid two-year term as MCB secretary general. “I didn’t expect [the role] to change my life so much,” she says.

Her mother always worked, even when Mohammed and her siblings were young. “She was pretty headstrong and resolute, she wanted to do stuff for herself. She’s strong and confident, she feeds all the neighbours, she’s the family support hotline – even now she makes sure I’m eating. Both my parents [urged me to] focus on my career and be financially independent. I got a lot of investment and encouragement.”

Despite such support and her own natural ebullience, Mohammed says: “Like all women I suffer from impostor syndrome. I’ve always had crippling self-doubt. I will come up with 100 reasons why not to put myself forward, that maybe someone else – a man – is better.”

Nevertheless, she won the election decisively, by 107 votes to 60, against a male opponent, Ajmal Masroor, an imam and teacher. She has set three priorities, saying she has an “amazing opportunity to make a difference”.

The first is inclusion and diversity. “I want to create opportunities for more women, young people, and underrepresented communities. I really want to be a champion for Muslim women. You always start with yourself before telling everybody else what they have to do. I’ve appointed more women to the [MCB’s] national council, we’re getting more women’s organisations to affiliate, and there’s going to be a change in the landscape of Muslim women within our organisation.”

Young people need a louder voice, and the MCB must become more representative of UK Muslim communities, she says. “We have probably one of the most diverse and Muslim communities in the world at our doorstep – Malaysians, Somalis, mixed-race people, converts. We do need to do better [at representing them].”

Tackling Islamophobia is second on her list. “I’m going to be challenging the narrative of negative stereotypes and tropes, and the idea that Muslim communities are one homogenous block.”

The response to Covid is third on her list, “though it’s always number one really,” she says. Muslim communities have seen a “spike in mental health issues, a devastating economic impact, even mosques being unable to sustain themselves because they’re not getting the funding they normally get from the members. We need to build strategies to help us face that.”


Edmonton Racialised Muslim Women Rally In Solidarity After Hate-Fuelled Attacks

March 4, 2021

Edmonton writer Aisha Ali shares photos and her location with her siblings whenever she and her five-year-old son leave their home.

"If anything were to happen to me, people know how I was dressed that day and where I was going," Ali told CBC News.

It's one of multiple safety precautions she takes in the wake of six recent hate-motivated attacks on Black and racialised Muslim women in Edmonton. The victims were simply walking in public, waiting for a bus or sitting in their cars.

"I'm always looking over my shoulder, making sure that we're safe in the area, not being outside at nighttime, trying to do everything during the daytime and even then maybe bringing somebody along with us," Ali said.

She is far from alone in her hyper-vigilance as fear ripples through the community and protesters, including people carrying symbolically racist Tiki torches and members of Soldiers of Odin and Urban Infidels, openly march in Edmonton.

This Saturday, Ali and four women from her community are holding an online event called Sisters' Dialogue. The event has already attracted nearly 300 participants coming together in solidarity to denounce the incidents. Speakers will share their own experiences of discrimination, Islamophobia and micro-aggressions that single out and isolate women in the community.

Not enough outrage

Part of the focus will be on highlighting mental health and legal resources for a community that often faces barriers.

Speakers will also discuss policy and legislative changes aimed at creating a safer and more inclusive environment for Black and racialized Muslim women.

"We're not seeing enough conversation out there, enough outrage out there," said co-panelist and criminal defence lawyer Amna Qureshi.

"The people, unfortunately, who are struggling the most — we do feel forced to come out and say, this is an issue that needs to be taken seriously."

The rise in Islamophobic attacks, such as the attack at a Quebec City mosque in 2017, and the policing of what Muslim women wear, also factor into the current climate, Qureshi said.

The conversation will also explore what tools are available to ensure justice is served for anyone who becomes a target such as what information is important for investigating officers to know.

The police hate crimes unit is investigating the attacks. Two arrests have been made. But police have also been accused of not treating the case of one victim with the sensitivity and seriousness it required — an allegation police dispute.

With many hate crimes going unreported and the amount of energy it requires, Ali said proper support from police is essential.

Sisters' Dialogue has its roots in an article written by Wati Rahmat called 'Why Is My Hijab Still A Threat,' published in the Progress Report, after the rise in attacks on local Black Muslim women, Qureshi said.

She says it came with the realization that there's a conversation here that needs to happen, and that Muslim women need to be part of it and speak for themselves.

They hope their dialogue will put pressure on governments to act and encourage allies to step up, Ali said.

Ali first felt the cruelty of having slurs hurled her way and being told she didn't belong here, when she was in Grade 10. She said it was a lesson in keeping her head down.

She didn't realize the power her words held until she saw the lengths some would go to silence her. She can smell their fear. - Poet Aisha Ali

But she recently published her first book, Spilt Milk, refusing to be silent — something she will continue to do this Saturday. One poem goes like this: "She didn't realize the power her words held until she saw the lengths some would go to silence her. She can smell their fear."

Sisters' Dialogue takes place on Saturday at 11 a.m. You can sign up on Eventbrite for free.


Women in Mosques: Fixating On the Number Of Female Imams Overlooks The Progress That Has Been Made

March 4, 2021

Debate continues in the wake of a high-profile Radio 4 Woman’s Hour interview with Zara Mohammed, the first woman general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. Mohammed was pressured live on air to answer a question about how many female imams there are in Britain. Following accusations of hostile questioning from host Emma Barnett, the discussion pivoted to a widely misunderstood issue in Britain and beyond: the role of Muslim women in religious spaces.

To dispel some of those misconceptions, it’s important to understand the varied experiences of Muslim women in a number of religious roles and communities around the world. There are complicated reasons for the lack of women in leadership roles but that is not to say that no progress has been made on updating gender disparities in Islamic religious life.

Women’s voices in Muslim communities

Whether questions about women’s roles in mosques are raised within the Muslim community itself or by wider British society, Muslim women’s own views and practices are key.

Muslim women are increasingly calling for more mosques to include them. Organisations such as the Muslim Women’s Network UK, Faith Matters and Citizens UK have urged mosques to open up spaces for women and to include them in mosque leadership. The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board and the Muslim Council of Britain have issued similar recommendations, as has the Vibrant Scottish Mosques initiative. The Muslim Council of Britain has also launched a programme of leadership training for women. These initiatives also build on an established history of women as Islamic scholars.

In some contexts, women have reacted against male-dominated mosques by establishing mosques that are led by women. The first women-only mosque in the US, The Women’s Mosque of America, opened in Los Angeles in 2015, mirroring women-only mosques that have served the Hui community in China for several hundred years. In the UK, the Muslim Women’s Council launched an initiative in 2015 to establish a new women-led mosque in Bradford. The planned mosque will be open to women and men. Prayers where both women and men partake will be led by a male imam.

A more radical innovation is the Inclusive Mosque Initiative established in London in 2012, which offers a space for worship without gender segregation and works with women imams such as Naima Khan. American female imam Amina Wadud has led gender-mixed prayers in Oxford, London and elsewhere. Other gender and LGBTQ+ inclusive developments have emerged in Canada, the US, France, Germany and Denmark.

Still, opinions are divided about women’s participation in mosques. My interview study with Muslim women in the UK and Norway found that they were highly appreciative of dedicated mosque spaces for women. Some also wanted greater influence for women in mosque governance. While some sought advice from imams deemed to be supportive of women, others were critical of imams harbouring conservative views on women’s roles.

The participants agreed, however, that only men can be imams and lead prayers for gender-mixed audiences. This rule was seen as rooted in religious prescriptions and as such was not up for debate. The women also suggested that “authentic” or true Islam supports women’s rights and equal value, while “cultural” or “traditional” forms of Islam deny this.

Women’s roles in mosques

Mosques are houses of religious worship that also function as community hubs for social events, welfare services, charitable activities, political engagement and even sports. They are typically governed by male-dominated boards and the main religious leadership role is held by the male imam.

While only men have a religious duty to pray at the mosque, women are increasingly participating in mosques throughout the UK, Europe and North America.

Some mosques are welcoming and facilitate women’s participation via separate entrances and prayer rooms. These spaces allow women to exercise religious leadership in women-only contexts including leading women’s prayer. Other mosques are less traditional. Overall, Muslim women’s complex engagement with mosques shows both compliance with, and challenges to, male power and authority. Debates about women’s leadership, authority and participation in mosques, then, are clearly here to stay. While some may be more polarising than others, these discussions raise fundamental questions about democratic governance, gender equality, religious freedom and self-determination. Regardless of people’s views, it should be evident that when it comes to the complex issue of women’s roles in mosques, evidence-based approaches are always best.


30-Year-Old Woman On Trial In Norway Provides Glimpse of Life under IS Captivity

05th March 2021

OSLO: A woman on trial in Norway for supporting the Islamic State group provided a glimpse this week of life with members of the terror group she said she was unable to flee despite numerous attempts.

The woman, who AFP and other media have chosen not to identify in order to protect her children, is facing charges of supporting the Islamic State during the six years she lived in territory the radical group controlled in Syria.

The 30-year-old -- born in Pakistan but raised in Oslo -- testified on Monday that she was radicalised and left for the war-torn country in 2013 after falling in love and marrying Bastian Vasquez.

Vasquez was a Chilean-Norwegian jihadist who converted to Islam and was fighting at the time for an Al-Qaeda-linked group. He later joined the Islamic State group and died while making explosives.

The woman said she quickly became disillusioned on arriving in Syria and on several occasions tried in vain to return home.

She ended up marrying two other foreign fighters during her time in IS-controlled territory and had two children, one from Vasquez.

"By taking care of the children, by cooking and doing laundry, she enabled three foreign fighters in their battles," prosecutor Geir Evanger told the court.

The woman, who faces up to six years in prison if convicted, said that on meeting Vasquez, she initially would laugh when he would describe to her over the phone the atrocities of the war.

"I was so in love that I believed everything he said," said the woman who was repatriated to Norway last year and no longer wears the niqab, or full-face veil.

She said after marrying Vasquez online and joining him in Syria, he quickly became violent with her and she felt trapped.

Prosecutors, however, have challenged her account accusing her of trying to recruit other women to join the terror group.

"During her marriage to Vasquez, she spoke highly of the Islamic State and of life in Syria to women in Norway with the aim of getting them to marry foreign men fighting for the group," according to the charge sheet.

Vasquez died in 2015 and the woman subsequently married an Egyptian man with whom she had her second child.

But he also died in combat and she married one of his friends, also a fighter for the IS.

Her lawyers argue that her successive marriages with IS fighters did not mean she supported the terror group but rather ensured her survival and gave her hope of one day escaping.

"She was not part of the Islamic State but was more someone who survived the group," said her lawyer Nils Christian Nordhus.

- IS hostage and member -

Following the defeat of IS, the woman was brought back to Norway in January last year with her children, one of whom was ill, from the Kurdish-controlled Al-Hol detention camp in Syria.

Her return was highly criticised at the time by the populist right-wing Progress Party which left the Norwegian government in protest.

The trial -- the first of a woman accused of joining IS -- has put the spotlight on the role women played in the terror group.

"ISIS is an entity classed as a terrorist organization by the UN. It's the entire organization, not just the fighting part, that is classed as such," said Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish expert on terrorism, using another acronym for the group.

"It doesn't matter if you're driving an ambulance or cooking at home, you're part of the terrorist organization," he said.

According to the Rand Corporation think tank, some 41,500 foreign fighters joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The majority of European countries, including Norway, have resisted taking back citizens who joined the group and are now being held in detention camps in Syria.

Some argue that although women who joined the group may not have taken part in battles, they played a key part by supporting the fighters and giving birth to a new generation of potential jihadists.

Ranstorp said however the women had little room to manoeuver once they set foot in Syria.

"It's complicated in the case of a woman because you can't leave without a male guardian or without a permission," he said. "So you're at the same time a hostage of ISIS but you're also part of its machinery."

The trial is set to last until March 24.


More People Talking about Rugby in Egypt Following Women’s Arab Sevens Success

March 5, 2021

Egypt captain Farida Elzakzouk hopes her side’s success at the recent Arab Sevens can help provide a springboard for the women’s game in the African nation.

Fielding an international team for the first time in a decade, hosts Egypt won the women’s tournament without conceding a single point, beating Lebanon, Syria and the UAE in Alexandria.

“It was amazing, to be very honest, because that's really the first time we actually played next to each other,” Elzakzouk told World Rugby.

“We won the tournament with a clean sheet, which is amazing because we didn't expect that.

“We knew that we were good and so on, however, we didn't expect this progress. So, we're really excited to participate in other tournaments.”


The Egyptian Rugby Football Union was convinced to provide funding, and coaches, for the team by Transforma Panthers player Menna Sedky, who was part of the squad in Alexandria.

Elzakzouk revealed that the team has since been invited to play in international competitions in Africa, and she has her sights set on helping Egypt earn their place in regional qualifying for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022.

“More people are talking about rugby in Egypt right now,” she added. “A lot of people are coming to me [and asking:] 'How can I come?' 'How can I play?'

“So, I'm really happy that this hype just gave rugby the good publicity it needs in Egypt. So, I really hope that in five years the teams get bigger, we have more numbers in the national league in Egypt, which means that we'll have a better chance of reaching better positions when it comes to other [tournaments], whether in Africa or in the Arab world or even on a global level.”

Although Egypt beat Syria 31-0 in the pool stage and then again by the same score in the final, Elzakzouk admitted that it was the team led by Sarah Abd Elbaki who made them most nervous.

Abd Elbaki has become an influential figure ( in women’s rugby in the Arab world, and when she isn’t captaining her country, works as Syria Rugby’s Head of Women’s Rugby Development, is an assistant coach for the men’s national team and a referee.

“We all knew how great she is,” Elzakzouk said. “Everyone says that she's well known and she coaches different teams and she's very known [on] the rugby field.

“So, we were really nervous to play against her. However, I believe that our coaches really gave us a lot of the knick-knacks, how to [cope].”


Abd Elbaki found out that she would be captain in Alexandria a month before the tournament, when the squad began its preparation for Egypt.

“It's an amazing feeling, I'm so proud,” she said. “It's an honour, actually, to be the captain of such a wonderful team and strong ladies. And, I'm just so proud and honoured to be the captain.”

Abd Elbaki added: “We had our eyes on the gold medal, to be honest. But unfortunately, we lost because Egypt is such a strong team and it's their land, and [their players] have huge experience.

“So, they were a tough number for us. But, we did our best to be honest. We were fighting in that game.”

Unsurprisingly for someone who juggles four very different roles, as a player, coach, referee and administrator, Abd Elbaki is unsure which one will eventually dominate her time.

“It's not easy, to be honest, but when you love something you just give it all you've got,” she explained. “I try to focus, I try to make a transition between all of them and to clear my mind.

“So, it's not easy, but I manage to do it and I didn't choose what I want to do for the future, [yet]. But, I just want to keep on trying all of them until I find my right path.”

What is in no doubt is the young Syrian’s drive and passion for rugby, and Abd Elbaki is determined to showcase the game to as many women around the world as possible.

“I'm so happy because this is my goal, you know, this is what I want to do,” she said about her growing profile in the game.

“I just want to introduce rugby to every woman in my country and not only in my country, in Asia and in the world.

“So, it's really an amazing thing when you can be in a place where you can meet more women. And, I'm just working on that and hopefully I manage to inspire other women.”


Egyptian Singer Fatma Said Nominated For BBC Music Magazine Award

March 02, 2021

DUBAI: Egyptian singer Fatma Said has been nominated for the BBC Music Magazine’s 2021 Vocal Award for her debut album “El-Nour,” the music sensation announced on Instagram this week.

“I am excited and honored to learn that I am nominated for the BBC Music Magazine’s 2021 Vocal Award alongside wonderful artists that I admire and look up to,” she wrote captioning the announcement picture released by the BBC.

She is competing against Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski’s album “Mahler,” as well as French pianist Alexandre Tharaud and operatic soprano Sabine Devieilhe for their album “Chanson d’Amour.”

In “El-Nour,” which she released in June 2020, she sings some of the most famous Arabic songs like “Sahar El-Layali” by renowned Lebanese singer Fairouz and “Yamama Beida,” an Egyptian folk song composed by Dawoud Hosny in the late 19th century.

In a post she shared on Instagram upon the release of her album, the musician said: “My debut album ‘El-Nour,’ (the light) in Arabic, has been years in the making. With it, I want to explore how music that has been interpreted many times can be presented in different ways, in a different light.”

It connects three cultures and languages – Arabic, French, and Spanish – and shows how much, despite cultural, geographical, and historical differences, they have in common musically,” she added.

Over her career, Said has shared the stage with renowned musicians such as Leo Nucci from Italy, Rolando Villazón from Mexico, Juan Diego Florez from Peru, Michael Schade from Canada and Jose Cura from Argentina.

She also performed recitals with German clarinetist Sabine Meyer and British pianists such as Malcom Martineau, Roger Vignoles, Joseph Middleton.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in music from Berlin’s Hanns Eisler School of Music in 2013, Said was awarded a scholarship to study at the Accademia del Teatro alla Scala in Milan, becoming the first Egyptian soprano to perform on that iconic stage.

In the past years she has won several major singing competitions including the 8th Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition in Dublin, the 7th Leyla Gencer International Opera Competition in Istanbul, the second prize at the 16th International Robert Schumann Lied Competition in Zwickau and the Grand Prix at the 1st Giulio Perotti International Opera Competition in Germany.


Canadian Govt Has Various Programs To Empower Women In Pakistan: Wendy Gilmore

Muhammad Irfan

05th March 2021

ISLAMABAD, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 4th Mar, 2021 ) :Canadian Envoy to Pakistan Ms. Wendy Gilmore said that Canada has various programmes to empower women and Pakistan has a long way to achieve gender equality by including all civil society groups in decision-making which is essential for economic growth and development.

She said while talking at Club de Madrid and Aurat Foundation organized a virtual session on civil society perspectives on inclusive development roadmap in Pakistan under the 'Shared Societies Project' said a press release here.

She further said that the Canadian government has many programs to support civil society in Pakistan and empower women and that inclusiveness is at the heart of their work.

The virtual session was aimed to share the best international and national practices and to highlight the strategies for inclusive development and ways to foster consensus between the state and CSOs on the need to implement the sustainable development goals in a participatory manner.

Ms. Kim Campbell, the former Prime Minister of Canada and Club de Madrid member, highlighted that inclusion should be at the heart of decision-making.

Ms. Mumtaz Mughal, director programmes, Aurat Foundation highlighted the importance of goal 5 and the need to mainstream the principles of equality and non-discrimination throughout all the 17 sustainable development goals.

Ms. Aima Mehmood, Executive Director Working Women Organization stressed the need to have unions and worker's organization participate in the social and economic inclusion of the laborer in sustainable groups. She declared that without a deep commitment to inclusive development, the SDGs run the risk of not directing the substantive transformation needed to achieve strong sustainable development.

Ms. Jannat Ali, Transgender Activist discussed how transgender people are denied both equity and equality. The law for transgender rights must be implemented and Trans people should be included in this as well as in elections, planning, decision making and given economic opportunities and a platform through which they can end the communication gap.

Ms. Abia Akram, CEO 'National Forum of Women' with disability emphasized the need to work with local governments and line ministries to include issues faced by women with disabilities in all policies and legislation to ensure required reasonable accommodations and reduce systemic barriers.

Aside from the speakers, around 80 representatives of various civil society organizations, vulnerable groups, youth, academia, and minority rights activists from across Pakistan attended the session.


Women Conference from Saturday

March 5, 2021

KARACHI: President Arts Council Pakistan, Karachi Mohammad Ahmed Shah on Thursday announced that the Second Women Conference would be taking place in the city on March 6 and 7.

Addressing a press conference, Mr Shah said that “We pay tribute to all the women who have excelled in every field. If women are put aside, all dreams of development are unfulfilled”.

He said that Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) will be followed strictly at the conference. The audience will be allowed to sit in the hall with a gap of one empty seat. Masks will be provided to those who come without them and hands will be sanitized at the entrance.

Secretary Arts Council Ejaz Ahmed Farooqi, rights activist Anis Haroon and writer and columnist Noorul Huda Shah were also present.

Anis Haroon said economic empowerment is the most important thing in the world today. The nations where women work equally with men are powerful today. Women’s fight is not against men but against patriarchy, which deprives them of their basic rights, she said.

Ejaz Farooqi said that “every child should have access to education. If a woman is not educated then her children cannot develop better. Education is an ornament to raise awareness and make women aware of their rights”.


'Strong Women of Strong Turkey' inspires progress in the country

MAR 04, 2021

Ahead of International Women’s Day, a summit in Istanbul brought together prominent women from all walks of life on Thursday. From first lady Emine Erdoğan to politicians, businesspeople, actors and sports figures, they discussed the role women play in the country’s progress and growth.

Women still lag behind men in terms of employment and pay but Turkey, pursuing economic growth, is seeking to change this trend. As awareness to gender equality rises, they also inspire young girls with their success stories. The Strong Women of Strong Turkey summit, hosted by Turkuvaz Media Group’s Sabah newspaper, delved into women’s roles and progress in various fields, from sports to politics and business.

In a video message to the summit in Istanbul, Erdoğan said she believed that increasing “woman power” in Turkey would also help resolve global problems.

“Turkey achieved progress recently in multiple fields and became a leading country in the world. It owes much to women in this success. We draw the power for decisive steps toward our 2023 goals from women,” she said, referring to the centenary of the Republic of Turkey. The country pursues an ambitious, multipronged plan with a 2023 deadline as part of its goals, from economic growth to the improvement of rights. “All of the women who attended this summit are a source of inspiration for all of us and what they’ve done so far is a sign of the bright future awaiting us,” she said.

Along with Erdoğan, Commerce Minister Ruhsar Pekcan and Family, Labor and Social Services Minister Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk attended the summit. The summit hosted panels on women in the business world, politics and sports. Among other participants were ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group Deputy Chair Özlem Zengin, Fatma Şahin, the mayor of the southern province Gaziantep, and Agriculture and Forestry Deputy Minister Ayşe Ayşin Işıkgece. Limak Holding chairperson of the board Ebru Özdemir, oil company Opet’s board member Nurten Öztürk, appliance company Arnica’s chairperson Senur Akın Biçer and female board members of other prominent companies attended a business panel at the summit. Prominent women in sports, from accomplished gymnast Göksu Üçtaş Şanlı, top taekwondo player Hatice Kübra Ilgün, Beşiktaş women’s football team coach Bahar Özgüvenç and the team’s captain Başak Gündoğdu also attended the summit. The famous singers Ajda Pekkan, Muazzez Ersoy and Sibel Can and prominent actors Türkan Şoray and Fadik Sevin Atasoy made speeches at a panel titled “Women In Arts” at the summit.

The first lady said women’s efforts made Turkey proud, giving examples of businesspeople helping the country to compete in global markets, successful artists, female scientists contributing to the country’s locally made technological innovations and women working and founding charities.

“Women have been at the forefront of accomplishments throughout our history, from their work in national defense to their contribution to the economy. We won our War of Independence with women fighting alongside men. Women had the right to vote and to be elected long before other countries granted those rights to women,” she added.

Turkey strives to boost women’s roles in society, and it has succeeded in largely changing a patriarchal mindset that hurt the progress in some parts of the country. Women are still getting paid less than men no matter how educated they are. Turkey, like the rest of the world, strives to close the pay gap between men and women, as well as to include more women in the workforce. Gender equality and affirmative action for women are high on the government's agenda.

Speaking at the summit, Pekcan said that tapping into women’s potential would definitely help Turkey to reach its growth goals. “This year’s theme set by United Nations for International Women’s Day is ‘women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.’ Enterprises and leadership run by women bear significance for women to have more equal opportunities,” she said. The minister noted that although Turkey has seen accomplishments in the field, more needs to be done. “We focus on having women in every field, from social life to economy and culture, in a more efficient, equal way, to sustain their lives and achieve their ideals without having to deal any discrimination, exclusion or mistreatment,” she said. The minister noted that digitalization in the global economy and easier access to information and sources brought forth new opportunities for easier empowerment for women. “We have back those new opportunities with legal infrastructures and set the proper ecosystem to improve the status of women,” she said.

Pekcan said her ministry cooperates with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations to improve women’s role in economic life. “We are trying to create a network of female entrepreneurs and reach out to entrepreneurs in all provinces. So far, our network brought together 1,400 entrepreneurs in 47 provinces. We also run an Export Academy program to train and advise women seeking to export goods they manufactured and have trained more than 4,000 entreprenerus so far,” she said.

Along with employment issues, women face another obstacle: domestic violence. Though legal measures and police protection curbed the cases of violence, which occasionally ends with fatalities, it still plagues women’s efforts for more inclusion in social and working life, according to Selçuk who spoke at the summit. Selçuk said the government has a zero tolerance policy on violence and sought to eliminate the murders of women. “We believe we can overcome it with the support of nongovernmental organizations, the entire society and media,” she said.

Selçuk stated that women have come a long way in overcoming obstacles on their paths, giving the example of the cruelty headscarf-wearing women suffered during the period before and after the infamous 1997 coup. “Thousands of girls could not attend school because of their headscarf. They were deprived of the right to education and faith. But this dark period has been buried deep in history now thanks to the resolute struggle of women,” she said. She also noted that girls’ education has seen progress, with schooling campaigns and education aid. “In higher learning alone, the schooling rate has tripled for women in the past 18 years,” the minister said.


Egypt Draft Law Condemned As Setback for Women's Rights

5 March 2021

In Egypt, a woman can be a minister who signs a multi-billion-dollar deal and yet be unable to legally travel abroad, contract her marriage or even approve life-saving surgery for a child she gave birth to without a male guardian’s prior consent, according to a draft law ratified recently by the government.

The Egyptian cabinet, which includes eight female ministers, has recently referred the controversial personal status draft law to a joint parliamentary religious-legislative committee.

The draft law, leaked by the portal of daily independent Youm 7 newspaper, known for being loyal to the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was removed from the website hours later.

But it was already too late, as the bill had sent shock waves across the country after social media users had shared the 45-page text online to be picked up by media outlets shortly afterwards. 

Feminist and human rights groups have been quick to issue several statements condemning their "exclusion" from the drafting process and describing the amendments as "archaic".

The government, meanwhile, has not denied the authenticity of the leaked document, which opponents say contradicts the principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that Egypt ratified in 1982.  

‘Legal oppression’ of women

The draft law seems confusing to many. Whereas some articles may sound favourable to women, legal experts argue that it strips women of their basic rights and gives men full authority over them.

One article, which stirred the outrage of women’s rights advocates, has to do with the legal right of a male guardian who can have the marriage of his sister, daughter or niece annulled within one year, provided that there is no pregnancy or childbirth, in case she marries someone her brother sees as incompetent or socially unequal, or if she gets married without his approval.

“The law simply calls off the rights women have acquired over decades of fighting, taking us more than 100 years backwards,” lawyer Entissar El-Saeid told Middle East Eye.

“A grown woman has the right to decide her destiny regardless of her status or education. She is not a toy in the hands of a man to control,” El-Saied argued.

Political sociologist Said Sadek could not agree more, describing the law as “a continuation of violence against women”.

“It’s a new form of legal oppression against women, which echoes the dominant patriarchal culture of the ruling class,” Sadek told MEE.

“It further shows that the recent political improvements in Egypt are fake. The fact that women have a quota in the parliament and a high presence in the government doesn’t seem to be reflected in social and political development in Egypt,” he added.

Another article indicates that a mother has no guardianship of her child with matters pertaining to healthcare, education, travel and the issuance of official papers, further denying her right to have her newborn registered on her own without the father’s presence.

“It’s as if the law is ending my very being as a mother. It’s a known fact that women in Egypt carry out most of the rules and responsibilities that have to do with their children. So how come they are not legally recognised as guardians?” a divorced woman told MEE on condition of anonymity.

New rules for polygamy

Though it may seem like a means of limiting polygamy, the law includes an article stipulating that a man must officially inform his wife of his intention to marry another, otherwise he will be jailed and fined.

On the other hand, a maazoun (a legal registrar) will also be imprisoned and deposed if he registers the marriage of a married man who did not notify his other spouse beforehand.

“Such articles will likely open the door for the spread of extramarital affairs and unregistered ‘urfi’ [common-law] marriages in society, which already exist, and in turn, the loss of rights of women and children,” counselling psychologist Hanan Marzouk argued.

“Islam has stipulated special conditions for a man to marry more than one woman, and women have the right to reject it and ask for a divorce,” she added.

Islamic scholars are divided over the draft law. While preacher Khalid El-Gindi, known for being pro-government, hailed it on the TV programme he presents on the DMC private satellite channel, calling it “a reason to celebrate”, Ahmed Karima, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Azhar University argued that “it violated Islamic sharia law” and, hence, “is deemed unconstitutional”.

The second article of the Egyptian constitution dictates that “the principles of Islamic sharia law are the main source of legislation”.

“As per sharia, there is no penalty in the absence of a crime. At the same time, a man can’t be punished for doing what’s rightfully his,” Karima told national TV. 

El-Saeid, the lawyer, begs to differ. “I’m for banning polygamy. The idea itself is demeaning to women. But since it’s hard to criminalise it, I suggest that the law organises it. Men have to prove their financial and physical competence to be able to marry another woman, but with the approval of his wife,” she argued. 

Divorce insurance policy

One seemingly positive article is about the wife being offered an insurance policy upon marriage that she can benefit from in case the husband divorces her without her consent, a provision appreciated by some women, especially those who have no source of income and could suffer negative consequences after an unfair divorce. Yet the legislation detailed no mechanisms for applying it.

“An insurance policy may not be of real worth after the woman gets divorced as the value of the Egyptian pound declines over the years,” El-Saeid argued. “I’m for dividing the husband’s wealth upon divorce.” 

According to the new draft law, any lawsuit to have a marriage ratified will be rejected in case the age of the wife or the husband is below 18 at the time of filing it. 

While the article may be interpreted as a way of ending the phenomenon of child marriage in Egypt, Marzouk argues that it is yet another article that will allow for the loss of women’s and children’s rights.

The bill stipulates that whoever facilitates a child marriage, whether it is a maazoun or a family member, will be fined and sentenced to prison as well.

It is quite common in rural areas and among poorer families to marry their children off at a young age.

“I don’t believe this article will make people stop having their minor children married. The phenomenon can be solved by awareness-raising rather than incrimination, while preserving, at the same time, the rights of wives and children born through child marriages,” Marzouk said.

Based on the draft law, verbal divorce can be counted with a single declaration by a husband, which again has raised controversy. According to Islamic law, a verbal divorce only counts in a case where a man is in his full senses at the time when he utters the phrase “I, hereby, divorce you” to his wife three times. If he declares it just once, only separation follows, which can be reversed.

Both President Sisi and Azhar have been at loggerheads in recent years after Sisi called on Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb to enact legislation that calls off verbal divorce in order to lower the high divorce rates in Egypt.

Over the past few years, Sisi has further demanded that Azhar, as the highest Islamic institution in the region, adopt modern religious discourse, which has been met by the rejection of some Islamic scholars and the lenience of others.


Egypt’s National Council for Women Launches Awareness Campaign on Nutrition Education

March 5, 2021

Egypt’s National Council for Women (NCW) held a meeting, last week, with officials from Savola Foods, a company under the Saudi Savola Group umbrella, to discuss the launch of the “Al Moaadla Al Sah” (Perfect Equation) awareness campaign.

The campaign aims to educate women in several governorates across Egypt on the importance of proper nutrition.

Talking to Daily News Egypt, Hania Serry, General Manager of the Pasta, Seafood, Bakery and new categories sector at the Savola Foods Company, said the campaign’s main goal is to educate the Egyptian woman about the dangers of the chemical process known as hydrogenation.

“In addition to this, the campaign also aims to inform them on how to identify non-hydrogenated products, to prevent all the diseases that are caused due to the process,” Serry added.

She also said, “Through the ‘Al-Moaadla Al Sah’ awareness campaign, we will be able to educate Egyptian women on the means of proper nutrition and familiarise housewives with choosing safe dietary products that help promote the overall health and wellbeing of the Egyptian family.”

Mohamed Badran, Chief Strategy Officer at Savola Foods Company, said that the company has been quite eager to forge a constructive alliance with the NCW. This is particularly given how the organisation has made a clear impact on upholding the status of Egyptian women.

 “Hydrogenated oils and trans-fat have harmful, even damaging effects on our health, especially when the daily intake exceeds 2% of the total energy intake,” Badran said, “These harmful substances increase the risk for brain strokes, cardiac diseases, thrombosis, coronary artery disease, Paraplegia and Quadriplegia.”

“They also increase the risk of hypercholesterolemia, type 2 diabetes, obesity and other fatal diseases,” he added.

Serry said that the first phase of the campaign will last for one month, and will cover 11 governorates, including: Cairo; Giza; Alexandria; Qaliubiya; Beheira; Gharbeya; Ismailia; Daqahleya; Minya; Assiut; and Sohag, with a focus in Delta and Upper Egypt.

Serry said that part of the campaign is working on the ground to raise the awareness of the women in their homes through partnering with the NCW.

This will take the form of the door-to-door campaign titled “Al-Moaadla Al Sah”, whilst raising awareness among women about proper nutrition and how to verify healthy products.

This gains particular importance especially with regard to heart diseases, and how to use good nutrition. Meanwhile, there will be also awareness campaigns through television and the social media.

She explained that the initiative targets reaching out to 165 women in its first phase, which means 165 families across Egypt, as Egyptian women are largely responsible for the family health.

”Through our campaign, we are targeting to reach the households and consumers, hoping to make a transformation in the industry to see all products in Egypt are non-hydrogenated,” she said.

Responding to Daily News Egypt`s question on how can the Egyptian women could differentiate between the non- hydrogenated and the hydrogenated dietary while purchasing, she said that woman should look for a label of “100% non-hydrogenated,” on the dietary, if she found something like this, she could but it, if not she should search for another non-hydrogenated dietary.

Maya Morsy, Chairperson of the NCW, said Egyptian women are responsible for their families’ health. Hence, they are responsible for the society’s health in its entirety.

“I feel proud to witness businesses dedicated to fulfil their social responsibility duties, towards achieving sustainable development goals,” she said.



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