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111Muslim, Jain and Hindu, Fatherless Girls, to Be Married In Surat, Gujarat

New Age Islam News Bureau

19 Nov 2014

Women take part in a drumming session in downtown Johannesburg, Friday, March 8, 2013 to protest against violence against women and children.


  Young Indian Muslim Women as Rights-Champions

 Street Harassment of Saudi Women on the Rise

 26-Year-Old Woman Is ISIS’s Last American Hostage

 Syria Kurds Give Women Equality, Take That, ISIS!

 47% Rise in Women in KSA Seeking Divorce

 Kenya Protesters Call for an End to Violence against Women

 Malala Urges Pakistani Children to Fight for Education

 Sindh, Pakistan, MPAs Take Up the Women and Minorities' Cause

 Controversy Flares at Guantanamo over Female Guards

 Saudi Arabia to Appoint Women as Board Members of Tawafa Organizations

 ‘Earning Isn’t As Big a Problem As Acceptance Is For Us’: A Pakistani Transgender

 Egypt making slow progress on genital mutilation

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





111Muslim, Jain and Hindu Fatherless Girls to Be Married In Surat, Gujarat

TNN | Nov 19, 2014

SURAT: At least 1,000 volunteers will attempt to get into the Guinness World Records by maintaining cleanliness for three days at the venue of marriage of 111 fatherless girls here on November 30. It would be Herculean's task as 70,000 people are expected to attend the marriage of girls belonging to Muslim, Jain and 23 Hindu caste groups.

An attempt would also be made for another world record at the same venue with application of 'Mehndi' on the palm of 900 girls. The organizers have invited the Guinness World Records to judge the two events.

The cleaning work will be carried out round the clock at the marriage venue spread over 1.50 Lakh square metre at Abrama in the outskirts of the city for three days during different ceremonies like 'Mehndi and Garba'. The guests will be encouraged not to litter and if waste is thrown in the open area, the volunteers will clear it immediately.

A city-based businessman Mahesh Savani will be spending around Rs 6 crore on the marriage function. Each bride will be given household items and jewellery worth Rs 4 Lakh to start their married life. Savani so far has got 140 fatherless girls married off in the past three years.

Savani discharges the responsibility of a father. He also sponsors the expenses of a tour of the couple six months after the marriage and on the first delivery.

"I have attempted to support girls from different religions and castes. I do this for communal harmony. I have distributed 40,000 invitation cards and over 70,000 guests are expected. This time we also want to spread the message of cleanliness," said Savani, who runs schools and is into property business.

The Savani family will appreciate the services of a 'Safai Karamchari', a woman 'Safai Karamchari', a bus driver and a bus conductor during the marriage function to acknowledge their services to the society.



Young Indian Muslim Women as Rights-Champions

Nov 19, 2014

There has been a tremendous brouhaha over the issue of access by undergraduate women students of the Women's College, Aligarh, to the Maulana Azad Central Library on the AMU campus.  The issue has received much media attention because of the unacceptable reasons cited by the Vice-Chancellor for not allowing  undergraduate women students the opportunity to visit the library and, even more, because of his completely misguided and foolish attempt to ban the Times of India from the AMU campus. 

Lost in the sound and thunder, however, is what is perhaps the most important aspect of the controversy -  the tremendous courage displayed by the students and teachers of the Women's College who have been raising this issue repeatedly for the last five years despite confronting tremendous opposition ranging from criticism to outright abuse.

In fact, the courage that Muslim girls and women are exhibiting in their pursuit of gender justice is inspiring.  This is not confined to denizens of Women's College, Aligarh, nor is it exhibited only by Muslim women fighting for their rights according to their interpretation of Sharia law. It is much more widespread and needs to be given the same attention and support that others fighting against gender injustice receive, if not more.

There have been wonderful examples of this in the last couple of weeks gleaned from careful readings of newspapers and reporting of events on the Internet.

Three years ago, a group of young girls in Mumbra (a Muslim majority township in Maharashtra's Thane district) were wondering about pursuing their ambition of playing football.  They went from pillar to post looking for support and then for a ground to play, and after about a year of unrelenting effort, they succeeded in finding both. A year ago, they organized a successful signature campaign in which 900 Muslim girls participated and were able to get their own ground to practice and then went on to win two women's football tournaments in the State. Needless to say, they have had to face criticism and hostility from their own family members and community.  But they are unfazed.  Not content to rest on their much-deserved laurels, they have formed an organisation called Parcham in memory of the famous poem by Majaz (a student of Aligarh Muslim University in another era) in which he exhorts women saying: "Tere maathe par yeh anchal bohat khoob hai lekin, Tu ise ek parcham bana leti to achcha thaa" (The veil that covers your forehead is praiseworthy but if you could convert it into a flag, it would be so much better). 

A few days ago, these brave fighters from Parcham organised a cycle rally of 150 young Muslim girls in Mumbra. All of them had been taught to cycle, in great secrecy, by the Parcham volunteers. Most of them cycled with their heads covered with scarves and Hijabs, but what they experienced as they went flying past their astonished neighbours and parents was not only exhilarating but transformative. As one of the Parcham activists said "We, too, have transformed something that many see as a sign of repression into a symbol of revolution".

On the same day, two activists who belong to the Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan - the same group that has finalised and circulated amendments to Muslim Personal Law to make it more gender-just along with a Model Nikahnama - filed a PIL in the Mumbai High Court demanding that Muslim women be allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum at Haji Ali along with male pilgrims. Apparently this right was withdrawn a few years ago, and these brave women are now demanding its restitution. It is interesting that Hindu women pilgrims face a similar discrimination at Sabarimala in Kerala. Maybe they will be inspired by their Muslim sisters.

Another brave young woman, a dentistry student, is braving the wrath of her community in Kerala because she has dared to marry a young Hindu man of her choice. The young couple is staying with his family protected by the police and CPI(M) activists, but with their freedom of movement completely curtailed and threats being hurled at them from various directions. The young woman, Anshida, has expressed her determination to live her life with her partner of choice.

Most incredibly, there have been a sprinkling of Muslim girls at various versions of the 'Kiss for Love' event in Kochi, Delhi, Mumbai and so on.

It is widely believed that while it is difficult for women of all communities to fight gender discrimination that is alleged to have religious sanction on its side, Muslim women and girls, perhaps, face the greatest odds.  If that is true, then those who are fighting discrimination in so many different ways are worthy of our attention and support. As half of a community much demonised in the present time, they are standing up to be counted while they break not only rules but also stereotypes.

(Subhashini Ali is former MP, former Member of the National Commission for Women and Vice President of the All India Democratic Women's Association.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.



Street Harassment of Saudi Women on The Rise

Nov 19, 2014

Women in Jeddah are becoming increasingly concerned about the rising trend of harassment and have urged the traffic police to be more vigilant in dispensing their duties considering that the reckless young men often chase taxis and cars with women passengers at high speeds posing a risk to fellow motorists and pedestrians.

Taxi drivers and women passengers regularly complain about this nuisance.

“I was taking a taxi to my workplace when suddenly a young man driving a Jeep began ramming the car from behind and ordered the taxi driver to pull over. I advised the taxi driver to change his route but it did not help and the man continued to follow and harass us,” said Farah Zaman.

She added that he finally swerved in front of the taxi blocking their path. “He began shouting at us to scare us and said that he would call the police, but before he could do so, I dialed 999 and called them myself. The police officer was very cooperative and asked me to look around to see if there was a police officer available,” said Zaman.

She explained that she was lucky to find a police officer after 10 minutes. The police officer told the young man to leave or risk arrest, she said.

Another victim, Sameera Zahrani, said that these unruly young men not only harass women on the streets, follow taxis and cars and terrify expatriate drivers but they also harass women pedestrians. Motorist Faroq Ali said: “These youth drive recklessly creating havoc on the roads which could result in terrible accidents or even death. However, as an expatriate, I am afraid to interfere.”

Tariq Abbasi, a visitor from the UK, told Arab News that he was shocked at seeing the way the youth chase women. He said: “We don’t expect this to happen in an Islamic country hosting the two holy cities. In fact, we haven’t seen such things happening on the streets of London.”

Vice president of the Social Science Forum organization and a social scientist, I. Hasan, said that the solution to the problem is to have the traffic police exercise more vigilance on Jeddah’s streets. "They should also be authorized to arrest anyone doing this obnoxious activity and there should be strict laws.”

He added that the "wasta system" should be eliminated as the guilty party takes advantage of its contacts with high officials to obtain a release without punishment.

He said that the guilty youth should stand trial and have the sentence read out to them in the presence of their parents, who should also be warned to reign in their sons or risk facing punishment themselves.

“Just as the traffic department is introducing a points system for reckless drivers, there should be one for youth who harass women where they stand to lose their driving license if they continue with the behaviour,” he said. “Introducing stricter laws will certainly be a deterrent and the behaviour will disappear with time,” he concluded.

Female harassment also takes place in malls which has resulted in some malls barring entry of young men at weekends.



 26-Year-Old Woman Is ISIS’s Last American Hostage

Nov 19, 2014

The extremists didn’t show her off in their latest snuff film. And her family doesn’t want her name released. But what is known about ISIS’s remaining U.S. captive is heartbreaking.

With ISIS’s brutal murder of Peter Kassig, a 26-year-old American aid worker who dedicated his life to the plight of Syrian refugees, the militant group has one more U.S. citizen remaining in its clutches, according to current and former U.S. officials, as well as individuals involved in efforts to free the Americans.

The hostage is the only American woman held by the militant group. She is the same age as Kassig, and, like him, was kidnapped while trying to help people whose lives have been upended by the long Syrian civil war. She was particularly moved to help children who have been orphaned and separated from their families. The woman was taken in August 2013, along with a group of other aid workers who have reportedly been released.

U.S. officials and the woman’s family have requested that her name not be made public, fearing that further attention will put her in greater jeopardy. No news organization has published her name. But the general circumstances of her capture and captivity have been known and widely reported for more than a year now.

ISIS’s intentions for its remaining American prisoner are unclear. But current and former U.S. officials told The Daily Beast that it was notable she doesn’t appear at the end of a video, released Sunday, that shows the aftermath of Kassig’s beheading. That breaks with ISIS’s pattern of showing the next hostage it intends to kill.

ISIS has killed Muslim women, as well as children. But it has never murdered a female Western hostage on camera. Doing so would mark a radical departure even for a group that has relied on bloody propaganda to lure foreign fighters to its ranks.

A former U.S. counterterrorism official said that before ISIS decides what to do with its remaining American hostage, it will consider carefully the public reaction it could spark. “Before they’re doing anything, they want to have a really good feel for how it will play,” the former official said.

ISIS has reportedly demanded more than $6 million for the remaining American hostage’s freedom, a figure in keeping with the impossibly high ransoms it has placed on other U.S. citizens it has held. The Obama administration has a firm policy of not paying ransom for hostages and has even advised the families of Americans held in Syria that they could be criminally prosecuted if they paid for their loved ones’ releases. (ISIS has freed European citizens, however, from countries where ransoms aren’t illegal.)

The fact that ISIS requests any ransom for its American prisoners and makes it too high for most people to pay indicates that the group isn’t really serious about freeing the Americans, according to current and former U.S. officials and hostage-negotiation experts. Instead, the hostages are being used as props in ISIS’s global propaganda campaign, which is largely aimed at recruiting new followers. Viewed through that lens, ISIS’s American and British captives (the U.K. likewise has an official ban on ransoms) have been more useful to the group for its videos than in raising money, even though ransoms are an important source of ISIS’s income.

The latest ISIS video, showing Kassig’s death, had been expected ever since he was first shown on camera in early October, in another beheading video, and identified as the militant group’s next victim. But this new film differs in key respects from its predecessors, and it may offer new insights into ISIS’s propaganda strategy—and its weaknesses.

The latest video is uncharacteristically long, clocking in at more than 16 minutes, as opposed to the earlier two- to three-minute films showing hostages being murdered. The new video is filled with breathless celebration of the rise of the so-called Islamic State and an exhortation to its followers to join in armed struggle against the “crusader” forces of the United States and the United Kingdom. Indeed, it seems rather desperate in its chest-thumping. It’s also remarkably more brutal—though not to American hostages. A parade of knife-wielding ISIS fighters behead 18 captives, described as Syrian military officers and pilots, in a ghoulish display filled with slow-motion effects and ominous music. It’s by far the most grisly depiction of beheadings ever shown by ISIS.

Kassig is shown only near the end of the video, already beheaded. Unlike other hostages who have read (presumably coerced) statements denouncing the U.S.-led airstrikes, Kassig is never shown speaking. His killer alludes to the fact that he had “little to say” and that other American captives killed before him had already spoken out against the Obama administration. Several current and former U.S. officials speculated that Kassig, who converted to Islam while in captivity and adopted the name Abdul Rahman, might have defied his captors by refusing to read their script or even have insisted on reciting passages from the Quran. “I suspect that Pete knew this was coming and that he refused to talk,” said one individual who has been involved with efforts to free American hostages.

Kassig’s parents had made his conversion to Islam, which they described as genuine and profound, a central pillar of their highly public efforts to free him. The Kassigs, of Indiana, had given television interviews about their son, made YouTube videos pleading with ISIS for his release, and held prayer vigils with members of the American Muslim community. At every turn, they described their son as a faithful follower who had dedicated his life to easing the suffering of innocents.

In a statement Sunday, Kassig’s parents said their son was “fed by a strong desire to use his life to save the lives of others” and that he “was drawn to the camps that are filled with displaced families and to understaffed hospitals inside Syria. We know he found his home amongst the Syrian people, and he hurt when they were hurting.”

President Obama, also in a statement, called Kassig by his chosen Muslim name and contrasted his charity and self-sacrifice with the “darkness” of ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry called Kassig “a young American who personified the values of altruism and compassion which are the very essence of his adopted religion of Islam.”

ISIS’s long-winded video recites chapter and verse the historic roots of the group, from its early days in Iraq fighting U.S. forces in 2004, and seeks to position the rise of ISIS as an inevitable development in a grand battle against the “crusaders.” The video also argues that ISIS is collecting followers across the Middle East, even as far east as China.

ISIS has a reason to buck up its forces and make itself seem invincible: U.S. airstrikes against the group are starting to yield some results. On Saturday, Iraqi ground forces, supported by American aircraft, took back an important oil refinery in Baiji, about 130 miles north of Baghdad, that ISIS had seized. (Illicit oil revenue has been a major source of the group’s funding.) And the U.S. has been closing in on ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, though efforts to kill him and his followers have been frustrated by ISIS’s use of encryption to shield its communications from American surveillance efforts.

Still, the video is a reminder of how feckless U.S. efforts to free American hostages have become. Insiders have said the process has been marred by bureaucratic turf wars and a refusal by the United States to negotiate with ISIS, which has freed European hostages in exchange for ransom.



Syria Kurds Give Women Equality, Take That, ISIS!

Nov 19, 2014

(CNN) -- It's a revolutionary decree. In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back to the 7th century, a Kurdish region in Syria has just approved a new law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!

The status of women has become one of the ideological battlegrounds in the fierce war between the self-described Islamic State and the Kurdish defenders, who have received air support from the United States. With the defiant decree by the small canton, the Kurds are doubling down, staking out a position as the stalwarts of modernity, not intimidated by opponents whose brutality has caused other armies to flee.

The change is not just symbolic. It is a real transformation in the legal status of women.

The timing of the decree is not accidental, and it is certainly brazen. It is a shot across the ideological bow of Islamists who have made a concerted push to spread their so-called caliphate's views throughout the Muslim world. And it is also a message to the West.

The Kurds are tacitly saying "Look at us. We are the ones who share your ideas about human rights and equality. We are the ones in this many-sided conflict that deserves your support."

The decree was issued by the Jazira district of Syria's Hasakeh province, about 100 miles from the now-legendary town of Kobani, where armed Kurdish men and women are holding their positions, battling to prevent the ultra-radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from overrunning their territory.

Kurdish-majority provinces in northern Syria declared self-rule in 2013 as the rest of Syria exploded into civil war. The Kurds, an ethnic Muslim minority spread mostly across Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, have faced repression and have fought for independence.

Although women have been a part of Kurdish fighting forces since long before ISIS swept across Syria and Iraq, women have fought for full equality. In remote, rural areas, conservative practices have remained the norm.

But the new rules in the Jazira district call for equal pay and equal inheritance rights. Until now, women were not allowed to inherit. They also declare the testimony of a woman in court equally valuable as that of a man.

In addition, the rule establishes maternity leave for women and, importantly, it mandates that no woman be married without her own consent, and never under the age of 18.

The contrast could not be sharper.

ISIS has engaged in the systematic rape of women, and even young girls have been handed off as "wives" as a reward for militants. The Islamic State has published online articles declares that capturing and selling women as slaves is an acceptable, even beneficial practice.

And while ISIS labels anyone who doesn't share its radical religious interpretation as an infidel or an apostate, subject to execution, the Kurds of Jazira says their rules on full equality will apply to everyone in their ethnically-mixed district.

ISIS already occupies about one-third of Hasakeh, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In areas under ISIS rule, women are required to cover completely and may not leave their homes without a male relative.

Still, ISIS, too, claims it empowers women. Like the Kurds, ISIS has also established all-women brigades, complete with weapons. But their role is diametrically different from that of Kurdish women.

The ISIS female brigades serve many purposes. They help undercut the notion that women are less free under their Islamist rule and they help encourage new recruits. They also serve important practical functions. The women's battalions also help in body searches, preventing men dressed as women from moving through checkpoints.

Then there is the more disturbing aspect of the ISIS all-women brigades. They act as the enforcers of the rules that oppress women. They check adherence to the dress code, for example. They are the morality police, and their principal job is to implement the day to day oppression of women. There are reports of armed women stopping girls in the street, quizzing them on their knowledge of Islam and of ISIS rules.

It's a long way from the role of female Kurds fighters, who are an integral part of the military force. In Kobani, about a third of the warriors are women. One of the top commanders is a woman. Their job is to do battle, to defend the city.

To be sure, the Kurds don't have a perfect record on the treatment of women. Honor killings, female genital mutilation and domestic violence have plagued their communities. In the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, the government has outlawed the practices, but they have proven difficult to eradicate.

Still, the Kurds are comparatively more modern than many of their neighbors. And the pressure from ISIS may just be moving them even farther along the road to equality. For women defending their territory, it is a delightful irony.



47% rise in women in KSA seeking divorce

Nov 19, 2014

There has been a 47 percent increase in lawsuits brought by women to divorce their husbands over the past year, to 2,033 cases, according to statistics released by the Justice Ministry.

The cases, known as khula, took place up until the end of the Hijri year, or Oct. 23 this year. There were 512 cases in Makkah region, 324 in Riyadh and 191 in the Eastern Province.

There were also an increasing number of lawsuits filed by husbands wanting their wives to return home over the past year, rising from 92 to 705 in Makkah, 36 to 541 in Riyadh, 148 to 319 in the Eastern Province, followed by Madinah and Qassim. Over the past four years, 624 separate marriage-related cases were brought by women against their husbands, with 187 filed by men against their wives.

The ministry stated that there were 100,000 marriages in the country over the past year. Riyadh had the most marriages at 30,000, followed by Makkah with 27,646 and the Eastern Province with 8,686.

Meanwhile, the ministry said it would soon launch a “divorce index” that would have statistics, reasons for breakups, and its social effects.

The project, aimed at finding solutions to divorces, would be launched next year in Makkah, Madinah, Riyadh, Dammam and Jeddah courts.

The Weaam association for family affairs would soon launch workshops, with government support, that would provide advice to couples on how to deal with conflict. There would also be workshops for those planning to get married.



Kenya protesters call for an end to violence against women

 Nov 19, 2014

Hundreds of Kenyans marched through the streets of Nairobi to protest at the stripping of a woman wearing a miniskirt, saying they had the right to wear what they want.

Protesters turned out to show their outrage following the widespread circulation on social media of a video showing a woman being attacked and stripped by a mob last week in central Nairobi after they said her skirt was too tight and short.

"Violence affects women, men, boys and girls, and if left to continue gaining currency, will deny us healthy relationships," organiser Ruth Knaust told Capital FM radio.

"My dress, my choice," read banners and flags carried by the demonstrators, the majority of them women, and many themselves wearing short fitted clothing.

"Dignity, respect and justice for all," read another sign.

With supporters singing and chanting, the crowd called for an end to violence against women.

"Women are being assaulted," protester Diana Okello said. "We especially want to know what the women we chose as leaders are doing."

Men also took part in the protest, which brought city centre traffic to a standstill, but demonstrators also came out in opposition demanding women wear more conservative clothes.

"A female colleague was spat on and touched by the goons who were paid to harass the peaceful protestors," charged activist Boniface Mwangi, who himself wore a dress in solidarity with women.

Kenya's Public Prosecution office has said the video of the attack would be analysed "with a view to identifying, apprehending and immediately bringing to justice the perpetrators of this heinous incident".



Malala urges Pakistani children to fight for education

Nov 19, 2014

PESHAWAR: Education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, urged children in Pakistan to stand up for their right to go to school.

Malala survived a Taliban assassination attempt two years ago and has gone on to champion children’s rights.

The 17-year-old now lives with her family in Britain, where she went for treatment after militants shot her in the head.

Speaking via video link, she addressed a thousand schoolchildren at a special event to celebrate her Nobel prize held in Peshawar.

“I want to see every girl getting her due respect and we need to raise our voice for it, we need to raise our voice for women’s rights, especially for the education of children, and the children should stand and struggle for their future,” she said.

“The nation should help children getting their rights instead of being a hurdle in their struggle.”

Malala also called for greater respect for women in what is a deeply patriarchal society.

“In a country where a female has served as prime minister, where women are serving as doctors and engineers, we should look towards them as role models,” she said.

While Malala has been hailed around the world for standing up for girls’ rights to education, the response to her in the country has not been completely positive, with some painting her as a “Western agent” on a mission to shame her country.

Earlier this month an association of private schools in Pakistan held an “I am not Malala” day, condemning the young Nobel laureate for what it called her support for controversial novelist Salman Rushdie.

Tuseday’s event was organised by the Rahid Shaheed Foundation, a charity organisation founded after the only son of former provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain was gunned down by militants.

Hussain lashed out at the current provincial government, led by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, for not organising any event to mark Malala’s Nobel achievement.

“The KPK government did not hold any event to mark achievement of Malala because they have sympathies for terrorists, because terrorists are standing behind them and they don’t want to upset the terrorists”, he said.



Sindh, Pakistan, MPAs Take Up the Women and Minorities' Cause

Nov 19, 2014

KARACHI: Sindh’s lawmakers are worried about the problems being faced by minorities. They want the government to take ‘appropriate’ action for the protection of religious minorities in the province.

On Tuesday, the Sindh Assembly adopted a resolution, demanding the government to take steps against the ‘injustices’ being suffered by minority communities. They also urged lawmakers to play an active role to protect such communities in their constituencies.

The resolution was moved by the Pakistan Muslim League – Functional parliamentary leader, Nand Kumar. “Girls of the Hindu community are being kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam. This assembly recommends that the minor girl, Anjali Menghwar, who was kidnapped from Ghotki district, be recovered and handed over to her parents and the culprits be arrested and punished according to the law,” the resolution reads. It also urged the government to take steps to avoid such incidents in the future.

The resolution prompted several members of the House to give their input. Some suggested that such incidents were the prime cause for member of religious minorities wishing to leave the country. They criticised the influential persons, particularly the pirs and religious clerics, for forcibly converting minor girls.

“A 12-year-old girl cannot take the decision to change her religion,” said Nand Kumar, referring to several cases of Hindu girls who had been kidnapped in Sindh. “Girls of our community are converted and married to Muslim boys at gunpoint.”

Pakistan People’s Party MPA Nadir Magsi, who belongs to the powerful Magsi tribe of Sindh and Balochistan, said that incidents not only defame Sindh and Pakistan but are also against the teachings of Islam. “We have saved the lives of many women and have made safe houses where victims are rehabilitated until they can go back to their homes,” he revealed. “Each of us will have to play a role in the fight against this sick mentality to protect the minority people in our own areas.”

Irum Azeem Farooque of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) drew the attention of the House towards the child marriage law passed by the Sindh Assembly a few months ago. “The law declares it illegal for anyone under 18 to contract marriage,” she said, demanding to implement the law in letter and spirit and bring another bill to protect the minorities.

Khatu Mal Jeevan of the PPP said that at least 15 girls of minority communities have been kidnapped in Sindh and Punjab in the current year.

MQM’s Faisal Subzwari suggested forming a special committee of the house to start a public hearing on the issue in order to strengthen the law against forced conversions and protect minorities.

The lawmakers also questioned the role of the Islamic Ideological Council. “The Islamic Ideological Council should clear its stance, rather than keeping mum on this issue. Some extremists are defaming Islam by indulging in such practices,” said PPP MPA Jam Khan Shoro.

Though it was a private member’ days when several private resolutions and bills were on the agenda, the minorities’ issue took up the entire session.



Controversy flares at Guantanamo over female guards

Nov 19, 2014

Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba) (AFP) - In the recently released "Camp X-Ray," "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart plays a soldier assigned to Guantanamo Bay who ends up befriending one of the detainees.

In reality, inmates at the US military prison have balked at the presence of female guards, saying it is an affront to their religious beliefs.

The issue has turned into a headache for US military authorities, who bristle at the idea of instituting any gender restrictions on staff at the facility on a naval base in southeastern Cuba.

Earlier this month, a military judge ignited the dispute when he granted an emergency order to temporarily halt the use of female guards in handling detainee Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.

Iraqi, who stands accused of having served as a senior Al-Qaeda military commander alongside Osama bin Laden, has refused to be shackled by female guards when he is taken to pre-trial hearings, such as those taking place this week.

Lawyers for the 53-year-old, who is an Iraqi national, have argued that Islam forbids such physical contact between a man and a woman who is neither his wife nor a relative.

"This commission has the duty of being mindful of religious and cultural differences within the parameters of its authority and responsibilities, while at the same time respecting the need of the detention facility commander to allocate resources and preserve security," wrote the judge, Navy Captain J.K. Waits.

But the commander of operations at Guantanamo, Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad, has voiced his opposition to any gender distinctions dictated by prisoners at the US facility in southern Cuba.

"We've had female guards and female medics since the first airplane landed from Afghanistan in January 2002," Cozad said in an interview at his headquarters.

"Having females is part of our population. It's not a new thing. It's part of our history," he said.

Cozad noted that women represent about 13 to 14 percent of the force at the prison -- a level comparable to that seen Pentagon-wide.

"If I was to pull a female guard, basically I would be discriminating against a member of my force who is qualified to do the task," he said.

- Discreet femininity -

At Guantanamo, women deployed at the prison wear the same uniforms and boots as their male counterparts. They are forbidden from wearing makeup or jewelry.

The only visible difference? Some of them wear their hair in tightly fastened buns, only barely noticeable at the napes of their necks.

Their mission is not an easy one.

A young nurse in charge of force-feeding hunger strikers says some of them refuse to allow her to strap them down or to place a feeding tube down their nose -- because of her gender.

"Spitting has occurred, yes," said the soldier, only identified as "Beeds" on her uniform so the prisoners never learn her real name.

"But I was still able to do my job."

A senior medical officer by her side, also a woman, said it was "very rare" for prisoners to refuse care or nourishment from female staff.

"We do try to accommodate if there's an objection," said the officer, who arrived at Guantanamo eight months ago.

"I think there's an understanding of each other's role: they need to protest, we need to accomplish our mission and in most cases, that's exactly how it proceeds."

Guantanamo's Muslim cultural advisor, known only as "Zach" for security reasons, insists the religion does not forbid being cared for or touched by women for medical reasons.

Zach, a US citizen of Jordanian descent, was hired by the Pentagon to serve as a link between the detainees and the men and women who guard them.

"Extremists -- they play on the ignorance of people," he said, clearly outraged by the detainees' interpretation of the Koran.

"As long as that touch doesn't mean anything else -- there's no skin touching, they wear gloves, they wear clothes -- it's business," Zach added.

"The more we pay attention to their claims, the more we encourage extremism to continue."



Saudi Arabia to Appoint Women as Board Members of Tawafa Organizations

 Nov 19, 2014

Women members will be appointed to the boards of directors of Tawafa organizations starting from the next sessions of these organizations, an official of the Ministry of Haj said recently.

“Women directors will be nominated and not elected as in the case of male members of the board of directors of Tawafa organizations. Their names will be announced after the election of male members is completed and the final results have been published,” Undersecretary at the Haj Ministry Hussain Al-Sharif said.

Al-Sharif added that the elections to the Tawafa boards would be on an individual basis and not by group representation, Al-Madinah daily reported.

“This is the first time women are getting an opportunity to sit on the boards of directors fulfilling their desire to have their own representatives to voice their concerns and views besides their participation in the development of Tawafa organizations,” he said. The new statutes empower the minister to appoint two women members to the boards with the system being reviewed every five years.

Al-Sharif said women directors’ work would be in the administrative sector. They need not take up any field task. The minister has paid considerable attention to the new statutes governing the elections beginning from the setting up of an experts committee to identify the best election method after studying elections in establishments inside and outside the Kingdom, the official said.

The team did extensive studies and met with board members of these establishments and Tawafa officials in addition to taking an opinion poll from the members of the establishments in order to learn the views of all concerned parties and the officials of the ministry who witnessed the past three elections before the drawing up of the new statutes. Prior to the submission of the draft statutes a workshop was conducted with the participation of the Tawafa workers, experts in the field, supervisors of elections for municipal councils, the chambers of commerce and industry, and members of the boards and ministry officials.



‘Earning Isn’t As Big a Problem As Acceptance Is For Us’: A Pakistani Transgender

 Nov 19, 2014

KARACHI: “You will hire a Seraiki gardener or a Bengali cook, but would you hire a shemale even as a domestic servant?” Twenty-three-year-old Iraj Aftab’s simple question brings the entire issue of transgenders into perspective.

“I’m a student of psychology and as an intermediate student a few years ago I worked as a teacher for mentally-challenged children. I enjoyed my job but gave it up when parents aired their concerns to the school management over their children being taught by my type,” the pretty person with silky black shoulder-length hair and a model’s pout says.

We are seated in an air-conditioned room with wood panelling on the walls in the office of the Karachi commissioner. There are several stacks of files bundled together on Iraj’s desk as she gets busy with her work on her computer. “I work in price control. I gather all the data to prepare the price lists for everyday use items. I also handle complaints from the general public,” she says about her duties.

Asked how she landed the job, Iraj says that she came through a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called the Gender Interaction Alliance (GIA). “They work for human rights basically. The president of the NGO is Bindiya Rana,” she says. “I am still on probation here but thanks to Commissioner Shoaib Siddiqui sahib, orders to make me a permanent employee have been issued. I’ve been working here for seven to eight months now and like it very much. Though the salary is Rs10,000 a month only, I am respected. No one passes judgement on me.”

Government employee Iraj Aftab has been issued a CNIC with ‘shemale’ written in the gender category

Iraj isn’t the only shemale working in a government office. “GIA has also helped place one of us at a National Database and Registration Authority [Nadra] office. There are others, too, at Cantonment Board Clifton, Cantonment Board Faisal, etc,” she says. “It’s a very positive step taken by the government.”

But working at the commissioner’s office from 10am to 4pm, five days a week, isn’t all that Iraj does. “I am doing BSc in psychology. In between I also did a course in hotel management from the Pakistan Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management. And whenever I am called to sing or dance at a function I do that, too.”

“Look,” she says. “I don’t enjoy it very much but I can’t also live on a Rs10,000 salary. My parents, especially my mother, wanted me to get proper education and I am doing that but even after having degrees we aren’t taken seriously. The functions help supplement our income. If I got a good salary, one on which I could live comfortably, I wouldn’t be dancing at functions but since that isn’t the case, I do what comes naturally to me. The people, too, accept us better in that role.

“See, growing up you have come to accept your father going to office, your mother doing the household chores. You don’t question these stereotypes and for us transgenders and shemales you are used to seeing us sing and dance.

“If not that then there is only begging left. You can’t imagine how I feel seeing my kind begging at traffic intersections. You know, we really care about our well-being. We care about our hair, our skin, hygiene, etc. So standing in the sun begging for hours at traffic signals isn’t something we do for enjoyment. It’s survival when there isn’t anything else left for you to do,” Iraj explains.

“Earning isn’t as big a problem as acceptance is for us. But things are changing. A couple of months ago, I got my proper CNIC made from Nadra with ‘shemale’ printed in the gender category.”

Asked if she was fine with that instead of taking offence, Iraj smiles and says: “Why would I be offended at being recognised for who I am? It’s recognition of our identity, acceptance of the fact that we exist.”



Egypt making slow progress on genital mutilation

Nov 19, 2014

Raslan Fadl, the first doctor in Egypt to be put on trial for committing female genital mutilation, is still practicing even through a 13-year-old girl died after he performed the procedure. And in this Nile Delta Village, he has plenty of patients.

Young girls and their families on a recent day sat in his waiting room, where the bright yellow walls are decorated with Winnie the Pooh pictures, in the same building where Soheir el-Batea came for her operation last year. Residents call him a well-respected figure in the community, known for his charity work.

It could not be determined whether any were at his office for “circumcision,” as it is known here, and Fadl would not speak to The Associated Press. But Fadl’s continued popularity demonstrates the challenges to curbing the practice in Egypt, where more than 90 percent of women are estimated to have undergone it - one of the highest rates in the world. Female genital cutting was criminalized in 2008 and the most important Sunni Muslim religious authority has declared it dangerous and without any religious justification.

The U.N. says there appears to be a slow reduction in the rate of the practice, but that it is still widespread.

A verdict is expected Thursday in Fadl’s trial, and if convicted he could face up to two years in prison. Rights advocates say the outcome of this case could set a key precedent for deterring doctors and families in the future. Sohair’s father is also charged in the case.

But even in the home village of the girl, Dierb Biqtaris, there is little outcry against the practice.

Rasha Mohammed, a friend of Sohair, remembers that the girl felt scared before the operation and didn’t want to go. But Rasha chalks up her death to an accident, saying 11 other girls underwent FGM with the doctor that day and “nothing happened to them.”

Sohair’s grandmother declined to comment on the case, saying a year and a half has passed and she doesn’t want to bring up the topic again. “It was her destiny,” she said.

Emad Hamdi, a local worker, said he is still weighing whether to circumcise his daughters. He said he’s heard that without it, a girl would be “sexually voracious,” which could be “dangerous for her” - a common justification for the practice. A widely used Egyptian Arabic term for it translates literally as “purification.”

Genital mutilation involves removing all or part of the clitoris and labia minora. It is practiced in 29 countries, most of them in East and West Africa, but also in Egypt and parts of Iraq and Yemen. It is practiced among both Muslims and Christians, usually because it is seen as needed for cleanliness or to prevent a girl’s sexual desire from running out of control. Social pressure is strong: Many families fear that an uncircumcised daughter will be unable to marry. Rights advocates condemn the practice as an attempt to control women’s sexuality that scars girls physically and psychologically.

It was not easy getting the landmark case to trial - one indication why no cases came to court for years despite the ban. Sohair’s family initially filed a police report saying she died as a result of FGM, but changed their story after reconciling with the doctor, said lawyer Reda el-Danbouki.

So rights groups had to push for trial. Prosecutors were slow, preferring “for the matter to end,” he said.

Philippe Duamelle, the UNICEF representative in Egypt, said the case was an opportunity for the government to show “this crime is now taken with all the seriousness it requires.”

The latest survey, conducted in 2008, showed 91 percent for women aged 15-49 have undergone the procedure. But among women ages 15-17, the rate is down to 74 percent, suggesting more families are deciding to forgo it with their daughters. Duamelle said the reduction has been significant but “doesn’t go fast enough.”

In southern Egypt, organizer Manal Fawzy hopes for a “sharp punishment” for the doctor as a deterrent. If the verdict is not strong, she fears the law will be seen as just propaganda.

But the ban is just one tool, she said. “To change a behavior, it’s so difficult.”

She runs the Assiut Childhood and Development Organization, a UNICEF partner organization that takes a community approach to getting people to abandon the practice. It operates in Assiut province, where rates are among highest in the country. The group identifies residents who are already critical of genital mutilation and gives them training and information to convince their neighbors.

“When I see a neighbor like me, and she stands against this practice and we are in the same tradition and the same village and the same place, it is very effective for them,” Fawzy said. The group also calls on religious leaders and doctors to speak to residents.

The group encourages families to publicly declare their rejection of the tradition, sometimes in front of hundreds of people. There tends to be resistance at the beginning, and people are reluctant to talk about the sensitive subject, she said. But slowly the taboo is being broken, she said. “You find it’s something critical for them, for their life.”

In Sidfa, a village where the organization operates, The Associated Press spoke to dozens of residents about their decision to abandon the practice.

Hamdiya Nazmi said one of her seven daughters was “circumcised” but she decided not to do so with the other six after being convinced by Fawzy’s organization. “I spoke with people who live near me and convinced them it was wrong too.” She remembers feeling terrified when she was taken to the midwife as a girl for her own operation.

Ihsan Abdel Waly, a 75-year-old local midwife who used to circumcise girls, said she was convinced to stop doing it seven years ago after speaking to doctors.

“In the old days, it was out of ignorance,” she said. “Medicine developed and people now understand.”