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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 23 March 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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India: Mewat School Gives Wings to Muslim Girls’ Dreams

New Age Islam News Bureau

23 March 2014

Photo: Fast-Paced ‘Parkour’ Offers Outlet for Iranian Girls


 Nearly 4,000 Treated For Female Genital Mutilation in London

 FGM First UK Prosecution Follows French Example

 Religion in Feminist Movements Explored In Pakistan

 Law on Polygamy Passed In Kenya

 Author Condemns Islamic Extremists for What They Have "Done To Young Girls"

 Islamic Radicals Behead Two Christian Women in Somalia

 How "Progressive" Is Jordan Now? New Court Ruling On Women May Suggest Otherwise....

 Afghan Women Need More Female Judges and Prosecutors to Get Justice - Report

 Turkey's Women Were Heard In NYC

 Sudanese Women Progress in the Field Of Education

 Football Proving Popular For Palestinian Women

 Saudi Women Designers to Set Up Plant to Make Clothes

 Hijab Design Takes Centre Stage at Tokyo Fashion Week

 Fast-Paced ‘Parkour’ Offers Outlet for Iranian Girls

 Border Guards launch female maritime safety body in Jeddah

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Mewat School Gives Wings to Muslim Girls’ Dreams

23 March 2014

MEWAT: As Mewat gets ready to decide its future ahead in the upcoming general elections, girls from the Muslim community seem to be having already found the key to the backward region's future.

In a district with a high percentage of school dropouts, mostly girls, and where parents are not keen to educate their daughters, Udaan — an all-girls residential school — has provided several school dropouts and never-been-to-school girls from the community a chance to pursue their education and achieve their goals.

Part of the Mewat Rural Education Programme, the school, set up in collaboration between SRF Foundation and CARE India in 2011, is run in partnership with the department of elementary education and Sarva Siksha Abhiyan of the Haryana government.

Basmeena Khan, 14, a resident of the district's Rehna village, aspires to become a badminton player one day. Never having been to a school, her life has changed since she enrolled in Udaan. Among the 78 students from 19 Mewat villages to complete the school's 11-month bridge course this year, Basmeena learnt to read and write, besides getting acquainted with the game of badminton after she joined Udaan.

"As a child I could only read and write Urdu, the language I learnt at the village mosque. I knew nothing about Hindi, English or Mathematics until last year," said Basmeena.

Asked about her dream of becoming a professional tennis player, the girl's eyes gleam with confidence. "I want to be like Saina Nehwal," Basmeena said, who never misses anything on the badminton champion in Hindi newspapers.

Mewat has a high dropout rate of 74% (in Class VI). The district has about 1.6 lakh students studying in Class V (2012-13), 26% in Class VI, whereas a meagre 3% (4,926) in Class X, as per the district website.

Hafiz Khan, convener of NGO Mewat Rights Watch, said, "Even if a girl joins school, she is forced to drop out after Class V as most parents hesitate to let their daughters go out after they attain adolescence." The idea of opening a school like Udaan was not received warmly and was questioned by almost everyone involved in the project, from government authorities to ground-level volunteers.

It took time to assure parents that the school will not contradict the local customs and religion. "Girls can wear the Hijab. They are made to read Namaz and learn Urdu. Many gradually got convinced and allowed their girls to enrol," said Rakesh, project manager, SRF Foundation.

Farmeena Khan, mother of an Udaan student Suhana, said she was initially sceptical of an all-girls residential school in Mewat but now she doesn't have any qualms about sending her daughter, who wants to be a doctor, here. "I was not sure whether to send my 9-year-old daughter to the school as she had always stayed with us. Eventually we agreed thinking it will open a window of opportunity for her," said the proud mother.



Nearly 4,000 Treated For Female Genital Mutilation in London

23 March 2014

Nearly 4,000 women and girls have been hospitalized in London for female genital mutilation since 2009, according to figures obtained by the BBC.

The revelations come as Britain grapples with how to halt FGM, which involves removing parts of women’s genitalia for non-medical reasons, according to the World Health Organization. Studies estimate that some 66,000 British women and girls are victims of genital mutilation, according to the Britain's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

FGM is illegal in the U.K. but no one in the country has been prosecuted for the practice since 1985. Experts note that FGM survivors are often vulnerable young women who may be reluctant to give evidence against older relatives.

London mayor Boris Johnson is backing proposals to crack down on FGM, the BBC reported. "It's time to stop being so nervous, so gingerly and hesitant. This is something that is absolutely intolerable in a place like London," the mayor said.

According to London's Evening Standard, one legal reform under consideration would hold parents legally responsible for protecting their children from mutilation. A 17-year-old anti-FGM campaigner, Fahma Mohamed, has won national attention after her online petition to improve education about FGM gathered some 250,000 signatures, The Guardian reported.

According to the BBC report, one London hospital treated 795 FGM patients between 2009 and 2013. The hospital said six of them were still under the age of 18, and just eight had been born in the U.K.

The NSPCC notes that FGM is prevalent in at least 28 African countries, as well as parts of the Middle East and Asia. The charity explains that a wide range of social and cultural reasons are given for the practice, including "the mistaken belief it enhances fertility and makes childbirth safer for the infant."

Mohamed, the teen anti-FGM campaigner, is urging Britain to wake up to the prevalence of female genital mutilation in the country and speak out.

"FGM, like all forms of abuse, is everybody's business, regardless of race, gender or religion," she wrote in a recent blog post.



FGM First UK Prosecution Follows French Example

23 March 2014

In a landmark case that is long over-due, the UK is set to prosecute a doctor for the first time in connection with the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). Two men face trial; Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena from London is accused of performing the procedure on a grown woman while Hasan Mohamed, also from London, is said to have aided and abetted the act. Both men are now scheduled to be prosecuted at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on the 15th of April. It follows an increasing attempt to raise awareness not only of the issue of FGM itself, but also of Britain’s failure to enforce the laws surrounding FGM, particularly given the contrast between the UK and France concerning their approach towards the issue. While France was much more aggressive in their laws and penalties on FGM, Britain has until now been rather timid in addressing the problem. In fact many would argue that the first FGM prosecution in the UK is a direct result of them following the French example.

Despite more than 140 recommendations to the UK police over alleged FGM occurrences, this is the first time anyone has been formerly prosecuted in connection with the crime. Given that the barbaric practice has been illegal since 1985, this case is a significant moment for campaigners who have long felt that the issue has been ignored. It is alleged that after a patient gave birth Dr Dharmasena restored female genital mutilation formerly performed on the woman, therefore practicing FGM himself. Hasan Mohamed is implicated in this crime for supposedly encouraging the actions of the doctor as well as possibly recruiting him specifically for this purpose. It has also been revealed that the authorities have decided not to pursue four other incidents of suspected FGM, including one particular case where a father misunderstood the purpose of an FGM helpline and phoned in requesting FGM for both of his daughters. However, the Crown Prosecution Service is actively investigating two other incidents and remains in discussions over whether to take action in four more cases.

FGM is an African cultural and religious practice that involves the alteration or removal of a woman’s genital organs. Although it predates Islam it often practiced in Islamic countries by both Muslims and non-Muslims and is frequently viewed as a traditional and compulsory rite of passage to be undertaken before marriage. In 2012 the UN unanimously agreed to work for the global eradication of the practice. Despite this international condemnation of the issue, FGM is still endemic to many African nations and is often performed by unqualified people (often members of the family) with rusty or dirty instruments that can lead to infection, excessive bleeding and complications with urination, sex and childbirth. Even in more developed countries such as the UK and parts of Western Europe, the practice is still prevalent within certain ethnic minority communities. Part of the reason for this is because people assume that such barbaric acts of female discrimination and mutilation have no place in modern, progressive society. Another big problem for issues surrounding FGM is that participating families will often leave the country to get the procedure performed in a place where it is not illegal, before returning.

This was one of the areas in which France was so stringent in its approach to preventing FGM as they would check girls deemed at risk before they left the country while also ensuring that the parents were aware of the serious health and legal consequences of subjecting their child to FGM. France also encouraged routine medical inspections on young girls thought to be at risk, a controversial but effective strategy. While the medical checks themselves are not mandatory if a doctor discovers a victim of FGM they are duty bound to report it to the authorities. As a crime it is also heard in the top criminal courts of the country and penalties are often custodial sentences. Although these prevention techniques met with initial resistance, there was a subsequent appreciation of the efforts to protect children from the damage of FGM. France has been undeniably successful in preventing and deterring the practice of FGM and has been extremely vocal in its approach. The role of publicity in aiding the national understanding of the issue was central to helping decrease the number of victims of FGM in France.

The UK on the other hand has tended to be quite silent on such a sensitive issue. However, that does seem to be changing as the problem recently gained more publicity thanks to a campaign by schoolgirl Fahma Mohamed and the UK Guardian Newspaper which sought to improve the national understanding of FGM. Just 17 years old, Mohamed called upon Michael Gove, the Education Secretary to write to every head teacher in the country about the dangers of FGM and the methods of identifying instances of the practice. She stated that the summer holidays was a common time for parents to take their children out of the country in order to cut them and as such wanted to educate teachers beforehand. The campaign was successful in promoting its message and Gove even met Mohamed to discuss the problems of FGM.

An interesting tangent to this debate is the practice of circumcision which is widely practiced on male members of the Jewish community at birth. This is a generally accepted medical procedure and carried out in hospitals across the country on babies only a few days old. However, the idea that the real problem with FGM is a concern over the practitioner conducting the procedure or the standard and sterility of the implements they use sets an extremely dangerous precedent. The issue with circumcision of any kind is the fact that it is a form of dismemberment carried out on children or babies for no medical reason that can lead to further physical and emotional damage later in life. Egypt provides an excellent example of this as despite its fairly modernist image it has an FGM prevalence of 91% and the majority of procedures take place in hospitals or medical establishments. By terming it a routine medical procedure the implications of the process are greatly diminished and are lent a greater legitimacy despite the brutal truth.

As one of the leading lawyers in the French attempt to prevent FGM, Linda Weil-Curiel makes the pointed remark that FGM might not be considered part of a cultural heritage or tradition if it was being conducted on small white girls. This obsession with political correctness and cultural relativism is a large part of the problem with issues like FGM. The rest of Europe, including the UK, should follow the example France has set in defining FGM as unquestionably a form of child abuse which has no place in any culture or in any country in the world. The hope is that now the UK has made its first FGM prosecution it will continue to follow the example of the French and ensure the safety and well-being of every girl under the protection of their laws. Dharmasena and Mohamed may be the first, but with continued vigilance and greater awareness, they should definitely not be the last.



Religion in Feminist Movements Explored In Pakistan

23 March 2014

LAHORE: SOCIOLOGIST and Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) Professor Dr Nida Kirmani on Friday explored how the feminist movement in Pakistan dealt with religion in its advocacy for greater gender equality.

She was speaking on the last day of the ‘I Need Feminism’ 2014 conference on the campus during her talk titled ‘Contentious Encounters: Women’s Rights Activism and Islam in South Asia.’

Kirmani, who holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Manchester, presented her research on groups, including Women Action Forum (WAF) and Shirkat Gah, to the audience.

She said that for decades the women activists in Pakistan had debated using religion in their campaigns and grassroots work.

Kirmani said WAF which declared its secular position in 1991 had an internal split on this question, whereas WAF stalwarts Hina Jilani and Rubina Saigol thought of international human rights as their mandate and the members like Khawar Mumtaz of Shirkat Gah believed their feminism should incorporate Islam as it was language of the masses.

She said the feminists, including Mumtaz, felt that on a practical level, WAF should evoke progressive interpretations of the Holy Quran to counter the rising tide of rightwing extremism.

The LUMS sociologist said that despite General Zia’s Hudood Ordinance, being grounded in Islam, the WAF avoided using religion to their advantage.

LUMS Fellow Aurangzeb Haneef said that in a country where the constitution and laws drew legitimacy from Islam, it was important for the women rights struggle to invest itself in the religious tradition.

Various female students expressed their thoughts on their relationship with religion and culture in daily life. A student said space for open religious debate had shrunk in today’s Pakistan.

A Baloch male student from LUMS National Outreach Programme said that culture often had a more instrumental role in determining family values. He said the people in the country’s rural communities often practiced cultural customs, not mentioned in Islamic scriptures. “In order for the women’s rights movement in Pakistan to succeed; it would require female activists to include indigenous cultures in their grassroots fieldwork,” he said.



Malala, Aitezaz among others to be lavished with Civil awards

23 March 2014

ISLAMABAD: As many as 105 notables from across Pakistan, including some from abroad, would be conferred the Pakistani Civil Award on Sunday (today) in recognition of the services they rendered in their respective fields for the development of the country.

According to a press release, the President had approved 105 Pakistan Civil Awards on 14th August, 2013 and 10 were approved as special cases after the date.

President Mamnoon Hussain would confer the National Awards (Civil) on 39 individuals, including five foreigners, at the investiture ceremony to be held at Aiwan-e-Sadr.

The Governor Punjab on behalf of President decorated 20 recipients of National Awards (Civil), at a ceremony in Governor's House Punjab, Lahore.

Twelve recipients of National Awards (Civil) would be conferred by Governor Sindh, on behalf of the President, at the investiture ceremony in Governor's House Sindh, Karachi.

Governor KPK would award nine recipients at a ceremony in Governor's House KP, Peshawar.

Five nominated individuals would receive their National Awards (Civil) from Governor Balochistan in a ceremony at Governor's House Balochistan, Quetta.

Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee would decorate 25 recipients of National Awards (Civil), on 24th March at JS HQ.

Three foreign nationals, including a Pakistani expatriate, will be awarded by the Heads of Pakistan Missions located in the countries of respected recipients of awards on March 23 or later.

Among those who would be awarded at Aiwan-i-Sadr today include Mr Ghulam Nabi for his contribution in the field of Physics. He will be conferred the Nishan-i-Imtiaz.

Meanwhile, renowned poet Mr Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi will be recognized for his services to Literature with the Hilal-i-Imtiaz.

Other notables include late Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI) leader Zahra Shahid Hussain, who will be posthumously awarded the Tamgha-i-Shuja’at for gallantry.

Teenage activist Malala Yousufzai and slain Pakistani student Aitezaz Hassan will also be awarded the Sitara-i-Shuja’at for gallantry, respectively.

Misbah-ul-Haq will be recognized with the President’s Award for Pride of Performance for his services to sports (cricket).

Young television reporter Wali Khan Babar, who was shot dead on Jan 13, 2011 in Karachi, was posthumously awarded the President’s Award for Pride of Performance by Governor Balochistan.

“This award is not a replacement for my martyr brother, but I am happy that his services have been recognised,” Wali's brother Murtaza Khan Babar told AFP.



Law on Polygamy Passed In Kenya

23 March 2014

The place of a woman in the family was weakened on Thursday when the Kenyan Parliament passed a law opening the floodgates of polygamy.

Men will be free to marry as many women as they please, and they will not have to consult their wives before doing it.

In amendments that appeared more designed to serve the marital needs and assuage the financial fears of male MPs, the House watered down the Marriage Bill, which had given wives the right to be consulted before their husbands brought home a second wife.

But the Bill still has some good points: All marriages must be registered and the minimum age of marriage is set in law. This will protect children, especially girls, from early marriages.

On Thursday, male MPs, who are the majority, united in support of a proposal to delete a clause in the Marriage Bill requiring consultation before another wife is married.

Women MPs stormed out of the House in disgust, condemning the amendment as unfair to women.

Open To Polygamy

Moving the amendment, Justice and Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Samuel Chepkong’a said when a woman marries under customary law; she understands that the marriage is open to polygamy.

In a rather unusual view of marriage, Mr Chepkong’a said: “Any time a man comes home with a woman that would be assumed to be a second or third wife. Under customary law, women or wives you have married do not need to be told when you’re coming home with a second or third wife. Any lady you bring home is your wife.”

But Ms Regina Nthambi (Kilome, Wiper) said the change would disadvantage women who cannot afford a church ceremony.

“Not all women are able to organise marriages in church. The law is not for us only. It is for all women in Kenya. We’re not going to favour you men. This Bill is for women,” she said.

She was supported by Nyokabi Gathecha (Kiambu County, TNA) and Ayub Savula (Lugari, UDF). Mr Savula said: “If a man wants to marry, he must inform the first wife.”

But there was no beating back the male MPs.

The provision eventually passed and Ms Nthambi and Shukran Gure (Garissa County, Wiper) led women representatives in walking out of the chambers in protest.

Earlier, the religious differences that started on Wednesday evening returned to the fore as the debate entered the last stages.

They started when Majority Leader Aden Duale initiated the first of his raft of amendments intended to shield Muslims from provisions of the Bill.

He first proposed that Muslim marriages be exempted from registration, one of the key planks of the Bill that seeks to collapse the seven existing Acts into one.

“A marriage in Islam is independent of registration. In the far-flung constituency where I live, two people can decide to get married in a mosque and they would be considered married. Failure to register doesn’t invalidate a marriage,” he said.


But he was opposed by members of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, who said all marriages ought to be registered.

Mr Chepkong’a argued that precedents in court agree with the position the Justice Committee and Legal Affairs Committee had taken.

He said the committee had agreed to introduce a clause in the law that would make Muslims exempt from any provisions that were inconsistent with Islamic Law. (READ: Religion holds up marriage law debate)

The Majority Leader later ran into more opposition when he sought to introduce a another provision stating: “The minimum age for the parties to an Islamic marriage shall be in accordance with Islamic Law.”

This too was defeated, with MPs James Nyikal (Seme, ODM), Samuel Gichigi (Kipipiri, APK) and Nyokabi Gathecha (Kiambu County, TNA) saying it would be contrary to the Constitution as it suggests children could be married.

Source: Daily Nation



Author Condemns Islamic Extremists for What They Have "Done To Young Girls"

23 March 2014

Allowing religion to have political influence turns it into something “cruel and wicked”, the author Philip Pullman has argued, as he condemns the “terrible things” Islamic extremists have “done to young girls in the name of religion”.

Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said society must resist allowing religion to “pry into places it doesn’t belong”, including politics.

Speaking of religious zealots of all denominations, he added power had now been given to a “group of men who have an unhealthy interest in other people’s sexuality”.

Pullman has previously been accused of blasphemy for his 2009 book “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ”, with his Dark Materials trilogy being banned from some American schools.

In 2001, he reportedly told the Washington Post he was “trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief” with his work.

The author, a former teacher and honorary associate of the National Secular Society, has now turned his sights on religious extremism.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday’s Event magazine, he warned the public must resist allowing religion to “pry into places it doesn’t belong”.

“Did you see that story in the paper about the teenage girl who was stoned to death because she was on Facebook?'” he said.

“Facebook” According to the Taliban, it's the equivalent of committing adultery, so they took her outside and stoned her to death. Appalling!

“That's what happens when religion gets its hands on the levers of power.

“As soon as it has any political influence, it does bad things, becomes cruel and wicked.”

When asked about the influence of religion in the UK, the author added the Church of England had “no power of that sort” but admitted he had “no idea” why there were bishops in the House of Lords.

“There's no other religion with much power in this country except in the communities that cling to a rural, largely Pakistani, version of Islam,” he said.

“Isn't that where much of the extremism comes from? The terrible things they do to young girls are done in the name of religion, but I don't believe there's anything in the Koran about genital mutilation.

“It's a cultural thing that's belonged to their societies for thousands of years.”

Pullman, who criticised zealots of all religions from “Arabian Salafists” to “extreme Orthodox Judaism”, added the effect was to "give power to a group of men who have an unhealthy interest in other people's sexuality".

“That's religion prying into places it doesn't belong," he said. "We should resist it.”

Pullman could not be reached for comment.

According to information about Female Genital Mutilation issued by the UK government, the communities most at risk on British soil include Kenyan, Somali, Sudanese, Sierra Leonean, Egyptian, Nigerian and Eritrean.

It added FGM is also carried out by non-African communities, including Yemeni, Afghani, Kurdish, Indonesian and Pakistani.

The author's latest book, ‘Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales’, is out now.



Islamic Radicals Behead Two Christian Women in Somalia

23 March 2014

A radical Islamic group notorious for its cold-blooded cruelty has beheaded two Christian women in a village in south-eastern Somalia, forcing the townspeople — and the daughters of one of the women — to witness the murders.

Morning Star News, which monitors the persecuted church around the world, reported that on March 4 members of the Al-Shabaab militia herded residents of the port village of Barawa into the centre of the town to witness the executions of the 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge, according to sources cited by Morning Star. Before the murders one thug reportedly announced: “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya. We want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin area.”

Somalis who have spent time in Kenya, which is predominantly Christian, have been especially targeted by the gang of terrorists. Residents of Barawa said that the two murdered women had been in Kenya until early in 2013.

Morning Star reported that the eight- and fifteen-year-old daughters of Omar “were witness to the slaughter, sources said, with the younger girl screaming and shouting for someone to save her mother. A friend helped the girls, whose names are withheld, to relocate to another area.” A resident reportedly said that townspeople were “afraid that the Al-Shabaab might continue monitoring these two children and eventually kill them just like their mother.

The Islamic Al-Shabaab killers, who had vowed to exterminate Christians from the region, had monitored the two women because they had not regularly attended Friday prayers at the local mosque. “The two people who were killed … did not take Friday prayers seriously, especially Omar, who claimed that she was praying in her house,” one resident was quoted by Morning Star as saying.

Islamic extremism tied to Al-Shabaab has been responsible for many deaths in Somalia in the past several months. Morning Star reported that gunmen killed a Christian man in Mogadishu in October of last year for the crime of sharing his faith. Two men armed with pistols “shot Abdikhani Hassan seven times as he approached his home after closing his pharmacy in Dharkenley District,” reported the Christian news site. “Hassan was survived by a wife who was pregnant and five children ranging in age from 3 to 12.”

Similarly, Al-Shabaab is linked to the murder of Fartun Omar, a Christian, in April 2013, months after they had killed her husband. In June 2013 members of the murderous group killed 28-year-old Hassan Hurshe, dragging him to the center of a town in southern Somalia and shooting him in the head.

Religion Today reported that the Al-Shabaab killers have murdered dozens of Christian converts from Islam since embarking on their campaign to rid Somalia of the faith. “The extremists, variously estimated at 3,000 to 7,000, seek to impose a stricter version of sharia [Islamic law] on Somalia,” reported the religion news source.

The Al-Shabaab group is most notorious for its September 21, 2013 attack on the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 67 people in the process.



How "Progressive" Is Jordan Now? New Court Ruling On Women May Suggest Otherwise....

23 March 2014

The Jordanian Women’s Union, along with lawyers across the Hashemite Kingdom, expressed shock last week after a ruling discriminating against women who do not wear the Islamic Hijab was issued by the Amman Sharia Court of Appeal, according to Al Medanah News.

The court announced late last week that it agreed with one lawyer's statement - based on a fatwa - that says a woman who does not cover up or wear a Hijab is considered a “slut” and shouldn't be allowed to testify in court.

In response, The Women’s Union released a statement published on Amman net that describes the court’s decision as discrimination against women and a violation of the Jordanian Constitution, which considers all Jordanian men and women as equals.

“The Amman Sharia Court of Appeal has accepted the lawyer’s objection to a female witness from testifying for not wearing the Hijab, which the court said would affect the fairness and honesty in her testimony from 3/2/2014.

According to the fatwa, which the court’s decision was based on, women who aren’t covered up are “sluts,” and that gives those women a bad name. Furthermore, the court was unable to support this fatwa apart from with something written in the introduction of a book by Egyptian Islamic Theologian Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi.

Seeing as this decision violates the provisions of the Jordanian Constitution which calls for equality between all Jordanians, and which protects their personal freedoms, we are demanding all the concerned parties to reconsider the mentioned decision above. Meanwhile we stress the following:

1. Women’s attire is a personal choice and no one should challenge it as long as they’re not breaking the law and stepping out of line. An attack on those freedoms is considered a crime and explicitly violates Article VII of the Constitution.

2. The court’s decision is an attack on women and their honesty and dignity especially that the decision was made by the highest court in the religious judiciary.

3. The Personal status Law is unconstitutional as it affects the principle of equality as between men and women.

4. Making room for jurisprudence in courts is dangerous, and gives the judge the opportunity to rule according to his own beliefs.

The Women’s Union therefore demands the following:

1. Going back on the court’s decision to consider those who aren’t wearing the Hijab as not fit or honest to testify in court.

2. We stress the importance of revising the Personal Status Law as it still discriminates against women."

Lawyers throughout the Kingdom have also expressed opposition to the ruling publicly, with some calling for wider scale protests and demonstrations.



Afghan Women Need More Female Judges and Prosecutors To Get Justice - Report

23 March 2014

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Afghanistan needs more female judges and prosecutors to improve women’s access to justice, a report released this week said.

A survey by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) found that in 2013 women made up just over 8 percent of the country’s judges, 6 percent of prosecutors and less than one fifth of lawyers. Afghan society’s strict segregation of the sexes, combined with the shortage of female staff, means that women find it hard to report abuse or injustices because they fear and are intimidated by a justice system dominated by men.

“Afghanistan’s perennial struggle with gender violence, discrimination and marginalization will not be won until investments in women – their freedom, their education, their academic and professional opportunity – match those in men,” IDLO Director-General Irene Khan said in a statement.

Despite improvements in the justice sector since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, Afghanistan is still short of qualified legal professionals and women remain heavily underrepresented, the IDLO said.

One in 10 Afghan women experience abuse, and last year there was a 28 percent increase in reports of violence against women. Some prominent female politicians and members of the police were killed in what many believe is a resurgence of the Taliban, which wants to re-impose Sharia (Islamic law) in the troubled country.

“We are living in a society in which women face violence, almost daily,” one woman said in the report. “In order to provide justice for women and victims, women should be recruited to the justice and judicial sector.”

The IDLO study also pointed out that the majority of women in the legal field are working in the capital Kabul, in sharp contrast with the countryside where fewer than one in 30 prosecutors are women.

There are many reasons for the shortage of female legal professionals and for their patchy distribution across the country.

Some of them – practical problems such as the lack of safe transport and accommodation when women attend law school or Sharia (Islamic law) faculties, and the availability of compulsory training only in major urban centres  which may be impossible to reach for many rural Afghan women - could be addressed fairly easily, the report said.

Others are obstacles that are deeply entrenched in Afghanistan’s patriarchal and conservative society - social pressures, sexist attitudes and the belief that women’s rightful place is in the family home, doing their duty as wives and mothers. 


While the number of female students enrolling in legal education has increased sharply in recent years, women are still underrepresented in law schools, only a small group of female graduates will end up practising law, and both law schools and sharia faculties have few women teachers, the study said.

“Improving women’s ability to work in justice institutions is essential – not only to ensure that women enjoy democratic freedoms and equality of opportunity in the workplace, but also to ensure that the specific interests of women are represented and advanced in justice institutions,” Khan said.

After years of Taliban rule during which women had virtually no rights, women have started to join the labour force again in “impressive” numbers, the IDLO said.

But 62 percent of women surveyed by the organisation said that women face many obstacles when working in the justice sector, among them a deteriorating security situation which is likely to worsen once international troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of the year.

“The government elected in April must prioritize and secure women’s participation in the justice sector by taking simple, low-cost steps that will help secure a peaceful and prosperous future for the nation,” Khan said.



Turkey's Women Were Heard in NYC

23 March 2014

"As a woman I have no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world."

--"Three Guineas," by Virginia Woolf

I followed the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations for the last two weeks. This year's theme was "Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls." Women and girls' access to and participation in education, training, science and technology, including the promotion of women's equal access to full employment, were discussed in several meetings and side events.

I've been attending these meetings for 14 years now. In 2000, at the UN Millennium Summit, world leaders set ambitious goals to be achieved by 2015. They aimed for universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. I remember then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on businessmen to invest in the education of women as if yesterday.

One of the side event was held by Turkish Committee: Ms. Gulden Turktan the President of KAGIDER, Women Entrepreneur Association of Turkey, talked about the "importance of partnership of Public and private sector and NGOs in achieving goals." Ms. Aysegul Ildeniz, Vice President and General Manager for Business Development and Strategy, New Devices Group at Intel Corporation, talked about "young ideas for empowering women: Technology as a driving force" and Askin Asan Deputy Minister of Family and Social Policies talked about "Triangular Cooperation for Empowerment of Women: The Best Practice from Turkey" at the side event to explain how they get together to empower women through usage of technology in Turkey. It was impressive to see how unity of women make a difference and how technology can be use as an effective educational tool to empower women.

Since March is Women's History Month, there are many other side events organize by universities, private companies and non-profit organizations. This year I had the chance to meet many members of Turkish Philanthropy Funds, a non-profit organization that aims to produce and fundraise events for education, gender equality, economic development, art and culture in Turkey. They have done many great events here in the NYC and Turkey -- everything from a kilim workshop in NYC to vocational training for women in Turkey.

The Turkish Women's International Network (WINN) event I attendant last week was another gathering I must mention. WINN is a global trust network to encourage and empower women to build a global community of professional Turkish women to cross-pollinate ideas, inspiration and connections. That night Shelley Diamond, Worldwide Managing Partner of Young & Rubicam, Bilge Bassani, Senior Advisor, Foundation and NGO Management and Elif Key, a journalist from Turkey, talked about how their challenges turned out to be opportunities. Their powerful speeches were inspiration for everybody "...meaning of life is different for each person. Only you can figure what is right for you. I became "obsessed with the meaning of life" and it became to my reason to exist." - Bilge Bassani told at her speech I cannot forget!

The other remarkable event I was fortunate to attend was the Journalists and Writers Foundation's (GYV) panel on the topic of the education of Afghan girls. The panel was dedicated to Afghanistan's struggle and progress towards educating its girls. Moderator and former UN Reuters correspondent Irwin Arieff, panelists Chief of Staff and Senior Policy Program Advisor for the Afghan Ministry of Education Dr. Attaullah Wahidyar, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the UN Dr. Zahir Tanin, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN Mårten Grunditz, top United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative on gender and human rights Anju Malhotra and Ass. Professor Department of Sociology at Fatih University Dr. Semiha Topal talked about global political efforts to improve the education of girls and how public and private institutes might enable these girls to pursue and complete their education.

It was very enlightening to be informed about the current challenges in girls' education in Afghanistan. Ms. Malhotra talked about how they are giving crash courses to train female educators (because parents won't let their daughters to go school if there is a male teacher) and how they have built community-based education and mobile education options because in some parts of Afghanistan it is physically impossible to open school buildings.

Also, Dr. Topal, who had stayed in Afghanistan to do research on Turkish schools in Afghanistan, told us how these schools succeed in achieving an important role in Afghan education. After the program, I had a chance to talk to Dr. Topal. I was curious about those heroes, the unnamed female Turkish teachers. Dr. Topal informed me that their everyday lives are very tough. When these women need to go out, they wear a long black dress from head to toe and a face veil. Even though their husbands are with them, they are still uncomfortable about the potential danger they could be faced with any moment when they are out, because it is not acceptable in Kandahar to see women on the street. There is a serious shortage of electricity and they have electricity only five hours a day, while rest of the time they are without power. Nevertheless, these families have dared to raise their own kids in Kandahar with very basic living standards just to help the community, show a good example and change this wrong interpretation of the Islamic approach to educating girls.

I was blessed to meet many true feminists in those two weeks who are sensitive and caring in feeling someone else's pain and hearing their struggle who are unbreakable, because they are strong, persistent and patient. Yes, no one can solve women's problems but women themselves. An old Turkish proverb says, "He who rocks the cradle can rock the world." It's great to unite in diversity to shout out "we women rock!"



Sudanese Women Progress in the Field of Education

23 March 2014

The first known regular efforts made in educating women in Sudan began with the entry of Islam to the country more than a thousand and four hundred years ago. The pioneers of Islamic Da’awa opened Islamic schools (Khalwas) beside or inside mosques to advocate Islam both to males and females. Later some learned women engaged themselves in Da’awa activities and opened single sex schools and Khalwas for both male and female learners. History has kept for us the bright story of Sheikha Fatima Bint Jabir as one example. She initiated an educational Campus near Shendi town known as “Goaz Al Elm” (Knowledge plateau). Many famous Islamic preachers and scholars had graduated from there to spread their knowledge all over the Sudan.

Regular Modern women education began in 1907 when Sheikh Babikir Badri initiated the first girls’ school in Rufaa City. The first batch of girls who were admitted to college or University education was as early as 1930.

The female to male ratio in tertiary education in Sudan was very weak in the fifties and sixties, but it began rising during the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century, and in the nineties the proportion of female to male students reached more than 50% in some universities, for example, in the academic year 95/1996 the percentage of male students admitted to universities was (47.7 %) compared with (52.3 %) female students in the same year.

In the academic year 98/1999, the percentage of females in the University of Khartoum was 64.5 % versus 35.4 % for males. At the same academic year (98/1999), the percentage of females in the College of Education at the University of Gazeera was 95% compared to only 5% of males. Now the general ratio in higher education is 67% for females and 33% for males.



Football proving popular for Palestinian women

23 March 2014

The spread of female football clubs across Palestinian territories has shown that eager young women have put aside traditional drawbacks to slowly halt male monopoly over the game.

Within eight years, football has spread quickly among female players, becoming the favorite sport of Palestinian women.

Hundreds of the women play in 20 private teams and compete in championships across the West Bank and Gaza strip.

The players choose to defy social conservatism, which disapproves of women playing football, calling it a man’s sport.

Haya Daraghma, the goalkeeper of Palestine’s first national women’s team, says being a female and wearing the Islamic headscarf while playing is not a hindrance.

“Wearing the Hijab was never an obstacle, not in our lives or to our participation at international championships,” Daraghma told Al Arabiya.

Some families choose to support their daughters, such as the mother of Palestinian player Aya Khattab.

Aya’s mother, Samira Shalalda, says girls should be given the opportunity to achieve what they want.

“There are enrooted mindsets in society that need to be overcome regarding that football is for men only. Let’s give girls their chance. They have proven themselves,” Shalalda said.

The Palestinian players are in preparations to join the 2014 WAFF (West Asia Football Federation) Championship for women, to be held in the Jordanian capital Amman next month.



Saudi Women Designers to Set Up Plant to Make Clothes

23 March 2014

TABUK — Several female Saudi fashion designers are planning to launch a design academy and set up a plant to manufacture clothes.

The head of the project, Umaimah Azzooz, said the move will allow designers to rely on locally designed and manufactured clothes.

She claimed that around SR10 billion is spent on importing clothes from abroad, and added that the Kingdom can benefit from such an amount by locally manufacturing and exporting clothes.

"Several women designers have presented the idea to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), and it was well received. My aim is to promote Saudi designs and clothes at par with other countries in this field," she said.

A total of 10 female fashion designers have been chosen for the project, which is called "My Clothes Are of My Design."

The project's deputy supervisor, Fatimah Qurban, said the project will benefit the local economy and create a suitable work environment for women.

She pointed out that the project will assist in raising the competency of women designers, and provide them with the means to express themselves and develop their own designs.

Designer and winner of the Princes Jawharah Award for Creativity, Samirah Niyazi, said the project has the full support of local designers.

 "It will provide work opportunities for a number of women and raise their standard of living. It will also contribute to the local economy and will allow the country to be an exporter of clothes, instead of an importer," she said.



Hijab Design Takes Centre Stage At Tokyo Fashion Week

Agence France-Presse

23 March 2014

TOKYO - Among the aspiring Asian designers competing for the limelight at Tokyo Fashion Week, one of the most striking was an Indonesian label's bid to blend a traditional Muslim headscarf with haute couture.

The twice-yearly show, which wraps up on Saturday, saw NurZahra roll out its autumn/winter collection "Layers of Fidelity", turning the modest Hijab into sophisticated fashion.

The label—whose name means "the luminous light" in Arabic and takes from Fatimah Zahra, the daughter of Prophet Mohammed—wanted to prove that the female hair-and-neck-covering wrap, common in the Islamic world, could still take on playful elements.

"The modest Hijab is not actually a restriction" in fashion, designer Windri Widiesta Dhari told reporters after her stylish designs hit the catwalk.

"It's how you cover yourself and look more elegant in a way that has a loose fit."

The wearing of the Islamic veil, limited historically to conservative Gulf monarchies, gained ground, including in sports, since the 1979 Iranian revolution and the creation of an Islamic republic.

Use of the veil spread quickly as Islamist movements grew in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

France has outraged many Muslims with a law against full face-covering veils, while the use of the Hijab in sport, including football, has sometimes stirred cultural clashes.

'Wearing Hijab is not difficult'

But Dhari sees the traditional scarf as not just a modesty covering, but also a stylish, comfortable accessory.

"We want to inspire people to think that wearing Hijab is not something difficult, and could be worn by anyone," she said.

Her collection also bucks a contemporary design trend for simplicity and minimalism.

Blending cotton or silk into her Hijab, she includes natural dye prints that rely on a traditional Japanese tie-dye technique called shibori and the Indonesian batik method.

With patterns ranging from mini mandalas to Turkish geometrics, Dhari plays with multiple layers of fabric to freely shape her silhouettes.

Another eye-catching element of the collection was a hat that spreads wide in the back, a throwback to the sixties with elements resembling a long-ago royal head piece.

"The concept of the hat was actually inspired by the style in one from 1963," Dhari said. "I was looking for vintage hats that could be used to cover your hair and also your neck.

"I used that inspiration and then mixed it with a traditional ethnic concept, so it becomes something very unique."

Tokyo has long been the centre of cool, renowned the world over for its far-out fashions that see young women donning gothic-inspired "Lolita" outfits and chiselled young men with highly coiffed haircuts.

But at the latest Tokyo Fashion Week, it was newcomer brands from several Asian fashion houses outside Japan, such as NurZahra, which breathed fresh air into the show in the Japanese capital.

Another Indonesian brand, Major Minor, hit the runway for the first time, showcasing styles incorporating mainly monochrome tones and simple silhouettes.

The opener of the event was Thai brand Sretsis—"sisters" in reverse—led by designer Pim Sukhahuta, who works alongside two female siblings.

Among their offerings was a cartoon-like print—girls' faces dotting the fabric—that meshed touches of American high-school and Japan's "Lolita" themes.



Fast-Paced ‘Parkour’ Offers Outlet for Iranian Girls

MARCH 23, 2014

TEHRAN, March 23 — In a Tehran park, a group of young women brave sneering men and shocked looks as they perform flips, mid-air somersaults and bound from pillar to pillar in a surprising sight in a conservative Islamic country.

The group has discovered Parkour, the fast-moving sport blending acrobatics and gymnastics that has become their outlet for evading social constraints and dealing with stress.

“As a woman, it’s a bit complicated,” concedes their teacher Maryam Sedighian Rad, a 28-year-old who holds masters in physiology.

She and the others wear the “Hijab” obligatory in Iran, which requires women to cover their hair and much of their body in loose clothing to prevent their figures being seen, and her group often has a male escort when they practise outside to ward off unwelcome company — and sometimes police.

Born in France in the late 1980s, Parkour involves getting around or over urban obstacles, with a fast-paced mix of running, jumping, and gymnastic rolls and vaults.

Offering a cocktail of excitement, danger and risk, it caught on around the world thanks to blockbuster movies such as “Yamakasi” and “District B13”.

Now it has gained a foothold in Iran -- and not only among the usual young male aficionados.

Sedighian Rad and about 50 women — teenagers and young adults — are among the hundreds of Iranians practising this non-competitive discipline that morphed from military obstacle course training into a mainly urban sport.

The parkour motto, “Never move backwards,” seems to hold particular resonance here.

Three times a week, Sedighian Rad trains her groups at three indoor sports complexes.

“We encounter problems but we try our best to cope with them because we love doing parkour,” she says.

While their baggy outfits allow for ease of movement, the jogging, jumping and somersaulting can cause hair to fall loose.

Unperturbed, Helia Goharbavar, 16, readjusts her Hijab after every move.

“It doesn’t bother me,” she said. “It’s cold anyway and you have to wear something. Besides, we are used to it.”

One of the most agile in the group, 17-year-old Arefeh Shoari, admits she often fears that certain moves might expose parts of her body.

But she and the other girls say parkour — often billed as a holistic discipline — has given them freedom and confidence.

“There was a jump I couldn’t do at first... learning it made me realise I am capable of doing anything and defeating any obstacle,” says Sedighian Rad. “I feel free.”

Shoari says Parkour allows her to cope with everyday life.

“I am really stressed out because of my studies but parkour helps me a lot to deal with the stress,” she says. “I feel happy.”

“Practising parkour shows that even if you are a woman, you are not bound to stay at home,” says Goharbavar.

Apart from the risk of injury in this hard-knock sport, the women also brave derision in a country where mixed activities are banned.

“Sometimes people criticise us saying this isn’t a sport for girls. They say we’re supposed to knit.... They can’t imagine a girl exercising like a boy,” Sedighian Rad says.

Athena Karami, 19, recalls how she once had to leave the park during practice after a crowd of teenage boys “made fun of us and filmed us with their mobile phones”.

To head off such problems, Sedighian Rad usually takes along male members of “Hitall” — the Parkour club she joined in May 2012 — when her group trains outside.

At times police have interrupted their workout.

“But when they see that it’s just a sport and that we are really exercising, they let us be,” Sedighian Rad says.

“Sometimes they even express interest in parkour and ask where they can get training.”



Border Guards launch female maritime safety body in Jeddah

23 March 2014

JEDDAH — The Border Guards in Makkah region launched a female maritime safety committee on Friday in the presence of a number of businesswomen, academics and safety specialists.

The committee consists of a member of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), Dr. Luma Al-Sulaiman; King Abdulaziz faculty member, Dr. Raja Al-Shareef; businesswoman, Maha Fetaihi; head of the Science and Technology University, Dr. Nadiah Ba Eshin; consultant Naelah Attar; and media woman Fadwa Al-Tayyar; in addition to a number of famous business and media personalities.

Spokesman of the Border Guards in the region, and head of the maritime safety committee, Col. Naji Al-Jehani, said the committee is an extension of a similar body that was launched in the Eastern Province. He stressed that protection from drowning is a family responsibility, and added: "No child should be allowed to swim in the sea or a swimming pool, unless there in the presence of an adult."

He said: "Children should learn to swim when they are five years old, and should wear appropriate safety gear. In addition, swimming pools should be fenced to keep children from falling into them," he said.

Col. Al-Jehani explained that the female committee will visit a number of schools and universities to spread the culture and awareness of safety.

The head of the female maritime safety committee, Princess Mashael Bint Abdulmohsen Bin Jalawi, said the committee will conduct a number of visits to Riyadh schools and universities, after the completion of activities in Jeddah and noted that more than 70,000 persons have benefited from the Eastern Province committee, which reduced drowning incidents to only five last year.