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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 11 Jul 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Sudan Criminalizes Female Genital Mutilation

New Age Islam News Bureau

11 Jul 2020

• Mass Protests Over Headscarf Ban Continue InBelgium

• Dance World Supports Owner of New Saudi Ballet School

• Beth McDonough asked Sophia Rashid at Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington, What’s the Difference Between A Hijab and White Supremacist Gang Regalia?

• Women Form 27.5% Of the Labour Market; 391 Saudi Women Given Leadership Training

• Turkish Crimes Against Women In Occupied Afrin Documented

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Sudan Criminalizes Female Genital Mutilation

July 10, 2020

Nearly nine out of 10 girls in Sudan fall victim to FGM, according to the United Nations [Reuters screenshot]


KHARTOUM: Sudan's highest governing body Friday ratified a law criminalising female genital mutilation, a widespread ritual in the African country, the justice ministry announced.

The sovereign council, comprising military and civilian figures, approved a series of laws including criminalisation of the age-old practice known as FGM or genital cutting that "undermines the dignity of women", the ministry said in a statement.

The reform comes a year after longtime president Omar Al-Bashir was toppled following months of mass pro-reform protests on the streets in which women played a key role.

Sudan's cabinet in April approved amendments to the criminal code that would punish those who perform FGM.

"The mutilation of a woman's genital organs is now considered a crime," the justice ministry said, punishable by up to three years in prison.

It said doctors or health workers who carry out genital cutting would be penalised, and hospitals, clinics or other places where the operation was carried out would be shut.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok hailed Friday's decision.

"It is an important step on the way to judicial reform and in order to achieve the slogan of the revolution - freedom, peace and justice," he tweeted.

The premier vowed that Sudan's new authorities would "forge ahead and review laws and make amendments to rectify flaws in the legal system".

Nearly nine out of 10 girls in Sudan fall victim to FGM, according to the United Nations.

In its most brutal form, it involves the removal of the labia and clitoris, often in unsanitary conditions and without anaesthesia.

The wound is then sewn shut, often causing cysts and infections and leaving women to suffer severe pain during sex and childbirth complications later in life.

Rights groups have for years decried as barbaric the practice, which can lead to myriad physical, psychological and sexual complications and, in the most tragic cases, death.

The watershed move is part of reforms that have come since Bashir's ouster.

"It is a very important step for Sudanese women and shows that we have come a long way," women's rights activist Zeinab Badreddin said in May.

The United Nations Children's Fund has also welcomed the move.

"This practice is not only a violation of every girl child's rights, it is harmful and has serious consequences for a girl's physical and mental health," said Abdullah Fadil, the UNICEF Representative in Khartoum.

The UN says FGM is widespread in many countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, affecting the lives of millions of girls and women.

In Sudan, rights campaigners say the custom has over the past three decades spread to remote regions where it was previously not practised, including Sudan's Nuba mountains.

In neighbouring Egypt, as in several other countries, genital cutting is now prohibited. A 2008 law punishes it with up to seven years in prison.

Sudan's anti-FGM advocates came close to a ban in 2015 when a bill was discussed in parliament but then shot down by Bashir who caved in to pressure from some Islamic clerics.

Yet many religious leaders have spoken out against genital cutting over the years.


Mass Protests Over Headscarf Ban Continue In Belgium

11 July 2020

Belgium: Thousands denounce university headscarf ban ruling in Brussels


The Belgian capital of Brussels has been the scene of widespread protests over the past week as demonstrators voiced their indignation about a constitutional decision to allow the banning of headscarves in the country’s universities.

The protesters, in their thousands, ranged from university students to anti-racist groups and women’s rights activists who expressed opposition to a June 4 ruling that claimed the prohibiting of religious symbols – including hijab – in higher education would not constitute a violation of the right to human dignity or to the right of religious freedom.

The protesters held placards bearing slogans such as “Take your hands off my headscarf,” “My right” and “Enough.”

The ruling sparked a backlash on social media among young people and students, with the organizers of the mass rally using the hashtag #HijabisFightBack to highlight the headscarf ban’s discriminatory and sexist impact.

The women’s rights campaigners described the ban as “an unprecedented breach of fundamental rights in terms of religious and philosophical convictions." Muslim students also signed a petition demanding the revocation of the contentious ruling.

Belgian rights activists said the ruling is harmful and restricts access to equal opportunities in the public sphere, and could exclude Muslim women from social life and education.

The activists further noted that women who wear headscarves might drop out of school or avoid going altogether because of the ban.

“Some will, unfortunately, give up on their dreams,” the Council of European Muslims (CEM) said about the Belgian court ruling. “And some will be forced to remove the hijab to get an education.”

Some 12 Belgian academic institutions have expressed their commitment to protecting religious freedom, stressing that they will keep welcoming all students regardless of their religion, gender, or social status.

Belgium has in the past adopted similar restrictions, known as the “Burqa Ban,” like other European Union countries such as France and the Netherlands.

The anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric has gained momentum over the past years since the rise of far-right groups across Europe.


Dance World Supports Owner of New Saudi Ballet School

July 11, 2020

The 4-year-old daughter of the proprietor of the ballet school has a passion for the classical art. (Supplied)


JEDDAH: The owner of a new Saudi ballet school has received substantial support from the Kingdom’s community of performing artists.

After opposition from some sections, leading artists have rallied to support the enterprising mother who set up an institute for teaching ballet in the Eastern Province.

The story was featured on the state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV channel though without mentioning the name of the ballet school’s owner or any of the instructors working with her.

The proprietor decided to establish the dance center for women and girls after her 4-year-old daughter showed a passion and talent for the classical art. One instructor at the school said she had been inspired to teach dancing to children after following the career of Saudi ballet star Samira Al-Khamis, who earned worldwide fame as a dancer and was featured on the official poster of the first Red Sea International Film Festival, which was this year postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the number of ballet institutes opening in major Saudi cities, such as Riyadh and Jeddah, has been on the rise, some traditionalists still reject the idea of girls learning any form of dance. Some Saudis took to social media to condemn the new school, while others, including men, posted messages of support.

The involvement of Saudi women in sport, culture, and the arts is being encouraged in the Kingdom with authorities removing many of the restrictions that once limited their participation in public life.

Sera McKnass, founder of iBallerina Jeddah, said: “There is a huge demand in the Eastern Province for this classical art (ballet). I really hope with all my heart she brings real technical ballet, not creative commercial training.

“That was one of the main things iBallerina faced for the first four years in terms of educating people about what is real classical ballet and away from the misconceptions and mix-ups with gymnastics or contemporary dance.”

McKnass hoped that the owner of the new ballet institute would find success with her venture. “It will definitely be quite a journey,” she added.


Beth McDonough asked Sophia Rashid at Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington, What’s the Difference Between A Hijab And White Supremacist Gang Regalia?


JULY 10, 2020

Beth McDonough interviewed Sophia Rashid at Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. Credit: KSTP-TV


Sophia Rashid had a story to tell about being visibly Muslim in outstate Minnesota. So she showed up to meet Beth McDonough, a reporter for KSTP-TV, at the Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington.

A week earlier, she’d posted a description on Facebook of a scary episode that had taken place in Stillwater on June 27. Sophia, a 25-year-old Muslim who wears a hijab and a niqab covering her face, had been eating burgers and ice cream with her four-year-old daughter. Then, a white supremacist motorcycle gang approached her on the sidewalk of Main Street.

McDonough, a local news reporter, had messaged Sophia to collect her account of the alleged harassment she’d experienced from the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, a group characterized by law enforcement as an outlaw motorcycle gang. But the July 7 interview, instead, took one uncomfortable turn after another.

In the lead to the reported package, studio anchor Paul Folger referred to Sophia’s experience with the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood as “a controversial conversation.” And, as Sophia later described it, the segment went downhill from there.

Instead of illuminating Sophia’s frightful experience, the segment that ultimately aired presented a strange and strained account of the incident.

“I just can’t believe that Channel 5 said it’s a controversial story,” Sophia told Sahan Journal two days later. “I’m not sure what’s controversial about it.”

McDonough and KSTP-TV news management said they were unavailable to speak to Sahan Journal on short notice.

Sophia later recounted what happened in Stillwater, with details omitted from the KSTP-TV report. And she discussed how she felt about the way her story appeared on TV news.

The KSTP-TV segment attracted notice—and criticism—from commenters on Facebook and Twitter, who described the interview as “disgraceful and ignorant.”

A man with a swastika tattoo

Sophia filed a police report after her run-in with the motorcycle gang. That document, along with Sophia’s description in an interview with Sahan Journal, presented an uncomfortable account.

Sophia said she had just finished eating at Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop with her daughter when members of a motorcycle gang, wearing vests that said “Aryan Cowboys,” passed her on the sidewalk and started staring Sophia down. They said things like “we’re watching you” to Sophia, according to the police report.

Sophia said her body tensed up and she couldn’t move.

When the group crossed the street, Sophia alerted her server, who along with a colleague offered to escort Sophia and her daughter to her car parked near Teddy Bear Park. While walking about five blocks, Sophia said she received stares from five other groups of people who wore related motorcycle jackets and insignia.

According to the police report, Sophia said the gang members walking past her “felt like a coordinated effort to intimidate her.”

But it wasn’t just “hateful” stares from gang members: One man started yelling at Sophia as he approached her and came near. Sophia describes herself as being on the autism spectrum and said she doesn’t respond well to loud noises. She shut down, she recalled, and couldn’t decipher what he was saying.

She remembered, however, seeing a swastika tattooed on his back. She told the two servers from Leo’s to run with her daughter.

“I felt like I was in immediate danger,” said Sophia, who then began to take photos, which she later posted on Facebook. “If they hurt me, if they hurt my daughter, if they hurt anyone else tonight, I have their faces.”

Sophia, her daughter and the servers from Leo’s hid in the Lora Hotel and called the police. According to a spokesperson at the Stillwater Police Department, the case remains under investigation.

Sophia posted about the incident on Facebook that night, ultimately gathering 12,000 likes. She recounted the entire experience in Stillwater—the “actual Nazis,” the teenaged servers who helped her escape and the Stillwater police officer who she said had never even heard of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood.

A few days later, Sophia was contacted a few times by KSTP-TV staff, including by McDonough. She hesitated to be interviewed at first. But community members told her this would be a way for Sophia to tell her story clearly, free from the ugly circus of comments on Facebook. Sophia herself recalled that she had low expectations.

“I’m a Muslim; they’re a violent white supremacist gang.”

The TV team met Sophia at the Dar Al Farooq mosque in Bloomington, in an office with things scattered across the floor, missing ceiling panels and wires sticking out of the wall. It wasn’t the most attractive room in the mosque, and Sophia said she didn’t want the mosque to be depicted badly.

The cameraman said he would crop out the stuff on the floor; in the segment that aired, he didn’t. The room, Sophia said, was better than the alternative suggested by McDonough and the cameraman: the men’s section of the mosque.

The interview lasted 45 minutes and yielded a four-minute news segment.

Sophia felt like the piece ignored the basic account of what transpired in Stillwater. McDonough asked Sophia if the gang members ever physically approached or touched her. Sophia said the segment removed her explanation that the bikers on the street “came at” her.

“I’m legitimately concerned with the way that they cut off my answer because it changes what happened,” Sophia said. “It now looks like I’m lying.”

Sophia said she otherwise felt composed during the interview with KSTP-TV and felt confident in her responses. That is, until what became the most awkward moment in the exchange.

McDonough started: “You and your daughter were there exercising your right and freedom of speech, and you’re wearing particular clothing. And that these bikers were there blocking the streets exercising their right, wearing various insignia.” While the reporter spoke, she raised her hands as if balancing the sides of an old-fashioned scale.

Sophia responded: “I guess I see that as a really strange thing to equate with each other. I’m a Muslim; they’re a violent white supremacist gang.”

The Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, according to the Anti-Defamation League, are a small white supremacist gang primarily based in Minnesota. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the group “the nation’s oldest major white supremacist prison gang and a national crime syndicate.”

McDonough acknowledged this status in the outro to the segment, standing in a parking lot outside the mosque. (She also mispronounced Sophia’s last name, calling her “Rashad.”)

Sophia said she expected the news outlet wouldn’t be able cover the whole story in a short interview. But she didn’t expect that she’d need to explain how her religious clothing differed from a white supremicist biker gang’s vest. Sophia’s photos, which aired in the news segment, show a biker wearing a vest with the words  “Aryan Cowboys” on the back, along with a logo of a winged skull wearing a helmet.

Scott Libin is a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota and former news director at KSTP-TV. Libin said it wasn’t a coincidence that the producers included the question with the shot of McDonough’s hand motions. For the TV reporter, Libin said, it was an act of transparency.

“A reasonable person might infer that she was suggesting some sort of two-sided balance,” Libin said. “I don’t think just any reporter would have asked it that way.”

Libin added that the question could have been phrased differently and without hand gestures. He said he does not endorse the question, but because the question was ultimately asked in the interview, the decision to include it in the final story allows viewers to see Sophia object in response.

“I liked the fact that the question was included in the story, because I think that gives viewers an opportunity to form their own judgments on whether it was appropriate,” Libin said.

Sophia said she didn’t see the exchange this way. “The willingness to even ask that question, in my mind, implies a legitimacy to that question,” Sophia said.

Errol Salamon, a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in diversity and inclusion in the media, believes the question itself was harmful. And he rejects the appeal to “objectivity.”

“It seemed like there was this inbuilt nature to try to create and foster division—to create two sides and to play up those two sides for the sake of journalism,” Salamon said. “Free speech does not equal hate speech.”

“It’s four minutes for them, but it’s my life.”

Salamon said media outlets have a responsibility to build relationships with communities.

“Even if there was no harm intended to Sophia Rashid, there’s a possibility that Sophia Rashid or other members of historically marginalized groups may not want to speak to KSTP,” Salamon said.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-MN, described the risks people take in publicizing their accounts of discrimination. “For victims,” Jaylani said, “you should always be sensitive to the fact that talking about the case itself is retraumatizing.”Victim’s who put their name and story in the media, he added, make themselves vulnerable to continued online harassment from white supremacists.

CAIR-MN is calling for the FBI to look into of white supremacist biker gangs in Minnesota, Jaylani added.

Sophia said she continues to receive threats online from members of the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood and its sympathizers. Some of the Facebook messages say that people are looking for her address. Other messages have posted photos of women’s faces claiming they are Sophia.

Sophia said both the police report and news stories wrongly emphasized that she was approached by “outlaw motorcycle gang members.” They were white supremacists who were deliberately intimidating her, Sophia said.

But now, she’s receiving threats from various motorcycle clubs who are doxxing her on the internet. She said she alerted KSTP-TV about the threats before the interview.

At the end of her meeting, McDonough and Sophia each thanked the other for their time. Sophia recalled that she felt uneasy about how the interview went. So she asked McDonough: Between the two of them, how did it go? McDonough responded that it went really well.

After the backlash she received on social media, which seemed to double after the KSTP-TV segment aired, Sophia wondered if she was just being dramatic. At times, she regretted going public with the story altogether, blaming herself for putting her daughter in harm’s way again.

“When you’re telling these types of stories it has major implications for the people involved,” Sophia said. “That should be taken more seriously. It’s four minutes for them, but it’s my life.”

Sophia is white, but she began wearing a hijab and niqab after converting to Islam seven years ago. She said that there are towns in Minnesota she once had the privilege of visiting. Those towns, she said, are just not accessible to Muslims. Stillwater, a place she used to visit freely and easily as a kid, had turned into one of these restricted places. 

Since the incident and the KSTP-TV story, Sophia said she has received numerous messages from Black and Jewish Minnesotans, as well as other people of color who have experienced similar incidents with the Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood.

Despite moments of doubt, Sophia said she’s glad she didn’t stay quiet.


Women Form 27.5% Of the Labour Market; 391 Saudi Women Given Leadership Training

July 10, 2020

RIYADH — The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has made big strides in their Saudization drive and is continuing to localize several sectors and raise the percentage of participation of Saudi men and women in the private sector and the labor market, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the ministry has narrowed the gap between the workforce of both sexes in the labor market. In this regard, the ministry revealed a high indicator of women’s share in the labor market from the workforce, for Q1 2020.

The target in this quarter was 24 percent, while the index for increasing women's economic participation in the labor market achieved an increase to reach 27.5 percent.

This is with the objective of achieving the goals of the National Transformation Program 2020 (NTP 2020) and the Kingdom's Vision 2030, which emphasize the status and role of the Saudi workforce — both men and women — in raising the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The objective also calls for contributing to further enhancing the Saudi economy and plans for comprehensive and sustainable development, in addition to attaching great importance to empowering women to work and take up leadership posts and reduce unemployment among them.

Among the positive indicators achieved by the Agency’s goals is the decrease in unemployment rates during this quarter to the lowest levels since the second half of 2016.

Another is the rise in Saudization indicators in general, whether regional localization that includes a number of sectors and commercial activities according to the nature of each region, or general Saudization that includes commercial activities, public sectors, and specific and specialized occupations.

This is in addition to the clear impact of government agreements and partnerships with the private sector that the ministry worked on during the previous two years, 2018 and 2019.

This contributed to reducing the unemployment rate, from its peak of 12.9 percent in 2018 and drop to 11.8 percent during Q1 of 2020, in addition to the noticeable increase in employment and Saudization rates.

One of the goals of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, on which the ministry was based, is to empower women and decrease unemployment.

In this regard, the ministry revealed that it exceeded some indicators in its goals in terms of achievement, as the index of increasing women's economic participation in the labor market achieved 25.9 percent, as mentioned in the Q1 2020 report.

The target exceeded the required percentage for this year, as the target for this indicator was 25 percent for the year 2020. Meanwhile, the ministry narrowed the gap between the workforce of both sexes in the labor market.

In this regard, the ministry revealed a high indicator for women’s share in the labor market for Q1 2020, where the target was 24 percent, while the index achieved an increase to reach 27.5 percent.

This reflects the success of the Saudization and empowerment plans and the high awareness on the importance of women's participation in the labor market and the role that empowerment plays in economic indicators, in addition to reducing unemployment rates among them.

With regard to the Leadership Training and Mentoring Initiative through qualification and training for women, the Ministry introduced the initiative, and trained 391 Saudi female trainees working in the private and government sectors, via specialized training and mentoring programs, aimed at improving leadership skills

This leads to empowering women to take up leadership positions in the upper and middle levels of management.

This initiative has had many positive effects, like improving leadership skills to match the job requirements for Saudi women managers and executives, and increasing confidence in the ability of women to manage and lead the work teams and their departments.


Turkish Crimes Against Women In Occupied Afrin Documented

July 9, 2020

A new dossier issued by Kurdish women’s organisations has documented incidents of violence against women carried out by Turkish soldiers and jihadist groups supported by the Turkish state in occupied Afrin in north-west Syria.

Women Defend Rojava issued the report, Women under Turkish occupation:  Femicide and gender-based violence as systematic practice of the Turkish occupation in Afrin, on July 8.

According to evidence gathered, since Turkey invaded the north-western region of Syria at the beginning of 2018, the population, especially women, have repeatedly been subjected to abduction and violence, including sexual violence and murder. According to the dossier, this violence in general, and the gender violence in particular, are consequences of the occupation and the mentality of the Turkish state and its jihadist groups.

Following Turkey’s invasion, about 300,000 people, half of the total population of Afrin, were displaced and forced to leave their homes. The majority of them, about 157,000 people, chose to stay near Afrin and now live in the Shehba region, mostly in Internally Displaced Person camps and shelters.

The aim of the Turkish state, said the report, is to establish cultural and ethnic hegemony “by subjugating, expelling and replacing local ethnic groups”, thus enforcing demographic change.

Kurdish women’s movement, Kongra Star, which is located in Rojava (northern Syria) and the Women Defend Rojava campaign collected and compiled the data.

Introducing the dossier, they write it is likely the prevalence of gender violence is much higher than they were able to document, because “access to information in the occupied territories is very difficult because of Turkey’s tyranny and the fear of the population”.

“The documented crimes and violations of the rights of women and girls in Afrin show the inhuman and brutal extent of the systematic violence to which women and the population in this region are exposed on a daily basis.”

The dossier states that, for women in Afrin, “life is like a prison, they are oppressed, humiliated, abused, forced to marry, including many underage girls, subjected to torture as well as physical and sexual violence, culminating in rape and femicide.

“Many women no longer leave the home for fear of punishment and violence. The women are deprived of all their previously acquired rights.”

The report underlines how "these acts of violence are clearly evident in recent events. At the end of May, it was revealed that many local Kurdish women are being detained, abused and tortured under the most inhuman conditions in the prisons of the pro-Turkish militias. There are reports of abducted or murdered girls and women almost every day."

The dossier, which is only “a sample” recorded that, as of June 25, 30 women have been kidnapped, 13 released and 5 killed this year alone. Since the invasion in 2018, 99 women have been kidnapped, 18 released and 14 murdered, according to data collected.

Following the establishment of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) in October 2014, a new women’s law was introduced, which established certain rights for women and prohibited practices considered oppressive. The law was adopted in the Afrin, Kobane and Cizîrê regions of AANES. One of the most important rights and freedoms enshrined in the law is the prohibition of forced marriage of minors.

However, in the course of the occupation of Afrin, these rights were denied “and the forced marriage of minors is yet again one of the common misogynistic practices of the jihadist mercenaries”, said the report.

Kongra Star is calling on international institutions, including the United Nations to take responsibility and act to prevent further genocide and femicide in Afrin and across North and East Syria and has raised the following demands:

• An immediate no-fly zone to be established over North and East Syria

• Serious steps for the immediate withdrawal of the Turkish occupying armed forces and all related armed groups from the territory of Syria

• The establishment of an international community peacekeeping force on the Turkish-Syrian border

• Immediate economic sanctions to be implemented against Turkey and the cessation of all arms trade with Turkey

• Immediate humanitarian assistance to the AANES region

• Human rights organisations must be given immediate access to the regions occupied by Turkey in order to monitor the situation on the ground

• The practices of genocide and femicide must be stopped immediately and the Turkish state and its allied jihadist groups must be held accountable and be brought to justice

• Establishment of an international criminal court to prosecute human rights violations and war crimes in North and East Syria



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