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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 29 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Women Drivers Responsible For Social Evil, Saudi Mufti Says

New Age Islam News Bureau

29 Nov 2013

 The Syria Trojan Women project is creating drama workshops in Amman and putting on a production of Euripides' anti-war tragedy in December with a cast and crew of Syrian refugees. Photograph: Syria Trojan Women project


 South Africa Exam Question on Baby Rape Stirs Row

 No ‘Mahram’ no entry in court for female lawyers in Riyadh

 Israeli Court Fines Woman for Refusing To Circumcise Her Son

 Corporate Take: Pakistan’s Women Want to Work

 Emirati Women Honoured For Participation in Society

 Female Activists Accuse Egyptian Police of Abduction, Harassment

 Syrian Women Share Their Stories in New Version of Ancient Anti-War Play

 Malala Most Powerful Asian in UK

 Rush for Teaching Jobs Raises Saudi Female Unemployment

 Increasing Strength: School Children Join Sit-In against NATO Supply

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Women drivers responsible for social evil, Saudi mufti says

 November 29, 2013

Riyadh: The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia said a ban on women driving in the conservative Gulf state protects society from “evil”, in remarks published in the press on Thursday.

Shaikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah Al Shaikh, in a speech delivered on Wednesday in the holy city of Madinah, said the issue of giving women the right to drive should not be “one of society’s major concerns”.

The kingdom’s most senior cleric called for “the matter to be considered from the perspective of protecting society from evil” which, according to him, included letting women drive.

His comments came as activists said they had been assured by Interior Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef that authorities were reassessing the controversial Saudi ban on women drivers.

“The issue is being discussed, and expect a good outcome,” the minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday by Aziza Al Yousuf, who met him along with fellow activist Hala Al Dosari.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, a regulation that has drawn condemnation from the international community.

Prince Mohammad stressed that the ban was “a matter to be decided by the legislative authority”, Aziza said.

Saudi Arabia has an all-appointed consultative Shura Council, with no elected parliament. The council makes recommendations to the government, but the king remains the absolute legislator.

“We expect a royal decree that gives us this right,” Aziza said.

At least 16 women were stopped by police during a driving protest day last month, and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to promise to obey the kingdom’s laws.

In addition to the driving ban, Saudi women are forced to cover themselves from head to toe and need permission from a male guardian to travel, work and marry.



South Africa Exam Question on Baby Rape Stirs Row

 November 29, 2013

JOHANNESBURG: A test question asking drama students to direct a baby rape scene has sparked outcry in South Africa, where it is estimated someone is raped every four minutes.

The exam question asked high school students to describe — using the symbols of a broom and a loaf of bread — how a rapist would stage the assault on a nine-month old baby.

The students had to do it in such a dramatic way that it would be able maximize the horror of the brutal act for an audience.

The question was based on an extract from the award-winning play 'Tshepang' by Lara Foot Newton, which was inspired by the 2001 horrifying rape of a nine-month-old South African child.

But students, parents and activists found the question insensitive given the high levels of rape in South Africa and that some of the students may have been victims. One student said that the question made him "sick".



No ‘Mahram’ no entry in court for female lawyers in Riyadh

November 29, 2013

RIYADH – Despite the Ministry of Justice assertion that judges have no reservations in dealing with female lawyers, many female attorneys disclosed that they were forced to come with their ‘Mahrams’ (male guardians)  to the court for identification, Al-Watan Arabic language daily reported on Thursday.

A female lawyer, who obtained a license for practicing law, said that she was forced by judges to bring a male relative to identify her in every court session, ignoring her national identity card.

Another female lawyer said that she was ordered to leave the courtroom and was allowed entry only when she brought a Mahram.

The judges reportedly want to make sure that the holder of the national identity card is actually a female lawyer, not someone else. Since there are no female employees in the court to verify a lawyer’s identity, the onus lies on the female lawyer to prove her bona fide by bringing her Mahram.

The female lawyers said this nullifies the purpose of the national identity card.

Al-Watan newspaper said that it tried to contact the official spokesman of the Ministry of Justice Fahd Al-Bakran, but he did not answer the calls.

In an earlier report, Al-Watan mentioned that the Ministry of Justice had clarified that judges have no reservations in dealing with female lawyers.

The adviser to the Minister of Justice, Abdullah Al-Sa’dan, said at that time that some of the judges might have some issues, but all these have been cleared.



Israeli court fines woman for refusing to circumcise her son

 November 29, 2013

An Israeli woman has been fined by a religious court for refusing to circumcise her infant son.

The rabbinical court ruled last week that circumcision was for the child's welfare and that the woman must pay 500 shekels (£86) a day until the child has had the procedure. The woman told the court she refuses to physically harm her son.

The case is the first time a religious court in Israel has punished a parent for refusing to circumcise a child. There is no law requiring circumcision in Israel, but the vast majority of Jews are circumcised, in line with Jewish law. Rabbinical courts have authority over certain family matters.

The justice ministry, which is representing the mother, said on Thursday it would be likely appeal the case to Israel's supreme court.



Corporate take: Pakistan’s women want to work

  November 29, 2013

ISLAMABAD: Patriarchal bias, woven into the fabric of social order, is beginning to come undone. Organisations, it seems, are finally beginning to recognise the corporate might of the woman.

“Women are intrinsically loyal,” shares Sadia Haroon, an HR consultant at a Karachi-based company. “They are more inclined to stay at their jobs, provided their needs are met.”

The Women@Work report, the first-ever study of gender diversity in Pakistan’s corporate sector, launched by Engage Consulting earlier this month, reinforces this embryonic, though notable shift in the number of women that make up the workforce.

According to the report, women are: 7% more likely to stay with their company, 8% more energized to outperform their targets and 10 % more likely to recommend the organisation to their friends. However, in order to achieve these successes, women need to be motivated through greater support from their organisations.

Work-life balance

Currently, women occupy only 5% of corporate leadership positions in Pakistan, compared to 12% in Europe. This reflects a deep-seated partiality towards male-dominant work environments where the hesitancy to hire females stems from the experience that socio-cultural pressures will more often discourage working-women whose roles as wives, and then mothers, take precedence over their career goals.

For Sadia, the answer is simple: “Daycare facilities. Most women will not leave their jobs if they knew that their children will be looked after while they are working.”

“Unfortunately, only three of the fourteen companies we interviewed have this facility for working mothers,” expressed Sanober Ahmed, the driving force behind Engage Women, an HR initiative to encourage women aspiring towards leadership and management roles.

Mohsin Rahim, an assistant manager in the human resources division of a major fast-moving consumer goods organisation, feels while employee retention is a problem at large, the turnover for women tends to be higher because of social pressures.

“Facilitating female employees might be costly but it is an investment that begets long-term advantages,” he explains.

According to Rahim, flexible timings, child-care facilities and the elasticity to combine annual and maternity leave at his organisation, serve to motivate and engage working women for longer periods. “Our female workers are allowed to arrive late and take a longer lunch break if they need to drop and collect their children from school,” he shares.

Not an entirely rosy picture

However, not all is moving towards more gender inclusion. While most multinationals have a quota to ensure gender diversity, a large number of firms are less devoted to the cause. More than half of the women surveyed for the report related this lack of commitment, saying that their leadership sees little real benefit in hiring more women to balance gender ratio.

With a sprawling career in HR, Sadia, who has conducted over 18,000 interviews, holds that while women are often hired to fulfill quotas, a larger number of women feel the need to supplement household incomes. The dismal percentage of women at top-tier positions is a culmination of several problems.

“If women want to get to the top, they need to make a choice,” she expresses. This choice is often one that requires challenging societal moulds and sensitising families or in-laws towards greater support.

A chosen disparity?

According to Umer Farid, an HR manager at a telecommunications company with creditable gender diversity – including six women holding top managerial positions – male-to-female ratios at entry-level positions tend to relay healthy participation.

“Although not all women choose to forgo their careers when they get married, the talent pool reduces significantly by the time these entrants move up to top-ranking positions,” he states.

Farid believes that while there is a commitment on the part of most responsible firms to groom female employees, more often the predefined roles of women in the South Asian region tend to overwhelm these efforts.

Over a thousand female workers from 14 different organisations were selected for the study of which 92% revealed they felt secure at their place of work and a third of the interviewees felt that conditions could be further improved.



Emirati women honoured for participation in society

 November 29, 2013

Dubai: The Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai honoured five notable Emirati women who have effectively participated in UAE society, on the sidelines of a forum about women held on the occasion of the UAE’s National Day.

The honourees were Shaikha Shamsa Bint Hashr Al Maktoum, first woman Emirati volleyball player and member of the UAE Volleyball Association’s board of directors and ladies’ committee chairperson, Shaikha Aza Bint Abdullah Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Director General of Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi Charity Foundation, Hessa Al Iseili, first woman Emirati media person, Dr Aisha Al Busmeit, RTA’s Media Advisor and Crisis Management Department spokeswoman, Muna Mohammad Belhasa, executive director of the institutional support at the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai.

The honours were given at the end of the National Culture Forum titled “Rights and Duties of Women During the Union March of the UAE”, held ahead of the UAE’s 42nd National Day.

Women have been greatly valued in the UAE as the country’s leaders have always pushed for their empowerment, Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs said in his opening remarks.

Gargash added that developing Emirati women’s political awareness in a way that enables them to actively participate in the UAE’s development and decision-making process has been one of the main priorities of the UAE.

He noted that there are women ambassadors, minsters and judges. Adding that women take up 65 per cent of the public sector’s jobs, over 30 per cent of leadership positions and that 17.5 per cent of the Federal National Council members are women.

Women form a quarter of the employees in the diplomatic sector and are almost one fifth of the total employees in the federal government, Gargash said.

The event was organised by the Ministry of State for Federal National Council Affairs and The Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai, in collaboration with Mohammad Bin Rashid School of Government in Dubai.

The sessions discussed the role of women in the UAE and how to empower them further, as well as their rights.



Female activists accuse Egyptian police of abduction, harassment

 November 29, 2013

A number of female political activists have submitted a report to the prosecutor-general accusing police of abduction, assault, sexual harassment and dumping them in the desert.

Mona Seif, Nazli Hussein, Rasha Azab, Mai Saad, Salma Said and Aida El-Kashaf were among dozens of activists arrested at a No to Military Trials of Civilians protest in Cairo on Tuesday.

They accuse police of assaulting and sexually harassing them during their arrest and detention. The women were later dumped on the Cairo-Upper Egypt desert highway in the middle of the night.

The interior ministry has denied the allegations.

The six activists also handed themselves over to the prosecutior-general, saying they were the organisers of Tuesday's protest, which broke Egypt's new protest law because it was not granted permission before it took place.

The prosecutor-general has already ordered the arrest of activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah and April 6 Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher for inciting the protest.

Twenty-four people arrested at Tuesday's protest are still being detained.



Syrian women share their stories in new version of ancient anti-war play

 November 29, 2013

Voices of refugees woven into adaptation of The Trojan Women to be staged in Jordan

Wearing bright red and yellow hijabs, dozens of women sit in chairs arranged in a horseshoe, throwing balls at each other and playing word games.

The venue is a large grey conference room in a sprawling white community centre in a slightly seedy suburb of the Jordanian capital. Two and a half years ago, before the Syrian civil war, the centre catered for poor Jordanians but now Syrian refugees also use it.

The Syrian women are taking part in drama workshops in preparation for an adaptation of The Trojan Women, the great anti-war play by Euripides. For the version in Amman, the voices of the Syrian women will be woven into his masterpiece. For the 48 women taking part in the Syria: Trojan Women project, the experience has been cathartic and empowering.

"I absolutely love acting and singing," said Raneem, 23, who fled the Damascus suburbs with her husband and two children. "We had to leave home because of the shelling, but now my husband doesn't work and we live off coupons from UNHCR [the UN refugee agency].

"When I was told about the project I was so excited. The routine was killing me. My husband is so conservative; when I told him about the project, he immediately said no … anyway after a lot of nagging I managed to convince him.

"The idea of the play is such a good one: we are getting the opportunity to talk about what we're going through and at the same time we feel that we are doing something important and that we're appreciated."

Raeda, 34, originally from Homs, also praised the project.

"We left because they were shelling Yelda at random and because my husband got his conscription papers and there was no way he wanted to serve in the Syrian army," she said. "You can't believe how liberating it is to be able to express my feelings, to be able to share my suffering with other people. And there's the variety: I love that we are doing so many different things, not just acting, but exercising and singing."

While the play is new territory for the refugees, the director is an old theatrical hand.

One of Syria's top theatre directors, Omar Abu Saada, agreed to come from Damascus for the play. For him, The Trojan Women resonates deeply given the turmoil that has engulfed his country.

What started as an uprising has turned into a brutal civil war and a humanitarian catastrophe that has internally displaced 6.5 million people and sent 2.2 million fleeing into neighbouring countries and north Africa. Jordan is host to more than 540,000 registered Syrian refugees.

"The Euripides text is still modern, still alive for this moment," he said, sitting in a noisy smoke-filled Greek restaurant in downtown Amman.

"I start to understand the viewpoint from women. Until now the story has come from the men. For them it's either pro-Assad or anti-Assad. It's a different story from the women: for them it's for life and against war, maybe it's nearer the truth. I want their voices for the play and for it to be driven by the women themselves."

The project is the brainchild of Charlotte Eagar, a former foreign correspondent, and her husband, William Stirling, who combines scriptwriting with work as a loft insulation salesman. The couple are also working on a film version of The Trojan Women set against the background of conflict in the Middle East, possibly the Syrian war, with the UN security council as the Greek gods.

They hope to work some of the play into the film. Eagar initially wanted to stage the play in the Zaatari camp, north of Amman, which houses about 100,000 refugees. But they were told it was too volatile so they settled for Amman, where it will be staged at the performing arts centre for two days in the week before Christmas.

Eagar, who covered the Bosnia war in the 1990s and remembers listening to The Trojan Women on the BBC World Service at the time, says it has been fascinating to see how the cast has changed in just a few weeks.

"When they first came, they were clutching their handbags and the children were clutching their mothers," said Eagar. "Then they relaxed and the children now wander free or are in the creche."

Eagar, who has raised £75,000 for the play to pay the women and to spend on toys for their children, says the women have become more confident.

"Most of the women are from Deraa, a conservative environment. We never thought we'd get so many people; the play gives them back a sense of what they were. They want to share their stories. It feels important for someone to listen to them. They have been empowered by their own trauma. The women have been encouraged to stick up for themselves. If it works, we want to roll out smaller projects, which can be replicated in any war zone."



Malala most powerful Asian in UK

November 29, 2013

LONDON-The Asian Media and Marketing Group lists the 101 most influential British Asians, with Malala Yousafzai, MP Keith Vaz and One Direction member Zayn Malik coming out on top

Malala Yousafzai has topped a list of the 101 most powerful British Asians and Asians resident in the UK, knocking Labour MP Keith Vaz off the number one spot he held last year. Yousafzai, who came to Britain from Pakistan after she was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls’ education, is the only woman to feature in the top ten.

She is joined in the top 20 by new Today programme presenter Mishal Husain, newsreader George Alagiah and One Direction member Zayn Malik. The list, which has been compiled for the last three years, celebrates British Asians from all walks of life and this year honoured 17 people from the political sphere, including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Labour MP Sadiq Khan.

The power 101 was unveiled at a ceremony in London on Wednesday night attended by the likes of Nick Clegg and Asian MPs Alok Sharma and Paul Uppal.  Kalpesh Solanki, managing editor of the Asian Media and Marketing Group power list, said: ‘It’s fantastic to see so much ethnic success in Britain.  There are a lot of strong, influential and powerful people whose hard work goes unrecognised.  “These awards ceremonies are highly significant as it’s incredibly important for us to keep recognising and rewarding ethnic achievements in the country.”



Rush for teaching jobs raises Saudi female unemployment

 November 29, 2013

Private and public schools in the Kingdom are not in a position to absorb the large number of Saudi women to work as teachers as more than 76 percent of Saudi women are looking for teaching jobs, says Ibrahim Al-Muaiqel, general director of the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF).

The Ministry of Education has said that priority must be given to Saudis in teaching positions, in compliance with the laws stipulated by the Ministry of Labor.

Al-Muaiqel said many Saudi women prefer to work as teachers rather than in others job in private companies. At least 76 percent of Saudi women are willing to work in the public education sector despite the fact that they don’t pay much.

However, a number of private schools which had lost expat women teachers during the amnesty, are yet to hire Saudis to fill the vacancies. The private schools sector has been controlled by expats. A number of women pointed out that many private companies do not provide special areas which are essential for female staff to work without having to mingle with their male colleagues. Schools, on the other hand, offer proper work environment. Besides, working hours in schools also help them to take care of chores at home with their families.

“A lot of Saudi women have approached me seeking teaching jobs, but the main problem is that we are in the middle of the school year. And we have legalized our expat staff. We are, however, planing to hire more Saudi women who are qualified to work as teachers in the next academic year,” Hoda Assem, a Saudi woman who manages a private school in Jeddah, told Arab News.

“The main reason for unemployment among Saudi women who are qualified to work as teachers is that a large number of them prefer to work in schools. There are very few Saudi women who work in the business sector,” she added.

“I prefer to work in schools because the work timings allow me family time. Many private companies cannot provide a proper work environment and my family will not allow me to work in such places,” Ola Adnan, a Saudi woman who works as secretary in a private schools, said. Unemployment among Saudi women in the private sector increased by 2.3 percent in 2012, latest statistics released by the Ministry of Labor revealed. In 2011, there were around 302,000 unemployed Saudi women. That figure shot up to 358,000 in 2012, sources told a local daily.

An official source at the Ministry of Labor said the number of Saudis employed in the private sector was in excess of 1 million in 2012, while the overall unemployment rate dropped by 0.3 percent during 2012.

The number of workers in the private sector touched 8.5 million of whom 1.1 million were Saudi nationals. Unemployment rate stood at 12.4 percent in 2011 which dropped to 12.1 percent in 2012. The unemployment rate for males stood at 6.1 percent in 2012, while increasing to 35.7 percent among females.



Increasing strength: School children join sit-in against NATO supply

 November 29, 2013

PESHAWAR: Students from public and private schools joined the sit-in with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan (AJIP) to block Nato supplies.

“We received an application from some students hailing from Waziristan Agency that they want to participate in the sit-in. These children had to migrate due to unprecedented drone attacks in their area,” said Malik Shahzada, Managing Director of Abdul Qadeer Khan School.

Shahzada told The Express Tribune that friends of these students also accompanied them to express solidarity with the people of Waziristan. The sit-in continued into its sixth consecutive day at Hayatabad Toll Plaza while students from other branches of the school protested in Swabi and Charsadda.

On November 23, PTI Chairman Imran Khan addressed a rally in the city and maintained that until US drone strikes stop, the Nato supply route through Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) will remain blocked.

“This is not a war against the US, rather, our resentment is against killing of innocent people in drone attacks which is a violation of international laws as well as aggression against sovereignty,” said PTI MPA Ishtiaq Urmar.

According to PTI Peshawar General Secretary Younas Zaheer, people from Waziristan, Bajaur, Khyber and Mohmand agencies had started their journey towards the protest camps and will be joining the sit-in soon.

JI also asked the carriage contractors to refuse to pick up containers from Karachi so supplies to troops in Afghanistan are completely blocked.