New Age Islam
Sun Jun 16 2024, 11:26 AM

Islam, Women and Feminism ( 26 Feb 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

Women’s legal literacy and the struggle against gender based violence in Pakistan

New Age Islam News Bureau

26 February 2021


• Will Shabnam Ali be the first Muslim woman to be hanged in India?

• In Yemen’s man-made catastrophe, women and girls pay the price

• Dubai Princess Latifa’s letter urges British police to investigate sister’s Cambridge abduction case

• Over 300 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria

• Fighting the spread of Lebanon's silent pandemic: Domestic abuse

• Women grow mushrooms in unused high school

• Saudi woman racer sets sights on British F3 Championship

• Khamanei's latest ridiculous ruling on the hijab

• Saudi women welcome World Bank recognition of advances in empowerment

• Travel restrictions eased for Saudis married to non-Saudis

• CIT and physics are most preferred majors among Saudi girl students

• Somalia women drivers dare country's Islamists, conservatives

• The tragedy of tribal women in Pakistan

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Women’s legal literacy and the struggle against gender based violence

By Aisha Sarwari

February 25, 2021

When it comes to women’s rights in Pakistan, the key component that is missing is mass education of women on their legal rights. It is with this in mind that the Asian Development Bank initiated the Legal Literacy for Women project in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan is especially interesting because it is one of the worst performers on gender equality despite having had a woman prime minister and sizeable representation in legislative bodies. In December 2019, the World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan at 151 out of 153 countries and sevent in the region. It is the social framework that have kept women out of the economic pie with only 18 percent of Pakistan’s labour income going to women. In terms of literacy only 46 percent of Pakistan’s women are literate as opposed to 71 percent men. It is estimated that 94.5 years are required at the current pace to close the gender gap in political empowerment. One of the key reasons was identified as the male dominated legal system, which becomes a tool for patriarchy that is inherent in Pakistan. 32 percent women in Pakistan have experienced gender-based violence (GBV) in some form or the other, usually from their close family members and intimate partners.

The project took on capacity building for judges and lawyers by compiling a compendium of case law, both in English and local languages. Training modules were designed to implement the existing GBV laws for stakeholders. Workshops were held on skills to respond to victims of GBV in an effective manner. A report was prepared on best practices and mediation skills. Courses were designed on women’s rights and laws pertaining to GBV and an innovative outreach programme was designed and implemented. The problem that the project identified was that women do not see any justice, even if they try to raise their voice. Their families and society either shun them or if they finally find courage to report the incident, they are violated all over again by the legal and judicial systems. This project attempted on providing an alternative way of thinking and positive awareness raising so women and other vulnerable genders can find their footing in the society.

For Pakistan this is a very important intervention.  As mentioned above Pakistan needs to do something drastically different to quicken the pace with which it is closing the gender gap.  Pakistan’s economy is in shambles precisely because half its population is marginalized both socially and economically. 94.5 years is too long a time to close the gender gap when already 40 countries in the world have achieved gender parity. This gap also has to do with the pitiful access to justice that women face. Those countries have leapt ahead and Pakistan has no hope of catching up unless something drastic is done. Greater women literacy and greater awareness of their legal rights would be key to ensuring the lag women have been forced into can end, and it will not only rectify injustice faced by women but also lead to a just and equitable society where economic progress can be achieved.  The patriarchal mindset needs to be challenged which keeps women backwards and invisible in what is a conservative society. Without this Pakistan is likely to remain in shackles of patriarchy, which in turn thwarts its economic progress by putting numerous roadblocks in its way.

Therefore Irum, a former private sector corporate lawyer who had made a transition as a public sector development lawyer, led this important intervention. She convinced the Asian Development Bank (ADB) by showing them that without women’s inclusion in the economic and social life of a country no progress would be possible. The ADB is largely an infrastructure bank but Irum convinced them that without the women the infrastructure would benefit only 50 percent of the population. To her personally this meant that she could make a difference in lives.

This also required substantially that the project be important because it is addressing the causes of violence by educating legal and judicial service providers to women. Irum says that this was achieved by emphasizing the dignity of humans in Islam, society, law, and practice. She says that women in our region have been suffering violence because both women and men believe that women are sub-humans, made for men, and a source of honour. She emphasizes that this is not just a women issue but is a human issue for without women’s participation, there can never be any progress.  The scope of the programme was eventually widened to include transgenders as well because that is another segment of society that is marginalized. Finally it encompassed the rights of children who are often abused in our society.

To its dismay the programme team found that majority of the judges (including women and men) said that (i) 90 percent of rape cases are false; (ii) when they said khula law is damaging sanctity of families, (iii) when they said that past conduct of a women and the way she dresses and speaks are relevant in deciding a rape case.

This mindset itself is responsible for the horrible treatment meted out to the women in courts. Women do not see any justice, even if they to raise their voice. Their families and society either shun them or if they finally find courage to report the incident, they are violated all over again by the legal and judicial systems. The Program Team asked the judges and prosecutors some pointed questions: (i) why do they think the way they think today? (ii) They are the product of the same society and hence, they have unconscious biases, even if they think they don’t because they are upholding justice; (iii) they have been influenced by gender biased upbringing, education, professional attitudes, media, and misinterpretation of religion and because of bigoted customs.

During these discussions the judges and prosecutors were sensitized to some key issues. Some of the key discussions revolved around the anatomy of a woman who has been raped and how the two-finger test is not efficacious in determining rape, because a wife could also be raped and so could a prostitute, essentially driving home the point that any non-consensual sex is rape. These judges and prosecutors were introduced to an alternative way of thinking and a new vocabulary emanating out of law, human rights and best practices that revolve around rape and GBV.

Accordingly 300 judges and prosecutors were trained in Pakistan and working with the Lahore High Court Chief Justice, a special model court was created in Lahore for GBV. This was the first of its kind in Asia. Features such as a screen for the victim, provision for e-evidence using the tech and special facilitation for women with children, were added as mandatory part of the court structure. Procedure was also simplified to ensure that there was no miscarriage of justice on account of unnecessary delays. As a result convictions have gone up in rape cases from 2 percent to 16 percent, which is a major achievement, given the recent horrific incidents of rape in Pakistan. The cases here are fast tracked through modern techniques in evidence collection as well the alacrity with which such cases dealt in a fast docket. The Chief Justice of Pakistan also took note of this and the need for such courts in over 100 such courts in districts all around Pakistan was made part of the National Judicial Policy.

Irum says that this could not have done without the help of the stake holders especially the Chief Justice of Lahore High Court and district officers.

Similarly in Afghanistan over 100 prosecutors and judges were trained for capacity building especially with respect to GBV. The outreach was in the remotest of areas in Afghanistan despite security threats. It was an award winning initiative. As a result, Technical Assistance team won 2018 Financial Times Most Innovative In-House Legal Team Award and Innovation in Rule of Law and Access to Justice Award; ADB’s 2019 Governance Award for Outstanding Knowledge Sharing and Collaborative Initiatives; and 2017 ADB’s Vice President Award for Exceptional Contributions to the Law and Policy Reform Work.


Will Shabnam Ali be the first Muslim woman to be hanged in India?

February 26, 2021


Shabnam Ali, who is set to be hanged for killing seven members of her family.


No woman has been hanged in India by the justice system since 1955.

The case of Shabnam Ali, a 38-year old woman on death row in India, has ignited a debate on the efficacy of capital punishment and New Delhi’s practice of arbitarily marking prisoners for executions.

Shabnam, a resident of a village in Uttar Pradesh (UP) state, was convicted in the 2008 killing of seven members of her family including a 10-month old nephew.

The gruesome murders were premeditated and stem from a forbidden love affair. She wanted to marry a man named Saleem, a local carpenter, but her family was against it.

Saleem is a middle-school dropout whereas Shabnam, a school teacher, is a postgraduate with degrees in English and geography.

On the night of the murders, she served her family tea laced with diazepam sedative tablets. Later, Saleem hacked to death Shabnam’s father, mother, two brothers, a sister in law, and a cousin with an axe as they lay unconscious. The infant was suffocated. Saleem also faces the death penalty.

The case dragged on for years as Shabnam made multiple attempts seeking clemency. India’s supreme court upheld the death penalty twice - in 2015 and 2020 - and former President Pranab Mukherjee rejected her mercy plea in 2016.

She has now exhausted all avenues of appeal including a review petition, said SuhasChakma, director of Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), a New Delhi-based NGO.

But Shabnam’s lawyer insists that she can’t be hanged since she still has a few legal remedies including her right to file a curative petition before the apex court.

If the execution goes ahead, she would be only the second woman to be hanged in India since 1955 when Rattan Bai Jain was executed for the murder of three girls.

Even though the death warrant, the final execution order, is yet to be issued, jail authorities at the Mathura prison, where Shabnam is being held, have started making arrangements to carry out the sentence, reports say.

Mathura is the only prison where women prisoners can be executed. Its rusty gallows, built 150 years ago, are being repaired because they haven’t been used since India’s independence in 1947 . Prison officials have even ordered ropes from elsewhere to be ready if the order comes.

PawanJallad, the fourth generation executioner whose great grandfather pulled the lever to hang Bhagat Singh, the famed freedom fighter, is also on the standby.

The Modi factor?

Shabnam is a Muslim. Her execution will come at a time when Indian Muslims are feeling increasingly alienated under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister NarendraModi.

Modi’s ruling BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) has taken multiple steps including an amendment to citizenship law that critics say specifically discriminates against Muslims.

More than 50 people were killed in early 2020 after communal riots broke out against the law which fast tracks the citizenship of non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries.

Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India, faced a complete internet blackout for months after the region’s nominal autonomy was withdrawn in 2019.

Human rights groups say authorities are targeting minorities and using terrorim charges to silence political opponents.

“The Indian government has reportedly submitted the most number of content takedown requests to social media platforms, and at least 50 people—mostly Muslims—were arrested for social media posts in just 2017 and 2018 alone,” according to the South Asia State of Minority Report.

India is also using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to target Dalits, a caste of Hindus who face widespread discrimination under the country’s hierarchical caste system.

“Laws ostensibly meant for the protection of cows continue to provide institutional backing for similar campaigns against Muslims and Dalits,” the report said.

Changes in the Citizenship Act that target Muslim migrants and the brutal police reponse to subsequent protests — in which 22 people were shot dead in Utter Pradesh state in a single day — further illustrate the worsening status of minorities in India.

Besides Shabnam, other (Hindu) women are on death row including SeemaGavit and RenukeShinde, half-sisters convicted of kidnapping and killing more than a dozen children.

A matter of choice

But RRAG’s Chakma said it would be wrong to consider religion as a factor in Shabnam’s case as it had nothing to do with politics.

“Certianly it will evoke some questions (about her being a Muslim). But I don't think religion is playing a big part here,” he said.

Instead, he said, the problem lies in the selective manner in which executions are carried out in India.

For instance, Balwant Singh, who was involved in the assasination of a provincial chief minister in 1995, has been on death row for years.

Singh never challenged the allegation against him and even refused to hire a lawyer, yet the Indian government has dragged its feet in carrying out the supreme court order to hang him, said Chakma.

“This (Modi) government has all along said that it will take a firm stand against terrorism. Now, if you want to send a message across that you are against terror then why not hang Singh?

Around 400 prisoners await execution in India where capital punishment remains popular among the masses who often prefer vigilante justice over lethargic legal proceedings, which can take years.

“If you ever carry out a referendum, 95 percent of the people will back the idea of capital punishment,” said Chakma.

But executions are still rare. Four men accused of raping a girl in New Delhi were hanged last year. Before that, the last death sentence was the 2015 execution of YakubMemon, who was convicted of the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. AjmalKasab, one of the men involved in the 26/11 attacks, was hanged in 2012.

“Executions in India are rare - they happen every few years and whenever something like this comes up the media jumps on to the story,” said Chakma.


In Yemen’s man-made catastrophe, women and girls pay the price

26 February 2021

Abia – whose name we have changed for her privacy and protection – was worried, too.

“Since I got pregnant, I had been living in constant fear”, she told workers from the UN sexual and reproductive health agency UNFPA. “I heard of many girls in my village losing their lives and their babies giving birth at my age.”

Escalating hostilities had forced her family to flee from the contested major southern city of Taizz, to the camp. There, Abia said, “we could not afford to travel to a hospital, and did we not know where we could find one.”

Those concerns were well founded: When Abia went into labour, she began bleeding profusely.

Childbirth or death sentence?

Six years of relentless conflict have made Yemen the site of the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. More than 20 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The health system hangs together by a thread; only about half of all health facilities in Yemen are functional, and of those still operating, only 20 per cent provide maternal and child health services. A woman dies in childbirth every two hours, says UNFPA.

The country’s looming famine could make things worse. Already, more than a million pregnant and breastfeeding women are acutely malnourished, a number likely to double as food insecurity rises.

High-level pledging conference

Yet life-saving humanitarian aid has been chronically underfunded.

In 2020, more than 80 of the 180 UNFPA-supported health facilities closed due to funding gaps, causing more than 1 million women to lose access to critical care and safe childbirth. Preventable maternal deaths have been documented in districts where these facilities have been closed. 

On 1 March, the governments of Sweden and Switzerland and the United Nations are convening a virtual high-level pledging event for the humanitarian crisis. UNFPA is appealing for more than for $100 million to provide reproductive healthcare as well as services for survivors of violence and emergency relief through to the end of 2021.

A stroke of luck

In the end, Abia was lucky.

After she began to haemorrhage during labour, her husband rushed to find Ms. Al-Shurmani. The midwife arrived at Abia’s side around 2AM in the morning.

“She lost consciousness many times during the delivery. I really feared for her life,” Ms. Al-Shurmani recalled.

Fortunately, she was able to get the bleeding under control.

Abia survived, and she delivered a healthy baby girl. “I am very grateful to the midwife,” she said later. “She travelled far in the middle of the night to save my life and my baby.”

Last year, despite the tremendous funding shortfall, UNFPA was able to reach three million people with life-saving reproductive health and women’s protection services. 

Those efforts were supported by Canada, the Central Emergency Response Fund, the European Union Humanitarian, Iceland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the Yemen Humanitarian Fund.

Gender-based violence, child marriage

Those services are only possible through the extraordinary efforts of women like Ms. Al-Shurmani. Trained by UNFPA to identify and assist survivors of gender-based violence, she works on an outreach team providing health services, psychosocial care and other support.

“My work targets the most vulnerable and poor displaced families who live in camps and spontaneous settlements, especially as they are unable to reach health services”, she explained.

Her work is often gruelling. “One of the main challenges I face is going out at night without a means of transportation, which forces me to walk with my companions on foot.”

Emotional toll

The job takes an emotional toll, as well. Ms. Al-Shurani has seen the vulnerabilities of women and girls increase dramatically. Child marriage rates are also rising as families struggle with poverty and insecurity. A recent UNFPA study across three governorates showed that one in five displaced girls, aged 10 to 19, were married. Among host communities, this number was one in eight.

Abia was one of those girls – she was married off a little over a year ago, at age 14. Ms. Al-Shurmani’s outreach team was able to provide her with psychosocial care, warm clothing, and referrals to emergency food and cash assistance. 

Tragically, that outreach team is the last one still in operation. Three other UNFPA-supported outreach teams in Ibb and Taizz have stopped providing services due to funding shortages.

Some 350,000 women lost access to gender-based violence services in 2020, following the closure of 12 UNFPA-supported safe spaces. An estimated 6.1 million women and girls are in need of such services.

“We not only need funding to sustain services but we urgently need to scale up to save the lives of women and girls,” said Nestor Owomuhangi, UNFPA’s Representative in Yemen.


Dubai Princess Latifa’s letter urges British police to investigate sister’s Cambridge abduction case

25 February 2021

Princess SheikhaLatifa, the alleged captive daughter of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has urged the British police in a letter to re-investigate the alleged abduction of her older sister from a Cambridge street more than two decades ago.

The BBC said in a report Thursday that in a letter shared with the British broadcaster, Latifa has said the UK police might be able to free Princess Shamsa, who was kidnapped on the alleged orders of her father when she was almost 19.

“Your help and attention on her case could free her,” Princess Latifa reportedly said in the letter, which was written in 2019 but was passed to Cambridgeshire police on Wednesday.

In August 2000 and about two months after fleeing her father's Longcross Estate in Surrey and during the family’s annual UK holiday, Shamsa, who is now almost 39, was forcibly taken from Cambridge, flown by a helicopter to France and then by a private jet back to Dubai, and has not been seen in public since.

Princess Latifa herself drew international attention in 2018 when she announced in a video that she was fleeing the UAE because of mistreatment and restrictions imposed by her family.

However, she was forcefully returned to Dubai after being captured by commandos on a boat in the Indian Ocean. Ever since she has remained in Dubai. Her father claimed he was acting in Latifa’s best interests. The royal family said previously that the princess was safe in the care of the family.

On Sunday, the United Nations asked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for proof that Latifa was alive, days after she said in secretly recorded messages that: “I’m a hostage. I am not free. I’m enslaved in this jail. My life is not in my hands.”

A year after Princess Shamsa’s abduction, Cambridgeshire police opened an investigation into the kidnapping but “the investigation eventually hit a dead end when officers were blocked from going to Dubai.”

The BBC cited a statement by the police as saying that they reviewed the investigation once in 2018 and again in 2020 and that the new letter “will be looked at as part of the ongoing review.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has denied all the charges against him, saying his daughter Latifa was kidnapped for ransom in 2018, and she was returned to Dubai after a successful rescue operation. He insists she is now safe and in perfect health.


Over 300 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria

Ibrahim GarbaShuaibu


KANO, Nigeria

Over 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria in the wee hours of Friday, eyewitnesses said.

Armed men attacked a boarding school in the northwestern state of Zamfara.

Alhaji Bello MaikusaJangebe, a father of one of the students at the school in the TalatarMafara local government, said he was woken up by gunshots early morning.

"We thought they had come to attack residents as they usually do, unfortunately, this time around, they aimed at the students and abducted about 327 of them. Later we noticed that only a few of the students were left behind," he told Anadolu Agency by phone.

MalamSa'iduKwairo, a guardian of one of the abducted girls, said the gunmen stormed in riding seven vehicles and opened indiscriminate fire.

"We could hear the helpless voices of the abducted girls screaming for help amid sounds of gunfire," he added.

Police have yet to comment on the issue.

No group has claimed responsibility for the abduction.


Fighting the spread of Lebanon's silent pandemic: Domestic abuse


25 February ,2021

An increase in domestic violence incidents against women, with several murders during the Covid-19 lockdown, has triggered waves of concern and anger across Lebanon.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF) announced recently that cases of domestic violence against women skyrocketed by 96% during Lebanon’s strictest lockdown.

Several murders in recent weeks have shocked the country. The fashion model ZeinaKanjou was found smothered to death last month, with her husband the prime suspect in her death.

A man was arrested for abusing and killing his uncle’s wife after she rejected his sexual advances. Another case involved a devastating knife-attack incident, with a mother struggling for her life in hospital now, after her husband repeatedly stabbed her chest and lungs when a colleague accompanied her to work.

Worrying increase in domestic violence

The ISF’s Public Relations Department Head, Colonel Joseph Moussallem told Al Arabiya English that between February 2019 and 2020, the ISF’s 1745 domestic violence complaints hotline recorded 747 calls. He revealed that during 2020 to 2021 over 1,468 calls were made.

“The victim herself, family members and neighbors play a major role in reporting any case of home violence,” Moussallem said.

According to numbers provided by the ISF, 62 percent of complaints were lodged by abused women, with 61 percent of that number made against husbands.

Describing the hotline by a ‘rescuer and protector’ for victimized women, Moussallem said emergency respondents who attend to victims on 1745 are well-trained, and attend special workshops on how to deal with complainants.

“In case a caller is under looming danger, we instantly dispatch a plain-clothed police patrol to the location to dodge panic or embarrassment especially in the presence of children or neighbors. The involved parties would be taken to the police station for interrogations,” Moussallem explained. He encouraged the public to report any suspected case of home violence and help combat these crimes.

Under the same roof

Hayat Mirshad a co-director of Fe-Male, a NGO formed in 2012, said online awareness and media campaigns have introduced women to the hotline, enabling them to report abuse confidentially.

Mirshad, who is also editor-in-chief of SharikaWaLaken, an online news platform that reports on feminine issues explained that during curfew, women live with potential abusers under the same roof, with lots having little access to protection or support.

“Women become potential prey to their partners or households while quarantined with abusers for long periods while having limited access to the police. Violence has spread among people in general, but against women in particular due to compelling social, financial, emotional and medical factors inflicted during lockdowns. Another cause is that we live in a male-dominated society that permits men to dominate women, who constantly feel subdued,” she said.

She observed that legislators and policing bodies are lenient when enforcing the law making abusers feel “untouchable and unaccountable.”

To curtail domestic violence, Mirshad believes that enforcing justice against perpetrators is crucial.

In 2014, Lebanon sanctioned the Domestic Violence Law, with amendments made last year to include addressing the need for more support, and protection for women encountering domestic abuse.

“Though the law remains subject for further betterment, it could be utilized to push for, and provide tangible protection and support to abused women. The moral is in implementing the law through swift responses by the pertinent judges, speeding up litigation and adjudication processes, stiffening punishments and having skilled policemen, who are aware of gender-based sensitivities when handling cases of domestically abused women,” Mirshad said.

She claimed that the authorities haven’t offered any financial support for the victims’ wellbeing.

Listed among BBC’s 100 Most Influential and Inspiring Women in 2020, Mirshad concluded that it is the moral obligation of abused woman, fellow citizens, neighbors and family members, to report this type of crime.

Mental Health Support

From a mental health perspective, the increase in incidents of domestic abuse are a result of, but not restricted to, the long hours spent head-to-head at home, said HibaDandachli, the Director of Communications for Embrace, a mental health awareness organization.

Other causes are existing tendencies for abuse, and previous frustrations aggravated from the confinement of lockdowns, she said.

“Individuals at home may have also experienced a severe decrease in control over aspects of life that are related to unemployment and financial security which may create anger, or a need for control or dominance at home,” Dandachli told Al Arabiya English.


Women grow mushrooms in unused high school

February 26 2021

Local women in western Turkey are growing mushrooms on the grounds of an unused high school.

A culture house in the Bayat district of Afyonkarahisar first provided training to 22 women on fungi culture, and then a women’s cooperative was established to help them grow mushrooms.

Classrooms of the school were turned into mushroom growing spaces, packaging units and cold storage by eight members of the cooperative. The production of organic oyster mushrooms began a month ago. “We did not use any chemicals in our products,” said Dilek Ede, the head of the cooperative.

District Governor ÖmerTekeş said there is a high demand for organic mushrooms. “Orders are also coming from the U.K., but they want an analysis on the safety of the products first. We are preparing the required reports,” he noted.

Companies show more interest when they find out women are involved, Tekeş added.

He said they expect 2-3 tons of production by the end of the harvesting season, which may not be enough to meet the high demand.


Saudi woman racer sets sights on British F3 Championship

February 25, 2021

RIYADH: ReemaJuffali, Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver, has confirmed that she will join Douglas Motorsport as the team returns for a sixth consecutive season in the BRDC British F3 Championship this year.

“I’m looking forward to taking this next step of my career with Douglas Motorsport,” Juffali said in statement. “I felt right at home with the team during the test and really enjoyed driving the British F3 car. I can’t wait to get behind the wheel again.”

The move comes after a successful season for Juffali in the Formula 4 British championship, with the 29-year-old  previously having taken part in the TRD 86 Cup and MRF Challenge.

The announcement was made while Juffali was at the Diriyah circuit in Riyadh ahead of the start of the 2020-21 Formula E season on Friday.

“It’s going to be a big step for me driving a faster car, a better car, so that’s really exciting,” she told Arab News. “In terms of the future, I’m open to any opportunity that comes my way. I definitely want to race at the top level of motorsport, whether its in a Le Mans race, Formula E — it’s all on the cards.

“In terms of opportunity and were I see myself, I try not to plan too far ahead. I take it one step at a time with everything that I do,” she added. “But if the chance presents itself and I can do a good job at it, I’ll definitely do it and I would love to represent my country and, hopefully, inspire others.”

The BRDC British F3 Championship is the highest category of single-seater racing in the UK, and Douglas Motorsports has been taking part in the series since 2016, with 14 wins and over 60 podiums to its name.

“We’re looking forward to having ReemaJuffali race with us this season,” said Team Principal Wayne Douglas. “She showed fantastic progress across her two seasons in British F4 and impressed us with her speed during our first British F3 test together. We’re excited to see what she can achieve this season.”


Khamanei's latest ridiculous ruling on the hijab

Farzana Hassan

Feb 25, 2021

The hijab is a versatile piece of cloth, evoking all sorts of reactions in people. Some appear serious. Others are downright ridiculous.

The latest controversy involves Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa on cartoon depictions of Muslim women. He deems cartoons of bare-headed women problematic within Iran’s religious milieu.

He fears such cartoons may be construed as permission for women to go hijabless in the country. The Tasneem News Agency of Iran announced the ruling as an “important” one. In reality, nothing could be more inane.

Just the fact that the hijab is policed to this extent is befuddling. What women can wear in public first became the state’s business in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Iranian women, who would otherwise reject the hijab, are forced to don it, sometimes coerced into doing so through public floggings and imprisonment.

In his absurd ruling, Khamenei hinted that it was perhaps not mandatory for fictional characters to be governed by the same rules as real people.

Really Ayatollah? That’s quite a revelation!

But he continued to argue that cartoons should nonetheless continue to observe the strict ruling “because of the consequences of not doing so.”

Khamenei seems consumed by the hijab when people in Iran are dying of COVID-19 and the economy continues to shrink.

Whether non-Muslim women in cartoons must also appear without hijabs was tackled by Khamenei last year. He has the unique privilege of being the VilayatFaqih or chief jurist. The spiritual leader ruled that watching non-Muslim women “without lust” was alright if they appeared without hijabs.

Unfortunately, the Ayatollah’s position gives him authority to deliver fatwas on any issue no matter how ridiculous. His status among adherents of Shia Islam would be similar to that of the Pope as the spiritual leader.

What will the Ayatollah rule on next? Will he render an opinion on whether female children in Iran should cover up when depicted in cartoons? Or would he rule on the exact length of a Muslim man’s beard? Or whether little boys and girls can be depicted in cartoons as mixing?

Such a ruling is likely in the offing. The legal age for girls to be married in Iran is 13. The hijab also becomes mandatory when girls hit puberty around that age. So yes, this may very well be a related question in the warped, perverted, and fossilized mindset of Iran’s supreme spiritual leader.

Luckily, Iranians are smarter than their leaders. They are repudiating Iran’s punitive brand of Islam in droves. According to the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran (GAMAAN), in its 2020 research, “results reveal dramatic changes in Iranian religiosity, with an increase in secularization and a diversity of faiths and beliefs.”

The survey confirms that only 32 per cent of Iranians identified as Shia Muslims in contrast to state-released statistics. This certainly contradicts the official census of Iran, being 95 per cent Muslim.

People are afraid to reveal their true feelings on Islam or matters of faith. All this is quite understandable in light of the strictures introduced by the Iranian government since the revolution. And now this ludicrous ruling on the hijab!

There is bound to be rebellion when morality is policed to this extent.


Saudi women welcome World Bank recognition of advances in empowerment


February 25, 2021

RIYADH: The findings of a World Bank report about recent advances in the economic inclusion and empowerment of females in Saudi Arabia came as little surprise to the many women in the country already thriving in a wide range of jobs.

The Kingdom once again made significant progress compared with the previous year and ranks favorably alongside many advanced economies.

Women in the Kingdom who are benefiting from recent radical reforms designed to boost their participation in the workplace warmly welcomed the recognition of the country’s efforts by the World Bank’s annual Women, Business and the Law report, which this year ranked Saudi Arabia in its top tier.

“Legal reforms for women are a big part of the 2030 (Saudi) Vision and when you look at these reforms from an economic perspective, women now are moving freely, working freely, and they are now in fact likely to join the workforce more easily than before,” Kholood Khaled Althekri, a public relations manager with Pamas Group in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“These reforms will help strengthen the Kingdom’s economy for sure.”

The report places Saudi Arabia in the top tier of the 190 ranked nations with a score of 80 out of 100, compared with 70.6 last year. In allocating a score, researchers consider eight main factors: mobility, workplace, pay, entrepreneurship, pension, marriage, parenthood and assets. The Kingdom received full marks for the first five of these.

Empowering women is one of the key objectives of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reforms plan, which aims to ensure they flourish and become active leaders and innovators who can contribute fully to the growth of the economy.

“In the outlined plans of Vision 2030 to develop the economy, the same vision will provide opportunities for everyone,” Althekri said. “Saudi women are the greatest assets to these plans, with more than half of university graduates now females.”

WafaAlghamdi, director of life improvements with Mukatafah advocacy group in Riyadh, told Arab News that women in Saudi Arabia not only now have equal economic opportunities but are increasingly playing a significant role in the financial development of the country.

“Our religion and culture gives women a special place,” she said. “Women in our society are treated and considered as an asset to their households and families — and now as an asset to our country.

“We have something called ‘feminization,’ which is the new initiative by the government to increase the participation of women in work and business to encourage them and drive the force of the economy to the fullest.”

Alghamdi said that the support of Vision 2030 has helped her make strides in her career after she entered the hospitality industry and advanced through “hard work, dedication and government support” to reach the position of head of department in a relatively short time.

“I wouldn’t have been able to make it this far without the guidance of Allah, first, and our beloved country’s push and support to be on top,” she added.

Saudi Arabia has not only introduced legal reforms to promote female empowerment but also funded projects and initiatives in a number of sectors, including tourism, investment and culture, that have created opportunities for women. Along with these initiatives, government sectors are committed to guaranteeing and protecting women’s rights in the workplace. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, for example, has worked to reduce gender-based discrimination and find ways to create safe work environments that foster growth and innovation.

Women have also played their part in creating legislation, opening businesses, and taking a leading role in private-sector investment. In addition, Saudi Arabia now has its first female professional racing driver, award-winning female film producers and female judges.

It has been less than five years since Vision 2030 was announced, but already many women have become leaders in the Saudi economy, own successful businesses, manage departments in a variety of businesses, and have even attained the rank of sergeant in the military.

The World Bank report also noted Saudi initiatives that have eliminated barriers to women entering industrial jobs such as “mining, construction, manufacturing and the water sector, setting men and women on equal terms in choice of employment opportunities.”

Maha S. Albalawi, a legal counselor with Pamas Group told Arab News: “The year 2020 is considered one of the most important years in the history of Saudi women. The decisions of (the Kingdom) to empower women in a number of sectors were remarkable and very important.

“This development of empowering Saudi women took place on several levels and fields, including economically and in the field of entrepreneurship, so we find a number of Saudi businesswomen whose names are (now known) locally and internationally.”

Albalawi said legal reforms ensure the rights of women will be protected and have resulted in funding for legal action in marital disputes.

“Several court rulings have also been issued in favor of Saudi women, such as the law on protection from violence, and for Saudi women to become judges for the first time in the history of the Kingdom,” she added.

All of the women Arab News spoke with said they have had personal experience of how the changes being implemented across the Kingdom have improved their lives and career prospects.

“I still remember when I first entered the private sector, as a coordinator, and I was afraid that I could not be as good as my male colleagues,” said Alghamdi.

“As time passed I discovered that I was even better — and now I am director of life improvements, working with a group of amazing ladies who are also heads of their departments and giving their best for our community to grow.”


Travel restrictions eased for Saudis married to non-Saudis

February 24, 2021

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia's General Directorate of Passports (Jawazat) announced on Wednesday the lifting of travel restrictions for Saudi men and women who are married to non-Saudis.

The higher authorities have issued an order that enables Saudi women married to non-Saudis to travel with their husbands or join their husbands who are abroad after submitting proof of marriage to officials at the departure points directly.

The order also allows travel for Saudi men who are married to non-Saudi women if the latter reside outside the Kingdom due to work or other conditions that do not enable them to come to the Kingdom to join their husbands, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Jawazat stated that in the event that a Saudi citizen is unable to submit documents that prove the wife’s presence outside the Kingdom and her inability to come to the Kingdom, he can apply for a travel permit through the “Absher” electronic platform with attaching all the required documents, in order to facilitate the procedures for obtaining a travel permit.

The new initiative is in implementation of the directives of the higher authorities regarding procedures for traveling abroad and coming to the Kingdom during the period of suspension of international flights ever since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Interior has decided to lift the temporary travel ban and resume all international flights effective from May 17.


CIT and physics are most preferred majors among Saudi girl students

February 25, 2021

RIYADH — Communications and information technology (CIT) and physics are the most preferred majors among Saudi girl students.

Among girl students who pursue their university studies in the branches of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, 34.1 percent preferred CIT while 30.7 percent preferred physics.

This was revealed in a report titled “Saudi women are partners in success,” released by the General Authority for Statistics on the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2020.

The report showed that most preferred majors for Saudi university male students are engineering, architecture and construction, chosen by 40.5 percent of them, while 21.9 percent preferred CIT.

The report indicated that with regard to higher education students, there is not much difference between the percentage of male and female students as the number of female students makes up 45.3 percent.

The number of girl students in the undergraduate diploma courses is much less as compared to their male counterparts.

The percentage of girl students who are pursuing their higher studies for doctoral degrees is 23.6 percent while in all other phases of higher education, the ratio between male and female students is not much wider.

There is much difference between the number of male and female students who join the Foreign Scholarship Program with male students accounting for 70 percent while female students represent 30 percent, the report pointed out.


Somalia women drivers dare country's Islamists, conservatives

February 26, 2021

At 19 years old, Asha Mohamed is divorced and drives a taxi in Somalia, defying conventions to support her family in one of the world's most conservative and dangerous countries.

For the past year, the young woman has crisscrossed the capital Mogadishu in her white taxi, with a faux fur throw covering her dashboard.

Her career choice was driven by passion, but also necessity, after she divorced her husband -- whom she married at age 16 - and was left to take care of her two children and her mother.

Taxi driving in Mogadishu is not only typically reserved for men, but is also dangerous in a city where Al-Shabaab Islamists regularly set off car bombs at intersections and security checkpoints.

In a recent blast on February 13, three people were killed and eight wounded.

But car-loving Mohamed, who enjoys playing racing video games on her phone, was not put off.

"In my childhood, it was my passion to be a driver one day, but I was not thinking that I will work as a taxi driver," she told AFP.

She said she had been given the opportunity by a relatively new company called Rikaab taxi.

"The number of women working as taxi drivers were small for security reasons, but... the number of women taxi drivers is gradually growing," said IlhamAbdullahi Ali, the female finance chief at Rikaab Taxi.

However, only three of the company's 2,000 taxis in Mogadishu are driven by women.

Mohamed earns up to $40 a day, allowing her to take care of her family, and hopes that by defying tradition, she can contribute to changing the minds of her countrymen about the role of women.

Clients are often taken off guard when they climb into the white taxi and see Mohamed, wearing light make-up and a colourful hijab, behind the steering wheel.

SadiqDahir, a student at the Salaam University, admits he was surprised when he first saw her arrive to pick him up, but that his view has changed.

"Recently I have been using this Rikaab taxi service. Although it is male dominated work I prefer the female taxi drivers because they drive safely and arrive on time."

'Alarming' gender inequality

The Somali capital, situated on a pristine white coastline with turquoise waters, remains dogged by violence a decade after the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab was ousted from the city by African Union peacekeepers fighting alongside government troops.

The 1991 overthrow of presidentSiadBarre's military regime ushered in decades of chaos and civil war.

Thirty years later, the internationally backed federal government has yet to gain full control of the country or hold the first one-person, one-vote ballot since 1969, which had been promised this year.

Even the holding of a complex indirect vote has been delayed by political infighting, which recently led to gun battles between opposing camps in the capital.

Women's rights are low on the list of priorities, and the most recent data, in 2012, showed the country among the bottom four on a United Nations gender equality index.

The report described gender inequality as "alarmingly high", in a country where 98 percent of women have undergone genital mutilation.

"Women suffer severe exclusion and inequality in all dimensions of the index -- health, employment and labour market participation," it noted.

"Somali girls are given away in marriage very young, and violence against girls and women is widespread."


The tragedy of tribal women in Pakistan

Kamran Chaudhry

February 26, 2021

Pastor Irfan James remembers losing his neighbor, a nurse, in a Taliban attack on a government convoy in 2008.

“She was travelling with three levies personnel [paramilitary law enforcement officers] in an ambulance to Peshawar [capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province] for treatment of a local critically injured by a land mine.,” James told UCA News.

“A policeman survived by hiding beneath one of the dead bodies. Nobody expected an attack on the ambulance. The road remained closed until 2011 due to Taliban attacks. The locals used to enter Peshawar through neighboring Afghanistan.”

James, a missionary, hails from the tribal town of Kurram in the federally administered tribal areas (FATA), which consisted of seven tribal districts located on the Pakistan-Afghan border. FATA was previously under the direct rule of Pakistan’s federal authorities through a set of colonial-era laws known as the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

During the Taliban insurgency, formal education of girls was banned in the tribal areas from 2009 to 2012. Many females were forced to join seminaries. In 2015, the military secured the mountainous regions in the North and South Waziristan districts of FATA that served as the main base for local and foreign militants.

Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors.

In 2018, Pakistan's parliament merged FATA, where militancy is rife, with neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. However, fear of Taliban militants has resurfaced in North Waziristan, where four female vocational trainers were gunned down this week in Ipi village.

The women were from Sabawoon, a charity that provides training to women on how to run a business from home and works to create gender rights awareness. They had been visiting Mir Ali since December to teach handicrafts to Pashtun women in Ipi village.

According to police, one female aid worker survived the Feb. 22 ambush.  

Many netizens took to social media to express anger over the attack.

“A real blow to women empowerment and visibility in the region. Taliban are back in the region,” stated Mona, a female activist, in a Feb. 22 tweet.

She said the vocational trainers were really poor women who would travel for three hours to the village for a monthly income of 16,000 rupees (US$101).

The Women’s Action Forum condemned the targeted killing in a statement issued the same evening.

“Civil society organizations and human rights defenders are already working under restrictive conditions, often risking their lives to simply do their work. Women human rights defenders face additional threats due to their gender and the patriarchal society at large,” it stated.

“We demand that the state take immediate action to conduct a transparent investigation into the incident and prosecute this case to the full extent of the law. We ask the local police and administration to avoid short-term, protectionist measures, such as restrictions on activities of NGOs, and focus on providing an enabling environment for civil society activities.”

Security forces on Feb. 23 killed Hassan alias Sajna, a member of the Taliban group that murdered the four women, during an intelligence-based operation in North Waziristan.

Cultural constraints

As in other parts of Pakistan, women are a particularly vulnerable segment of society in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because of the strong patriarchal and tribal culture.

The militancy-plagued province has a tradition of banning women voters through local jirga (tribal court) laws enforcing local traditions and Sharia law. Most women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa already practice purdah [seclusion] and wear burqas.

“Tribal women are already facing challenges in finding jobs. Their movement is restricted owing to local traditions. Now we have women police officers or female lawmakers. The cowardly attack on women activists is another blow to the already marginalized region,” said Pastor James.

Jirgas also sentence women to death for “dishonoring” a family or a tribe. These traditional courts are run by tribal and community elders primarily in rural areas, and civil society and human rights activists believe them to be historically detrimental to women’s rights.

Last month two universities in northern Pakistan banned T-shirts, short shirts, heavy makeup, jewelry, sleeveless shalwarkameez (traditional tunics with pleated trousers) and heavy handbags for females while on the campus.

The literacy rate in the seven tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the erstwhile federal territories, is 33 percent compared with 59 percent for the rest of Pakistan and female literacy at 12 percent compared with 47 percent for the rest of the country.

According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the highest number of child marriages was recorded in the tribal areas in 2019.

“Ninety nine percent of the girls are married under this traditional practice, which continues despite the existence of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act ([that prohibits marriage of children under 18],” states the latest HRCP annual report.



New Age IslamIslam OnlineIslamic WebsiteAfrican Muslim NewsArab World NewsSouth Asia NewsIndian Muslim NewsWorld Muslim NewsWomen in IslamIslamic FeminismArab WomenWomen In ArabIslamophobia in AmericaMuslim Women in WestIslam Women and Feminism