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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 7 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Yemen Activists Want Tougher Law to Protect Women

New Age Islam News Bureau

7 Nov 2013

  An Iranian woman smokes hookah, 2010. A proposed ban on women smoking the water pipe in Iran has sparked controversy. (photo by Ehsan Abbasi


 'Innovations in Education A Key To Keep More Girls in School: Delhi Urdu Editors Conference

 Yasser Arafat's Widow Says His Successors Must Seek Justice

 Marvel Comics Debuts Female Muslim Superhero

 Pan-African Parliament Spotlights Gender Based Violence

 UN, WB Boost Support for Women’s Health, Girls’ Education in Africa’s Sahel

 Iran Parliament Issues Warning Against Women Smoking Hookah

 Call for Dedicated Body to Protect Widows, Divorcees

 Turkey PM Seen As Attacking Secularism in War of the Mixed-Sexes

 Nigeria: Girl-Empowering ICT Courses Commence

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Yemen Activists Want Tougher Law to Protect Women

Yemen Post Staff

 November 7, 2013

With Yemen about to draft its new constitution, activists have been keen to push their social and judicial agenda forward and benefit from the positive momentum. Last Saturday activists returned to the trenches to promote women rights and most particularly sexual harassment, a subject many feel has been widely ignored or brushed over by officials.

Being the traditional Islamic society that it is, Yemen has never been one to outwardly discuss sexual harassment, a matter which many still consider to be a social taboo associated to loose morality.

With women quite determined to assert their positions within society in post-Arab Spring Yemen, many activists estimated that it is high time to break down the walls of silence and address such thorny issue head on, with only women’s best interests at heart.

Speaking at a conference this Saturday, activists sought not only to raise awareness to sexual harassment but also to demonstrate how poorly equipped Yemen judicial is before such a phenomenon. Activists have argued that a “lack of deterrent” has allowed perpetrators of such crimes to go unpunished.

“There are many loopholes in the current Penalty Law. It imposes a 1,000 Yemeni riyal (Dh17) fine and six months in prison as maximum penalty for harassment. This punishment is not a deterrent and is not commensurate with the gravity of sexual harassment,” Yahya Al Sakhi, a lawyer, told Gulf News on Tuesday. “There is a new codified penalty law that will be discussed in the parliament soon. I call upon all youth to contact their MPs to drum up support for changing the current law.” he added.

While many NGOs, experts and rights activists are all in agreement the government should tackle sexual harassment by drafting a new law and thus ensure that abuse in all its forms or shapes is addressed with due diligence and care, Minister of Legal Affairs Mohammad Al Mikhlafi has yet to be convinced.

Prudent he commented on the issue, “We are ready to adopt the recommendations of this conference if found that the current law does not prevent the phenomenon.”

He added, “Religious groups are trying to impede women’s participation in society. This role has occurred in some countries and we are waiting for studies to determine if they are behind the increase in sexual harassment in Yemen.”



'Innovations in education a key to keep more girls in school: Delhi Urdu Editors Conference

Nov 7, 2013

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday organized a meeting with top Urdu editors in the national capital to mark the second International Day of the Girl Child.

The conference, which was supported by Shikhar, highlighted the power of innovation in education. The focus was on the crucial role that media can play to create a sustained discourse, and highlight innovations that get more girls to school, keep them in school and improve the quality of learning for all children.

Evidence shows that even a single year of secondary school for a girl correlates with as much as a 25 per cent increase in her future earnings.

Despite the decreasing number of girls out of school, many around the world are still denied a quality education and a chance to reach their full potential.

In India, the number of out-of-school children stands at 8.1million, of which 4.5 million are girls. For every 100 boys enrolled, 88 girls are enrolled in secondary school. The main causes of school dropout among girls are child marriage and child labour.

"Investing in the education of girls, especially the most marginalised, is needed to make progress on most social indicators in India", said Urmila Sarkar, Chief of Education UNICEF.

Giving examples of how communities have arranged for safe school transport for girls in hard-to-reach areas from Udaipur, Rajasthan, she said: "Innovation in girls' education will be instrumental to female empowerment and breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation."

Sarkar also highlighted the importance of gender sensitisation. Teachers who have undergone gender sensitisation training have made a significant difference for adolescent girls in schools. The participation of Muslim girls has improved in Madrasas of Malda district of West Bengal, where adolescent groups have been set up and trained. The girls now take up issues with the Panchayat to ensure entitlements reach the people.

The conference was chaired by top representatives of academia and media, Prof. Mohd Miyan, Vice Chancellor, Maulana Azad National Urdu University and Director General, Doordarshan News, S.M. Khan.

They shared examples of how technology coupled with media outreach, has increased access to education for out-of-school girls and improved the quality of learning for every child.

They urged Urdu media to dedicate media space, and build capacities of reporters to highlight issues and innovations in education, especially of girls.

Civil society representatives from Shikhar, Prof Rihan Khan Suri and Ambarish Rai of the RTE Forum spoke on how civil society efforts can build on the momentum created by a conducive educational policy framework, and ensure that girls have access to quality learning environments.

Highlighting the crucial role of media, Caroline den Dulk, Chief of Communication and Advocacy, said: "Innovation can mean embracing new ways to overcome other barriers that keep girls out of school. Media, especially Urdu media which has the third largest readership after Hindi and English, can create a sustained dialogue on the diverse avenues available for girls to remain in school."

Innovation in other parts of the world is also helping to reach the hardest to reach children who are at the greatest risk of being out- of- school.

In Uganda, EduTrack is using SMS text messaging to connect students and schools with UNICEF, enabling them to report on learning, teacher quality, and violence in schools. In India, the Meena radio programme implemented in five states has developed a cadre of aware and empowered girls and boys in remote rural areas.

Elementary education in India has made significant progress over the past few decades.

The landmark passing of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 marks a historic moment for the children of India. For the first time in India's history, children are guaranteed their right to quality elementary education by the state with the help of families and communities.

The conference highlighted the need to strengthen collective action that civil society and private sector organizations can take to ensure that the education goals of India can be met.



Yasser Arafat's widow says his successors must seek justice

AP | Nov 7, 2013

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Yasser Arafat's widow says the Palestinian leadership must seek justice for her husband after Swiss scientists found evidence suggesting he was poisoned by the radioactive substance polonium-210.

Suha Arafat spoke to the The Associated Press from Qatar on Thursday after she received the results of an examination of her husband's remains.

Arafat died in 2004 in France, a month after falling ill at his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound. Palestinian officials have alleged Israel poisoned Arafat, a claim Israel denies.

On Thursday, Suha Arafat did not mention Israel, but said that only countries with nuclear capabilities have access to polonium. She says her husband's death was a crime and that his successors "have to find the tools and pursue the legal case", in international courts.

Palestinian officials have planned a news conference on Friday.



Marvel Comics Debuts Female Muslim Superhero

 November 7, 2013

Marvel Comics is bringing Ms. Marvel back as a 16-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants living in Jersey City named Kamala Khan.

The character - among the first to be a series protagonist who is both a woman and Muslim - is part of Marvel Entertainment's efforts to reflect a growing diversity among its readers while keeping ahold of the contemporary relevance that have underlined its foundation since the creation of Spider-Man and the X-Men in the early 1960s.

Writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona, working with editor Sana Amanat, say the series reflects Khan's vibrant but kinetic world, learning to deal with superpowers, family expectations and adolescence.

Amanat calls the series a "desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective" and what it means to be young and lost amid expectations by others while also telling the story of a teenager coming to grips with having amazing powers.

"I wanted Ms. Marvel to be true-to-life, something real people could relate to, particularly young women. High school was a very vivid time in my life, so I drew heavily on those experiences - impending adulthood, dealing with school, emotionally charged friendships that are such a huge part of being a teenager," said Willow, whose previous comics work includes Vertigo's "Cairo" and the series "Air."

"It's for all the geek girls out there and everybody else who's ever looked at life from the fringe."

She can grow and shrink her limbs and her body and, Willow said, ultimately, she'll be able to shape shift into other forms.

The idea came after a discussion with senior editor Stephen Wacker as they compared stories about growing up.

From there it germinated into a "character for all those little girls who are growing up now the way you are growing up," she recalled. Wilson was brought on board to write the series and the team quickly got approval from Marvel's creative committee to move forward.

DC Comics last fall re-launched its "Green Lantern" series with Simon Baz, an Arab American and Muslim. The character reflects writer Geoff Johns' Lebanese ancestry and his upbringing in the Detroit area.

There have been a few others: Marvel Comics has Dust, a young Afghan woman whose mutant ability to manipulate sand and dust has been part of the popular X-Men books. DC Comics in late 2010 introduced Night runner, a young Muslim hero of Algerian descent reared in Paris.

The creative team said that Khan's back-story, growing up Muslim, is an element of the story, but not the critical foundation, either.

"Kamala is not unlike Peter Parker," said Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso of the teenager turned wall crawler. "She's a 16-year-old girl from the suburbs who is trying to figure out who she is and trying to forge an identity when she suddenly bestows great power and learns the great responsibility that comes with it."



Pan-African Parliament Spotlights Gender Based Violence

 November 7, 2013

Midrand — The third vice-president of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) Loide Kasingo, who is also Namibia's National Assembly Deputy Speaker says it is becoming increasingly evident that Africa needs to come up with solutions to bridge the gap between laws, legal frameworks and their implementation to address the problem of gender based violence.

Kasingo made the remarks during the two-day 2013 Women Parliamentarians Conference of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) in Midrand, South Africa.

Addressing more than 100 delegates mainly parliamentarian women from all over Africa, she stressed that PAP realises that such a vice which takes many forms threatens the health, dignity, security and peaceful existence of Africa's women and girls, further exposing the inequalities between men and women.

"We are aware that women represent an untapped resource in developing the continent and that it is incumbent on all of you, especially parliamentarians, to engage in such discussions that aim to create an enabling environment for the fulfilment of the aspirations of women and girls and also to create a platform where decisions that impact on women's lives can be reviewed and evaluated for the promotion of the advancement of women on our continent," Kasingo noted.

Parliamentarians tackled issues of women and girls against violence relating to early marriages, sexual violence both in homes and in armed conflicts, and mortality deaths among other widespread topics.

However, Dr Julitta Onabanjo, Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in the East and Southern Africa Region Office revealed that Namibia is regarded as one of six countries with the lowest child marriage standing at 10 percent among Algeria, Djibouti, Rwanda, South Africa and Swaziland.

In African countries, more than 40 percent of women aged 20-24 were married before they reached the age of 18.

One out of nine girls in developing countries is forced into marriage before age 15. In Chad and Niger, more than one in three girls married before her 15th birthday. In Ethiopia, one in six girls is married by the age of 15.

The conference which ended on Saturday and was held under the theme, "Responding to violence against women and girls in Africa" sought for African parliaments to move away from legislation to effective enforcement.

Further, Onabanjo revealed that by 2030, almost one in four adolescent girls will live in Sub-Saharan Africa where the total number of adolescent mothers under 18 is projected to rise from 10.1million in 2010, at 2million adolescent births per year, to 16.4million in 2030, which is 3.3 million adolescent births per year.

Births to girls under age 15, she said, are projected to nearly double in the region in the next 17 years, from 2 million a year to date to about 3 million a year in 2030.

"Physically immature first-time mothers are particularly vulnerable to prolonged, obstructed labour, which may result in obstetric fistula. We must note that still 165 000 women continue to die annually in Africa due to pregnancy and related causes. And most tragic is the fact that these deaths could be prevented. We also know that one in 39 Sub-Saharan African women aged 15 to 49 years will die in the process of giving life. In Sweden, the life time risk is one in 14 100 women," Onabanjo noted.

As PAP's third vice-president, Kasingo assured delegates that the African organisation as the voice of the people is committed to the promotion of the general wellbeing of the people it represents, including the vulnerable and often marginalised. Adding that PAP has endeavoured to make women and girls issues an integral part and also a priority of the PAP annual calendar.

She also underscored the crucial role of parliamentarians, particularly women in influencing high level decisions to promote the welfare of women, children and vulnerable groups and to mobilise all stakeholders to achieve such objective.



UN, WB Boost Support for Women’s Health, Girls’ Education in Africa’s Sahel

 November 7, 2013

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim pledged today to support an initiative to improve women’s reproductive health and girls’ education in Africa’s Sahel region, and to invest $200 million in a new project to achieve these goals.

During a historic trip to the region by leaders from five international organizations – the United Nations, the World Bank, the African Union, the African Development Bank, and the European Union – Dr. Kim announced the $200 million Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project.

The initiative, which builds on the Bank’s existing $150 million in commitments over the next two years for maternal and child health programmes in the Sahel, will work across the region to improve the availability and affordability of reproductive health commodities, strengthen specialized training centres for rural-based midwifery/nursing services, and to pilot and share knowledge on adolescent girls’ initiatives.

While Niger and most of the countries in the Sahel have reduced child mortality significantly in recent years, maternal and child mortality levels remain high, as do fertility rates.

“This call to action on women’s empowerment and demographics is not simply about numbers. It is about people. When women and girls have the tools to shape their own future, they will advance development for all,” said Mr. Ban, who is on his second joint visit to Africa with the World Bank chief.

He cited the need to not only take steps to support women, but also the need to change mindsets. “Women should be able to demand their rights. But I also want men to join this call.

“Help us create conditions where your daughters, your sisters and your wives have full equality. Help us create a society where women never have to fear violence at the hands of men. Help us create families where mothers and fathers decide together how many children they want to have. The time to do this is now,” he stated at the launch of the new initiative.

“I have full confidence that the men of Niger and the Sahel can support the women here, and that together you can open a new future.”

Financed by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) – its fund for the world’s poorest countries – the new programme will be closely coordinated with UN agencies and other development partners, and will build on existing investments and analyses of Africa’s demographic dividend already being supported by the World Bank Group.

“As we work towards ending poverty across the developing world, we know that educating adolescent girls and getting health services to women will lead to greater prosperity not just for individual families but also for entire economies,” said Dr. Kim. “This link is even more critical when countries, such as those of the Sahel, have fast-growing youth populations and are trying to make timely investments to reap a major set of economic gains known as the demographic dividend.”

Of the World Bank Group’s $350 million for the women’s empowerment and demographics programme – including the $200 million pledge made today – up to $100 million is expected to go to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). Much of the funding to the UNFPA will be based on country requests for reproductive health commodities and services.

“High fertility, rapid population growth and a large youth population present unique challenges in the Sahel. Where choices improve for women and girls, fertility declines and opportunities expand,” said UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin.

“Raising the age of marriage, keeping girls in school, enabling women through family planning to decide the spacing and number of their children, and investing in the health and education of young people, particularly young girls, can unlock a powerful demographic dividend and set countries in the Sahel on the path to sustained, inclusive social and economic growth. The time to act is now.”

Niger is the second stop on a wider trip to the Sahel region for the development leaders that began in Mali and will also include Burkina Faso and Chad.

The Sahel has suffered three major droughts in less than a decade. More than 11 million people are at risk of hunger and 5 million children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition. In addition, political instability and unconstitutional changes in Governments have had significant economic and social consequences in the region and terrorist acts, as well as organized crime, have threatened the region’s stability.



Iran parliament issues warning against women smoking hookah

 November 7, 2013

One of the few safe and legal leisure activities for Iranian women is the hookah. Hookah smoking has been a long-standing tradition of Iranians, somewhat diminished by the rise in popularity of cigarettes. However, since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, hookah smoking has surfaced anew.

A significant characteristic of smoking hookah is that it need not be enjoyed discretely, and that women are equally able to smoke should they wish to do so. Darband, the beautiful  area in northern Tehran near the Alborz mountains, is not only a popular hiking trail, but also a favorite place to hang out, where juicy kabob with basil and onions is served with doogh (a Persian yogurt drink), sometimes accompanied by hookah. But some believe it is at times smoked in excess.

A bonus benefit of smoking hookah is that men and women alike are allowed to participate together. That is, until now. A recent suggestion to ban women from hookah smoking — under the pretext that it poses a greater health hazard to women than it does to men — has sparked controversy in Iran.

Proponents of the proposed ban say that "recent research" points to a higher vulnerability in females when it comes to hookah smoking's side effects. While medical research proves that smoking hookah is as dangerous as smoking any other form of tobacco, it does not suggest gender-specific effects other than the risks posed to a pregnant woman’s fetus.

In November 2011, the Health Ministry denied supporting hookah smoking and vaguely blamed the government for letting people freely smoke hookah in restaurants and tea houses.

On Oct. 22, 20 members of the Iranian parliament warned President Hassan Rouhani about the dangers of women smoking hookah.

This warning came as a response to the objection of the head of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, Mohammad-Ali Najafi’s, to a proposed ban on hookah smoking for women. Najafi was responding to a proposed ban on hookah targeting women, objecting that smoking hookah is a threat to anyone's health, regardless of gender.

Najafi was accused of supporting hookah smoking. He defended himself in an interview with Fars News, stating that while he is not a supporter of hookah, banning it solely for women is discriminatory.

Fatemeh Aliya, a conservative parliament member, harshly reacted to Najafi’s words and described them as “unfortunate.” She went on to add that smoking hookah is beneath intellectual feminine conduct.

Aliya — a representative for Tehran — criticized Najafi’s statement about the necessity of treating men and women equally in enforcing strict anti-hookah regulations, and called it "hasty." She said the head of the Cultural Heritage Organization’s further comments — an attempt to clarify his position — were even worse, because he had identified the differentiation of men and women in enforcing a ban on hookah as a form of discrimination.

”Smoking hookah may be an ingrained habit of some elderly women in villages, but is not acceptable for others,” she said, adding, “Some people are trying to pinpoint hookah smoking and singing as the main problems of Iranian women. This is totally untrue.”

Hard-liners and conservative members of parliament are against women smoking hookah since they believe that the type of women who smoke it are, for the most part, the same women who don’t cover themselves as well as they should, and they smoke hookah while talking and laughing with men. More important, they greatly resent women sharing the pipe with men while smoking hookah.

Hard-liners have managed to back their stance with credible medical findings, and suggest that enforcing a ban on women smokers — not necessarily men — is vital and urgent.

Esmaiel Ahmadi-Moghaddam, commander of Tehran’s police force, harshly criticized modern teahouses, describing them as corrupt hangout spots for immoral mingling and improper coverage.

The idea of establishing separate teahouses specifically intended for women was suggested in 2012, and sparked some anger. The health minister was among the harshest critics, his rationale being that opening such teahouses would equate to encouraging women to smoke hookah.

According to formal statistics published in October 2013, the number of women smoking hookah is twice the number of male smokers in Khorasan and Fars provinces.

Hookah smoking was formally banned for more than five years in Iran, but following a large protest by teahouse owners, the ban was lifted in 2012, and a representative of Tehran’s security corps stated that no orders of a crackdown on hookah had been received by security forces.

It is widely believed that the idea of opening teahouses for women was suggested by the teahouse owners union, who complained of losing more than 80% of their clientele and barely managing to make rent payments. But the head of the union denied this, and stated that the idea was, in fact, proposed by the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization.

Mohammad-Reza Masjedi, director of the state-sponsored anti-smoking organization, says girls start smoking at a younger age than boys and that 28% of teenage girls and young women smoke hookah regularly, the highest percentage observed over the past decade.

Official statistics released by the government of Iran show that 50% of Iranian men and 38% of Iranian women smoke hookah, but did not indicate frequency.

Avid Iranian hookah smokers try to cheer fellow smokers on, and have created a Facebook page supporting their recreational activity.

Mahtab, an elementary school teacher who lives in Tehran and enjoys an occasional hookah socially, told Al-Monitor she is frustrated with this vast collection of bans and restrictions constantly imposed on Iranian women.

In a phone conversation, she told me, “No smoking. No drinking. No loud music. No hair showing. No painted toenails. No singing. No dancing. No swimming unless it’s in some covert location intended for women only. No exercise unless it’s in a covered place meant for women only. The list of nos goes on and on, and some of us are truly sick and tired of “no-nos” being enforced on us left and right. Yes, smoking tobacco of any kind or form is a health hazard, but what the heck are we supposed to do for fun? What’s left for us to do?”



Call for dedicated body to protect widows, divorcees

 November 7, 2013

ABHA — Social care specialists have called for a committee to cater for the needs of divorced and widowed women to be set up, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.

Divorced and widowed women are considered the group most in need of attention, according to the specialists.

However, there is no organization dedicated to this section of society, despite the existence of social security authorities and some women’s societies.

A dedicated body should be set up to assist these women with their cases, such as those related to their pensions and child custody rights, said the experts.

They said these women also need assistance in finding work to provide for their families, in addition to social, consultancy, financial and rehabilitation services.

A study prepared by the Ministry of Planning two years ago showed that divorces in the Kingdom have increased 20 percent.

During 2012 there were more than 30,000 divorce cases in the country, an average of 82 cases a day or three cases an hour.

These figures necessitate the formulation of a strategic plan with the cooperation of government and private bodies to provide necessary services for these women, said the experts.

Mohammad Al-Thebaiti, a sociologist, said such a committee should take the form of an organization.

The committee should focus on the capabilities of these women and help them become effective members of society, he said.

He believed these women should feel that they are independent, as most of them face psychological and social pressures.

Deputy Minister of Social Affairs Awadh Al-Raddadi believed it was vital to have such a committee.

The committee should have an independent board of directors represented by various government bodies such as the ministries of social affairs, justice, labor, interior, health and education, he said.

He said: “The committee should also have branches in all parts of the Kingdom to coordinate with other committees and bodies, such as the amendment committee, charitable organizations and courts.

“Work opportunities should be made available to women that do not exploit them by paying them little or making them work long hours.

“This committee should have the right to seek the assistance of different government bodies.

“An example of this could be providing the women it helps with special cards that would allow them to be treated in major hospitals.

“In addition, special sections in government bodies should be made available to specifically help divorced and widowed women.”

Al-Raddadi said women should not be viewed as the weaker sex because they are as capable and qualified as men.

However, women sometimes face certain circumstances that require them to seek assistance, he said.

Ibrahim Al-Zebn, sociology professor at Imam Muhammad Bin Saud Islamic University, said divorce has various social, economic and psychological consequences.

The high rate of divorce in the Kingdom has led to the need for a plan to tackle these consequences, he said.

He pointed out that reports have shown that most divorce cases involve couples aged 20 to 30.

According to statistics issued two years ago, Makkah registered the most divorce cases in the Kingdom, accounting for 39 percent of total divorce cases in the country.

Riyadh represented 26 percent and the Eastern Province accounted for 12.75 percent.

Al-Zebn said 60 percent of marriages end in divorce during the first year.

He said: “Divorce has many devastating consequences for men, women and children.

“Women experience great psychological pressure, men experience isolation from society and children lose the feeling of safety.”

He added that women should be encouraged to join such committees and utilize their resources so they can be rehabilitated and gain the required skills to provide for themselves and their families.

“Such a committee should have technical, judicial, social and psychological experts and capable women should also be encouraged to participate in the committee.”



Turkey PM Seen As Attacking Secularism in War of the Mixed-Sexes

 November 7, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's crackdown on mixed-sex student dorms has been condemned by critics as a fresh attempt to force strict Islamic values on the staunchly secular country.

Just days after four female lawmakers from his party broke a decades-old taboo by wearing headscarves in parliament; the conservative prime minister fired a fresh salvo at secularism in the majority-Muslim nation.

"We will not allow girls and boys to live together in state-owned student residences," Erdogan told lawmakers from his party this week.

"The values I hold on to do not allow such a thing," he said.

"Anything can happen when it is mixed. We have received complaints from families who asked us to intervene and it is our duty to intervene."

Swatting aside a barrage of criticism, Erdogan ordered the governors of the country's 81 provinces to monitor student residences and speak out against immoral behaviour.

Three-quarters of state-run student residences already separate the sexes, and the remaining mixed dorms are to be done away with by early 2014, an official source told AFP.

Huseyin Avni Cos, governor of the southern province of Adana, promised to heed Erdogan's call.

"It is up to the state to protect the youth from bad habits," he told the Dogan news agency.

But Erdogan's move has touched a nerve among those who accuse him of trying to force his conservative values on Turkey, where laws on alcohol sales and advertising have also been tightened.

Furious Twitter users denounced the move as an attack on private life.

One, Wim van Wegen, said: "The 'democratisation' of authoritative Erdogan's Turkey is a joke. Ataturk would turn over in his grave," a reference to the revered founder of secular Turkey in 1923.

Erdogan has also made it clear he plans to clamp down on private mixed residences.

"We already have separate apartments with separate entrances and nothing abnormal has happened when we eat together in the canteen," said amused 22-year-old student Ahmet, who lives in an Ankara residence.

"We are adults and we have the right to vote but not the right to be together, men and women. It's ridiculous!" he added.

'Stick to your own business'

Erdogan's government faced an unprecedented wave of protests in June over its repression of critics and growing imposition of strict Islamic values on the private lives of Turks.

The main pro-secular opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said former Islamic firebrand Erdogan's real aim was to "put a stop to mixed-sex education in general."

"In a democracy, the state cannot play the voyeur. Stick to your own business," party spokesman Haluk Koc said Wednesday.

After the restriction on the sale of alcohol and recent lifting of a ban on wearing headscarves in the civil service, critics denounce what they say is Erdogan's increasingly blatant Islamic agenda.

"The Turkish republic is being transformed into an Islamic republic under our very eyes," said Birsen Temir, head of the Anatolia Woman's Association.

The issue also appears to have troubled some within Erdogan's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP). Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, seen as more moderate than Erdogan, on Tuesday tried to temper the debate.

"We have absolutely no intention of carrying out checks" on students' living arrangements, he told reporters.

Legal experts have also questioned how the state would intervene against adults living under the same roof when the constitution protects equality of the sexes and fundamental freedoms.

"This isn't interference in private life," said Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, adding that Turks were "opposed to their sons and daughters boarding together."

Despite the criticism and possible legal obstacles, Erdogan remained resolute: "If the laws must be changed, we will change them," he told journalists Tuesday.

The comment came the same day Turkey reopened talks on joining the European Union. Democratic reforms have been a stumbling block in the longtime EU hopeful's membership bid.

Peter Stano, spokesman for European Union Commissioner Stefan Fuele, said the choice on whether to live in mixed residences "should in principle be one exercised by the students and their families."

"A core element of the recent democratisation package announced by the prime minister himself was the protection of lifestyles and private choices of every citizen, and this is an element which we wholeheartedly welcomed," he said.



Nigeria: Girl-Empowering ICT Courses Commence

 November 7, 2013

Lagos — THE much-anticipated programme to train and empower local Nigerian young women on information and communication technology has commenced in Lagos.

The programme, which is a brainchild of the Ministry of Communication Technology, in partnership with Chinese technology firm, Huawei, will culminate in the training of 1 000 girls.

The scheme between the government and public sector is part of effort to empower local women and girls to embrace ICT.

Speaking at the commencement of the training, ICT Minister, Omobola Johnson, urged the girls to take make the most of the training to realise their potentials so as to empower themselves and contribute to the economic development of the country.

The minister reiterated that women should not be left behind in the contemporary information revolution so they do not miss out during the industrial revolution.

“This is a sector that is witnessing 20 percent growth. We want women to get the requisite knowledge and today, we are happy that Huawei is part of the story. We really appreciate them for this and for their operations in Nigeria,” she said.

Johnson further encouraged the participants to leverage on the programme to sharpen up on their skills for opportunities in the offing.

Also speaking at the event to mark the beginning of the training, Hover Gao, Vice President, Huawei West Africa, said partnering with the ICT Ministry for the training programme was part of the company's corporate social responsibility to the Nigerian society.

He expressed solidarity with female students who were willing to explore their careers in ICT industry across the country.

“This programme is part of Huawei's commitment of localization, technology transfer to Nigeria and employment promotion,” he said.

Hover said that Huawei and the ministry would develop the exercise into a long-term project.

“We will certainly explore opportunities to make this training a long-term project. This is a major project for us because it also enables us to create an ICT talents pool and some of the trainees will become Huawei employees,” he said.

Huawei is the first ICT solutions provider to establish an ICT training centre in Abuja back in 2004. The facility has provided training opportunities to ICT practitioners. - CAJ News