CDWRME Bulletin #4

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 4, August 2002

Bulletin of "Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East"

Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin

In this issue:

Pakistan : According to Islamic Law a Tribal Jury Ordered Gang Rape of a Teenage Girl

MULTAN, Pakistan: A teenage girl was gang-raped in central Pakistan last month as "punishment" meted out by a tribal jury according to Islamic Law, Shari'a for her brother's supposed affair with a woman from a higher tribe, the police said.

A panchayat, or tribal jury, ordered four men, including one of the jurists, to rape the 18-year-old girl on June 22 in the village of Meerwala, 75 miles Southwest of here, the police said. She was then ordered to return home naked before 1,000 onlookers. The district police chief, Malik Saeed Awan, said the authorities were told of the publicly ordered rape several days afterward. The gang rape was said to avenge the "insult" caused to a family of the Mastoi tribe by the girl's brother's "illicit affair" with a woman of higher social standing. The girl and her brother were from the lower Gujjar tribe. The panchayat had threatened that all the women in the man's family would be raped unless the 18-year-old submitted herself to the punishment.

Afghanistan: Women banned from singing on air in Kabul in accordance with Islamic Law

Banning women from singing on TV & radio has highlighted women's rights, an important issue in the post-Taliban Afghanistan.  Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, president of Kabul TV and radio, had torn up the order of the Information Minister, Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, to leave his post and refused to move out of his office. Mr Mansoor, who was, briefly, information minister after the fall of the Taliban, is said to have unilaterally taken the decision to bar women from singing on Kabul broadcasting.

The former mujaheddin warlord is also believed to have been instrumental in filing a complaint of alleged blasphemy at the Supreme Court against the former women's affairs minister Sima Samar. The case was thrown out by a Kabul court as "spurious and vexatious".

Mr Mansoor has made several controversial decisions, including the ban on women singing. "I didn't ban this," he said of women singing. "But Islam bans this. This is a matter for the country's Supreme Court. We are an Islamic society." Mr Raheen has tried to take him away from the TV post before. "The government is trying to give him another post, most probably a higher one," a government official said. "But he is being as stubborn as before." Mr Mansoor said he had refused to obey the order because it did not come directly from Mr Karzai. "I did not receive any orders from Karzai to step down, but if they come I will respect it, 100 per cent," he said. "I was on the front line fighting al - Qa'ida to enter Kabul. For 23 years, I was in the centre of wars and struggle ... And what did Raheen do? Nothing." Mr Mansoor is from the Northern Alliance, which claims to be more liberal than the Pashtun-supported former Taliban regime.

Iran & Nigeria: Five Women on the Death Row of Islamic Law

* Iran: According to Iranian official press, Ms. Ashraf, a 30 years old woman has recently been sentenced to death by stoning. Since the beginning of this year, three other women Ms. Shahnaz, Ms. Ferdows B and Ms. Sima have been sentenced to death in the most brutal form of execution according to Islamic law in Iran. 

* Nigeria: Amina Lawal Kurami appealed her death sentence by stoning on 8 July 2002. On March 22, she was put on the death row of Islamic law by Islamic leaders in Nigeria. In May, the Islamic court delayed carrying out the sentence until 8 July 2004 to allow her weaning her baby.

Now, five women are on the death row of Islamic Law: Ashraf, Shahnaz, Ferdows, Amina, and Sima are all sentenced to death by stoning.

We call upon all women/human rights organisations to protest against this Islamic cruel and inhuman treatment of women.

Please send your protest letters to:
Mohammad Khatami - Iran
Khatami, khatami@president.ir 
iranemb@salamiran.org 
Fax: +98 216 464 443

Nigerian Embassy, 173 Avenue 
Victor Hugo 75016 Paris
Fax: 00 33 1 47 04 47 54 or
Email: embassy@nigerian.it  

Yemen:  proposition of Law of Husband's House

Sana'a - The proposed law of husband's house law has caused a lot of controversy over its legitimacy and violations of women rights. Yemen Times surveyed the views of leading women involved in advocating women's rights and filed the following excerpts.

The proposed law has been rejected by all walks of life. In fact, the endorsement of such law is also inconsistent with the Constitution of the Republic of Yemen beside the international conventions signed by Yemen. Khawla Ahmed Sharaf, a leading women freedom advocate, pointed out that she was shocked by the content of the proposed law. "If this law was approved, it would deal a fatal blow to the status of women in Yemen."

During a meeting, which held for this end, women from all the spectrums of the society issued an appeal to the President of the Republic, MPs, Premiere, State Minister of Human Rights, requesting the annulment of these articles. Elham Ali Sallam, Secretary of the Information & Culture Division of Yemen's Women Union, indicated that the approval of the marital obedience law would breed lots of problems for Yemeni families. She said the law would have unavoidable negative impacts on Yemeni families and would also be the source of many criminal offences arising between spouses. "I do not think there is a person who will accept that his daughter or sister reluctantly taken by security authorities to her husband's house. Many Arab countries, which used to have such a law have annulled it, including Egypt," she added.

UAE: Arab Media Women Face Challenges

Experts in the media are rejecting the traditional role of women, claims a Jordanian journalist and writer. Lana Mamkegh, Jordanian journalist and television presenter, said: "The traditional role of women is being rejected by women media experts, saying that women are present only in the kitchen, ironing their children's clothes and cleaning their houses. "The traditional role of a woman as mother and wife should be appreciated. What is needed in the Arab world is an educated woman who can assume her pivotal role as an educator and supporter for the family."

The papers presented at the Women and Media Forum illustrated many examples of women objectification, but there was a general consensus that the achievements of women should be portrayed more vividly in the Arab media.  The papers observed that women in the media face professional and social challenges despite their potential to be effective workers in the media. 

Dr Mouza Ghobash, in her paper on Social Challenges facing women's Involvement in Media Work, noted: "There are constraints on women going out into the media field." She said women in the UAE are still not expected to go outside their homes or assume national responsibilities. "Despite Arab women's development in certain sectors, the dominant social culture does not seem to view with full appreciation a woman who works outside the home as a citizen who aspires to achieve true national goals."  According to Dr Ghobash, women's participation in the field of media has not been fully realised in political decision making. She attributes this to numerous socio-economic and political factors, particularly the dominant cultural patterns in contemporary Arab societies.

 Dr Ghobash argued that these societies are paternalistic and male-dominated and therefore tend to marginalise certain social groups such as women and children. Sources of command emanate from male-dominated Centre, based on paternalistic view of social relations, which seems to confine women into a limited space whereby her life and identity and affiliation with a male person who might be her husband or father seem to determine her being a human being, she said. She maintained that apart from this paternalistic domain, a woman is expected to fail. Hence, women's participation in the media work seems to be limited and so are their contributions to this career. Dr Ghobash asserted that despite Arab women development in certain sectors, the dominant social culture does not seem to view with full appreciation a woman who works outside home as a citizen who wants to achieve true national goals.

 A study by the Arab Women Training and Research Centre showed that although women may require training, they are concerned with immediate social issues in their society. A study of four countries – Jordan, UAE, Tunisia, and Yemen – shows that social issues are the most crucial issues for women media practitioners, followed by international events and cultural issues. This paper was presented by Itidal Al Mejberi, Media Director in Tunisia.

Egypt: Is Honour Killing a Taboo?

The taboo surrounding honour crimes is being chipped away. A man stabbed his sister-in-law to death because rumour had it that she was a woman of 'loose' morals, and a court sentenced a man to a year's imprisonment for killing his sister -for besmirching the family's honour with her 'ill-reputation.'

Honour crimes now feature regularly in daily newspapers. A woman's honour is like a matchstick, the popular saying has it, and any deviation from social norms and regulations can mean the 'loss of her honour' and the 'honour' of the family. It takes far less than a pre- or extramarital relationship for a woman to be condemned as 'dishonourable' and deserving death. There is no "typical" case one can speak of: honour crimes include a husband killing his wife for leaving the house too often, a son killing his mother to prevent her from remarrying, a brother killing his sister and her husband for marrying without the family's consent, a man killing his wife for refusing to wear the veil when leaving home.

While honour crimes are certainly not a daily phenomenon, judging from the frequency of newspaper reports, they are not exceptional either. And yet they are not high on the agenda of women's rights activists in most of Arab countries. Why? Possibly because, as is the case for all social taboos, it takes time to break the culture of silence around them. Possibly because, unlike female genital mutilation, they do not affect millions of women every day. Possibly, too, because there is very little information about them, their frequency and the people likely to perpetrate them. Another strong reason is the fear of the so - called 'western oriental obsession' with women's lack of rights in the Arab world.

Recently, participants at a conference on crimes of honour trod cautiously as they discussed the matter. The conference was organised by the Centre for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA), an NGO providing legal services for women in Bulaq. CEWLA documented all the crimes of honour reported in the press from 1998 to 2001 and came up with some important figures: 

Suspicion of 'indecent behaviour' is the reason behind 79 per cent of all crimes of honour. Nine per cent of honour crimes followed a discovery of betrayal. Six per cent of deaths were committed by lovers in a bid to prevent the relationship becoming public, and six per cent for miscellaneous reasons. "In most crimes of honour, there is no concrete evidence. The women are killed just because of rumours or suspicions that they may have crossed the line of 'decent' behaviour. In cases where women are deemed to have 'dishonoured' the family through their conduct, the husband is considered to have the first right to avenge, followed by the father, and then the brother," said Gasser Abdel-Gawad, director of CEWLA. 

And yet the justice system shows much sympathy with perpetrators of honour crimes. Azza Soliman, manager of CEWLA, protested that legislation and the judiciary system have helped perpetuate violence against women through the laxity shown to the perpetrators. She argued that "judges' interpretation of Article 17 of the Criminal Code, which gives them the prerogative to reduce a sentence according to their assessment of individual cases, is often very loose. Lenient sentences are passed on the pretext that the perpetrator was under extreme emotional pressure, that the victim had deviated from acceptable morality (by for example dressing inappropriately, meeting a male friend alone, etc.), and that the accused was seeking to "wash away" the shame that the woman had brought upon her family."

The state, too, has obligations to change distorted beliefs and practices, Soliman argued, since Egypt, she reminded participants, has signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Soliman demanded that "there is a public condemnation of crimes committed in the name of honour, that criminal legislation be revised, and that the use of Article 17 be revised."

"We cannot and should not repeal Article 17," retorted Awad El-Morr, former head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, adding: "We have to allow for the individualisation of punishment and we have to take into consideration the emotional state of the perpetrator when he committed the crime. This prerogative is given to judges in the West as well."

"It is rather ironic," noted Hoda Badran, head of Alliance for Arab Women, an NGO, that society denies women certain rights under the pretext that they are emotional beings, and may become irrational when under pressure, while resorting to the "emotions argument" as an excuse for men's behaviour in honour crimes. "If Article 17 cannot be changed, then we certainly have to change its arbitrary application by judges," she added.

Khalid Montasser, a physician and writer at Sawt Al-Umma newspaper, was uneasy about recourse to religion in judging crimes of honour. A distinction must be made, he argued, between the Shari'a and Islamic jurisprudence, "and unfortunately, most of the writings by scholars of Islamic jurisprudence have been anti-women," he said. Worse, he noted, is the dominant religious discourse, which he suggested is in many ways misogynist and has played a role in enforcing the double standards that society and the law apply to men's and men's honour. "A man without honour is one who steals or deceives people, but he remains an honourable man even if he has sexual relations with three-quarters of the earth's women. As for a woman, she may kill or steal, but she will be considered honourable so long as she preserves her hymen, without which she loses all honour," he concluded.

Azza Soliman suggested addressing the issue as one of human rights, given that honour crimes constitute violence against women, while El-Morr rejected the application of human rights discourse to personal matters, describing human rights as a Western product that advocates gay rights, which are incommensurate with local religious and cultural beliefs. 

Iran: Women, Underground Lives & the Internet

The web is providing a way for women in Iran to talk freely about taboo subjects such as sex and boyfriends. Over the past few months, there has been a big jump in the number of Persian weblogs, which are providing an insight into a closed society. Weblogs, or blogs, are online journals where cyber-diarists let the world in on the latest twists and turns of their love, work and internal lives. "I could talk very freely and very frankly about things I could never talk about in any other place, about subjects that are banned" said one of the first women to start a blog in Iran. 

The rise of the blog in Iran has been made possible by the huge growth of the Internet in the Middle Eastern countries. There were 400,000 people on the Internet in Iran in 2001, according to government figures. But officials expect this it grow to 15m over the next three or four years. Contrary to expectation, the Internet in Iran is not censored. This has allowed Iranians to use blogs to air issues that they cannot talk about in public. Perhaps surprisingly, few of the blogs focus on politics. "It is social issues mostly," said blogger Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian journalist living in Canada, things like girlfriends, boyfriends, the music they listen to, the films they see." This may seem surprising to people in the West, but Iran is under an Islamic government.

"There are more than 1,200 Persian blogs, many of them written by women.  For the first time in the contemporary history of Iran, women can express themselves freely, even if it is not in their real name. Women in Iran cannot speak out frankly because of our eastern culture and there are some taboos just for women, such as talking about sex or the right to choose your partners." "For the most part, the response to blogs has been positive", he said. "I've had e-mails from men who have told me that I changed their attitude towards women in Iran," Derakhshan said. "I had some negative responses, people saying I am disrespecting the image of an Iranian woman. Some people even insulted me, but negative responses are few compared to positive ones", he said.

The Charter of Committee to Defend Women's Right in the Middle East

"Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East" - CDWRME is founded and struggles for women's human rights, individual freedom and civil rights.

We believe that secularism and the separation of religion from the state are the basic pre-conditions for women’s liberation in the Middle East. 

We believe in the universality of women’s rights and consider cultural relativism as a cover to create a comprehensive social, legal, intellectual, emotional, geographical and civil apartheid based on distinctions of race, ethnicity, religion and gender. This complete system of apartheid attacks women’s basic rights and freedom and justifies savagery and barbarism inflicted on women by Islamic movements and Islamic governments in the region.

The major laws and measures that we demand and struggle for are as follows: 

1- Abolition of the current Personal Status Code, replacing it by a secular and egalitarian family law. Laying down equal rights and obligations for women and men regarding the care and upbringing of children, control and running of family's finance, inheritance, choice of residence, housework, divorce and in case of separation custody of children.

2- Abolition of honour killing laws. Recognition of honour killing as a grave crime. 

3- Putting an end to forced marriages

4-     Prohibition of imposing the Islamic dress code and veil. Freedom of clothing

5-     Prohibition of interference of authorities and family members in the private lives of women 

6-     Prohibition of any form of segregation of women and men in public places. 

7-     Abolition of any restriction on the right of women to work, travel and choose the place of residence at will. 

8-     Equal political rights for women, rights to vote and to be elected women's rights to hold any position and office - political, administrative and judicial. Women's rights to form women organization and affiliation to political parties without any restriction. Supporting and encouraging non-governmental women’s rights groups. 

9- secure equality of rights of women and men in employment wages insurance, education and family affairs. 

10   -Imposition of severe penalties on abuse, intimidation and violent treatment of women and girls in the family.

11- Prohibition of polygamy

We try to create a network of women's rights activists in the Middle Eastern countries; we campaign around women's civil rights and individual freedom, and support the just struggle of women in the Middle East.

Women's rights activists from Iran, Jordan and Lebanon have founded CDWRME in July 2001, and Azam Kamguian is the co-ordinator and the spokesperson of the committee. 

Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East
September 2001

azam_kamguian@yahoo.com
cdwrme@yahoo.co.uk 
Tel: 0044(0) 788 4040 835
Fax: + 44(0) 870 831 0204
www.eclipse.co.uk/women