CDWRME Bulletin #7
"Women in the Middle East"
Number 7, November 2002
Bulletin of "Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East"
Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin
In this issue:
- Bahrain: Islamic groups protest as women stand in election
- Iran: Equality according to 'Islamic - feminist' style
- Morocco: Islamic party plans to Impose the veil on women
- Israel: Women groups support the Indictment of Sharon for war crimes
- Bangladesh: Taslima Nasrin sentenced to one year prison
- Iran: Cinema showing women's film torched
- Malaysia: Performances by women, and pop bands banned in Kelantan
- Holland: Woman in hiding for criticising Islam
- Malaysia: Harassment by Islamic moral police
- Afghanistan: The invisible first lady & women's currents situation
- Sudan: Abduction & slavery of women
- Iran & Nigeria: 6 women and 2 men on the death row of Islamic law
- Events: Panel discussion on faith schools & UK Government's education policy - London
- The Charter of Committee to Defend Women's Right in the Middle East
Bahrain is taking part in its first elections under universal suffrage for 30 years, with women voting and standing for parliament. Only one other state in the region, Kuwait, holds legislative elections, and women are excluded from the voting process.
Thousands turned up at a rally called by an umbrella group for Islamic organisations which calls for a boycott of the polls. The objections of the Islamic groups range from the supposed inadequacy of the new constitution to objections to the electoral role being played by women. They say that is not the way of Islam, and they will not win any seats.
Women members of Islamic parliament began talks with Islamic clerics to demand that "blood money" compensation for a murdered woman should equal that of a man. According to Sharia, compensation for the loss of a woman's life is half of that paid for a murdered man. "We have sent letters to high-ranking clerics...to have their opinions on equal blood money for a Muslim man and a Muslim woman," said woman parliamentarian Akram Mosavarimanesh.
Iran's penal code has kept the Islamic definition of blood money as one of the following: 100 camels, 200 cows, 1,000 sheep, 200 silk dresses, 1,000 gold coins, or 10,000 silver coins. But authorities have set cash equivalents to simplify matters. Iran's judiciary has set the amount that a killer can pay to his victim's family to avoid execution at a flat $18,750 for a murdered man, and half of that for a woman.
"Some preparations have been made to get it approved, but it is clearly stipulated in the Koran that women get half blood money," a high-ranking cleric says. If the proposal is approved by parliament it must then be sent to the Guardian Council, which is responsible for ensuring that legislation conforms to Islamic sharia law.
Equal blood money is not the demand of millions of women in Iran who have been struggling against the totality of anti-women Islamic rule since 23 years ago when the Islamic republic of Iran took power in 1979.
An Islamic party that favours making women wear veils, banning alcohol and amputating thieves' hands said it was poised to become a major force in Moroccan politics after a solid showing in legislative elections. Government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Justice and Development Party, the only Islamic group in parliament, posted strong gains. Officials from rival parties also said the group, known as the PJD, appeared to have made major progress, perhaps capturing around 10 percent of seats. PJD leaders were buoyant. They said they expected to more than double their representation in parliament's Lower House. The party previously held 14 of the 325 seats. "I think we'll be among the foremost parties," said Abdel Aziz Rabbah, a PJD election spokesman. "We are reorganising the field of politics."
Mustafa Ramid, a senior party leader, said the PJD would like Islamic sharia law to be applied in Morocco, including cutting off thieves' hands. "Long-term, we want sharia applied completely." Rabbah said the party also wants a ban on alcohol, the phasing out of the liquor industry and the establishment of Islamic banks. He also said he found it unacceptable that some young Moroccan women wear revealing clothes. "What we will impose are good morals, good traditions, good practices. We don't accept that a woman goes out almost naked on the streets, it's not normal." "We want a law to forbid that, that says women and even men should wear things that do not attack morality. So we must impose the veil." As for amputation, "it should only be "a last resort" for otherwise incorrigible thieves "who have stolen billions and billions." "These people, one way or another, need punishment that is a little severe. This severe punishment can be amputation or something else."
In cities such as the capital Rabat, it is difficult to imagine how the PJD's vision could become reality. Bars that serve Moroccan-brewed beer are packed late into the evening with Moroccan men. Many young women wear Western fashions, including body-hugging pants and tops, even while others stick with traditional headscarves and baggy dresses or robes. Ramid said any change could only come slowly, that Moroccans would need educating about sharia before it could be applied. He said the country is not ready for Islamic law in the short-term. He and Rabbah also insisted that the PJD would only push for reform from within the confines of Morocco's political system. "Is the rise of an Islamic party bad for the country? Not at all. We are realists and moderates." "There's nothing to worry about. There is nothing that is scary about us." "We are not Islamic fundamentalists, we are a political party with Islamic tendencies. There's a difference, an enormous difference." "We need to win the trust of certain national, regional and international players, the United States in particular and the European Union". "Unfortunately, people think parties with Islamic tendencies are guerrillas, people who want to die, commit suicide."
According to a letter from the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, a coalition of nine Israeli women¹s peace groups, to the survivors of the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon, on the 20th anniversary of the event, the Coalition extends its solidarity to the Palestinian survivors, and supports their efforts to indict the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, for "war crimes'.' To see the full article and the letter, go to: http://www.peacewomen.org/news/september/wib.html
A district court in Bangladesh has sentenced in absentia exiled writer Taslima Nasrin to one year in jail for criticising Islam in her book, according to court officials. The sentenced will take effect from the day Taslima Nasrin, who left Bangladesh in 1994, is arrested. The ruling was made three years after an Islamic cleric brought the case against her of making "critical remarks" against Islam in her 1994 novel Lajja which means shame.
She fled Bangladesh after receiving death threat from Islamic leaders. Since then, she has lived in several European countries as well as the city of Calcutta. The Bangladeshi government banned her 1994 book. In August, the government banned her latest novel, Utal Haow, meaning "Wild Winds" saying it contained anti- Islamic statements. Last year another novel by her "My Girlhood" was banned for similar reason.
A cinema screening a controversial film that narrowly made it past Iran's strict censors was burnt down in the central Iranian City of Isfahan. According to officials the fire was criminal. The Jasmine cinema, situated in the Shahin-Shahr suburb of the city, had been screening "The Women's Prison", a film stuck in the censorship process for two years.
The film, by female director Manijeh Hekmat, portrays the harsh conditions endured by Iran's women prisoners whether prostitutes, drug addicts or dissidents in the 20-year period that followed the 1979 revolution. Its subject matter also features a young runaway girl committing suicide -- a taboo topic here -- and the execution of a 17-year-old female political prisoner. It was finally approved for screening here after censors cut 20 minutes out of the movie.
Women can no longer take part in concerts or other live entertainment shows in Kelantan. The ban covers all hotels and resorts in the state, regardless of whether they are four or five-star establishments. In this connection, all district offices will no longer issue any licence for live shows by any group involving women artistes or individual woman performers, both from the state and outside. Ahmad Takiyuddin Hassan said: “We do not care what others are going to say about this. We have an obligation to the people of Kelantan and there will be no two ways about it.’ He said the move was aimed at checking moral decadence among the youth in Kelantan. He said hotels have been told to take only male artistes.
Kelantan is the second state to impose such a ban since PAS came to power in the state in 1990. Terengganu, which PAS captured in 1999, enforced a similar ban last year. Abdul Halim Abdul Rahman said that Kelantan was not creating some new laws out of thin air but was merely following the Koran. "Whatever is not permissible (haram) under Islam is still not permissible, no matter how you look at it.’’ Halim said that all Muslims were bound by the religion.
A female Somali political scientist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has been living in the Netherlands for many years, has recently criticised Islam as "backward". She went hiding after she announced that she has received a barrage of anonymous death threats, from Islamic fanatics. As an advisor to the Dutch opposition Socialist party, she used the opportunity to criticise Islam, with regards to women's personal freedom and individual choice. She criticises Islamic groups for the covering up the widespread domestic violence and child abuse in the Muslim community. Yassin Hartog, a spokesman for Islam and Citizenship, the Netherlands' main Muslim lobby group, says he believes the death threats against Hirsi Ali may have been fabricated to blacken the Muslim community. In an effort to distance themselves from the affair, 17 Muslim organisations have signed a letter condemning the death threats.
There are strict rules on keeping unrelated men and women apart. A Malaysian couple who have been married for 22 years plan to sue government officials who burst into their bedroom and arrested them under strict Islamic morality laws. Abdul Halim Zainal Abidin and his wife Nooriah were staying in a rented room when the incident happened two years ago.
They were unable to produce their marriage certificate immediately, so the officials detained them for seven hours under a law, which forbids close contact between unrelated men and women. The couple, who have three children, are seeking compensation for wrongful arrest and humiliation.
Correspondents say religious department officers often raid hotel rooms or public parks frequented by lovers in the country, detaining unmarried couples caught together.
In the past nine months, Afghan president Hamid Karzai has been in the international spotlight. But few people have heard of his spouse, Zeenat Karzai. Critics and women’s rights advocates accuse Karzai of keeping the first lady out of the media’s reach, because he fears criticism from mullahs. Zeenat is a gynaecologist. She rarely speaks to journalists and has been under tight security since her husband’s rise to power late last year. Zeenat, 29, returned to Kabul again last spring as the first lady of Afghanistan. Zeenat’s family has fears of her being kidnapped by forces opposed to the transitional government. If abducted, Zeenat could be used to giving into warlord interests.
Karzai’s picture can be seen in dozens of newspapers and magazines every day, but he has made sure that Zeenat is kept out of the public eye. There are no public pictures of Afghanistan’s first lady and she does not accompany her husband for any Public events
In Afghanistan, most women still have to wear the burqa although the rule enforcing its use was lifted in December after the fall of the Taliban. Women are still fearful of leaving their house after dark. A man in power thinks she is beautiful and steals her off the street.
In a country where the rule of law is Islamic & tribal, the family of a kidnapped girl or woman has no real means of reporting the incident and having the police investigate. Many Kabul citizens say kidnappings are not new in Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance and the Taliban were known for stealing girls off of the streets as well as ransacking homes for young girls.
A young woman who says she was forced to work as a slave in the London house of a Sudanese diplomat is at the Centre of a British Foreign Office investigation and a growing international row. Mende Nazer ran away from the Willesden Green home of Khartoum's former acting chargé d'affaires two years ago. Now she has published a harrowing book in which she writes of her abduction from her native village by Arab slave traders at the age of 13 and of beatings and bullying as a maidservant in wealthy Islamic homes in Sudan. Her memoirs are being published in Germany this month, where they have caused a considerable sensation. But the Sudanese diplomat in question, Abdel al Koronky, denies her story. He says she was never a slave at all. He insists she was an au pair, free to leave if she wished.
Slavery in Sudan, where a long civil war raged between north and south, is a controversial issue. The Islamic regime in Khartoum has faced repeated allegations that women and children have been abducted into slavery during freelance militia raids on the remote villages of the south.
Iran: According to Iranian official press, since the beginning of this year, four women Ms. Shahnaz, Ms. Ferdows B and Ms. Sima and Ms. Ashraf have been sentenced to death in the most brutal form of execution according to Islamic law in Iran.
Nigeria: Amina Lawal Kurami, Fatima Usman, Ahmadu Ibrahim and Ado Baranda are now on the death Row of Islamic Sharia
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:
Olusegun Obasanjo, President of the Republic,
The Presidency, Federal Secretariat
Phase II, Shehu Shagari Way, Abuja; Nigeria
Fax: 234 9 523 21 36 (press office),
Alhaji Sule Lamido, Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Maputo Street, Zone 3 Wuse District, Abuja, Nigeria;
Fax: 234 9 523 02 08.
Kanu Godwin Agabi, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice,
New Federal Secretariat complex Shehu Shagari Way, Abuja,
Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria;
Fax: 234 9 523 52 08.
Alhaji Uman Musa Yar'adua, Governor, Office of the Military
Administrator, Katsina, Katsina State, Nigeria.
Nigerian Embassy, 173 Avenue
Victor Hugo 75016 Paris
Fax: 00 33 1 47 04 47 54 or
Single Faith Schools: "Social control or the best Education?"
* Nirmala Rajasingham – Activist and Legal Rights worker will be speaking about `New Labours Single faith schools’
*Azam Kamguian – Writer and co-ordinator of `Committee to Defend Women’s Rights in the Middle East’ will be speaking on the importance of a secular education system for young people
* Baljit Ghale - A NUT member and a teacher from a Stepney Green school, Tower Hamlets will be speaking about why schools must address the needs of all pupils to combat racism and segregation.
*Paul Phoenix - A representative from the `Parents Against Racism in schools’ group will be speaking about racism in Schools South London
Thursday 7th November 2002 at 7.00pm
The Camden Centre, London, WC1, nearest tube: Kings Cross
"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.
to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East