CDWRME Bulletin #10
"Women in the Middle East"
Number 10, February, 2003
Bulletin of "Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East"
Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin
Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East Coordinator & Spokesperson: Azam Kamguian
In this issue:
- Pakistan: A teenage girl stoned to death for dancing
- Saudi Arabia: No right to drive while female
- Afghanistan: Women's Self-Immolation in rise
- Iran: Rise in the number of runaway girls
- Singapore: Islamic veil for an 11-year old girl, Should under-aged girls wear Islamic veil?
- Iran: Temporary marriage surged by 122 percent due to poverty
- Malaysia: Easing the law to encourage polygamy
- Jordan: Two recent cases of honour killings
- The USA: A Letter to Iraqi women from women in the United States
- Turkey, Kurdistan: Campaign against sterilisation measures on women
- India: International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat
- Iran: Female students affected to "unknown disease" in Sardasht
- Yemen: Woman at risk of stoning
Shumshad Kehr was an innocent teenager from Sindh, who was stoned to death on December 9 by her paternal uncle Manzoor Chandio and a mob of frenzied villagers in front of her parents in the name of the macabre rite, "honour killing". She was at the wedding party of her cousin. She started dancing. Her dance was an unpardonable offence of male's "honour". It enraged her male relatives which, could have only been washed with her blood. Her uncle fired at her. She tried to escape but was followed by him and the furious villagers. She was brutally beaten up with sticks. She was taken to her village where her hands were chopped off. She was then stoned to death. The body is still missing.
This brutal murder was hushed up by bribing the head of the local police station. But the chairman of the district public safety commission found out through an anonymous letter. He investigated the matter and found it to be true. The police have arrested Kehr's father, Mukhtiar Kehr. Her mother has very proudly acknowledged that her daughter was fired at and later stoned to death after her hands were chopped. She said: "We are not ashamed of what we have done. Kehr's act had defamed all of us. We could not have faced the people had we not murdered her. It was necessary to save our "honour". She deserved. She also confessed that a police constable had helped the killers strike a deal with Rind.
Kehr's case is the worst case of honour killing, the first ever through stoning! She was shot, severely beaten, amputated before she was dug half in the ground and stoned to death.
Saudi Arabia is a suffocating Islamic society, strict world of black-robed women. Twelve years ago, on Nov. 6, 1990, 47 women from the intelligentsia went for a joy ride to protest Saudi Arabia's being the only place where women can't drive. Using international licenses, the women took the wheels from their brothers and husbands and drove in a convoy until police stopped them. At first, the drivers were exhilarated. But then the Islamists branded the women "whores" and "harlots." They were publicly harassed; received death threats and lost their jobs. Some people made threatening calls to their homes And called them bitches. They put out fliers all over the country saying horrible things about the women drivers. Their husbands' jobs were jeopardised; their passports were revoked; they had to sign papers agreeing not to talk about the drive.
Driving by women, banned by custom, was made illegal as degrading to 'the sanctity of women.'
20-year-old Ahbeda engaged to marry her first cousin at the family's bidding apparently doused herself with fuel and set herself afire. A few hours later, she was swaddled in bandages in the primitive burn unit at Herat Public Hospital, writhing in pain and gasping for air, with burns covering her entire body. Her hair was mostly singed off, her lips nearly gone, her face a blackened blurs, and her odds of survival slim. Two other young women also set themselves ablaze, lay in nearby beds. Such self-immolation is becoming disturbingly common among young women in western Afghanistan. Although statistics aren't available, the hospital's doctors report that they appear to be on the rise. An average of three girls arrive at the regional hospital each week, most with life-threatening burns covering more than 40% of their bodies. The hospital has had more than 100 cases this year, the doctors say, with most of the young women dying soon after arrival. The typical victim is 14 to 20 years old and is trying to escape a marriage arranged by her father. Often, the marriage is to an older man who has another wife and children, in a society where it is not uncommon for men to have multiple wives.
Most Afghan girls and women are still expected to cover their bodies, be subservient, remain mostly apart from men, even in the home when guests arrive, and live with their husbands' families. There has been no return to the 1980s, when women in the cities could safely wear miniskirts in public. Some of the burn victims had lived in Iran as refugees while Afghanistan was under Taliban rule beginning in the mid-1990s. They returned to a homeland that offers women even fewer rights. Dowries are particularly daunting in Afghanistan. In a poor nation, older and more established men are more apt to be able to afford the $500 to $1,500 that the groom and his family are expected to pay.
A woman named Paimana was burnt over 90% of her body after setting herself ablaze. She had been married for three years and had a 2-year-old daughter. Her husband had left her, and she was in despair. In some cases, family members have set the victims on fire. One woman burned her daughter-in-law for reasons that were not clear. The victim died, but the older woman was not punished.
A recent study showed that the number of runaway girls in Iran has risen twenty-fold under Islamic rule, the state- owned daily Khorassan reported on December 1. The study noted that "during the last four months of the past Iranian year (November 21, 2001, through March 20, 2002), more than 60,000 teenage runaway girls were arrested by the State Security Forces." According to this report the true figure is even higher than this. According to the same study, the average age of runaway girls during last year was 14,7 years. The state-run dailies had reported in the past on the collection of 50 to 60 runaway girls in Tehran," "20,000 runaway girls wandering in Tehran" and "an annual rise of 12 percent in the number of runaway girls in Tehran.
An 11-year-old Singaporean girl Nur Ashikeen Azhar was turned away for wearing the traditional veil, known as a ''tudung'' or ''hijab.'' The issue has caused a stir in Singapore, where about 15 percent of the population is Muslim. Though many Muslim women wear headscarves at work and in public, the government does not allow them at public schools, saying they could be divisive. Azhar's father, a leader of a Muslim organization, said he would write to the Ministry of Education asking it to reconsider its stand and vowed to keep bringing his daughter to school.
The headscarf issue surfaced last year after four girls were told to stop wearing a tudung. Three have since been pulled out of school while the fourth has returned.
Mr Azhar Ali, 38, vowed at the start of the school year, that his daughter, Nur Ashikeen, would show up daily at Eunos Primary with the tudung until the Government allowed her to wear the headscarf in school. The Education Ministry has said the girl has not been suspended and can go to school in the prescribed uniform.
The practice of temporary marriage, also referred to as Sigheh, is a contract that allows a man and women to be "married" for any period of time ranging from a quickie of just one-hour to 99 years. This is happening, as full-blown weddings with all their trappings are expensive for many Iranians, and added that the divorce rate had also surged by 32 percent. Social and economic problems, particularly poverty, are the main reasons.
Although many liken Sigheh to a form of prostitution, Shiite Muslim clerics reason the practice is merely a more spiritual way of addressing basic human urges. Traditionally practised in Iran's holy cities like Mashhad and Qom as a religious way to satisfy the sexual needs of pilgrims, Sigheh has also been trumpeted as a solution to an explosion in street prostitution.
Sex outside marriage is strictly forbidden under Iran's Islamic regime and carries penalties including stoning and flogging. But the average age of marriage is relatively high for the region, 30 for men and 26 for women.
According to Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim, a State authority, the state of Perlis has no choice but to ease regulations on polygamy to deter married Muslims from flocking to southern Thailand to marry again. He added that "Polygamy is allowed under Islamic Law and it must be respected despite protests from certain women's rights groups." The move meant that Muslim men, who planned to marry for the second time, need not seek the consent of their first wives to do so.
In Thailand, couples need only to perform the marriage rites and are not subjected to a detailed background check. According to Shahidan such marriages could be abused and the family institution threatened. Shahidan said while he respected the viewpoint of women groups, there must be a balanced approach towards resolving the matter instead of resorting to "an emotional barrage of criticism".
In a related development Sena assemblyman Azihani Datuk Ali appealed to Muslim women not to be emotional, when discussing issues of polygamy. She also urged all parties not to sensationalise or politicises the issue and urged Muslim men not to abuse the provision introduced by the Perlis government. Other state authorities announced that proposed measures to allow polygamy was in line with Islamic law. The Mufti of Perlis, Datuk Mat Jahaya Husin warned women not to oppose polygamy. The practice is allowed under Islam, so 'hold your tongue'. He warned that women groups which were critical of the move on polygamy would be in danger of committing a 'wrong' by denying its legality under Islamic law.
His remarks were directed at criticisms by women's groups and Women's Affairs Minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, who described the move as an insult to women. But in a swift rejoinder, women's group, Sister in Islam, argued that Muslims had the right to an opinion and to be engaged in Islamic discourse. 'Freedom of expression is enshrined in Islam,' said the group's programme co-ordinator Ruzana Udin, adding that this did not mean changing the teachings of Islam but, rather, examining progressive applications of the teachings in current situations. Another group, Women's Candidacy Initiative, said the cause of the present controversy was the fact that people were not involved in the debate on polygamy. 'Many Islamic scholars have refuted the right of men to practise polygamy, and yet for some reason most Malaysians don't know this,' said spokeswoman Zaitun Kasim. She said countries such as Tunisia had banned polygamy, while others such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco and Lebanon allowed marriage contracts, which empowered women to divorce their husbands if they married again.
The victim, Asma T, 19, was stabbed over 40 times by her enraged 18-year old brother who turned himself in to authorities shortly after committing the murder, telling police he killed his sister to cleanse his family's honour. The victim was married to a man that often left the country for extended periods, the source pointed out.
At the beginning of the month of Ramadan, the woman was detained in prison administratively for 'alleged immoral behaviour'. Her uncle bailed her out 10 days ago, keeping her with him while he attempted to fix things with her family. Then her uncle delivered her to her family, convincing them to forgive and forget about what happened. Shortly after her uncle left, her younger brother stabbed her, then turned himself in. Victim's family said they were grateful for her death and thanked God they had got rid her. According to pathologist she had died of internal bleeding, the result of multiple stab wounds. They also established that the woman was not pregnant.
In a similar incident, a man confessed to the honour killing of his 23-year-old married sister by running her over with a water tanker in South Shouneh. On Dec. 4, the victim's family reported that their daughter was accidentally killed after being struck by a water tanker driven by one of her brothers. Initial investigations indicated that the victim's mother knew her sons were plotting to kill her daughter and informed authorities. Upon arresting the two men, one of them confessed to murdering his sibling 'because of her 'immoral behaviours.' The man told that his sister would often leave the house and that her husband returned her to them because of this on the day of the incident. The victim, a mother of a four-year-old boy, was twice divorced.
To the Women of Iraq: We, women in the United States, declare our opposition to the proposed "pre-emptive strikes" by our government against your country. We reject the planned efforts for "regime change" by the United States and Britain. We are committed to working toward a just and lasting peace and pledge to do all we can to prevent an escalated war on your country, recognising that the United States' war against Iraq has not stopped since 1991.
We are appalled by the devastating effects of sanctions instituted by the United Nations and perpetuated by the interests of the United States, and we are committed to working toward ending them. They are a crime against humanity. As women we know that it is the women in a society who bear the greatest responsibility for the well-being of children, for tending them when they are fearful, malnourished, sick or in pain. As women as mothers and daughters, grandmothers and aunts, as sisters we are reaching out to you, offering our friendship, support, and strength. You are not alone in the struggle for peace and justice. We pledge to do everything within our power to prevent further suffering for you, your children, and all of the Iraqi people.
We call on women everywhere to join in non-violent action to end current military operations and prevent future attacks. We are committed to doing the same. We offer whatever support we can provide, directly to you, in these very dark and dangerous days.
Yours in peace,
WILPF National Office
c/o Jen Geiger
1213 Race Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107-1691
Imagine you are a woman in a remote corner of Kurdistan, where seldom if ever a doctor loses its way. Anyhow you would not have the financial opportunities to pay a medical treatment. And all of a sudden they come with three ambulances, telling you something about indispensable health measures in a language you do not have a command of. You are taken to a hospital in the next city, where actions are carried out on you, which you cannot understand and you feel ashamed to talk about. And after months you come to find that you can't have children anymore...
At least 17 women from the village Özekli, 60 kilometres from Diyarbakir in Kurdistan-Turkey, have had to suffer this treatment, says the president of the women`s commission of the Bar Association of Diyarbakir, Meral Danis, who publicised this case during a symposium on "Violence against women and medicine". According to Danis, several victims turned to different civil social institutions with the request for help. Investigations have shown that a medical team set up by the governor of Diyarbakir went from house to house and took the women to hospital. The victims did not even know why they were operated. Danis told that similar cases became public in Mardin, Adiyaman, Adana and Van. The affected women have either been sterilised without their knowledge or pressured into allowing the operation to be carried out by different methods.
Sterilisation measures against Kurdish Women were already carried out in the middle 90's, as the Turkish Security Council stated that the population growth of the Kurdish part of the population would present a danger for Turkey. Consequently, a packet of measures for population control was decided upon to counteract this development. At that time, not only contraception was enforced by hormonal injections, but also infertility was affected by giving an overdose of these hormones. Ever since, several cases have become known time and again. Such measures amount to fascistic methods of population control Vis a Vis the Kurdish part of the population of Turkey, breaches of human rights and medical ethics as well as a form of torture directed against the physical and psychological integrity of Kurdish women.
As the Kurdish Women Peace Office we condemn these fascistic attacks on the rights of women. Diyarbakir-based NGOs such as the Women's` Centre Selis, the Human Rights Association IHD, the Chamber of physicians and the Bar Association are conducting further investigations about this special kind of human rights violations. We need your help in order to support their work and put an immediate end to these measures.
Please ask the new Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Abdullah Gül, and the Minister of the Interior, Mr Abdülkadir Aksu, to interfere immediately.
Minister of the Interior,
Icisleri Bakanligi, 06644 Ankara,
REPUBLIK of TURKEY
Fax: (00 90) 312 418 1795
Basbakanlik, 06573 Ankara,
Fax: (00 90) 312 417 0476
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
Rungestr. 9, 10179 Berlin
(S. E. Mr. Osman Taney Korutürk)
Fax: 030-2759 0915
Ceni - Kurdish Women Peace Office
Fax: 0211-171 10 78
As women's groups in India, we are horrified by the violence that was unleashed against Muslim communities and in particular on Muslim women in Gujarat from February 27, 2002, onward. We are appalled at the ways in which the instruments of a democratic state are working against the interests of its own citizens, and the ways in which women's bodies are being used as battlegrounds in the struggle over defining India as Hindu State.
For nine months, we have seen lack of national political will to apply existing laws and redress mechanisms to ensure justice for the victims. This is further compounded by the fact of continuing violence in the state. An International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat (IIJ) was therefore constituted, comprising jurists, activists, lawyers, writers and academics from various parts of the world. Keeping in mind the many reports of independent agencies and statutory bodies, the Panel, which visited Gujarat between 14th and 17th December, investigated the violence - particularly the physical and sexual - inflicted upon women since 27th February 2002 specifically in light of existing international laws, conventions and norms. The Panel has also addressed the complicity of the State in the violence, the lack of effective redress for the victims and the implications of the recent BJP victory in the state. This panel was not simply a 'fact-finding' mission, but rather to support efforts toward achieving justice for the survivors of these attacks, as well as to support the prevention of future attacks against minorities, particularly women. The panellists include Sunila Abeysekara, Director of Inform, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Rhonda Copelon, Professor of Law, City University of New York, Anissa Helie of Women Living Under Muslim Laws Algeria/France, Gabriela Mischkowski, Historian and co-founder, Medica Mondiale, Germany, Nira Yuval-Davis, Professor of Gender and Ethnic Studies at the University of Greenwich, UK, and several other prominent feminists. Members of the Panel visited Ahmedabad, Baroda, and Panchmahals District, and spoke with various affected people, support workers, lawyers, and held confidential meetings with affected women. The Panel's Interim Report on the situation in Gujarat voiced strong concern that "in spite of the totally inadequate legal and other responses to the violence in Gujarat, the government has continued to deny permission for international scrutiny of the situation…In a pluralist society such as India, ensuring the equal representation and participation of all communities and guaranteeing the rights of women and of minorities are among the most important tests of a genuine democracy. The propagation of fear and hatred among communities is anathema to these principles and is inconsistent with both national and international law." The Report also addressed the similarities and uniqueness of the ways in which sexual violence has been used in cases of religious, ethnic or communal violence in other parts of the world, and stated: "this violence, which reflects a longer and larger genocidal project, in our view constitutes a crime against humanity and satisfies the legal definition of genocide, both of which are crimes of the most serious dimension under international law."
On the basis of their interviews and meetings, the panel has outlined Urgent Actions to be taken by the state, the national and international community. They have stressed on the restoration of the constitutional rights of the Muslims of India and asserted the need for ensuring the protection of their human rights in accordance with international norms. They have outlined recommendations for the immediate redress for crimes of sexual violence in accordance with the provisions of the ICC and called for specific measures with regard to the issues of justice.
The International Initiative for Justice in Gujarat was organised by:
Citizen's Initiative (Ahmedabad), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) - Shanti Abhiyan (Vadodara), Communalism Combat, Awaaz-E-Niswaan Forum against Oppression of Women (FAOW) and Stree Sangam (Mumbai), Saheli, Jagori, Sama, and Nirantar (Delhi), Organised Lesbian Alliance for Visibility and Action (OLAVA, Pune), and other women's organisations in India.
IIJ c/o FAOW,
29 Bhatia Bhavan,
Off Gokhale Road,
Dadar (W), Mumbai 400028
Ph: 9820833422, 9820850844, (022) 23705620
The complete report and urgent actions to be taken can be accessed at the online volunteers web site: www.onlinevolunteers.org/gujarat/reports/iijg/
It has been more than 10 months that 74 female students have been affected to an unknown disease. These students are from a small farm village near the town of Sardasht in Iran. The symptoms of this disease appeared right after they received the shot by health authorities at their school. The symptoms are vomiting, swelling, stiffness of muscles, kidney pain, loss of hair as well as loss of speech.
The Islamic authorities in Iran disowned its responsibilities towards these elementary students and ignored any matter related to this problem. Instead of paying attention to the treatment, they put pressure on the victims' families not to disclose the problem to media. In August 2002, the Islamic authorities were compelled to send some of girls to Kurdistan of Iraq for treatment. Bearing in mind, due to economic sanction in Iraq, these hospitals are in shortage of proper equipments in labs, as well as drugs. Therefore their treatments were unsuccessful and they were sent back to their village. But the doctors informed the families that the disease is the side affect of a shot which was past the expiry date made in Germany.
Recently some of these victims with their families gathered in front of the Ministry of Health in Tehran, Iran and protested against the government's inhuman action. They requested an immediate treatment for their children. The families of victims addressed the public, giving reason for their belief that the health department had only injected the shots to girls leaving only the two daughters of the doctors. The government accused the girls, of making this excuse for not appearing for their exams. They further referred them to psychologist for treatment of their depression.
The victims families' demands are:
1- To reveal the scheme to public and punish the
2- To send the victims to Europe for treatment,
3- To give adequate compensation for their pain and suffering.
The Centre for the Defense of Women's Rights in Kurdistan is running an international campaign for bringing justice to these victims. We call upon all freedom loving organisations and individuals to join us and raise their voices against the Iranian government's inhuman action.
Please send your protest letter to:
Mohammad Khatami, the presidency
Iranian embassy in these countries:
Hossien Adeli, the Ambassador of Iran
245 Metecafe, Ottawa K2P 2K2
FAX: (613) 232-5712
Co-ordinator of CDWRK
A Yemeni woman, Layla Radman 'A'esh, is at risk of execution by stoning and Naji Hizam 'Abdullah is at risk of flogging after they were convicted of adultery by the Court of First Instance in Aden. Naji Hizam 'Abdullah has been sentenced to 100 lashes. Layla Radman 'A'esh and Naji Hizam 'Abdullah had appealed against the ruling, however on 22 September 2001, the Appeal Court in Aden upheld their sentences. Layla Radman 'A'esh's case is now pending before the Supreme Court for a final appeal.