CDWRME Bulletin #11
"Women in the Middle East"
Number 11, March, 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:
- Afghanistan: Resurgent Taliban -style Islamic oppression of women
- Nigeria: Mother appeals against stoning
- Iran: Youth reveal anger and sadness
- Jordan: Another recent case of honour killings
- Pakistan: Honour killings, wave of terror unleashed against women
- Thailand: Islamists bid to install the Islamic Sharia law
- Sudan: Female circumcision resists abolition efforts
- Tunisia: Women to do military service
- Kashmir: Launching Islamic campaign to oppress women
- Saudi Arabia: A suffocating Islamic society oppressing women most
- Afghanistan: Sexual apartheid & oppression of women on rise
- The USA: Anti-stoning campaign
A rehabilitation centre In Kabul holds classes in
tailoring and literacy for prostitutes. But prostitution
is something that most women activists would prefer not
to mention for fear the Islamists. After the Taliban
crumbled the world rejoiced that women no longer had to
wear the burqa and could return to school. But it seems
that the promise of those early days has been high
expectations. The struggle for women's rights in Kabul
is an underground movement and nowhere is this more
amply demonstrated than over the issue of shelters for
women, and not only for prostitutes. Many are vulnerable
simply through being unmarried, abandoned or abused by a
husband, and hence unable to fit in with the accepted
family strictures of Islamic society. That RAWA is still
forced to operate its refuges secretly and cannot
provide shelters for women indicates that it continues
to meet needs that are dismissed in the Islamic society.
From many corners come warnings of resurgent Taliban-style
oppression of women. Schools are being destroyed by
gunmen, women are being forced to have medical
examinations for chastity and girls are being made to
wear the burqa.
Many of government's authorities are former Mujahidin leaders, who forcefully resist any changes in women's situation. The religious police has been put to work again since last August. A ban on women singing on TV followed and in Herat recently Ismail Khan told women working in UN offices that they could not shake the hands of foreign men and must continue to wear the burqa. The new deputy minister of women's affairs, Tajwar Kakar, regarding women's shelters, said: "In Afghanistan our culture is different. Every problem women have they can face as they can discuss it with the family. All the family support the women".
The Nigerian Mother sentenced to death by stoning for having a baby outside marriage will appeal against her conviction next month.
The 31-year old mother was sentenced under Islamic Sharia law and told that her punishment would not take place until she had weaned her eight-month old daughter, Wasila, in 2004. Religious tension sparked by her case culminated in rioting which left more than 200 dead and forced the Miss World Contest to move to London. Ms Lawal is preparing for the hearing at Nigeria's Katsina State Court on 25 March.
Walking out of the Laleh hotel, prostitutes are waiting under the trees in the nearby park and climbing into the cars which kerb crawl along the wide avenues. "I started selling sex at 11," 19-year-old Leila says. She looks 30. "There are 10 and 11-year-olds on the street as well. I had to do it because my stepmother turned me out of my home and my father dumped me here. "But not all of us do it in order to survive. Many girls run away from home because they can't bear the lack of freedom. They prefer to become prostitutes than face the restrictions."
A reporter working for a woman's magazine said she believes there are more than one million women, who sell their bodies in Tehran, which has a population of 10 million. "I would say one in three women do it," she says. "Some do it out of despair, runaway teenagers do it to survive and some middle-class girls do it just to put two fingers up at the regime - to take off their black chadors and taste freedom." She asks to be kept anonymous. If a foreign journalist can be deported for telling unsavoury truths, a local reporter can be imprisoned.
In the wealthier suburbs in northern Iran, the girls
have their headscarves pushed as far back off their
faces as possible. Nazanin reveals slashes of bright eye
shadow to match her powder blue scarf. How does she get
with make-up which would have earned her a flogging only a couple of years ago? "I think the mullahs are giving us more leeway these days so that they can get up with their own business," she says. "They want us to be distracted by make-up and drugs. They allow tones of drugs to enter the country and create millions of addicts." Two 16-year-old boys give the girls knowing looks as they pass. They both have long hair and trainers. It is easier for the male to dress the part of the rebellious teenager than for a girl in Iran. "We get drugs and alcohol whenever we can," says Arash. "Sure, I've been flogged for taking drugs and I've been flogged for listening to a personal Walkman while walking down the street. We hate the lack of personal freedom in this country."
When Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran 23 years
ago, he was honest enough to warn the people of the new
Islamic Republic that "Islam offers no joy".
It is the joyless-ness of life which young people
complain about. Another girl in her 20s told me about
the Thursday night parties - with music and alcohol -
she holds at her home. But they do not always get away
with it. A few weeks ago, the morality police burst into
the house dragged them all down to the police station
and gave them each 80 lashes. I asked the government
spokesperson for women's affairs, Nazra Koolaee, three
times whether she agreed with such a punishment. Each
time she refused to answer. She did, however concede
that the stoning of women to death for adultery was an
"inefficient" means of dealing with the
A 28-year-old woman was strangled to death by her younger brother in the Zarqa Governorate. The victim, who was not identified by officials, was strangled by her 22-year-old brother, who turned himself in to police shortly after committing the murder. The brother told police he killed his sister to save his family's honour. The victim, who was single, left the country a few weeks ago, with the man she loved. The woman returned to Jordan and after an argument with her brother about her disappearance, her brother tried to strangle her with her own headscarf, and stab her with a knife, and when he failed he strangled her with a rope.
In Pakistan, women are engaged in struggle against the terror of escalating "honour" killings. Such murders where man kills a woman he views as having sullied his "honour" are on the rise. In 2001, at least 226 women in the southern province of Sindh were killed, usually by their husbands or brothers -- while some 227 honour-related killings took place in the Punjab, according to the HRC's annual report issued earlier this year. According to Kamila Hyat, the real figures are likely to be higher and that the figures were not compiled for Pakistan's other two provinces because of the sketchy nature of reports. According to Tahira Khan, who has spent five years studying honour killings, the trend is upwards, not only in Pakistan but all over the Muslim inhabited countries. At the heart of the killings are ingrained social attitudes towards female sexuality, and changing attitudes of women to their own sexuality through greater exposure to the rest of the world. Such new attitudes have led them to protest against forced marriages, assert their right to get married according to their own choice, or reject marriage. Finding a female relative in a 'compromising' position with another man is often used to justify honour killings.
Fake honour killings are when a man kills a woman, usually a relative, to cover up the real reason he has murdered another man. Alleging his honour was outraged by saying he saw them in a compromising position is enough to win him a lesser sentence under Pakistan's court system. According to Shahnaz Bokhari of the Progressive Women's Association, since 1994 the non-governmental organisation has dealt with some 5,000 cases of honour-related crimes in the region surrounding the capital, Islamabad. This violence is on the rise because the prosecution rate is negligible and men know they can get away with it. But now more women are reporting crimes against them. It has been estimated that around 40 percent of cases are reported. The other 60 percent of victims do not understand their rights, or are afraid of going against the traditions. Bokhari is waging a separate battle to set up more support for women who fear an attack, opening a safe house four years ago for up to 35 women and their children, the only shelter in Islamabad and adjacent Rawilpindy.
Thai Islamists want to use the Islamic Sharia law to deal with family issues and to settle cases concerned with property inheritance. According to the year 2000 official statistics, Thailand's Muslim population is now 6 million out of a total population of 60 million. The majority of the country's Muslims are in the southern part of the country, such as Satun, Jala and Pattani. Den Tohmeena, a Pattani senator, said the law was like a tool to secure peace and order in the country's Muslim society. It would also help strengthen the family institution and boost their unity. He said the philosophy and principles of the country's civil law did not correspond with those of the Muslim family. "If the country still adopted such laws for Muslim society, it would cause the breakup of their families and disunite their society. So there should be a Sharia court to settle the problems," he said at a seminar on new steps in Thai-Muslim society in the age of reform, held by the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand. He said he had been campaigning for this matter since he was a junior politician but had not succeeded, claiming that previous governments never supported this movement because of national security. The present government was more optimistic towards Thai Muslims. A Muslim working committee, set up by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra recently, traveled to study the system of Sharia courts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, China and Malaysia. Alfaruk Lekkla, secretary to the Religious Affairs Division of the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand, said his committee and Thaksin's working panel were preparing to hold seminars on Sharia law soon in 33 provinces, where there was a majority of Muslims. After that, he said the committee would gather 50,000 names of Muslims and submit the petition, together with a draft on Sharia law, to the parliament president. Alfaruk called on Thai Muslims to unite in their fight against those opposed to the Sharia law.
A painful memory of FGM is shared among Sudanese women. According to the UN agency for children (UNICEF), by more than 80 percent of Sudanese women have underwent the painful procedure. The procedure is referred to by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations as "female genital mutilation" and the type practiced in Sudan, notably in the Muslim-dominated north, is probably the worst in the world. The technical term for it is infibulation, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the "excision (removal) of part or all of the external genitalia and the stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening."
It is carried out on girls aged between 7 and 11 before they reach puberty and can result in some immediate complications, notably internal bleeding, urine retention, and infections. It is usually done by a traditional practitioner, often with crude instruments, and the stitching of the vaginal opening is often "redone by a midwife after every child-birth. Among the long-term complications, according to the WHO, are cysts, painful sexual intercourse, urinary incontinence and difficulties with childbirth. According to head of the Sudanese Network for the Abolition of Circumcision, the practice is not limited to the poorer and more isolated regions of the country. Despite the campaigns launched for the past 30 years, there has been little or no drop in circumcisions," a recent UNICEF report said.
Campaigns to abolish the practice were run by NGOs and local civil society groups. A significant breakthrough however took place in Southern Darfour province, where an unprecedented draft law lays down sanctions against parents who choose to circumcise their daughters, as well as practitioners. The draft is pending approval from the local governor to come into force. But even with such measures, experts say the practice is difficult to root out as it is engraved in the collective mentality. And that the civil war between rebels in the Christian-dominated south and Arab Muslim-dominated north has marred Sudan since 1983 has encouraged the practice. The psychological effects of circumcision will continue to make generations of Sudanese women suffer. Many women, who have married describe their wedding night as "hell" and sex with their husband as "rape".
Tunisia will require women to do military service from the beginning of year 2003. In the last few years, military service for women has been regularly advocated by members of parliament, including a number of women MP-s.
Defence Minister said conscription for women would be introduced step by step. Tunisian law states that all citizens aged at least 20 are eligible for military service, unless exempt on medical grounds.
An Islamic group in Rajouri has asked women to quit their jobs and stay home, or face punishment, including death. Posters to this effect have appeared overnight on the main walls of a mosque in Shahdara Sharief. Similar posters appeared a few days ago too, asking Muslim families to marry off their daughters by the age of 15. The handwritten posters carry the name of Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islamia (Huji). The Lashkar-e-Jabbar was the first Islamic group in Rajouri to come up with a code of conduct for women. They demanded that women and even girls, wear burqas when out in public. They, too, had issued threats for non-compliance. The issue had evoked widespread criticism, and when women refused to comply, Jabbar had resorted to acid attacks and finally killed four women. This time, they have found a fervent supporter in Huji. Besides the burqa dictate, the Huji has even supported Jabbar's demand that women should be accompanied by men whenever they go out. All women should take baths at home and stay all the times in their homes, the Huji posters have declared.
Many years of women's resistance and after a group of women defied a ban on female driving and drove around the capital for 15 minutes, women in Saudi Arabia are deeply bound by Islamic rule and backward traditions, their lives subject to the suffocating Islamic law.
Some Saudi women are happy with the status quo and denounce human rights groups that call for improvement of their situation. Others insist their lives should change. According to them, these traditions and customs target women and aim at marginalising their role.
Saudi Arabian women lead among the strictest lives in the world. In public, they can only expose their hands, and sometimes kohl-rimmed eyes and hennaed feet. They cannot travel or get an education or a job without the written approval of a male guardian. Mutawas, the religious police, are agents of the Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue, and is funded by the government and headed by a Cabinet minister. Mutawas reportedly get about $400 for every Saudi they arrest; $200 for every foreigner. Mutawas patrol shopping centers, restaurants and other public areas to ensure the rule of sexual apartheid. They even go into sports stores or makeup shops with felt pens to black out promotional pictures of women on boxes and posters.
Some women such as princess Basma bint Majid bin Abdul Aziz, a niece of King Fahd, says foreign activists have no right ``to tell a people who have existed for thousands of years, to change their ways.'' ``Why should I, a Saudi, dress the way an American woman does?'' Princess Basma says she's not inconvenienced by laws that stop her from driving. `If I can have someone drive me around why should I say no?'' ``In Paris, you have to be a princess to afford a driver. Here, every woman is a princess because she has one.''
Not every family can afford to pay about $300-400 a month for a driver; so many women are at the mercy of male family members if they want to go out. For most, especially for the 6 million foreigners who live here, life in Saudi Arabia can be a bit confusing because there are no written rules stating how one should behave. What is condoned today may not be condoned tomorrow.
Today, the 47 women who led the drive-in rebellion stay out of the limelight. Their punishment 12 years ago was harsh: they lost their jobs and passports for two years, they were denounced in flyers written by Islamists as ``fallen women calling for vice.'' Those who returned to work have been denied promotions. Saudi women who work - about 5 percent of them do are encouraged to enter fields such as nursing and teaching, where they do not mix with males. In college they cannot major in engineering, economics or law. Very few women are seen in public or at government ministries. And many avoid being close to men. They do not get on elevators with them. Outside most restaurants, signs announce that ``single ladies are not allowed without mahram,'' or male guardian. Inside restaurants, family sections with frosted windows are set aside for women and their male escorts. They are seated in cubicles with curtains, screens and sometimes-even doors to shield them from other diners. If a Mutawa discovers that the couple sitting behind one of the screens is not married, the two will be hauled to jail. Some men even forbid their wives from getting passports because they cannot stand the thought of their being photographed.
Newly announced rules on female education in the western Afghan province of Herat prohibit men from teaching women or girls in private educational courses and uphold strict gender segregation in all schools. Because of a shortage of female teachers, the restrictions will result in a severe limitation on the ability of women and girls to receive proper education.
The rules were announced on January 10, 2003 by the deputy head of Herat's educational department, Mohammad Deen Fahim. Fahim said that current teaching methods allowing men to teach women and girls are "in contradiction with Islamic law." The governor of Herat, Ismail Khan, who approves all government decrees, has ordered increasing restrictions on women and girls over the last year.
Under the Taliban, women and girls across Afghanistan were forbidden from attending universities and almost all schools. Until a few weeks ago, many women and girls in Herat attended private educational courses to supplement their public schooling, especially in foreign language and computer skills. Public schools and universities in Herat are currently closed for the winter. Almost all private educational courses in Herat are taught by men. As a result, the new prohibition will effectively exclude women and girls from most courses.
There has been extensive and increasing Taliban era restrictions on women and girls in Heart including restrictions on their freedom of work, education, movement and political participation. Women and girls who are seen alone with unrelated men, even walking on the street or riding in a taxi, are taken to hospitals for gynecological examinations to determine if they have recently had sexual intercourse. The Taliban are gone, but government officials and soldiers are sidelining, abusing and harassing women and girls in Herat.
We are a small group of women in Phoenix, AZ, USA who are starting a project against stoning. We intend to do public awareness activities to get more support for it and to file a complaint with the UN. Below is a letter to sign onto the complaint. Please distribute.
We want to cooperate with and compliment other activities against stoning and with women living in countries where this is occurring. We do not want to re-invent the wheel.
TO: The Freedom 400
RE: Complaint to be filed with United Nations Special Rapporteur regarding he international violation of women's human rights by stoning By the undersigned I, _____________________________, on behalf of myself/ or on behalf of my group called _______________________________________________
Agree that my/our name can be used on a complaint to the Special Rapporteur regarding stoning as a violation of women's international rights. I understand that the Special Rapporteur will be asked to investigate and take action in the countries where stoning is committed to end the practice as a violation of women's human rights.
Name of Individual:
Name of individual (signed)
Name of Group
Return to: Dianne Post, Phoenix, AZ USA, email postDLpost@aol.com, fax 602-271-9019.