CDWRME Bulletin #13
"Women in the Middle East"
Number 13, May, 2003
Bulletin of "Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East"
Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin
In this issue:
In this issue:
- CDWRME: We condemn the imposition of a reactionary government on the people of Iraq!
- Nigeria: Amina Lawal's court of appeal will be held on June 3rd 2003
- Jordan: A report on women’s status
- Burkina Faso: Public abandonment of FGM
- Palestine: A report by "Women Against Violence" on Palestinian women
- Palestine: 31 Women Died in 2002 Honour Killings
- Malaysia: Islamists' attempts to legalise polygamy
- Malaysia: Kelantan bans ads showing unveiled women
- Lebanon: Youth & marriage, family and divorce
- CDWRME launches its new web site
- "Mazel Azel" , a Novel by Samia Labidi
Following the US and Britain's continued attacks of Iraqi cities with weapons of mass destruction and the killing of thousands of Iraqi civilians, Baghdad and all major Iraqi cities have fallen to the USA military. Saddam Hussein's regime has effectively collapsed. As far as Iraqi society is concerned, the US victory will not assure any freedom, prosperity and justice for the people of Iraq. Following twelve years of economic sanctions, the killing and wounding of countless people in this criminal war has left Iraqi society on the verge of insecurity, civil war, religious and ethnic rifts and other reactionary and backward conflicts.
Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath regime were responsible for three and half decades of oppression, and widespread organised crimes and the people of Iraq struggled to free themselves from this regime. However, for the people of Iraq, the US victory over Saddam’s regime, and putting a government together by victorious US generals with the aid of tribal shaiks and Islamic mullahs has nothing to do with the demands and shattered hopes of the deprived people of Iraq. Political Islamic groups in southern Iraq are trying to impose an Islamic state on the people. We strongly condemn any attempt to impose an Islamic regime based on terror, tyranny and anti-women laws in southern Iraq. We believe that the most appropriate and immediate solution is the urgent withdrawal of US and British troops and the introduction of UN forces for a transitory period, as well as the recognition of people's political and civil rights in order to allow them to determine their preferred government under free and secure circumstances.
Amina Lawal's court of appeal will be held on June 2003. The Islamic court has condemned the Nigerian woman to be buried up to her neck and stoned to death for sex outside marriage. Amina's case is being handled internationally by women and human rights organisations, attempting to make the Nigerian government rescind the death sentence. A similar campaign saved another Nigerian woman, Safiya, condemned in similar circumstances.
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.
A report and conference on women’s rights in the Middle East has triggered some angry responses from some of Jordan’s Islamic and traditional leaders. Meanwhile, it also has focused attention on the economic position of women in Jordan. Launched on December 18th 2002, the report "Gender for Change as a Winning Option: Door Openers to Equality in Jordan" was a co-production by the German Agency for Technical Co-operation (GTZ) and the Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW). It found that women accounted for around 14% of the country’s Labour force, and less than 2% in the government, private sector or trade unions. Arab women have the lowest Labour force participation rate in the world, with 26% employed compared to 40% world-wide. Women's unemployment in Jordan stood at 30.9% in 1999, as compared to 12.9% for men, which gave the country the Arab World’s lowest female participation rate in the workforce. "Most countries understand that economic growth comes through enhancing human resources and even more so gender equality," GTZ Director Hans Hauser said on launching the report in Amman. "Sustainable development can only be achieved if women are empowered in their countries. In the circumstances, issues of gender have wandered into a political minefield. At the "Islam and Contemporary Issues" conference on December 16th 2002, Lebanese women's activist Aman Shahrani used the event to attack polygamy, further stirring controversy amongst Islamist and traditional Jordanians.
MWANGAZA ACTION and its partners (the National Council for the Fight Against Female Genital Cutting (CNPLE), Population Council, Frontiers in Reproductive Health, GTZ and TOSTAN) hold the grand ceremony for Public Declaration to Abandon FGC at a gathering of 23 villages and communities, on Saturday 3 May 2003 in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso. Twenty-three villages and communities in the departments of Béré and Bindé participated in a community-based education program conducted for the first time in Burkina Faso by MWANGAZA ACTION. Having completed the program, they are fully committed to eradicating the practice of FGC in their communities.
The first of its kind in Burkina Faso, this ceremony will be witnessed by many guests: Burkinabé political authorities, decisionmakers, partners in development, women's rights activists and the media. Arrangements have been made to facilitate and assure transport from Ouagadougou to Béré where the event will take place. For further details, please contact Mr. Djingri Ouoba on (+226) 36 07 70 or 23 64 30.
From March 3- 14, 2003, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) held its 47th Session at the New York Headquarters. Two thematic issues were addressed in the conference: the participation and access of women to the media, and information and communication technologies and their impact and use as an instrument for the advancement and empowerment of women; and, women’s human rights and elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.
Among their specific topics of concern was the situation of Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories. The text up for adoption by the Commission (E/CN.6/2003/3) included a description of and recommendations for the situation of Palestinian women between September 2001 and September 2002. This text cited the number of Palestinian women and children killed by the violence of the Occupation and also noted the report by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (A/57/63-E/2002/21) which describes the gender impacts of the Occupation and the increase of gender-based violence within families. It also cited the negative effects of house demolitions and the decline in the agricultural sector for women carrying all the burden of household responsibilities. Lack of access to water, due to the destruction of well, rooftop water tanks, and rain collection pools by shelling, and the damaging of water resources by settlers and soldiers, and high consumption of water supplies by settlers, was also cited as having negative effects on the health of children, women, and the elderly. A study in the Gaza Strip found a greater prevalence of anemia, which can lead to low birth weight infants and premature delivery among pregnant women. It was recommended that the Economic and Social Council call on Israel to "ease the return of all refugees and displaced Palestinian women and children to their homes and properties" and on the international community "to continue providing urgently needed assistance in alleviating the dire humanitarian crisis Palestinian women and their families faced, and help reconstruct Palestinian institutions." It also called the Council to reaffirm that "Israeli occupation was a major obstacle for Palestinian women in their advancement, self-reliance and integration into development planning." In a vote of 38 in favor to 1 (United States) against, with no abstentions, the Commission, on March 14, adopted the resolution. Israel (not a voting member) also opposed the resolution. Israel’s representative asked why Israeli women should not be protected from terror and asserted that there were "innumerable other cases far more deserving of the attention of the Commission." He also called on members to oppose the resolution, calling it "politically motivated" and a threat to the credibility of the Commission. The US delegate pointed out that UNRWA was largely financed by the US and noted his concern for Israeli women victims of Palestinian suicide bombers. He also added that the resolution was far beyond the mandate and objectives of the Commission and urged for peaceful solution between the two States.
"Women against Violence" is extremely disappointed by the continuous opposition of the United States to safeguarding Palestinian women and Palestinians in general. While WAV abhors violence on both sides, it nevertheless stresses the lack of parity in the violence and rebukes the Israeli delegate for not contextualising the conflict. The Israeli government continues an illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and exercises a violent system of physical and psychological subordination through closures and curfews, installation of Jewish settlements, roads bypassing Palestinian villages, and the denial of resources to Palestinians.
Women Against Violence was founded in 1992 by a group of Arab women professionals in order to provide services and advocate for the rights of Palestinian women in Israel. For more information, contact WAV at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At least 31 Palestinian women were murdered in so-called honor killings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip last year, according to statistics released by Palestinian police. The victims, most of whom were under the age of 18, were killed by family members for perceived sexual misconduct that brought shame to the family, although in most cases the girls had been sexually abused or raped by relatives. According to Social Welfare Ministry officials and women's organizations, there has been a significant rise in violence against women and cases of incest in recent months. The ministry is working to open shelters for victims of violence and sexual abuse. "It's a very serious problem. ... The entire society bears the responsibility in combating this phenomenon," according to a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who is planning to hold special committee meetings to discuss the issue of violence against women.
Malaysia's Islamists seem increasingly keen on polygamy, just as women's rights groups are determined to curb men's' rights to as many as four wives. One politician is so enthusiastic about the practice that he wants women who allow their husbands to marry a second wife to receive medals of honour. 'We want the legal system to restrict the practice of polygamy,' says Ms Ruzana Udin, the spokesman for a women group in Malaysia. Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) executive secretary Ivy Josiah says, "We feel that in this day and age, polygamy is no longer necessary." Some Islamist men, such as Johor state legislator Ali Shikh Ahmad who proposed medals for willing wives, say polygamy helps solve social problems. They say, for example, that it gives single mothers a chance at marriage. Ms Ruzana says "It's ridiculous when polygamy is touted as a solution to social ills when it clearly does the opposite."
WAO's Ms Josiah said all polygamy was unnecessary in the modern age, where women have access to education and employment. The outdated practice also constituted a form of mental abuse, creating fear and insecurity in women who live with polygamy.
Perlis announced recently that it would do away with the need to obtain a first wife's written consent to a second marriage to stop men flocking across the border to marry again.
Business establishments in the capital of the Islamic-ruled Kelantan State have been told to pull down posters and advertisements showing women without headscarves. They have been asked to use pictures of men, instead, to adhere to the Islamic policy of the Party Islam SeMalaysia state government, according to a report in the Berita Harian Malaysia. The directive was issued after many of these establishments were found to have displayed posters of Western women and non-Muslim Malaysian women in their premises.
Town Council president Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman said that the posters and advertisements would have to be removed. If owners or operators failed to do so, the council would remove or black out the pictures. Businesses would have to bear the cost and legal charges incurred, he said. To avoid being penalised in future, he advised them to use pictures of men instead. "This way, there would be no wrongdoing and controversy."
Several shop owners interviewed by Bernama said the council's directive was childish. It should focus on improving public facilities instead, they said. But many others have begun adhering to the ruling. A shop selling VCDs altered a poster by pasting some paper and painting over a woman's hair so that it such restrictive laws for women are not new for Kota Baru. In 1996, the town council enforced a law requiring supermarkets in the city to have separate counters for women and men. The state government had also banned movie posters displaying female actresses unless the women were covered up. Under another rule, headscarves were made compulsory for Muslim women.
Last year, 120 women in Kota Baru were fined for not wearing the headscarves while working in food outlets licensed by the council. Kelantan Mentri Besar Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has also urged Muslims to boycott goods with advertisements featuring women who did not follow the Islamic way of dressing.
Research paints grim picture for youth regarding marriage in Lebanon. Many people just can’t afford it. Many young people are encountering problems regarding marriage, due to economic, social and political conditions, with 89 percent of them citing the need to find a job before thinking about any emotional commitment, according to sociologist Hassan Hamdan. Hamdan, a Lebanese University professor and author of the recently published Youth Rights field study, spoke at Le Bristol Hotel in Beirut on the reasons for youth staying single longer
According to Hamdan, young people are living with an "anxious, depressive, hopeless, weak and disturbed" state of mind, which is affecting their ability to decide on marriage. Hamdan said that the first question that most youth ask themselves is whether they are ready to get married, or perhaps whether they can afford to do so, because starting a family is based more on "financial capacities than emotional ones." He explained that both genders base their selection of a "suitable partner" on many factors, which differ substantially from those that existed in the past two generations. Hamdan said that 67.8 percent of males identify a woman’s "physical appearance" as the first reason for choosing a partner, while 26.6 percent stress the importance of education, and 1.2 percent want her to be "obedient." As for females, 57.4 percent search for a man who respects women, 23.5 percent of them found the financial factor important when choosing a partner, while only 8 percent mentioned education.
According to Hamdan, 65.8 percent of the youth see engagement as a necessary phase to get to know each other better before making a commitment. But most added that such social commitment requires "a certain budget and entails additional duties." Views on divorce have changed markedly over the past 20 years, as 70.4 percent said that divorce is acceptable and is a natural social behavior. He added that such a high percentage exists due to social, psychological and financial reasons, particularly considering that following the war, divorce became increasingly popular. Additionally, the survey shows that 50.9 percent of youth do not "fear" staying single, as was the case in the past.
According to Hamdan 47 percent backed civil marriage. He added that civic groups should work on helping youth regarding marriage, because the majority of them face difficulties finding job and therefore, cannot procure a home and other material elements. According to Hamdan, some students found it difficult to meet a partner because of the "social barriers at universities." He called on universities to do more to help students come in contact with each other. Hamdan said a better economy would help solve many problems related to marriage.
Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East is pleased to launch its new web site. Please visit our web sit at www.middleastwomen.org and let us know about your comments and views.
"Mazel Azal" by Samia Labidi has recently been published by Publibook publishers.
Publishers note: A dreamlike and contemplative novel which, in fluid and poetic writing follows the fate of men occupied by a search for meaning which stretches over the whole of earthly existence: "Man must search inside himself before setting out on the quest for God. What I am seeking and what I will pursue to the end of my life is not God ... but humanity... Then if you want to die in peace and dream beautiful dreams, not nightmares, savoir every moment of the present while waiting for the true infinite, when you will live again thanks to the human performance that permits resurrection." A message of wisdom and of infinite richness.
You can read the first chapter at: www.publibook.com by clicking on "Nouveautes" at the top left of the home page. A book signing is planned at the Paris Porte de Versailles book fair on 22nd September from 10.00 am to 11.30 am at the Publibook stand. You can order it in digital form on line or from any France bookshop.
Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East Coordinator & Spokesperson: Azam Kamguian