CDWRME Bulletin #17

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 17, October, 2003

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

Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin

In this issue:

Nigeria: Amina Lawal Wins Appeal against Stoning

An Islamic appeals court in northern Nigeria has overturned the conviction of a single mother who had faced death by stoning for adultery. A five-judge panel rejected Amina Lawall's conviction in March 2002, saying she was not given "ample opportunity to defend herself"

If the sentence had been carried out, the 32-year-old would have been the first woman stoned to death since 12 northern states first began adopting strict Islamic Sharia law, in 1999. In an hour-long ruling, the panel said Ms Lawal was not caught in the act of adultery and wasn't given enough time to understand the charges against her. It also cited procedural errors, including that only one judge was present at her initial conviction, instead of the three required under Islamic law. 

The case had drawn sharp criticism from international rights groups. Under an international pressure from women and human rights organizations, Olusegun Obasanjo's government and world leaders had called for Ms Lawal to be spared. Last week, Brazil even offered her asylum. Few believed the brutal sentence - in which she would have been buried up to her neck in sand and executed by stoning - would ever have been carried out. 

Jordan: Drive for Women’s Rights Laws Picks Up in Jordan 

Women’s activists in Jordan are spearheading a massive campaign to lobby Parliament to pass women’s rights laws, which Islamists deputies quashed earlier this month saying they would destroy families.

In one of its first sessions since its election in June, Jordan’s lower house threw out temporary laws giving women the right to divorce their husbands and imposing harsher penalties for men who kill women in so-called “honour crimes.” Islamist and conservative deputies formed a coalition to reject the laws passed by the Cabinet in the two years since the previous Parliament was dissolved, arguing that they violated religious traditions and would destroy families and values. 

The House of Representatives sent the bills on divorce and “honour crimes” — usually the killing of a woman by a male relative deemed to have insulted the family honour by her sexual behaviour — to the royal-appointed senate. It must decide before the end of the month whether to uphold them or bury them forever. The lower house decision to quash the laws was a blow for Jordanian women and efforts to raise their status in this tribal and Islamic society.

Saudi Arabia: Women Complaining about their Lot on TV 

Eight Saudi women appeared on a groundbreaking television program to criticise previously taboo subjects such as the right to drive, unemployment and political participation among women. Wearing headscarves of red, blue and yellow - instead of traditional black - the participants complained about their lack of jobs, opportunities and public voice.

“We are handicapped in terms of personal freedom. We even need permission from a male guardian to get our identification papers,” paediatrician Suad Jaber said on the program, Saudi Women Speak Out. 

For many women the television programme was unprecedented. It never happened before. It was the first time Saudi women were given a chance to give their opinion publicly like that. Not everyone reads the papers, but everyone watches television. It is also said that this is also part of an effort by the Saudi government to improve its image abroad. 

But because of the country’s Islamic rule, Saudi women are not allowed to drive, travel without permission of a male guardian, work alongside men or appear in public unveiled. 

Sudan: Women Victims of FGM

The Sudanese government admitted that up to 90 percent of women in the country's Northern provinces suffer from genital mutilation and called for fresh steps to eradicate the practice. 

Some 85 to 90 percent of women in the predominantly Muslim Northern provinces are victims of FGM. International human rights bodies have said the type of female Circumcision practiced in Sudan and elsewhere, is the probably worst in the world. Technically known as infibulations, it is defined by the World Health Organization as the "excision 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 seven and 11 before they reach puberty and can cause internal bleeding, urine retention and infections. The only Arab countries where female circumcision is known to be carried out are Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, which imported the practice from Africa, where it is deemed essential to protect the honour of girls. 

France: Another blow to French Secularism

France’s first Islamic secondary school opened this week. The private Lycée verroës welcomed six boys and six girls to its premises above a mosque in ille. Makhlouf Mameche, the school’s deputy principal, said: “We are not a religious establishment, but we offer Muslim culture as an option.” Local authorities had three times refused the school permission to open before national educational authorities intervened to overturn the decision.

Lebanon: Women Denied the Right to Pass on their Nationality

Women are still denied the right to pass on their nationality in most countries of the Middle East, including Lebanon. According to Ziad Baroud, a lawyer and human rights activist, the country’s laws state that the children of a Lebanese woman and a foreigner must take the citizenship of their father, without giving any consideration to the citizenship of the mother. Baroud said that this law did not apply in some particular instances, including cases in which the father dies while his children are still minors or if the identity of the father is not known. 

However, Baroud said that the law, which treats women unequally, contradicts the Constitution, which consecrates the equity of all citizens, regardless of gender. Bureau head Kamal Feghali said that the matter affected more than 800 families living in the country. Feghali added that, among those 800 women, 60 percent were married to Arab non-nationals. Of these, 35 percent are married to Europeans, 10 percent to Asians and 5 percent to Africans. 

Feghali said most of those couples had more than one child and that none of the children had Lebanese nationality. The Centre for Research and Training for Development, a non- profit organization active in campaigning for women’s and human rights, has conducted various studies in support of allowing women to pass on nationality to their children. Speaking on behalf of the centre, Lina Abu Habib said the institution was “lobbying for a change” within the existing legal and constitutional frameworks giving women that right. 

Abu Habib agreed with Baroud that “legally denying women the right to confer their nationality on their children had been identified as a critical issue, as the laws contradict the Constitution.” 

She added that the law, which she called “abnormal,” undermines the concept of equality between men and women. “Such laws raise the question of whether women are considered citizens,” Abu Habib said, adding that the law left women without nationality, “because what you cannot give is not originally yours.” She also refuted the argument by some government officials that Lebanon was a special case because of the Palestinian refugees residing here. 

“They claim that, if women were given that right, Lebanese women who would marry Palestinians and transfer the country’s citizenship, harm the Palestinian cause and their right of return to their occupied land,” she said. But Abu Habib described this argument as “lacking logic,” saying that “it would do no harm to the Palestinian cause if the government issued a new law giving women the right to pass on nationality with an exception to those married to Palestinians.” She said denying the right to transmit nationality was also a form of discrimination and exclusion vis-à-vis the children of Lebanese women who are married to non-nationals. 

One Lebanese woman, who is married to a nonnational and spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said she has been unable to renew her husband’s residency permit for three months, which put her in “an awkward position” because the family lives and works in Beirut. 

Nadine Nahhas, a Lebanese married to an American, said she could no longer accept this “absurd” law. “Both my sons were raised here, speak Arabic, and go to Lebanese schools, live by the country’s traditions and culture. Above all, they have a Lebanese mother and the government still considers them foreigners,” she said. Nahhas added that every three years, she is forced to fill out paperwork to renew her husband’s and children’s residence permits, a procedure she described as “hard, complicated and costly.” 

Source: Daily Star

Israel: Women Working to end Occupation 

Non-violence as a strategy has been practiced by the Israeli women’s peace movement since the founding of Women in Black in early 1988; one month after the first Palestinian intifada broke out. The Women in Black movement began as a small group of Israeli women carrying out a simple form of protest: Once a week at the same hour and in the same location ­ a major traffic intersection in Jerusalem ­ they donned black clothing and raised a black sign in the shape of a hand with white lettering that read: “End the occupation.” 

After this modest beginning, women throughout Israel heard of the protest, and began similar vigils. In northern Israel, where many Palestinian citizens of Israel reside, the vigils had Arab and Jewish women standing side by side. From Israel, it spread to dozens of other countries. The strength of the movement is its clear and unchanging message presented in a non-violent manner: End the occupation. The target audience is the Israeli public and leadership, the international public and leadership, and the Palestinian people. The intent is to magnify the voice of those who object to the occupation, but do not have political clout as individuals. Because of the persistence of these women and the growing number of vigils, this movement seems to have had a widespread impact. 

When the Al-Aqsa intifada broke out in late September 2000, nine Israeli women’s peace organizations joined together as the Coalition of Women for Peace and began a series of non-violent actions. Some of these involved civil disobedience, such as lying down on the street to block the entrance to the Israeli Defence Ministry, as a way to protest the “closures” in the territories. Subsequent actions, often in cooperation with mixed-gender peace organizations, involved other non-violent but illegal acts ­ the rebuilding of demolished homes or the removal of blockades and the filling in of trenches intended to enforce the closures. In other actions, individual women stood in front of army bulldozers or chained themselves to olive trees in an effort to prevent further destruction of Palestinian homes and property. Some of these actions ended in arrests. 

This coalition of women’s peace organizations also staged mass actions of non-violence that are legal. In December 2001, 5,000 Israeli and Palestinian women marched together from the Israeli to the Palestinian side of Jerusalem under the twin banners, “The occupation is killing us all” and “we refuse to be enemies.” Last June, Israeli women staged a mass “lie-in” in Tel Aviv, with 1,000 women wearing black stretched out on the pavement as a sign of mourning the occupation’s victims. 

Some of the member organizations of the coalition engage in other forms of non-violent resistance. The presence at checkpoints of the women in Machsom (Checkpoint) Watch is often enough to prevent particularly cruel harassment of Palestinians. Recently these women prevented a soldier from firing at a child by deflecting his gun, leading to their arrest for “interfering with the Israeli Army.” The organization New Profile supports conscientious objection to army service, and last year started a “women refuse” campaign. What do they refuse? “To raise our children for war, to ignore war crimes committed in our name, to support the occupation, to continue our normal lives while another nation is suffering because of us.” 

This is a profound use of non-violence ­ an attempt to change the militaristic culture of Israeli society and to instil the values of non-violence in Israeli children. The most successful case in Israel of the use of non-violence in the service of peace is the Four Mothers movement. This group, founded in 1997 by four women whose sons were serving in the Israeli Army, sought to mobilize the Israeli public to demand that Israel withdraw its troops from Lebanon. Their actions were based on the argument that Israel’s prolonged presence there served no security purpose, but jeopardized the lives of soldiers. The movement was initially met with scorn from senior military officers (“What do women know about security?” they mocked). But at the heart of the Four Mothers’ strategy was leveraging their status as mothers. This was effective in a society that, while it might disrespect professional women, honours its mothers. 

The Four Mothers movement never used civil disobedience, but held small demonstrations and vigils that highlighted the sincerity of their plea as law-abiding women, not politicians. Their status as mothers who had sons serving in combat units gave them the right, in the eyes of the public, to challenge Israeli policy in Lebanon. They demanded­ and were accorded ­ meetings with the highest government officials, whose inadequate answers were then magnified through the well-run media work of the group. The “authentic” mother-oriented nature of this movement, and its dissociation from partisan politics, struck an empathetic nerve among the Israeli public. The deaths of Israeli soldiers were on the increase, and the message of the Four Mothers fell on attentive ears. Within three years of the start of the movement, the Israeli Army withdrew from Lebanon. 

The women’s peace movement in Israel has used non-violence in varied and creative ways. While the most dramatic actions have had civil disobedience and risk-taking at their core, many lawful actions have also been used, no less effectively. Women demonstrators sometimes feel “protected” in the belief that the police and army will not harm women, although that belief has proven to be unjustified. But the strategy of non-violence provides greater moral strength and persuasiveness than violent strategies. The practice of non-violence has also been empowering to those who feel otherwise helpless, and results seem to confirm its effectiveness. 

Gila Svirsky, an Israeli peace and human rights activist, is co-founder of the Coalition of Women for Peace and has been a member of Women in Black since its founding. This article is part of a series of views on non-violence published by THE DAILY STAR in partnership with the Common Ground News Service 

Saudi Arabia: Attacks on Religious Police to Rescue Women

A war of words has erupted in the wake of an alleged attack on members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Thirteen locals had reportedly attacked members of the commission in front of their offices in an attempt to rescue two men and two women the commission had arrested on the beach on suspicion of not being related to one another. One of the women escaped and all 13 alleged attackers were later arrested.

One of the 13 now says the attack was motivated by members of the commission kicking and pulling the hair of one of the women in their custody in front of witnesses. The commission denies this.

Ahmad Hamed Al-Refaie, 30, told the newspaper: “I was on my way to my cousin’s house when I saw a member of the commission dragging a girl into the street by her hair. She saw me and started calling for help. I told the mutawwa to leave her alone because he has no right to arrest her. He was not accompanied by a police officer and he wasn’t riding an official car.” The commission has no powers of arrest.

Al-Refaie said an argument then erupted between him and the commission member, who continued to assault the woman. “He beat her up badly with a wooden stick. Other people tried to help, but he threatened to kill me,” he said.

After Maghreb prayer that evening, Al-Refaie said, the commission member accompanied by some 20 men including his brothers went to his house and beat him unconscious with metal bars. “If I was in the wrong, why didn’t he simply come with the police and have me arrested?” Al-Refaie asked.

“I hope that the missing girl shows up to clear my name but I know that they must have threatened her to keep quiet. The story about us assaulting the mutawwa is not true. My brother and I are held by police on charges of attacking the director of the local commission.” Ahmad’s brother Hamed Al-Refaie said:”The commission threatened non-Saudi witnesses that if they testify their businesses and jobs will be on the line” A witness who would only be identified as Ahmad confirmed Al-Refaie’s version of events. “I saw members of the commission beating up the girl very badly. She was calling for help when Ahmad showed up and they threatened to beat him too.”

Another witness using the initial N said: “During Maghreb prayer, a big group of people went to Ahmad ‘s house, some of them members of the commission, and assaulted him.” Members of the commission deny the allegations.
Source: Daily Star

Pakistan: Rise in Gang Rapes in 2002

Gang rape, which has increased over recent years, is used as a means of revenge not only in public places, but also in homes in front of male family members. During 2002, the print media highlighted 520 different cases of gang rape. In order to maintain an updated database the staff members of Madadgaar monitor twenty-five newspapers daily in Urdu, English and Sindhi. The numbers of reported gang rape cases have risen astonishingly in the country. In the majority of the cases the rapists were strangers to the victim. Out of total 520 cases of gang rape, in 475 perpetrators were strangers. During the monitoring of all gang rape cases it was noted that the most of the cases occurred in Punjab; 408 cases. In April 2002, two sisters were gang raped in front of their helpless parents in Ramswami, the busiest area of metropolitan city, Karachi. Some law enforcers were also involved in the act. In June 2002, a teenage girl at Meerwala, Multan was gang raped on Punchayat order. 

The verdict was passed as revenge because her brother, a 14-year-old boy was being accused of illicit relations with a 30-year-old upper caste woman resulted in ‘gang rape’ punishment to his sister. The Punchayat ordered four men including one of the jurists, to rape the 18-year-old girl. The Meerwala gang rape demonstrates the misuse of authority of an ancient institution for unjust purposes. The incident shows that the institute once called as ‘Ancient Parliament of the Land at Grass Root Level’ is not immune to social and political abuse. Source: LHRLA, Website: www.lhrla.org.

Letters to & Requests from the CDWRME:

The USA: Peace Women Initiative

Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East

Dear colleague or friend, 

The Peace Women project of the Women¹s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) invites the Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East to share your initiatives on women, peace and security issues with other civil society groups via Internet. We hope that this compilation of initiatives on women, peace and security will create an advocacy network of groups that seek to empower women in peace-building and decision-making processes. 

PeaceWomen.org seeks to provide accurate and timely information on women, peace and security issues and works towards rapid and full implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Based on PeaceWomen¹s advocacy work on these issues, we have been asked to join the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in a web partnership on their Women, War and Peace Web Portal, which will be launched 31 October 2003. 

UNIFEM¹s project is intended to promote a systematic flow of accurate and timely information about the impact of armed conflict on women and women¹s role in peace-building to, and among, national and international actors working on these issues. UNIFEM and Peace Women will feature key women, peace and security issues and gender analysis of armed conflict situations in the profiles of fifty countries in Southeast Asia /Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe, West Asia, South Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, North Africa, West Africa, Great Lakes, East Africa/Horn and Southern Africa.

In the context of this partnership, the Peace Women link will feature news stories on women, peace and security issues; NGO, civil society, UN and governmental resources; and women's peace-building initiatives. Peace Women intends to feature initiatives on conflict prevention, peace building, refugees, reconstruction, rehabilitation, disarmament, demobilization, transitional justice, violence against women on armed conflicts, HIV/AIDS in the context of war, and peace education. In order to create this compilation of peace-building initiatives that are currently being organized by women, and women and men in partnership, we would like to know from you what is being done in your community. 

If the Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East or any partner organization has organized, or is currently organizing initiatives on these aforementioned issues, we welcome any description, stories or key findings from your experience for inclusion on the PeaceWomen.org website, as part of UNIFEM¹s Women, War and Peace web project. Please send any information to Lupe Bardelli at LupeB@peacewomen.org 

We appreciate your participation in developing this advocacy network.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely, 

Susi Snyder Guadalupe Bardelli
WILPF-UN Co-Director Research Consultant

Germany: Campaign against Honour killing 

Dear Madams and Sirs,

I am writing you in the name of the German women's rights organisation TERRE DES FEMMES, Tübingen, Germany. On November 25, 2004, TERRE DES FEMMES will start a campaign against "crimes in the name of honour". During one year, TERRE DES FEMMES, in cooperation with other organisations and supporters, wants to set its focus on crimes in the name of honour. We plan many different events to draw public attention to this topic and make people aware. One very important part in the planning process and equally well in the actual campaign is the cooperation with and the knowledge about other national and international organisations and projects that deal with this topic. This is why we are interested in gathering as much information as possible about existing programs.

My request to you is to help us find out more about the topic in the international - and especially your national - context!
I therefore have some questions and I would be very grateful if you answered them.

How does your organisation - being a competent actor in this field - evaluate the presence of and public work against crimes in the name of honour in your country? How does the government in your country - if they do it at all - address this topic and to what extent is the public aware of its existence? What is the work of your organisation in this field like? Did you already start any programs (or do you know other national organisations that did it?) for prevention? Did you get any support and was your work successful (concerning the tightening up of laws, e.g.)?

There's one last matter of concern: We are also planning a touring exhibition for our campaign: can you imagine to send us anything typical for your country and the topic crimes in the name of honour (we do not have a special suggestion for that - we are expecting everything from posters of your campaign to pictures, written documents, concrete objects)? We want to make the topic of crimes in the name of honour 'visible' for people!

We would be very glad if you and your organisation can imagine cooperating with us to make our campaign a success by raising this topic in public.

Best wishes from Tübingen,
Yours

Myria Böhmecke

 

Germany: The Berlin Institute for Comparative Social Research

Dear Ms Kamguian,

The Berlin Institute for Comparative Social Research (BIVS) is an independent, non-profit organisation operating within the European Migration Centre. It is dedicated to research, the dissemination of information and independent consulting in the areas of migration, refugee protection, ethnic relations, racism, Anti-discrimination and minority politics. For further information, please see our website, www.emz-berlin.de

We have recently initiated a project called “Marriage as immigration gate”, financed by the Daphne Programme of the European Commission. The purpose of our study is to compare the legal and social status of marriages involving female migrants from third countries in the 15 member states of the European Union. In our preliminary research, we have found that the subject of arranged marriages seems to dominate the debate on marriage migration in Great Britain. Your article “Girls’ Nightmare in Muslim Families: Forced Marriages in Europe” on www.secularislam.org intrigued us very much.

Our impression is that due to the variety of opinions that exist on how to best protect the interests of the girls involved in forced marriages, the debate has resulted in a deadlock. “Our Voice”, the Bradford-based women’s self-help group, has even gone so far as to argue for a reintroduction of the contested “Primary Purpose Rule”. However, in the current political discourse there seems to be little or no support for such restrictive measures. Against this background, we kindly ask you for your ideas and opinion concerning the continuation of the debate on tackling this sensitive issue. Furthermore, we would appreciate your views on how to best serve the interests of the different actors involved.

We welcome any further suggestions and input you may have. Please feel free to contact us at your convenience should you have additional questions or concerns. Thank you very much for your help. 

Yours sincerely,

Irina Meyer
Berliner Institut für Vergleichende Sozialforschung Wissenschaftlicher, gemeinnütziger Verein Mitglied im Europäischen Migrationszentrum

Postal Adress: Schliemannstraße 23, D- 10437 Berlin
Phone: +49-30 - 44 65 10 65 Fax: +49-30 - 444 10 85
E-mail: info@emz-berlin.de
Homepage: http://www.emz-berlin.de

 

India: Committee to Protect Freethinkers,

Dear Ms Azam Kamguian,

Hope you are well and active in the cause of human emancipation from the forces of unreason and tyranny. I write this to inform you that our Committee proposes to publish a booklet in English and Telugu on the subject of 'Honour Killings' and 'Stoning Women to death'. We need some details on Honour Killings. Please inform us the details of the Websites and titles of your articles and transcripts of your speeches on the subject. I shall acknowledge the sources in our booklet. Also, kindly inform us the Email and the Website of Dr. Taslima Nasreen. Please be rest assured that this information would be kept confidential.

Thanks for publishing the excellent informative Bulletin: Women in the Middle East. I translated the transcript of your speech titled 'The Silent Holocaust', published in the International Humanist News, and published it in our Telugu monthly: 'Nasthika Yugam' (published and edited by me since 1974). Your speech is really the most courageous that I had ever read on Islam, especially about 'Political Islam' in Iran. Though being a bitter critic of Islam in this State I never had such guts as you had demonstrated throughout your speech/write up. Cheers. Yet, when I think about you - my dear sister and writers like Taslima Nasreen I feet somewhat humbled and inspired by your intellectual honesty, courage fand fortitude. 

With esteem regards,
JAYAGOPAL

Coordinator,
Committee to Protect Freethinkers,
INDIA.

The USA: Martin Bortnick

I just want to say that I am so glad that there is a group fighting for the rights of women in the Middle East and for the secularization of society. I wish I could help your organization but since I cannot I hope you will continue with courage and the knowledge that what you do is so important.

Sincerely,
Martin Bortnick

 

South Africa: Anita Eigelaar

RE: Women's Rights in the Middle East

I am from South Africa and i am very interested in other women of world and there problems. Sharing and support is to me what we need wolrd wide to solve our women problem. How can I share as individual in this action and where can I throw in support to the women of the Middle East.

Regards from Cape Town South Africa
Anita Eigelaar

 

Canada: Anthony Oland 
Date: 15 Sep 2003 

Your site is very thought-provoking and meaningful! We should ALL spread the word of Azam Kamguian!!! 

Anthony Oland

 

The USA: Heather Lawson 

Hello,
My name is Heather Lawson. I am a senior at a high school in Washington, USA. As senior we have to write a paper and do some community service. For my paper topic I chose women's rights in the Middle East. I had heard that there were shelters for women that allowed them to live as they wish. If you know anything about these shelters, I would be much obliged if you could pass some information about them to me. Thank you.

Heather Lawson 


Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East Coordinator & Spokesperson: Azam Kamguian

Email: azam_kamguian@yahoo.com
Cdwrme@yahoo.com 
Tel: + 44(0) 788 4040 835
Fax: + 44 (0) 870 831 0204
Web site: www.middleastwomen.org