CDWRME Bulletin #21

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 21, February, 2004

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

Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin

In this issue:

  •  Kuwait: Kuwait: The issue of enfranchisement & women’s low status

  • Morocco: Reforming Family Laws

  • The Arab World: Girls from struggle for education

  • Pakistan: Attempts to repeal Islamic laws violating women's rights

  •  Pakistan: Campaigns for women rights finalized

  • Israel: violating the rights of Palestinian women prisoners

  • Jordan: Fresh honour killing

  • Saudi Arabia: The pressure for change is building

  • ICAS: One in Nigeria and one in Iran sentenced to death by stoning

  •  Letters to & Requests from CSWRME

  • Kuwait: The issue of enfranchisement & women’s low status  

Kuwait's Parliament will soon pass a political rights bill which will grant the right to vote to women. The issue of enfranchisement, however, diverts attention from the broader reality of women's position. In a country where 94% of all jobs are in the public sector, only 6% of state employees are women.  In some areas women are allowed in only as tokens. The Foreign Service, for example, includes only two women diplomats, while the police and the armed forces have taken a few dozen women, all of them in routine jobs.  Where possible, as in the small private sector, women have made some headway and are present in such sectors as the media, private education and finance. But even there, their presence is often symbolic as they are denied key jobs.    

  • Morocco: Reforming Family Laws  

Morocco has approved laws on women's and family rights which will see polygamy almost completely eradicated from the North African country. Last-ditch attempts by Islamist deputies in the Rabat parliament failed to derail the law.  

"There are men who, for physical reasons, cannot satisfy themselves with only one wife," one Islamist deputy was reported as arguing during a month of parliamentary debate that ended at the weekend. "In that case they should seek treatment," the religious affairs minister, Ahmed Toufiq, reportedly replied.  

The changes to the "mudawana" family code make polygamy acceptable only in rare circumstances, and only with the permission of a judge and a man's first wife.  

They also raise the age of marriage for girls from 15 to 18 and give wives "joint responsibility" with their husbands in family matters.  

The change to the family code came nine months after a resurgence of a radical Islamic violence, with suicide attacks claiming the lives of 41 people in Casablanca. Islamists brought hundreds of thousands of people out on to the streets to protest at any change to the mudawana.  

"These reforms have been elaborated in response to the desires of foreigners and the feminist movement, but not to produce any real change in women's lives," said Nadia Yassin, spokeswoman for Morocco's popular, but illegal, Justice and Charity Islamist movement.    

  • The Arab World: Girls struggle for education  

The media celebration of girls’ academic success, conceals the fact that in total numbers, far fewer girls than boys are completing - or even going into - education. In countries like Sudan and Yemen, the situation is particularly bad. Indeed, Sudan is actually going backwards - 45% of children of school age are not attending school. And literacy rates of women in the Arab world, according to the latest report of UNDP, are around 55%. The reasons for girls' comparatively poor performances are varied, though some are common to girls' education throughout the Arab world. In Sudan, they are undoubtedly linked to the civil war and Sudan's desperate economic situation - as well as the fact that it is such a vast country, with parents simply unwilling to let their children travel the long distances needed to attend school. A similar problem exists in Yemen - where it is exacerbated by poor resources and funding that means children have to be taught in classes of a hundred or more. But in Jordan, enrolment is excellent at 86% - however, girls drop out in secondary school because of early marriage. Jordanian society is very conservative with tribal traditions and many girls are pressurised into marrying young.  

Some still continue their education after marriage - but many of them do not, especially if they have children. A girl's role in Jordanian society is heavily stereotyped, and this is reflected in the education students receive. At one Jordanian girl's secondary school, 80% of the girls I spoke to said that the first role of the woman was to stay at home and bring up her children. While teaching as a job is very popular to women in the Arab world - as is the case all over the globe - teachers are not paid well, and rarely receive enough training. Many also teach using very old-fashioned methods. I found that the quality of education was affecting both girls and boys - but especially girls. If the school environment is bad, if it is remote, unclean, and has no toilets, it is the girls who tend to give up and go back home. If the teacher is bad and is not qualified, the girls tend to simply fail at the end of the year.

 The latest UNDP report stated that education in Arab schools in the future is likely to be split into two parts - very expensive private education, enjoyed by the better-off minority, and poor quality government education for the majority.  Should this happen, it is likely it will be the girls who suffer more - Egyptian sociologist Dr Abdel-Basset Abdel-Moti said such a split would be "dangerous" for girl's education.  

The mix of religion and tradition for these societies means that parents are ready to make payments to have extra help for their sons - even have them taught in private schools - but simply do not bother with their daughters. One of the results of these long traditions is a vicious circle whereby very few women receive the education needed to become policy-makers - and therefore education policy remains male-dominated. Further, some Muslims believe that there is little point in paying for a girl's education, as they are destined only for a life as a mother, and not a career where they could make money. All these problems would make a gloomy picture. Meanwhile educated girls in Egypt and Sudan have begun campaigning against female circumcision - and their campaign for women's rights has even involved going out and protesting in their holidays. Where it is received, education is obviously changing the character of girls. The task now is to make sure many more are able to access it.    

  • Pakistan: Attempts to repeal Islamic laws violating women's rights  

Pakistan's National Commission on the Status of Women says the time has come to start rolling back religiously inspired laws that threaten the rights of women. Members of the commission name Pakistan's Hudood Ordinance, a series of laws based on Islamic teaching, as a major threat to the lives and rights of the country's women.  

Passed in 1979, the Hudood Ordinance was meant to provide Pakistan's legal system with a stronger religious base. But critics say the statutes' strict interpretation of Islamic law is a threat to women. They cite provisions normally requiring at least two male Muslim witnesses in order to prove a case of rape. In addition, the law opens victims of rape up to charges of adultery.  

The three-year-old government Commission on the Status of Women released its report saying the Hudood Ordinance should be repealed. Commission chairwoman and former judge, Majida Rizvi, says that when portions of the new report were made public last September, Pakistan finally began debating the wisdom of some of the Hudood laws for the first time.  

"If you, [go] back maybe 10 years, this was a prohibited area to talk about. Now since my report has come last year, it is being discussed openly. People are aware that there are problems in this law," she said.    

  • Pakistan: Campaigns for women rights finalized  

Four campaigns to raise awareness about women's rights were designed at the end of a three-day workshop organized by the Aurat Foundation. On the last day of the workshop about 30 participants, drawn from 13 districts, were divided into four groups who developed campaigns and presented them to the audience, says a press release.  

Every group presented its plan for the electronic media campaign launched under the GTZ-funded Women Advisory Centre (WAC) Project of the Aurat Foundation. The campaign had already been launched on Jan 22 and would continue till September 2004. Under the campaign special programmes would be presented on Radio Pakistan, Peshawar.  

Earlier on the first day of the workshop, Resident Director of the Aurat Foundation Rakhshanda Naz shared with the participants the experience of Mera Ghar, a shelter home for the women who suffered violence.  

She dwelt on the concept of crisis centres for violence-hit women, the need for such places in the NWFP and how the Mera Ghar became an institution in the form of the Noor Education Trust (NET). The second session was on women issues and underlined the problems women faced at the family, community and state levels. The third session was on women situation under the customary practices. Resource Person Zubaida Khalid shed light on Swara, honour-killing, Walwar, Serpaisy and Toor (a social stigma).  

The second day of the workshop witnessed a discussion on violence against women. Uzma Mehboob in her address of welcome enumerated the objectives of the topic of the workshop. Ms Saima of Rozan gave definition, concept and forms of violence in gender perspective.  

A former judge of the Lahore High Court Justice (retd) Nasira Iqbal pointed out loopholes in the Hudood Ordinances and called for changes to the laws which were introduced by a military dictator in 1980s. She also quoted statistics to bring to the fore the rising incidents of violence against women.    

  •  Israel: violating the rights of Palestinian women prisoners

Palestinian women prisoners in the Israeli al-Ramla prison are being exposed to tough repressive acts, and live under very difficult humanitarian conditions, as they called on the Palestinian government and the Palestinian prisoner's rights group to help them bring their plight to the international community.

In two separate messages addressed to the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian prisoner group in al-Khalil, the women prisoners said that they were exposed to torture, repression, isolation and other maltreatment. Their room were broken in and personal belongings inspected. Moreover al-Ramla prison administration continue preventing their relatives from visiting them.

The director of the prisoner's rights group in Hebron, Amjad al-Najjar, said that the 79 women prisoners live in their worst days, noting that he provided lawyers messages from the prisoners including a description for the cruel life they do live.  

  • Jordan: Fresh honour killing  

Three brothers hacked their two sisters to death in Jordan in an "honour killing", one day after parliament rejected tougher sentences for such crime, officials are quoted as saying. The unidentified sisters, aged 20 and 27, were killed with axes in the capital Amman according to a report in the Jordan Times newspaper. Officials told the paper the three brothers - who are in detention - admitted that they carried out the killing for reasons of "family honour".  

The 27-year-old left her family home nearly two years ago to marry a man without her family's consent. Her 20-year-old sister ran away three months ago to join her.  It was a brutal scene - one victim's head was nearly cut clean off. The older sister's 10-month-old baby and her husband escaped unharmed. The killings bring to 12 the number of women reported killed for reasons of "family honour" in Jordan this year, the Jordan Times says.  

Under the existing law, people found guilty of committing honour killings often receive sentences as light as six months in prison.    

  •  Saudi Arabia: The pressure for change is building  

When a group of Saudi women appeared on a TV discussion programme to voice their grievances recently they got a mixed reception from viewers. Many applauded their boldness. Others complained that the participants in Saudi Women Speak Out had not gone far enough.  

The show was the first of its kind. The fact that it was aired is an indication of the momentum for change building up. The application of the Islamic Sharia, prevents women from driving, travelling without being accompanied by a guardian, working alongside men or showing their faces in public.  

These rules are now starting to crumble as more women go out to work - either from choice or to boost their family's declining incomes. The religious police who not so long ago would have relished breaking up the fun are a demoralised bunch. Recently they turned up to remonstrate with some youths holding a party on the beach. As they trudged away after delivering their lecture the sound was turned back up. Women are increasingly seen in offices, hospitals and shops. Some are running their own businesses, though they are obliged to go through a legal sham that makes a man the managing director.  

But the activists who appeared on the TV show are seeking more than an informal loosening of the rules. They want the changes to be officially recognised and protected by law. At the same time they are trying to persuade authorities to undo the social and economic injustices done to women over the last quarter of a century.    

  • ICAS: One in Nigeria and one in Iran sentenced to death by stoning  

 Iran: According to a report in an Iranian press on 8 January 2004, a woman and her husband, names are not disclosed, have been sentenced to death in connection with running a brothel in the city of Qazvin.  Both are to be flogged and one of them is to be stoned to death.  

Nigeria: On 6 January 2004, Umaru Tori a 45 years Nigerian man was sentenced to death for extra-marital relationship with his step-daughter last week. The sentence was handed down by a Shari'ah Islamic court in northern Nigeria.  His step-daughter, 15, was sentenced to 100 strokes of cane, which will be carried out after she has given birth to her child. Both of them have been given a 30-day period until January 29 to appeal against their sentences.  

Last year in the light of an international mass protest against the stoning law, we were successful in forcing the Islamic regime of Iran to suspend, albeit temporarily, the laws and practices of stoning. In Nigeria, our efforts and the international campaign to save Amina Lawal finally paid off and her stoning sentence was overturned.   

Stoning is the most brutal way of administering capital punishment; it is a way of killing a human being by a gradual torture.  The fact is, in countries ruled by Islamic laws, men and women are insulted, degraded, flagged and stoned to death for practicing their basic rights and freedom.  This is an insult to all the achievements and gains of generation after generation of people who have fought for the attainment of human liberties and freedom throughout the history. No matter where we are, stoning a woman or a man to death is an insult to humanity.  This has to be stopped.  We must continue with our fight to eradicate the cruel law of stoning and all other Sharia laws. Such inhumane practices belong to the dustbin of history.   

We call upon all freedom loving oragnaisations and individuals to join our campaign to stop the stoning of these two people in Nigeria and Iran and to abolish stoning law.   

Recommended actions:

Write to the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami demanding:  

 - Immediate abolition of stoning and all other forms of punishment for extra-marital relations and all other Sharia laws;  

- Immediate release of all those imprisoned for extra-marital relations;  

 Email: khatami@president.ir  
Fax: 0098 21 649 5880  

Write to the Nigerian President Ousegun Obasanjo:

-  Immediate abolishment of stoning law and all other Sharia laws

- Immediate annulment of Umaru ToriÂ’s stoning sentence and flogging sentence of his 15 years old step-daughter  

Address: The Presidency, Federal Secretariat, Shehu Shagari Way, Abuja, Nigeria

Tel: +234-9-2341010
Fax: +234-9-2341733
Email:  presidency@nopa.net  

To the President of Nigeria  

I/We have been informed that on 6 January 2004, Umaru Tori, a 45 years Nigerian man, was sentenced to death for extra-marital relationship and his 15 years old step-daughter was sentenced to 100 strokes of the cane.  

I/We express my/our strong protest against these medieval treatments and demand:  

-  Immediate abolishment of stoning law and all other Shari'ah laws

- Immediate annulment of Umaru ToriÂ’s stoning sentence and flogging sentence of his 15 years old step-daughter  

Name   

Signature    

CC: European Union: civis@europarl.eu.int

ICAS: stopstoning@yahoo.com  

To Mohammad Khatami, the President of Islamic Republic of Iran  

I/We express my/our strong protest against the medieval punishment of stoning and demand:

  - Immediate abolishment of stoning law and all other forms of punishment for extra- marital relations and abolishment of all Shari'ah laws;

 - Immediate annulment of all stoning sentences and immediate release of     those imprisoned for extra-marital relations;  

 Name 

Signature    

CC: European Union: civis@europarl.eu.int

ICAS: stopstoning@yahoo.com    

  • Letters to & Requests From CDWRME

UK:  

Hello                

I am currently conducting research on the issue of honour killing in UK (predominantly London first off). The Metropolitan Police have  identified this as an emerging issue in London and we are trying to develop good practice when dealing with such cases. I am also trying to identify cases in the Metropolitan Police at the moment and find out what research/analysis has been conducted to date. Also, how do I get any details of the conference in Sweden?  

Regards,

Laura  

Laura Richards
Behavioural Consultant to DCC4
Racial and Violent Crime Task Force
Rm 930 ICAS, Tower Block
New Scotland Yard
Broadway,SW1H OBG
Tel: 0207 230 3023  

USA:  

Dear Azam Kamguian

 I have read your articles and books and have learned a lot; I have found new perspectives in my life. I would like to thank you for all your efforts and wish you the best and more victory in your life.  

Sincerely yours,

Roya Darshad  

Canada:  

Hello, I have received your Bulletin and congratulate you on what you are doing.  I wanted you to know there are a number of places were the last line of the article was missing.  Also, in the article titled *Turkey: Increase in Honour Killings there seems to be some confusion in male and female pronouns.  In places the pronoun "her" is used where it appears "his" should be.  I bring this up not to criticize but to offer my help if needed.  I have grown up in Canada and do considerable writing in English both professionally and as a hobby.  Perhaps I could offer my assistance as a proofreader.  Perhaps this is just a typo and my services are not needed.  Either way, all the best to you and your mission.  

Sincerely,

Dixie Baum  

UK:  

Hello

I am writing to express gratitude and respect that you have the courage to form the CDWRME. I have been tying recently to engage with Midde East department/Islamic scholars in Leeds and Manchester, and find they are too afraid to permit me to do the research I want to do.  

I am presently exploring options at SOAS, in London. I would love to attend any meetings you are organising.  

With respect

Ghazala Y. Alam    

UK:  

Hello, CDWRME

I am a Freethinker. Please add me to your news list. You are very brave and you must defend any freedom you may have and try to liberate your country from religious oppression. Kind regards,  

Ken Partington

USA:  

Hi CDWRME, My name is Kim and I am an International Policy student in California. I am attending the Monterey Institute of International Studies and working towards a Master's degree. My main focus is the Middle East and women's rights. I am currently researching the lack of women's rights in the Mid East, specifically in Jordan where so many issues are currently being addressed. I am also writing on the 'honor killings' there and the lack of punishment for the males that commit these crimes. I would appreciate any information that you might be able to send me on these two topics. I would also appreciate any information on other organizations that I may be able to contact about these issues.

Thank you,

Kim 

USA:  

I thank you so much for these updates. I am shocked at what is happening. Thank you for opening up our eyes and please keep the communications coming. I share them with many others so all can aware of the struggles that occur on a daily basis by those who live in oppression. We are emailing the addresses you have provided and hopefully this will help.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity.  

Lee

Sweden:  

Dear Azam,

My name is Maria and I turn to you by chance as I usually get your Bulletin re women in the Middle East. I might be in need of some additional information about the situation for women in Syria. If it will be needed, would it be ok to contact you again then?  

With best regards,

Maria   

UK:  

Hello, I am a University student struggling to find any literature on the subject of forced marriages.  I have ample Internet based information but am seeking more conventional sources and hopped you may be able to give me some titles of useful material.  

Thank you for any help you can give  

Sabrina

USA:  

Hello,

I am a student at New York University doing a paper on temporary marriage. I was unable to find the text of your recent article on the subject in the Bulletin of Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East, and was hoping you could direct me to it.

Thank you for your help.  

Tiare 


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