CDWRME Bulletin #26
in the Middle East"
Number 26, July, 2004
of "Committee to Defend
Women's Rights in the
Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin
In this issue:
France: European court backs ban on Hijab in schools
Iran: Sex slavery under the Islamic Republic
Europe tackles 'honour killings'
Iraq: Even a hair out of place draws rebuke for women in Najaf
Afghanistan: Self immolation: the only escape for oppressed women
Iraq: Jail abuse of women
Pakistan: Honour killing of two girls in the Sindh province
Jordan: Honour killing in hospital
Saudi Arabia: Seeking basis for greater freedom
Saudi Arabia: lifting ban on women working to boost economy
Kuwait: Women in struggle for right to vote
Iran: Women face crackdown on 'Immoral' behaviour
Jordan: Lower House rejects women’s right to divorce
Afghanistan: Women poll workers killed
Letters to & Requests from CDWRME
The Charter of Committee to Defend Women's Right in the Middle East
Next issue of “Women in the Middle East” will be published in September 2004
Turkey: European court backs ban on Hijab in schools
STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Turkish state universities had the right to ban the Muslim headscarf to uphold the principle of the division of church and state.
In what could be a precedent-setting decision, the Strasbourg-based court on Tuesday rejected appeals by two Turkish students who said the ban and their subsequent exclusion from class violated their freedom of religion.
Reuters Tuesday, 29 June, 2004
- Iran: Sex slavery under the Islamic Republic
A measure of the success of Islamists in controlling society is the depth and totality with which they suppress the freedom and rights of women. In Iran for 25 years, the ruling Islamists have enforced humiliating rules and punishments on women and girls, enslaving them in a gender apartheid system of segregation, forced veiling, second-class status, lashing and stoning to death.
Islamists have added another way to dehumanize women and girls: buying and selling them for prostitution. Exact numbers of victims are impossible to obtain, but according to an official source in Tehran, there has been a 635 percent increase in the number of teen-age girls in prostitution. The magnitude of this statistic conveys how rapidly this form of abuse has grown. In Tehran, there are an estimated 84,000 women and girls in prostitution, many of them are on the streets, others are in the 250 brothels that reportedly operate in the city. The trade is also international: Thousands of Iranian women and girls have been sold into sexual slavery abroad.
The head of Iran's Interpol bureau believes that the sex-slave trade is one of the most profitable activities in Iran today. This criminal trade is not conducted outside the knowledge and participation of the ruling clerics. Government officials themselves are involved in buying, selling and sexually abusing women and girls. Many of the girls come from impoverished rural areas. High unemployment -- 28 percent for youths from 15 to 29 years of age, and 43 percent for women from 15 to 20 years of age -- is a serious factor in driving restless youth to accept risky offers for work. Slave traders take advantage of any opportunity in which women and children are vulnerable. Following the recent earthquake in Bam, for example, orphaned girls have been kidnapped and taken to a known slave market in Tehran where Iranian and foreign traders meet.
Popular destinations for victims of the slave trade are the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. According to the head of the Tehran provincial judiciary, traffickers target girls between 13 and 17 (and some reports of girls as young as 8 and 10) to send to Arab countries. One ring was discovered after an 18-year-old girl escaped from a basement where a group of girls were held before being sent to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The number of Iranian women and girls who are deported from Persian Gulf countries indicates the magnitude of the trade. Upon their return to Iran, the Islamists blame the victims, and often physically punish and imprison them. The women are examined to determine if they have engaged in "immoral activity." Based on the findings, officials can ban them from leaving the country again.
- Europe tackles 'honour killings'
European police met in The Hague to look at ways of tackling the rising phenomenon of "honour killings". They aim to set up a pan-European unit to combat the killings and crack down on related issues such as trafficking.
Police are re-opening murder files related to families of Turkish, Middle Eastern, Asian, Arabic and Eastern European origin over the past 10 years. Many victims of "honour killings" are women involved in relationships their family felt brought dishonour on them. I think we've been unaware, we've been ignorant of the crimes going on, said Andy Baker, a UK police commander.
Experts say such killings are on the rise in Europe, but as the issue remains largely hidden from public view, exact numbers are unknown. A 26-year-old Kurd, Fadime was shot dead two years ago near Stockholm, allegedly by her father because of her relationship with a Swedish man. The murder triggered calls for urgent action to protect young immigrants who fall out with their families.
In England and Wales police are reinvestigating over 100 murders they suspect could be honour killings. There has to be real commitment to bring to justice those who perpetrate such heinous crimes. Detectives from London's Metropolitan police are examining murder files going back 10 years - 52 in the capital and 65 in other parts of England and Wales.
Many of the female victims were from South Asian communities. Police say some of the murders were carried out by contract killers hired by the families. They also believe that so-called "bounty hunters" were involved - people, including women, who make a business out of tracking down victims. The Metropolitan police also say that two women a week are reporting to them in circumstances in which they may be in danger.
Last September the UK police announced new research into the culture surrounding honour killings. The undertaking followed the conviction of Abdalla Yones, a Kurdish Muslim, for the murder of his 16-year-old daughter Heshu after she formed a relationship with a man of whom he disapproved.
The police are concerned about the high proportion of honour killings which end in convictions for manslaughter rather than murder. The police have urged the government to investigate possible loopholes in the law - and the move has been widely supported by crime experts.
- Iraq: Even a hair out of place draws rebuke for women in Najaf
Each day begins with important dress decisions, depending on where one is going. To visit Najaf, a city of several hundred thousand and the home of the shrine of Ali, Shiite Islam's most beloved saint, or call on any of al-Sadr's lieutenants who congregate in the neighbourhood, maximum coverage is advisable: an ankle-length cloak called an abaya, plus head scarf and socks. Nothing must show but eyes, nose, mouth and hands -- never wrists. A single strand of exposed hair will provoke shouts of protest in the streets.
The pressure never lets up in Najaf, and it is applied to all women, both western and Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim, journalist or any other profession. Because it is considered inappropriate for a woman to be out on her own and daring to ask questions, the man you're talking to -- bureaucrat, cleric, armed militiaman -- won't talk back to you. He'll look away when you talk to him, and will talk back to the floor, the wall or any man who happens to be with you. The woman is supposed to be chaperoned by a mahram, a close male relative.
- Afghanistan: Self immolation - the only escape for oppressed women
Anecdotal evidence suggests several hundred young women are burning themselves to death every year in western Afghanistan. A government mission sent to investigate the problem in Herat, the biggest city in the country's west, reported that at least 52 young, married, or soon-to-be married women had burned themselves to death in the city in recent months. The youngest was a 13-year-old bride-to-be.
Self-immolation has an unsavoury place in the history of several Asian countries, as a form of female suicide. But unlike the Hindu practice of suttee, whereby widows throw themselves or are thrown on to their husbands' funeral pyres, self-immolation in Afghanistan is not born out of cultural imperative, but despair. And unlike suttee in India, self-immolation in Afghanistan seems to be increasing.
Behind the increase is a disillusionment felt by many educated Afghan women because the two years since the fall of the Taliban have brought precious little freedom. This is felt most among former refugees who returned from Iran and who had grown accustomed to a freer life there. Significantly most of the female suicides recorded in Herat, about 60 miles from the border with Iran, were educated women, including several nurses and teachers.
Young Afghan women are under greater pressure today because they have learned what freedom is from radio and television, but are still denied it. Now, young girls know they should have rights, and they are prepared to burn themselves to show society that they do not have them yet. Despite an increase in the number of girls in school, most Afghan women enjoy no more rights than they did under the Taliban; most of the country is not under the control of the government but by warlords every bit as misogynistic as the Taliban.
- Iraq: Jail abuse of women
US soldiers are alleged to have abused, intimidated or sexually humiliated Iraqi women. According to reports, several women held in Abu Ghraib jail were sexually abused, including one who was raped by an American military policeman and became pregnant. She has now disappeared.
Most of the coverage of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib has focused on Iraqi men. But there is compelling evidence that several female prisoners, who are in a minority at the jail, were abused as well. Few women released from US detention have come forward to talk about their experiences in a society where rape is sometimes equated with shame and victims can be killed to salvage family honour.
According to the New Yorker magazine, photos and videos so far unreleased by the Pentagon show American soldiers "having sex with a female Iraqi prisoner", and a secret report by General Antonio Taguba into the scandal confirms that US guards videotaped and photographed naked female prisoners and that "a male MP [military police] guard" is shown "having sex with a female detainee".
Since the US military began its inquiry into prisoner abuse in January, many female detainees have been released from Abu Ghraib and the other US detention facilities across Iraq. But five women are still in solitary confinement in Abu Ghraib's notorious 1A cellblock where as many as 1,500 pictures were taken in November and December.
Human rights campaigners say the US military frequently arrests wives and daughters during raids if the male suspect is not at home. US officials have acknowledged detaining women in the hope of convincing male relatives to provide information: a strategy that is in violation of international law.
Senior US military officers who escorted journalists around Abu Ghraib admitted that rape had taken place in the cellblock. Journalists were forbidden from talking to the women, who are kept upstairs in windowless 2.5 metre by 1.5 metre cells. The women wailed and shouted.
- Pakistan: Honour killing of two girls in the Sindh province
The International Secretariat of OMCT – organisation to defend victims of torture has been informed by the Asian Human Rights Commission, a member of the OMCT network, that two girls have been killed in the name of honour after visiting their grandparents without permission in Sindh Province of Pakistan.
According to the information received, on May 4, 2004, Ms Tahmeena (17) and Ms Aabida (18), who are cousins, were shot to death after having been accused of having "loose morals" for having visited their grandparents without permission. The decision to kill the girls was taken in a tribal jirga, convened amongst the perpetrators and led by Mr. Abdul Rasheed, the tribal chief and a powerful landlord in the village.
Abdul Rasheed reportedly told the tribe men to go through the village and that he would arrive with the girls. The three men could not find any public transportation and thus did not arrive at the village until after midnight. Upon their arrival, the eight perpetrators also arrived by car with the victims. The perpetrators told the girls to get out of the car and allegedly told the relatives to kill the girls because they had "loose morals," having visited their grandparents without first getting family permission. Fazaluddin, Hidayatullah, and Dad Mohammad reportedly begged them not to kill the girls. Nevertheless, the perpetrators shot the girls and then took the bodies in order to cover up their crime. The perpetrators reportedly threatened the witnesses with death if they were to complain to the police.
Crimes against women and girls committed in the name of honour are gender-specific forms of violence that are either approved or supported by states in many parts of the world. OMCT is gravely concerned by the many reports it has received in the past months about women in Pakistan who are killed by their family members if they are suspected of "dishonourable" behaviour.
See OMCT's urgent appeals of this year.
According to the information received, male relatives who commit such murders in Pakistan are rarely prosecuted in traditional communities. It appears that behaviour of women which is seen as compromising family or tribal "honour" is considered a valid reason to commit murder.
The information also indicates that in Sindh province crimes committed in the name of honour are generally judged by landlords (in Jirga-tribal courts) rather than in proper courts of law. The victim's families in these cases do not generally seek redress through the government courts because of the cost and length of time involved in obtaining justice, whereas the traditional justice system (Jirga-tribal court) typically arrives at a settlement within a few days. This traditional system has been practiced for a long time and it is commonly accepted. In many cases of honour crimes, the victim's family often compromises with the accused, after receiving pressure from society.
- Jordan: Honour killing in hospital
A Jordanian man has reportedly shot his unmarried cousin dead as she recovered in hospital after delivering a baby. The 35-year-old who has not been named then surrendered to police, saying he acted to "cleanse his family's honour". Stunned medical staff was present as the suspect and his two brothers ran into the woman's room and opened fire.
The 25-year-old mother was hit by six gunshots, the Jordan Times reported, quoting official sources. The day-old baby lying next to her was unharmed. The two brothers reportedly turned themselves in to the police. The newborn baby - who had been delivered by Caesarean section - was sent to a government social institution.
Jordan Times quotes official figures which say that nine women have died in such killings this year. No explanation is given for the apparent rise in deaths. Campaigners say Jordanian courts often hand down very lenient sentences for male relatives who commit honour crimes.
Last year, the Jordan Times reported that a man received a four-month prison sentence for murdering his younger pregnant sister "in a fit of rage".
- Saudi Arabia: Seeking a basis for greater freedom
When the religious police in Saudi Arabia spy a woman on the streets whom they consider insufficiently covered, or whom they suspect of mingling with men who are not relatives, they are quick with a terse reprimand. "Ya mutabaraja!" an Arabic phrase that translates as a woman who "displays, shows or plays up her charms, adorns herself." It is, needless to say, the kind of encounter that Saudi women, especially those in its ever increasing class of highly educated professionals, would rather not face.
These are days of agitation in Saudi Arabia, and perhaps no group is more determined to push the boundaries of change than the well-educated and articulate women. The question for these women is how to alter the ingrained tradition that men must have the last word in how they dress, where they go, what they study - in short, virtually every aspect of their lives.
Women say: We are treated as daughters of a tribe, not as citizens. We want to be recognised as full-fledged citizens. Women tried to bring change very publicly once before in 1990. About 40 women took to Riyadh's freeways, protesting the unwritten law preventing women from driving. They figured that the pending threat of war would trump the traditionalists' alarm that women behind the wheel would lead to encounters with male strangers.
- Saudi Arabia: lifting ban on women working to boost economy
Saudi Arabia has lifted a ban that kept women from jobs in most fields, in what analysts see as a way of fighting extremism and boosting the economy in the wake of the deadly terror attacks in the country. The Saudi cabinet, chaired by King Fahd, last week took a decision allowing women to obtain commercial licences.
Previously women could only open a business in the name of male relative, and religious and social restrictions excluded them from all but a few professions such as teaching and nursing. 55 percent of university graduates in the country are female, but the overwhelming majority stay at home because of the ban and a general lack of job opportunities. According to official figures, only 5.5 percent out of some 4.7 million Saudi women of working age are employed.
The cabinet also ordered government ministries and bodies to create jobs for women, and asked the Chambers of Commerce and Industry to form a committee for women to help train and find jobs for them in the private sector.
It also decided that land will be allocated for the establishment of industrial projects to employ women, and said that in future all positions in shops selling women's clothes and accessories would be reserved for Saudi women. The unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia is estimated at more than 20 percent, though officials insist it is below 10 percent. Women outnumber men in Saudi universities because they seldom study abroad and unlike men they normally only look for jobs after graduating from university.
Riyadh began issuing separate civil identity cards for Saudi women in late 2001 but the documents can only be issued with the approval of a male guardian such as a husband or father. The government has in recent months been seeking to boost women's role in society but faces opposition from the powerful religious establishment.
- Kuwait: Women in struggle for right to vote
While it is becoming more common for Kuwaiti women to hold public office, they are still at a disadvantage because they do not have the right to vote. Many are gainfully employed in journalism, education and medicine, as well as in the world of business and the government sector. Kuwaiti women make up 70 per cent of university students, and 50 per cent of them choose to pursue their studies in engineering and medicine.
Yet with regard to civil rights, women are still considered "irresponsible". They are at a disadvantage in cases of divorce, marriage, and inheritance. They even require the permission of a male family member to obtain a passport. The social structure of the country is still based on tribal values. Society is based on a patriarchal model stemming from a tribal heritage, The individual woman does not exist in this society.
The call for women to be given their full rights in the country dates back to the formation of the state in 1962. The Women's Cultural and Social Society, which was created in 1963, continues to pressure the government to make good on the constitution's premise: "democracy, justice, liberty and equality are the pillars of society".
- Iran: Women face crackdown on 'Immoral' behaviour
Iran's newspapers report that the feared Islamic police have launched a crackdown on "social corruption" - such as women flouting Islamic dress codes - in what analysts said may reflect a changing political climate.
"A serious fight has started to tackle the spread of social corruption in society, especially the improper dress code," Tehran's Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi was quoted by Seda-ye Edalat newspaper as saying.
Emboldened young women have steadily tested the barriers of permissible attire, wearing gradually more colourful, tighter and more revealing coats and scarves and more obvious make-up. Many young couples in the capital even dare to hold hands in public, in defiance of Islamic rules which prohibit physical contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex.
Tehran residents have noted an upsurge in arrests for "immoral behaviour" in recent weeks. Islamic volunteers and morals police have stepped up raids on illegal house parties where young people meet to drink alcohol and dance to Western music -- both illegal since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
And along Tehran's Jordan Avenue -- a popular place for young Iranians to cruise in their cars at night -- plain-clothes security men have been stopping cars and arresting occupants for a variety of offences.
Reuters 1 June 2004.
- Jordan: Lower House rejects women’s right to divorce
Jordan’s lower house has quashed for a second time a temporary law granting women the right to divorce, although Parliament’s legal committee and the Senate have recommended its approval.
During a stormy session, 44 deputies out of 83 present voted down the legislation. Newspapers said opponents of the law originally passed by the government while Parliament was dissolved included Islamist MPs, conservatives and tribal leaders. The 110-seat Parliament elected last June had already rejected the measure in one of its first sessions last August.
MPs argued that giving women the right to divorce violates Shariah law and breaks up families, and lashed out at a key plank which raised the age of marriage to 18 from 15 and 16 for girls and boys respectively.
Deputy Ali Utum said women who file for divorce “are often women of comfort and leisure who don’t care about their families”, the Jordan Times reported. The law on divorce was among more than 200 temporary laws approved by the government in 2001 when Parliament was dissolved by royal decree. Under the constitution it will be referred back to the Senate which must again endorse it or reject it. Should the Senate turn it down, a joint session of Parliament must be convened.
AgenceFrance Presse, 26 June 2004
- Afghanistan: Women poll workers killed
A bomb killed two women working for the U.N.-Afghan electoral body and wounded nine female poll workers and two children, in one of the worst attacks on preparations for Afghanistan's elections.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, a further setback for President Hamid Karzai whom US president George W. Bush has described as a role model for Iraq. The blast destroyed a bus in the eastern city of Jalalabad which was taking the Afghan women to register voters for the polls scheduled for September, which the Taliban and allied Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt.
"We did this because we warned people not to get involved in the election process," Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said after contacting Reuters by telephone. "This only strengthens the foundations of the American-backed government." He said two women were killed while three were in critical condition, along with a child who was accompanying his mother. He said nine women suffered lighter injuries. Earlier, he said a child was also killed in the blast.
The U.N. spokesman said the number of women registering in the eastern region had been rising fast despite traditional restrictions on women's rights. The attack was just the latest on the voter registration process and an upsurge in militant violence in the run-up to the polls has raised doubts as to whether they can be held on time.
· Letters to & Requests from CDWRME
USA: Manveen Lidder
I was wondering if you could help me, I am a final year student at university, and have chosen family law as an optional module. As an assignment question, I have decided to analyse a quote... "A marriage is the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others" ... this is seen as the law of England and Wales. My question to you is whether you could possibly help to shed some light on forced/arranged marriages in the UK. Ultimately to give the conclusion that this quote is not appropriate and satisfactory to an extent when analysing forced /arranged marriages. I would very much appreciate some pointers in this area.
Thank you for your time
Hi. My name is Jason Weddell, I live in California, USA, and I am doing a research paper on the oppression of women in the world socially, economically, politically and religiously. I was just wondering if you could relay me to the source of the web page: http://www.geocities.com/middleeastwomen/html/oppression.htm so that I may cite the work in my paper.
Thank you for your time,
Great site. Keep up the good work! http://veraciraptor.blogspot.com
UK: Jasmine B
I read your article and found it quite interesting, may I ask you what you do for a living, are you yourself Muslim or did u just research this stuff?
UK: Elizabeth Iskander
I have previously contacted you with regard to the project I am doing at a charity called Reunite on child custody law and child abduction. Part of my research is to put together a database of NGOs who work in Women's or children's rights. The main work of this charity is in providing an advice line offering information and advice to those who find themselves involved in a case of child abduction. We would like to set up a database of organisations in all countries to aid the exchange of information or who may be able to help some of those who contact us. I am writing to ask if your organisation would like to be added to our database or if you know of an NGO or support group that we could add to our database. Also in the final publication of our current research we aim to include a list of relevant organisations that people might contact for information. If you would like your organisation to be included in either or both of these lists please let me know and send a brief outline of the aims and activities of your organisation.
Many thanks for your help and support.
PO Box 7224
Hi Ms. Azam Kamguian,
My name is Josephine and I am an international student studying in a university in Australia. I am a Media Studies student and currently working on a script addressing the issue of forced marriage. While doing my research about the subject, I've come across an article by you regarding the topic titled " Girls' nightmare in Muslim Families: Forced Marriages in Europe" on the homepage of Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society. After finished reading the article, I have some questions which I would like to ask. And I hope you could help me about it.
From the information I have at the moment, I found that all of them is dated before the year 2004. Besides, I hardly found something for the year 2003. There's nothing recent. So, I wonder has the number of the practice (known or unknown by the public) reduced or the issue is just not as 'hot' as it used to be until it has been ignored. To me, both sound quite impossible. But, I just can't figure it out what is happening now.
By the way, I would like to know when was the article of yours that I mentioned above written. You talked about the lack of legal helps given to the victims in Europe. Does that happen in the whole Europe, or only in certain countries? Other than that, has action been taken to solve the problem now in those countries? The reason why I asked the question is because I got confused as I did read something about the efforts of British government trying to tackle the issue.
Well, I guess that is all for now. It'd be great if you could give some information on the topic. I hope to hear from you and thank you very much.
USA: Amy Logan
I read your article on-line. I'm researching a novel on honour killing. I wonder if you have any idea when and why families in areas that commit honour killings started punishing/killing their women for adultery/rape instead of their lovers/rapists? I am thinking it might have started when they realized they could avoid a blood feud if they didn't go after the man, but I haven't found any hard evidence of this yet. Any ideas?
Hi, Mohammad Ehteshamul is writing from Bangladesh. I strongly support the points you raised and like to accompany your movement. How can I be assisted from you. Or can I write in your newsletters. For your information, I am working as a staff reporter with the highest circulated daily of Bangladesh.
I am doing a paper on discipline of children in the Middle East and wonder if you could give me some information or sites I could visit.The Charter of Committee to Defend Women's Right in the Middle East
"Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East" - CDWRME is formed and struggles for women's human rights, individual freedom and civil rights.
We believe that secularism and the separation of religion from the state are the basic pre-conditions for women’s liberation in the Middle East.
We believe in the universality of women’s rights and consider cultural relativism as a cover to create a comprehensive social, legal, intellectual, emotional, geographical and civil apartheid based on distinctions of race, ethnicity, religion and gender. This complete system of apartheid attacks women’s basic rights and freedom and justifies savagery and barbarism inflicted on women by Islamic movements and Islamic governments in the region.
The major laws and measures that we demand and struggle for are as follows:
1- Abolition of the current Personal Status Code, replacing it by a secular and egalitarian family law. Laying down equal rights and obligations for women and men regarding the care and upbringing of children, control and running of family's finance, inheritance, choice of residence, housework, divorce and in case of separation custody of children.
2- Abolition of honour killing laws. Recognition of honour killing as a grave crime.
3- Putting an end to forced marriages
4-Prohibition of imposing the Islamic dress code and veil. Freedom of clothing
5-Prohibition of interference of authorities and family members in the private lives of women
6-Prohibition of any form of segregation of women and men in public places.
7-Abolition of any restriction on the right of women to work, travel and choose the place of residence at will.
8-Equal political rights for women, rights to vote and to be elected women's rights to hold any position and office - political, administrative and judicial. Women's rights to form women organizations and affiliation to political parties without any restriction. Supporting and encouraging non-governmental women’s rights groups.
9- secure equality of rights of women and men in employment, wages, insurance, education and family affairs.
10-Imposition of severe penalties on abuse, intimidation and violent treatment of women and girls in the family.
11-Prohibition of polygamy
CDWRME- is formed to promote women's rights and equality in the Middle East. We try to create a network of women's rights activists in the Middle Eastern countries, we campaign around women's civil rights and individual freedom, and support the just struggle of women in the Middle East.
Women's rights activists from Iran, Jordan and Lebanon have founded CDWRME in July 2001, and Azam kamguian is the coordinator and the spokesperson of the committee.