CDWRME Bulletin #3

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 3, July 2002

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

Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin

In this issue:

Lebanon: Violence against Women and the Legal System in the Arab World

The director of the Arab Institute for Human Rights called on local and Arab lawyers to take a more active role in protecting women against all forms of violence.  Abdel-Basset bin Hassan, who heads the Tunisia-based Institute, said lawyers can help eliminate the practice by making international and national laws known to the public, criticising legal loopholes and proposing legal amendments.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said bin Hassan, who is a lawyer and whose institute co-organised a day-long seminar in Achrafieh with the Beirut Bar Association’s Institute for Human Rights and the Lebanese NGO Forum. The case of a Tunisian girl living with her family in France, who was physically, emotionally, socially and institutionally abused by close and extended relatives, was one that prevailed during the discussions. She was tormented because her family rejected her wish to marry a Frenchman. Shunned by her family and ignored by authorities, the girl finally escaped virtual home imprisonment with NGO help. 

“No Arab state has signed the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women,” said Shuqair, law professor and head of the Women's Committee at the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR), calling the fact “unfortunate” since the plight of this Tunisian woman exemplifies “the daily suffering of a growing number of women in all Arab countries.” Shuqair said that, without having ratified the declaration and a number of other bills against discrimination in marital affairs, Arab governments fall far short of their duties to legally, let alone practically, protect victims of abuse. Shuqair claimed that violence against women in the Arab world occurs frequently within the family where the practice, which targets female members of various ages, is often legitimised by cultural and religious traditions. The hidden nature of violence against women in the region as well as security forces’ reluctance to assist women in known cases of abuse, make it all the more difficult to identify cases and eventually eliminate the practice.                

 Although Lebanon ratified in 1996 the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was actually issued in 1979, the country held reservations about six clauses. These clauses grant equal rights to women and men in transferring the nationality and the family name to their children, in marriage and divorce and in responsibility toward and guardianship of their children. Moreover, should disagreement arise regarding the interpretation of the declaration, the state has opted not to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice, as Article 29 stipulates. Meanwhile, although Article 562 of the Penal Code was amended in 1999, the law still gives a “reduced” penalty to a man who kills his female relative based on proof of adultery or extra-marital intercourse.” However, the amendment, made possible through lobbying by human rights groups, is considered an accomplishment since the law previously exempted most so-called “honour killings” from any form of punishment. The term refers to the killing of a woman by a male relative, presumably on the grounds that she committed adultery or engaged in extra-marital affairs. 

Bin Hassan said the AIHR conducted a study last year of 750 schoolbooks across the Arab world and found that the contents encouraged the abuse of women, including beating them when they “disobey” male relatives. While local statistics on abused women remain incomplete, the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women reported 300 battered women since 1998 and 36 victims between 1995 and 1998, of  "honour killings.”

Zafaran Bibi Acquitted in Pakistan, Stoning Sentence of Amina Lawal in Nigeria Delayed, still four Women on the Death Row of Islamic Law in Iran 

* Iran: Ms. Shahnaz another Iranian woman recently has been sentenced to death by stoning. Also, on April 24, Ms. Ferdows B was sentenced to death by stoning by an Islamic court in Tehran. Ms. Sima has been waiting to be stoned since Jan. 2002

* Pakistan: On 17 April, Zafaran Bibi was sentence to death by stoning under section 8 of Zina Ordinance and in accordance with Islamic Shari'a in Kohat in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan for willful extra - marital sex. Zafaran's Lawyer filed an appeal on 24 April. On the beginning of June, under an intense national and international pressure, the highest Islamic court in Pakistan overturned the death sentence by stoning and Ms. Zafaran Bibi was released. Since 1981, human and women's rights activists and organisations have been struggling to repeal this law.

* Nigeria: On March 22, Islamic leaders in Nigeria, put another woman; Amina Lawal Kurami on the death row of Islamic Shari'a. In May, the Islamic court has delayed carrying out the sentence until 8 July 2004 to allow her weaning her baby.

Now, four women are on the death row of Islamic Law: Shahnaz, Ferdows, Amina, and Sima are all sentenced to death by stoning.

We call upon all women/human rights organisations to protest against this Islamic cruel and inhuman treatment of women. 

Please send your protest letters to:

·        Mohammad Khatami - Iran
Fax:  +98 216 464 443

·        Nigerian Embassy, 173 Avenue 
Victor Hugo 75016 Paris
Fax: 00 33 1 47 04 47 54 or

Arab Media & Women's Rights in the Middle East

A report that has been published by the Centre for Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (CMF MENA): "Women's Rights and the Arab Media" paints a grim picture of an Arab media hostile to women's rights. The 143-page report examines the negative stereotyping of women in the media. "Women's emancipation in the Arab World is one of the most difficult tasks facing the Arab human rights movement. This task is further exacerbated by the Arab media engaging in the censorship and distortion of women's discourse and image.," says Said Essoulami, executive director of CMF MENA.

The report sets out the international, regional and national institutions within which women's activism vis-à-vis the Arab media takes place and discusses specific actions taken and lessons learned. Other chapters show how the media have covered recent episodes in the struggle for women's rights, including campaigns to end violence against women, to change divorce laws and to allow women's freedom of movement. The report also includes commentaries by gender specialists about the ways in which the media help and hinder women activists in the region. The report calls on media establishments to revise their editorial policies with a view to ending the ghethoisation of women's issues and to opening up to women's voices. 

Turkey: Increase in Honour Killings

Sait Farac stabbed and slaughtered his 13 years old daughter. In his way of thinking, Birgul brought nothing but shame and dishonour to her family: she talked to boys on the street, she ran away from home, she was the subject of neighbourhood gossip. Last time, when she tried to run away again, her father grabbed a kitchen knife and an axe and stabbed and slaughter the girl until she lay dead in the blood - smeared bathroom of their apartment in Istanbul. He then ordered one of her daughters - in - law to clean up the mess. When his two sons came home from work later, he ordered them to dispose of the corpse. The girl's head been so mutilated, that it was held together by a knotted cloth, according to police.

Sait Farac said: "I fulfilled my duty."  "We killed her for going out with boys." Honour killing is occurring with increasing frequency in cities throughout Turkey. Frequently, honour killings are conducted in an even more calculated manner, according to women's rights lawyers. In the patriarchal society, where a woman's honour is a family's only measurable commodity, family members gather to vote on the death of women. They also decide who will carry out the killing, usually someone under the age of 18 who will be treated more leniently under the law. In Turkey, the killing of a family member draws the sternest penalty allowable: death or life in prison. But if a judge rules that there was provocation for the killing - such as a question of honour - the penalty can be reduced. If the defendant is a minor and behaves during the trial and detention in jail, the penalty is frequently cut to two years or less. "No witness speak, so the court has to believe what the perpetrator says, and he gets the minimum charge, although it's homicide and it's in cold blood." Says a women rights lawyer.

 Syria: Women's Status, Obstacles & Advancements

Syrian women stride the streets of their capital in sleeveless T-shirts, even the occasional miniskirt, while many Arab women elsewhere wrap themselves in veils and cloaks.

Hafez Assad the former president of Syria peppered his speeches with calls for women's emancipation. His Baath Party was one of the first Arab parties to declare in its 1946 constitution that "the Arab woman enjoys all the rights of citizenship." Syrian women attend Damascus University in large numbers - an estimated 90 percent of its medical school students are women, though the percentage of women teachers lags. Working women are concentrated in teaching or medicine. Still, they complain of inequalities, limited opportunities and of struggling to be treated as equals in the workplace - then returning home to husbands who expect them to end their day at the office with an evening of housekeeping. "All Syrian men want women at home. All men - even educated men, even if their wives are educated." The traditional assumption that girls should be raised only to be wives and mothers remains. Even the most optimistic and enterprising of Syrian women, though, say real change may be slow in coming. "Men are more accepted in this society."

Pakistan: Honour killing in Rise

 Among the most lethal forces, which impact women's dignity and security, are customary practices, which aim at preserving female subjugation. Often defended and sanctified as cultural and religious traditions, they are usually fiercely defended by those who practice them, shrugged off by a society and condoned by law-enforcing agencies and the courts. As a result, most of these inhuman practices continue unabated." Report of the Commission of Inquiry for Women, August 1997, set up on the basis of a resolution of the Pakistan Senate. "The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions."  Hina Jilani, lawyer and human rights activist says: "Women in our society are killed like hens; they have no way to escape and no say in what happens to them." 

Every year in Pakistan hundreds of women, of all ages and in all parts of the country, are reported killed in the name of honour. Many more cases go unreported. Almost all go unpunished. The lives of millions of women in Pakistan are circumscribed by traditions and Islam, which enforce extreme seclusion and submission to men, many of who impose their virtually proprietorial control over women with violence. For the most part, women bear traditional male control over every aspect of their lives, speech and behaviour with stoicism, as part of their qismat [fate]. But exposure to media, the work of women's rights groups and a greater degree of mobility have seen the beginnings of women's rights awareness seep into the secluded world of women. But if women begin to assert these rights, however tentatively, they often face more repression and punishment: the curve of honour killings has risen parallel to the rise in awareness of rights. State indifference, discriminatory laws and the gender bias of much of the country's police force and judiciary and the whole ruling system have ensured virtual impunity for perpetrators of honour killings.

Israel: "Women Refuse" Formed of Jewish & Palestinian women 

  • We, Jewish and Palestinian women, citizens of Israel oppose the occupation of the Palestinian people and refuse to take part in any of its destructive aspects.

  • We refuse to live as enemies

  • We refuse to fulfil the roles that women are expected to fulfil during wartime

  • We refuse to pay the economic and social price of the occupation

  • We refuse to be ignorant and to succumb to terrorising and silencing

  • We refuse to raise children to war, poverty and oppression

  • We refuse to remain silent

  • A collective refusal of women can change reality. A feminine refusal means an alternative voice and a language opposed to the language of power.

Join us at our refusal tent at the Charles Chlor Park in Tel Aviv, and let us shape together the forms of our refusal.   

Join your voice to that of Women Refuse. 

Malaysia: Introduction of Islamic law

Recently, the state of Terengganu in Malaysia, under the rule of a political Islamic party, PAS (Islamic Party of Malaysia) has drafted a Hudud law, which if passed, will be applicable to all Muslims in the state. The provisions within it brutally violate women's rights. The provision for rape states that if the victim is unable to prove that she was raped, she will be charged for qazaf (slanderous accusation) and flogged 80 lashes. An unmarried woman who is pregnant is assumed to have committed zina (adultery), even if she has been raped. The punishment for zina is 100 lashes if she is unmarried, and if she is married, she will be stoned to death. A woman cannot be a witness. For the crime of rape, the woman is expected to produce four male witnesses who are deemed to be "just" Muslims. It is even more unjust that the bill places the burden of proof of rape squarely on the woman's shoulders and provides for such barbaric punishments should she fail to do so.

The women's groups in Malaysia are firmly against the enactment of this law, and have come up with memorandums and press statements against its enactment. The law was supposed to be tabled on the 26th of May, but is now planned to be tabled in July due to some amendments to be made. The frightening thing about the whole matter is the ignorance of the general Malaysian public regarding this law, and its implications. The racial and ethnic diversity in the country has led to the general feeling of isolation to this issue, in terms of geography, race and religion. The non-Muslims feel that this law will not affect them, whereas the Muslims may be led to accept this law because one of the main justifications for the law is that it is "Islamic". The women NGOs, have organised for a series of newspaper articles featuring this issue, but are afraid that this is not enough. 

Jaclyn Kee
Communications Officer
Women's Aid Organisation
P.O. Box 493, Jalan Sultan,
46760 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: +60-3 - 7956 3488
Fax: +60-3 - 7956 3237 

Events: Workshop on Islam, Secularism & Human Rights - World Congress of the International Humanist & Ethical Union 

This is one of the workshops that will be held in the World Congress of the International Humanist & Ethical Union - IHEU on 3-6 July in Holland. 

Speakers: Azam Kamguian, Samia Labidi, Mr. Fatemolla, Taslima Nasrin and Mina Farah

The speakers will address the important question: Is Islam compatible with Human?                     

Date: 14 - 15:30, Friday 5 July 2002
Venue: Golden Tulip Conference Hotel
Leeuwenhorst, Noordwijkerhout
The Netherlands

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 founded 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 organization 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

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 co-ordinator and the spokesperson of the committee. 

Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East
September 2001 
Tel: 0044(0) 788 4040 835
Fax: + 44(0) 870 831 0204