CDWRME Bulletin #14

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 14, June, 2003

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

Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin

In this issue:

Iraq - Islamic clerics: Veil the women!

Iraqi Islamic clerics called for women to be veiled and alcohol to be banned, and Islamic rules to be imposed on the Christian minority. Muqtada Sadr, the son of Mohammed Sadeq Sadr, told thousands that the "banning of alcohol and the wearing of the veil should be spread to all and not only to Muslims."

In Baghdad's sprawling shantytown formerly known as Saddam City and now renamed after Sadr, Sheik Jaber Khafaji said that bars should be closed, women should be veiled and men should grow their beards. "From now on, I tell you don't allow the women to go out without veils, not one bit of their hair should appear," said Khafaji, who is close to the Sadr family. Don't let the bars open; tell them to close," said Khafaji. "Those rules should be implemented on everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims, and the Muslims should implement them with more fervour," he said.

Over the past twenty years, in Iran, the Sudan, Algeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan under the Taliban, political Islamic groups and Islamic regimes have proceeded to transform their countries, and particularly women's homes into prison houses, where the confinement of women, their exclusion from many fields of work and education, and their brutal treatment became the law of the land.

Iraq: Women - the victims of war & Islamisation

Across the country, particularly in strongholds of the majority Shiite Islamic sect like Najaf and Karbala, calls are rising for Iraq to become an Islamic state. That would mean that the sharia would be implemented, as it has been in many nations, significantly curtailing women's basic human rights.

The modern Iraqi woman has long made the country stand apart from its Arab neighbors in the area of practicing some of their minimal human rights. For decades, Iraqi women - at least those living in Baghdad and other big cities -- have had a degree of personal freedom. They can drive and attend coeducational college classes. They can work outside the home in offices where men work as well. Women make up a large proportion of Iraq's professionals -- doctors, lawyers, engineers, college professors, bank directors, and faculty deans. Many are free to choose whom, or even whether, to marry.

But they became transformed by the country's shift in recent years toward Islamisation and backward traditions - a trend partly orchestrated by Saddam Hussein's government. Society has been changed from the Gulf War (in 1991) to now. War and U.N. sanctions, rapidly destroyed the situation. Previously available public services such as free transportation to work; school and child-care facilities have disappeared, forcing women to return to the home. Now the message is that the real and only role of women is to be mother and housewife, and they shouldn't be outside. The change dramatically accelerated by Saddam Hussein's turn toward Islam since 1994, a move that many observers viewed as a calculated attempt to shore up his domestic power base. Polygamy was legalized. High schools were ordered to be segregated by sex. Women were barred from traveling abroad unless they were accompanied by a male relative or are aged over 45. In addition, a 1990 law removed most penalties for so-called honour killings, in which women who were suspected of sexual misconduct are killed by their husbands, brothers or fathers to save the "honour" of the family. This traditional practice has since become more common. But for all the regressive steps, a recent study of Arab nations by the U.N. Development Program found that:

- Iraqi law still mandates equal rights for women in many areas, such as employment and education.

- Women get six months' paid maternity leave and can opt for six more months in unpaid leave.

- Iraq's divorce law, while still favoring the husband's interests, is the most balanced in the Arab World and requires the husband to repay his wife's dowry.

As the US government invaded Iraq, many women were wondering what would happen to their status after a "regime change". Without doubt, Iraqi women have lost their most basic rights But there is a growing sense that the power vacuum left by Saddam's fall will probably be filled, in large measure, by Islamic political figures who seek to impose the backward Islamic social mores that are typical in Iraq's south.

Arab States: Five million girls still denied access to school

Some eight million primary school-age children remain out of school in the Arab States and five million of them are girls, according to a new report published by UNESCO. However, it finds that when given the opportunity to go to school, girls tend to repeat years less frequently than boys do and more complete their primary and secondary schooling. Prepared by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the Arab States Regional Report surveyed education in 19 countries - Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, as well as the Palestinian Autonomous Territories – with a total population of 270 million people, 39 percent of whom are under the age of 14.

It covers the 1999/2000 school year and consequently does not take into account the damage to education systems resulting from the conflicts in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories and Iraq, both of which, the report found, had reported relatively high levels of participation in schooling.

The report recognizes that "considerable investments" were made in education throughout the region over the past four decades and, as a result, many countries were close to the objective of getting all children into school. However, it also finds that gender parity (equal enrolment rates among boys and girls) had only been achieved in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates. Compared to other regions, the Arab States had better gender parity in terms of access to primary school than countries in Francophone Africa.

According to the report, 35 million children, 54 percent of them boys attended primary school in the 1999/2000 academic year. This leaves nearly one child in five of primary age (one girl in four) still out-of-school. Djibouti was at the bottom of the ladder for enrolment, with only 30 percent of its primary-age children in school. It also had the biggest gap between enrolment rates of boys and girls in primary school, with only slightly more than 35 percent of primary age boys in school and just over 26 percent of girls. On the other hand, the report shows that in all countries except Sudan, girls are less likelyto repeat grades than boys in primary school. Regionally only six percent of girls repeated a year, as against nine percent of boys, although these figures mask big differences between countries. Jordan, for example, had the lowest overall rate of repetition (one percent), and Tunisia the highest (16 percent).

More than 90 percent of primary pupils throughout the region completed the primary cycle, however, girls had a slight edge in most countries except in the United Arab Emirates, where 93 percent of boys completed primary school compared to 92 percent of girls. At the secondary level, states the report, some 22.5 million students of all ages, or 60 percent of the population of secondary school age (approx. 12-18 years), were enrolled in the survey year. Of this total just under 10.6 million, or 47 percent, were girls. Once again,these figures masked substantial differences between countries, and the report notes that participation rates in secondary education were considerably lower than primary schooling.

According to the report, primary pupils were most likely to make the transition to secondary school in Bahrain (98 percent), Jordan (97 percent), the Palestinian Autonomous Territories (96 percent), United Arab Emirates (96 percent), and Oman (95 percent). In Algeria and Tunisia, the report found that only two out of every three pupils made the move from primary to secondary school. The report found that proportionally more girls than boys of secondary school- age were enrolled at this level. For example, 87 percent of secondary school-age girls were enrolled in Bahrain, as against 77 percent of secondary school-age boys. In Jordan, 78 percent of girls in this age group were enrolled, compared to 73 percent of boys in the same category.

As with primary education, girls also outshone the boys in all 13 countries that provided the relevant data, although the report signals that repetition rates at secondary level were generally high for both sexes. In Algeria, 31 percent of boys repeated compared to 24 percent of girls. In Tunisia, 20 percent of boys repeated against 17 percent of girls. And in Saudi Arabia, 12 percent of boys repeated and only six percent of girls. Each of the countries involved has at least one institution of tertiary education. The report noted though, that "a great many students […] go abroad to complete their training," either to Europe and North America or to other Arab States. During the survey year, some five million students were enrolled in tertiary courses, of whom just over two million, or nearly 40 percent, were women. Women’s participation intertiary education was markedly less than that of men in Iraq, Djibouti, Morocco and the Palestinian Autonomous Territories. Social Science, business and law are the most favoured subjects, and accounted for onethird of students in the Palestinian Autonomous Territories. In Saudi Arabia, 50 percent of tertiary students chose education as their field of study, compared to only two percent in Morocco and Lebanon. Least favoured subjects were agriculture and services.

According to the report, a large proportion of the teaching staff throughout the region is women. They account for three-quarters of teachers at pre-primary level and 52 percent of primary teachers. Their numbers fall considerably at the tertiary level: data were not available for the survey years, but in 1998/99, they made up only 25 percent of the tertiary teaching force.

The majority of these teachers, according to the report, were qualified. The only country where this was not the case was Lebanon, where, for example, only one primary teacher in five met nationally-defined pre-service qualification standards.

Pupil teacher ratios vary greatly throughout the region, ranging from a low of 12 primary pupils per teacher in Saudi Arabia to 45 in Mauritania. The median for the 15 countries that supplied data is 23 pupils per teacher. Private enrolments are very low in the majority of countries, except in Lebanon (66 percent in primary and 53 percent in secondary) and the United Arab Emirates (45 percent and 32 percent, respectively).

Public spending on education varies greatly from country to country. With 9.5 percent of its GDP devoted to education, Saudi Arabia is the region’s biggest investor in education, followed by Tunisia (7.5 percent). On the other hand, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Mauritania allocate only two to three percent of GDP to education. Percentages for the other countries range from 3.4 percent in the Syrian Arab Republic, to almost five percent in Morocco.

These figures represent a big increase in education spending throughout the region over the past four decades. This investment "has paid off", states the report: between 1960 and 1985 the time children spent in school increased by an average two and a half years. The report also notes the number of women participating in the labour market greatly increased over the past 20 years, "although in general they have lesser-paid jobs than do men."

Nonetheless, it found that one man in three and one woman in two was still illiterate in the Arab States. Iraq had the highest overall illiteracy rate (61 percent) and Jordan the lowest (12 percent). The countries where female illiteracy rates were highest were Iraq (77 percent), Yemen (76 percent), Mauritania (71 percent) and Morocco (65 percent).

Afghanistan: Women still terrorised by Islamists

Warlord Islamists terrorise women and are gaining more power 18 months after U.S. forces toppled the ruling Taliban regime. Even the opening of schools and colleges for women is under threat. Islamists warlords and local military commanders have taken control of much of the country. Instead of providing security, the warlords were terrorising the local population, particularly women in many parts of the country, with kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, armed robbery, extortion and beatings widespread. Political opponents, journalists and ordinary Afghans are attacked and intimidated into silence. Islamic fanaticism is on the rise, with new restrictions on freedom of expression and movement of women and girls. Gains in education are now at risk as many parents, afraid of attacks by troops and other gunmen, keep their daughters out of school. Under the Islamic Taliban, women and girls were largely restricted to their homes and were only allowed out if fully veiled and in the company of a male relative.

Nigeria: Amina Lawal another victim of Islamic Sharia?

When her time to die comes, convicted for having sex outside of marriage, Amina Lawal will be buried up to her neck in sand. When only her head remains exposed, those watching will be invited to throw stones until the 30-year-old single mother is dead.

"As they throw, they will be calling 'God is great," court official Ibrahim Abdullahi says, outlining procedure for the first in a sudden string of executions by stoning in Nigeria's Islamic northern states. A Sharia court upheld Lawal's death by stoning sentence for having sex outside of marriage. She gave birth more than nine months after divorcing. The case against the father was dismissed for lack of evidence. The court postponed her execution to 2004 so she can wean her daughter. But with each day Wasila grows older, Lawal's life grows shorter. Amina Lawal's appeal will be held on June 3rd. If Lawal is stoned, Islamic authorities will make sure it is a spectacle. They will find a place that is open. So people can come and see it done. Lawal's case provoked an international outcry. Government and human and women's rights groups around the world have urged Obasanjo's government to intercede.

"The Muslim has the Quran as his first constitution," said Usman Zakari Dutse, the government spokesman for Jigawa State. "We don't care what international organizations say.

ICAS: Amina Lawal’s stoning sentence must be annulled

Amina Lawal’s name is now familiar to many people in the world. She is a young woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning under the Islamic law in Northern Nigeria for having an extra marital relationship. Thousands of protest letters have been sent to the Nigerian government and meetings and rallies were organised by human rights and women’s rights organisations in protest against her death sentence. In March 2003 the appeal court, which was supposed to hear her appeal against her sentence, was cancelled because the judge didn’t attend the court. Hence the hearing was postponed until June 3rd. 2003.

Observers in Nigeria believe that the absence of the judge at the hearing was a move to prevent the adverse effect of such a sentence internationally and nationally in the upcoming elections in Nigeria.

We must stop Amina Lawal’s stoning. This is the verdict of millions of freedom loving people all around the world who are opposing the brutal and misogynist Islamic terrorist groups. [These aren’t terrorist groups, they are the government!]

The Islamic groups in northern Nigeria who are supporting the stoning law are trying to strength their power by implementing stoning and other retributive laws. The Nigerian government is practically helping them and as a result putting the lives of millions of people in danger in the north of this country. Islamic terrorism and violence against women must be confronted with a mass protest all around the world. Sexual relationship between adults is a private matter of the individuals and no government or group should be allowed to interfere.

The international Committee against Stoning is continuing its campaign to save Amina Lawal and call upon all freedom loving people to join this campaign by sending protest letters to the presided of Nigeria and demand the annulment of Amina Lawal’s sentence and abolishment of stoning law.

The International Committee against Stoning

May 3, 2003

A sample letter is provided below. Please send a copy of your protest letter to us at:


The Presidency
Federal Secretariat, Shehu Shagari Way,
Abuja, Nigeria
Tel: +234-9-2341010
Fax: +234-9-2341733

European Union:

To the President of Nigeria

I/We have been informed that on June 3, 2003 a hearing will be held to decide Amina Lawal’s stoning sentence. She has been sentenced to death by stoning because she became pregnant after her separation from her husband.

I/We express our strong protest against this medieval treatment of women and demand the annulment of Amina Lawal’s sentence. Stoning a woman to death for exercising her right to a private life is a shame for humanity and has to be stopped immediately.



Cc: European Union

Pakistan: Report on trafficking of women & children

Trafficking in children and women is a thriving trade in the South Asian region. During the year 2002, 104 cases of trafficking were published in different national and provincial newspapers. Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA) believe that as the nature of the crime is hidden so the majority of the cases had gone unreported. LHRLA highlighted the issues of Bangladeshi and Burmese nationals trafficked into Pakistan and the use of children kidnapped or sold and subsequently trafficked to the Middle East for use as camel jockeys through its persistent work to eliminate the menace from the society. The organization is running a project on Trafficking in Women and Children with support of Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). LHRLA research revealed that female children were the special target of trafficking as 43 cases were reported against them while 33 cases against male children and 28 cases of trafficking against women, were also reported in the print media during the last year. There are different purposes of trafficking which included, prostitution, camel races, organ transplant, domestic work, forced labor, drug smuggling, begging, pedophilia, child forced marriages and other exploitative forms of work. The organization believes that trafficking promotes the violence against women and children, sexual exploitation, gender inequality, racism and sexism. During the last year local and national newspapers reported 29 cases of child trafficking to the UAE countries for the purpose of camel racing. The International Labor Organization (ILO) in its recent report revealed that thousands of very young children from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are victims of cross-border trafficking to the Middle East countries to be employed as jockeys in camel races. The clandestine nature of human trafficking makes it impossible to get reliable statistics on the trafficking of women and children. Some estimates show that every year 1 to 2 million people are trafficked worldwide, of which 225,000 are from South Asia. Other estimates show that over the last 30 years, trafficking for sexual exploitation alone has victimized some 30 million Asian women and children. Although, human trafficking in South Asia is a centuries-old phenomenon - current issues such as poverty, war and conflict, and improved communication and transport links have magnified the speed, magnitude and geographical coverage of human trafficking Natural disasters, poverty, conflicts, social, political and legal issues are causal factors for human trafficking.

Lebanon: Memorial Day for victims of aggression in Iraq and Palestine

A group of women from different organizations in Beirut put together a Memorial Day for victims of aggression in Iraq and Palestine. The event was a collective memorial to mourn the human and cultural losses from the US war on and occupation of Iraq, and of Israeli aggression in and occupation of Palestine. The organizers included Lebanese, Iraqis, and Palestinians. The program included a poetry reading by Iraqi singer Sahar Taha (reading poems by el-Jawahiri and Badr Shakr el-Sayab), Umayma Khalil singing "Mohammed el-Durra" (a poem by Mahmoud Darwish), a number of short videos about the human and cultural costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Palestine, and testimonials from Iraqi women, read by actress Dareen el-Jundi and a Lebanese woman who traveled to Iraq prior to the war. Organizers handed out information on the victims in Iraq and Palestine. As light fell, there were candles to mark the presence. The event was open to all, and the organizers encourage broad public participation. The event was organized by:

Lebanese Women's Council, Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel, Nadi al-Saha, Solidarity Against the War, Americans Against the War, Members of the Iraqi Community in Lebanon, Lebanese Families in Solidarity with Palestinian Families, Arab Campaign for Truth (ACT), The Arab Follow-Up Committee, Arab NGOs Development Network, Collectif des ONGs au Liban, Coordination Forum of NGOs Working in the Palestinian Community, Palestinian Committee for the Disabled in Lebanon, National Union of Associations and Organizations for the Mentally Disabled in Lebanon,

France: Veil, dress freedom & Hijab for under - age girls

According to a survey, more than a third of the French people think Muslim women should be banned from wearing headscarves in public. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy this month sparked renewed debate over Islam in France by telling a large Muslim gathering women must remove headscarves for identity card photographs, triggering loud boos from the audience.

The survey by pollster BVA for the regional daily La Depeche Du Midi found 74 percent of the French backed secular values, but just 49 percent thought Islamic veils should be forbidden in schools. Forty-five percent opposed such a ban. A significant minority - 34 percent -- was totally opposed to headscarves and thought Muslim women should be barred from wearing them in public. The survey found 53 percent-supported Sarkozy's stand on the wearing of headscarves for ID card photographs, with 39 percent against.

Sarkozy made the remark at the annual Congress of the hard-line Union of Islamic organisations in France (UOIF). French commentators were alarmed this month when the UOIF, styled on the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, won a third of the votes for a National council representing France's five million Muslims.

Holland: The veil and girl pupils

All Amsterdam high schools, baring one, have agreed to ban wearing face-covering veils because they limit communication in the classroom, the regional Het Parool newspaper reported.

The decision of the Amsterdam school boards will affect 33,000 students. Islamic schools are also supporting the ban and only one high school said it needed more time before taking a decision. The general ban on the chador and niqaab - both face covering veils worn by Muslim women - came after the ROC trade school in Amsterdam came in conflict with four pupils who started attending classes with the veils last year.

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

Tel: + 44(0) 788 4040 835
Fax: + 44 (0) 870 831 0204
Web site: