CDWRME Bulletin #16
"Women in the Middle East"
Number 16, September, 2003
Bulletin of "Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East"
Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin
In this issue:
Amina Lawal's court of appeal was held on 27th August and the ruling was postponed to 25th September 2003. The Islamic court has condemned the Nigerian woman to be buried up to her neck and stoned to death for sex outside marriage. Amina's case is being handled internationally by women and human rights organisations, attempting to make the Nigerian government rescind the death sentence. A similar campaign saved another Nigerian woman, Safiya, condemned in similar circumstances.
A Bill urging Iran to join a global agreement to ban discrimination against women has been rejected by the government’s supervisory body, the guardian Council. Iranian state television said the council claimed the convention was against Sharia law and the Constitution.
The Parliament ratified the Bill last month, in the hope that it would promote the Islamic republic’ image abroad and help domestic problems. But the Guardian Council, which vets all legislation in accordance with Sharia law, then threw it out.
The issue of signing the women’s rights treaty has created much debate in Iran. Earlier this month, dozens of clerics held rallies in the ‘holy city’ of Qom to protest against Parliament's decision.
In Iran sexual apartheid rules and Iranian women are treated as second-class citizens. In the courts, they are worth half the value of men, have fewer rights in divorce and child custody, and need their husbands’ permission to work or travel abroad.
More than 400 Iraqi women have been kidnapped and raped amid the lawlessness gripping the country since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq said Sunday. The group's director Yanar Mohammed said the four months since the US-led coalition took control had seen an "unprecedented" explosion of violence against women. "More than 400 women have endured the pain and suffering of being kidnapped, raped and sometimes sold," she told reporters at a demonstration in Baghdad's Fardous Square.
"This violence is still a daily occurrence, especially on the streets of Baghdad, without attracting the least attention of the (US) soldiers." Mohammed said the attacks had created a climate of fear among women which meant few dared venture out of their homes. "The moment a woman steps out on to the street, she is an immediate target for humiliation, sexual assault and abduction. "The assaults against women, whether organised by professional gangs or individual crimes supported by male chauvinism, and unleashed and unobserved by coalition authorities, consequently turned the streets into a no-woman zone."
Saihan Ali, a 35-year-old health ministry employee who joined the protest, agreed. "Before, I would take a walk after work, but now I quickly return home, and I'm always on the alert because anything can happen," she said.
The Organisation of Women's Freedom has accused US forces of not doing enough to secure the streets. It said it had appealed, in vain, for help from Iraq's US-appointed interim Governing Council as well as US civil administrator Paul Bremer. "One of the justifications announced by the US administration as a pretext for the military attack was introducing a new area of freedom for women and men in Iraq," it said. "We demand the setting up of security guards and patrols in every main street and a community centre on a 24-hour, seven-day basis. We also demand heavy sentences against sex offenders."
BAGHDAD, Aug 24 (AFP)
The lower house of Jordan's newly-elected parliament has rejected a law which gave women the right to file for divorce. It was among 211 temporary laws introduced by the government since the previous parliament was dissolved two years ago. The deputies passed the law on to the Senate for consideration.
Islamists said that allowing women to seek divorce without their husbands' consent was breaking up families. "If it was up to me, women would be at home raising their children," said deputy Mahmoud Kharbasheh, quoted by the Jordan Times. He led calls for the law to be thrown out.
In December 2001, the Jordanian Cabinet approved several amendments to the Civil Status law. The legal age for marriage was raised from 15 for women and 16 for men to 18 for both sexes, and Jordanian women now have legal resource to divorce, subject to certain monetary compensations. Moreover, new restrictions on polygamy require a man to inform his first wife of plans to marry again and submit evidence of his financial ability to support more than one wife.
As a result of a legislative amendment to Article 340 of the Penal Code, perpetrators of honour crimes are not exempt from the death penalty, although judges are still allowed to commute the sentences of the convicted. Article 97 and 98, which reduce the sentence of crimes committed in a fit of fury and are frequently referenced in honour crimes cases, were unaffected by the amendments. Parliamentary sources said temporary legislation to tighten the penalties for crimes of "honour" was also rejected by deputies.
Iran: On August 5, 2003, Etemaad newspaper reported that, the execution sentence of Shahnaz has been confirmed by the supreme court of the Islamic regime of Iran and will be carried out any time soon. Shahnaz is a 35 years old Iranian woman who was sentenced to stoning for having sex outside marriage and murdering her husband with the help of her lover. In February 2003 and as a result of the mass protests against the Islamic regime of Iran and the increasing international and national pressure on this regime, stoning was suspended but replaced with execution.
Nigeria: The appeal court for Amina Lawal, who was sentenced to stoning for having extra-marital relationship, is going to be held on August 27, 2003. Following international protests, her hearing was postponed three times.
The International Committee against Stoning that is the only international organization that has focused specifically on stopping stoning, has announced a week of protest against stoning and any sort of punishment for extra marital relationship. Burying a human being up to the shoulders and stoning them to death is brutal, inhumane and is a medieval treatment. We must not let this happen. This brutal punishment must be stopped immediately. The Islamic regime of Iran has to be put on trial for murdering thousands of freedom loving people and for committing crimes against humanity.
The International Committee against Stoning calls upon all progressive and freedom loving organizations and individuals to join us in this protest week against stoning sentence of Amina Lawal in Nigeria and execution sentence of Shahnaz in Iran.
- Write to the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami demanding:
- Immediate abolition of execution and all other forms of punishment for extra-marital relations;
- Immediate release of all those imprisoned for extra-marital relations;
- Immediate release of Shahnaz, who has been sentenced to execution
Fax: 0098 21 649 5880
- Write to the Nigerian President Ousegun Obasanjo:
- Immediate abolishment of stoning law
- Immediate annulment of Amina Lawal’s stoning sentence
Federal Secretariat, Shehu Shagari Way, Abuja, Nigeria
- Organize rallies and demonstrations in front of Iranian and Nigerian embassies in your countries
Participants from 28 African and Arab countries have ended a high-profile conference on female genital mutilation with a call for more efforts to get the practice banned.
The assembled government and NGO representatives in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, said that where it is politically feasible, FGM should be prohibited by law. Some two million girls, mainly in Africa and parts of the Arab world, undergo the procedure every year. And in Egypt, despite a government ban since 1997, female genital mutilation remains extremely widespread.
The Cairo declaration on female genital mutilation calls on governments to adopt legislation against the practice. In many societies circumcision is thought to be a religious requirement in order to keep girls “chaste”. The declaration stops short, however, of asking for an immediate ban on female circumcision wherever it is practised.
The declaration says the practice should be prohibited by law wherever this is politically feasible, but it urges government in civil society to work together to change attitudes to women in order to eradicate circumcision.
More than 120 million women in Africa and the Arab world have undergone the procedure, in which parts of the female genital organs are removed.
A few years ago the government came on board and prohibited the practice, but the ban has proved weaker than the age-old tradition. And most Egyptian mothers still say they want their daughters to be circumcised.
What started as one woman's battle for custody of her children has become a cause célébre, with seven people facing criminal charges. Editor-in-Chief of newspaper Akhbar Al Khaleej Anwar Abdulrahman and six others face a criminal charge of defaming 11 Sharia judges. This is a social case related to women's rights," Mr Abdulrahman said after the case was adjourned until September 23 at the High Criminal Court. He called for a complete separation of state and religion in Bahrain. 'We have to be patient, changes don't come overnight, but the outcome of this case could decide future horizons of Press freedom," said Mr Abdulrahman.
The Sharia judges claim their characters were stained by Akhbar Al Khaleej's coverage of a hunger-strike by Ms Rabea, in protest over a decision to remove her daughters from her custody and return them to her ex-husband. She staged a hunger strike outside the Justice Ministry on April 8 and 9, during which she collapsed and was taken to hospital. It is the reporting of her situation that Mr Abdulrahman and the others are alleged to have defamed the Sharia judges.
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights said in a statement that it was monitoring the trial with grave concern, because of the implications of Law 47 for the year 2002 of the Press Code. According to the code, an editor-in-chief may be found criminally liable for material published in his newspaper. The BCHR said that while it respected the right of judges to bring charges, it was concerned that the law could be used as a censorship tool.
The Criminal Court sentenced a 50-year-old father to seven-and-a-half-years after convicting him of killing his teenage daughter on August 2002 in Sahab.
The man was first sentenced to 15 years for the manslaughter of his 17-year-old daughter in their Sahab home on August 21, hours after picking her up from administrative detention. But the tribunal immediately halved the sentence “because the defendant is a father and the victim's actions of constantly leaving the home brought her father shame and disrespect.”
The victim often left her father's home for short periods. Four days prior to the murder she was held administratively by police. According to court, the victim was engaged in an illegitimate affair with a taxi driver and the matter was exposed by the authorities. She was held administratively for her own protection.
The defendant learned about his daughter's arrest and met with other family members to decide what to do, according to the transcript. “Her family and the defendant agreed to marry her off to her cousin to conceal the matter.”
But on the day of the murder when her father was bringing her home after signing a guarantee saying he would not harm his daughter, the two began arguing about her alleged affair and disappearances, according to court. The victim told her father that he no longer had any authority over her and that her life and behaviour was none of his business. The victim's statements made her father, a shepherd, furious prompting him to draw a gun from his jacket and shoot his daughter five times on different parts of her body, the court added.
The victim's mother, who left the family home nearly two years before the incident due to constant fights with the defendant, refused to drop charges against him in court.
For many women living in the Middle Eastern countries, Islamic Sharia that stripes them from their very basic human rights and subordinates them to the authority of their male relatives represents a final frontier. To alter them, they face not only an entrenched Islamic establishment but also a battle with political Islamic groups. In Kuwait, representatives of these groups in the parliament rejected the efforts to grant voting rights to women and pushed through a law to segregate Kuwait University.
Currently, Kuwait's Cabinet will seek to amend a law that bars women from voting or running for. Kuwait's 1962 constitution grants equal rights to men and women, but an election law of the same year allows only men over 21 to exercise political rights.
Women were granted the right to vote and run for office in 1999, but the Parliament dominated be Islamists and tribal sheiks voted down his decision.
The government's adviser on religious affairs, the man who counsels Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, said as long as the message was clear and unambiguous it was valid under Islamic Sharia law.
"SMS is just another form of writing," Dr Abdul Hamid Othman was quoted by the New Straits Times daily newspaper as saying. The decision follows a Malaysian court's in favour of a man who served divorce on his wife via a text message.
Sharia judge Mohamad Fauzi Ismail declared that the divorce declaration was valid and that as such the marriage between the plaintiff Azida Fazlina Abdul Latif and defendant Shamsudin Latif was annulled, the Utusan Malaysia newspaper reported. Mr Shamsudin was said to have sent Ms Azida a text message saying: "If you do not leave your parents' house, you'll be divorced".
Although such a notification of divorce may seem astonishingly brief to some, under Islamic law men are allowed to divorce their wives simply be saying the word 'talaq' - I divorce you - three times.
Later, the Malaysian government overturned the Islamic court’s ruling that Muslim men can divorce their wives through mobile phone text messages. The Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad said: “It is not the way to get a divorce.” Islamic law permits a man to divorce his wife by declaring “I divorce thee” three times.
Sixty cases of 'accidental' burnt cases were reported during the first two months of year 2003. ''Bride-burning'' accounts for the violent deaths of hundreds of women every year, perpetrated most often by the victims' husbands or husbands' families to punish young women for failure to obey, to bear sons or to bring a larger dowry. In first two months of year 2003, local and national vernaculars reported 60 such cases of women supposedly injured when cooking stoves burst or cloths caught fire. During the first two months the numbers of reported burns cases has risen astonishingly as
290 cases of accidental burns were reported in year 2002. Out of 60 cases of burns cases during the last two months, 37 victims succumbed to their injuries, 14 were critically injured and 9 women were injured. According to the Madadgaar research, seven cases of women victimized of burns injuries per week were reported in the print media; of these nearly five died per week. According to the article 3 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Pakistan is a signatory, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” Pakistan is also a signatory of Convention for Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the equality of all citizens and says, “No discrimination may occur on the basis of sex alone. Nothing shall prevent the State from making any special provisions for the protection of women and children”. Tragically, no steps have been taken to implement the letter and sprit of this constitutional provision.
During the research it was noted that the victim’s family claimed different reasons for the accidents. In 44 cases it was reported that the clothes caught fire, in 3 cases stove exploded, in 6 cases the reason was gas leakage or gas slander burst while in remaining cases women either died or critically injured mysteriously. The data collected by the Madadgaar shows that 88% victims were aged between 16 to 45 years. The position of the victim in the family (she is usually a daughter-in law, or a daughter to be married), and the frequency with which these “accidents” occur provide circumstantial evidence of a grim pattern; that these women are burned not by accident, but are victims of deliberate murder. Source: LHRLA,
RAWA has termed the Hamid Karzai government a total failure as far as the women’s rights are concerned and demanded the establishment of a true and representative government in that country.
Addressing a seminar under the title of the ‘Women Rights in Afghanistan’ the RAWA speakers urged the international community to fulfill its pledges and take concrete steps for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has said that unless religion is separated from the state, Afghanistan cannot make progress in the socio-economic field.
“We want that Afghanistan should be purged of all sorts of fundamentalism and extremism. In the last 23 years, the Afghan warlords, jihadis and Taliban have played havoc with the rights and freedom of the Afghan people. The women’s rights have been in particular violated and they have been brutalised for vested interests. We demand of the international community to consider the miserable condition of the Afghan women and take steps for their social, political and educational emancipation”, they said.
The woman speakers declared that giving the power to the Northern Alliance was just like giving authority to the enemies of Afghanistan. The NA had been involved in gross human rights violations and destroying Afghanistan at the behest of the foreign powers, they observed.
“We demand that all the Afghan warlords, included in the Hamid Karzai government and outside, should be presented before an international tribunal and put on trial for their long history of intrigues and bloodshed on the Afghan soil. We don’t think that the present government is acceptable to all the Afghan people. If the international community and neighbouring countries really want to see stability and peace in the region, the Afghan people should be allowed to elect their representatives in a free and fair manner. Democracy and secularism are the remedies for all evils confronting Afghanistan at the present hour,” they observed.
The RAWA members pledged that they would continue their struggle for the protection of the women rights and never compromise on the principles of democracy, liberty and secularism. They demanded of the international community to discourage the US imperialism and block the US way for monopolizing the natural resources of Iraq.
“Thinking through a collapsing world: Pathways to reconciliation”, is the theme of a conference to be held on September 19-21, 2003 at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London,
Azam Kamguian Coordinator of CDWRME will be speaking at this conference.
Other speakers include:
Mary Robinson, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and President of Ireland, Chair, Ethical Globalisation Initiative.
Jakob Finci, Chair, National Coordinating Committee for the Establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Bosnia Herzegovina;
Charles Villa-Vincencio, Executive Director Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, Former National Research Director, South A-frican Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
Lowitja O’Donaghue, Chair, Reconciliation Australia; representatives from community groups
Chantal Mouffe, Professor of Politics and Social Theory, University of Westminster, UK;
Kersten England, Head of Policy Development, Bradford Council, UK; representatives from community groups
Roberto Unger, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, USA
Hans D’Orville, Director of Strategic Planning, UNESCO
irsty Nowlan, Advocacy Manager, World Vision Australia; representatives from community groups
Alfonso Lingis, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Pennsylvania State University, USA
Marcus Einfield, Former Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, National Vice President, International Commission of Jurists (Australian Section)
Haggith Gor Ziv, Kibbutzim College of Education Center of Critical Pedagogy, Tel Aviv;
Tanya Hosch, Director, Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, Executive Policy Officer, Strategic Development Unit, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island Commission;
Joan Anderson, Professor of Nursing, University of British Columbia, Canada; Cindy Cohen, Coexistence Research and International Collaborations, Brandeis University; representatives from community groups
Mary Crewe and Christoff Heyn, Centre for Study of AIDS and Human Rights, Pretoria University, South Africa;
Ian Campbell, International Health Consultant, Salvation Army & UNAIDS;
Miri Weingarten, Physicians for Human Rights, Israel; representatives from community groups
Paul Komesaroff, Director, Monash Centre for the Study of Ethics in Medicine and Society, Monash University, Australia and other speakers.
Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East Coordinator & Spokesperson: Azam Kamguian