CDWRME Bulletin #22

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 22, March, 2004

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

Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin

In this issue:

  •  Iraq: Women in danger of losing rights to Islamic law

  • OWFI: campaign to defend Yanar Mohammed against Islamists’ death  threat

  • France: A Secularism Charter for public institutions

  • Bahrain: Women may be able to apply for passport without husband's consent

  • Saudi Arabia: Girls are blamed for misfortunes & calamities

  • Pakistan: Improvements in women’s situation?

  • Malaysia: Women strike back on polygamy

  • Arab World: Women's rights lagging behind

  • Canada: Panel Discussion on Sharia courts and women's rights

  • U.K. - Birmingham: A Meeting on International Women’s Day: “Women’s Voices against Oppression

  • Canada: Campaign activity

  • CDWRME: Join us to support victims of violence

  • ·Letters to & Requests from CDWRME    

Iraq: Women in danger of losing rights to Islamic law  

According to reports, at an intersection near Baghdad University, the green graffiti on the street sign stands out starkly "Hijab, the veil, is the most beautiful accessory for women" signed the Badr Brigade. The Brigade is the armed wing of the Shi'ite Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The graffiti is just the sort of message that has some Iraqi women worried. They fear that the growing influence of the Islamists curtails women's rights.  

In December, some members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council proposed to scrap Iraq's existing civil family law and replace it with one more in line with Sharia, or religious laws. The proposal has gone nowhere, yet, but many Iraqi women fear that the proposal could find its way into law and the new constitution. And, so the debate is on.  

Women say: “while the current civil law is far from perfect, the new proposal would be much worse for women. The coming Sharia law will allow the marriage of minors, a nine-year-old girl who could be married to a 60 year old man. In the West, they consider them pedophiles. They consider them criminals, and here the civil law may make it legal."    

OWFI: Campaign to defend the life of Yanar Mohammed against the death threat by Islamists in Iraq  

Yanar Mohammed, the head of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), is a renowned political activist from Iraq, and highly regarded in the world today for her brave efforts in defending women’s rights in Iraq. She and the OWFI have been at the forefront of raising Iraqi women’s awareness of their rights, fighting for an egalitarian secular state and full equality for women, as well as advocating for the separation of religion from the state and educational system which is a precondition for guaranteeing women’s rights in Iraq.  

Since the recent introduction of Law Number 137 by the Iraqi Ruling Council, which is to remove the previous Personal Status Code and replace it with Sharia law, Yanar has exposed the serious threat to women’s lives and rights if Sharia is imposed and organized women and men in opposition to it. She has also spoken out and denounced Sharia law and called for the unconditional equal rights for women in a demonstration in Baghdad. The day after the demonstration, she received an e-mail titled “Killing Yanar within a few days”. The e-mail was sent from the Army of Sahaba (Jaysh Al-Sahaba).  

Once again, Islamic groups have proven the nature and extent of their brutalities. They threaten, terrorise and kill all those who oppose them and expose their atrocities against women. Moreover, the USA government’s gory New World Order and its war, which has established a reign of terror on the people of Iraq, has sanctioned Islamic groups to impose their inhumane policies on the people and in particular the women in Iraq. The USA government has even included Islamic and other reactionary groups in its imposed so-called Ruling Council.  

The OWFI holds the USA government primarily responsible for this abysmal situation that has now also threatened Yanar Mohammad’s life. Yanar and many others are afforded no protection.  

The OWFI calls upon all political parties, human and women’s rights organisations, and freedom loving people across the world to defend Yanar Mohammed and OWFI’s women’s rights activists in Iraq from the threats of Islamic groups and unequivocally denounce the threat made to Yanar’s life. While holding the USA administration in Iraq fully responsible for Yanar’s life, organisations, parties, groups and individuals should call for them to provide full security for Yanar Mohammad.  

Please send your letters of protest to Paul Bremer, head of CPA in Iraq:

Paul Bremer
Chief US Administrator
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520  

Or Choose 'Foreign Policy Opinions' via online form at   

Please also send a copy to us, and to your local media:

Tel: 00 44 79 56 88 3001  

Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq-abroad representative       

France: A Secularism charter for public institutions  

As France's national assembly neared the end of a four-day debate on a ban on religious emblems in state schools, the prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, said "similar legislation" was planned to stop hospital patients refusing to be treated by male doctors.  

Health administrators have reported cases of Muslim husbands who would rather their wives were denied treatment than be examined by a man. Women in labour have refused epidurals because the anaesthetist was male.  

The government is also considering a "secularism charter" for other public institutions. These include town halls, where Muslim women must remove their veils for official ceremonies, and public swimming pools, where Muslim women have demanded segregated bathing.    

Bahrain: Women may be able to apply for passport without husband's consent  

Bahraini married women may soon be able to apply for a passport without needing to have the traditional consent of the husband, according to a bill proposed by the Shura council. The bill was approved by the council's foreign affairs, defence and national security committee during a recent meeting, said a statement issued by the council.  

The committee recommended an amendment to article 11 of the Passport Law number 11 which requires the wife to get the husband's consent before applying for "an independent" passport.  

"The article is unconstitutional," said the committee, pointing out the constitution stipulates that men and women are equal citizens. "Also, the article doesn't reflect the reality of the Bahraini woman who has already gotten all her political and social rights," the statement added.  

The proposed bill is expected to be debated when the Shura Council, the appointed upper chamber of the National Assembly, reconvenes in early March.    

Saudi Arabia: Girls are blamed for misfortunes & calamities  

The Ministry of Education has recently issued regulations and guidelines pertaining to the conduct of female students in schools. The long list of regulations tells girls what they should and shouldn’t do and says what kind of punishment violators of the rules will face.  

First, all the regulations are addressed exclusively to girls with no mention whatsoever of how boys should behave in schools and what punishments they can expect. Second, the rules are so dogmatic that they put all the blame for any misfortunes, catastrophes and calamities — whether religious, political or cultural — on girls.  

Education does not occur by means of threats and intimidation. The “do this” and “don’t do that” approach is not the best way to educate anybody. Some of the rules are simply ridiculous — such as the one warning girls against carrying weapons or poison. Readers of the regulations would think that schools have become battlegrounds with students constantly threatening their teachers.  

It seems the ministry is trying to build a society of angels and, in order to do so, it insists on meting out severe punishment for violating its regulations. The irony is that the ministry and its regulations made no reference to teachers who may inflict serious injuries on students. Girls are threatened to severe punishment which has been given precedence over advice and counselling.    

Pakistan: Improvements in women’s situation?  

The NWFP - the North West Frontier Province - government has decided to introduce a set of laws against child labour, honour-killings, violence against women and their right to divorce besides banning handing over of women to settle disputes.  

The chief minister Mr Durrani said that the NWFP government had approved the setting up of a women's university, a separate medical college and a sports directorate to dispel the people's apprehensions in this regard. Vocational centres, he said, had also been set up for women without shelter, enabling them to earn a respectable livelihood.  

He said rehabilitation centres had also been established for drug addicts, beggars and orphans, adding a comprehensive strategy were being formulated for curbing the drug menace.    

Malaysia: Women strike back on polygamy  

In the latest twist to a controversial debate, Muslim women in Malaysia have been told they have the right to include a no-polygamy clause in their marriage contracts.  

Countries such as Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh had already adopted the ruling that a husband who had agreed in his marriage contract not to take another wife would be bound by that stipulation.  

The existing Sharia (Islamic) laws allowed for the registration of additional "ta'liq" clauses, but this was not usually done. “Ta'liq" is conditions in the marriage contract that allow for divorce. The current standard "ta'liq" only provides for divorce in cases of desertion, non-maintenance or cruelty.  

The call follows a row sparked by one state's decision to make it easier for Muslim men to marry a second wife by doing away with the need to have the first wife's approval. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad has called for a standardisation of Sharia laws in all states, in an attempt to resolve the issue.  

Islamic family law, which allows men to take up to four wives, applies only to the 60 per cent of Malaysians who are Muslims. Women's groups say polygamy is outdated, should be restricted and possibly even banned.    

Arab World: Women's rights lagging behind due to political unrest, Islam & tribal culture  

Arab women have the lowest labour force participation rate in the  world, with 26% employed compared to 40% worldwide. Female unemployment in Jordan stood at 30.9% in 1999, as compared to 12.9% for men, which gave the country the Arab World’s lowest female participation rate in the workforce.  

Reactionary forces in the patriarchal and sometimes tribal societies mean that women themselves, in positions of political, social or religious power, can be the fiercest defenders of the status quo. Women who represent the system are more loyal to it than to the female condition  

More than half of all Arab women are illiterate, according to the United Nations Arab Human Development Report 2002. Although female literacy in Arab countries has tripled since 1970 and twice as many Arab women now receive primary and secondary education, women remain drastically cut out of political and economic life, the report found.  

Arab women hold 3.5 percent of parliamentary seats, the lowest rate in the world outside sub-Saharan Africa, and are also least represented in the workforce, the report said.  

Te rise of political Islamic movement has held back women's emancipation in many countries across the Arab world.                

Canada: Panel Discussion on Sharia courts & women’s rights  

The International Campaign for the Defence of Women's Rights in Iran is hosting a panel entitled "Sharia court in Canada and women's rights". The panel will pay particular attention to the role of Sharia law on women and children.  

Azam Kamguian will be speaking at this panel discussion.  

Other speakers: * Azar Majedi the Chairperson of the "Organization for Women's Liberation" and Editor of Medusa  

* Maryam Namazie, human rights and women's rights activist, journalist and director of the "International Federation of Iranian Refugees"  

* Syed B. Soharwardy, founder and president of "Muslims against Terrorism M-A-T" and the initiator of "Judicial tribunal for Muslims in Canada"  

* Homa Arjomand, women's rights activist, coordinator of "the International Campaign for the Defence of Women's Right in Iran-Canada"  

This panel will be held: Sunday March 7, 2004, 11:00 am- 7:00pm             

For more information, please contact Homa Arjomand, Panel Coordinator,, Tel: 1-416-737-9500.  

Also, sign the online campaign against Sharia courts in Canada at    

U.K. - Birmingham: A Meeting on International Women’s Day: “Women’s Voices against Oppression”  


Azam Kamguian, Chairperson of Committee to Defend Women’s Rights in the Middle East. will speak on the new Islamic Sharia tribunal set up in Ontario, Canada  

.Houzan Mahmoud, Political activist from Iraq, and editor in chief of Equal Rights Now! Representative of Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq-UK section. Will speak on women's rights and political Islam in Iraq  

Ewa Jasciewicz of Voices in the Wilderness (UK). Polish-British activist, just returned from Occupied Palestine and Iraq, where she supported Iraqi workers, women’s groups, human rights groups and families. Will speak on women in Palestine and Iraq.  

Venue: Friend’s Institute, 220, Moseley Rd, Highgate

Date: Sunday 14th March, 2-4pm

Organised by: Independent Socialists of Birmingham  

Canada: Campaign activity  

Tens of participants at the World Community Film Festival signed the petition against the setting up of Sharia tribunals in Canada.  

 On February 7th, the International “Campaign for the defence of women rights: in Iran & in the Middle East” at SFU, Harbour centre set up an information table. It covered a variety of news, facts & statements about women’s rights movements generally in the Middle East and particularly in Iran and Iraq; including monthly bulletins of CDWRME & weekly newspapers of Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq:“ Equal Rights Now”.  

Campaign for the Defence of women’s rights In Iran aims to stop the setting up  of Sharia tribunals in Canada. It has launched a petition on line & has organised a panel discussion on March 7thIn in Toronto.  

Zari Asli

Coordinator of: CDWRME- Canada    

CDWRME: Join us to support victims of violence & defend women’s rights    

We fight for the recognition of honour killing as a grave crime. We strive to abolish it.  

We help and support victims of forced marriage and campaign for prohibition of interference of authorities and family members in the private lives of women.  

We campaign for the Imposition of severe penalties on abuse, intimidation and violent treatment of women and girls in the family.  

We campaign for a secular and egalitarian family law.  

        Join us to support victims of “honour killing” and forced marriage.  

Committee to Defend Women’s Rights in the Middle East strives to achieve these objectives and is solely dependent on its members and donations from supporters.  

Abuse and violence is disturbing, but not unstoppable. That’s why when we hear about each new atrocity, we never lose hope. We know that it may be hard to believe that the action of a few individuals can change dominant attitudes, but believe us, it is possible.   

So before you ask yourself “what difference can one person make?” just think what your support could mean to a victim. Don’t give abusers the opportunity to intimidate and terrorise women. Support us now either by becoming a member of “Friends of Women in the Middle East” or by making a donation.  

Please complete the form and give as generously as you can. A yearly membership of £35 / $55 will help us continue our work. Of course, if you can afford more, we will appreciate it. Your membership and your money can really make the difference to many women.

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Letters to & Requests From CDWRME  


  • Nigeria  

Dear Azam,

Greetings from Abuja, Nigeria! You don't know me but I got your name from the "Women in the Middle East" Bulletin, sent to me by WLUML. I am an independent researcher, living and working in Abuja, working with a range of women's organisations on issues of gender justice.  

I am writing to ask if you would be able to help me with information relating to a study I am currently working on, concerning sexual harassment in schools and higher education in North and West Africa. The study is about the widespread existence of sexual harassment and gender based violence in schools and institutions of higher education, which are serious problems despite the fact that they are rarely recognized or addressed officially. The agencies that have investigated issues concerning sexual harassment and gender based violence have been predominantly women-centred organizations, human rights organizations and a few others. Much of this information is dispersed and not easily accessible. The aim of this study is to bring together such information to provide an overview of the current situation, interpreting differing perspectives and orientations towards the subject on the part of diverse social actors, as well as initiatives that have been taken to counter sexual harassment and the trends of change. This study is one of two components; its focus is on West and North Africa whilst the second component addresses Eastern and Southern Africa.  

The research is sponsored by the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala, Sweden. The study is intended to address the following specific dimensions:

Types and frequencies of sexual harassment and gendered violence Targets of harassment and violence, perpetrators and settings Attitudes to sexual harassment and gendered violence schools, family, friends, larger society  Organised action against sexual harassment and gendered violence in schools and higher education institutions – agencies and initiatives Methodologies and approaches Analyses and explanations Recommendations for countering sexual harassment and gendered violence Existing studies on the subject and agencies/individuals carrying them out Trends of change Hopefully, the study will advance analytical understanding of sexual harassment and gendered violence in schools and higher education, through an appreciation of existing initiatives and approaches taken to counter such harassment and violence. The sharing of information on this theme is one way of raising awareness of what is happening elsewhere and facilitating the fashioning of appropriate strategies to counter sexual harassment and gendered violence. I would really welcome hearing from you with regard to any information that you could provide on any of the issues above. Even if you are not working in this area, you may know of organizations that are, and I would be very grateful if you could send me their contact email addresses. Once the research is complete, I will send you a copy of the report as part of the overall process of information sharing. I look forward to hearing from you!  

Best wishes,

Charmaine Pereira PhD
75B Mississippi Street,
The Chalet, Maitama,
Abuja, FCT, Nigeria.    

  • France  

Cer Azam Kamguian

Pendant un certain j'ai réçu votre bulletin que je trouve particulièrement interessant étant donné le domaine sur lequel je travaille en général : les femmes en Islam. Si cela vous est possible  j'aimerais beaucoup continuer à le recevoir ou bien pouvoir accéder à votre site si vous en avez un. En vou  remerciant à l'avance , recevez, je vous prie, toute ma considération.

Juliette Minces. couriel:  

Dear Azam Kamguian

For some time I have been receiving your bulletin which I find particularly interesting given the area in which I work in general: women and Islam. If it is possible I would like to continue receiving it, or to be able to access your web site if you have one.  

Thanking you in advance, please accept my best regards,

Juliette Minces.  

  • U.K  

I am looking for publications which focus on Muslim Women's Legal Rights in the Middle East with in depth reporting on the legal issues. I have a copy of your excellent "Women in the Middle East."  I am an attorney looking more at the legal side especially the criminalization of honour killings, family law in regard to polygamy, child marriage, female circumcision, etc.  

Have you any suggestions? Are there any written by or for lawyers? Thank you.

Roz Katz  

  • U.K.  

Dear Azam

A researcher on our project has given me your contact name and email. I hope you don't mind. I am currently preparing a case for a divorced woman from Jordan who has reported her husband to the authorities in Jordan for domestic violence. Her children were "kidnapped" by her husband and are now grown up. She says her son, now 17 years, has been brain washed by his father to kill her because she has "shamed" him. The Home Office are very sceptical.  

Would you be able to assist me if I were to send you a summary of the case and the HO's reasons for refusal? Alternatively, would you have time to discuss this?  

Best wishes

Diana Mills
Coordinator RWRP  

  • USA  

To the honourable Azam kamguian,

I am an American woman. I must admit I do not know the form of address I should use. I am writing to you in the utmost sincerity. I am a student in a Global Woman's History class. I am a mother and grandmother. I have stated that women are oppressed in Islamic countries. One of the persons associated with my class says that it not the fault of the Islamic religion or of the Q'uran, but of radical movements and sects such as Taliban and others. I have long been heartbroken at all the accounts I have read of oppression of women, ever since I read the personal account of a Saudi princess. I have chosen as a paper for my course, the title "Middle Eastern Oppression of Women--True Oppression or Western Myth? I need hard facts to convince in my paper that true oppression does exist. I have been told the Writings of the Q'uran are good to women. Will you please contact me and tell me your thoughts and I would be most humbly grateful.  

 Thank you sincerely,

 Beverly Ruffner    

  • Holland  


I work for the Websites on Women database of a women's Information Centre in the Netherlands, In which country is the secretariat of your organisation located?  

kind regards,

Desiree verse
"Desiree Verse"        

  • Canada  

It has come to my attention that Sharia is going to be applied to Muslims in Canada.  Here are 2 links that talk about it:;;   

The last link is a discussion that we had on the forum about what this means for Canada.  I read your testimony in "Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out" edited by Ibn Warraq, and I have seen in action what you describe (ie. don't criticize Islam; blame all ills/evils on America).  I would like you to help in this, since I'm sure you know where to go, who to see to fix this.  I would like to start a petition (on-line perhaps) and get more awareness. I noticed that the December newsletter is up so this news won't be able to appear, but it seems that Canada is going to be the Middle Eastern extension in the Americas if this keeps up.  

I am a Canadian university student and I e-mailed the above links to a prof who I feel isn't as far gone as most academics.  His reply after reading them was "Shocking".  I greatly appreciate your achievements to date, and we must stop this apologetics from following through to our death!  


PS  I am not a Muslim, but ALMOST became one 2 years ago.  I read the Koran. It is a good thing that I didn't convert because then I would be an object and not free.  

  • U.K.  

Dear Azam,

I have just been sent details about your website which I found most interesting. I noticed your campaign regarding the attempt to bring in Sharia courts in Canada - do you know whether the Canadian government has agreed to this? Also, do you know whether there are attempts by Muslim groups in the UK to do the same? Recently, organiosations such as MAB and MCB, as well as the Muslim parliament have been very aggressive and pushy. Also, there are mosques in Britain that already have Sharia courts (such as Birmingham Central Mosque - which was shown on BBC about 2 years ago), so it would not surprise me if they now demand exemptions to the Law.  

Warm regards - do keep your good, and very important, work.

Rumy Husan    

  • Norway  

Dear Azam Kamguian,

Just wanted to say how much I appreciate that there is at least someone out there who has the guts to stand up for human rights. As a progressive liberal I have become very disillusioned with the way the political left embrace totalitarian ideologies like Islam. Reading your articles (including the brilliant "The Universality of Women's Rights and Post modern Theories") I was happy to see that there are still people who champion the very unfashionable cause of universal human rights.   

 Like you say in your articles, the current state of affairs has everything to do with the notion of cultural relativism. As I see it, cultural relativism is one of the lamest theories ever put forward. But it's appeal is obvious: it serves as an excuse for not taking a stand and accepting violation of human rights which happen in non-Western countries (or in immigrant communities). It is indeed a racist concept, operating with different "truths" for different peoples. It demonstrates a complete inability to learn from history; the postmodern project is basically the same as that of Fascism/Nazism: to eradicate the heritage of the Enlightenment. Cultural relativism entails a complete distrust of reason, denying that individuals are capable of arriving at truth by using reason. They claim there is no truth outside culture, or language (which becomes another mystical concept in their theory. As a linguist, I can say that the anthropological idea of language, that it is language that forms our ideas about reality - ie, that language is not a tool to understand reality, but itself constitutes that reality - has no support in linguistic theory, it was invented by anthropologists. It also defies common sense, of course.) It is an absurd notion, but it is very useful to some people. Assisted by the creed of "multiculturalism" Western intellectuals turn a blind eye to forced marriages, female circumcision, religious brainwashing of children etc etc. n the name of respecting "their" culture. As though kids from immigrant communities were somehow born Moslems, without the same need for freedom to develop their personality that we grant to (white) Norwegian children. That this even is done in the name of "anti-racism" is beyond me. One really must question the mental sanity of these "intellectuals". What happened to the Left and their tradition of criticizing powerful ideologies? And while Western left wing intellectuals embrace oppressive ideologies that are alien to all the great ideas from the Enlightenment, Christians babble about "bringing religions together".  Human rights have simply become too dull and unfashionable for anyone to bother to stand up for them.  That's why I was so happy to find your web site; finally, intelligent criticism of Islam from a secular point of view. It is perhaps ironic that it is people like you, immigrants from the Middle East, who today are the strongest voices in favour of the Western humanist heritage, the idea that rights are universal and not culture-specific. We really have lost the plot here in the West…  

(Hope I don't sound too apocalyptic here. There are positive things happening too, like France considering banning headscarves in schools, upholding the secular state. Here in Norway, the Humanist organisation has finally come out against Islam. And of course, there are organisations like Amnesty.)  

So, thanks for your relentless fight against oppression, indifference and stupidity. People like you, with a genuine concern for all of humanity, and courage to go against mainstream intellectual opinion, are indeed rare.  

Yours sincerely,

Terje Wagener

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: