CDWRME Bulletin #23
in the Middle East"
Number 23, April, 2004
Bulletin of "Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East"
Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin
In this issue:
Italy: Headscarf, secularism, Islamists & the rights wing politics
Iraq: Interim constitution violates women’s rights
Germany: No headscarves in courtroom
Iraq: Women victims of rape & honour killing
Sudan: Mass rape atrocity in the West
Pakistan: Continuing acts o f honour killing
Girls from Muslim origin struggle for education
U.K.: Up to14 years jail for undergone genital mutilation
Kuwait: progress towards realizing women's political right
Letters to & Requests from CDWRME
CDWRME: Join us to support victims of violence
- Italy: Headscarf, secularism , Islamists & the rights wing politics
A kindergarten in Samone in northern Italy recently asked a Muslim trainee teacher to remove her headscarf because it feared it might frighten children. The case has made headlines and prompted debate among politicians and church officials, it happens just months after a Muslim activist went to court to have a crucifix removed from his son's public school classroom.
The Miele & Cri-Cri kindergarten said it had agreed to accommodate Mouyache's schedule of daily prayers, but asked the training service if she would be willing to remove her headscarf. The school said it feared it might frighten the students. After the story was publicized, the town council in nearby Ivrea offered Mouyache a position in another kindergarten, and she accepted.
While saying many Samone parents agreed with the school's position, the trainee teacher said he also didn't understand how the veil could frighten children, noting it was similar to those worn by Catholic nuns.
The Northern League, an ally in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government has spoken out against the veil. "If someone comes from the jungle and is used to going around dressed like Tarzan, they can do it there, but not here," said Northern League senator Roberto Calderoli. The Northern League has recently taken up another issue concerning Islam, pushing for a law that would require referendums on requests to build mosques in Italy. The party contends Islamic culture is "historically antithetical" to Italian culture.
- Iraq: Interim constitution violates women’s rights
Iraq’s interim constitution fails to give adequate protection to women’s human rights. Equal rights for Iraqi women in marriage, inheritance, and their children’s citizenship should not be left in jeopardy. The Iraqi interim constitution, officially known as the Temporary Administrative Law, will serve as the country’s fundamental legal framework until a new permanent constitution is put in place by December 31, 2005. It does not specifically guarantee equality between men and women in at least three critical areas where women in the Middle East have historically suffered discrimination:
The interim constitution offers no explicit guarantee that women will have equal rights to marry, within marriage, and at its dissolution. It does not explicitly guarantee women the right to inherit on an equal basis with men. It fails to guarantee Iraqi women married to non-Iraqis the right to confer citizenship to their children.
Throughout the region, equal protection clauses in constitutions have often been circumvented by the imposition of clearly discriminatory family and personal status codes based on the Islamic Sharia law.
- Germany: No headscarves in courtroom
A German Muslim woman watching her son's trial in juvenile court was expelled from a Berlin courtroom after refusing to uncover her head. The German newspaper Berliner Zeitung reports the judge in the case told the woman she could remove her headscarf or leave the gallery. The woman then left the courtroom.
A spokesman for the judge said he allows absolutely no hats or other headgear in his courtroom to help teach young defendants order. Headscarves in Berlin courtrooms have become a hotly contested issue.
One lay judge, herself a practicing Muslim, wears a headscarf while on the bench. Some politicians would like to ban her from doing so. Andreas Gramm, spokesman for the conservative Christian Democrats told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in February a judge wearing a headscarf is "a declaration of war on the foundations of our (legal) system."
- Iraq: Women victims of rape & honour killing
According to the "honour" system in Iraq, a woman who has been raped or abducted is considered to have brought shame upon her family. Under Saddam's regime, a rape victim would usually be killed by a brother or father to restore family honour unless she agreed to marry her abductor. Many women are victims of this inhumane custom and practice.
The day after Saddam Hussein's capture, the US proconsul Paul Bremer told Iraqis that there would be "no more suffering". But Yannar Mohammed, chairwoman of the Iraqi Women's Coalition (IWC), says that since the end of the war, about 350 women have been abducted. The few who survive their ordeal require protection from "honour" killings by their family. The IWC is about to open the first women's shelter in Baghdad, with no financial help from the occupation authorities.
The US State Department criticizes countries which fail to curb human trafficking, but the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq has treated the fate of kidnapped women as an isolated phenomenon.
- Sudan: Mass rape atrocity in the West
Aid agencies cannot get help to thousands of displaced people More than 100 women have been raped in a single attack carried out by Arab militias in Darfur in western Sudan.
More than one million people were being affected by ethnic cleansing. The fighting was characterised by a scorched-earth policy and was comparable in character, if not in scale, to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Arab militias, backed by the government, have driven hundreds of thousands from their homes, in retaliation for a rebellion launched a year ago by two armed groups.
More than 100,000 people have fled across the border into Chad, but have continued to face cross-border raids. "All houses as well as a market and a health centre were completely looted and the market burnt. Over 100 women were raped, six in front of their fathers who were later killed," he said. A further 150 women and 200 children were abducted. This attack a fortnight ago is one of many across the arid territory. Village after village is being razed to the ground by the militias, he said. To compound the problem, aid agencies can only reach small parts of Darfur and are subject to attacks.
The fighting in the west of Sudan has intensified as government peace talks to resolve the 20-year war with southern rebels are nearing an end.
- Pakistan: Continuing acts of honour killing
The Karachi-based NGO, Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA), strongly condemn the actions taken by the husband and family of Nur Shar. Nur Khatoon says she was married against her wishes to Sharafdin Shar who subjected her to acts of torture and violence, including nail pulling and acid burning. However, her own family members and local tribesmen have designated her “Kari” and called for her death immediately. The tribesmen declared that she was “dishonoring” them by living with a man outside the bounds of marriage. She appealed for a case to be registered against the perpetrators of these threats and accusations, but immediate Governmental response was minimal.
Fortunately, she has now been rescued and removed to the temporary custody of District Nazim, Nafisa Shah. Zia Ahmed Awan, President of LHRLA, charges that the Government should have been swifter in taking action in this case and he pleads to the Supreme Court to intervene in all Karo-Kari cases, including the present situation. He condemns the jirga system that allows this evil practice to flourish and thrive in the 21st century. He further states that the husband and family tribesmen involved should be arrested and immediately brought to justice.
LHRLA’s umbrella organization, Madadgaar has been monitoring the press for reports on Karo-Kari cases and other forms of abuse and violence meted out to women nationwide. Last year, Madadgaar found that 823 women, including 20 minors, became the victims of the barbaric custom in Pakistan. The cases documented by Madadgaar reveal that all the male relatives of a woman are capable of perpetrating this custom. In 2002, in 346 cases the perpetrator of the crime was the husband, in 92 the in-laws, in 183 the brother, in 46 the father and in 32 the son of the woman.
LHRLA notes that the actual figures of female murder in the name of Karo-Kari are much higher, as these figures represent a mere fraction of the reality because these are limited cases which are brought before the attention of the public by the media. Numerous cases remain unreported and the rampant victimization of women continues to escalate annually. This practice must come to an immediate end and the perpetrators of the crime be penalized for murder, if women are to be afforded equal protection and dignity under Pakistan’s national laws and in accordance with international norms and Conventions to which the State is a signatory.
- Girls from Muslim origin struggle for education
In the major capitals of the Arab world, it is very common to find girls, rather than boys, on the front pages of newspapers, celebrating their academic success.
But this conceals the fact that in total numbers, far fewer Muslim girls than boys are completing - or even going into - education. In countries like Sudan and Yemen, the situation is particularly bad. Indeed, Sudan is actually going backwards - 45% of children of school age are not attending school.
And literacy rates of women in the Arab world, according to the latest report of UNDP, are around 55 percent. Traditional society the reasons for girls' comparatively poor performances are varied, though some are common to girls' education throughout the Arab world. In Sudan, they are undoubtedly linked to the civil war and Sudan's desperate economic situation - as well as the fact that it is such a vast country, with parents simply unwilling to let their children travel the long distances needed to attend school. A similar problem exists in Yemen - where it is exacerbated by poor resources and funding that means children have to be taught in classes of a hundred or more.
But in Jordan, enrolment is excellent at 86 percent - however, girls drop out in secondary school because of early marriage. Jordanian society is very conservative with tribal traditions and many girls are pressurized into marrying young. Some still continue their education after marriage - but many of them do not, especially if they have children. A girl's role in Jordanian society is heavily stereotyped, and this is reflected in the education students receive. The system tends to make very strong statements to children, such as "my father is working and my mother is cooking". At one Jordanian girl's secondary school, 80% of the girls I spoke to said that the first role of the woman was to stay at home and bring up her children.
While teaching as a job is very popular to women in the Arab world - as is the case all over the globe - teachers are not paid well, and rarely receive enough training. Many also teach using very old-fashioned methods.
The quality of education was affecting both girls and boys - but especially girls. If the school environment is bad, if it is remote, unclean, and has no toilets, it is the girls who tend to give up and go back home. If the teacher is bad and is not qualified, the girls tend to simply fail at the end of the year. After failing two or three times, the girls simply give up altogether. The latest UNDP report stated that education in Arab schools in the future is likely to be split into two parts - very expensive private education, enjoyed by the better-off minority, and poor quality government education for the majority.
- U.K.: Up to 14 years jail for undergone genital mutilation
People who take their daughters abroad to undergo genital mutilation could be jailed for up to 14 years from today. The Female Genital Mutilation Act, which came into force recently, reinforces existing legislation and closes a loophole by making it unlawful to take girls abroad for genital mutilation whether or not it is legal elsewhere. The maximum sentence has been increased from 5 to 14 years in jail.
It is estimated that 74,000 women in the UK have undergone the procedure. A further 7,000 girls under the age of 16 are at risk. Women who have undergone some forms of genital mutilation are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those who have not. They are also four times more likely to give birth to a stillborn child.
Home Secretary David Blanket said no cultural, medical or other reason can justify a practice that causes so much pain and suffering. "Regardless of cultural background, it is completely unacceptable and should be illegal wherever it takes place," he said. The Government is backing the legislation with £30,000 of funding. The investment will support an information campaign amongst the practising communities.
An estimated 135 million of the world's girls and women have undergone genital mutilation. It has been illegal in the UK since 1985. Ann Clywd MP introduced the Female Genital Mutilation Bill as a private member's bill in December 2002, which the Government gave its strong backing.
- Kuwait: progress towards realizing women's political rights
It seems that the progress towards realizing women’s rights is process, despite the strong opposition from most of the social strata in Kuwait. Observers consider that the Kuwaiti government has started to implement this very policy.
In May 2003, the Kuwaiti cabinet issued an amendment on the municipal council law providing for giving the woman her rights to be a candidate and elect members of the council, but the council did not discuss it yet. The Kuwaiti parliament in 1999 refused twice an Emir order for giving woman political rights.
Despite of all these obstacles, the Kuwaiti law activists are sure they will get their rights. The Higher education ministry secretary, Rasha al-Sabbah, said that the political rights of the Kuwaiti women are coming eventually.
- Letters to & Requests from CDWRME
Please, help us. We are actively looking for a women rights group in Beirut. We hope that you can help us with connections or addresses, maybe by forwarding this email.
We have an urgent case where a Lebanese husband has abducted two children (age two and four) to his home country. Now, the mother is also in Beirut but cannot persuade the authorities to help her to get the children back. She cannot even leave the country in spite of being a German citizen because the husband uses some old law to prevent her to go home to seek help by the Danish authorities. The family domiciles in Denmark.
LAUE TRABERG SMIDT
Dear Azam kamguian,
My name is Beverly Ruffner. You were so kind to share the information about two websites that have given me much information for my term paper. I do not ask lightly. What can I do to work in the effort to end oppression? What can I do to help shed light on the many atrocities? Is there anyway an ordinary person can help? Thank you again for your response to my email.
My name is Christine and I am doing a project on women's rights in the Middle East in comparison to the rights of women in Canada. It is for my grade 13 final independent study. I was wondering if you had any information that might help me out for my seminar presentation, or project. I am very interested in hearing what you would have to offer. Thank you
Christine, Ontario Canada
Dear Azam Kamguian,
I am looking for some information on women in Jordan and Syria and I was wondering if you can help me with some information. I work with women and child refugee claimants in Canada.
I am looking for some information on women in Jordan and Syria who become pregnant outside of marriage. Do some women in both of these countries face honour killings in this situation? I have heard of this in Jordan but I am not sure of the prevalence in Syria. Also are there groups or individuals who would give them protection during the pregnancy by hiding them if necessary? If yes what happens with the children afterwards? How would their births be registered since there is no adoption in these countries and they could not be registered under the mother's name? Tank you very much for any help you can give me in this matter.
Sara Muhammed recommended me to get in contact with you. I, Kiki Bek, work as a news reporter at the Swedish public service TV. Next week I plan to go to Turkey to report about "honour" killings. The directorate for religious affairs in Ankara has now told the imams to condemn "crimes of honour". I wonder if you have contact with women organizations in Turkey who work with these issues. I've spoken to one organization called "Flying Broom". Do you know them? I also wonder if you might have data about how common these crimes are in Turkey. Thank you so much in advance,
My name is Kristen Biehl and I am studying social anthropology and development studies at SOAS University in London. Next year I am planning to write a thesis on contemporary gender relations in Turkey, specifically considering the role of women's rights NGOs and other gender related projects by the UNDP and British Council. I received your bulletin as a forward from a friend and wanted to know how I may subscribe to receive your bulletins regularly. Thank you very much
Hello, I am interested in your article about new regulations for female Saudi students. My magazine would very much like to get a copy of these new rules. Do you know where I might obtain them? Thanks.
666 Broadway, 11th Floor
New York, NY 10012
Hello. I read your article on forced marriages of young Muslim girls in Europe. I have read that this goes on in other countries as well. I forwarded the article to an email list I'm on, and one of my friends asked what she could do to help. I realized I'd like to help, too but have no idea how. My friend and I, and most of the people on the list live in the U.S. Is there anything we can do, even though we are outsiders?
Lynne H. Schultz
Dear Azam, my name is Paola Boncompagni and I am an Italian journalist who writes about humanitarian issues. I wanted to thank you for sending me this brief on Women and the Middle East, which I found very interesting. Please, keep on sending them to me, if you have these reports regularly. I really find them interesting and useful for my job. Should I utilize the info in one of my articles for the Italian press, I'd let you know.
Thank you very much for your time and attention, and best wishes,
vicelo delle Palle, 296
Dear Azam Kamguian
I am a Danish journalist working for Danish Broadcast Cooperation. I have just arrived home from the Middle East where I did some radio programs on the situation of women in the region. I am now looking for someone who can tell me more about the current developments in Saudi Arabia regarding women's right to work and movement. My focus is on education for girls and on the current reforms that is apparently taking place in the educational system. Do you know somebody who is following the situation in Saudi Arabia and who has views and knowledge on the subject?
I hope you are able to help me, I will try to contact you by phone later on today.
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 too many women.
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