CDWRME Bulletin #28

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 28, October, 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 must get their rights 

  • Iran: Further restrictions on women's rights 

  • Bangladesh: The legal system & violence against women

  • Turkey: Moves to ban virginity tests

  • South Sudan: Dire Situation for women & children 

  • Afghanistan: Women need education & security 

  • Uzbekistan: Banning Islamic dress

  • Letters to & Requests from CDWRME

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

Iraq: Women must get their rights 

Iraq has been international front-page news for some time now. Let us look at the situation of the women in Iraq to understand the background. Iraqi women were once among the most educated and professional women in the Middle East. As early as 1920 the Iraqi women moved to gain more rights and a better education. They demanded to be recognised as full citizens, insisted on and defended their freedom from having to wear a veil in public, as per Islamic tradition. Aswa Zahawi founded the Women's Rising Group, which began publishing ‘Leila’, a journal promoting education and employment rights for women. All these efforts paid back, resulting in them joining the job markets by the late 1920s and early 1930s, making them pioneers in the Middle East.

Women have played important roles throughout Iraq's modern history. It was in the early years of the nationalist secular regime that women's status and rights were formally enshrined in legislation and treaties. In 1970, the new constitution nominally made Iraqi women and men equal under the law. During these times women's literacy and education improved, and restrictions on women outside their homes were lifted. Women won the right to vote and to run for political office, and they could freely drive, work and hold jobs traditionally held only by men.

The 1970s and early 1980s witnessed rapid economic growth in Iraq. The Iraqi government enforced further policies aimed at the improvement of education and employment opportunities for women. The Iraqi Constitution was changed to ensure equal rights for both men and women. Unlike in many neighbouring Arab countries, Iraqi women enjoyed more rights such as equal pay, six months of fully paid maternity leave and an additional six months of half pay and up to five years of unpaid maternity leave, while retaining their work place for them if they desired to return. Many workplaces had subsidized day care for their children. It’s usually barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen time.

Before 1991, female literacy rates in Iraq were the highest in the region. Iraq had achieved a nearly complete primary education for girls as well as boys. After the 1991 Gulf War and after the economic embargos were applied, living conditions for women in Iraq began to deteriorate rapidly. The declining economy caused many women to lose their jobs and abandon their education to make room for the now also struggling men. So that was the history. What are the conditions now?

Girls and women are now facing a major learning gap and there has been a sharp decline in adult female literacy. Today, over one year after the war, which was supposed to bring "liberation" to all Iraqis, Iraqi women are even worse off. Rather than an improvement in the quality of their lives, we have read about widespread violence against women. The lack of security, led to chaos and growing crime rates against women. They found it more and more difficult to go out alone to work, or to schools and universities without an armed male relative guarding them. The Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (Owfi) has drawn up lists of violations miles long.

In late December 2003 the Iraqi women vehemently rejected decision Number 137 passed by the Iraqi Governing Council. Decision 137 was to replace Iraqi civil law concerning family law with Sharia law, giving religious courts jurisdiction over matters such as inheritance, marriage, and divorce. The Iraqi Family Law, also known as the Personal Status Law, was the achievement of the struggle of the Iraqi people for much of the past century. It was not a law written by Saddam or his regime. Women naturally rebelled against that. They organised protests and demonstrations in Baghdad and urged US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, to pressure the Governing Council to revoke this resolution. They put up a hard fight. After much uproar they finally succeeded in convincing the majority of the council to overturn the resolution. 

Now after viewing the background we come to the connection. Looking at the role of the women in Iraq’s past, what does the future really hold for them?

One of the threats is a highly potential move from the relatively secular rule to a religious Islamic orientation of the interim or later the new government. The proposal to move to Sharia law was just the start. The exclusion of women from drafting the new constitution was another. And this brings us to the second story. Moving the date of Women’s Day has nothing whatsoever to do with women's rights, but reeks suspiciously of subordinating women to rigid Islamic rules. 

Islamic groups have already imposed veiling in various parts under their control and have also issued their own brands of fatwas, for temporary marriages, against prostitutes etc. In rural areas, Iraqi women have fallen under the firm hold of tribal leaders and religious clerics again. The current political climate with its religious flavour warns, almost screams, against excluding the Iraqi women, for if they are shut out and prevented from an active role now, their chances for a future role become next to none. Excluding the women now, will be condemning Iraq to a similar fate like its neighbours. A fate of social darkness, economic stagnation and tyrannical dictatorships. 

Iran: Further restrictions on women's rights 

Growing number of women are being arrested for wearing un-Islamic clothing around the country, and the new parliament elected in February has also rejected adopting the U.N. convention that bans discrimination against women.

The parliament also rejected expanding women's inheritance rights, and called for segregating men and women at universities and for placing other limits on women's activities. As many women in Iran put it: "These restrictions are like putting a little stone in front of a huge storm that is going for change.

Bangladesh: The legal system & violence against women

Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) has been actively involved in rescuing women and children from violent and exploitative situations and enabling them to get greater access to the legal system. The organisation's Executive Director Advocate Salma Ali speaks to SWM about the primary loopholes in the legal process that adversely affect women and how this process can be reformed to make it work for women. Asked a set of questions, the organisation provides following information:

1) What are the main drawbacks in the legal system that undermine the rights of women as equal citizens? 

Some of the main drawbacks are: 

a. A woman victim is liable to prove the case by herself. 
b. There are many laws such as laws of inheritance, family law-- distinctively guardianship, custody and divorce that are discriminatory towards women. 
c. Too much emphasis on medical test reports and certificate of injury during legislation which is not always practically possible to obtain 
d. Lack of eye witnesses in case of domestic violence. 
e. Lengthy legal procedure. 
f. Corruption among the law enforcing agencies and other related persons. 

2) Has the access of women to the legal system improved over the years? 

Though some gaps still exist within the present legal procedure, women's access to the legal system has improved over the years. Some laws have been enacted which have widened the way to establish women's rights in all spheres of life. In fact establishments of the mediation court, enactment of the Acid Throwing Act and the formation of Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal has been treated as great steps of Bangladesh Government in this regard. At the Government NGO joint level, especially from BNWLA's side, initiation of One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) in different government medical colleges has also secured the greater access of women who become victims of violence or abuse. 

Some issues, which are still lagging behind in law making and need immediate attention such as domestic violence /wife abuse. According to BNWLA official sources, nearly 75-85% of clients regularly seek legal assistance to save themselves from different forms of domestic violence. Most domestic violence occur when the woman's family cannot fulfil dowry demands, when the wife is reluctant about giving approval for second marriage and because of the general lack of moral values of the husband and other family members. There is also an urgency to form new laws to prohibit domestic violence. 

In our view in spite of the Speedy Trial Act initiated by the Government the sufferings of the women have not been reduced due to political pressure and the case error related stay order of the High Court. Apart from that, the absence of any clause regarding 'eve teasing' or sexual harassment in the recent Women and Children Repression (Prevention) Act 2003, has curtailed the rights of women. Defective F.I.R. (First Information Report) also causes unnecessary agony for women and creates obstacles in getting justice in time. In view of that there is an exigency to strengthen the infrastructure for the proper implementation of laws. 

3) Can you cite a successful case study where BNWLA have helped a woman through the legal system? 

In one case Anika and Salam (not their real names) were in love. One day when Anika was ill and her mother had left her home to get medicine, Salam entered the house and raped Anika. Anika's screams for help alerted the neighbours. Later Anika and her mother contacted BNWLA through its hotline service to seek legal assistance. BNWLA filed a case against her boyfriend Salam. Finally BNWLA with testimony from Anika's neighbours won this case and the accused person received lifetime prison and fined five thousand Taka (or imprisonment for three months) against his charges. This was a major achievement for BNWLA. 

4) What do you think needs to be changed to make the legal system accessible and beneficial for women? 

-- Though the Bangladesh Constitution, contain several articles (10, 27, 28, 29 etc) for the protection of women rights, in practice there are many inconsistencies with Personal Law. 

--The Bangladesh Government is yet to sign a few of the articles of CEDAW. Due to that the sufferings of women has increased. It is very urgent to complete signing all of the articles of CEDAW. 

--There is a need to amend Muslim law of inheritance and family laws Evidence Act, Birth Registration Act, Child Marriage Restraint Act and Hindu Personal Law as well as the Suppression of Immoral Trafficking Act 1933.A new law on domestic violence has to be enacted. 

--In cases where women are victims of domestic violence or torture by the husband, priority should be given to circumstantial evidence and procedure should be changed accordingly. In cases of physical torture, circumstantial evidence should be given preference over medical evidence. 

--A new injunction procedure needs to be initiated to establish the right of the wife to stay at the husband's home after filing a suit against husband. 

--The Criminal Procedure Code must be amended to avoid lengthy procedure. 

-- The practice of appointing lawyers simply considering their political views has to be eliminated. 

--There has to be a procedure of accountability of law enforcing agencies. 

-- Victim and witness protection services have to be more effective. 

--Training of youth groups besides police, investigation officers, Kazi.

--There is an urgency to reform some of the sections of the Penal Code. There is also a need to have clear definitions of Rape, Sexual Harassment and others. 

Source: Daily Star

Turkey: Moves to ban virginity tests

Legislators are moving to ban virginity tests for women and introducing jail term for those who carry out such examinations without legal permission. A legislative amendment to this effect was agreed on Thursday at a session of parliament's justice commission, which has been reviewing changes to the penal code as part of efforts to align Turkish law with European Union norms. 

The draft bans virginity tests unless they are demanded by a prosecutor or a judge as evidence in criminal cases, sources said. If a woman is subjected to such an examination without judicial permission, the persons who have forced her to undergo the test and the medics who have performed it will be punishable with a jail term of between three months and one year. 

Testing women and teenage girls has been quite common among the traditional and pious masses in Turkey's rural parts, where virginity is seen as a matter of family honour. But in 1999 the justice ministry issued a circular restricting the practice to gathering evidence in court cases after five girls attempted suicide in a state-run orphanage after being forced to undergo the tests because they had returned late to their boarding house. AFP

South Sudan: Dire Situation for women & children 

A girl born in southern Sudan is 10 times more likely to die in childbirth or pregnancy than to complete primary school, a new study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows as it observes Day of the African Child today. 

The study, Towards a Baseline: Best Estimates of Social Indicators for Southern Sudan, found that about one in nine women dies in pregnancy or childbirth, compared to one in 100 girls who finish primary school. 

Young children from southern Sudan, which has endured 21 years of civil war, are also in grave peril of dying from preventable disease. About 95,000 children aged below five, from a pool of 7.5 million young children, are estimated to have died last year. This compares to the 76,000 children under five – from a combined population of 938 million – who died in 31 industrialized countries during the same period. 

The report shows that southern Sudan ranks as the worst place in the world on many health and social indicators, including chronic malnutrition rates, completion of primary school, ante-natal care and immunization rates. The situation is worst for women and children. 

Since 1983 southern Sudan’s civilian population has been caught in the middle of a war between the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Between three and four million people have become internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries and at least two million people have been killed. 

Last month representatives from Khartoum and the SPLM/An initialled three protocols aimed at ending the conflict. The two sides are expected to sign a comprehensive peace agreement within the next three months. 

In a statement issued today alongside the report, UNICEF called on Sudanese authorities, civil society and international donors and non-government organizations (NGOs) to focus their relief efforts on the survival and development of children. 

Press Release: United Nations 

Afghanistan: Women need education & security 

In Afghanistan next month, women will be able to vote in presidential elections for the first time, illustrating the new rights women have gained since the Taliban were ousted three years ago. But a coalition of human rights and women's groups says more needs to be done, particularly regarding education and security, before Afghanistan's women can achieve full emancipation and equal rights. 

An organization of more than 40 advocacy groups, called the Women's Edge Coalition, says the international perception of how Afghan women's lives have changed, may be overly optimistic. Executive Director Ritu Sharma says progress is not coming fast enough. "And while we have seen some gains, particularly in the capital, Kabul, Afghan women are really not doing as well as many want to believe." 

Ms. Sharma says lack of funding for education and security initiatives prevent women from making real strides. She cites a human right's group report that shows enrolment in Afghan schools is the highest it's ever been, with about half the children between the ages of seven and 13 attending classes. Yet, the same report says; in some Afghan provinces, only one percent of girls are in school. 

Ms. Sharma says her group has received reports of intimidation and violence against women, which prevent them from going to work or school, or carrying on with their daily lives. 

Uzbekistan: Banning Islamic dress 

Uzbekistan has recently stepped up a crackdown on female Islamic dress as part of its ongoing campaign against Islamic groups. The restrictions take place as official community councils, or makhallas, take on a growing role in providing religious counselling and education to Uzbek believers. 

The Uzbek constitution bans wearing religious dress in public, but, to many, the official targeting of women in headscarves and Hijab, a robe that covers the entire body, only reflects the government’s growing suspicion of independent practitioners of Islam. The government has blamed Islamists for the March 28-31 bomb attacks on Tashkent and Bukhara, but some Western observers have stated that the violence appeared intended as an act of political protest against the rule of President Islam Karimov. 

A controversial decision to ban Islamic headscarves in a school in Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley, the country’s religious heartland, illustrates the political stakes involved. 

So far, the Uzbek government has responded cautiously to reports of the incident. Shoazim Minovarov, chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers’ Committee on Religious Affairs, which has received numerous such complaints in recent months, stated that the school’s decision to "persecute" people for wearing headscarves was "unlawful." But the school’s principal, Zafar Amirov, believes that forbidding the scarf is his duty as a teacher.

"Students at school must wear a uniform," said Amirov, who asserted that he had not received orders "from higher up" to ban the scarf. "We must gradually reform this girl." In justifying their bans on Hijab and headscarves, makhallas and schools explain that Uzbekistan is a secular state. 

Letters to & Requests from CDWRME


I am trying to contact Iranian women in the Nottingham or London area in order to conduct informal interviews/discussions about the situation for women in Iran - specifically Iranian, and global women's groups.

I am a student at Nottingham Trent University, studying for my Master's Degree in Globalization, Identity and Technology. My dissertation topic is the growth of the Iranian women's movement over the last ten years or so. I was given this contact by a group working for Iraqi solidarity. I want to explore the women's movement in Iran and its global connections, through women's own experience.

Would you be able to put me in touch with any women that could discuss their involvement or views, or send me any information on working happening in the country at the moment? As only an English speaker I am finding it difficult to get up to the minute information. Any help would be much appreciated.

Yours faithfully, 
Katy Huxley


Thanks for your article not because I agree with what you are saying, no, just because you expressed your opinion freely. Well, I bet you have got few, very few knowledge about Islam. You are getting confused between Islam noble teaching and inherent savage traditions. What you were describing in your article was exactly what was happening before the coming of Islam. But after that, and I can confirm that, Islam is the only religion that honoured women after a past black history!!! I completely condemn and deny what killing because of honour, but I disagree in attributing that to Islam!!!!! Because it is wrong. In slam made no difference between men and women, women can seek knowledge, can work, can choose her husband, ask for divorce,, .There are a lot of verses and prophet's sayings "Those who do so (beat their wives) are not the best among you" (Abu Dawood). He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire" (Bukhari and Muslim). "Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers" (Muslim). 

And this Koranic verse to show the purpose of marriage cant realised when one of the couples don't like the other 'And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect" (30:21). And this is what the Koran says about considering females as 'eib' at your article; ""When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! What an evil they decide on?" (16:59). and there a lot of proofs, I don t have to find them now that state clearly the position of women in Islam and deny oppression in all of its forms. 

Regarding involving in voluntary sexual relationships before marriage, could u let me tell this is a corrupted logic in itself, lets forget about religion for a while, could u tell me how AIDS originated, u can go and ask those millions who are suffering from it, what is the sin of those innocent people and children who got it cause of a mistake???!!!!, so far, despite all efforts made, there is no treatment for it, and humanity is loosing huge number of people. Most of them are young that could contribute a lot, unfortunately there is a severe erosion of human resources because of what , because of allowing such unjustified, immoral relations to spread, besides, if u go and ask anyone of the world, what they are aiming for, certainly most of the answers would be , security and stability, could u tell me how can u be stable when u are involved in a relationship that nobody can assume a responsibility, what happens if a child results from it, how would he grow when he doesn’t know who is his parents in case they reject him, or his father or mother,. Lets imagine, the whole world is engaging in such type of relationships, how would we know who is the father of whom, without a doubt a real mess would occur. And human s can engage in endless wars among them for such reasons forgetting about new dangerous diseases that will appear. Let’s be objective and see for long term, marriage purpose is to recognise life in a way it guaranteed, dignity, security, love and compassion for everyone. 

Once again, Islam denies killing for the sake of honour. That is what pagans before Islam were practising and even corrupted Christianity and Judaism invited to. Check this for evidence:

There is a punishment for people who commit adultery that is forbidden by Islam as well as Judaism and Christianity. Which is not killing as you might think. I do strongly suggest that you be objective and think thoroughly before judging, because judging without knowing is not a feature of maturity. I also advice to re think about what u wrote, because you are misleading people especially against a religion that came to lift humans up to high standards of dignity and best life in a very fascinating way , and u will assume responsibility when we all meet our creature. Finally, be sure, that whatever effort deployed by people to mislead others and they know, won’t succeed, because promised to reveal that ISLAM IS THE TRUTH FROM GOD AND IT IS RIGHT AND VALID EVERYTIME AND EVERYWHERE. 
I ask GOD to guide and show u the right path. 



I stumbled upon your website through Google and I have to say I support your views. I am not Muslim, but I am marrying a Muslim woman and we feel the rights of women in Islam are virtually non-existent. We want to help in our way. We are in New Jersey in the US. We are trying to spread the word and open people's eyes of the plight of these women. If we can help or do our piece please let us know. 

Thank You,


I am hoping that you may help me find some information regarding Whether Tunisia has banned girls from wearing the Hijab in public schools? If you could let me know of where I could find this information that would be much appreciated.

Many thanks,
Dianne G.
Roe Hampton University of Surrey
Senior Lecturer


Dear Azam
I read your essay and I am so interested to make a sort of dialogue with you that you might convince me with your ideas about religion. It's clear that you have a secular attitude towards religion but why don't you rethink again of your ideas. 
Religion is not to be judged by people's practices but this is what you do which is unfair either to you or to us. 

About the article on the Hijab veiling of young girls, I agree with the author. Like all organised religious cults, Islam relies on parasitic clergy to oppress at least half of the adherents, generally the female half.

It, like Catholicism relies on the whims of priests to determine how free individuals should lead their lives. By all means let people explore the various religious philosophies, or irreligious philosophies and come to their own conclusions, but let's preach against the clergy, in whatever guise they manifest themselves.


CDWRME: Join Us to Defend Women’s Rights & Support Victims of Violence

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

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