CDWRME Bulletin #30

"Women in the Middle East" 

Number 30, December, 2004

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

Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin

In this issue:

  • Egypt: Women suffer discrimination under legal system based on the Sharia law 
  • Iran: Campaign against attacks on NGO's and women's rights activists
  • Iraq: 100,000 Iraqi Civilians dead, half of them women and children
  • Iran: Campaign to Save Zhila and Bakhtiyar
  • Pakistan: Victims at risk of honour killing under new Criminal Law Act
  • UK: New Home Office measures to tacklet forced marriage
  • Saudi Arabia: A female pilot challenges country's Islamic establishment
  • Algeria: Female journalist wins 2004 courage in journalism award
  • Letters to & Requests from CDWRME
  • CDWRME: Join Us to Support Victims of Violence & defend Women's Rights

Egypt: Women suffer discrimination under legal system, based on the Sharia law

Egypt's divorce system discriminates against women and undermines their right to end a marriage, Human Rights Watch said in a new report In October, the government established family courts but, like no-fault divorce introduced four years earlier, these have failed to tackle ongoing discrimination against women.

The 62-page report, "Divorced from Justice: Women's Unequal Access to Divorce in Egypt," documents serious human rights abuses stemming from discriminatory family laws that have resulted in a divorce system that affords separate and unequal treatment to men and women. Men in Egypt have a unilateral and unconditional right to divorce, based on the Islamic Sharia law. They never need to enter a courtroom to end their marriages. Women, on the other hand, must resort to the courts to divorce their spouses, where they confront countless social, legal and bureaucratic obstacles.

Women who seek divorce in Egypt have two options: fault-based or no-fault divorce. In order to initiate a fault-based divorce, which can provide full financial rights, a woman must show evidence of harm inflicted by her spouse during the course of their marriage. Even physical abuse often needs to be supported by eyewitness testimony.

Since 2000, Egyptian women have had the option of filing for no-fault divorce (khula). But to do so, they must agree to forfeit their financial rights and repay the dowry given to them by their husbands upon marriage. Adopted as a way to speed up the divorce process, no-fault divorce still requires women to petition the court to terminate their marriages.

"An Egyptian woman seeking a divorce finds herself between a rock and a hard place," said LaShawn R. Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "If she files for a fault-based divorce, she has to endure years of legal uncertainty. To obtain a faster no-fault divorce, she must sign away all her financial rights."

In contrast, Egyptian law affords many protections for men. Women seeking a divorce, unlike men, must submit to compulsory mediation. If a woman leaves her husband without his consent, he can files charges under Egypt's "obedience laws" that can result in her loss of alimony upon divorce.

The near-insurmountable obstacles confronting women in the divorce process drive many women to relinquish their rights in an attempt to persuade their husbands to divorce them. The consequences of this two-tiered system are often financially and emotionally devastating for women. In some cases, they can be physically dangerous as well.

Since 2000, the government has made efforts to address women's unequal access to divorce. Nonetheless, these reforms have not fundamentally altered the unequal divorce equation in Egypt. While the introduction of no-fault divorce has clearly helped some women divorce more easily, women still have to relinquish many of their rights if they choose this option.

In October, the Egyptian government established specialized family courts to streamline the divorce process by consolidating all disputes into a single case heard by one court. While a step forward in some respects, these new courts are implementing the same discriminatory laws and practices as the previous system.

Iran: Campaign against Attacks on NGO's and women's rights activists

To all freedom lovers, women and men

I, Maryam Afrasiabpour, representative in the Västerås city and member of central committee of The Women's Freedom Organization, am concerned about the news we have received from Iran.

Fereshteh Ghazi (journalist), Mahboubeh basgholizadeh (journalist and an activist for women' rights) have been arrested in recent days. Mahboubeh Abasgholi the Chief Executive of the women's internship organization, which is an NGO organization, has been taken into custody since Monday. She has been arrested at work by the government agents. And her computer has been confiscated. It seems like the Islamic Regime of Iran, after the vast aggression towards the web log writers, intends to attack all the social organizations, active in defending women's rights activists in Iran.

I am pleading to all of you to join the campaign of struggle and socio-political movement to defend the lives, freedom of speech and formation of NGO organizations and all the Women's Rights activists in Iran.

I am asking for the help of all the activists, foundations, organizations, and Women's Rights organizations to help stop this aggression by making the people of the world aware of the aggression towards women and their NGO's in Islamic Republic of Iran.

Stop the persecution and incarceration of women activists in Iran. Unconditional freedom of speech, gathering, organizing, and right to strike is the fundamental rights of the people. Please join my struggle to free Mahboubeh Abasgholizadeh and other women's rights activists and women NGO's in Iran.

Help stop arresting and imprisonment of these activists Please sign this petition, translate to other languages and send it to all the Women's Rights Organizations all across the world and send a copy to Judicial Minister and President of Islamic Republic of Iran.

We the undersigned, have been informed that, Mahboubeh Abasgholizadeh, journalist and CEO of women's internship (NGO), and following the same policy Mr. Kayvan Samimi, publisher of ""Nameh" magazine have been arrested. ISNA has reported that the reasons for Mrs Nasrin Sotoudeh are "insolence of women's individuality" and "insult of the sacred"

We express our objection to these acts of violation of human rights and demand the immediate release of all these journalists and women's rights activists. We demand the freedom of speech, gatherings, and organizations. Freedom of speech, right to organize and participate in a peaceful organization, is the basic human rights for every citizen of the world. We condemn these violations of human rights and consider these treatments, inhuman.

E-mail Tel: 00467 039 06666

Khahtami : President of Islamic Republic of Iran, Tehran, Intersection Azerbaijan Ave. And Palestine

Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi Park e Shahr, Ministry of justice of Islamic Republic of Iran European Union : 

Iraq: 100,000 Iraqi Civilians dead, half of them women and children

About 100,000 Iraqi civilians - half of them women and children - have died in Iraq since the invasion, mostly as a result of air strikes by coalition (sic) forces, according to the first reliable study of the death toll from Iraqi and US public health experts.

The study, which was carried out in 33 randomly-chosen neighbourhoods of Iraq representative of the entire population, shows that violence is now the leading cause of death in Iraq. Before the invasion, most people died of heart attacks, stroke and chronic illness. The risk of a violent death is now 58 times higher than it was before the invasion.

The findings raised important questions for the governments of the United Sates and Britain who, said Dr Horton in a commentary, "must have considered the likely effects of their actions for civilians".

The research was led by Les Roberts of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Five of the six Iraqi interviewers who went to the 988 households in the survey were doctors and all those involved in the research on the ground, says the paper, risked their lives to collect the data. Householders were asked about births and deaths in the 14.6 months before the March 2003 invasion, and births and deaths in the 17.8 months afterwards. When death certificates were not available, there were good reasons, say the authors. "We think it is unlikely that deaths were falsely recorded. Interviewers also believed that in the Iraqi culture it was unlikely for respondents to fabricate deaths," they write.

They found an increase in infant mortality from 29 to 57 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is consistent with the pattern in wars, where women are unable or unwilling to get to hospital to deliver babies, they say. The other increase was in violent death, which was reported in 15 of the 33 clusters studied and which was mostly attributed to airs strikes.

"Despite widespread Iraqi casualties, household interview data do not show evidence of widespread wrongdoing on the part of individual soldiers on the ground," write the researchers. Only three of the 61 deaths involved coalition soldiers killing Iraqis with small arms fire. In one case, a 56-year-old man might have been a combatant, they say, in the second a 72-year-old man was shot at a checkpoint and in the third, an armed guard was mistaken for a combatant and shot during a skirmish. In the second two cases, American soldiers apologised to the families. "The remaining 58 killings (all attributed to US forces by interviewees) were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets or other forms of aerial weaponry," they write.

The biggest death toll recorded by the researchers was in Falluja, which registered two-thirds of the violent deaths they found. "In Falluja, 23 households of 52 visited were either temporarily or permanently abandoned. Neighbours interviewed described widespread death in most of the abandoned houses but could not give adequate details for inclusion in the survey," they write. Source the Guardian

Iran: Campaign to Save Zhila and Bakhtiyar

To all freedom living people What should we do for Zhila, Bakhtiyar and their child?

Zhila and Bakhtiyar are still in detention. Zhila is in a poor mental and physical state of health. Visits by humanitarian individuals and institutions have been blocked. The management of the centre keeping them has rejected the attempts of the "Committee to Save Zhila and Bakhtiyar" to visit them.

Save Zhila and Bakhtiyar's campaign has now expanded into a worldwide campaign. We can now claim that we did not allow Zhila and Bakhtiyar to perish in silence and suffer the same fate as thousands of other hapless children in Iran. A massive force in support of Zhila and Bakhtiyar has been mobilised. Our campaign has attracted the attentions of honourable people and pro-children and humanitarian organisations worldwide.

Despite the current reprieve and the retreat of the Islamic republic from carrying out the stoning and execution, both Zhila and Bakhtiyar still remain in detention.

Zhila and Bakhtiyar are still kept in the so-called "House for children with crime and disorder problems" in the city of Sanandaj. Repeated requests by the "Committee to Save Zhila and Bakhtiyar" to visit them have been declined. Such visits are crucial to the well being of Zhila and Bakhtiyar. Without such contacts and supports by children rights and women's rights organisations their lives would be in danger and tragedies await them. They could easily fell victim to bigotry or be driven, under duress, to take their own lives. The force that has been mobilised to save their lives should continue with their efforts to protect the mental and physical health of these three children.

"Campaign to Save Zhila and Bakhtiyar Izadi" will endeavour to:

Have these two children freed. Leading a near normal life in their small hometown is not possible. Safety and security of these children against the background of bigotry and reactionary thoughts and practices, which are compounded by the Iranian regime, is beyond the means of their family. Their family is also subjected to a wave of backward morality attacks and need help as well. The Islamic regime is more than capable of instigating and organising a campaign of so called "honour crimes" against these children. The moral assault on these children will have detrimental consequences and could drive them to despair.

All our efforts must be aimed at securing the well-being and safety of these children. The responsibility for lives and dignity of Zhila and Bakhtiyar must be entrusted to a reputable and trusted institution or under the auspice of a group of humanitarian individuals with sufficient means and resources to help them rebuild their lives.

At this stage, an important element of our campaign will be to focus on raising funds and resources for Zhila and Bakhtiyar. To safeguard their safety and security and help them in rebuilding their shuttered lives we will need the support of all human loving and honourable people.

Nahid Riazi Co-ordinator and Spokesperson for: Campaign to save Zhila and Bakhtiyar Tel: 0045 40543992 Email:

Pakistan: Victims at risk of honour killing under new Criminal Law Act

Pakistan's National Assembly adopted the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2004 at the end of October, amending sections of the Pakistan Criminal Code of 1860 to include penalties for honour crimes. Hundreds of women are killed every year in Pakistan for alleged misdemeanours such as adultery, marrying without the family's consent, pre-marital sex or having been raped, with many cases going unreported.

This is the first piece of legislation to specifically mention honour crimes, which in the case of murder will now carry a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of 25 years in prison. However, commentators have pointed out that this change does nothing to confront the issue of impunity for perpetrators of these crimes, as, like all offences against the human body, they come under the law of Qisas and Diyat (retribution and blood-money). These are offences where the offender can seek forgiveness from the heirs of the murdered person. The heirs can forgive the perpetrator in the name of God, without receiving compensation, or can do this after receiving it.

In the case of honour crimes, where the perpetrator is often a member of the victim's family (commonly brother, husband or father), this means that forgiveness is often granted and no punishment meted out to the offender.

Families of poor victims are under pressure to accept a sum of money in compensation to settle the matter, the murderer then going free. According to campaigners, impunity has been the single most important factor encouraging honour killings in Pakistan. As the Criminal Law Amendment Bill does not address this issue, victims will continue to be at risk. Source 

UK: New Home Office measures to tackle forced marriage

The Home Office will launch a consultation on whether to create a criminal offence of forcing someone into marriage. Other measures include the set up of a joint Home Office - Foreign Office Forced Marriage Unit which will provide information and assistance both to potential victims and professionals. At the same time the minimum age for marriage entry clearance will be raised from 16 to 18. There will an officer in Islamabad who will assist those who have been abandoned in Pakistan by their partners and have a right to return to the UK as well as help reluctant spouses.

These measures follow existing work (which started in 2000) with public agencies, the voluntary sector and community leaders to raise awareness of forced marriage and encourage victims to seek support and advice. More than 1,000 cases of suspected forced marriages have been dealt with since 2000. Currently those guilty of forcing someone into marriage can be prosecuted for kidnap or rape. The voluntary sector is still concerned that they will not protect women and girls fully.

See Foreign Office Press Release, 'New measures to tackle forced marriages', 27 October 2004 at

Saudi Arabia: A female pilot challenges country's Islamic establishment

A Saudi woman is set to challenge religious establishment by becoming the first female pilot in a country where women are not even allowed to drive. Hanadi Hindi, who trained for a pilot's license in Jordan, has signed a contract with billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal's private airline, the prince said.

"Recruiting Captain Hindi as a pilot ... is a major step in the employment of women and in their more active participation in Saudi society," Prince Alwaleed said in a statement. Hindi is due to start work by the middle of next year, after completing her training, in a move which directly challenges Saudi Arabia's religious authorities.

Women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from driving, mixing with men and travelling inside or outside the country without a male escort. They are obliged to cover from head to toe in an abaya, a concealing black cloak. Source: Reuters

Algeria: Female journalist wins 2004 courage in journalism award

Salima Tlemcani is the pen name of a reporter for El Watan newspaper in Algiers who has covered armed Islamic groups in Algeria for more than 12 years reporting accounts of rapes and murders. She was put on a death list by the Armed Islamic Group (10 of the 22 journalists on the list were assassinated) and is currently battling several lawsuits and a prison sentence because of her reporting. Source

Letters to & Requests from CDWRME


Hi Azam, I was reading your articles, which I found very interesting. I am living in Kenya, where I have a Muslim girl friend, we have been together for about 4 months and at the beginning of November she informed me that her father has arrange for her to marry someone at the end of the month. She is not under age (24) and although she has know the person she is to get married to, she feels that she doesn't want too. But she is unable to tell her parents that. We talked a lot but she dose not manage to talk to her parents about it, not even to postpone it.

I feel I need to do something to help her, she is deeply unhappy and has not been able to live a normal life since the new was broken to her. I can't imagine her going through this, and if there is something more I could do to help her, please let me know.

Thank king you in advance N. K


Hi! I turn to you in hope that you can answer this question.

What will happen to an Iranian women who has left her husband in Iran when she did not get a divorce , fled to another country (in this case Sweden) smuggled in her son (the only child) at the age of 16 and here lives as married with a Swedish man since a year back. She is to be sent back to Iran to apply again for staying permanently in Sweden. Her husband and his family are, says she, very religious and the husband has, via a sister, threatened to kill the women. He has also been to court and has a court order for arrest. The women fears that both she and the son are facing severe punishment if the have to go back to Iran, she even death. The are now hiding. - I'm writing about the case. She is one out of many hidden Iranian women in Sweden. Our migration acclaims there is no danger for this women to return to Iran - all women claim the opposite. This women's lawyer is not doing much to help her,. The woman tells me that she tried for two years to get a divorce - she and the husband have lived separately in Iran for two years. She left him, she says, because he abused her both mentally and physically and also misused drugs.

kindly Ingegerd Svedberg Reporter at Alingsas Tidning


Azam, My name is Sherri Reese. I live in the United States, in Acworth, Georgia. I am a single mother of 3 children, and have a very tight budget; however I do have other ways in which I think I can help your crusade to save so many women.

I have a blog site, and I would like to feature a story on your organization and its plight. I would also like to give you as much media coverage as I can possibly muster. I have many contacts with politicians and business organizations. Please email me any information I could use to help you along with suggestions. I would love any information on where to send funds to help you also.

A story on Zhila with personal info and other women would be FANTASTIC! Anything to help readers make a personal connection with the women in dire need of help and protection. Thank you for your important work.

Sincerely Sherri Reese


Dear Azam,

Firstly I would like to say how much I admire your courage in making your views known, and how refreshing it is to have somone express my own views in such an articlate way. I am writing to offer my support in whichever way possible. I am from a mixed race background in the UK (Pakistani and English), and have grown up knowing the stark contrasts between extreme Islamism, which comprises one half of my family, and the West. My life from my early teens has been a struggle to help my cousins and aunts, all but a few who are subject to domestic violence, one forced marriage, underage sex, and the enforced wearing of 'Islamic' dress by my extended family. I have links through which I may be able to help your cause: I spent time working with the organisation Ni Putes Ni Soumises in France, and at the university I study in the U.K.

I would be prepared to help raise awareness, fundraise, write articles, help organise demonstrations, or anything which may help the condition of women living under Islamic law, whether it be imposed by the state, or by families and communities in Europe and ignored in the name of multiculturalism. I appreciate that you are extremely busy, so although I am hopeful, I do not expect a personal reply - a list of links giving details of how I can help, or a standardised reply with such information would be extremely useful. With my very best wishes and sincere thanks for your inspiring sites and articles.

H. M.

Canada: Thanks for your wonderful writing "The silent holocaust" I am so happy and honoured that you have spoken. I wish I could do the same but I have no clue where to go. I am at your service to help this world achieve the freedom it deserves. Mirat Al ziat

USA Dear Azam Kamguian, My name is Cayse Powell. I go to school in Tennessee. I am a senior this year. In my government class we have been assigned to do projects on social injustice. We could choose whatever topic we wanted. My group has chosen women's rights in the middle east. We felt this is an injustice that is often overlooked. I am sure that you are very busy. But we were wondering if you could give us some information on this topic. Perhaps what rights women do not have, what rights they do have, and how they are treated in the Middle East. Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to your reply. Cayse Powell


Dear Azam I read your essay Religion Is Lethal 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. Yours, Sajida


Thank you for this informative site. I must admit I was totally naive concerning FGM, until I read a small article on it, while reading about honour killings, in the Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty website. I was stunned and shocked to know FGM is actually taking place around the world in this modern-day. The world media never publishes stories on FGM. Why are governments allowing men to contusing this abuse against women? I commend you for your work in campaigning and educating others on FGM. Women must be encouraged to say "NO". Tabitha Wells


Dear CDWRME, I wish for enlightened sanity and modernism to overtake the Arab world so that Arab and Muslim women can finally be considered equals to men, and be allowed to apply all their intelligence and talents to help better the life of all your people. There can be no success in a country or culture where half the population is oppressed by the other. Only when women are liberated from repression, will the world find true peace. I wish God's blessings on Muslim women. You must fight for your rights and show no fear so that your female children and grandchildren will know freedom in the future. All free peoples have had to suffer and fight for it. But it's worth it. From a Christian woman in America, Rachel

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. Join Us:

· I wish to join "Friends of Women in the Middle East" as a member at £35 p.a. / $ 55 p.a.

· I wish to make a donation of: £---------/ $---------

· I wish to subscribe to Women in the Middle East, bulletin of the Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East, and to participate in its petition signing and letter campaigning.

Name: ____________________________________

Address: ____________________________

Email: ____________________________

Please send your membership application to: Tel: + 44(0) 788 4040 835 Fax: + 44(0) 870 831 0204 Web-site: 

And send your membership fees/donations

In the U.K. to:

Lloyd TSB Butler Place Branch Account-holder: Middle Eastern Women's Rights Service Account No: 2237128 Sort Code: 30-98-97

Address: P O Box 132 1 Butler Place London SW1H 0PR U.K

In North America: Friends of Women in the Middle East Association Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Account No: 00600 010 Sort Code: 9218 211 1427 Kingsway Vancouver, B.C. V5N 2R6 Canada

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: