CDWRME Bulletin #32
"Women in the Middle East"
Number 32, February, 2005
of "Committee to Defend
Women's Rights in the
Editor: Azam Kamguian
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaruddin
Iraq: Women without veil: On Organisation for Women’s Freedom
Iran: IRA denies reports allowing women running for president
Iran: Afsaneh Nourozi Freed
Egypt: Broad lines of El Saadaw'si program for presidential election
Holland: Ayann Hirsi Ali back in parliament
Saudi Arabia: Rania calls women to press for their rights
Pakistan: Equal rights for women not yet ensured?
Kuwait: Islamist wave sweeps the country
Nigeria: Under Islamic Law, rights violated
Yemen: Conference on Arab women political rights
Letters to and requests from CDWRME
CDWRME: Join Us to Support Victims of Violence & defend Women’s Rights
Iraq: Women without veil: On Organisation for Women’s Freedom
Since the war, life has badly deteriorated for women in Iraq and girls are being forced to wear the veil again. A workman is pinning a banner to the wall as a chill draft swirls through the near-empty ballroom at the Palestine hotel. "An equal, secular constitution is the first step to total fairness," the sign says in Arabic. This is supposed to be one in a series of pioneering public meetings to address the growing inequalities of women in the new Iraq. A year ago, in the weeks after the invasion, hundreds of women marched in the streets outside this hotel in central Baghdad. The women were optimistic, most walked without veils and they made forceful speeches in front of the TV cameras. Those days of mass protest are over. Today there are barely a dozen women present. Half are veiled and most have come with male relatives or colleagues for protection. It is a quiet indictment of the occupation and underscores the astonishing collapse in security, particularly for women that it has brought.
"Do you feel how threatening it is to go out in the streets? Can you guarantee that you are safe and alive by the end of the day?" asks Yannar Mohammad, the conference organizer and one of the most ardent women's rights activists in Iraq. "It is the insecurity that handicaps the organizing of woman." The few women there describe how things have changed for them since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent rise in Islamic parties. Many more cover their hair now, sometimes in belief, often through peer-group pressure or simply to protect themselves in anonymity.
"Veils are imposed on young girls," says Nadam Moaeed. "What do girls understand from this veil? It will have a bad psychological effect. She will become a negative presence in society." She describes the new pressures on children in schools and the pervasive influence of the religious parties, particularly the conservative Shia groups, which are certain to dominate the new parliament after this weekend's elections. "Political parties come and take a room in the school building and they impose on every female student veils and even gloves," she says. "Where is the humanity in that? They are always putting up Islamic pictures in the school and the children don't understand it at all.
We heard of one school where Christian girls were made to wear the veil." Thiqra Faisal, a student, has traveled up from Basra; a city regarded as more liberal than most. "Even in the universities, women can't wear what they want," she says. "If you see a woman without a scarf in the street, everyone will be surprised. You have to be fully covered."
It was not always this way. In the 1950s, Iraq was the first Arab country to appoint a female government minister. Women worked freely in banks and government and administrative departments and were involved in a vibrant public debate. The changes came in the 1990s when Saddam Hussein began to appease the tribes and the imams. He allowed men to take four wives and ruled there would no longer be any punishment for a man who killed a woman in his family if he suspected her of an "honour crime". These conservative rulings have been inherited and tacitly endorsed by the major religious parties. At one stage a year ago, hardliners in the US-appointed governing council tried to pass article 137 that would impose Islamic Sharia law over rights of personal status, drastically diluting the legal protection for women. After a series of vocal protests the article was dropped, but it was a clear warning of the conservative political programme that lies ahead.
These are the public problems. In private there is so much more that remains unspoken. The conference organiser Mohammad, 44, runs the Organisation for Women's Freedom in Iraq, an outspoken campaigning movement. She is rare among Iraqi women: avowedly secular and unafraid to stand up in public and pugnaciously condemn the failings of the male-dominated establishment. She dresses as she might in the west - today she is wearing a smart trouser suit and her long dark hair is, as always, uncovered. Her views are so radical in today's Iraq that she has twice had death threats, always travels with a guard and has a small silver pistol hidden in her purse.
Her group has already established two women's shelters - in Baghdad and Kirkuk. In the past year perhaps a dozen women have been taken in and many more have asked for help, telling stories of brutality and oppression rarely acknowledged in public. They found one woman from a strict Islamic family in the Kurdish north who had been raped before she was married. "After her husband found out he decided she was filthy and not allowed to touch her newborn child. It was bad, daily beatings. We found her on the street weeping," says Mohammad. Now the woman, 23, is back at school, living in the shelter and planning to go to university.
The group's campaigning and shelters are largely down to the energy of Mohammad herself. An architecture graduate from Baghdad University, she lived abroad for 10 years before the war, mostly in Toronto. There she met socialist feminists and decided to return to Iraq to campaign after the fall of the regime. She sold her house and left her husband and 17-year-old son behind in Canada.
"I became obsessed with the shelter. It had to be done," she says. Now, a year on, she is worried that many people's frustration at the failures of the occupation is being channeled into hard-line Islamic movements. "The liberation should happen through a civil and secular alternative."
She makes her case in an unrepentant way. The latest copy of her group’s newspaper, al-Musawat, or Equality, shows a photo of her burning a veil. "They should be afraid of us," she writes. She refuses to take part in the elections this Sunday, even though rules are in place to ensure that each party includes 25% women among its candidates. She argues that the overwhelming influence of the Islamists has unfairly tipped the balance and says her group would be unlikely to win a seat. Instead she will continue campaigning from outside government.
"There are thousands of secular people supporting me. With short, certain steps we will get somewhere," she says. "But it will take time."
From The Guardian Unlimited © Guardian January 24, 2005
Iran: Government denies reports it will allow women to run for president
The Islamic republic denied reports in the state-run media that it had decided to allow female candidates for the first time. Throughout a day, state-run radio and television carried reports quoting council spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying the council had changed its long-standing policy and allowed women to run. If they meet the age, nationality and other guidelines set for men, “women can also run for president,” the television quoted Elham as saying.
The question of whether women can run for president hinges on a long debated question over phrasing in the constitution, which says the president, must be elected from among political “rijal.” That Arabic word means literally “men” but can be interpreted simply as political personalities regardless of their gender.
Later, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency carried a report saying Elham had rejected the statement attributed to him earlier. The agency report added that the Guardian Council believes the term “rijal” refers solely to men.
Iran: Afsaneh Nourozi Freed
An Iranian woman sentenced to death for killing a police official she said had tried to rape her has been pardoned by the victim's family. The family of Behzad Moghaddam agreed to accept compensation instead of seeking Afsaneh Norouzi's execution. Iran's Supreme Court overturned Mrs Norouzi's death sentence in July but she still faced a lower court's ruling. The mother of three, whose eight-year case prompted a human rights outcry, is freed now.
She and her family were visiting Mr Moghaddam, an intelligence/secret police officer on the holiday island of Kish in the Persian Gulf, in 1997 when her husband was called away. Mrs Norouzi said she had tried to defend herself with a knife when the officer attempted to rape her. A court in Kish eventually found her guilty of murder and condemned her to death - a sentence initially upheld by the Supreme Court last year. However, under pressure from women's rights activists worldwide, the head of the judiciary finally ordered a review before the Supreme Court, which in July quashed the death verdict.
According to the Sharia, a married woman who is raped risks the death penalty for adultery if she cannot prove she was violated. If she kills her attacker, she may also face the death sentence for murder.
Egypt: Broad lines of Nawal El Saadawi's program for presidential election
The aim she wishes to attain in presenting herself as a candidate for the presidency, is not to become President. The constitution of Egypt has been formulated in such a way as to make it impossible to be a candidate unless he or she obtains two thirds of the parliamentary vote before taking this step.
Instead her aim is to play a role in strengthening the movement of people aimed at achieving a real democratic change in the present system. Her electoral program is founded on broad based intellectual; political economic and cultural themes and can be summarized under the following points :
1 - The educational system should be founded on free discussion, on breaking down the barriers and destroying the shackles which surround the mind, on a continuous encouragement of creative work in every field. It should seek to link the different streams of thought, to connect the private with the public to develop a capacity for understanding the reality of society, its problems and how to solve them. It should aim at bridging the gap between fields of knowledge, restore the connection between art and science, between law, the social sciences, history, philosophy, medicine and literature, between internal and international affairs, between the local and the global .
The creation of critical free thought is the basis of progress in the sciences, in the arts and in all areas of life .
2 - The ideological outlook of the ruling system must be changed to become decentralized and collective n its essence, and undergo continued renewal. It should not be based on a pyramidal, rigid structuring with an individual leader, enthroned at the top, a leader who is never wrong, and cannot be brought to account, he is almost sacred .
With greater power there should be greater accountability and not the opposite. The aw of immunity should be abolished so that all authorities including the highest are held responsible for their actions and are subjected to supervision and democratic control, whether it be the head of state, or the head of Al Azhar or a minister, or a member of parliament, or the president of an institution or any other responsible person .
All authorities should be subject to the same laws including the law which permits an examination of the sources from which their money or their properties have been drawn.
Systems built on appointment rather than election to responsible office especially to the legislature ( Parliament ) to juridical institutions and to the executive governmental bodies must be abolished. This should include the post of Sheikh Al Azhar, heads of university departments, deans, rectors, directors and presidents in colleges and universities, professors in the academic institutions, chairpersons of national councils in different areas including those dealing with human rights, women etc.
3 - Laws and legislation which permits discrimination against citizens on the basis of religion, gender class, race, party or family affiliation should be abolished. Candidature to elections for all posts in the state apparatus including that of the President must be open to all men and women without exception, to ensure that they are occupied by those who are the best fitted for them and not by those who wield the most power and influence. Laws which are promulgated must be free of all religious affiliation including personal and family laws. They should become a part of civil legislation, built on justice and equality between men and women, between husbands and wives, and between fathers and mothers.
All children should enjoy the same personal and public rights and none of them is to be discriminated against because born inside or outside wedlock .
The rights of women and children are universal human rights and should not be violated under any pretext related to national or religious identity or local tradition or cultural relativism or other .
4 - All laws restricting the exercise of freedom of thought, expression of opinion , organization and political and social action are to be abolished. This includes martial law, and all financial or other restrictions to the establishment of newspapers, magazines, film companies, radio stations , and television channels, as well as other cultural or informational institutions and organizations. Financial or other restrictions to the establishment of political parties, trade unions, cooperatives, associations in civil society active in the social and cultural fields should also to be abolished.
5 -It is necessary to ensure the independent development of the national economy, its freedom from subjugation by the neo colonial alliance between the United States. Europe, and Israel to encourage and promote industrial and agricultural production instead of financial speculation, to build an economy which caters to the needs of our people and not to those of the multinationals.
We need an agrarian reform, a ceiling to land ownership, the reduction of agricultural rents, a return to cooperatives in agricultural activities and in small or middle industrial and trading establishments. Taxes should be levied on the richer sectors of the population rather than the poor and those who earn a fixed income, corruption should be fought starting with the higher levels of society and black marketers, and luxury importation should be abolished. The systems of social security and insurance are to be inspected and controlled by its beneficiaries under a separate independent administration to prevent its funds from being plundered by government administrations and utilized for other purposes .
6 -It is vital to build up solidarity and cooperation with the world people’s movement against war, corporate capitalist exploitation and globalization, neo colonial plunder and aggression from the United States, Europe and Israel.
Efforts should be made to develop new and more creative ways of people’s resistance to these forces at the local, Arab, and international levels , to free ourselves from the shackles of economic, political, military, cultural and media tic hegemony exercised by the most rich and powerful corporations, to reinforce cooperation with the people of Palestine and Iraq in their struggle against foreign occupation and aggression as well as with the other Arab people in order to overcome the plunder of our resources, in water, oil, and the treasures of our cultural heritage.
Holland: Ayann Hirsi Ali back in parliament
Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali has returned to public life after more than two months in hiding following the murder of her friend and collaborator, film director Theo van Gogh, determined to continue her political career and to keep the oppression of women on the agenda. Returning to the Dutch parliament on 18 January, she vowed to continue both as an MP and to go on writing and producing films such as her work with Van Gogh, Submission that tackle issues of Islam and women's rights.”
I will attend all the meetings, I will control our government. And, beyond that I will keep on writing articles, I will keep on writing scripts for not just Submission Part II but Part III and so on. I will do anything in my power to keep the oppression of women on the agenda.” She described how although she remained fearful, she felt she had to confront her critics and fulfil her duties as a politician. "I am scared now and again, but I will go on. I must go on," she said. "I am convinced that you cannot give in to threats and terrorism. What Theo and I had in common was an awareness of the threat formed by radical Islam. The attack (that killed Van Gogh) on 2 November brought Dutch society face to face with Islamic terrorism for the first time. We are talking about an international phenomenon here, not just a local incident."
· Saudi Arabia: Rania calls women to press for their rights
Former Saudi TV personality Rania Al-Baz called on women victims of violence in the region “to speak up and join hands to fight for their rights.” Rania, who grabbed headlines, last year in a domestic violence case, was among the delegates at the Amnesty International conference.
“We need to come out and encourage each other. Times are a changing. Women and the governments have to do something,” Rania told Arab News. “We need programs to support equality among sexes. But most important we need an awareness program on the issues that women face in the Gulf,” she said. “We can only make a good start by admitting first that we have problems,” she said. Rania said with the help of the people who supported her, she is now managing to recover from the trauma of a brutal assault she suffered from her husband in April. The scars hardly show on her face, but she had undergone eight operations in Saudi Arabia and abroad. She suffered 13 fractures in her face after being beaten up by her husband. “I will need to go through two more operations very soon,” she said. “I am better now but I still find difficulties with my left eye and the left part of my face.”
Rania said she was happy to have been granted a divorce from her husband. She said she is now willing to devote more time to work for the cause of women’s rights. “I didn’t have the chance of having a husband who would love me and share life with me the way I wished it to be. But a lot of people are giving me encouragement. Now I can achieve something,” she said. “I have the freedom now.” Speaking to delegates at the conference, Rania said “We need more changes in protecting women and giving them greater freedom,” she said. “In the region, we have social theories and practices that foster violence against women. We need to change all of that. Violence against women occurs to all classes, the rich and the poor, everyone is affected.”
Pakistan: Equal rights for women not yet ensured?
A study conducted by the Zakat, Ushr, Social Welfare and Women Development department, NWFP, has pinpointed Pakistan's failure to fulfil its international commitments in respect of ensuring equal rights for women. "Pakistan has so far failed in ensuring equality for women," notes the study conducted in connection with the provincial government's under-preparation gender reforms action plan (Grap).
In 1985, Pakistan became a party to the Forward-Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, a covenant adopted by the United Nations conference held in Nairobi. Being a member of the UN, Pakistan is also a party to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that underlines equal rights for men and women. However, none of the successive governments could manage to fulfil the country's obligations under the two international commitments. Pakistan is also bound to ensure rights for women after having signed a convention for the elimination of discrimination against women in 1996 and the ILO convention which stipulates 'equal pay for equal value of work'.
"In spite of all these initiatives and international commitments signed by the government, the...women in Pakistani society remain disadvantaged and subordinated at all levels," the study says. It goes on to add that "economic, political and social disparities continue to persist in all spheres of public and private life." The study analyzes different aspects of society's behaviour and some of the policy measures introduced by successive governments.
"The combined efforts of General Zia-ul-Haq's Shariah laws and the upsurge of tribal and feudal practices (in the wake of ineffective and flawed judicial processes) reinforced popular male attitudes and perceptions," says the study. This situation has contributed to an atmosphere where discriminatory treatment with women is readily accepted, according to the study. It pinpoints several loopholes in the public sector policy framework, development and planning processes which, it says are hampering equal rights for women.
· Kuwait: Islamist wave sweeps the country
At a Kuwaiti hotel Sheikh Ali Abu al-Hassan holds an audience spellbound with his talk about “the pleasures of heaven”, a paradise where true Muslims will enjoy virgins, eternal bliss and bounty. Down the road at Kuwait’s university, women and men are brought down to earth with the reality of life in the country. They are segregated to prevent them from “sin”. Islamist protests in Kuwait have forced the government to ban pop concerts, while at hospitals devout women surgeons are refusing to operate on men saying it is religiously forbidden for them to see their genitals.
In the past, men and women mingled and dated in Kuwait. The country had mixed beach clubs for nationals. No longer! Most now have separate swimming days for women and men. Like other Gulf States, Kuwait is witnessing a rising tide of Islamic fanaticism. More and more women wear the veil under pressure and more men grow beards to display their religious fervour. Islamist extremism indoctrinated by the Sunni Salafi and Wahhabi movements is spreading from Saudi Arabia to neighbouring Kuwait, influencing its youth and affecting all aspects of life. The Islamists’ won their foothold in Kuwaiti society through schools and universities. That served as a springboard to more influential posts and eventually to Parliament from where they are now imposing their views through the law making process.
“They brainwash children at a young age. Dancing is banned, concerts are banned, and we’re heading to dark times. Anything pleasurable is deemed un-Islamic and immoral,” says Leila Othman, a liberal Kuwaiti writer. “I am sad. We lived golden days in Kuwait in the past. The Kuwait I lived in is not the one I can identify with now.” Othman, most of whose books are banned because of their progressive ideas, has her own experience of the Islamic transformation. “I have a daughter who is veiled, she belongs to the salafis. My son is a religious extremist. This pains me because at home we didn’t have this zealousness. It was the school and university. These were the dens of indoctrination. Our children regressed,” she said.
The Islamists pushed through Parliament a law that forced universities to segregate the sexes, causing tremendous inconvenience for faculties which did not have the staff to meet the demands of double classrooms. One of the solutions was that girls would sit in class in front of a screen, listening via a microphone to a male professor lecturing boys in another room. The girls would take notes and ask questions via the screen. This segregation led to chaos. It has no benefit at all and won’t change things. What was so bad when boys sat with girls in the same room? Nothing happened.
As in other Gulf States, some of Kuwait’s elite lead a quasi-Western lifestyle. They buy Western clothes and have parties and discos at home. The constricting religious atmosphere is generating frustration and leading the young to live two kinds of lives an underground hedonistic one or another obsessively religious life. All the Arab world is looking for salvation from the grip of these religious tentacles that have spread everywhere.
· Nigeria: Under Islamic Law, rights violated
If the Sharia courts had respected the due process rights enshrined in Nigeria's constitution, many of these sentences would never have been imposed. The 111-page report documents human rights violations since Sharia was introduced to cover criminal law in 12 northern states. Since 2000, at least 10 people have been sentenced to death and dozens sentenced to amputation and floggings. The majority have been tried without legal representation. Many sentenced to amputation were convicted on confessions extracted under torture by the police. Judges in Sharia courts, most of whom have not received adequate training, have failed to inform defendants of their rights.
If the Sharia courts had respected the due process rights enshrined in Nigeria's constitution, many of these sentences would never have been imposed, said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Africa Division. Some of the human rights violations documented in the report ”such as police torture and corruption in the judiciary are not peculiar to Shariâ€™a. Indeed, they are at least as widespread in cases handled by the parallel common law system.
State governments and Sharia courts have not only failed to respect international human rights standards. They have also disregarded what many Muslims argue are key principles of Sharia itself, said Takirambudde. They have concentrated on the harsh aspects of Islamic law while ignoring its principles of generosity and compassion.
The report highlights discrimination against women within the Sharia legislation introduced by the 12 states. Women have been especially affected in cases of adultery or extramarital sex, where standards of evidence differ for men and for women, and pregnancy is considered sufficient evidence to convict a woman. Judges have also failed to investigate allegations of rape made by female defendants in adultery cases. The imposition of Sharia has corresponded to increased restrictions for women in their day-to-day life, affecting their freedom of movement and association as well as their style of dress. Women have been harassed by Sharia enforcement groups, known as hisbah, set up by state governments. The hisbah have also carried out abuses against suspected male offenders, particularly those suspected of drinking alcohol.
As domestic and international concern over the harsh sentences has increased, the momentum for Sharia has waned in the past year or two. Harsh sentences have become rarer, and several death sentences have been overturned on appeal. However, the legislation providing for these punishments remains in place, and fundamental abuses continue.
In northern Nigeria, many Muslims who had initially supported Sharia have become disillusioned with the manner in which it has been implemented. They told Human Rights Watch that this was not real Sharia but political Sharia but are fearful of being labelled anti-Islamic if they say so publicly.
State governors have championed Sharia simply to boost their popularity. These officials have been willing to sanction serious abuses to enhance their political standing, Takirambudde said. However, as popular opinion has shifted, state governors have now become hesitant to carry out the death sentences and amputations that have been handed down. However, they are also not prepared to oppose such punishments. As a result, dozens of people are now facing prolonged periods of uncertainty in detention while an amputation sentence hangs over them. Some have been in prison for more than two years. The Human Rights Watch report called on federal and state governments in Nigeria and judicial officials to amend provisions of the Sharia state legislation that violate human rights particularly provisions for death sentences, amputations and floggings as well as provisions that discriminate against women. Nigerian officials should stop handing down and executing such punishments. Human Rights Watch also called for due process to be respected in Sharia trials, and for legal representation to be mandatory in all trials where the offence is punishable by death or amputation.
Yemen: Conference on Arab women political rights
A statement issued by the Arab Shakek Forum organizing the conference, the first of its kind, stressed the move is necessary to help introduce badly needed political and social reforms in Arab countries. "The conference will focus on the political status of Arab women and obstacles depriving women from having a say in political decision-making," the statement said.
Delegations from 21 Arab states will participate in the three-day parley and present papers on the status of women in each country to help them develop a common vision and approach to dealing with challenges facing Arab women and improving their political representation.
Letters to & Requests from CDWRME
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