CDWRME Bulletin #2

Women in the Middle East -2 - June 2002 Bulletin of "Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East"

Editor: Azam Kamguian 
Assistant Editor: Mona Basaraddin

In this issue: 

Jordan: Battered Women and the Legal System in the Arab World
Legal experts from the Arab world in a conference recently held on laws for battered women in Jordan, while condemning honour killings and the laws related to it, blamed the media and Arab writers for failing to expose violence against women in their writing. Farida Banani a law professor from Morocco said: "Arab writers always deny that our societies suffer from any social problems such as violence against women: domestic abuse and rape. Instead they attribute these problems to the West. They only pretend that everything is perfect, which in reality creates a bigger and more uncontrolled problem." She also referred to the negative stereotypical image of Arab women in the press as being weak, and second - class citizens in their own countries.

Head of Jordan National Institute of Forensic Medicine, Momen Hadidi talking about abused women, stated that about four women are killed every month in Jordan in the name of family honour. He touched on the virginity test that women undertake at his clinic, saying that doctors never force them to take such tests, but women insist on it to avoid social and family pressures. He referred to women who go missing for several days, are located by authorities and then immediately are referred to the forensic institute for a virginity test as proof to their families they are still virgin. The tests are a form of assurance to families that their daughters are clear of any 'wrongdoing', he said. "But families sometimes do not believe our reports and decide to take the life of their female kin anyway. If tests prove that women did engage in some form of sexual activities, the authorities lock them up in order to protect them from their families," he added.

Bangladesh: Increase in Acid Attacks on Women
Acid attacks against women are on the rise in Bangladesh. Throwing acid is used as a cheap and brutal way of revenging romantic disappointments, dowry disputes, domestic fights and arguments over property.

Acid Survivors Foundation, a private charity, provides victims with a refuge, counseling and medical and legal help. It also works to prevent further acid attacks. The foundation catalogued 221 incidents in 2000 and 340 in 2001, a 55% increase. Up to March this year, 84 cases have already been reported.

On International Women's Day, the Acid Survivors Foundation and a daily newspaper, Prothom Alo, organized a rally of men along with the victims of acid attacks. About 100 victims and more than 2000 men from across the country took part in the rally held in Dhaka. Speakers emphasized the importance of building up a social movement against acid attacks and other horrific crimes against women. They also called on men to come forward to stop such crimes.

Iran, Pakistan and Nigeria: More Women on the Death Row of Islamic Law
Ferdows B, Zafaran Bibi, Amina Lawal Kurami, and Sima are all sentenced to death by stoning:

We call upon all women/human's rights organizations to protest against this Islamic cruel and inhuman treatment of women.

Please send your protest letters to:
Mohammad Khatami - Iran
Fax: +98 216 464 443

 Nigerian Embassy, 173 Avenue
Victor Hugo 75016 Paris
Fax: 00 33 1 47 04 47 54 or

General Pervez Musharraf
Chief Executive
Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Fax: + 92519203938

Egypt: Arab Women's Civil Rights in Marrying Foreigners
In Egypt, as in most of the Arab world, according to Shari'a, children born to women who marry foreigners often endure a painful awakening that they are not like other citizens. In every country except for Tunisia, in fact, they are nor considered citizens at all.

Women's organizations across the Arab world have taken up this issue and highlight the demand for sweeping new citizenship laws, arguing that the existing ones discriminate against women and wreak untold damage on children. Last year 2000 women marched in the streets of Beirut demanding amongst other things, changing this discriminatory law.

Iman Bibars, director of the Association for the Enhancement and Development of Women, a group trying to change the laws in Egypt says: "It is very tribal, which is why Arabs in many countries are against changing it. Women belong to the tribe, so if you go to another tribe to marry, you are no longer one of us."

"The backward mentality prefers that the family be linked to the men, under his control, so that he is the person who gives them their status in the society," Says Asma Kheder, a lawyer working to change Jordan citizenship laws. "If children feel that their mothers cannot provide them with the same protection as their fathers, then the whole status of women will remain less important."

Opponents of the restrictions hope that the Egyptian efforts will succeed because it could influence the rest of the region. Although the problem has been recognised for some time, women's groups say they are pushing the debate now since globalisation is increasing the number of such marriages.

Children in Egypt of foreign fathers cannot go to public school or state universities for free, are barred from certain professional schools like medicine or engineering even if they are willing to pay, and cannot get jobs without residency and work permits for foreigners.

Opponents of the restrictions want to argue that the law violates the constitution, which guarantees equal rights for all Egyptians. The foreign wives and children of Egyptian men are given citizenship automatically. They are focusing less on the issue of women's rights than on the problems children face. "There is always resistance to changing any law that has to do with women," Says Rabea Naciri, a Moroccan lawyer. "I think the question of nationality might face fewer problems because it also affects the children." Young adults born of foreign fathers say their biggest problem is feeling like strangers in the only place they really know.

Ethiopia: FGM, the most Serious Health Issue Affecting Women
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is becoming one of the most serious health issues affecting women and is helping to spread HIV/AIDS, according to the international lobby groups, Inter - African Committee (IAC). FGM, which has been practiced for hundreds of years in Africa, is now becoming a major mode of transmission for HIV/AIDS. Untrained women - known as excisors - often perform the brutal cutting on children leaving them scarred for life. Some will use exactly the same knife for all the excisions - regardless of the dangers of spreading infections. Four out of five women in Ethiopia aged between 15 and 49 are believed to have been circumcised.

In the West, where FGM is carried out within the immigrant population, laws have been passed to try and ban it. Offenders can be jailed. Progressive women groups fighting against FGM believe that the solution to preventing FGM and other harmful practices is by changing the values, attitudes and behavior of society. This in turn requires education, information, and most of all the empowerment of women.

 Jordan: Two most Recent Cases of Honour Killings
A 16 year- old boy reportedly confessed to killing his older sister in the city of Ibrid minutes after the victim allegedly consumed pesticides in an attempted suicide. The victim, Asia J, 22 was reportedly strangled with an electric cord by her brother in their home in a northern suburb of Ibrid. Her brother then turned himself in to the police shortly after the incident occurred, claiming to have killed his sibling for reasons of family honour.

The 24 year- old victim, mother of three, identified only as Maryam, was found stabbed to death and burnt in a deserted area of Deir Alla in the Jordan valley in early April. Maryam was reportedly murdered by her brothers because she allegedly allowed her sister to meet her lover in her house. Her brothers were apprehended one week after the body was discovered. The three confessed to killing their sibling to cleanse their family honour. The young sister is kept in jail for the reason of protection from killing by her family members.

Afghanistan: Women Continue to Live Under Islamic Laws
In Kabul, the jail is filled with teenage girls accused of 'crimes' ranging from falling in love, engaging in sexual relationships, and running away from abusive husbands. Islamic law and backward cultural traditions persist in the country, and the interim government says it still will uphold these laws, though perhaps not as strictly as Taliban. Islamic laws enforce brutal punishment such as lashing, imprisonment and stoning to death for sex outside marriage. Tribal customs and laws allow relatives to kill girls who lose their virginity, as according to them this brings shame to the family.

Deputy of security of Kabul says: "we put these girls in jail for 3 to 4 months. This is an Islamic society. If we let people do whatever they want, half of society will soon suffer from AIDS." Among its many tasks, the interim government was supposed to create a commission to plan the rebuilding of the criminal justice system and restore human rights as part of the Bonn agreement last fall. The commission has yet to bee established. In the absence of new laws, country's high court has gone back to using Shari'a, the Islamic Law which were in place before the Taliban. Legal authorities say: "stoning and lashing could occur again when the evidence is strong or the crime is repeated." They say: "Taliban did not use the real Shari'a, they just wanted to scare people. We are softer than them, we apply them more compassionately."

Bangladesh & Pakistan: Women Trafficking
Since a decade ago, thousands women of Bangladesh under the control of trafficking networks have crossed into Pakistan. The majority is running from poverty or are orphans; all are lured by the prospect of a secure life and steady income. Once passed the borders, they are sold.

The largest number of trafficking victims comes from Asia - more than 225,000 people from Southeast Asia each year, and 150,000 from South Asia. Pakistan is a source, transit and destination country - and the abuses are wide ranging. Women and children from East Asian countries and Bangladesh are bought through on their way to the Middle East to work in Domestic servitude or as prostitutes.

It is estimated that every year more than 4000 Bangladeshi women and children are trafficked to Pakistan. The majority of trafficked women are under 25, and many are still in their teens. The victims are often forced to have unprotected sex with a large number of clients, working long hours in deplorable conditions. Many women fall ill within a year or two. Few are provided with any medical care. Women are under the worst possible condition; without any legal document, and the ability to speak the language. There is no shelter home or any other help.

Pakistan- and the southern port city of Karachi in particular- have begun to emerge as a Centre for the kind of lucrative "sex tourism" found in such countries as Thailand, Malaysia and India. Pakistan's tolerance of such practices is attributed to many factors, including corruption and endemic poverty. Women are subordinate to men and largely uneducated, leaving many of them highly vulnerable. Young girls in Pakistan's North -West Frontier Province are often sold off to other family members or neighbors. According to the practice, called Savara, the price is determined by age, weight and beauty.

Pakistan's constitution bans slavery and forced labor but does not address trafficking. Women raped in the course of their trafficking experience have to fight against draconian ordinances that criminalises extramarital intimacy and leave the burden on victims. Testimony by females carries no legal weight. If the case cannot be proved, the court turns the allegation against the victim as a confession of complicity, and she is punished. Even if they succeed in the initial proceeding, the victims may face criminal charges for illegal status in Pakistan.

Palestine: Save Palestinian Women and Children in the Occupied Territories
Due to the current situation of the civil society—specifically that of pregnant women, newborns and injured children—in the Occupied Territories, an initiative of WOMEN WITHOUT BORDERS invites you to enable a mobile delivery and emergency unit for women and children of Birzeit and surrounding villages with more than 80.000 inhabitants. We want to supply midwives and medical personnel with "midwife bags to answer the imminent needs of safe natal and prenatal services, and to establish an emergency unit with the minimum resources for wounded children. This initiative was born thanks to the Palestinian human rights activist Sumaya Farhat Naser and will be carried out with her help by the Birzeit Women's Charitable Society, a non-­ governmental, non-profitable organization. Considering the risk on women and children health status in the current situation due to closures, sieges and curfews, this unit is a question of life or death.


The Charter of Committee to Defend Women's Right in the Middle East

"Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East" - CDWRME is founded and struggles for women's human rights, individual freedom and civil rights.

We believe that secularism and the separation of religion from the state are the basic pre-conditions for women's liberation in the Middle East.

We believe in the universality of women's rights and consider cultural relativism as a cover to create a comprehensive social, legal, intellectual, emotional, geographical and civil apartheid based on distinctions of race, ethnicity, religion and gender. This complete system of apartheid attacks women's basic rights and freedom and justifies savagery and barbarism inflicted on women by Islamic movements and Islamic governments in the region.

The major laws and measures that we demand and struggle for are as follows:

  1. Abolition of the current Personal Status Code, replacing it by a secular and egalitarian family law. Laying down equal rights and obligations for women and men regarding the care and upbringing of children, control and running of family's finance, inheritance, choice of residence, housework, divorce and in case of separation custody of children.
  2. Abolition of honour killing laws. Recognition of honour killing as a grave crime.
  3. Putting an end to forced marriages
  4. Prohibition of imposing the Islamic dress code and veil. Freedom of clothing
  5. Prohibition of interference of authorities and family members in the private lives of women
  6. Prohibition of any form of segregation of women and men in public places.
  7. Abolition of any restriction on the right of women to work, travel and choose the place of residence at will.
  8. Equal political rights for women, rights to vote and to be elected women's rights to hold any position and office - political, administrative and judicial. Women's rights to form women organization and affiliation to political parties without any restriction. Supporting and encouraging non-governmental women's rights groups.
  9. Secure equality of rights of women and men in employment wages insurance, education and family affairs.
  10. Imposition of severe penalties on abuse, intimidation and violent treatment of women and girls in the family.
  11. Prohibition of polygamy

We try to create a network of women's rights activists in the Middle Eastern countries; we campaign around women's civil rights and individual freedom, and support the just struggle of women in the Middle East.

Women's rights activists from Iran, Jordan and Lebanon have founded CDWRME in July 2001, and Azam Kamguian is the co-ordinator and the spokesperson of the committee.

Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East
September 2001
Tel: 0044(0) 788 4040 835
Fax: + 44(0) 870 831 0204

To: Women's Rights, Civil Rights and Secular Organisations and Activists

Dear Friends,
I am pleased to announce the new URL of our web site at: 

Please visit our web site, link it to your sites and invite colleagues to visit it.

All best wishes,
Azam Kamguian
Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East