‘Religious Leaders Can Be Allies for Women’s Rights’
Syeda Shehrbano Kazim
February 20, 2015
ISLAMABAD: The Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) launched a 3-year project that aims to end violence against women and girls in 150 villages in Mansehra District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Mirpurkhas and Shaheed Benazirabad districts in Sindh.
The project is funded by the European Union and the implementing partners are Khwendo Kor (KK) and South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK). In addition to addressing domestic violence, the project will also tackle women’s right to inheritance and consent in marriage.
“Violence against women and girls is a global problem, cutting across countries and classes, said Hanna Mollan, Country Representative, NCA. As a faith-based organization, NCA works with religious leaders from all sects and faiths in Pakistan and religious leaders who are important allies in improving safety and respect of women.
Ms Mollan said antagonism between religious leaders and organisations working for women’s empowerment, is counterproductive. An important aspect is mapping of the duty bearers in positions of power, such as religious leaders, who are paid salaries by the state.
New 3-year project aims to utilise position of imams in rural communities
A Muslim religious leader from Mansehra, Sadiq Sherazi, shared his experience of promoting women’s rights in his community. He said he received threats from individuals and organizations. “Early marriages, forced marriages and denial of women’s rights of inheritance are endemic problems in my Union Council. But since Khwendo Kor began working in the area, things are slowly improving,” he said.
Narrating an incident, he said “There was a religious leader in my village who had not given his sisters their rightful share in the family property. We repeatedly spoke to him on the issue until he transferred ownership of some land to his sisters and in the next Friday sermon he said that he had obeyed God’s law.”
He said community action and persistently challenging harmful traditional values and practices are key to gradual changing the mindset of communities.
Shabana (full name withheld), a survivor of violence, was forced into marriage at the age of 16. Her husband was a drug addict and Shabana was forced to put up with his abuse. For 18 years she provided her children and herself for before she was able to leave her husband and move back to her parents. She said, “When these organizations started working in my area, I could not even speak to the workers. Today, with their support, I am able to speak at this forum. I have found my voice as a result of the wonderful work they do.”
Maryam Bibi, Executive Director of Khwendo Kor, said, “Empowerment comes from within, individually and collectively. The issues of violence against women are very sensitive and addressing them becomes much harder in conservative communities. We need experience, commitment and the faith. Successes such as Shabana give us the courage to carry on.”
She added, “It is worrying that development discourse avoids religious leaders and organizations when they often pivotal power holders in communities. This project is truly inclusive. We acknowledge the power of the imams and convince them to use their forums and spaces to support women’s rights.”
Zoë Leffler, European Union Development Advisor on Human Rights and Gender said, “Domestic violence is a global issue with 12 to 35 percent of women in Europe experiencing domestic violence. However, the difference lies in whether there are consequences for the perpetrators and whether the survivor has a place to go to for support. In many places in Pakistan, domestic violence is still considered a private matter and women are trapped in violent situations. We are determined to help bring about a change in attitudes, facilitate implementation of laws and foster the affirmation that women have rights.”
She added, “Globally, the realization has taken root that societies cannot develop while leaving half their population behind. Smart economics include women.”
The ceremony ended with an address by Zubaida Khatoon, former Chairperson of the KP Provincial Commission on the Status of Women and a member of the Board of Directors of Khwendo Kor. She said that the prevalence of gender based violence in Pakistan is unfortunate but there is a growing recognition that it is a crime. She added that the government is beginning to realize the importance of this work and also shared news that the KP government has approved a policy that aims to empower women of the province.
After Peshawar school attack, students receive counter-terrorist training
February 20, 2015
Pakistani students are undergoing training to prepare them for potential terrorist attacks in wake of the barbaric Taliban attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar at the end of last year, Mail Online reported.
Police and bomb disposal squads (BDS) have visited school children, teaching them how to handle firearms, defuse explosives and provide emergency care in the event of a terrorist attack occurring.
A BDS instructed classes of girls in Multan and Punjab how to locate and defuse an explosive device as they underwent the training programme. The drill also trained the schoolgirls to give assistance to ‘injured’ people and how to safely evacuate the school.
In Sindh province, teachers and students at the Mama Parsi school were trained by police at a centre in Karachi. Provincial police demonstrated self defence and also gave the students weapons training.
In a nationwide campaign to prepare students and school staff in potential attacks, several measures have been taken. Female teachers in Peshawar are receiving combat training to ‘engage’ terrorists, with the first group finishing training last month.
Officials have said that trained teachers would be able to fight off terrorists for an initial ten minutes before back-up arrived.
Following the December attack which claimed the lives of students, 35,000 educational institutions across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been ordered to beef up security and take measures.
Syahiera Atika, a 19-year-old Malaysian girl has happily embraced western-style capitalism but in contrast strictly follows the local interpretation of Islam as she informed the Vice of her circumcision.
Female circumcision involves the surgical removal of all or part of a woman’s clitoris. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classed this procedure as Female Genital Mutilation (FMG).
WHO also defines it as an operation that “involves partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”
Syahiera however, rejects the notion that it is inhumane and says that ”I’m circumcised because it is required by Islam.” She refers to it as ‘wajib’, which means any religious duty commanded by Allah.
“I don’t think the way we do it here is harmful,” she said, adding that “it protects young girls from pre-marital sex as it is supposed to lower their sex drive. But I am not sure it always works.”
According to a 2012 study conducted by Dr Maznah Dahlui, over 93 per cent of Muslim women surveyed had been circumcised. This made Syahiera among the majority of Muslim women in Malaysia.
Dr Dahlui also noted that the procedure was increasingly performed by trained medical professionals in private clinics, instead of by traditional circumcision practitioners.
Shocking to Western sensibilities, Dr Maznah insisted that Malaysia’s version of the procedure in less invasive than in other parts of the world.
Obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Mighilia of the Global Ikhwan private clinic located in Rawang, north of Kuala Lumpur, admitted that she performs a more drastic version with a needle or scissors. “I just take a needle and slit off the top of the clitoris, but it is very little,” she said. “Just one millimetre.”
WHO has declared FMG to provide no medical benefits whatsoever. It simply reflects the deep-rooted inequality between the sexes. For this reason, the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 unanimously passed a resolution calling it a “human rights violation” and urged states to ban the practice.
Some Malaysian medical practitioners also defend the practice by passing judgment onto other countries. “We are very much against what is going on in other countries like Sudan,”says Dr Ariza Mohamed, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at KPJ Ampang Puteri Specialist Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.
“That is very different from what we practice in Malaysia,” she said adding “and there is a big difference between circumcision and female genital mutilation.”
All Malaysians however, do not support the practice. Syarifatul Adibah, who is the Senior Programme Officer at Sisters in Islam, a local women’s rights group, insists that female circumcision isn’t once mentioned in the Quran.
Instead she points to its popularity as a stemming from an increasingly conservative interpretation of Islam. “Previously it was a cultural practice but now because of Islamisation, people just relate everything to Islam. And when you link something to religion, people here follow it blindly, they don’t enquire,” she explained.
The practice is not banned in Malaysia, although public hospitals are prevented from performing the surgery. More concerning however is that in 2009 the Fatwa Committee of Malaysia’s National Council of Islamic Religious Affairs ruled that female circumcision was obligatory for all Muslim women, unless it was harmful.
Child protection in Pak: Employer arrested for child’s maid torture
February 20, 2015
LAHORE: Johar Town police on Thursday arrested a man after his wife was accused of torturing a 12-year-old maid. Police said they were unable to arrest the woman because the raiding team did not include a policewoman.
The child servant told The Express Tribune the woman had beaten her on Wednesday after her son complained that she had snatched a book from him. “She beat me with steel hangers. I am hurting all over my body,” she said.
TV footage showed her speaking to the media with swollen eyes. She said she had come to work in Lahore from a village in Sargodha six months ago and was paid Rs5,000 a month. She said she had seven sisters and two brothers. The Child Protection Bureau has taken the girl into its custody.
News of the incident sparked outrage across the country, especially in Punjab. People took to their Twitter accounts to comment on the incident and expressed their concerns.
Separately, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took notice of the TV reports and sought a report from police in this regard. He ordered that the girl be provided proper medical care.
Indonesia’s Ban on Maids Threatens 2,000 Saudi Jobs
20 Feb, 2015
Some 600 recruitment offices are being threatened with bankruptcy as approximately 2,000 Saudi employees working in their offices are expected to lose their jobs due to a new Indonesian ban on maids working abroad, local media quoted office owners as saying.
The Indonesian Manpower Services Association (APJATI) has reportedly agreed to send its house maids to some companies as “janitors” with an agreed salary, Al-Riyadh daily said. This situation will deprive citizens and recruitment offices their rights to recruit manpower from Indonesia under the profession of “house maids,” the daily said quoting office owners.
Meanwhile, one of the companies said it is offering an Indonesian “janitor” for four days (on a five-hour basis) per month at a salary of SR750.
The owner of another recruitment office said that this attitude by such companies that agreed to hire manpower from Indonesia will lead recruitment offices to lay off more than 2,000 Saudi employees.
The representative urged the Ministry of Labor to intervene and ban the activities of companies working in this manner which deprives citizens of being able to recruit house workers under their names.
Another office owner, who requested anonymity, said that opening the door to the recruitment companies to practice this type of activity draws skepticism and is possibly meant to impede recruitment offices which have been working for tens of years.
Indonesian manpower exporting companies are set to stop sending house maids to the Kingdom. The recruitment offices are normally obliged to sign contracts with house workers and receive not less than 20 percent of the value of the contracts through applying in the names of citizens.
Vigil remembers girls taken by Boko Haram
February 20, 2015
A vigil Thursday evening sought to reinsert #bringbackourgirls into the public mind.
Texas A&M Amnesty International, a student organization, held the vigil at Rudder Fountain to remember the 300 girls taken by the Muslim militant group Boko Haram on April 14, 2014, from Chibok Government Secondary School in Nigeria.
Derin Oduye, political science senior and president of Amnesty, said the vigil was held to bring awareness to Bryan-College Station.
“These people need to know that people are still thinking about them, after the ‘bring back our girls’ stuff, people forgot and people stopped caring,” Oduye said.
Boko Haram is based in Nigeria and is growing slowly across the continent of Africa, now occupying countries including Niger, Chad and part of Cameroon, Oduye said.
“Boko” means western education is a sin, Oduye said.
“Like you’re [Boko Haram] against people, Africans, getting education, basically women getting education,” Oduye said. “They’re against western ideals and values.”
James Spencer, nuclear engineering senior and secretary of Amnesty, said after the kidnapping in April, the #bringbackourgirls campaign was widely spread by political leaders and celebrities, including First Lady Michelle Obama. However, Spencer said the movement was short lived.
“It kind of seemed to die away or kind of got to a point where we thought it was settled well enough,” Spencer said. “My whole hope with [the vigil] is to bring awareness with it on the first level, so people know it’s still ongoing, even if it’s not those girls there’s going to be other girls that could kidnapped as well.”
Spencer said he hopes spreading awareness on campus will remind people that the issue is still ongoing.
More than 200 of the girls are estimated to still be missing, Oduye said.
Oduye said Amnesty members have written letters to the family members of the girls as well as congressional leaders, specifically U.S. Rep. Bill Flores and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“It basically says we’re students … I’m really passionate about educating people about what is going on in Nigeria as well as I want you to take action as a congressional leader to shed light and take this to Congress and tell our congressional leaders that we’re passionate about it and people do care,” Oduye said.
Prince Sultan orders girl rewarded for surrendering antiquities
20 Feb, 2015
Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), has ordered double compensation and a letter of thanks to Zabyah Al-Shaharani, aged 15. She handed over a number of priceless archaeological stone tools dating back to the Stone Age to the Asir branch of the SCTA.
The prince wants to show his appreciation of the Saudi girl’s strong desire to preserve the archaeological wealth of the Kingdom for posterity and also for her trust in the SCTA as the entity to preserve the country’s historical heritage, to conduct research studies and support its museums.
Zabyah, a shepherd girl, came across the valuable antiques while looking for grass for her sheep on the Al-Hafayer mountain. She collected 705 of the beautiful artifacts in a large sack. She later heard about the SCTA’s drive for the return of antiques on a radio broadcast and contacted the SCTA on a tourist telephone in January 2013.
Then she took her finds to the office in Asir and let experts examine them. They selected 19 of the stones, including eight circular ones, six perforated stones used for spinning, seven stones used as multipurpose blades, an awl and some stones that were probably arrow heads.
Muhammad Al-Umrah, director general of SCTA’s Asir branch, said the prince was deeply impressed by the girl’s service to the Kingdom’s heritage. He also called on all citizens who possess antiquities to call the nearest SCTA office.
Men, women found working together in Saudi female shops
20 Feb, 2015
The joint inspection campaigns which were carried out by the Ministries of Labor, Interior and Commerce and Industry in a number of shops in Riyadh recorded 77 cases of violation, with men and women working together at female-only shops being the most prominent of them. The offending shops did not separate the departments of male and female shop assistants, according to the Ministry of Labor.
These campaigns were carried out last weekend with the participation of 20 inspectors from the Labor Office in Riyadh, 15 policemen and a number of inspectors of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Sixty-six violations were detected following the inspection of several stores selling products for use by women which violated the requirements of the women's work environment. The rest of the violations came as result of employers' ignorance to transfer their expat workers' sponsorship according to the labor laws in the Kingdom.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Labor, Tayseer Al-Mufrej, said that all female shops must separate the work area between male and female shop assistants as the labor regulations ban the presence of men at female areas at stores. He confirmed that ongoing inspection campaigns will be conducted weekly covering all cosmetic units without exception, according to a local daily.
The Ministry of Labor said earlier that it will take punitive actions against offenders of the female shops' requirements. The punitive procedures would be gradual, from advice to written warnings to fines. However, the Ministry of Labor will halt all its services to offenders who ignore these gradual punitive steps, while the authorities may shut down these stores as the last stage of warnings. The authorities have to date shut down 27 women's stores in the Eastern Province for these kinds of violations.
During the most recent inspection rounds, labor inspectors have used a new database mechanism to monitor employers and shop owners, and which shows any former violations of the shop to the concerned authorities at the time of the inspection.
The smart inspection system can monitor irregularities automatically and immediately through special tablets.
Malaysia detains teen girl trying to join Islamic State
20 Feb, 2015
Kuala Lumpur: Police have detained a 14-year-old girl suspected of trying to join the Islamic State (IS) terror group, the authorities said.
The girl, who is from Muar, was arrested before she could board a Cairo-bound flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, The Malaysian Star reported.
A police official said the girl was planning to marry a 22-year-old Malaysian student in Cairo.
Both of them would then go to Istanbul before securing passage to Syria.
"We discovered that she had been in contact with two Malaysian militants based in Syria. We will investigate further to uncover the mastermind behind the recruitment of Malaysian girls for the IS," the official said.
"We will not allow Malaysia to be used as a training ground or hideout for terrorists and militants. Anyone in support or in league with any terrorist will be detained."
Intelligence sources said the girl`s would-be husband is a student at Cairo`s Al-Azhar University.
The girl had attempted to go to Cairo without her family`s consent. She had even threatened to kill herself if her parents did not let her go.
The latest arrest brings the number of people linked to terrorism arrested in Malaysia to 68 since February 2013.
Among those arrested were navy and air force personnel and civil servants.
Last month, a young Malaysian couple, with their infant son, managed to elude the authorities to go to Syria to join the terror group.
"They went to Bangkok before taking a flight to Istanbul. They then entered Syria via a land route," a source said.
Muslim women, children celebrate birthday of RSS functionary Indresh Kumar
20 Feb, 2015
VARANASI: While Muslim clerics led by the Sunni Ulema Council general secretary Haji Mohammed Salees recently posed questions to senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar about Sangh parivar, a group of local Muslim women and children celebrated his birthday.
"We have no doubt in ideology of Indresh Kumar. We have great respect to him, and we pray for his wellbeing," said Nazneen Ansar, president of Muslim Mahila Foundation. According to her, Muslim women also offered namaz wishing wellbeing of Kumar. Besides, a feast was held for about 200 Muslim children by an NGO Vishal Bharat Sansthan in Hukulganj area on the occasion.
Nazneen said that Indresh Kumar always advocated for communal harmony and unity of Hindu and Muslim. "But, fingers are raised by some people just to fulfill vested interests," she said adding that people should not be misguided by false propaganda.
It may be recalled here that Muslim clerics met RSS functionary Indresh Kumar at Kanpur on Monday night and posed six questions to the Sangh including whether it has prepared a format to turn India into a Hindu rashtra (nation). The Muslim delegation reportedly claimed that Kumar refused to answer their questions and instead said that a conference of Muslim organisations should be called where he would give the answers.
Its worth mentioning here that these Muslim women associated with Bharatiya Awam Party, an all women political outfit, had openly supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi and campaigned in his favour during Lok Sabha election.
Isis Raqqa wives subjected to 'brutal' sexual assaults after marrying militants
20 Feb, 2015
Women living under Isis’s self-declared ‘caliphate’ are being subjected to 'brutal, abnormal sex acts' and are becoming too scared to leave their homes, a local activist group has claimed.
Many women and young girls are being forced to marry Isis militants in the group’s defacto capital of Raqqa, in Syria, and are then reportedly beaten and abused by their husbands.
The Syrian activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) says universities have been closed by Isis and women are banned from travelling to other areas to study. In a report on its website, the group said Isis fighters began searching for wives after taking over a swathe of the city. It says militants introduced a series of "crackdowns" designed to coerce women into marriage, such as prohibiting them from travelling or working without a male relative.
Abu Mohammed Hussam, one of the RBSS activists living outside of Raqqa, said women who walk around without male guardians are constantly harassed.
He said girls and women between the ages of nine and 50 are sent to special ‘education centres’ to learn the Koran and given lessons on how to be good wives.
The RBSS report claimed Isis members took advantage of poverty-stricken families by offering high dowries in exchange for marrying their daughters.
Mr Hussam said he spoke with three women between the ages of 19 and 29 who have allegedly been abused by Isis members. One woman told him she was hospitalised after a fighter she was forced to marry sexually assaulted her.
He told The Independent: “Some women say that foreign fighters are the worst, like monsters. Some of them say they're asking for strange things. They are also looking to marry young girls”.
He said fighters will often take more than one wife and search for 'sabaya' – women who have been kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.
A report on the RBSS website states that fear of being attacked and sexually assaulted are making women scared to leave their homes.
“All of these factors and circumstances mentioned above have formed a panic and fear to the girls and women of Raqqa, which the houses became their current tombs," it reads.
The report come a month after a 10,000 word manifesto detailing the role of women in the jihadist group and emphasising their role as wives, mothers and homemakers was uploaded by the all-female Al-Khanssaa Brigade’s media wing.
The revealing document is being treated as a more accurate representation of what is expected of women under the group’s Iraqi and Syrian strongholds.
The manifesto advocated fighters marrying children as young as nine and women being allowed to work no more than three days a week.
A fashion show, titled "Muslima Fashion Show and Hijab Tutorial," was organized by one of well known Indonesian fashion designer Irna Mutiara and members of Indonesian Women Association to highlight new trends and fashion to Muslim females.
The event took place on Sunday at the Gathering Hall of the Indonesian Consul General’s residence here.
“Hijab is not merely about fashion, it is more about a reflection of our faith. The design and styles of Islamic clothing have mushroomed in last few years with the increasing awareness among the young generation to put on hijab as obligated by our religion,” said the wife of Indonesian Consul General, Lies Tresnowati Dharmakirty in her brief welcoming remark.
Comprising 88 percent of the total population, Indonesia is set to become the trendsetter of the world’s Muslim Wear with fast growing styles.
"Islamic and modest clothing that is trendy and fashionable has inspired a lot of young generation in Indonesia. This brings a very lucrative business especially for those who are interested to pursue a career in Muslim wear business," said Mutiara.
She added: "I’ve been consistently striving to come up with modest design but still look fashionable and trendy, as well as easy and comfortable to wear according to a particular occasion. I constantly take a journey and explore the Islamic clothing world to shed some light on the latest trend in Islamic fashion for Muslim women."
Wives of the consulate’s staff and female of Indonesian community living here attended the function.
Elly Warta Malik, founder of Dar ul Ilm institute of Al-Qur'an and Arabic language in Jeddah and a member of Indonesian Women Association, highly appreciated the them of event.
She said: "Indonesian females in Jeddah have a golden chance to get more acquainted with the latest trend of Islamic fashion clothing. Whenever people talk about fashion, their mind jumps to Paris. So my wish is that whenever people talk about Muslima fashion, their eyes must turn toward Indonesia."
Malik also said that people wear hijab for many reasons — the call of faith or it may be because they look more elegant.
"This event brings DawaH and economic mission, with the mushrooming business of Hijab fashion, women can explore business opportunities by becoming entrepreneurs," she said.
The colorful event showcased a vibrant variety of clothing suitable for Muslim females.