News Flash January 2014
A new social-attitudes survey of men and women in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan has found small levels of support for the wearing of a full-face veil in much of the Middle East. On whether women should be able to choose their own clothing, 14 per cent agreed with this in Egypt, with 22 per cent in Pakistan and 27 per cent in Iraq. The idea won support from 47 per cent in Saudi Arabia, 49 per cent in Lebanon, 52 per cent in Turkey and 56 per cent in Tunisia. Professor Mansoor Moaddel, principal investigator in the report by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, said attitudes to women’s dress were closely related to wider views on gender equality and social values. “All of the countries except Egypt are showing trends towards increased equality for women and a move towards political secularism”, he said. “People from these countries have seen the extremism of Islamic governments or witnessed terrorism and political violence, and are taking the position that it’s not something valuable for their countries”.
Violent crime against women in Afghanistan hit record levels and became increasingly brutal in 2013, the head of the country’s human rights commission said. The United Nations in December reported a 28 percent increase in cases of brutality against women for October 2012 through September 2013. Sima Samar, chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told Reuters that the severity of attacks on women had greatly intensified last year. “The brutality of the cases is really bad. Cutting the nose, lips and ears. Committing public rape”. “Killing women in Afghanistan is an easy thing. There’s no punishment” said Suraya Pakzad, who runs women’s shelters in several provinces. She cited recent cases in which women had been publicly stoned as Afghan troops looked on. “Laws are improved, but implementation of those laws are in the hands of warlords… I think we are going backwards”. Another sign that rights for women have been rolled back in recent years is a rise in cases of self-immolation, a desperate last resort for women in abusive situations. The burns unit of Herat hospital, one of two in Afghanistan, admitted a record number of women who had attempted to set themselves on fire in 2012.
Egyptian voters have approved a new constitution which grants women equal rights and extends protections for the persecuted Coptic Christian community. The Muslim Brotherhood had called for a boycott of the referendum; turnout was variously estimated at 40%-55%.
A human rights defender Magda Adly said that as far as the situation of women is concerned, she has seen “no change. We still do not have a law that criminalizes violence against women in the family. And sexual violence is increasing”. For example, some “186 cases of sexual assault and rape were documented in Tahrir Square” during the protests between June 28 and July 7, 2013, she noted. “All evidence points to their having been politically motivated.” Though the new constitution does include an article explicitly obliging the State to ensure that women are not discriminated against, Adly expressed doubt as to whether there would be “the political will to implement this in the near future”. “Of course it was worse during Morsi’s time, in terms of violence towards women,” she said. “The Muslim Brotherhood were very, very aggressive when speaking about women’s rights. When we spoke about harassment, they wanted girls to be punished. You were, as a woman, responsible for any crime that happened to you.” During its time in power, the Brotherhood expressed its support for a raft of regressive, repressive policies towards women – lowering of the legal age at which women can be married, stricter laws governing divorce, and a lifting of the ban on female genital mutilation. However, Adly said that “I am not comfortable about the level of violence against the Muslim Brotherhood. In ideological terms they are against me and I am against them. But violence is violence and terrorist groups will probably begin taking revenge.” “And after attacking, killing, kidnapping, and putting Muslim Brotherhood supporters in jail, now the regime are going after the human rights organizations and the youth groups”, she said. “Mahienour and Hassan Mustafa, Alaa Abdul Fattah, Ahmed Douma – they were the ‘flags’ of the revolution two years back. Now they are in jail.” Mahienour Al-Massry, an Alexandria-based lawyer known for her work for the rights of detainees, in labour movements and on behalf of Syrian and Palestinian refugees in Egypt, was sentenced in absentia in early January to two years in jail for violating a recent law against unauthorized protests. Alaa Abdel Fattah, well-known blogger and political activist and son of the founder of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, is in prison for allegedly organizing a political protest. Ahmed Douma, another prominent blogger and activist, was sentenced on December 22 to three years in prison with hard labour and a fine for taking part in protests.
Police in India say a young woman has been gang raped on the orders of a village council because she fell in love with a man from a different religion. 13 men have been arrested in West Bengal state. The woman told police that the village council in Subalpur village ordered her to pay a fine for having an affair with the man. When her family said they were too poor to pay, the council ordered the gang rape. The woman told police she lost count of how many men raped her during the night-long ordeal. She is in hospital in the state’s Birbhum district where doctors said her condition is serious.
A city on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island is about to force female students to pass a virginity test before they can go to high school. 51,000 people have already signed a petition calling for its end here.
According to Shargh paper, more than 71% of households have satellite dishes though satellite dishes are banned by the Islamic Republic of Iran; in 1995, this was around 1%.
More than 650 Iranian citizens and civil activists have issued a statement objecting to the “Comprehensive Population and Family Excellence Plan” currently on the Iranian Parliament’s agenda, arguing that the plan would place undue restrictions on women’s employment and educational opportunities. The statement refers to the plan’s “regrettable articles” about the conditions of women, specifically in the parts pertaining to new restrictions on the use of contraceptives. It also refers to the plan as a measure that intends to further restrict women, particularly single women, from accessing employment and educational opportunities. “Much like the other laws and resolutions passed over recent years, women are again deprived of their rights in this plan and are only seen in their reproductive position. Is there no other way to promote excellence than to deprive women of jobs, income, and education, and to limit women to the role of a procreation instrument and not as half of the population with rights?” says the statement. The statement cautions the Members of the Parliament that approving the plan will increase gender discrimination in Iran and will be “a huge regression for women” in the laws. The “Comprehensive Population and Family Excellence Plan” aims to encourage population growth in a departure from the current population control policies, which have been in effect for the past two decades.
After years of promoting a curb on population growth, Iran’s supreme leader has begun encouraging people to produce more children and adding that the Iranian population should move toward at least 150 million people (almost double that of today). Recently billboards with the slogan “A single blossom is not spring” has began to pop up along major highways along with others encouraging families to have more children. Other billboards saying, “More children, better lives” depicted a large family bicycling happily on a single bicycle, with a father and son not so happily trailing behind. There was one notable exception on both bicycles. The mother was missing. In an interview with Fars, the director of the media production company behind the billboards said “Out of concern for appearing to promote cycling for women, we decided to exclude the family’s mother from the picture”. While cycling is not illegal for Iranian women, it has been discouraged and frowned upon for more than 30 years. Cycling on the streets has been described as “shameless and lust-provoking” by officials. In another billboard promoting the same subject, the modern family is shown on a rowboat, with the father sitting at one end of the boat and the mother at the other. The boys sitting in between have life jackets on, while the little girl does not.
Culture Minister Ali Jannati has been questioned in the Iranian parliament over some of his comments regarding the closure of newspapers and the solo singing of women. He said solo signing which has been banned may be permissible if it did not lead to “corruption”.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a religious edict banning online chatting between unrelated men and women. The ruling came days after Iranian authorities blocked WeChat. The authorities in Tehran are sensitive to social media and have blocked access to many social networking websites, including Facebook and Twitter. But many Iranian internet users are relying on proxies to circumvent the government censorship. Ironically, many Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rowhani, have active Facebook and Twitter accounts.
A report from Baghdad said that gunmen killed 12 people including seven women at a brothel in the city.
Security and medical officials said the attack took place at an apartment in the Zayouna area of east Baghdad on Jan 7. Police sources also said that a similar attack had taken place last year too. On May 22, gunmen attacked a house in Zayouna that was used as a brothel, killing 12 people. The week before, gunmen restrained police at a checkpoint in the area, and then shot dead 12 people at a row of adjoining alcohol shops nearby. Violence in Iraq has reached a level not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings. It took just five days for this month’s death toll to surpass that for all of January last year.
In what is seen as a sign of increasing Islamisation in Malaysia, the northern state of Pahang has introduced heavier penalties on “cross-dressers” under an amended Sharia law. Those arrested could face a maximum of a year’s jail or be fined or both if convicted. The amended law, which came into effect on Dec 1, 2013, will only apply to Muslim men or women found to be wearing clothes of the opposite gender.
The parliament of Morocco has unanimously amended an article of the penal code that allowed rapists of underage girls to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims. Article 475 of the penal code generated unprecedented public criticism. It was first proposed by Morocco’s Islamist-led government a year ago. But the issue came to public prominence in 2012 when 16-year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. The case shocked many people in Morocco, received extensive media coverage and sparked protests in the capital Rabat and other cities.
Saudi Arabian authorities have suspended a monitoring system that text alerts Saudi women’s male ‘guardians’ every time they cross the border to make amendments to the system; following review by officials, the new service will be optional.
A picture showing two men from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice warning women against using the swings went viral. “Some viewers of the picture supported the move by the Commission members on the grounds women using the swing could encourage men to “harass or molest them” though “others said they believe the act is not acceptable as it amounted to an unjustified interference and repression of women by the Commission”. Saudi Arabia’s religious police also shut a restaurant for violations including allowing gender-mixing, “operating obscene TV channels and serving shisha in closed places”.
Most women in Saudi Arabia out in public are shrouded from head to toe but just the sight of their made-up faces is apparently enough to incite men to molest them, according to a new survey of 992 Saudi men and women, conducted by the King Abdul Aziz Centre for National Dialogue in Riyadh. The survey found that 86.5 percent of the men believed that women’s elaborate make-up is to blame for a rise in molestation cases in the kingdom. No specific figures on current molestation rates or how molestation specifically is defined are available, but the Saudi authorities reported 2,797 cases of sexual harassment involving women and children in the first 10 months of 2013, with Riyadh leading the list with 650 cases. About 80 percent of those polled blamed lack of specific anti-molestation laws and lack of deterrent penalties as contributing to the problem. “Poor religious sentiment” was cited by 91 percent of those surveyed as another factor and 75 percent also blamed lack of awareness campaigns and warning notices in public places.
Women have been banned from sitting on chairs and seeing male gynaecologists by the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’s recent occupation of Raqqah, a city in northern Syria. Also, women are obligated to wear the niqab and burqa; sweaters, jeans, and makeup of any kind are strictly banned. Female clothing is not to be displayed in shop windows, and only women are allowed to work there; if a man is found on the grounds the shop faces closure. Smoking—cigarettes, water pipes, etc.—is banned. Violators could face the death penalty; shops found selling cigarettes are to be burned to the ground. All barbershops are to be closed down and men forbidden from having short hair, wearing modern hairstyles or using hair products; men are also forbidden from wearing low-waist jeans. Anyone who uses the word “Daash” (an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant in Arabic) will receive 70 whippings; the organisation is to be referred to by its proper name.
Tunisia voted to enshrine gender equality in its draft constitution, a key step towards safeguarding its relatively progressive laws on women’s rights, with the ruling Islamists under pressure to compromise. “All male and female citizens have the same rights and duties. They are equal before the law without discrimination”, states article 20. The formula was agreed between the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the secular opposition during negotiations to end months of political crisis that followed the assassination of a leftwing opposition politician by Islamists last year. Ennahda sparked a storm of controversy in 2012 when it tried to introduce gender “complementarity” rather than equality into the post-uprising constitution. Since the 1950s, when it gained independence from France, Tunisia has had the Arab world’s most progressive laws on women’s rights — although men remain privileged notably over inheritance — and Ennahda was suspected of wanting to roll back those rights. The Islamists also agreed in recent months to drop their insistence on Islam being the main source of legislation, or criminalising “attacks on the sacred”. Instead, Islam is recognised as the state religion and freedom of conscience is guaranteed. The assembly also forced a successful revote on a proposed amendment that would make it unlawful to accuse someone of apostasy, after a deputy claimed he had received death threats because a colleague accused him of being an “enemy of Islam”.
One out of every four brides is a child as families are increasingly applying to the court to change the date of birth of their daughters so that they can legally marry, warned an association of Turkish female lawyers. “There is an increase of 94 percent in application to courts by families to show their daughters age older, in order to get marriage permit”, said Gülten Kaya, head of the female lawyers’ commission of the Union of Turkish Bar Associations. The legal age for marriage in Turkey has been raised to 17 from 15, however the commission members said that the limit should be increased to the majority age of 18.