News Flash May 2014
Nearly 100 women, accompanied by children, staged a protest rally in northern Faryab province, accusing a local commander of sexually abusing and murdering young girls and children during a bloody clash with civilians. They said the local warlord, Qader Rahmani, had subjected women and children to sexual harassment during the clash, asking the government to punish him and his armed supporters.
13-year-old Soheir al-Batea from a village in Egypt’s Nile Delta died last June whilst being mutilated by Dr. Raslan Fadl, an imam and employee of the local government hospital who performed the illegal procedure as he had done on dozens of other girls. This little girl’s case, like many before her, would normally have been buried and forgotten. Since FGM was criminalized in Egypt in 2008, both parents and practitioners fearful of arrest have kept quiet when there are complications. But now, for the first time in Egyptian history, both Soheir’s father and Dr. Fadl are to stand trial charged with illegally mutilating the child’s genitals and with manslaughter. Egypt has one of the highest rates of FGM in the world: a staggering 91 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been cut, according to a 2013 report released by UNICEF. In recent years there have been at least five documented fatalities related to female genital mutilation in Egypt, some of which made international headlines. In 2007, it was the deaths of two other teenage girls that forced the Egyptian government to review the law and ban the practice. In 2010, Nermine El-Hadded, also 13, bled to death in a hospital after she was operated on. Yet until this year no case has ever made it to court.
Joining the ranks of ‘self-appointed’ guardians of public morality, BJP’s Rajya Sabha member and Madhya Pradesh party vice-president Raghunandan Sharma said girls shouldn’t be allowed to use mobile phones before marriage and women shouldn’t wear jeans.
Abu Azmi, the state Samajwadi Party chief, who deposed before the State Women’s Commission to clarify his remarks said “as per the teaching of Islam, women having illicit sex must be hanged, as sex is allowed only after marriage”. On invoking Islam, Azmi cited constitutional right of freedom of speech that “allows citizens of Indian to propagate the teachings of their faith and religion”. The commission chairperson said: “The India constitution provides equal rights to all women irrespective of their religion. The domestic violence Act protects all women, including those in a live-in relationship. Islamic rules can’t be invoked to propagate one’s opinion”.
A 25 year-old woman faces up to nine lashes with a wooden cane as punishment for “adultery” in the Langsa district of Aceh, Indonesia. The woman has been gang-raped by eight men as punishment for her “offence” under local laws. On 1 May 2014, the group of men stormed the woman’s home where she was allegedly having an affair with a married man. They tied up the couple and repeatedly raped the woman and beat the man. News reports indicate the couple was then doused in raw sewage. Three of the attackers are now being held in custody. The others are still on the run.
Islamists reacted strongly to actress Leila Hatami kissing the director of the Cannes Film Festival, Gilles Jacob, whilst greeting him. She is the first Iranian woman to sit on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival. A group of female Iranian students with links to Iranian Revolutionary Guards wrote to Tehran’s minister of culture and media, Ali Jannati, asking that “Hatami be sentenced to one to 10 years imprisonment and flogging”. The group, Student Sisters of Hezbollah, cited article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code seeking punishment for Hatami kissing a non-Muslim man. The media branded the greeting as “an affront to the chastity of women in Iran”. Iran’s deputy culture minister, Hossein Noushabadi, expressed his disapproval saying, “Iranian woman is the symbol of chastity and innocence. Hatami’s inappropriate presence at the festival was not in line with our religious beliefs”.
The uproar forced Hatami to seek to apologise to Iran’s cinema organisation.
Tasnim, a state-run news agency in Iran controlled and operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp, interviewed Hadi Sharifi, a “media activist” who said that if women feel it is their right to show off their beauty, or appear any which way they desire in society, or reveal their beauty to men, then they should also consider the right of men to enjoy women. He attempted to explain that because it is natural and instinctual for a man to be drawn to the beauty of a woman and seek sex with her, it is a man’s right to benefit from what he loves. Sharifi said that when a man forces himself onto a woman because she is “showing off her beauty”, this [should not] be considered rape. Sharifi said since men have not granted women permission to show off their beauty, then men who become aroused by the “nakedness” of women do not need the permission of women to pursue their sexual urges.
A senior Iranian cleric, Mohammad Emami Kashani, Tehran’s Friday prayer leader, called divorce parties a “satanic” Western import and a “poison”. Kashani told worshippers that marriage is a sacred bond and that Western practices like divorce parties undermine family values. “Unfortunately, divorce parties are being organised as of recently… This is very dangerous. It’s a poison for the Islamic civilization and society”. “Men and women who hold divorce parties are definitely satanic,” he added. Kashani urged young people to avoid adopting Western practices and to protect their local cultural achievements and traditions. “Disintegration of family and lechery are related to the disgraceful Western civiliation … Western-style freedoms are wrong”.
After international outrage at the arrest of six young Iranians for dancing to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy” in an Internet video, the Iranian government has released them on bail. The video’s director, Sassan Soleimani, is still being detained. Police called the video “obscene” and accused the youth of committing acts that would “hurt public chastity”.
More than 300,000 people have supported the Facebook page “Stealthy Freedoms of Women in Iran” in which women posing bare-headed in various Iranian cities has posted their photos on the page. “This is me committing a crime”, wrote a girl who posted an image of herself sitting in the middle of a secluded road in Nour Forest in northern Iran, with her headscarf resting on her shoulder. Another photo shows a grandmother, a mother and her daughter together on a pavement. “In one frame, three generations secure freedom at a corner of this street”, read the caption. Last week, thousands of conservatives held a protest in Tehran, urging the government to confront what they say is the increasing flouting of the Islamic dress code.
After more than quarter of a century of struggle to raise awareness about the secret execution of their loved ones, mothers of Khavaran, a grassroots network of thousands of survivors in Iran, received the 2014 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.
The more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped from their school in Nigeria by Boko Haram have been sighted for the first time and tracked to three camps in the north of Nigeria, near Lake Chad, 200 miles from where they were abducted. Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, has threatened he will sell the girls into the sex trade or as wives unless the government frees Islamists that have been jailed. Boko Haram released a video two weeks ago showing some of the abducted girls in veils and reciting from the Qu’ran, and claimed they had converted to Islam.
A 23-year-old Filipino domestic servant in Saudi Arabia suffered horrible burns recently when her boss tossed a scalding pot of water on her. The mother of the woman’s employer was angry at her because she thought she was taking too long to make coffee. A Facebook post by the woman’s cousin showed pictures of the burns and described what happened. The post says the woman, identified publicly as Fatma, waited for over six hours before being taken the hospital following the incident. She is now in the custody of the Philippine Embassy, and says she wants file a case against her abusive employer.
A 17-year-old Yemeni wife committed suicide by hanging herself at her home in Saudi Arabia because of persistent abuses by her ageing Saudi husband. The woman was found hanging by a rope tied around her neck and to the ceiling fan at her house in the southern Saudi Abha town. Relatives said the women ended her life because of persistent abuses by her husband.
Sources at the ministry of Education said that health education is not PE for girls, which has been opposed by conservatives. Female officials in the education sector have said that the book on health and female health education for girls is not related to sports per se, but addresses the importance of taking up sports to maintain public health. Staff will soon be trained on how to teach the new subject, which includes information on weight maintenance. “Physical education has not been completely approved” said Khaled Hammad, official spokesman of the Education Directorate in the Eastern Province. “The subject has, however, been approved for boys within the new semester-based system”.
Five Saudi men have been sentenced to various jail terms and ordered to be lashed in public for drinking and partying on Valentine’s Day. Two defendants were sentenced to ten years in prison and 2,000 lashes to be given in 20 parts in front of Al Nafoora market. Two other defendants were handed seven years in prison and 1,500 public lashes each over 15 parts. The fifth defendant was given five years in jail and 1,000 public lashes. The men were arrested alongside six women in a house they had rented for recreational purposes in the city of Burayda, the capital of Al Qassim region in north central Saudi Arabia. The men admitted to charges of dancing, illicit relations with unrelated women and celebrating Valentine’s Day. The five men will be barred from leaving the country for five years after serving their sentences in prison. The charges against the six women arrested during the raid will be reviewed by a different judge amid expectation that the verdict will be announced soon.
A Sudanese lawyer filed an appeal for a pregnant woman sentenced to death for apostasy for refusing to renounce her Christianity. The filing asks the appeals court to reverse the verdict by the lower court and free Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, 27. Ibrahim, who is eight months pregnant, is in prison with her 20-month-old son. Ibrahim says her father was a Sudanese Muslim and her mother was Ethiopian Orthodox. Her father left when she was 6, and she was raised as a Christian. The court had warned her to renounce her Christianity by May 15, but she held firm to her beliefs. Sudanese Parliament speaker Fatih Izz Al-Deen said claims she was raised as non-Muslim are untrue. She was raised in an Islamic environment, and her brother, a Muslim, filed the complaint against her, according to Al-Deen. The complaint alleges that she went missing for several years, and her family was shocked to find out she married a Christian, according to her lawyer. However, because her father was Muslim, the courts considered her one too, which would mean her marriage to a non-Muslim man is void. In addition to the death sentence, the court convicted her of adultery and sentenced her to 100 lashes.
A few thousand Euros are enough to buy Syrian women, including minors, who have fled their war-torn country and are living in refugee camps, Arab human rights groups have denounced. The groups are sounding the alarm on the plight of women who are on sale as “Syrians up for marriage” on Facebook. This phenomenon is not new. Last year, reports alleged that Syrian women living in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Iraq had been sold to men from Arab countries, in particular from the Gulf area. Rights groups also denounced cases of violence and sexual harassment in which victims were as young as 12 and 13 years of age. The Facebook page publicizing Syrian refugees who could be bought as wives was closed after hundreds of activists and human rights’ lawyers protested. But it had thousands of followers between May 17-21 including prospective clients interested in the women who were portrayed with little on. Some posts showed the picture of women “looking for a husband” with a brief profile on their chastity and their ability in domestic work. According to Arab NGO Kafa, which has repeatedly denounced the phenomenon, clients mostly hail from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, as well as Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen and Bahrain. Among the announcements was one publicizing “refugee girls of all ages and religious confessions” to satisfy all applications from Sunnis, Shiites and Christians in a climate of growing religious polarization. “You can marry legally or secretly”, read the Facebook page.
The Yemeni government must expedite passage of a draft Child Rights Law establishing 18 as Yemen’s minimum marriage age. On April 27, 2014, Legal Affairs Minister Mohammad Makhlafi submitted the proposed law to Prime Minister Mohammad Basindawa, who should ensure a cabinet review and submit it to parliament for prompt passage. Some 52 percent of Yemeni girls are married – often to much older men – before age 18, and 14 percent before age 15, according to United Nations and Yemeni government data from 2006. Girls who marry young often drop out of school, are more likely to die in childbirth, and face a higher risk of physical and sexual abuse than women who marry at 18 or later. Girls who do not want to marry are often forced to do so by their families. Yemen is one of the few countries in the region now without any legal minimum age for marriage.