News Flash October 2013
Even though several million Afghan girls are attending school, more than half are married before the age of 18 and about one-quarter are wed by their mid-teens, often because their families cannot afford to support them. Many are virtually sold as teenage brides, and if they run away, they are branded as ‘bad women.’ The number of women and girls fleeing intolerable domestic conditions has skyrocketed, keeping the handful of urban shelters constantly full. In addition, according to rights organisations, the number of girls and women charged with moral crimes (usually some variation of zina, or sex outside marriage) has increased 50 percent in the past several years.
The Sultan of Brunei is to introduce a new code of Sharia law which could see stonings for adultery, amputations for thefts and public flogging for drinking alcohol.
A recent United Nations study suggested that nine out of 10 Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Human rights campaigners describe current levels of sexual violence as ‘horrifying.’ Most of the worst attacks have taken place during protests in Tahrir Square. Sexual violence is a tool to silence women demonstrators. The wave of attacks has been fuelled by a culture of impunity. Those who carry out sexual assaults may feel encouraged by Islamist clerics like Saad Arafat who maintains that women who complain about harassment are bringing it on themselves.
Women’s groups in Kerala slammed India’s decision not to co-sponsor the first ever global resolution against child marriages floated by the UN Human Rights Council. A Times of India-Ipsos Survey showed that most Muslims in Kerala are categorically against underage marriage. As many as 83% of the respondents opposed the proposition that attaining puberty made a girl ready for marriage, with a gender-based break up showing that 84% women and 81% men are against it. Significantly, the mixed gender percentage which opposes underage marriage is around 90% in Muslim-majority Malappuram.
Iran’s revolutionary guards announced the arrest of ‘a network of homosexuals and satanists’ at a birthday party in the western city of Kermanshah, prompting fresh alarm over the treatment of gay people. At least 17 people who had tattoos, make-up, or were wearing rainbow bracelets were blindfolded and taken to an unknown location.
Military Commander Sirous Sajadian declared: ‘those who do not follow the Islamic dress code will be penalised; their cars will be detained by police officers.’ He also announced the establishment of a new patrol, exclusively for policing female drivers’ hijab and accordingly fining them.
Iranian president Rouhani said that police should keep a lower profile in the enforcement of compulsory veiling in Iran. He added: ‘in our society women follow moral codes of conduct and any supervision necessary on the issue of hijab is first the responsibility of schools, universities, and other educational institutions; the police should be the last organisation to step in.’
Member of the Majlis (Islamic Assembly) Mofid Kiayi-Nejad has said: ‘Each day the authorities pay less attention to the problem of hijab. It is true that economic problems head the list of government priorities, but they are being complacent about hijab. The trousers and coats women wear nowadays demonstrate the extent to which they are ignoring the issue. If we tackled the manufacture of these un-Islamic dresses at source, we would not need to send the morality police and vigilantes onto our streets.’
Zohre Sadat Lajevardi, who is head of women’s affairs in President Rouhani’s office, said that the morality police’s operations should not vary according to the time of year. ‘Those who defy the hijab rules know very well that after the end of the season public dress codes will be relaxed, and they can wear what they like. So laws need to be passed on the wearing of hijab, just as we have laws about how people should drive. Those who defy them would be penalised. A woman who dresses improperly must pay for her actions.’ Lajevardi went out of her way to suggest that all Iranian women should police themselves with regard to the hijab issue.
Young Iranian women looking for work face new restrictions as the Majlis (Islamic Assembly) debates a bill prohibiting government departments from recruiting both single and childless married women. One advocate of the bill – the General Population and Family Promotion Plan – is female conservative MP Fateme Aliya, who has already supported other laws restricting female participation in society. Senior university lecturer Elahe Koulayi condemned the bill, calling it yet one more government attempt to keep Iranian women at home.
Whereas ten years ago most hashish smokers in Iran were men, recent police statistics indicate that its use among women is growing steadily. Abbas Rastegar, a police officer in the province of Khuzestan, said: ‘Cannabis is classified as a narcotic. Once it is in the bloodstream its effects continue for up to 24 hours. More and more young women are using this dangerous drug, as well as others such as opium, ecstasy and crack cocaine.’ A recent official survey revealed that 76% of female Iranian drug users were married and 3% widowed or divorced. 46% had been educated to primary school level and 10% had higher diplomas. The remainder had no education.
Dariush Pir-Niakan, the spokesman for Iran’s House of Music has ‘resigned’ for calling for an end to the 34-year ban on women singing. He said: ‘The main demand of the House of Music is for women’s voices to be broadcast. For 34 years now, this has been missing from the musical arena. Music is still considered taboo here.’ Following his comments, Hassan Rouhani cabinet’s Minister of Guidance Ali Jannati said: ‘If the voice of solo women singers does not lead to vice, it is ok. But there is problem with women’s voice on certain occasions.’
Justice for Iran has released a report titled ‘Stolen Lives, Empty Classrooms: Child Brides in Iran’ and states that this year alone in Iran, 1,537 girls below the age of 10 and 29,827 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were registered for marriage. In other words, one every 15 minutes. Moreover, statistics in Iran from the past five years show a significant drop in the number of students enrolled in (all-girl) schools. At 1,411 cases, Ardebil, a province in northwest Iran, has the highest rate of marriages for girls below the age of 10; a number 67 times more than the next highest province. The rate of girl marriages in Ardebil directly implies that in this particular province, judges routinely allow legal guardians to force their girls into marriage. The report notes the Islamic Republic’s recent legalisation of marriages between parents and adopted children. Despite much debate and opposition, the authorities have referred to Sharia law to legitimise relations between males and females in adopted families before and after the age of maturity.
The Guardian Council has now approved the bill passed by the Islamic regime of Iran’s Majlis or parliament for the ‘protection’ of children and young people, which includes a clause allowing men to marry their adopted daughters with the permission of a court. The bill had previously been denied and sent back for review because it had originally banned the marriage of step-fathers and their adopted daughters; the Guardian Council found this to be in contradiction with Islamic Sharia law. The law legalising paedophilia and child rape has sparked outrage in Iran and across the globe though it is touted as an attempt to solve problems related to the hijab or veil in the family. An adopted daughter is expected to wear the veil in the presence of her father and a mother is expected to do so in the presence of her adopted son if he is old enough.
Shara Amin and Nabaz Ahmed spent 10 years speaking to women and men about the impact of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on their lives, their children and their marriages. The film ‘A Handful of Ash’ has culminated in the outlawing of FGM there; also the numbers of girls being genitally mutilated in the villages and towns of Iraqi Kurdistan has fallen by more than half in the last five years. Here’s a report on the film that is changing Kurdistan.
A group of female ultra-Orthodox ‘modesty policewomen’ recently sent a letter to clothing shops in Beitar Illit, imploring them to maintain high standards of modesty when selling female undergarments and forbidding them from including colourful underwear or bras among their wares.
The Ministerial Law Committee approved for a Knesset vote legislation that would increase the penalties imposed for those who attempt to deny women their rights in public spaces. The legislation was prompted by recent incidents in which women were forced to sit in the back of buses when they were riding in orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods. In several instances, women said that they were accosted, cursed, and even attacked when they sat at the front of buses. The Knesset passed laws against the practice, but the new legislation will beef up those laws, sharply increasing the penalties for offenders.
Islamists are denouncing shisha cafes as a ‘moral menace’ because they allow young men and women to mix freely. They have also demanded death sentences for anyone convicted of insulting Islam, opposed women’s participation in sports and forced art galleries to cancel shows. Earlier this month, conservative Members of Parliament lauded a government proposal to screen applicants for entry visas and bar gay or transgender workers. ‘It’s a blatant invasion of privacy,’ said Shafiq Ghabra, a Kuwait-based political science professor. ‘People who don’t want to be at mixed coffee shops don’t have to go to them.’ Rights groups have denounced the proposal to require unspecified medical tests to identify and ban gay or transsexual applicants for labour visas. Kuwaiti officials have backed off the proposal, but it could be raised for discussion at a meeting of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council. Also, a Kuwaiti children’s centre called off a Halloween event after it came under an onslaught of criticism on social media as blasphemous.
Suriani Kempe of Sisters in Islam was incensed with the Malaysian Islamic Development Department, which denied any discrimination against women under Islamic laws, claiming that any allegations were unfounded. ‘It’s a blatant fallacy because in Malaysia Muslim women do not have equal rights to their children. Muslim women experience delay in initiating divorce,’ she said, quoting a study by the Malaysian Syariah Judiciary Department. ‘Muslim women don’t inherit the same as their male counterparts. Muslim girls can be married off at younger age than Muslim boys.’
Moroccans staged a symbolic ‘kiss-in’ outside parliament in support of three teenagers arrested for posting pictures on Facebook of two of them kissing. A boy and a girl aged 15 and 14, and their 15-year-old male friend who took the photos outside their school in the northern town of Nador, were arrested last week, charged with ‘violating public decency’ and held in a juvenile centre. Amid mounting pressure, the judge ordered that the teens be released on bail and their trial Friday was adjourned until November 22 to allow ‘an inquiry into the social circumstances of the teenagers.’
In Nigeria’s northern Kano state, 10,000 officers have been deployed to ensure Sharia laws are enforced, including ‘a law in the state which prohibits gender mix in commercial vehicles’ and ‘indecent dress.’
More than 25 women have been stabbed by an assailant in a small town in Pakistan.
A man punished his wife for giving birth to a baby girl by forcing her to drink acid. She is in critical condition at hospital.
At least 16 women have been fined for driving on 26 October, a day set to protest the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia. A spoof by Heesham Fagheeh, a social activist and artist, called ‘No Woman, No Drive’ opposing the ban has gone viral.
On 24 September 2013, an appeal court in the city of Dammam confirmed the 15 June conviction of Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Oyouni, two prominent Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists, by the criminal court in the city of al-Khobar and upheld their sentences of 10 months in prison followed by a two-year travel ban. The activists were convicted of the Sharia offence of takhbib (inciting a woman to defy her husband’s authority), specifically ‘inciting’ a Canadian woman to separate from her Saudi Arabian husband. They were first arrested in June 2011 when attempting to come to the aid of the Canadian woman, after they received a text message from her telling them that her husband had left her and her children locked in the house with no food whilst he travelled for five days.
A Saudi woman is filmed lashing out against Saudi religious police and saying: ‘Don’t provoke me!’ after he asks her to cover up her entire face, even though she is already wearing a traditional niqab, with only her eyes and the top of her nose visible.
Islamist cleric Fayhan al-Ghamdi who had originally been absolved and asked to provide blood money (half of what he would have had to pay if he had killed a boy) for beating his daughter Lama with canes, burning her with electrical cables, crushing her skull, tearing off her nails and raping her repeatedly was finally convicted to 8 years in prison and 800 lashes due to public outcry. He was also told to pay Lama’s mother blood money. In Saudi Arabia, much less serious crimes often receive heavier punishment. Earlier this week, a Saudi court gave four young men sentences of between three to 10 years prison and 500 to 2,000 lashes for dancing naked in public in the city of Buraydah, north of Riyadh. Lama’s mother told broadcaster Al-Arabiya that al-Ghamdi took their daughter from her for a two-week visit in 2011 to his home with his second wife and other children. Months went by and he refused to allow the mother to see her daughter. Lama was then taken to a hospital, where she died in intensive care in late 2012.
Sudanese women’s rights activist Amira Osman Hamed could face 40 lashes for refusing to wear a headscarf. She is charged with ‘indecent or immoral dress’ by the Public Order Police. Amira’s trial starts 4 November.
Turkey lifted a ban on women wearing the Islamic head scarf in state institutions ending a decades-old restriction. The new rules, which will not apply to the judiciary, police or the military, took immediate effect. Secularists say the abolition is aimed at further Islamicising the secular country.
Tunisian authorities arrested several young women who allegedly left their homes to perform sexual jihad in Syria.
Activist Amel Grami says: “There is tension vis-à-vis women in terms of their clothes, their life-style, etc. For example, swimming in Ramadan causes problems now for some women. It is a new phenomenon in Tunisia – this new relationship with the body and the feeling that in the public sphere you are not free. There are others who are using violence in order to ‘correct’ the behaviour of women. It is not possible any more for women activists to travel around the country on their own at night or to go to rural areas, especially to some areas where fundamentalists …impose their rule. Tunisia is not the same as it was two years ago. We do not have the same freedom of movement.”