Category Archives: Muslim Women

Young women fight the ‘Talibanisation’ of rural Pakistan

Much attention has been focused on the process of radicalisation of young men in the areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan. Peshawar, the town near the border between the two countries, is infamous for being the centre of a vibrant industry and trade in homemade guns. For more than two decades, violence has become the dominant currency of almost every aspect of life in this area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, once known as the North West Frontier Province.

So it takes remarkable courage for a 16-year-old girl to decide to challenge how this culture of violence was reinforcing and strengthening the oppression of women. Eight years on, Gulalai Ismail, now a poised 24-year-old, is running two programmes of work – one on gender empowerment and the other on peacebuilding – from her home in Peshawar, where she grew up. Brought to London by Peace Direct, Ismail was talking to youngsters about her work.

“I set up Aware Girls when I was 16 because all around me I saw girls being treated differently to boys. My girl cousin was 15 when her marriage was arranged to someone twice her age; she couldn’t finish her education while my boy cousins were [doing so]. This was considered normal. Girls have internalised all this discrimination – a woman who suffers violence but doesn’t say anything is much admired in the village as a role model. A good woman submits to her husband or father.

“Aware Girls raised awareness of equal status. We did training that women have human rights, and taught leadership skills and how to negotiate within their families and with their parents to get education and to have control over their own lives.”

Ismail is well aware of how the position of women has deteriorated over the course of her life. “Peshawar used to be very progressive, but after “Talibanisation” it became much more conservative and life is more difficult for my younger sister than it was for me. Just going out to the market is difficult because of the sexual harassment.”

That kind of harassment makes organising training for young women particularly difficult. Ismail and her staff have to strive very hard with communities in the villages where they work to build trust that if daughters attend the training they will be safe. Parents worry that their daughters will be “westernised” and forget their “cultural values”. For a recent training course on political leadership to help boost the participation of women in politics, Aware Girls had to organise 20 local community meetings to identify the 30 girls who eventually went on the course. Working in remote rural areas requires considerable patience and time, but Ismail is not interested in the easier option of working only in urban areas.

It was the gender work that came first, but Ismail soon realised the close relationship between gender and peace. “In training, a woman told the story of how her 12-year-old son was taken away to Afghanistan by the militants, and 10 months later he was dead. That made me think that we must stop these young people joining the militants.”

The result was the Seeds of Peace network, which Ismail set up last year and which has trained 25 young people. They, in turn, will train another 20, to slowly expand a network across 10 districts of the province. She believes each person can reach 500 young people to promote tolerance and challenge extremism.

“They identify young people in the community who might be vulnerable to militants and they organise study circles to discuss the causes and consequences of conflict and the history of Talibanisation. We talk about tolerance for people of other faiths,” says Ismail.

Almost every aspect of children’s upbringing is affected by extremism. Even the school textbooks urge children to be ready for jihad, says Ismail, and all around are songs and films that glorify war, martyrdom and violence.

“Seeds of Peace aims to give another perspective by getting people to think about human rights. Peace is not just the absence of war, it is about respect and tolerance – and women have an important role in educating their children.”

Ismail is well aware that her work challenges the Taliban’s power, and that brings dangers. She is also aware that there are huge political issues involved in the radicalisation of the region where she lives, but believes that a grassroots community challenge to a culture of extremist intolerance is also a crucial part of the search for peace. Both high-level political negotiation and community participation are required in conflict resolution.

Peace Direct’s Ruairi Nolan backs up Ismail’s analysis of a peace process, using the analogy of political negotiation as the bricks and community engagement as the cement that hold the bricks together. Pointing to Northern Ireland’s experience, he suggests that several decades of community peacebuilding was a crucial precondition to the success of the political process that culminated in the Northern Ireland agreement.

At international conferences, Ismail has met counterparts from Uganda, Sri Lanka and many other parts of the world. Despite the very different forms of conflict, she can see plenty of similarities in the work they are doing – and she says that gives her hope.

Afghanistan Tones Down Contentious Marriage Law

KABUL – Afghanistan’s government has revised a law that stirred an international outcry because it essentially legalized marital rape, officials said Thursday. The new version no longer requires a woman submit to sex with her husband, only that she do certain housework.

The changes, which parliament is expected to approve, likely reflect a calculation by President Hamid Karzai that his reputation as a reformer is more important than support from conservative Shiites who favored the original bill.

Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said the revisions show that Karzai has followed through on a pledge made in April to expunge the offensive parts of the marriage law, which applies only to minority Shiite Muslims.

Women’s rights activists welcomed the new draft, but many said the government had not done enough and that little will change in day-to-day life.

“We need a change in customs, and this is just on paper. What is being practiced every day, in Kabul even, is worse than the laws,” said Shukria Barakzai, a lawmaker and vocal women’s rights advocate.

Karzai signed the original law in March but quickly suspended enforcement after governments around the world condemned the legislation. Critics saw it as a return to Taliban-style oppression of women by a government that was supposed to be promoting democracy and human rights. President Barack Obama labeled the original version “abhorrent.”

Even within this conservative Muslim society, a host of academics and politicians signed a petition condemning the law, and women took to the streets of Kabul in protest.

Karzai said that he had not read the law before signing it and that his Cabinet advisers had signed off on a version that did not include articles requiring a woman to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house. But those articles ended up in the draft he signed, as was a provision ordering wives to offer sex with their spouses at least every four days unless they were ill.

After the firestorm of criticism, Karzai ordered a Justice Ministry review, which took three months.

Two of the most controversial articles have been drastically changed, according to documents supplied by the ministry. An article that previously required a wife to submit to regular sex now requires her only to perform whatever household chores the couple agreed to when they married. The revised version makes no attempt to regulate sexual relations between husband and wife.

A section that required a wife to ask her husband’s permission to leave the house has also been deleted. In its place, an article states that a woman is the “owner of her property and can use her property without the permission of her husband.”

Shiites comprise 10 to 20 percent of Afghanistan‘s 30 million people; the majority are Sunni Muslim. Nonetheless, the measure caused an uproar because it harkened back to Taliban-era rules. The Taliban, Sunnis who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, required women to wear all-covering burqas and banned them from leaving home without a male relative.

Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said the amendments would “ensure Afghanistan meets international obligations.”

“The United Nations has had concerns about parts of the law that do not conform with international law, particularly in regard to the rights of women,” Siddique said.

Although many Afghans criticized the law, their voices were often overwhelmed by conservative Shiites who said the legislation protected their right to live according to their interpretation of Islam’s holy book, the Quran. At a protest in April, supporters of the law shouted insults and threw rocks at women who opposed it.

Before Karzai came out strongly against the law, his critics said he might be using the legislation to court Shiites in the Aug. 20 presidential election. Approval of the changes before the vote would put Karzai on the side of the reformers.

Even so, Roshan Sirran, who heads a group that informs women of their rights under Islamic and international law, said the new version still relies too much on agreements entered into at the time of marriage. Such contracts aren’t a traditional part of an engagement or marriage in Afghanistan, she said.

“This is not implementable in our society. There will be no agreement on any conditions at the time of the marriage between husband and wife,” Sirran said. Others said men have too much freedom to marry second wives without consulting their first wives. Islam allows men up to four wives.

Parliament is in recess and will not convene again for nearly two weeks. Hamidzada, the presidential spokesman, said Afghanistan’s influential clerics council and civil society leaders will also have to sign off on the revised law.

Even with the changes, some activists said not much will change in women’s lives.

“Still there are forced marriages and child marriages and the lack of access to property, and the lack of access to divorce,” Barakzai said. “Still a girl, because she’s a girl, can’t go to school, in very rich families even.”

Source:

Neda’s Death Highlights Women’s Role in Iran Protests

A young woman who was shot through the heart and died on the streets of Tehran has become the face of the opposition movement in Iran.

Neda Agha Soltan was killed by a Basij militiaman during a protest march on June 20, according to people who said they were eyewitnesses and posted videos of her death on the Internet. The videos on Facebook and YouTube show her collapsing, losing consciousness and dying.

Her death has resounded worldwide and become a symbol of the crackdown by Iranian authorities against demonstrations over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed June 12 re-election. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse about 1,000 people who had gathered in Haft-e Tir Square in central Tehran yesterday to mourn the university student.

“The violence of the regime has intensified. They are trying to create a regime of terror,” said Mohammad-Reza Djalili, an Iran expert at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva in a telephone interview. “The future will be marked by this horrible chain of events,” he said of Soltan’s killing.

Soltan was among countless women, of all ages and backgrounds, who have taken to the streets to demand a recount of the presidential vote they and others say was won by Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister. Mousavi made his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a feature of his campaign and promised to give women more rights.

34 Million

Iran’s 34 million women are demanding female cabinet ministers, the right to able to run for president and the revision of civil and family law, Rahnavard said earlier this month. The country’s population is 66.4 million.

President Barack Obama today said of Iran that Americans were “appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings and imprisonments of the last few days.” Speaking at a press conference, he said, “Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said in response to a question about whether he had seen the video. “Anybody who sees it knows there is something fundamentally unjust about that.”

At least four Facebook pages are dedicated to Soltan, and more than 50 members of the social networking site have changed their user names to Neda Agha Soltan. One page called “Neda” has more than 15,000 members and the group’s 55 officers come from countries as diverse as Canada, Kuwait, Haiti, Italy, the U.S. and Zambia.

Black Banner

Mourners were prevented from holding a remembrance ceremony in a mosque yesterday, and Soltan’s family was told to take down a black banner they had hung outside their home, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Neda had said that even if she lost her life and got a bullet in her heart, she would carry on,” Caspian Makan, Soltan’s fiancé, told the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Persian Television by phone from Tehran. “She gave a big lesson to everyone even though she was very young.”

Seventeen people have been killed in the protests, Iranian state television reported.

Soltan was a 27-year-old philosophy student, according to the text posted with the video on YouTube. Heat and frustration led her and her music teacher to abandon their car when it was blockaded by the demonstration. Minutes later, she was shot. She died in just two minutes, according to the YouTube text.

Iranian bloggers paid tribute to the young woman, one writing about the melancholy of the “alley of loneliness” where she was shot. Photos of the flowers left in memory of Soltan are posted on the blog.

Fierce Impact

“He had a clear shot and could not miss her,” wrote a man who said he was a doctor and posted one of the videos showing Soltan’s death, referring to the gunman. “The impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest.”

The author Paul Coelho said on his blog that he was best friends with the doctor, and that his friend had tried to resuscitate Soltan. In the video, as blood pours from Soltan’s eyes, nose and mouth, screams are heard and a small crowd gathers around her limp body.

“Neda, don’t be afraid; Neda stay with me,” says a man standing nearby, who holds her in his arms and has been identified as her music teacher.

The killing took away any “vestige of respect” people had for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for an end to the protests and allied himself with Ahmadinejad, because “a spiritual leader should not be leading carnage,” said Haleh Afshar, a professor of politics and women’s studies at University of York.

Seeing the video of Soltan’s death has left Zahra Khedri, a 24-year-old Iranian postgraduate student at the U.K.’s University of Essex, feeling numb and shocked, she said.

“It could be me, simple as that,” said Khedri. The video “will help us with the support we need. Ahmadinejad must not be recognized.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aX.UJaDJj_Fg

The video of Neda’s death: click here (Warning, graphic images!)

Saudi Cleric Favors One-Eye Veil

saveil   A Muslim Cleric in Saudi Arabia has called on women to wear a full veil or niqab, that reveals only one eye.

Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan said showing both eyes encouraged women to use make-up to look seductive.

The question of how much her face a woman should cover is a controversial topic in many Muslim societies.

The niqab is more common in Saudi Arabia and the gulf, but women in much of the Muslim Middle East wear a headscarf  which covers only their hair.

Sheikh Habadan, an ultra conservative cleric who is said to have wide influence among religious Saudis, was answering questions on the Muslim satellite channel al-Majd.

source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7651231.stm