Archive for October 5th, 2009

Palestinian women in one of Lebanon’s largest refugee camps say that with no rights in the country or even within their own community, they feel they are treated “worse than dogs.” (MAP)

Offering a unique insight into life in one of 12 refugee camps in the country, Medical Aid for Palestinians, a British charity working for the health of Palestinians in Lebanon, released the study by the Palestinian Women’s Humanitarian Organization, Wednesday, on the disenfranchisement of Burj al-Barajneh’s women.

The study, entitled “Palestinian Refugee Women in Lebanon: Conditions and Challenges in Burj al-Barajneh Camp,” reveals that, degraded and abused, wo­men feel “buried alive” by rep­ressive conditions in the camp.
The report claims the services provided by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), marking its 60th anniversary this year, are insufficient to secure dignified living conditions for the roughly 21,000 residents living in the square kilometer on the outskirts of Beirut.

Female Palestinian refugees in particular bear the brunt of this, facing double discrimination: first for their refugee status and second for their position as women. “They have experienced refugee status differently than their male counterparts at all levels of the public sphere,” the report reads, specifically referencing marginalization in the work force, education and political representation as well as the more private domestic sphere.

The study notes that Lebanon has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) but has not committed itself to Article 16, which governs equitable marriage and family relations, which undermines the purpose of the treaty.

The monitoring of CEDAW for Palestinian refugee women is particularly difficult, with the number of different institutions accountable for their welfare, such as the Lebanese state, UNWRA and other civil societies complicating governance.

Lebanese law forbids Palestinians from working in 72 professions, including engineering, medicine, law and public-sector jobs. But Palestinian women face further obstacles in the workforce, such as discriminatory conditions favoring men who lack familial responsibility. These structural challen­ges have been codified to become standard practice in Lebanon.

Ninety-one percent of those interviewed by Women’s Humanitarian Organization (WHO) for the study said they did not get to spend enough time with their children because of harsh working conditions, and a large majority said they felt unable to take any time off for maternity leave.

The study offers that inequality between the genders has also been exacerbated by the reinterpretation of the Koran on religious duties to excuse the marginalization and abuse of women. They put the rise in fundamentalism in the camps down to the disempowerment of women, who have been stripped of decision-making power.

Not only barred from participating in Lebanon’s politics, refugee women in Burj al-Barajneh also find themselves ex­cluded from the Popular Committee, the internal decision-making body responsible for electricity, water supply and the overall running of the over-crowded camp. But almost 40 percent of the women said that such formal decision-making was, culturally, a man’s duty.

The holy book represents a crucial tool for education and the pursuit of equitable communities, yet the WHO find that it is now being used to restrict rather than maximize the contribution women make to society. The study particularly refers to long-standing cultural traditions that recognize domestic violence as a custom.

Ninety-three percent blamed the problem on the environment in the camp, which serves as an excuse for such destructive behavior.

The study showed that 93 percent of women ask permission from a male family member before leaving the house, as it would be haram to do otherwise, and 94 percent are asked to be back before dark.

Forty-one percent of women indicated that either they or women close to them are exposed to physical violence, including hitting, slapping or pushing. Given the widespread view that violence must remain private, the most common coping strategy for women facing abuse was to “keep silent and stay patient.”

Twelve percent of the women were found to be illiterate, with half of those surveyed leaving education before entering high school. Only 11 percent had a bachelor’s degree, and less than 1 percent obtained a master’s degree.

Comments in the focus group with WHO underlined the sheer desperation women in the camp felt, with many saying they felt “buried alive” and often comparing their lives with animals, stating, “Dogs have better lives than we do.”

Despite the camp’s proximity to Beirut, 91 percent of women responded that they did not see themselves as part of Lebanese society, while 100 percent reported feeling isolated from the outside world.

Sixty-two percent said they would like to live outside the camp, in order to benefit from better living conditions, but 38 percent reported that they would not like to move, as they feel lost beyond its borders.

Eighty-six percent of the women said they lacked a sense of belonging within the camp, where most of them had spent their entire lives.

When asked what they would change if they could go back, one-third said they would have had fewer children, reasoning that it would be better to have fewer or no children because of all the unfairness of bringing children into such poor conditions.

The idea of the future offered little more optimism: 83 percent indicated that they expected the status of refugee women to remain “very bad,” while almost all of the women said they no longer wanted to be refugees, and 79 percent said they would change everything about their lives.

Recent political developments in the region and the new policies of Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing cabinet suggest that the right of return for Palestinians is highly unlikely in the near future.

Yet at the same time President Michel Sleiman, addressing the UN General Assembly last week, rejected any form of settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, saying that their position will be “neither compromised nor reversed.”

The position of Palestinian refugees therefore remains as uncertain as it does unsettled, with no chance of naturalization in Lebanon and little chance of returning home.[157]=x-157-565480

Read the full report here:


‘All kinds of trade-offs go on behind the scenes, which is the way they’ve done politics for the last three decades’

An in-depth investigation into the murky process that led to the enactment of Afghanistan’s controversial “rape” law reveals a porous, dysfunctional and corruptible parliamentary system.

But the system is at least functioning, it shows, a fact Canadians should see as a sign of progress, says the Canadian development veteran who led the investigation.

Passed quietly in May, the legislation – it applies only to the minority Shia Muslims, which make up 10 to 20 per cent of Afghanistan’s 30 million people – requires, among other things, that women submit to sex with their husbands every four days with few exemptions. That has led to concerns that the law essentially legalizes rape within marriage.

“The parliament there has gone through a very normal growth process and it shouldn’t be expected to function normally,” said Lauryn Oates, an independent development worker who did the investigation for the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent research group.

“There is political development happening along a spectrum. It’s happening slowly, but it is happening,” she said, adding: “There is extraordinary progress being made.”

Ms. Oates’s investigation into the law was based on 51 interviews with key members of parliament, academics and civilian stakeholders in Kabul during May and June. That was the same period Afghan President Hamid Karzai found himself in the midst of a political firestorm on domestic and international fronts for signing the legislation, officially called the Shiite Personal Status Law.

Ms. Oates set out to trace how the law moved almost undetected from the pages of a hard-line clerical magazine through Afghanistan’s two houses of parliament and onto the desk of Mr. Karzai, who said he did not read any of its controversial articles before signing it last March.

Shortly after he did, civilian development groups frustrated by the law’s contents and its unusual enactment – the normal parliamentary process was virtually bypassed – turned to embassy officials and international media. News of the law prompted protests and much political hand-wringing over how a bill so peppered with human-rights abuses was allowed to slip into force.

According to Ms. Oates’s investigation, the law’s passage was engineered by the Shia cleric Mohammad Asif Mohseni, a hard-line, Iran-backed mullah who has been working to increase his stature in Kabul’s Shia community.

He did it by making backroom deals with a small circle of MPs, chief among those being Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a Sunni who was originally one of the biggest opponents to the law (the original concept of which was welcomed by the minority Shia community). Mr. Sayyaf is known as blatantly anti-Shiite. In fact, Human Rights Watch alleges he and forces under his control in the early 1990s were responsible for the mass killing and raping of Shiites and the burning of their homes.

Still, Mr. Sayyaf did an about-face in January and became the law’s lead advocate in parliament. Many who gave interviews to Ms. Oates suggested Mr. Sayyaf’s change of heart had to do with a deal struck with Mr. Mohseni. What Mr. Sayyaf got in exchange remains unclear.

“All kinds of trade-offs go on behind the scenes, which is the way they’ve done politics for the last three decades,” Ms. Oates said in an interview.

It was Mr. Sayyaf who spearheaded a confusing but pivotal parliamentary vote in the lower house in which members, many of whom later said they did not know what they were voting for, voted to issue an unprecedented advisory to the Supreme Court. It directed the court to apply the Personal Status Law even though it had not been formally enacted or debated.

Ms. Oates’s analysis shows it was this statement that really paved the way for the bill to glide through the upper house of parliament and into the orbit of Mr. Karzai, where it aligned with his spring mission to shore up votes for the looming presidential election. However, Ms. Oates suggested Mr. Karzai was not a pivotal figure.

“He [Mr. Mohseni] might have been able to do it without Karzai,” she said. “Mohseni is backed by Iran, he has financial resources and he just used his political connections,” she said.

Notable about Mr. Mohseni’s use of those connections, she said, is the fact that he went through parliament to make them rather than operating completely outside it to impose his agenda.

“It is significant that he sought to legitimize the law using formal state structures like the parliament,” Ms. Oates wrote. She said it shows there is democratic “buy-in among Afghans.”

“It’s happening indigenously and imperfectly,” she said, adding: “Despite all the challenges in this whole process, Canadians looking at this shouldn’t see this as a reason to give up on Afghanistan.”

In the “Media and Women” panel discussion of the Mesopotamia Social Forum Turkish journalists and authors evaluated the role of women in the mass media regarding the Kurdish question.

As part of last week’s meeting of the Mesopotamia Social Forum (MSF) publication director of the daily Günlük newspaper Filiz Koçaeli summarized her point of view in the “Media and Women” panel discussion. Koçaeli said that the mass media is using the women MPs of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) to direct the Kurdish question.

Kocaeli sees real potential to change politics in Turkey by the involvement of Kurdish women in the political agenda. As members of an oppressed part of society the women work on revealing gender based discrimination and on putting forward a common faith for the future.

Women are treated as objects or tools of deviation by the media
Gün TV program director E. Zuhal Bıkkım, leading through the discussion, said that Kurdish women are targeted by the media generating new sexist gender roles and othering them. Hürriyet newspaper editor Ertuğrul Özkök reminded: “Honor killings must be solved before the Kurdish question”.

Author Esra Çiftçi indicated that the Kurdish women are reflected in the mass media by reports somewhere in the middle of the newspapers about deaths from honor killings, about exposure to violence or becoming victims whereas on the back cover they are depicted as sexual objects. Çiftçi argued that women are not presented in the democratic and progressive press, describing this fact as a “serious problem”.

The Mesopotamia Social Forum

The MFS brought together organizations and movements from the Middle East and several other countries in the city of Diyarbakır in the southeast of Turkey from 26-29 September 2009.

The forum was a platform for discussion topics as diverse as problems of the people in the Middle East, conflicts in Latin America, the solution to the Kurdish question, the struggle in Palestine, women’s liberation, alternative global administrations, youth movement, water and energy management, ecology, prisons, urban transformation of the labor movement, freedom of expression and Alevi problems.

Coordinator Sırrı Süreyya Önder summarized the aim of the meeting as follows: “Thousands of people from the region of Mesopotamia and from different corners of the world meet at the Mesopotamia Social Forum to share their experiences in the struggle for a different world, a different Middle East, a different Mesopotamia. We are trying to unite our efforts in our seminars, workshops, exhibitions, concerts and discussions”.

The Committee of Human Rights Reporters reports that the bail order for Shiva Nazar Ahari, a human rights, student and women’s rights activist, was reduced from 500 Million Tomans to 200 Million Tomans (roughly $200,000), after follow-up by her family. The reduction of the bail order takes place at the order of Judge Hadad and Judge Sobhani who is the investigative judge in charge of Shiva’s case. Still, according to the NazarAhari family, they are still unable to come up with the amount of bail required for the release of their daughter, as it is too high for them. On the other hand, in a visit with her family and also in a visit with her lawyers, Shiva informed them that her interrogator has informed her that even if her family is able to post bail she will not be released. Shiva’s father asked Judge Hadad if it would still be possible to continue detaining Shiva even if bail was posted. Judge Hadad said that he had no information in this respect.

Shiva Nazar Ahari was arrested on June 14 2009, as a part of a wave of arrests of political and social activists and journalists following the presidential elections. She is 25 years old and also a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign.

Release of Mahsa Amrabadi and Somaiyeh Tohidloo

In other news, Mahsa Amrabadi, journalist, was released on a bail order in the amount of 200 million Tomans, (roughly $200,000) on 24 August. She had been arrested on the 14th of June in her own home. According to Mina Jafari, who is representing Mahsa Amrabadi along with another lawyer, Maryam Babaie, the charges against Mahsa are, actions against national security, insulting the supreme leader and the president, membership in a Marxist group and drinking of alcohol. She was arraigned by the Security Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Courts. Additionally, a bail order for the release of Saeedeh Kurdinejad, in the amount of 50 Million Tomans, (roughly $50,000) has been issued by the same branch. Saeedeh Kurdinejad is being represented by Jinous Sharif Razi and Minou Jafari.

According to the site of the Green Wave of Freedom, Somayeh Tohidloo, a weblogger and political activist, was released after 71 days of detention, on 24 August from Evin prison.

Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt
Berkeley-Los Angeles-London: University of California Press, 2009

Liberating women figured high in the official rhetoric justifying regime change in Iraq, but reality on the ground is a different story. In this carefully researched book, Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt, both professors at British universities, investigate why the situation of Iraqi women has actually deteriorated, along with that of their fellow countrymen, in the post-invasion climate. Quite simply, “women’s rights and women’s lives have been exploited in the name of competing political agendas.” (pp. 1-2)

“What Kind of Liberation?” is groundbreaking in many respects. For the first time since 2003, a book gives voice to Iraqi women themselves; the information and opinions elicited in interviews with over 100 female activists provide the basis for evaluating their status. Moreover, the authors are wary of simplistic generalisations. They challenge the idea that Muslim, Arab or Iraqi culture is inherently violent, anti-woman or sectarian, instead seeking explanations in the rapidly changing socio-economic and political conditions that have resulted from war, military intervention, sanctions and the policies of international and local players. The book also exhibits keen awareness of how women’s issues can used and abused in attempts to further imperialist designs: “The discourse of democracy, human rights and women’s rights is not only a means of drawing boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ of building US-led coalitions to wage war, or of buttressing the power of governments at home. Neoconservatives… argue that the promotion of democracy and women’s empowerment is a solution to terrorism.” (pp. 7-8)

Al-Ali and Pratt conducted their field research from 2004 until 2007. Originally they had planned to interview women in different Iraqi cities, but the security situation precluded this. Instead they interviewed a cross section of activists in Erbil and Sulaymaniya, and in Amman, Cairo, the US and London, many of whom actually live in Iraq and were only abroad to attend conferences or training sessions. They also interviewed policy makers, and people working in NGOs and international organisations, gleaning documentation and opinions from many different angles.

In order to provide an objective basis for evaluating the situation today, the book begins with a succinct review of Iraq’s modern history, focusing on women’s status from the formation of the first women’s organisations in the early 20th century up through the changes associated with the 1958 revolution and the Baathist takeover in the 60s. Although women’s independent organising was severely curtailed by Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iraqi women continued to advance in education and professional work until the imposition of sanctions destroyed the economy in the 90s.

Similarly, the authors find that the situation of Iraqi women today cannot be seen as separate from the overall conditions prevailing in the country. The book provides a detailed analysis of the combination of factors that led to women’s reduced role in public life post-2003, starting with the destruction of the Iraqi state and infrastructure, and the resulting lack of jobs, security, basic necessities, such as clean water and electricity, and educational, health and social services. “Meanwhile, the failure of the reconstruction process has fuelled violence, the spread of conservative social agendas, and the rise of Islamic parties – all with negative consequences for women.” (p. 85) Though most of the direct victims of violence are male, women have also been targeted, and they are most affected by the deteriorating living conditions that make it tremendously time-consuming if not impossible to nurture their children and families. Taken together, the horrendous security and humanitarian situations keep most women from taking an active role in public life.

As a result of their findings, the authors hold the US and UK governments and troops directly responsible for escalating violence in Iraq, and for the founding of a sectarian political system, both of which have so undermined women’s rights and activities. Though Iraqi women were keen to promote the democratic process, their participation was derailed by sectarian and regional players who gained prominence after the invasion, empowered by the decisions of the US occupation authorities. “In the process of creating a post-Baath Iraq, family law became a part of a ‘social contract’ that traded communal autonomy for women’s rights, as seen in the new constitution.” (p. 116)

In conclusion, Al-Ali and Pratt outline premises for forging a feminist, anti-imperialist and anti-war policy that might bring genuine peace and democracy to the Iraqi people, beginning with an end to the occupation. Their ideas have universal implications, not confined to Iraq. “Any analysis of what went wrong in Iraq must put gender firmly on the agenda, from challenging the very premise that military intervention will lead to women’s liberation to exploring the various ways war, violence, occupation, armed resistance, humanitarian crisis, and poverty affect men and women.” (p. 176)

Review by Sally Bland

In conjunction with the presentation of the UN Fact Finding Mission’s report to the Human Rights Council on 29 September, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) release “Through Women’s Eyes: A PCHR Report on the Gender-Specific Impact and Consequences of Operation Cast Lead”. Download’s%20_eyes.pdf

The Israeli offensive claimed the lives of 118 women, and injured at least 825 more. However, although the numbers of victims and casualties illustrate the appalling human toll of this conflict, the true extent of the suffering lies in the day-to-day reality of life in the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead, as civilians struggle to rebuild their lives, come to terms with their loss, and restore some semblance of human dignity

PCHR has released ‘Through Women’s Eyes’ in order to highlight the gender-specific impact of Operation Cast Lead and the illegal Israeli closure. As a result of the patriarchal nature of Palestinian society, women in the Gaza Strip – victims of ‘peacetime’ discrimination – are particularly susceptible to the marginalization, poverty, and suffering brought about as a result of armed conflict and occupation. Israeli attacks result in often ignored gender-specific consequences. PCHR has chosen to allow these consequences, and the reality of life after the offensive, unfold through the victims words; although this report is necessarily grounded in international law, it is perhaps fitting that human rights, and human suffering, are expressed through human stories.

This report presents the cases of 12 women affected by Israeli attacks over the course of Operation Cast Lead. These examples are intended to demonstrate the extent of the suffering inflicted on the individual civilians of the Gaza Strip, and the continuing difficulties they face as a result of the devastation wrought by Israeli forces and the ongoing illegal closure.

‘Through Women’s Eyes’ highlights the difficulties women in the Gaza Strip face as they attempt to come to terms with their grief and their injuries; with the loss of their children, their husbands, their relatives, their homes, and their livelihoods. These narratives are illustrative, not only of the trials faced by women in the Gaza Strip, but of the resilience and strength they have demonstrated over 42 years of conflict and occupation.

‘Through Women’s Eyes’ is release as a continuation of PCHR’s work documenting human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory. With respect to Operation Cast Lead, in May PCHR released ‘War Crimes Against Children’ a report on the killing of 318 children, while earlier this month ‘Targeted Civilians’ PCHR’s comprehensive report on the offensive was released in Arabic; it will be available in English shortly.

POLITICS-ITALY: Where Are the Women? – Part 1

POLITICS-ITALY: Don’t Even Speak of Equality! – Part 2

POPULATION: Where’s Family Planning on Climate Change Radar?

MOZAMBIQUE: Building Awareness to Reduce Maternal Mortality

POLITICS: Post-Conflict Security in Need of Women

RIGHTS-BANGLADESH: Glimmers of Hope Amid an Elusive Peace

ITALY-LIBYA: Migrants Returned To Face Abuse

LAOS: Land Legislation Disempowers Women – Part 1

LAOS: What People Cannot Eat is of Great Importance to Women – Part 2

ARGENTINA: Women Judges Not Enough; Gender Awareness Training Needed

Q&A: ‘Stiglitz-Sen Moving in the Right Direction, but Slowly’

RIGHTS-MEXICO: Wrongly Imprisoned Native Woman Released

GULF: Gender Discrimination in Citizenship Rights

POLITICS-EAST TIMOR: ‘The Quality of Women Is Very Important’