Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Civil society has warned of adverse social and health consequences after the Egyptian government ordered the removal of content related to male and female anatomy, reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from the school curriculum last November.

“We know most of this material wasn’t being taught, but removing it from the curriculum is a big step backwards,” says Noha Roushdy, researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Egypt’s education ministry has instructed schools not to teach lessons on “reproduction and propagation methods”, “pollination and fertilisation” genetics, and anatomical illustrations of the male and female reproductive systems. Teachers were ordered to disregard chapters on these subjects in existing biology textbooks, and new textbooks have been printed that omit the lessons.

The revisions, according to the independent weekly Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, affect students between the ages of 12 and 17. The paper quoted a ministry source as saying the deleted materials would be replaced by teacher-led classroom discussions that “incorporate the latest information on the subject from sources other than school textbooks.”

Lessons on reproductive health were first added to the Egyptian curriculum following the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994. The conference asserted the right of all men and women to receive comprehensive information pertaining to reproductive health, and recommended including lessons on the subject in school textbooks.

The government’s decision to remove these lessons from the official curriculum could be the biggest setback in nearly two decades for civil society organisations working to improve public knowledge on reproductive health.

“Definitely there will be social and health consequences,” says Dr. Amal Abdel Hadi, an outspoken advocate of reproductive health rights. “There will be more misconceptions about sex, marital disharmony and sexual harassment… and the prevalence of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) will increase.”

Sex has always been a sensitive topic in Egypt, and society’s discomfort with discussing matters related to sexuality has impeded efforts to address health issues and control spiralling population growth. Abdel Hadi is particularly disturbed by what she sees as a growing conservative and religious trend that is putting piety and propriety ahead of people’s health and rights.

“In the 1960s and 1970s, when people discussed sexuality the focus was on good and bad relationships,” she told IPS. “Now it is only about what is halal (permissible) or haram (sinful), which moves the whole issue into the religious realm.”

Egyptian religious authorities have rejected the idea of educating school students about safe sex and STDs. When this came up for debate five years ago, one influential Islamic cleric insisted that students should learn about sex “in a way that doesn’t stir instincts, or offend public morality.”

Translated, that means sex should only be taught in a way that reinforces the morally accepted behaviour of abstinence until marriage and fidelity. In practice, when sex is discussed in the classroom at all, it is presented in a religious or biological context without ever exploring its social and psychological dimensions.

Surveys have shown that Egyptians, particularly young women, are poorly informed when it comes to reproductive health and safe sex practices. Most lack basic knowledge on anatomy, reproductive functions and STDs.

A public awareness study of HIV/AIDS conducted in 2008 revealed that less than two percent of women among the poorest fifth of Egyptians, and about 16 percent among the richest, knew the basic facts of the disease. Men were better informed, but less than a third of males in the wealthiest group were aware that a person could be HIV-positive yet still appear healthy.

Egypt is one of only five Arab countries to have included reproductive health in the public school curriculum. Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Bahrain teach basic sex education to secondary school students. In Lebanon, only private secular schools provide any instruction.

Dr. Mamdouh Wahba, chairman of the Egyptian Society for Family Health (ESFH), warns that removing lessons on reproductive health from school textbooks will perpetuate commonly held misconceptions about sex and undermine efforts to control STDs. He says in the absence of authoritative explanations of sex and reproduction, inquisitive youth will seek information from unscientific sources.

“They’ll end up learning about sex from their peers, the Internet and (pornography),” he says.

Egyptian media is playing an increasingly important role in educating the public on reproductive health, and the information stream is richer than it was just five years ago. Television programmes and radio talk shows frequently discuss sex-related issues, including previously taboo topics such as condom use, oral sex and masturbation.

The problem, says Wahba, is that poorly educated audiences are often unable to discern the quality of the information being presented. Facts and sound advice about sex-related issues are lost among the scores of programmes in which unqualified doctors and religious clerics dispense subjective or fallacious opinions.

Wahba says the ICPD established 16 years ago that it is the right of all youth to receive objective, scientific instruction on reproductive health and life skills.

“This could be done through extracurricular activities, but we need to reach all students, and in order to do that you must either make these activities obligatory or put them into the school curriculum,” he says. (END)

An opposition party push to amend the prostitution law, so providing more equality for women, has been rejected by the two ruling parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan government, who claim prostitution is not a big enough problem to discuss in parliament.

“Prostitution is not a phenomenon in Kurdistan,” said Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) lawmaker Dilshad Shehab. “If we said it was, it would be an injustice against Kurdistan.”

Opposition parties requested the discussion of a bill amending the prostitution law, but the Kurdish parliament rejected it. This follows the parliament’s 2009 rejection of another bill, designed to clamp down on prostitution, before it even got to the discussion stage.

Although there is general consensus among government officials, rights groups and the general populace in Iraqi Kurdistan that prostitution is not as widespread here as in other Middle Eastern countries, some say Iraqi Kurds have swept the issue under the carpet, often dismissing it as “an Arab problem.”

There are few statistics on prostitution in Iraqi Kurdistan available but, because of the high incidence of honor killing in Kurdish society, prostitution is a particularly high-risk occupation for women in Iraqi Kurdistan, and so, officials and observers say, the role is more often taken up by Arab and other foreign women.

However, Bilal Sulaiman, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG, known locally as Komal) – the party that drafted the amendment bill – told Rudaw that, through reading Kurdish author Khandan Hama Jaza’s 2007 book, “An Ocean of Crimes,” he had only recently become aware of the large number of prostitutes in Kurdistan and their “terrible” situation.

“We want to confront prostitution in Kurdistan,” said Sulaiman. “There is a shyness in Kurdistan around prostitution, but that is no reason not to discuss it.”

Ms. Hama Jaza, who had to flee Iraqi Kurdistan to live in Germany because of numerous threats to her safety, had revealed in her book the involvement of Kurdish officials and police in the country’s prostitution trade.

Sulaiman said the existing Iraqi government law, passed in 1988, had “some shortcomings” which needed to be amended, adding that any amendments would only apply to the semiautonomous Kurdish region.

“The law only talks about women,” he said. “We have proposed to include punishment for both women and men, which would include people selling prostitutes and their customers.”

However, the KDP’s Shehab said that, because the existing law “banned prostitution entirely,” no one of either sex was permitted to be involved in it.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) lawmaker Gasha Dara Hafid – head of parliament’s Committee to Protect Women’s Rights – said there were legal gaps in the Iraqi law, as it only dealt with women and homosexual men and failed to make customers accountable.

“If you want to eradicate prostitution you must deal with both sides,” said Ms. Hafid, who, contrary to most PUK lawmakers, voted to discuss the bill. “If there is no body buyer, there will be no body seller.”

She said there was no legal justification for rejecting the discussion of the bill in parliament, and that the chief opponents to the bill – the ruling PUK and KDP – claimed the issue of men and customers involved with prostitution was covered by other existing laws.

“The bill only has a few amendments and will make no difference, so we don’t need it,” said the KDP’s Shehab. “There is not such a big problem with the existing law.”

However, Ms. Hafid pointed to Iraqi Kurdistan’s need to guarantee more equality between males and females, which the law amendments would have addressed.

“We need to make both women and men accountable,” she said. “Women’s souls should not be bought and sold. If the law had been amended it would have decreased prostitution.”

Both Ms. Hafid and the KIG’s Sulaiman stressed that the original law and its proposed amendments were chiefly about reform and the solving of social problems, rather than punishment and retribution.

“We want to reeducate [prostitutes] and teach them how to live normally again,” said Sulaiman. “We want to oblige the government to assist them.”

He said there were both social and religious reasons for the law amendment proposal.

“Prostitution exists because we have so many social problems in Kurdistan,” Sulaiman said. “According to Sharia law, prostitution is a crime, but Sharia is conditional on social problems…Our government should put money into solving these problems.”

Sulaiman said the amendment bill made a distinction between women who were forced into prostitution, whether physically or through poverty, and those who were “willing” to practice it.

“There are women who are rich and just want to be prostitutes,” he said.

However, author Ms. Hama Jaza said in October that, according to her own research interviewing over 1,300 Kurdish prostitutes, 98 percent of them were “victims,” who were forced into the profession.

Sherizaan Minwalla, country director of Heartland Alliance, a United States-based human rights group that is setting up Iraq’s first ever shelter devoted to human trafficking victims in Iraqi Kurdistan, also said people in Kurdistan often did not realize the coercive nature of prostitution.

“They view prostitutes as criminals, [or] think that women do this because they like it,” said Ms. Minwalla, adding that she had seen Iraqi Kurdish girls as young as 14 who had been forced into prostitution.

“There are some cases [in Iraqi Kurdistan] of husbands or fathers forcing their wives and daughters into prostitution,” said Ms Minwalla. “It is almost impossible to reintegrate these women back into the family in Kurdish society.”

Ms. Minwalla stressed that, because of the social importance of the Kurdish family unit, a lone female forced out of the care of her family was extremely vulnerable to human trafficking.

“There’s nowhere to go,” said Ms. Minwalla. “She might even say she wasn’t forced [into prostitution], but was she sexually abused and then had to run away from her family?”

The PUK’s Ms. Hafid agreed that most Kurdish people did not have compassion for prostitutes.

“If a man in this society goes to a prostitute, he doesn’t think of himself as bad; he just looks down on the woman,” she said. “Kurdish society in general, including women, contributes to this looking down on prostitutes. Men are not held accountable for prostitution because there is no law holding them accountable, but in Islam it is clearly stated that both male and females are accountable.”

The KIG’s Sulaiman said he believed there were political goals for the ruling parties rejecting the bill’s discussion.

“All the opposition parties supported it,” he said. “Maybe there are other political reasons too, but that is only my opinion.”

But the KDP’s Shehab denied any political agenda behind the bill’s rejection.

“Some KDP lawmakers voted for the bill,” he said. “There was only a two-vote majority, which is a good indication that there was no political motivation behind it.”

Ms. Hafid said a further attempt to discuss the bill in parliament would be made after some adjustments to the bill had been completed.

The number of sexual harassment cases among civil service employees rose 40 percent last year, according to the annual report released by the Civil Service Commission’s disciplinary division.

Over the year, 125 sexual harassment files were opened compared with 90 the year before. As recently as three years ago, the annual figure was 65. Of the 125 cases filed last year, 20 were filed with the disciplinary court for civil service employees.

The executive director general of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, Michal Rozin, said highly publicized cases encourage victims of sexual harassment to file complaints. Such cases include the allegations of sexual misconduct against police commissioner candidate Uri Bar-Lev, and the trial and conviction of former President Moshe Katsav on rape and other charges.

“We have seen this reflected in a substantial way in the flood of phone calls to rape crisis centers and to our emergency hotlines beginning on Thursday morning when the verdict in the Katsav case was announced,” Rozin said. “We have just been swamped with calls in the past several days.”

Some observers say more complainants came forward in 2010 after Orly Innes’ complaint filed with the Civil Service Commission. Innes said she was sexually harassed by the outgoing director general of the Public Security Ministry, Hagai Peleg.

The report from the Civil Service Commission, which was recently provided to the Justice Ministry, shows that the Education Ministry suffered the largest number of complaints in 2010. That year, 26 files were opened, compared with 12 the year before.

The Health Ministry had the second largest number of complaints, 23, followed by the Israel Postal Company and the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which each had eight.

Agencies with smaller numbers of complaints included the court administration, the Nuclear Research Center and educational television, with one each. The Prime Minister’s Office was the source of two complaints.

Rozin said high-profile sexual misconduct cases such as the Katsav case or the case involving former minister Haim Ramon’s kissing of a female soldier revive painful memories among victims. Many of these victims then feel the need to talk about what they went through.

Rozin said the Katsav case had a major impact. She said that a survey conducted in 2010 showed that 40 percent of women experience sexual harassment at the workplace.

Attorney Rachel Toren, who represented Innes, agreed that media coverage of sexual misconduct cases encourages other victims to come forward. She cautioned, however, that not every complaint is well-founded.

Innes not only filed a complaint against Peleg, but also went public with allegations against Uri Bar-Lev, who withdrew his candidacy as police commissioner following allegations of sexual misconduct by Innes and another women.

Tziona Koenig-Yair, who heads the equal employment opportunity commission at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, said publicized cases involving sexual harassment cause an increase in the number of complaints filed. But some people dispute this, she said.

“The message that has come from labor courts over the past year and from the judicial system as a whole is a message encouraging women to file sexual harassment complaints,” she said.

Women’s rights organizations expressed relief over the conviction of former president Moshe Katsav on rape and indecent assault charges.

When the details of the verdict became known, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel reacted to the verdict by saying it was a sad and difficult day for the country.

“It is a day on which the truth that convicted him and his true face came to light, after the four difficult years the victims have gone through, [after] the deficient conduct of the prosecution and the defamation campaign waged by Katsav and his attorneys against the victims,” they said.

Ronit Ehrenfreund-Cohen of the Women’s International Zionist Organization called the verdict a substantial advance on the victims’ behalf, saying the court had recognized that the testimony of the victims could lack coherence and could at times even be contradictory, “because that is an inseparable part of the pathology of victims of crime, but it is still the truth.”

“An additional painful point is that it now turns out there were many who knew what was happening for years and didn’t do or say a thing and even led to [Katsav’s] election as president not uttering a word. They have a lot of soul-searching to do,” said Ehrenfreund-Cohen, who directs WIZO’s division for the advancement of the status of women.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers said the handling of the case against Katsav by the prosecution was problematic. It termed the conduct of then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz in the case “flip-flopping” and said it was difficult for the victims.

The group said the case had trouble, “from the declaration that the president is a serial sex offender to a problematic plea bargain agreement that deprived the victims of their right to testify and [would have] prevented the presentation of evidence in court. They also ignored other prior testimony due to the statute of limitations … The Katsav case will remain forever as a festering wound for the public, etched into the collective memory as a story of abandonment and the failure of the Israeli legal system.”

Rape crisis centers reported a marked increase in the number of calls received by their emergency hotline yesterday. Keren Shahar, who directs the rape crisis center in Rehovot said among the women calling yesterday there were those that wondered how the verdict would affect their own cases. Some said it made them relive their own experiences.

Shahar said most of the callers said the verdict was a great relief, however.

The Rehovot center’s volunteer coordinator, Hava Pik, said there were others who deliberated over whether they wished to undergo what the victims experienced in the trial.

“There is great hope,” she added, “that the verdict will constitute a milestone and strengthen women who are deliberating over whether to file a complaint and that even instances of ‘just a kiss’ or ‘just a touch’ have received recognition as sexual harassment.”

Campaign in Turkey about Women’s paid & unpaid labor

We would like to inform you about a campaign started in Turkey, in 5 different cities including Istanbul. The campaign will take one year and will be run by Socialist Feminist Collective

Main theme of the campaign is to highlight women’s double shift between unpaid and paid labor and clarify our demands from men, capitalists and state. Below you may find the video of preparations and the public announcement in English

We want back the hours, Days and Years we have spent on housework! We want back our due in the house!

We are calling on women to stop doing any housework until we are paid back our due. We want housework to be men’s work. Cooking, laundry, ironing, dish washing… Let men do the housework, day in and day out, for hours on end.

Let the fathers care for their children: Prepare them for school in the morning, prepare their meal in the evening and help them with their homework. When the kids are ill, let the fathers leave work and run home to look after them.

On the weekend, let the fathers take the kids to their leisure activities, go searching in the markets for cheap, healthy, nourishing food, go back to pick them back with their arms loaded.

Let sons care for their elderly mothers and fathers. Let them look after their parents when they are ill; let them remember to remind them when to take their pills; let them remember to give them baths…

While we women are watching TV in the evening, let men put the kettle on, put the kids to sleep and make the necessary preparations for he next day.

Let men learn how to share other people’s problems and to establish proper relations with their own fathers and sons.

We want back our due in the house!

We are calling on women to stop doing any housework until we are paid back our due. We want housework to be men’s work. Cooking, laundry, ironing, dish washing… Let men do the housework, day in and day out, for hours on end.

Let the fathers care for their children: Prepare them for school in the morning, prepare their meal in the evening and help them with their homework. When the kids are ill, let the fathers leave work and run home to look after them.

On the weekend, let the fathers take the kids to their leisure activities, go searching in the markets for cheap, healthy, nourishing food, go back to pick them back with their arms loaded.

Let sons care for their elderly mothers and fathers. Let them look after their parents when they are ill; let them remember to remind them when to take their pills; let them remember to give them baths…

While we women are watching TV in the evening, let men put the kettle on, put the kids to sleep and make the necessary preparations for he next day.

Let men learn how to share other people’s problems and to establish proper relations with their own fathers and sons.

We demand from the bosses!

We refuse to work exclusively in low paid, insecure and flexible jobs. Women also have the right to be unionised and to have access to social security.

Are men better in weaving, cutting out, sewing and designing? We want equal pay for equal worth!

We know very well that when parental leaves are transferable and optional, men prefer not to use them. We want non-transferable leaves for fathers.

We want crèches in all work places which hire more than fifty workers irrespective of sex! We want our children to go the crèche in their father’s work place.

We also demand neighbourhood crèches. Bosses hiring less than fifty workers should make financial contributions to the neighbourhood crèches in proportion to the number of their workers.

You have been privileging men for centuries. We want positive discrimination when we apply for jobs, while we work and in professional training courses. We demand quotas in “male jobs”!

The streets are not safe for women. We want safe transportation for 24 hours to and from work.

We demand from the state!

We demand the right to retirement pension at fifty, in return for the domestic labour we have spent on our husbands and companions. Retirement pension for housewives!

Although we run our households for years on end, when we go out to look for work, we are counted as unqualified labour.

We want to be paid unemployment fees once we start looking for a job, until we get one.We are only offered training courses in “female skills”.

We demand quotas for women in technical skill courses.We refuse to be deprived of social security when we do home-based work, work as care workers or cleaning ladies, or when we work on land for practically nothing.

We don’t want to have to count on our fathers or husbands when we are ill; we do not want to live on the street with an empty stomach. The right to individual health security and a decent shelter for all women!

We work both at home and in the work place. We do double shifts. We want early retirement!

When we say “enough is enough” and want to get a divorce, we want unconditional alimony payment: We refuse to be preached on decency, virtue and morals. The state should pay the alimony when the divorced husband fails to do so.

Is it only our responsibility to care for the elderly? We want professional public care for old people if they prefer to go on living in their own homes. We also demand good quality homes for old people.

Hundreds of people stood shoulder to shoulder in Beirut, demonstrating their support for a women’s rights campaign that has swept the city earlier this month.

It’s called a human chain, and activists say it visually represents their cause: Men and women standing together against domestic violence. Most of the 200 people lining the streets of Beirut are wearing white banners, or white scarves saying, “Be a real man: United in ending violence against women.”

Anthony Keedi, one of the organizers, says that the ribbons are a part of a worldwide campaign designed to get men to speak out against domestic violence. And, although White Ribbon Campaigns, have been going on around the world for many years, this is the first time it has been introduced in the Middle East. He says Lebanese men often support the cause once they understand it to be a human rights issue, rather than exclusively a women’s issue.

“They realize that, yeah, they might have stood for this all along,” said Keedi. “They just haven’t spoken about it. And now they’re realizing that it is their job. It’s a sense of ownership. It is my obligation to speak about it because these are my principles.”

This demonstration was one of many in Beirut over the past two weeks and part of a global campaign against domestic violence called: “16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women.” In Beirut, the campaign also included the presentation of a pilot study by activist organizations, Kafa (Enough) Violence and Exploitation and Oxfam.

The study indicates that most men in Lebanon grow up as either witnesses or victims of violence and that domestic violence is found equally in Lebanese families, regardless of socio-economic status or religion. It also shows that Lebanese men generally define violence only in terms of beatings or rape- not psychological or verbal abuse. And the men in Lebanon are, as one activist put it, bombarded with norms of masculinity.

Kafa has also focused the local anti-domestic violence campaign on gathering support for a change in the Lebanese law. Currently, there are no laws in Lebanon designed to protect women from violence inside their homes. If adopted by Parliament, activists say the law will protect women by allowing them to report abuses confidentially, seek protection orders against their husbands, and create private family courts. During the campaign, organizers passed out a petition supporting the law that now, after two years of campaigning, has about 10,000 signatures.

Activist Marita Kassis says that although many governments in the Middle East, like Lebanon, have signed international human rights agreements, treaties have done little for the women here. She says women in Lebanon need new local laws, and to change the way society views violence against women.

Legislators call for parliamentary inquiry as data shows a significant increase in sex crimes within families.

The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI) called on the government to create a national program for tackling the increasing levels of sexual violence in Israeli society, especially cases of incest and sexual molestation within the family.

Presenting to the Knesset its semiannual report, which showed a sharp increase in sexually violent crimes and rape, ARCCI executive director Michal Rozin declared that “it is time for everyone to join forces and build a national program, which will include all government ministries, to eradicate sexual violence in Israel completely.”

Rozin added that not only had sexual violence in the country increased, but “the scope and variety of the abuse and attacks has intensified, too.”

During the meeting, which included the Knesset committees for Labor, Welfare and Health; the Status of Women; and the Rights of the Child, legislators said they would call on Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to establish a parliamentary inquiry to look into the growing cases of domestic violence and child molestation.

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said at the hearing that despite improvements in recent years in treating children and youth at risk, he would find a way to increase the budget for centers providing assistance and treatment to victims of rape and sexual assault.

According to the report, which reflects data collected by ARCCI’s rape crisis hot line and information reported by its affiliated centers around the country, during the first half of this year there was a rise of 13 percent in the number of new calls for help, going from 3,773 in 2009 to 4,245 so far this year.

Among the calls received by the hot line, 1,359 callers reported being victims of rape or attempted rape, a 13% increase from the previous year; 166 said they’d been subjected to a gang rape or a group sexual assault, a rise of 23% over the previous year; and there were 10 reports of statutory rape.

In addition, 254 people reported either ongoing sexual harassment at work or a one-time experience of sexual harassment, a 14.5% increase from 2009, while 275 said they had been victims of sexual assault.

Out of those who called the hot line, the group reported that 66.5% had been under the age of 18, and 40% of those reporting incest or sexual abuses in the family had been under 18.

Overall, sexual abuse within the family increased by 11% in the first half of 2010, with most of the reports involving incest perpetrated by fathers, brothers, uncles and other relatives. Mothers and sisters were also found to have committed these crimes, the report noted.

“Last year the media reported numerous cases of gang rape, incest, sexual abuse of minors by family members and sexual assault by teens against their own peers,” Rozin pointed out.

“These cases and many more unreported cases only serve to back up our data that there has been an alarming increase in the number of people reporting such crimes.”

Three years ago, the government, then under the leadership of Ehud Olmert, committed to investing some NIS 30 million to build a special program for victims of rape and other sexual attacks. However, ARCCI has pointed out that little has progressed since then, and today there are simply not enough services and treatment centers available to cope with this increase in cases.

At the meeting, Herzog said his ministry’s budget for treating victims of rape and sexual abuse was more than NIS 4.5m. a year for 10 centers and that he was committed to increasing that amount in the future.

Female Prisoners Get Less Time Out of Cells; Family Visits Restricted

Syria’s prison authorities should immediately transfer women detained in the predominantly male `Adra prison to a facility for women, Human Rights Watch said last week. The authorities are holding at least 12 women among an estimated 7,000 men.

Syrian rights activists in touch with families of some of the detained women told Human Rights Watch that the women are held in a section of the prison under the control of Political Security, one of Syria’s multiple security agencies. They are only allowed out of their cell twice a week and family visits are subject to the approval of Political Security. Two female guards reportedly supervise the women directly, but male guards for the other prisoners have verbally harassed the women, the activists said. Male prisoners are allowed out of their cells for at least two hours twice a day and can receive weekly visits without Political Security review, male former prisoners told Human Rights Watch.

“We don’t know why Syria is keeping these women in `Adra prison, but we do know that their situation is precarious and they are being treated worse than their male counterparts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The United Nations-issued Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners say that, “Men and women shall so far as possible be detained in separate institutions,” and, “No male member of the staff shall enter the part of the institution set aside for women unless accompanied by a woman officer.” Syria has prisons for women, including a main facility in Douma, located in the suburbs of Damascus. Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine why some women are in `Adra prison.

Among the women in `Adra is Tuhama Ma`ruf, 46, a dentist detained there since February 10, 2010, to serve the remaining part of a sentence issued by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) in 1995 for membership in the unlicensed Party for Communist Action (PCA). Syria’s security services detained Ma`ruf in 1992 as part of a crackdown against the PCA, which no longer exists. Authorities released her on bail in 1993, but the SSSC sentenced her in 1995 to six years for “membership in an illegal organization.” At the time, Human Rights Watch criticized the trials against PCA members for due process violations and for criminalizing peaceful political activity.

Ma`ruf did not turn herself in after the sentence was issued in 1995 and lived clandestinely for the next 15 years. Security forces arrested her on February 6 and placed her in `Adra to serve the remaining five years of the sentence. Ma`ruf’s lawyers petitioned for her freedom, arguing that her sentence should be commuted because of the passage of time, but the SSSC prosecutor’s office rejected her request.

“Ma`ruf was sentenced to prison solely for her peaceful political activism, which is protected under international human rights treaties that Syria has ratified,” Whitson said. “The authorities should release her.”

The Syrian activists said that other female detainees in `Adra whose identities they know include Yusra al-Hassan, detained since January without any formal accusation or judicial referral. Her husband is being held by the United States in Guantanamo. Other female detainees in `Adra reportedly include members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) as well as women convicted on drug or prostitution-related charges.

We (Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson) have just visited the Gaza Strip where we met many courageous people trying to live relatively normal lives despite the crippling effects of the illegal Israeli blockade. The blockade was imposed to punish the Hamas-led government, but it is women and children who are paying the highest price.

In our conversations with a range of women, we learned that despite the apparent “easing” of restrictions by Israel and Egypt, important socio-economic indicators such as poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and family violence are getting worse. Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.

Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists. These restrictions are not being imposed through the introduction of laws, but rather through party-led initiatives that are enforced without any system of accountability. For example, there is no legal decree stating that all schoolgirls must wear a headscarf, yet those who don’t wear it are harassed. Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.

The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics. In Gaza, women already struggle to be heard. The absence of women from politics in turn fuels perceptions of women as passive; they are seen as victims of the ongoing conflict, rather than active participants in shaping opinions and political processes. Despite the extremely challenging circumstances in which they live, it was therefore encouraging to meet a remarkable group of women in Gaza who are working hard to counter prevailing stereotypes. They are doing it in particular through a UN mechanism called 1325.

Ten years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which recognized that sustainable peace could not be achieved in any conflict without the full participation — and protection — of women. We were impressed to see that women’s groups in Gaza are working hard to mobilize support for the democratic principles of Resolution 1325. At the heart of this resolution is the conviction that women, like men, have a right to participate as decision-makers in all aspects of governance: Women have a right to a voice in institutions that are democratic and accountable, including those that govern peacemaking.

Women’s groups in Gaza told us that they are doing their best to raise awareness about Resolution 1325 among local leaders. They have provided training to women on the ground in how to exercise their political rights. They have documented human rights violations and violence against women, and they participated in the UN investigation, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, to establish whether war crimes were committed during the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009. However, they don’t feel that there has been any positive improvement in the lives of Gazan women.

Women activists are clamoring for help from beyond Gaza: “What we do ourselves is not enough”, they told us. “We need help to make sure that our voices are heard in the outside world.” These women are very keen to join networks worldwide who are working on Resolution 1325 and women’s rights more generally; They want to stand in solidarity with women around the world and feel that they are not alone. They want to reach out to the wider international community, but they are penned in — the blockade prevents them from doing so.

This is one, largely unrecognized, price of the blockade of Gaza: It is hampering women’s efforts to cooperate and build a movement that can effectively advance gender equality. The effect extends beyond politics; the disempowerment of women hinders post-conflict reconstruction, reduces the likelihood that it will be sustainable, and prevents any meaningful progress on development.

As Elders, we call for the immediate and complete lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The ongoing siege is a denial of dignity; it is the denial of rights of a people, particularly its women, who yearn to be free.

Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson are both members of The Elders. Mary Robinson was the first woman President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Lakhdar Brahimi is a distinguished diplomat and mediator. He was Foreign Minister of Algeria from 1991 to 1993 and has led UN missions in South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) issued a short report on the campaign for November 28′s Egyptian Parliamentary elections, saying women have a number of complaints that must be looked into for a better election.

According to the leading women’s organization in Egypt, they have “received many complaints from female candidates of the National Democratic Party who were excluded from nomination in the upcoming elections.”

The organization listed the complaints from the potential candidates:

1. NDP’s exploitation

The party made the best use of some female candidates by taking donations from each candidate of up to 10,000 Egyptian pounds. This is why there are calls for the return of the money.

2. Nominating candidates out of the electoral college, based on criteria of relatives and not on partisan basis

The party excluded some female candidates in favor of others who are relatives of some secretaries in the party. Moreover, many women in Beheira claimed that they were excluded in favor of others who came out of the Electoral College.

3. Prevent entering the headquarter to look at results of the Electoral College

ECWR received a complaint from one of the National Democratic Party’s female candidates in Assuit who has been excluded from nomination in the elections. She said that she was prevented from entering the secretariat of the NDP in Cairo when she went there to know the number of votes that she gained; this happened after she went to the secretariat of the party in Assuit and was informed that ballot boxes had been moved into Cairo.

4. Changing the nomination category

ECWR received a complaint from one of the National Democratic Party’s female candidates in Kafr El Shekh for labor seat within the quota system. She said that the party chose her for the professional seat, though she submitted her documents for the labor seat. Thus, it became necessary for her to change the category of her nomination, though the party has affirmed to her before that she will be nominated as labor candidate in Assuit.

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights is still following the election process and is receiving complaints from women in all the Egyptian governorates.

Federal Supreme Court Ruling Effectively Endorses Wife Beating

A decision by the United Arab Emirates Federal Supreme Court upholding a husband’s right to “chastise” his wife and children with physical abuse violates the right of the country’s women and children to liberty, security, and equality in the family – and potentially their right to life, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling, citing the UAE penal code, sanctions beating and other forms of punishment or coercion providing the violence leaves no physical marks.

Human Rights Watch called on the government urgently to repeal all discriminatory laws, including any that sanction domestic violence.

“This ruling by the UAE’s highest court is evidence that the authorities consider violence against women and children to be completely acceptable,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Domestic violence should never be tolerated under any circumstances. These provisions are blatantly demeaning to women and pose serious risks to their well-being.”

The October 5, 2010 court ruling, a copy of which Human Rights Watch obtained, states that, “Although the husband has the right to discipline his wife in accordance with article 53 of the penal code, he must abide by conditions setting limits to this right, and if the husband abuses this right to discipline, he shall not be exempt from punishment.”

Article 53 of the UAE’s penal code acknowledges the right of a “chastisement by a husband to his wife and the chastisement of minor children” so long as the assault does not exceed the limits prescribed by Shari’a. Similarly, article 56 of the UAE’s personal status code obligates women to “obey” their husbands.

The case was initiated with a trial of a man for kicking and slapping his 23-year-old daughter and slapping his wife at the Sharjah Court of First Instance in December 2009. According to the judgment, “medical reports confirmed the evidence of wounds to the daughter’s right hand and right knee, and evidence of wounds to the wife’s lower lip and injuries to her teeth.”

This court found the man guilty of violating article 2/339 of the penal code and fined him 500 dirhams (US $136). This penal provision on crimes against persons states that whoever assaults another person, if the assault did not reach the degree of seriousness to cause illness or disability, shall be sentenced to prison for a term not exceeding one year and a fine not to exceed 10,000 dirhams (US$2,722)

The Sharjah Court of Appeals upheld the decision on February 14, but the man appealed to the Federal Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found the man guilty of abusing his daughter because she is no longer a minor and too old to be disciplined by her father. The court also found the man guilty of “abusing his Shari’a rights” when disciplining his wife because of the severity of that attack. The judgment states that, “The court, convinced of the appearance of injuries on the bodies of the plaintiffs, has overridden the defendant’s right to discipline due to his use of severe beatings.” In effect, the Supreme Court validated the penal code’s legalization of domestic violence, but found that in this case the abuse went too far.

In 2004, the UAE signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The convention’s General Recommendation on Violence against Women regards gender-based violence as a form of discrimination between men and women and calls on governments to take effective measures to combat all forms of violence against women, regardless of whether the act is private or public. The UAE also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1997. Article 19 of the CRC states that parties shall take all appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of violence, whether physical or mental.

“The UAE Supreme Court’s ruling lets stand a law that is degrading, discriminatory, and outright dangerous for women and children,” Khalife said. “The UAE needs to come to grips with reality of domestic violence, repeal all discriminatory provisions sanctioning violence against women and children, enact laws that criminalize such behavior, and provide appropriate services to victims.”

The Syrian government should immediately release Tal al-Mallohi, a 19-year-old high school student and blogger held incommunicado without charge for nine months, Human Rights Watch said today. She has been held by Syria’s security services since being detained on December 27, 2009.

State Security (Branch 279), one of Syria’s multiple state security agencies, summoned al-Mallohi to Damascus for interrogation in December and immediately detained her. Two days later, members of State Security went to al-Mallohi’s house and confiscated her computer, some CDs, books, and other personal belongings. Since the arrest, the security services have not allowed her family to communicate with her and have not offered any explanation for the arrest.

“Detaining a high school student for nine months without charge is typical of the cruel, arbitrary behavior of Syria’s security services,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A government that thinks it can get away with trampling the rights of its citizens has lost all connection to its people.”

It is unclear why the authorities have detained al-Mallohi. According to her family, al-Mallohi, who is in her last year of high school, does not belong to any political group. Some Syrian activists have expressed concerns that security services may have detained her over a poem she wrote criticizing certain restrictions on freedom of expression in Syria. Her blog, which contains poetry and social commentary, focuses mostly on the plight of Palestinians and does not address Syrian political issues. Her homepage shows a picture of Gandhi with the quote, “you will remain an example.”

On September 1, al-Malouhi’s mother issued a public appeal to President Bashar al-Asad urging him to provide her with information about her daughter.

See also:

The Afghan blogosphere is small but female practitioners say their words are closely monitored. The backlash to what they say helps define a range of off-limit topics, from criticizing religion to advocating for women’s rights.

A women’s peace delegation – led by Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams – wrapped up a seven-day tour of Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories. The delegation of 10 women – mostly American – traveled to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Hebron, Haifa and Nazareth, and met with women peacebuilders, as well as the Israeli military, members of the Knesset, lawyers, Israeli settlers, staff from the United Nations and community leaders. Their goal was to learn first-hand the challenges to peace—and how some women are overcoming those barriers.

“We learned that there is a partner in peace,” said Williams. “Against the backdrop of violence and daily humiliations, there are women working on the ground in both Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories who use nonviolent protest and dialogue as a means to building a more just and equitable situation. For real peace to happen, these women must be part of the official peace process.”

The delegation visited the region as the US-brokered peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials—which began on September 2—continued without much substantive progress. Most of the women’s groups the delegation met with have called for civil society, including women’s organizations, to be an integral part of that process. They are also calling for the negotiations to be more ‘transparent’.

“Most of the people in power derive their power from the conflict,” noted one activist from Isha L’Isha, a grassroots organization based in Haifa that includes both Israeli and Palestinian women. “We need to ensure that people without power—but committed to ending the conflict—are also heard in the peace process.”

The group—along with other women’s groups in Israel—has called for no less than 30 percent of direct participation by women in all level of negotiations to ensure greater transparency and more attention to the needs of civilians, including women. As well, they are asking that a plan for reconciliation between the two communities be part of any final agreement.

The women activists in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Gaza echoed the words of their Israeli counterparts during meetings with the delegation in Ramallah, and during visits to three well known sites of nonviolent resistance to occupation: Bi’lin, Ni’lin and Hebron.

“When I am alone I feel weak,” one woman in Ramallah told the delegation, which was hosted in the West Bank by Palestinian leader Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. “But here together with [all of you] I feel strong.” The delegation heard testimony from 300 women who joined the delegation at a conference on gender justice organized by the Palestinian NGO, Health Development Information Policy Institute (HDIP). The conference also connected with women in Gaza through a video-conference.

Earlier in the weak, staff at the UN told delegation members that the situation in Gaza is a “dignity crisis” and noted that most residents of Gaza are refugees. They estimate that 80% of the people in Gaza are reliant on UN food aid. Babies die at the checkpoints waiting to get into Israel for medical help, and thousands of children are not being educated because of the ban on bringing new building supplies into Gaza to build new schools. On top of all that, with an unemployment rate of close to 45%, Hamas leadership is making things worse by closing businesses that employ both men and women.

Yet, the delegation heard that despite all these obstacles—women are not deterred.

“A high point for me was hearing all these Palestinian women saying ‘Don’t be diverted. We can have peace, a strong democracy’”, said Janaan Hashim, a delegation member and lawyer from Chicago. “Women will be a major part in [making peace] happen.”

Towards the end of the week-long visit to the region, the delegation met with women settlers in Gush Etzion, located in the southern part of the West Bank. Their goal in visiting the settlement was to better understand the scope of the settlement issue.

“The settlements are a much larger machine than I had realized,” said Jody Williams. “They are a massive apparatus—and now I understand much more clearly what a serious impediment to the peace process these so-called ‘outposts’ really are.”

The day the delegation arrived to Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lifted the freeze on building settlements—one of the most contentious issues in the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“A visit to Hebron painfully revealed the way in which the commercial center of this Palestinian city of 400,000 had been virtually closed down by the Israeli authorities in order to protect freedom of movement for 450 radical Jewish settlers, provocatively living in the middle of this Palestinian city,” said Rabbi Amy Eilberg, a delegation member from Minnesota, in an opinion editorial she wrote for the Star Tribune.

Settlement Watch, a project of the Israeli group Peace Now that monitors and protests the building of settlements, estimates that settlers have built 100 ‘outposts’ on occupied territories—at the cost of approximately 556 million dollars a year.

“The route of the wall/separation barrier is frequently determined by the needs of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank rather than by security needs alone,” noted Rabbi Eilberg. But Eilberg is not discouraged.

“As Palestinians and Israelis alike wait to see whether the latest round of talks will finally chart a course toward the end of the conflict, I leave the region with both deep pain and profound respect for the many unsung heroes on the ground who courageously work for a just peace,” said Eilberg.

Mairead Maguire, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her work in ending sectarian violence and bringing peace to Northern Ireland, had planned to be part of the women’s peace delegation. However when she arrived to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport last week, Israeli officials refused her entry into the country and tried to deport the 66-year-old activist. Maguire’s lawyers appealed the deportation. Seven days later—in which Maguire lived in a detention cell at the airport—the Israeli Supreme Court refused Maguire’s appeal and she was deported.

The delegation plans to release a full report on its visit to Israel and Palestine.

Nine American mothers whose children died fighting in Iraq were embraced last week by dozens of Iraqi women who lost their own children during decades of war and violence in a meeting participants said brought them a measure of peace. The gathering in Iraq’s mostly peaceful northern Kurdish region was far from the sites of the roadside bombings or battlefields that accounted for the vast majority of the more than 4,400 U.S. military deaths since the 2003 invasion, but it was still a powerful experience for some mothers to even step foot in Iraq.

Some kissed the ground during their arrival Saturday.

“I was overwhelmed at touch down. We were really on the ground in Iraq. I was almost in disbelief that it was real. This is where my son spent the last days of his life, and now, I was there,” said a blog entry by Amy Galvez of Salt Lake City, whose son, Cpl. Adam Galvez, was killed in 2006.

In another web post she said she would return home a “different person.”

“I will be in the country where my son spent the last days of his life,” she wrote. “I’ll have visited the land where a piece of my heart will remain forever.”

The beginning of the Americans’ three-day trip — organized by a Virginia-based women’s aid group, Families United Toward Universal Respect — was attended by officials from State Department and Kurdish regional government.

Nawal Akhil, deputy chief of the group’s Baghdad office, said the goal was to “talk about their suffering to find a way to ease it.”

“We share the same ordeals and suffering — the American mothers who lost their children and the Iraqi mothers who lost their loved ones during the Saddam Hussein-era and in the violence since 2003,” said Akhil.

Elaine Johnson, of Cordova, South Carolina, said the trip allowed her to come to terms with the loss of her son, Spc. Darius Jennings, killed in November 2003 in Fallujah as the insurgency that went on to rip the country apart gained strength.

“Before making this trip, I was angry for my child’s death,” she said. “But after making this trip, I feel peace, peace, peace.”

The dozens of Iraqi mothers included Kurds whose family members were killed in Saddam’s 1980s scorched-earth campaign to wipe out a Kurdish rebellion in the north that claimed at least 100,000 lives, including thousands in poison gas attacks.

“When I hugged an American woman we couldn’t express ourselves in words, but what helped us to express our feelings and understand each other were our tears. We found them as a true expression to our grief and suffering,” said Peroz Nasser, a 55-year-old Kurdish woman who lost her parents and two brothers and two sisters during Saddam’s attacks.

Part of a longer report at

A Jewish widow ran into an unexpected snag when she was planning to remarry. A rabbi said that according to ancient law, she would need to marry her brother-in-law unless he freed her in a ceremony known as halitza.

In order to marry, the couple, who are not particularly religious, had to register at the stringently religious Rabbinate, the sole government agency with the authority to grant Jewish marriage permits. No civil marriage exists in Israel and non-Orthodox marriages performed in the country are not recognized by the state.

When the widow presented the registrar with her late husband’s death certificate, he asked if her deceased husband had any children. When she said no, he asked whether her late husband had any brothers. When she said yes she was told she needed to do the halitza ceremony otherwise she wouldn’t be able to marry, ever.

According to the Torah, if a man dies without leaving children, his brother must marry his widow in a ceremony called yibbum. To prevent such forced marriages–which reportedly still occur, though very rarely, in highly traditional Sephardic Jewish communities–most rabbis strongly encourage halitza, in which a man’s brother relinquishes all claims to his sister-in-law.

In the ceremony, which is meant to be public, the woman kneels before her brother-in-law and removes a special handmade shoe from his foot. She is then required to spit on the ground next to him and recite several verses.

The plight of agunot–women whose husbands cannot or will not grant them a “get,” a Jewish divorce–is fairly well known because it affects thousands of women.

Halitza impacts far fewer. Each year halitza only affects about one or two Jewish women in the United States and between 15 and 20 in Israel, estimates the Rabbinate.

Although Jewish law requires all widows in this position to do halitza, some cases fall through the cracks and the ceremony isn’t performed, said Rivka Lubitch, a rabbinical court advocate whose articles often challenge the rabbinic status quo.

Rare as it is, halitza continues to evoke feelings of helplessness in the women it touches.

Lubitch, who also works at the Center for Women’s Justice in Jerusalem, said that marrying a brother-in-law protected some women in the old days. But she said the commandment became a practice that could be used against women by forcing them to marry against their will.

The custom also creates opportunities for abuse. Although less common than in the past, there continue to be stories of men who have no intention of marrying their brothers’ widows but extort money from them in return for their freedom.

Even in cases of goodwill, halitza is fraught with anxiety.

Lubitch, who is an Orthodox Jew, has urged influential rabbis to find ways to free both men and women from the burden of halitza.

Part of a longer article at

Hamas police ordered a Gaza hotel restaurant closed on Wednesday for allowing a woman to smoke a water pipe on its premises, one of its owners said.

It was believed to be the first time that Hamas Islamists who run the Gaza Strip have enforced their ban, announced in July, on women smoking the traditional tobacco-infused pipes in public.

“They acted as if they caught her red-handed committing a crime,” the hotel’s co-owner said of the encounter between Hamas police and the woman.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said the police “accused us of violating tradition and Islamic values” and ordered the hotel closed for three days. The order was later amended to cover only its restaurant.

A Hamas police spokesman denied the closure stemmed from a violation of the water pipe ban but said the hotels’ owners “committed some violations”, which he did not detail.

The water pipe ban has drawn criticism from human rights groups, which have accused Hamas of limiting public freedoms. Hamas leaders have denied any intention to impose Islamic law in the territory. (Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi)

See also:

Closing of tourist places in Gaza for non-compliance with Islamic customs
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is gravely concerned over the unjustified intervention of the Ministry of Interior into public freedoms, closing a number of tourist places in Gaza City, imposing restrictions on their work and arresting one of these places’ owners under the pretext of gender mixture and non-compliance with the Islamic customs. PCHR calls upon the government in Gaza to take all necessary measures to ensure and respect public freedoms which are constitutionally guaranteed under relevant international standards.

Israeli and West Bank women risk jail for day at the beach
The day starts early, at a petrol station alongside a roaring Jerusalem road. The mood among the 15 Israeli women is a little tense, but it’s hardly surprising – they’re about to break the law and with it one of the country’s taboos. They plan to drive into the occupied West Bank, pick up Palestinian women and children and take them on a day trip to Tel Aviv.Today’s is the second such trip – another group of women went public with a similar action last month. It is hoped that these will become regular outings, designed to create awareness of the laws that govern movement for Palestinians, and to challenge the fears that Israelis have about travelling into the West Bank.

It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the “honour” of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations’ latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.

A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for “honour” and, despite its identification by journalists as a largely Muslim practice, Christian and Hindu communities have stooped to the same crimes. Indeed, the “honour” (or ird) of families, communities and tribes transcends religion and human mercy. But voluntary women’s groups, human rights organisations, Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for “dishonouring” their families is increasing by the year.

Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds “honour” killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations. Security authorities and courts across much of the Middle East have connived in reducing or abrogating prison sentences for the family murder of women, often classifying them as suicides to prevent prosecutions.

Over 10 years ago, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission was recording “honour” killings at the rate of a thousand a year. But if Pakistan seems to have the worst track record of “honour” crimes – and we must remember that many countries falsely claim to have none – Turkey might run a close second. According to police figures between 2000 and 2006, a reported 480 women – 20 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 25 – were killed in “honour” crimes and feuds. Other Turkish statistics, drawn up more than five years ago by women’s groups, suggest that at least 200 girls and women are murdered every year for “honour”. These figures are now regarded as a vast underestimate. Many took place in Kurdish areas of the country; an opinion poll found that 37 per cent of Diyabakir’s citizens approved of killing a woman for an extramarital affair. Medine Mehmi, the girl who was buried alive, lived in the Kurdish town of Kahta.

British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner Aso Kamal, of the Doaa Network Against Violence, believes that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of “honour” in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq alone – 350 of them in the first seven months of 2007, for which there were only five convictions. Many women are ordered by their families to commit suicide by burning themselves with cooking oil. In Sulimaniya hospital in 2007, surgeons were treating many women for critical burns which could never have been caused by cooking “accidents” as the women claimed. In 2000, Kurdish authorities in Sulimaniya had decreed that “the killing or abuse of women under the pretext of cleansing ‘shame’ is not considered to be a mitigating excuse”. The courts, they said, could not apply an old 1969 law “to reduce the penalty of the perpetrator”. The new law, of course, made no difference.

In Jordan, women’s organisations say that per capita, the Christian minority in this country of just over five million people are involved in more “honour” killings than Muslims – often because Christian women want to marry Muslim men. But the Christian community is loath to discuss its crimes and the majority of known cases of murder are committed by Muslims.

And, of course, we should perhaps end this catalogue of crime in Britain, where only in the past few years have we ourselves woken to the reality of “honour” crimes.

Scotland Yard long ago admitted it would have to review over a hundred deaths, some going back more than a decade, which now appear to have been “honour” killings.

Part of a longer article at

This is part of a series of articles in UK newspaper the Independent:
* One woman’s nightmare, and a crime against humanity
* Relatives with blood on their hands
* The lie behind mass ‘suicides’ of Egypt’s young women
* A place of refuge from fear and guilt
* The truth about ‘honour’ killings

The war has had any number of hidden costs for Iraqis. One that few outside Iraq might notice or even consider a significant problem: More women are finding themselves over 30 and single after seven years of bloody turmoil that made marriage more difficult, killing many young men and blowing apart social networks.

In Iraq’s conservative society, women are expected to be married in their teens or early 20s. Women who cross the 30-year threshold and are single face powerful social stigmas and live under heavy limitations.

Generally, they must continue living with their parents or other family. If they are not wealthy, educated or employed, they are often reduced by relatives to servitude — cleaning, washing, cooking and watching over small children.

Work opportunities are limited. At jobs or in public, unmarried women are sometimes seen as vulnerable, without the protection of a husband. Some almost never leave their houses.

There are no figures available for the number of single females in their 30s in Iraq, but women’s rights activists say it is beyond question that a disproportionately large number of them exists.

Being female, single and over 30 was already common because of Iraq’s decades of conflict, including the bloody Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. But their number is believed to have significantly grown since 2003. Besides the young men killed in violence, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — many of them fighting-age males — fled the country.

Also, suicide bombings, sectarian slayings, death squads and gunbattles disrupted social networks for marriage. People feared leaving their homes, so young people had little chance to meet potential spouses.

Family visits, traditionally an opportunity for the men to meet future spouses have become rare during the height of the violence.

The Shiite-Sunni violence also meant that cross-sect marriages have become much less frequent.

Economic woes have also left many young men unable to afford the heavy expenses they must traditionally pay for marriage — including buying or renting and furnishing a home.

Jinan Mubarak, the head of a leading non-governmental women’s organization in Baghdad, said the problems unmarried women face get little attention as the government focuses on helping the hundreds of thousands of widows left by wars.

“Single women are constantly harassed at work and at home because of their perceived vulnerability,” she said. “They are exploited by their families too.”

Women’s activists are publicly debating solutions to promote marriage, like having the government offer cash incentives to men prepared to marry older women or take second wives, allowed under Islamic law.

Mubarak cautiously backs one proposal for the government to pay a one-off sum of money to men who marry a woman over the age of 35. But she recognizes such a policy has its dangers for women.

“Women are not merchandise for sale, there must be guarantees of good intentions on the part of the men if we allow this to go ahead,” she said.

To encourage marriage amid economic hard times, authorities and charities often organize mass weddings free of charge for couples unable to afford private parties and offer them wedding presents of cash or domestic appliances.

But another women’s rights activist, Hanaa Adwar, says such gestures won’t solve the deeper problems for unmarried women. “The real solution is in security, the revival of the economy and tackling unemployment,” she said.

Unmarried women “must be given vocational skills to earn a living and get help to start small projects and be integrated in society,” she said.

Part of a longer article at

Coalition of women’s groups calls on PM Netanyahu to name a woman to peace talks team; the appeal comes weeks after High Court criticized Turkel Committee’s failure to include a female.

Weeks after High Court judges harshly criticized the Turkel Committee’s failure to include a woman, a coalition of 14 women’s groups appealed to the prime minister on Sunday to name women to the team handling peace talks with the Palestinians.

Among the signatories to a letter addressed to Benjamin Netanyahu are Women Lawyers for Social Justice, Ahoti Movement, Isha L’Isha, Economic Empowerment for Women, Lobby for Gender Equality, The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, and Kolech.

The organizations are demanding that the prime minister appoint a woman in accordance with a law that requires “adequate female representation” on government committees formed by the cabinet, the prime minister, a minister or a deputy minister.

In their letter, the groups said that the law also regards negotiating “staffs” or “teams” as bodies bound by the terms under which state committees operate.

“By dint of the demands of the law, there is a clear, unequivocal obligation to appoint women from all walks of the population in a manner that reflects their proportion in greater society,” the groups wrote. “This clearly applies to the negotiating team, and we expect that the law will be fully implemented.”

In the letter, Anat Thon Ashkenazy, an attorney with Women Lawyers for Social Justice, cited the High Court ruling earlier this month that required the addition of at least one woman on the Turkel Committee investigating the raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla.

As Hamas cracks down on the rights of Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip, their sisters in the occupied West Bank are slowly gaining ground. But a bureaucracy, that is sometimes supported by foreign aid, is crippling these advances.

The Hamas authorities in Gaza have been making international headlines as they slowly restrict the rights of women. The restrictions have included banning women from smoking argilah (also known as hookah or water-pipe) in public places and riding pillion on motorbikes. Schoolgirls and women lawyers are now forced to cover their hair, and mannequins displaying female underwear have been banned from Gaza’s shop windows.

In the West Bank, five of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) 24 cabinet ministers are women. Women head two West Bank municipalities. A woman has been appointed commander of one of the Palestinian police stations, and a woman also runs the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

The Governor of Ramallah (Palestine’s de facto capital) Dr Leila Ghanem has several government bodies falling under her jurisdiction. Earlier, she had been a high-ranking official in the Palestinian Security Services.

Nissan FM Radio station has a staff of 20, most of them women, and hosts a Café au Lait programme which broadcasts six hours a day. The radio station focuses its programme content on the rights and interests of Palestinian women.

And in the most significant development in March this year, PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad approved new legislation, which would equate “honour killings” of Palestinian women with murder.

Every year, throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, dozens of women are killed by their male relatives for allegedly having an affair or bringing “dishonour” of a sexual nature to the family.

Many of the murders, however, are actually motivated by other reasons. But the men know that even if they are found guilty of an “honour killing” they will get off with an extremely light sentence, in the worst-case scenario. Fayyad approved the legislation following several years of hard work and intensive lobbying by a number of Palestinian human rights and civil society organisations, as well as the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The Interior Ministry has been involved in numerous Palestinian human rights abuses such as torture. It is also accused of abusing civil rights, including denying Palestinians passports based on political allegiances.

The ministry works in conjunction with EU Cops, a contingent of European police and advisors based in Ramallah and funded by the European Union, who help to train and advise Palestinian police and other security forces. According to WCLAC, EU Cops is one of the donors of the new research project to inquire into “honour killings” and other gender-based issues.

“We are not prepared to start from scratch after spending years exploring the issue only to see our efforts – which were approved by the foreign minister – ignored by the PA and some who fund it. It would be unethical as well as an enormous waste of our time and the resources of foreign donors,” Abu Dayyeh told IPS.

Abu Dayyeh added that despite the goodwill of some senior politicians to improve the rights of Palestinian women, Israel’s continuing and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory was destroying the West Bank economically, and negatively affecting Palestinian society.

“Don’t be deceived by the Ramallah bubble where some people are getting rich and driving flashy cars. They are the minority. The majority of Palestinians are suffering great financial deprivation. And in our conservative society, when men can’t be the breadwinners who support their families, they feel emasculated. Then it is often the women who pay the price.

“The number of women suffering from domestic violence has spiked in the last few years. If anything, the plight of women is getting worse despite efforts at certain governmental levels,” Abu Dayyeh told IPS.

Part of a longer article at