Sunday, December 13, 2009
Wajeha al Huwaider has openly challenged the underpinning of women’s legal status in Saudi Arabia. Mido Ahmad / AFP
RIYADH // She wears pink and green head scarves. She calls Saudi Arabia a “prison” for women. She writes, and talks, and protests. But nothing changes.
Wajeha al Huwaider has fans among western diplomats and international human rights monitors. But in her own country, the place she cares about most, this Saudi women’s rights activist is almost invisible, largely because of reservations, even among reformers, about her tactics.
For several years, Ms al Huwaider has been campaigning for greater personal freedom for Saudi women and an end to the kingdom’s “guardianship” system, which gives men virtually total control over women’s lives.
“If Saudi Arabia wants to be part of this world they … cannot continue paralysing half of society and discriminating against them and treating them like, you know, a third-class citizen,” Ms al Huwaider recently told the BBC.
Known for her blunt language in media interviews, she also favours high-profile tactics to promote her cause. In 2006, she walked along the Bahrain-Saudi causeway holding up a sign that said “Give Women Their Rights”.
To mark International Women’s Day in 2008, she protested against the ban on female drivers with a video of herself on YouTube driving a vehicle. And in June, she sought to leave Saudi Arabia without written permission from her male “guardian” three times – but was turned back by border guards.
During a recent visit to Washington, Ms al Huwaider, 48, stood outside a subway station with a sign saying “Saudi Women Need Your Support”.
The divorced mother of two, who works as an educational analyst at Aramco, the Saudi oil company, defends her approach, arguing that other tactics are ineffective.
“We tried to ask for our rights quietly, nicely. We wrote articles, we sent petitions. We haven’t heard anything from the authorities,” she told The National. “So I thought that if we can do it more in a bold way, then maybe they will hear us. And still we don’t get any response. But at least the rest of the world will hear us.
“Can you imagine that for 30 years we are asking for our right to drive cars?” she said.
A good number of Saudis – both men and women – agree with Ms al Huwaider and say they admire her courage and perseverance. But they do not openly join her campaign, they say, because they find her language too harsh and her tactics counterproductive.
“Her determination is admirable,” said Reem Asaad, a college lecturer in Jeddah who led a mostly online campaign to get female sales clerks in lingerie shops. “But I still don’t think she’s approached her Saudi audience in a way that is doable.
“She is demanding steps beyond what most women can do, like go to the airport [and try to travel without a guardian’s permission]. We all know the results and what the consequences are going to be; they will be sent back home.”
Many Saudis dislike Ms al Huwaider “because they believe she is out to air Saudi Arabia’s dirty laundry in front of the world”, Eman al Nafjan, an educator, wrote at the Saudi woman blog. “When I asked a group of my mother’s generation about her, they called her subversive, disobedient, and disloyal to her religion, family and country. They also felt bad for Huwaider’s parents.”
Ms al Nafjan added that when she told a group of women her own age who Ms al Huwaider was, “they shrugged their shoulders. I guess they are more aware of whatever they are currently showing on MBC 4”.
Ms al Nafjan herself believes that Ms al Huwaider should “be respected for her sacrifices”, she wrote on her blog, but concedes that the activist “most likely … won’t be appreciated and celebrated until my daughter’s generation”.
Many Saudi women argue that in a very conservative society, which places high value on privacy, discretion and behind-doors diplomacy, the preferred way to effect change is quiet, grass-roots activities.
There is no organised women’s “movement” in the kingdom, but many locally orientated groups are working to improve conditions for women. They offer such services as job training, financial assistance, computer literacy and business courses. Women also run a national programme for raising awareness about breast cancer.
In addition, women are becoming increasingly vocal about ending domestic violence, getting fairer treatment in divorce and setting a minimum marriage age. While none of these campaigns so far has resulted in legal reforms, many women say they see improvements, adding that change comes slowly to Saudi Arabia.
Ms al Huwaider, however, is in a hurry. And unlike her peers, she is openly challenging the underpinning of women’s legal status, which is the “guardianship” system. Under this regime, women must have permission from male guardians to travel, get an education, take a job, open a bank account and, in some instances, receive medical care.
The system is not a burden for women if their guardian – father, husband, brother or uncle – is kind and reasonable. But when he is not, a woman can be confined to her home, forbidden to work, travel or socialise with friends.
The Saudi government has chipped away at the system’s edges in recent years. For example, it no longer requires businesswomen with some types of companies to hire a male agent to deal with the government. It also has ruled that unaccompanied women may stay in hotels and furnished apartments.
Ms al Huwaider, however, finds the entire system unacceptable. It turns “women into prisoners from the day they are born until the day they die. They cannot leave their cells, namely their homes, or the larger prison, namely the state, without signed permission,” she once wrote at a liberal Arabic website, according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri).
In the BBC interview, Ms al Huwaider said she began to see the restrictions on Saudi women differently when she was a student in the United States. “I realised … I can do things my government doesn’t allow me to do … and I should get my rights.”
When she returned to the kingdom, she said, “I saw how women are complaining all the time of certain laws and how they are suffering with their husbands or their fathers … [but] they just keep complaining between each other. I said … this will get us nowhere just talking to ourselves. So I decided to start writing.”
In 2003, she said, the Saudi press was told not to carry her columns. Security officials have twice warned her to stop public protests, and she told a Saudi interviewer in 2007 that she gets hate mail wishing she would contract a deadly disease or have a hand cut off.
Ms al Huwaider has paid a personal price for her campaigning. After it made her husband uncomfortable, the couple divorced. “Otherwise we had a very wonderful, good life together,” she told the BBC interviewer. ”I still consider him a very good friend.”
Ms al Huwaider’s latest scheme is to ask Saudi women to wear a black ribbon as a sign that “we’re not happy, we’re not satisfied [and] we deserve to be treated kindly”.
Unlike a public protest, she explained in an interview, “I thought this is very simple. To put something on their arm is not going to cause them much trouble.” She is also appealing to women in other countries to wear a ribbon “to show their support”.
With all her frustrations in Saudi Arabia, has she considered living elsewhere?
“It’s my country [and even] with all this darkness, I love it,” Ms al Huwaider said.
“I have something to give. I haven’t given up … Maybe I’ll leave when I reach that point. [But] I don’t want to reach it either.”
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform
2009 Report on Human Rights in the Arab Region
Today the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies released its second annual report on the state of human rights in the Arab world for the year 2009. The report, entitled Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform, concludes that the human rights situation in the Arab region has deteriorated throughout the region over the last year.
The report reviews the most significant developments in human rights during 2009 in 12 Arab countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen. It also devotes separate chapters to the Arab League and an analysis of the performance of Arab governments in UN human rights institutions. Another chapter addresses the stance of Arab governments concerning women's rights, the limited progress made to advance gender equality, and how Arab governments use the issue of women's rights to burnish their image before the international community while simultaneously evading democratic and human rights reform measures required to ensure dignity and equality for all of their citizens. .
The report observes the grave and ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, particularly the collective punishment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip through the ongoing blockade and the brutal invasion of Gaza at the beginning of 2009 which resulted in the killing of more than 1,400 Palestinians, 83 percent of them civilians not taking part in hostilities. The report notes that the plight of the Palestinian people has been exacerbated by the Fatah-Hamas conflict, which has turned universal rights and liberties into favors granted on the basis of political affiliation. Both parties have committed grave abuses against their opponents, including arbitrary detention, lethal torture, and extrajudicial killings.
The deterioration in Yemeni affairs may presage the collapse of what remains of the central state structure due to policies that give priority to the monopolization of power and wealth, corruption that runs rampant, and a regime that continues to deal with opponents using solely military and security means. As such, Yemen is now the site of a war in the northern region of Saada, a bloody crackdown in the south, and social and political unrest throughout the country. Moreover, independent press and human rights defenders who expose abuses in both the north and south are targets of increasingly harsh repression.
In its blatant contempt for justice, the Sudanese regime is the exemplar for impunity and the lack of accountability. President Bashir has refused to appear before the International Criminal Court in connection with war crimes in Darfur. Instead, his regime is hunting down anyone in the country who openly rejects impunity for war crimes, imprisoning and torturing them and shutting down rights organizations. Meanwhile the government's policy of collective punishment against the population of Darfur continues, as well as its evasion of responsibilities under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and south, making secession a more likely scenario, which may once again drag the country into a bloody civil war.
In Lebanon, the threat of civil war that loomed last year has receded, but the country still suffers from an entrenched two-tier power structure in which Hizbullah's superior military capabilities give the opposition an effective veto. As a result, the state's constitutional institutions have been paralyzed.
In this context it took several months for the clear winner in the parliamentary elections to form a government. Now, even after the formation of a government, the unequal military balance of power between the government and the opposition will prevent serious measures to guarantee all parties accountable before the law, and greatly undermine the possibility of delivering justice for the many crimes and abuses experienced by the Lebanese people over the last several years.
Although Iraq is still the largest arena of violence and civilian deaths, it witnessed a relative improvement in some areas, though these gains remain fragile. The death toll has dropped and threats against journalists are less frequent. In addition, some of the major warring factions have indicated they are prepared to renounce violence and engage in the political process.
In Egypt, as the state of emergency approaches the end of its third decade, the broad immunity given to the security apparatus has resulted in the killing of dozens of undocumented migrants, the use of lethal force in the pursuit of criminal suspects, and routine torture. Other signs of deterioration were visible in 2009: the emergency law was applied broadly to repress freedom of expression, including detaining or abducting bloggers. Moreover, the Egyptian police state is increasingly acquiring certain theocratic features, which have reduced some religious freedoms, and have lead to an unprecedented expansion of sectarian violence within the country.
In Tunisia, the authoritarian police state continued its unrestrained attacks on political activists, journalists, human rights defenders, trade unionists, and others involved in social protest. At the same time, the political stage was prepared for the reelection of President Ben Ali through the introduction of constitutional amendments that disqualified any serious contenders.
In Algeria, the emergency law, the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, and the application of counterterrorism measures entrenched policies of impunity, grave police abuses, and the undermining of accountability and freedom of expression. Constitutional amendments paved the way for the installment of President Bouteflika as president for life amid elections that were contested on many levels, despite the lack of real political competition.
Morocco, unfortunately, has seen a tangible erosion of the human rights gains achieved by Moroccans over the last decade. A fact most clearly seen in the failure if the government to adopt a set of institutional reforms within the security and judicial sectors intended to prevent impunity for crimes. Morocco's relatively improved status was also undermined by the intolerance shown for freedom of expression, particularly for expression touching on the king or the royal family, or instances of institutional corruption. Protests against the status of the Moroccan-administered Western Sahara region were also repressed and several Sahrawi activists were referred to a military tribunal for the first time in 14 years.
As Syria entered its 47th year of emergency law, it continued to be distinguished by its readiness to destroy all manner of political opposition, even the most limited manifestations of independent expression. The Kurdish minority was kept in check by institutionalized discrimination, and human rights defenders were targets for successive attacks. Muhannad al-Hassani, the president of the Sawasiyah human rights organization, was arrested and tried, and his attorney, Haitham al-Maleh, the former chair of the Syrian Human Rights Association, was referred to a military tribunal. The offices of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression were shut down, and Syrian prisons still hold dozens of prisoners of conscience and democracy advocates.
In Bahrain, the systematic discrimination against the Shiite majority was accompanied by more repression of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Human rights defenders increasingly became targets for arrest, trial, and smear campaigns. Some human rights defenders were even subjected by government agents to threats and intimidation while in Europe.
In Saudi Arabia, the report notes that the Monarch's speeches urging religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue abroad have not been applied inside the Kingdom, where the religious police continue to clamp down on personal freedom. Indeed, repression of religious freedoms is endemic, and the Shiite minority continues to face systematic discrimination. Counterterrorism policies were used to justify long-term arbitrary detention, and political activists advocating reform were tortured. These policies also undermined judicial standards, as witnessed by the prosecution of hundreds of people in semi-secret trials over the last year.
In tandem with these grave abuses and the widespread lack of accountability for such crimes within Arab countries, the report notes that various Arab governments and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have been working in concert within UN institutions to undermine international mechanisms and standards for the protection of human rights. On this level, Arab governments have sought to undercut provisions that bring governments to account or seriously assess and monitor human rights. This is most clearly illustrated by the broad attack on independent UN human rights experts and NGOs working within the UN, as well as attempts to legalize international restrictions on freedom of expression through the pretext of prohibiting "defamation of religions."
In the same vein, the Arab League and its summit forums offered ongoing support for the Bashir regime in Sudan despite charges of war crimes, and members of the organization used the principle of national sovereignty as a pretext to remain silent about or even collaborate on grave violations in several Arab states. Little hope should be invested in the Arab League as a protector of human rights regionally. Indeed, the Arab Commission on Human Rights, created by the Arab Charter on Human Rights (a weak document compared to other regional charters), is partially composed of government officials, and the secretariat of the Arab League has begun to take measures to weaken the Commission, including obstructing the inclusion of NGOs in its work, intentionally undermining its ability to engage in independent action, even within the stifling constraints laid out by the charter.
Full report in Arabic:
Sunday, December 6, 2009
WASHINGTON // By anyone’s measure, Masara Y Alameri is a successful woman. She earned a master’s degree in material science and engineering from UAE University, rose through the ranks of the Abu Dhabi Municipalities and Agriculture Department, and now serves as the leading urban planner for Masdar City.
Last week Ms Alameri set out, along with a delegation of other accomplished Emirati women, on a trip to the US capital, hoping not only to showcase their achievements but change a perception some in Washington have of women in the Middle East: that they are treated as second-class citizens and lack the same opportunities as men.
“There are some who maybe have not visited us or maybe not read enough about us to really acknowledge what we are about,” said Ms Alameri, who also oversees landscaping for Masdar City and is responsible for ensuring that all its projects are carbon-neutral.
“They’ve been surprised about the amount of progress that we’ve been able to reach … the way the woman has been respected, acknowledged, pushed and supported by our leaders.”
The delegation, sponsored by the UAE Embassy, was billed as the first all-female delegation from the Emirates to visit the United States.
The other delegates were Sheikha Hind Al Qassimi, chairwoman of the Emirates Business Women Council; Sheikha Khulood Saqer Al Qassimi, director of the Department for Curriculum and Instructional Materials Development at the Ministry of Education; Najwa Mohammed Alhosani, an assistant professor at UAE University; Shayma Fawwaz, director of international investments at Dubai International Financial Centre; and Maryam Matar, director general of the Dubai Community Development Authority.
The delegation shuttled between conferences at think tanks and NGOs and met two US legislators: Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat and the first woman to be elected as both governor and US senator; and Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic congresswoman from Illinois and a leading advocate of women’s issues.
Last Monday the delegation met Melanne Verveer, who was appointed by the US president Barack Obama as ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.
“We were impressed by the breadth of fields in which women in the UAE now participate,” said a spokesperson at the office of global women’s issues at the US State Department.
For Dr Alhosani, the meetings with top female legislators offered an insight into “how American women leaders have pushed their way into very prestigious positions”.
Just 10 months ago, Dr Alhosani earned her doctorate in education from Kansas State University. “When I lived [in the US], I never saw myself as far away from US women,” she said. “We share the same interests, the same passion, the same lifestyle.”
Women are guaranteed equal rights under the UAE constitution and have made great strides in recent years.
Three quarters of graduates from UAE universities are women and there are nine female members of the Federal National Council, according to a government report released last year.
Four women serve in the UAE Cabinet and the first female member of the judiciary, Judge Khulood al Dhaheri, was sworn in last year.
Two female pilots recently became the first to graduate from Etihad Airways’ cadet programme, and four female fighter pilots serve in the UAE Air Force, according to Yousef al Otaiba, the UAE’s ambassador to the US, who highlighted the achievements of Emirati women in a speech last week at the UAE Embassy in Washington.
The delegates said they hoped their visit would highlight their progress to an American audience, whose view of women in the Middle East was skewed by frequent news coverage of less tolerant countries such as Iran and Afghanistan.
“Women are not asking for rights in the UAE right now, they are practising them,” said Ms Fawwaz. “We’ve travelled many years ahead of many other countries in the region.”
“We succeeded in changing some of the impressions and misconceptions about the United Arab Emirates in general in this country,” said Sheikha Hind.
“We hope we succeeded in showing the right portrayal of Emirati women.”
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The Center for Liberty in the Middle East (Clime) is a nonprofit organization that supports defenders of democratic values of freedom and tolerance in the Middle East. Through its network of activists across the region, CLIME advocates a peaceful transition of political systems that protect individual liberties, allow the full political participation and respect of ethnic pluralism, religious and political.
Eleana Gordon is also founder of "Online Activism Institute", whose goal is to teach activism through e*learning, activist videos and virtual mentoring. After a year of development, it launched in 2009 in Egypt and Jordan with training for 90 women on its flagship online course, "Create Your Activism Plan."
The Online Activism Institute is a consortium of NGOs, web-development, and academic partners in the Middle East and United States, who work together to provide state-of the-art training and resources through an e-learning platform. The consortium is based in Cairo, Amman and Washington, D.C. with plans to expand to more locations in the future. The Online Activism Institute is funded through the U.S. Department of State's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). MEPI supports efforts to foster reform throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Bahraini female officers take part in yesterday's graduation ceremony at the UN House in Manama. Mazen Mahdi / The National
MANAMA // Mixed assessments about the extent of discrimination and violence against women in Bahrain were offered yesterday as the country marked the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
“I’m optimistic about the prospects of addressing this issue across the Gulf states,” Dr Banna Bazaboun, the head of the Manama-based Batelco Care Centre for Family Violence Cases (BCCFVC) said following a graduation ceremony for a new police officers who had been trained with the United Nations’ help to deal with such cases.
“The efforts are no longer limited to the civil society, but they have expanded to encompass the government and official levels who are seeking to tackle this issue by improving their policing and court systems,” Dr Bazaboun said.
She added that across the Gulf serious efforts were being made to combat violence against women by taking preventive steps and raising awareness. She mentioned Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar as places where significant progress has been made.
Her optimism was not shared by the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), which released its annual report yesterday, painting a much less hopeful picture of the situation in the country because of unfulfilled legislative commitments and continued reports of human trafficking.
The report criticized the government for not fulfilling its international commitments to treaties protecting women’s rights that it had ratified and for not allowing the human rights groups and civic organizations to play a bigger rule in drafting legislations and recommendations addressing women’s rights.
A study carried out by the Bahraini Supreme Council for Women (SCW) in 2006 found that violence against women was carried out mainly by their husbands (89.8 per cent), followed by their brothers (18.4 per cent fathers (16.2 per cent), strangers (6.8 per cent). Other relatives were responsible for the remaining violence perpetrated against Bahraini women, according to the study.
Women’s rights in the region have received renewed attention during the past three years, after several Gulf and Middle East countries – including Bahrain – were identified by the US state department’s annual human trafficking report as states that tolerate the practice.
The Bahraini government had rejected the claims, but has since embarked on legislative reforms, carried out law enforcement operations and taken part in joint civic and international efforts to address the issue of women’s rights.
The BHRS report welcomed the adoption of an anti-human trafficking law in Bahrain last year, but expressed reservations over the fact that the law did not call for compensation for the victims. It also said that trafficking in people was still taking place and that most of the victims were women from Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and some Arab countries that were either contracted or misled into working in nightclubs and bars.
The BCCFVC, which opened in 2007, claims to be the first of its kind, a specialised centre in the Arab world to offer preventive and therapy services for victims of family violence. According to the centre’s figures, it has dealt with 6,016 cases in the past two years.
Dr Bazaboun said 10,045 people had so far benefited from the centre’s direct awareness seminars and services since they began operating at the centre, while it continues to carry out awareness campaigns in the media alongside its specialised training.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, on Tuesday pushed the UN drive to combat violence against women even further by introducing a new initiative.
“Today I launched a Network of Men Leaders who will support the UNiTE [to End Violence Against Women] campaign and act as role models for men and boys everywhere. Members of the Network will work to raise public awareness, advocate for adequate laws, and meet with young men and boys,” Mr Ban said in New York.
He said that up to 70 per cent of women, at some point in their lifetime, experienced physical or sexual violence by men. Most suffered at the hands of their husbands, partners or someone they know.
“This means men have a crucial role to play in ending such violence as fathers, friends, decision makers, and community and opinion leaders,” he said.
Dr Bazaboun, who has carried out specialised training for police officers in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, as well as in Bahrain, also emphasised the importance of men participating in the training and awareness seminars, as they represented the other part of the equation in the cycle of violence.
“It is important to have men play a role in combating violence against women. Three quarters of our board is made up of men at the BCCFVC, and at the centre we train policemen and policewomen side by side because they whole society should be involved in this effort,” she said.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sheikha Alyaziah was representing Sheikha Fatimah bint Mubarak, first lady of the UAE at the conference in which the UAE submitted a speech that urged the need for global action to combat hunger worldwide and ensure women's access to resources.
Sheikha Alyaziah's speech highlighted that the issue of food security is one that goes to the very heart of the challenges that face the world today. "It is intimately connected with a whole host of other issues - like climate change, the conservation of our natural environment, population growth, poverty and education. And, of course, it is also related to the allocation of global economic resources between North and South and how they are managed." The UAE submission also praised the continued support of UAE President Sheikh Khalifah bin Zayed al Nahyan in empowering women and ensuring their equal access to resources. A core part of the UAE's policy focuses on giving aid to countries around the world, in particular for building up infrastructure and contributing to irrigation and education projects.
The meeting, timed to take place on the sidelines of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization summit (FAO) will present its recommendations to the FAO World Food summit over the coming two days.
During the two-day summit, Sheikha Alyazia held bilateral meetings with a number of first ladies including Suzanne Mubarak of Egypt, Hero Talabani of Iraq and Leila Ben Ali of Tunisia in which discussions were held on a number of issues of mutual interest and co-operation.
The UAE delegation, headed by Sheikha Alyaziah included Noura al Suwaidi, Director-General of the General Women's Union, Ambassador Abdulaziz Al Shamsi, UAE ambassador to Italy, Lana Nusseibeh, Director of Research at the Ministry of State for the Federal National Council, Fatimah al Amri, Director of Public Relations at the General Women's Union, Rowda al Otaiba and Alya al Shehhi from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Rome,16 Nov, 2009 (WAM)
Friday, November 13, 2009
Originally an ally of the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and a junior member in the government following the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, Islah joined the opposition in 1997 in protest over the government’s lack of progress on democratic reforms. It has continued to switch sides on key policy issues between the ruling party and the opposition ever since.
• Although Islah has emerged as the strongest opposition group in Yemen, it has failed to secure any major legislative accomplishments since leaving the ruling coalition in 1997.
• Islah emphasizes peaceful political participation. It recognizes the rights of secular movements and supports democracy as compatible with Islam. Islah has also democratized its internal procedures and decision-making processes.
• Since moving into the opposition, Islah, which started its political participation calling for the Islamization of state and society, has focused less on religious and moral legislation, instead prioritizing political, social, and economic reforms.
• Like many Arab Islamist movements, Islah has created religious, charitable, and educational institutions to enlarge its base by delivering social services.
• To counter Islah’s growing strength, the GPC has sought to deepen the rifts between Islah’s various factions, and to limit the group’s control over mosques.
• Yemeni Salafis are skeptical of democratic participation, but continue to view Islah as their best available option, and have voted for its candidates in recent presidential and local elections.
“Although Islah’s long-standing internal divisions have hindered the party’s parliamentary prospects, more than anything, the concentration of power in the hands of President Saleh and the ruling GPC has stifled its legislative success,” Hamzawy cautions. “At this level, the experience of Islamists in Yemen corresponds to the wider regional pattern of Islamist parties and movements, which have proven ineffective in opposition to authoritarian regimes.”
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The demographic transition being experienced in the Middle East is leading to high unemployment and social exclusion, making it one of the most critical economic development challenges in the region, research on the Middle East's youth has found.
The research, entitled Generation in Waiting: The Unfulfilled Promise of Young People in the Middle East, was launched at the Dubai School of Government (DSG) on Monday.
With over 100 million people between the ages of 15 and 29, the Middle East has the largest youth cohort in the history of the region, according to the research.
It is a project by the Middle East Youth Initiative, a joint program between the Dubai School of Government and the Wolfensohn Center at the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution, and is packed with statistics and is targeted for policy-makers in the region.
It has been edited by DSG dean Dr Taiq Yousef and Nivtej Dhillon, former policy director at the Middle East Youth Initiative.
Foreword by Anwar Gargash [UAE State Minister]
Specifically focusing on Iran, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Syria and Yemen, the research included a foreword by Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, and James Wolfensohn, the former president of the World Bank.
Dr Yousef said that the research showed that the "most important segment in the region is not to be taken for granted", referring to the Middle East's youth.
He also criticized the region's governments for not giving youths due attention, saying the weakest ministries in the region were those dealing with youth matters, that they were also the most underfunded and lacked a political mandate.
The research found that while more of today's youth are educated in comparison to previous generations, the quality of the education in the region is poor and does not qualify them for the private sector, leading many to rely heavily on the already saturated government sectors.
The phenomenon, said Dr Yousef, coupled with low quality, low paid jobs and a lack of social protection is leading the region's youth to get married later in life, which he said was unusual for a conservative region as the Middle East. Marriage as an institution, he added, was under "assault".
According to the research, nearly 50 per cent of males between the ages of 25 and 29 are unmarried. "The marriage market is closely linked with the employment market, the education market, and the housing market," says the study.
Tip of the iceberg
Unemployment, said Mary Kawar of the International Labor Organization was "the tip of the iceberg" in the difficulties facing the region's youth. Young people in the region, she said, faced problems making the transition from school to the workplace.
"80 to 90 per cent of young people in the countries we surveyed had an unsuccessful transition," she said. The "unsuccessful" classification, she said, included those that had taken jobs that they were unhappy with, or "non-career jobs".
"A lot of young Arabs choose to be unemployed because they want to have good jobs," she said.
Nader Qabbani, of the Syria Trust for Development, compared the value of education in job markets between the Arab world and the rest of the world, saying that an extra year of education amounted to a 10 to 15 per cent extra annual income on a global level. "In the Arab world, an extra year would bring six per cent, and in Syria, three per cent," he said.
Ahmed Younis, a consultant at pollster Gallup, painted a bleak picture of the state of the region's youth through statistics. Vast majorities of Arab youths believe that corruption is widespread in the private sector and many believe that having wasta [influence] is the best way to get a job in the region, and most are not willing to relocate for a job, even within their own country.
Dr Yousef said it was refreshing to learn that the research project was not approached from a security perspective.
"In Washington, most [such] discussions were couched in terms of national security, terrorism and counter terrorism… They would say who is going to be the next [Osama] Bin Laden, and how do we stop him… This [research] is refocusing the angle to where the crux is," he said.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Sheikha Fatima donated AED 1 million to help the victims regain their normal lives.
Sheikha Fatima was received at the centre by Sara Shuhail, Executive Director of the centers and the women working there.
Sheikha Fatima, who was accompanied by Dr Maitha Al Shamsi, Minister of State, was briefed on the conditions of the victims. She talked to the victims and comforted them. She also reassured them that the centre was created to shelter and to protect them.
She reiterated UAE's rejection of such terrible crimes committed against innocent women and children and expressed support to all efforts to guarantee their financial and morale rights.
Sheikha Fatima toured the centre's different sections and praised the levels of services offered to the victims of human trafficking.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Six Emirati women are being considered for the training programme, said Dr Ahmed al Haddad, who is also the head of the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department. Once accepted they will begin the course, which will last several months, early next year.
The move follows a fatwa issued by Dr al Haddad in February that sanctioned women’s role as muftis. In May, he called on qualified Emirati women to apply for the programme, which includes instruction in Sharia law and legal thinking.
“We continue to accept new applicants until we begin the training,” said Dr al Haddad. “It is already part of the 2010 budget.”
The status of female muftis has caused controversy within the religious establishment elsewhere in the Muslim world, with Egypt’s Al Azhar University, a powerful centre of Sunni scholarship, rejecting the possibility of women becoming grand muftis.
However, Dr al Haddad said that debate did not affect whether women should serve in other roles.
“The controversy over female muftis is not necessarily over this point, but about whether or not a woman should be appointed as the grand mufti of a state,” he said. “And that is not what we’re trying to do at this point.”
The move is part of a broader push to recruit and train Emiratis to the department, especially in the role of advising and issuing decrees on religious matters.
They will be instructed according to the Maliki school of jurisprudence, one of four in the Sunni tradition and the one followed in the UAE. Instructors are typically from academic and religious institutions, including practising muftis.
Although women currently serve as religious advisers at the Abu Dhabi fatwa centre, their role is limited to advising women on “women’s issues”. The Dubai move would mark the first time women have acted as muftis on a par with their male counterparts.
In February 2008, the Egyptian family court appointed Amal Soliman as the first female Islamic notary with the ability to perform marriages and divorces. Her duties were not equal to those of a mufti.
Dr al Haddad, who has five daughters, one of whom is a student of Sharia, said his fatwa earlier this year was based on Islamic tradition, which he said was “rich in examples of highly learned women acting as muftis and issuing decrees on all matters”.
“A woman who is learned and trained in issuing fatwas is not limited in her role to issuing fatwas that relate to women only, but rather she is qualified to issue on matters of worship, jurisprudence, morality and behaviour,” he said.
He referred to a Quranic verse to support his decree that Islamic tradition has always sanctioned women to act as muftis on all matters that concern society.
A fatwa, or religious decree, is in effect a legal opinion derived from the Quran, hadith or precedents in the Islamic tradition.
“Evidence points to the fact that women too can order acts of virtue and ban acts of vice just like a man can,” he said, referring to the basic tenement of a mufti’s role.
“And of course she can do that only with acquired scholarship and training, which is what female contemporaries of the Prophet have done as well as the women who came after them.” (The National, Nov. 03, 2009)
A two month program was launched today by the General Women's Union (GWU) to educate women about their legal rights and build their capacity to defend these vested constitutional rights.
Being organized by the GWU in conjunction with the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the ''Know Your Rights'' program will feature a series of 12 workshops to familiarize women leaders from government ministries and departments with international laws and conventions on rights of women, in addition to a bundle of UAE laws like the personal status code, and laws on civil service and labor. These activities will shed light on provisions enshrined in the UAE constitution in regards to personal status code, and laws of labor and human resources.
GWU Director General Noura Al Suweidi said ''The program seeks to raise awareness standard of women about their vested rights guaranteed by the UAE constitution and laws and build their capacity to defend their legal rights.
In today's workshop held at the GWU premises, Dr Mohammed Abdul Rahim of College of Law, UAE University, lectured about 40 women leaders on rights and duties of women in the view of the the personal status code.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
B Izaak, Staff Writer
KUWAIT: The Constitutional Court yesterday issued a landmark ruling by abrogating an article in the 1962 passports law that banned Kuwaiti women from obtaining their own passports without the prior approval of their husbands.
The ruling, which is final and cannot be appealed, said that the article in the law violates a number of articles in the constitution, especially articles 29, 30 and 31 which guarantee personal freedom. In the ruling, the court also stated that under the constitution, women right to travel cannot be denied by anyone including their husbands because this is one of their basic rights in the constitution.
Female MP Aseel Al-Awadhi welcomed the ruling as a victory for the constitution and democracy in Kuwait, adding that it has eliminated a long injustice against Kuwaiti women. She said that she will work to amend all laws passed by the previous National Assemblies which are in violation of the constitution.
The ruling was triggered when a Kuwaiti woman sued her husband kept her passport and those of their three children and refused to give them. The court ordered the man to give the passports. The constitutional court also said that husbands cannot prevent their wives from travelling without a court order and only when they prove that their travel undermines the interest of both parties.
In another development, the battle for bank loans relief was officially launched yesterday after a number of MPs filed a request to convene a special session to debate the issue on November 17. The request however will be discussed in the assembly's opening session of the new term on October 27 or in early November.
It was signed by MP Saadoun Hammad and nine other MPs, according to Hammad but many more MPs are likely to sign later. The request calls on the assembly's financial and economic affairs committee to study a number of draft laws on the issue and submit its report to the assembly latest by November 10.
The bills call for the government to purchase all existing personal loans on Kuwaiti citizens and then reschedule their repayment over many years after scrapping all interest. The government has so far rejected the bills saying it was ready to increase the capital of a KD500-million fund established last year to help defaulters.
Finance Minister Mustafa Al-Shamali has said that the amount of the loans and interest is KD6 billion and any purchase or write-off will be highly expensive and harmful for national economy. Latest available official figures show that 278,000 Kuwaitis are debtors and around two percent of them are facing problems repaying. Supporters of the debt relief claim to have the support of at least 30 lawmakers, insisting that they will push through the draft law and pass in the assembly.
However MPs supporting the bills have blasted Shamali and threatened to grill him in the assembly over the issue. Islamist-tribal MP Daifallah Buramia yesterday strongly criticized the minister and threatened that he will use his "constitutional tools" against the minister if he does not change his position.
MPs have claimed that around 100,000 Kuwaiti debtors are facing legal action, including arrest, for being unable to repay, and held the finance ministry and the central bank responsible for the crisis. The issue is likely to snowball into a major flashpoint between the government and MPs during the next term unless an acceptable compromise was reached.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Etihad Airways' first female Emirati cadet pilots - Salma Al-Baloushi and Aisha Al-Mansouri - have successfully graduated from flight training alongside nine male colleagues and gained their airline transport pilot license (ATPL).
The cadet pilots, Etihad's second group to graduate, were conferred with their flying wings in a ceremony at the airline's training academy which was attended by family and friends as well as senior management from Etihad Airways and the Horizon International Flight Academy.
Joining Salma and Aisha to receive their wings were Ali Al Farsi, Ahmed Balalaa, Ibrahim Sanqoor, Khalid Al Ali, Mohamed Al Kaabi, Khalid Al Marzouqi, Khalil Amiri, Abdalla Balkhashar and Hasan Abdulla.
James Hogan, Etihad Airways' chief executive, said: "Everyone at Etihad is delighted that Salma and Aisha - our first female cadet pilots - have made history as the first women to graduate from the program.
"Salma and Aisha are a key part of Etihad's expanding female pilot community and we wish them, as well as their male colleagues, the best of luck as they enter the next phase of their careers with Etihad." The cadets started the pilot program course in September 2007 and now have the rank of second officers at Etihad Airways.
As second officers the pilots will undertake a multi-crew co-operation course and an Airbus A320 type conversion course which will enable them to fly as co-pilots on the Etihad Airways Airbus A320 short haul fleet.
The cadet pilots will spend much of the time during the type conversion course in Etihad's A320 full-flight simulator as well as training in the development of non-technical skills applicable to working in a multi-crew environment. After approximately six months they complete their final checks and will qualify as A320 first officers.
In order to gain the frozen ATPL the cadet pilots had to complete 750 hours of classroom tuition and 205 hours of flight training in single and multi-engine aircraft. During this time they all passed the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority's theoretical knowledge and flying exams.
Etihad Airways recently welcomed the 100th cadet pilot to its innovative and expanding flying program. Shareefa Al Bloushi is a member of Etihad's tenth group of cadets. She is also the sixth female Emirati cadet pilot to join the program, and eighth female overall.
In addition to the cadet pilot program, Etihad Airways' Emiratisation initiatives focus on two other streams which include the technical engineering development program and graduate management development program.
Etihad now also has two international cadet pilot courses which run alongside the five Emirati courses at Horizon Academy. The two groups contain 24 cadet pilots from countries around the world including Hungary, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
By Abdul Rahman Shaheen, Correspondent, Gulf News
Riyadh: A number of Saudi cultural figures and members of the Shoura Council renewed their demand to the General Presidency for Youth Welfare to set up women's clubs supervised by women.
"The Presidency should be compelled to set up women's clubs across the Kingdom in full compliance with a Shoura Council decision taken several years ago but never implemented," they said.
Speaking to Gulf News, they lamented that recommendations of the council were not binding to the executing authority.
While urging the Ministry of Education to introduce physical education at girls' schools, they called for steps to silence the hardliners, who want to take society backward.
Noting the absence of any woman representative in the General Presidency for Youth Welfare, Dr Abdullah Al Feefi, a member of the Shoura Council, said the Presidency was not paying any heed to the directives made by the Council to set up women's clubs under the supervision of women and in full compliance with Sharia.
"It should be made obligatory for the Presidency to introduce a wide variety of cultural activities for women," he said.
On his part, Abdul Rahman Al Shalash, a prominent Saudi writer, noted that there are some people, who are fighting against practising of sports by women even at home.
They think any sports activity by woman is the beginning of evil and disintegration as well as stripping off their modesty and morality.
"All these were based not on any substantial evidence either from the Quran or Sunnah [Tradition of the Prophet]," he said.
"They should be bold enough to come forward with proof, if any, to the effect that Islam has prohibited sports for women," he said.
According to Al Shalash, the increased moves to clampdown on women's sports have resulted in a sharp decline in the number of sports centres in major Saudi cities.
"This has prompted many women to go for a stroll, either in the company of other women or alone, at the major pedestrian paths or at commercial markets," he noted.
Sulaiman Al Zayidi, another member of the Shoura Council, said several women are seen strolling on pedestrian paths every evening in full public view.
"Is it not strange to allow women to continue this practice and at the same time, preventing them from doing the same inside the premises of their schools and universities under the supervision of their female teachers as part of a health education curriculum, and not allowing them to set up women's clubs?" he asked.
It is noteworthy that three senior Islamic scholars — Shaikh Abdul Rahman Al Barak, Abdul Aziz Al Rajhi and Abdullah Al Jabreen — issued a statement earlier, slamming those who call for setting up of women's clubs.
"Allah will punish such offenders. Setting up of such clubs will lead to spreading immorality and perversion," they warned.
On the other hand, the lone woman minister of Saudi Arabia, Noura Al Fayez, who is in charge of the girl's education portfolio under the Ministry of Education, gave hints in an earlier press statement about introducing sports at girls' schools.
"A decision is yet to be taken on the matter," she said.
Meanwhile, health experts warned against a huge rise in cases of obesity among women in the absence of facilities for physical exercise.
Dr Hani Najm, president of Saudi Cardiology Society, said that the average cases of obesity among Saudi women reached between 50 and 74 per cent in 2005 and it would reach more than 75 per cent by 2015 in the absence of providing outlets for women to exercise.
October 14, 2009
Octavia Nasr BIOAC360° ContributorCNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs
The Arab Middle East teaches minorities some tough life lessons and shapes them in ways that might surprise you. While the effect of a conservative patriarchal society is expected to keep people under the thumb of tradition, culture and tribal and religious beliefs - sometimes too much oppression and control yields opposite results.
Having lived in several parts of the Middle East as a child, I learned that a woman doesn’t exist except as someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother. Her opinion is not required, her emotions don’t count and she has no rights whatsoever – except those granted to her by a male.
With a few recent exceptions, an Arab woman’s testimony is not accepted in court. Most Arab women can’t travel outside their countries without permission from a male guardian, and most Arab women still can’t give nationality to their children. In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive cars. A popular Arabic saying describes it best: a good woman “has a mouth that eats but not one that speaks.”
The Arab Middle East taught me that sexual expression is exclusive to men. Men can have pre-marital sex, and when they’re married, their extra-marital affairs are ignored, justified or blamed on the wives. Their bodies are their own to do with them what they want. A woman’s body, however, represents her family’s honor. So, girls and women are expected to cover their bodies and repress their sexual feelings to protect the honor of the family.
This is such a deeply-rooted belief that, to this day, girls and women are killed by fathers, brothers or cousins at the suspicion of sexual activity. Even if a girl or woman is the victim of rape or assault, she can be killed under the pretext of “cleansing the family’s honor.” The practice known as “Honor Killing” is still common among all religions in the Middle East; it is even justified under the law and carries no penalty.
As someone who grew up and spent my early adulthood in the Middle East, I also learned that men run the show and they run it for life. Imagine that with the exception of a few, all Arab leaders haven’t changed since I was a child; and those who died were replaced by their sons. So far, the customary behavior has been such that if you wanted change, you had to ask men for their permission, their blessing, their support, their approval, their orders, and their actions to bring that change.
The women in my family were very active in the women’s rights movement of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Men listened to them, gave them a forum to express their desire to become equal through conferences, speeches and occasional articles in the media. They even gave them some rights – like the right to vote in some countries and the right to run for office in others. But, women’s rights were always controlled by men’s approval and that didn’t go far at all. As a matter of fact, a quick look at the Arab Middle East shows you that with very few exceptions it remains a region controlled by the ruling few who are unwilling to relinquish power. They resist change as if it were a contagious disease that will lead to their demise if they ever catch it.
Enter the age of the computer and the Internet, the age of blogging and connecting with the world. The only age that will allow a Saudi female cartoonist to draw pictures depicting how a woman feels when her husband takes on a second or third wife. It simply rips her heart out she draws.
Islam accepts polygamy and blesses it with a caveat which men enthusiastic about the practice tend to ignore. You can take multiple wives, but “if you want to be fair, marry only one,” the holy Muslim book guides. While not many in Saudi Arabia might care about how Hana Hajjar feels, a whole world outside the kingdom, is paying attention, supporting and perhaps even lending a hand.
The online traffic we witnessed in the aftermath of Iran’s contested elections and the outpour of support Iranian reformists received through social media are perfect examples of the effect of international support on local activism. In the case of Iran, it energized and helped spread the message to far reaching corners of the world.
Other stories that have captured the world’s attention are bloggers jailed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia for speaking up against the Status Quo in their countries and demanding social justice and political reform. We are learning about what’s going on inside the most conservative and most police-controlled countries in the region through bloggers who are not allowing the intimidation of prison, harassment or abuse to silence them.
It is obvious now there is a growing number of Arabs, men and women, who not only want change but they are willing to get to that change on their own. They grew tired of demanding it and not receiving anything in return, so they made the decision to truly become the change and live it in practice.
Now, you have bloggers like Wael Abbas in Egypt who openly criticizes President Hosni Mubarak’s policies and screams out slurs against his country’s secret police that detains him for hours and confiscates his laptop without any explanation or apology whatsoever.
You also have the gay and lesbian Middle Eastern community publishing their online magazine which deals with issues they find important. They discuss sexual orientation out in the open and provide a voice and an outlet they wouldn’t have even dreamed of a few years ago. Their headlines read, “Who we sleep with is nobody’s business” and “Homophobia and Paranoia: Words that Ryhme.”
The Lebanese Association of Women Researchers ‘Bahithat’ just organized what is dubbed a cornerstone of Arab Feminism through a conference at the American University of Beirut. Women from all over the Middle East - including Iraq and Iran - were there promoting the idea that “change will have to be imposed not demanded anymore” says Lebanese Feminist Zeina Zaatari, one of the most vocal voices at the conference.
The Feminist Collective promoted the event online through social networking sites such as Twitter. They drew the world’s attention to hear the voices of powerful women who gave themselves the right instead of waiting for officials to give them permission to speak or express themselves. Zaatari captured the limelight as she linked a woman’s equality with a woman’s sexual freedom and sexual expression. “A woman can’t be free if she doesn’t own her body and has full control of it and if she doesn’t express her sexuality,” she told me in a phone interview from Beirut.
The December 2008 Issue of Jasad.
Another example of women taking matters into their own hands is a quarterly magazine called ‘Jasad’ which means ‘Body’ in Arabic. It’s a racy magazine that was launched by a woman in Lebanon at the end of 2008 dealing with the female body and its deepest sexual desires. ‘Jasad’ is banned and its website is blocked from many Arab countries.
“This doesn’t stop subscriptions from being delivered by courier mail,” founder and editor-in-chief Joumana Haddad told me as she was busily preparing the fifth issue. She says the magazine is doing well despite the fact that “no one dares to advertize” in it. She talks about threats she and her editors receive on a regular basis and unending harassment since they all use their real names. She says it is the support she receives from within the Middle East and outside that keeps her going and that “nothing will stop ‘Jasad’ from being published.”
Several new lines are being drawn in the Middle East’s desert sand simultaneously... If they continue to be drawn at this rate longer and thicker, it’s hard to foresee any governments, censors or jails being able to stop them.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
BAHLA, OMAN // As a young woman who owns and runs a grocery store, Salwa al Habsi is something of a rarity in conservative, rural Oman. But as growing numbers of men flock to the cities in pursuit of better jobs, businesswomen like Ms al Habsi may not be so rare for much longer.
The shop she now owns, in the deeply conservative town of Bahla in the Interior Region, about 250km from the capital Muscat, was originally owned by her father but was closed after he died a year ago. Ms al Habsi’s three brothers initially refused to let her run the store, but her mother, supporting her daughter’s bid to run the shop, gave Ms al Habsi her gold, which she sold to raise funds to buy out her siblings’ shares of the business.
“If it is all right for women to run a business in Muscat, why are men raising their eyebrows in the regions?” said Ms al Habsi, 24. “It is certainly not against Islam and I have the full blessing of the government since authorities have granted me a business licence required to buy my father’s shop.”
Many family-owned stores such as Ms al Habsi’s in rural Oman are closed down when their owners die because male descendants are reluctant to run inherited businesses and many prefer to move to Muscat to find better paid jobs.
Ms al Habsi is the only woman in Bahla to run a shop, a profession that is taboo for a woman in the culture of any provincial town in Oman, and she is the target of constant ridicule from relatives and friends.
In rural Oman’s patriarchal culture, it is regarded as breaking with tradition for a woman to run a business. Traditionalists say women like her are driven by money, putting greed ahead of culture and heritage.
“The desire for money put them at risk of being shunned away from the community by going against traditions,” said Malik Saleh, a Bahla-based historian and poet. “That means these women may not find marriage suitors since they are seen as immoral.”
But Ms al Habsi said she took on the business to keep her family heritage alive, rather than seek a fortune, and pointed out that her brothers were not interested in managing the store.
“This business was started by my great-grandfather and I am not going to allow it to be taken over by strangers or simply shut down,” she said of the store, which sells many goods, from food and incense burners to kitchenware. “If my brothers care for traditions, why are they not interested in running the store?”
Some young women in other towns said survival now took precedence over preserving male-dominated traditions. “I dropped out of school. This is the only thing I can do,” said Asila al Jabri, 36, who owns and runs a women’s clothing shop in a much smaller town in Ibri, in the Eastern Region.
“The death of my father gave me the opportunity of earning a living. Had I listened to male chauvinism, that women should not openly compete with men in business, then my family would have starved.”
Mrs al Jabri has four children and a wheelchair-bound husband who is unable to work, making her the sole breadwinner of the family. But that does not spare her from scorn and sarcastic comments.
Statistics from the ministry of commerce show that less than one per cent of just over 54,000 small retail businesses outside of Muscat are now owned and run exclusively by women, up from zero per cent five years ago.
“Credit to them, these young women make a success out of the trades left by their fathers and they are also breaking the tradition by being the breadwinners of the families,” said Nader al Balushi, a Muscat resident who was on a visit to Bahla.
Women’s rights activists have called for more women in rural areas to start up their own businesses. Women wishing to do business in the regions should refuse to be pushed down by men writing their own social rules,” said Mahbooba al Hadhrami, a committee member of the Oman Women Association.
“The few women running their own trades in these towns are pioneers for better things to come.”
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
> Author: Thalif Deen
> UNITED NATIONS - After more than three years of political foot-dragging, the 192-member General Assembly adopted a historic resolution Monday aimed at creating a new U.N. agency for women.
> The decision to create a separate powerful body to deal exclusively with gender-related activities comes years - or decades - after the United Nations created specialised agencies to deal with specific issues, including children, population, refugees, food, environment, education, health and tourism, among many others.
> Currently, there are four existing women's U.N. entities in the world body: the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues; the U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women; and the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).
> But none of them is as politically powerful and financially stable as full-fledged U.N. agencies.
> When the new women's agency is created, perhaps by the middle of next year, it will be headed by an under-secretary-general (USG), the third highest ranking position in the U.N. system, after the secretary-general and the deputy secretary-general.
> The four existing women's entities are not headed by USGs, while all agencies such as the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are.
> The resolution adopted Monday "strongly supports the consolidation" of the four bodies currently dealing with women "into a composite entity, taking into account the existing mandates".
> The Assembly also requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to produce a comprehensive proposal specifying details of the proposed composite entity; an organsational chart; funding for the new body; and the composition of the executive board to oversee its operational activities.
> Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Centre for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University, told IPS: "We are very relieved that the General Assembly has finally taken decisive action to create the new gender equality entity on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Beijing women's conference."
> "We consider this a great victory for women's rights as well as for the coalition of women's and other civil society organisations that have worked hard for over three years to bring this entity into being," she added.
> Daniela Rosche, head of Oxfam's gender campaign, said that while it welcomes the principle on this much-needed women's agency, "The attitude of some member states to weaken its mandate at the last minute is deplorable".
> This decision to have a new women's rights entity in place will mean absolutely nothing if member states fail to give it a clear mission, she added.
> The good news is that the new agency has the potential to streamline decision-making and programming related to women's rights under one overarching agency, Rosche said in a statement released Monday.
> "This body doesn't add another layer to the already heavy U.N. bureaucracy. The potential to have an impact on women’s lives through education, organising and empowerment is very real and exciting," Rosche said.
> In the resolution adopted Monday, she pointed out, any reference to the agency's future mandate has been deleted. But it's not too late to turn things around.
> The leadership of Secretary-General Ban is urgently needed to ensure that the momentum is not lost and women's rights get the political backing they deserve.
> The swift appointment of an under-secretary-general will help ensure an effective conclusion of this process by next year, she added.
> A coalition of over 300 international non-governmental organisations, which has been pursuing a global campaign for Gender Equality Architecture Reform (GEAR) in the U.N. system, said it was pleased that the General Assembly expressed strong and unanimous support in adopting a resolution that will enable the creation of the new gender equality entity to be headed by a new USG.
> In a statement released Monday, GEAR said: "We urge Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to immediately begin the recruitment process for appointing a strong leader grounded in women's rights and gender equality as the USG who will lead this process of consolidating the four existing entities".
> "We expect a broad, open search process to start promptly so that the USG is in place and the entity can be operational by the time of the Beijing + 15 Review at the Commission on the Status of Women in March of 2010."
> The coalition also said that member states must address in a timely fashion all the outstanding issues required for the entity to begin operations, including the mechanisms for governance and oversight.
> Donor countries need to pledge the substantial funding (about one billion dollars) to support the proposed strong field operation that the entity must have to be successful in fulfilling the promises made by governments and the U.N. to the world's women.
> "As civil society has always played a vital role in the U.N.'s work on women's rights, we urge member states and the Secretary General to commit to systematic and on-going participation of civil society, particularly women's organisations, in every state of the process at global, regional, national, and local levels including in the governing board," the coalition said.
> Women around the world have waited a long time for the United Nations and member states to fulfill the promises made since the first International Women's Year in 1975, the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 30 years ago, as well as the U.N. World Conferences in Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).
> "This is an important and crucial step forward now it must be made operational without further delay," the coalition declared.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Hillary Rodham Clinton staked her claim as an advocate for global women’s issues in 1995, when, as first lady, she gave an impassioned speech at a United Nations conference in Beijing. As secretary of state, she pushed to create a new position, ambassador at large for global women’s issues, and recruited Melanne Verveer, her former chief of staff, to fill it. And she has drawn attention to women at nearly every stop in her travels, most recently on an 11-day visit to Africa, during which, among other things, she went to eastern Congo to speak out against mass rape. Hours before leaving on that trip, Clinton discussed women’s issues and the Obama administration’s foreign policy for 35 minutes in her elegant seventh-floor office at the State Department. What follows is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
Q: In your confirmation hearing, you said you would put women’s issues at the core of American foreign policy. But as you know, in much of the world, gender equality is not accepted as a universal human right. How do you overcome that deep-seated cultural resistance?
Clinton: You have to recognize how deep-seated it is, but also reach an understanding of how without providing more rights and responsibilities for women, many of the goals we claim to pursue in our foreign policy are either unachievable or much harder to achieve.
Democracy means nothing if half the people can’t vote, or if their vote doesn’t count, or if their literacy rate is so low that the exercise of their vote is in question. Which is why when I travel, I do events with women, I talk about women’s rights, I meet with women activists, I raise women’s concerns with the leaders I’m talking to.
I happen to believe that the transformation of women’s roles is the last great impediment to universal progress — that we have made progress on many other aspects of human nature that used to be discriminatory bars to people’s full participation. But in too many places and too many ways, the oppression of women stands as a stark reminder of how difficult it is to realize people’s full human potential.
Q: I’m curious about what priorities you’re setting. Will the Obama administration have a signature issue — sex trafficking or gender-based violence or maternal mortality or education for girls — in the way that H.I.V./AIDS came to symbolize the Bush-administration strategy?
Clinton: We are having as a signature issue the fact that women and girls are a core factor in our foreign policy. If you look at what has to be done, in some societies, it is a different problem than in others. In some of the societies where women are deprived of political and economic rights, they have access to education and health care. In other societies, they may have been given the vote, but girl babies are still being put out to die.
So it’s not one specific program, so much as a policy. When it comes to our global health agenda, maternal health is now part of the Obama administration’s outreach. We’re very proud of the work this country has done, through Pepfar, on H.I.V./AIDS [the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was begun by George W. Bush in 2003]. We’ve moved from an understanding of how to deal with global AIDS to recognizing it’s now a woman’s disease, because women are the most vulnerable and often have no power to protect themselves. And it’s increasingly younger women or even girls.
But women die every minute from poor maternal health care. You know, H.I.V./AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria — those are all, unfortunately, equal-opportunity killers. Maternal health is a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue; it’s a child issue. And for the United States to say to countries that have very high maternal mortality rates, “We care about the future of your children, and in order to do that, we care about the present of your women,” is a powerful statement.
Q: Do you have a point of view about what should come first: Do you empower women economically and then hope that they seize a political role for themselves? Or do you seek to give them more legal and political standing and hope that they can win a place in the economic sphere?
Clinton: That’s a great question, because I think the historical record would show both routes have worked. Women were not particularly economically empowered when we finally included the right of women to vote in our Constitution. So women’s rights were expanded in 1920, and that opened up a lot of doors to women to see themselves in different roles, including economic roles, outside the home.
India’s been a democracy for 60 years, and remarkably extended the vote to everyone, every caste, to both men and women equally. So women have been given the right to vote, but without economic empowerment, they didn’t have the influence that their votes should have brought, which is why the government of India has made such a big point of extending economic and political opportunity equally to women.
And when we visited SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association [in India], those women had the vote before they were born, but being economically empowered, being able to stand up for themselves inside their families, on the streets of their villages, is giving them a sense of autonomy and authority that just their vote couldn’t have.
Q: In your travels as secretary of state, you’ve focused heavily on the role of microlending. Is there a reason in these early days that you’ve tended to emphasize the economic over the political?
Clinton: It’s interesting: it’s partly because of where I’ve gone. It’s also because I’ve worked on microcredit since 1983, going back to Arkansas and projects that I worked on with my husband there.
I am also struck by every international public-opinion poll I’ve ever seen, that the No. 1 thing most men and women want is a good job with a good income. It is at the core of the human aspiration to be able to support oneself, to give one’s children a better future. Microenterprise is uniquely designed to empower women because — through the trial and error of its development, going back to Muhammad Yunus’s invention of it in Bangladesh — women are much greater at investing in future goods than the men who have participated in microcredit have turned out to be. And they are also very reliable in paying back, because they are so eager to have that extra help and recognition that microcredit provides.
So, I don’t make a distinction between economic empowerment and political, social empowerment; I think it’s fair to say both need to go hand in hand.
Q: There are counterterrorism experts who have made the observation that countries that nurture terrorist groups tend to be the same societies that marginalize women. Do you see a link between your campaign on women’s issues and our national security?
Clinton: I think it’s an absolute link. Part of the reason I have pursued it as secretary of state is because I see it in our national security interest. If you look at where we are fighting terrorism, there is a connection to groups that are making a stand against modernity, and that is most evident in their treatment of women.
What does preventing little girls from going to school in Afghanistan by throwing acid on them have to do with waging a struggle against oppression externally? It’s a projection of the insecurity and the disorientation that a lot of these terrorists and their sympathizers feel about a fast-changing world, where they turn on television sets and see programs with women behaving in ways they can’t even imagine. The idea that young women in their own societies would pursue an independent future is deeply threatening to their cultural values.
Q: Many of the countries where the abuses against women are most prevalent are also countries that have a vital strategic importance to the United States: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, India. How can you aggressively advocate for women without jeopardizing those strategic relationships?
Clinton: Well, in a number of these strategic relationships, there’s a commitment to advancing the roles and rights of women. In India, the changes that have been made are remarkable. There are still tens of millions of very poor women, but women have assumed more and more responsibility; they are seen in public positions and increasingly economic ones, where their stature is accepted by society.
When I meet with the Chinese leadership, as I just did in the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, they have women who are part of their leadership team, and women who are assuming greater and greater economic and political roles.
Obviously, there’s work to be done in both India and China, because the infanticide rate of girl babies is still overwhelmingly high, and unfortunately with technology, parents are able to use sonograms to determine the sex of a baby, and to abort girl children simply because they’d rather have a boy. And those are deeply set attitudes. But at the governmental level, there is a great deal of openness and commitment that I am seeing.
In other societies where we have strategic security interests, it’s a challenge to move the agenda forward in a way that includes women’s issues. When we did our strategic review on Afghanistan, we said very clearly, We can’t be all things to all people in Afghanistan. We have to focus on a few critical concerns. But one of them was the role of women, and women’s participation in society.
Q: Let me ask you one question about India, where we’ve just concluded a Strategic Dialogue agreement. I didn’t notice too much emphasis on sex trafficking on your trip, even though it’s clear India remains the world capital of sex trafficking. Can you make that case strenuously with the Indians at the same moment that we’re trying to do so many other things with them?
Clinton: Absolutely, and in fact, we do it every year with our annual report on trafficking in persons. It’s a very high priority to me, and it is raised as part of the ongoing discussions that we have with many countries. In a democracy like India, there is a challenge of getting the word down to the local jurisdiction — the local police, the local judges, the local authorities. But I have no doubt about the seriousness with which their government takes this issue.
Q: Could some of the billions of dollars the United States has spent on military aid to Pakistan since 9/11 have been better spent on education and health care for girls and women?
Clinton: Yes. The answer is yes, and in my meetings with then-President Musharraf in ’03, ’05, ’07, in this country as well, I raised it all the time.
I remember visiting a village about 45 minutes outside of Lahore, when I was in Pakistan as first lady, and we met with a group of mothers and grandmothers in the village. And they wanted very much to have a school at the secondary level for their daughters, the way their sons did. But the school for their sons was not in the village, so the sons had to travel. No one could even imagine the daughters traveling outside their village to continue their education.
And when I think about the extraordinarily accomplished Pakistanis in the professions, in medicine, in education, I think it is certainly the case that if Pakistan had invested more in the education of children so that poor families would not have sent their boys off to be educated by extremists, it might well have made a difference. And it still can, because that’s part of our approach now.
Q: Because it’s also a question of how we allocate our resources.
Clinton: That’s right, and with the Kerry-Lugar/Berman bill[s] that provide aid for these kinds of purposes in Pakistan, we hope to try to make up for lost time. [These Senate and House bills are currently being finalized in Congress.]
Q: Gender-based violence is an enormous issue in much of Africa, and in places like Congo, rape, as you know, is an instrument of war. How can you, or anybody else, hope to combat that?
Clinton: President Obama and I and the United States will not tolerate this continuation of wanton, senseless, brutal violence perpetrated against girls and women. We don’t know exactly what we can do, but we are going to be delivering some aid and some ideas about how to better organize the communities to deal with it. We’re going to sound the alarm that this is not all just unexpected and irrational.
These militias, which perpetrate a lot of these rapes and other horrific assaults on girls and women, are paid well, or realize the spoils of guarding the mines. Those mines, which are one of the great natural resources of the Congo, produce a lot of the materials that go into our cellphones and other electronics. There are tens of millions of dollars that go into these militias that, in effect, get translated into a sense of impunity that is then exercised against the weakest members of society.
The ambassador for war crimes, Steve Rapp, has the distinction of being among the first international prosecutors to win a case on gender violence, and I specifically wanted him to take on this role, because I want to highlight this issue.
Q: I’ve been at more than a few women’s events with you overseas where the men in the audience drift off to their BlackBerrys or into a snooze after a few minutes. How do you change the mind-set, not just overseas but at home and in this building, that tends to view women’s issues as a pink ghetto?
Clinton: By making the arguments that I am making here — that so-called women’s issues are stability issues, security issues, equity issues. The World Bank and many other analyses have proved over and over again that where women are mistreated, where they are denied equal rights, you will find instability that very often serves as an incubator of extremism.
A woman who is safe enough in her own life to invest in her children and see them go to school is not going to have as many children. The resource battles over water and land will be diminished. This is all connected. And it’s an issue of how we take hard power and soft power, so called, and use it to advance not just American ends but, in advancing global progress, we are making the world safer for our own children.
Q: Last month in New Delhi, a young woman asked you an interesting question: How would you view the progress of women in both India and the United States? She pointed out that India elected a woman as prime minister within three decades of independence, while the U.S. had yet to elect a female president. Is there any lesson from your own presidential campaign that you can use to take to women elsewhere in the world?
Clinton: Well, you’ve heard me talk about this in a lot of settings, from Japan to South Korea to Indonesia to India to Latin America [laughs]. It is one of the most common questions I’m asked, along with the question about how I can now work for and with President Obama, since he and I ran so vigorously against each other. It is clearly on young women’s minds. And I find that both exciting and gratifying.
My campaign for many millions of reasons gave a lot of heart to many young women. It is still the most common comment that people make to me: “your campaign gave me courage” or “your campaign made a difference in my daughter’s life” or “I went back to school because of your campaign.” So, it is unfinished business, and young women know it is unfinished business.
The vast majority of them will never run for political office in any country. But they may decide to seek an education that their family doesn’t approve of, or move away for a job that is a little bit frightening to them, but which they feel they’ve got the skills to do. Or, you know, stand up and speak out against an injustice they see. And it is all of that ripple that is building and building — and is unstoppable.
I live for those moments where I see this woman stand up in SEWA — this poor, uneducated woman — and say, “I am the president of SEWA; 1.1 million women voted.” I mean, what a great statement that was from her. So, I get a lot of joy out of doing this work. I think it is so critically important, but it is also incredibly moving to see these individual lives changed because of some event or speech that you have no idea why it made an impression on them.
Mark Landler is the diplomatic correspondent for The New York Times.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Source: Yemen Times
SANA'A - In a country repeatedly rated last in the Global Gender Gap report, a new master's degree at the University of Sana'a promises Yemeni women a brighter future, by combining gender and development studies.
The Gender-Development Research and Study Center is encouraging university graduates with high levels of English proficiency to apply for its program in Gender and International Development, to start in February 2010.
"Our Masters students will have the capacity for critical thinking, to see the problem of development deeply," said Dr. Husnia Al-Kadiri, head of the center.
"If women participate in the master's, they will not represent all Yemeni women, but they will work on how to push education for girls," said Al-Kadiri, "which is the most important tool to make women's participation visible in development."
"Women are playing a role in development, but it is silent- not visible," she said.
Only 55 percent of Yemeni girls are enrolled in basic education compared to 75 percent of boys, according to the government's latest statistics.
Although United Nations statistics increase both these percentages by around 10 percent, they report that girls' attendance in basic education reaches no more than 41 percent.
The disempowerment of women and children was one of the four underlying reasons for the poor outcomes of development interventions in Yemen, according to the UN's 2005 Common Country Assessment.
The three others were lack of transparency and participation, inequitable and unsustainable use of water resources, and the growth of unemployment in a rapidly expanding population.
The two-year master's program is the first of its kind in the region, said Al-Kadiri, although the American universities of Cairo and Beirut also offer gender-based courses.
The International Development Center at Roskilde University in Denmark is supporting the program, and international specialists will teach for the first few years while they train a permanent staff.
"Gender in development is making sure men and women both participate in development," said Dr. Saed Al-Saba, head of documentation and information at the center. "It is ensuring both women and men are given equal opportunities."
The course is definitely not only for women, she said, because the presence of men is vital for women to be able to seize their right to participate in development.
"Men must understand that gender in development is not dangerous to men, it is just about equal opportunity between the sexes," she said.
Women and men think differently, explained Al-Kadiri, but the potentials of both are complementary. Both sexes must be included in development so that half a country's potential is not lost along the way.
"If we give the chance to women to participate, the potential of both sexes will accelerate the wheel of development," she said.
"When you integrate gender, you can solve a lot of problems," added Aisha Saeed, head of the Protection Program at Save the Children, who worked with the center in 2008 on research on gender-based violence.
BETTER GENDER BUDGETING
"[The news master's] is very important because people don't know how to integrate gender in development," said Khadija Radman, deputy minister for women affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The program will help integrate gender-related considerations into government and non-governmental organization plans, according to Radman, notably through gender budgeting.
"They don't know how to do it!" she said of gender budgeting, or equal and fair distribution of resources between men and women-centered projects in Yemen.
Only 33 percent of governmental, non-governmental and international organizations took gender into consideration while drawing up their budgets, according to a 2009 survey by the Yemeni Strategic Development Center on gender-responsive budgeting.
"Gender budgeting is the biggest issue in development," said Al-Kadiri, who explains that with it, a majority of problems could be solved.
The program aims to teach students about gender budgeting, as well as more development-orientated subjects such as conflict resolution.
Part of the Gender-Development Research and Study Center's work over the last few years has been very productive, said Al-Kadiri.
Campaign-orientated research into early marriage in particular bore fruit, as it contributed the beginning of a discussion on a minimum age for marriage. Although a law that sets 17 as the minimum legal age to marry is now being stalled in parliament, the discussion is an achievement, she said.
When you have statistical evidence of early marriage, female genital mutilation or gender-based violence, it is harder for people to ignore the problem, she said.
Hard facts and dialogue are a key to closing the gender gap, from the family-level to government.
In Yemen, only one of the 301 seats in parliament is held by a woman, and two ministries -the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs- are headed by women.
To date, women are outnumbered four to one in legislatures around the world, according to the UN.
"Despite the progress that has been made, six out of ten of world's poorest people are still women and girls, less than 16 percent of the world's parliamentarians are women, two thirds of all children shut outside the school gates are girls," according to the United Nations' Development Program's Web site.
Over 60 percent of all unpaid family workers globally are women, women still earn on average 17 percent less than men, and about one-third of women suffer gender-based violence during their lives, it says.
ACTION NOT WORDS
The program has received support from the University of Sana'a, said Al-Kadiri, but it seeks more technical support from international donors and UN agencies.
"This is the nucleus for changing society," she said. "This center with other partners will be a good change agent for Yemen, even regionally where conflict is high."
Al-Kadiri also urged local women's rights organizations to support the center's efforts and show a greater presence at its meetings.
"Talking about gender equality is important, but doing is more important," she said.
Although it showed improvement in scores from previous years, Yemen was ranked 130 out of 130 countries in the 2008 Global Gender Gap Report, an annual report issued by the World Economic Forum.
Monday, June 29, 2009
JEDDAH: The new law for the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CSCCI) gives greater powers to businesswomen, Fahd Al-Sultan, secretary-general of the council, said yesterday.
“The new law, which replaces the existing 50-year-old law, will be passed within a few days,” he said.
Speaking to Arab News after attending a seminar on “Developing a new concept and culture of chamber elections” at the JCCI, Al-Sultan said the new law was designed to provide the council with necessary flexibility.
“The law has already been studied by the committee of experts at the Council of Ministers and has been passed to the minister of commerce and industry for his endorsement before presenting to the Cabinet for final approval,” he said.
Al-Sultan said the new law gives businesswomen a greater role in the council as well as in the development of the country.
“Even if only women are elected to the CSCCI board, there is nothing in the law to prevent it,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, three businesswomen, Madhawi Al-Hassoun, Lamy Suleiman and Nashwa Taher, yesterday announced their decision to contest the upcoming election to the JCCI board. They said they wanted to deepen the concept of women’s participation in elections to civil organizations in the country.