Faces of women in the Egyptian protests

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

These brilliant pictures are being compiled together on Facebook by Leil-Zahra Mortada in Spain. Have a look as women stand up equally with their male countrymen, and make their feelings clear through protests, slogans, and chants.

Any revolution can only be built on a solid basis if it involves all corners of the country, considering all of the people in it. While most of the crowd shots on our televisions  seem to be made up largely of men, it’s inspiring to see women central in the protests, and these people make me feel humble and proud. Take the time to have a look at these brave women.

Click here to see all the photos – they are constantly being updated and added to


Why the murder of a Pakstani minster is bad for women everywhere

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Salman Taseer

Today Pakistan is on high alert. The murder of liberal politician Salman Taseer yesterday has shocked the world – shot by one of this own bodyguards for being against the country’s blasphemy laws. Terrifyingly, 500 scholars later praised the killer and told their followers not to grieve or they would suffer the same fate. They warned that there “should be no expression of grief or sympathy for ….those who support blasphemy”.

The liberal elite in the country is small and the radical mullahs draw a large support base – not least based on fear and intimidation, using violence as a tool to silence equal values. Taseer argued that Islam did not attack minority groups, but protected human rights. Interpreting Muslim values can be a risky thing to do in a country where conservative religious values hold heavy sway. The thousands who gathered to mourn him at his funeral today have made a bold, brave stand for justice at the risk of their own lives.

His death is bad news for liberalism in Pakistan – and it is very, very bad news for women. Religious extremism and the annihilation of women’s right go hand in hand.

 Taseer had championed the cause of Asia Biba, the Christian woman sentenced to death and visited her in prison with his own wife and daughter to show support. He had made a stand over improving the status of women in Pakistan, where there is much work to be done. He had argued for allowing them equal status in a country where many still consider rape to be a woman’s fault.  The Women’s Protection Bill of 2006, for example, was undermined by fierce criticism for offering women the tiniest amount of protection against rape and forced marriage. The law was brought in originally to try and amend the Hudood Ordinances laws, which meant among other measures that a woman who had been raped was liable to prosecution for adultery if she could not produce four male witnesses to the assault. That gives some idea of the uphill struggle facing liberals in Pakistan.

Tributes from some Pakistani women were made today as they feared his death would equal steps backwards for women’s empowerment. Shehla Akram, president of Punjab’s Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “He was one of the most progressive leaders of Pakistan and one who was wholly committed to improving conditions for women in the country.”

 Today we mourn the death of Salman Taseer as a tragic loss in the fight to promote equality and fair treatment for women worldwide.

Iranian woman condemned to death by stoning still awaits her fate

December 30, 2010 § 1 Comment


Sakineh Ashtiani

An update on the case of Sakineh Ashtianti, the Iranian housewife who “confessed” to the crime of adultery and was sentenced to death by stoning.

It’s important to keep the media pressure up in this case, and the BBC report that was put out today and can be viewed here reminds us all as we face the new year, that this is another year the 43-year-old mother of three has been waiting in prison for the shambolic case against her to be finally thrown out.

Related Articles

Beware of filmed “confessions” from a scared, intimidated woman

Separating fact from fiction in Sakineh’s case

An urgent call to save a life

What motivates a female suicide bomber?

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

 What makes a man want to kill himself and as many others in the process? Religious extremism perhaps? Community pressure? The promise of a virgin-filled Paradise after death? The belief in a holy war?           

Getty Images: A mother of two from Gaza City makes a video statement for Hamas days before blowing herself up, killing four Israelis and wounding seven others.

And, if these are a few of the reasons – what are the motivations more specifically for a female suicide bomber?

On Saturday – Christmas Day – a female suicide bomber killed more than 40 people after detonating an explosives-laden vest in an aid distribution centre in North-western Pakistan
This is thought to be the first woman acting as a suicide bomber in Pakistan. The right wing press have had a field day with this story because the murderer was dressed in a burkha.

The Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility. It is thought to be a protest over the handling of the nearby border with Afghanistan by the Pakistani authorities.In the case of suicide bombing – the majority of which are committed by men, the very vast majority – the martyr is fueled by a belief in a holy war, and the honour of dying for this cause, and for the promise of better to come. It is a very male based ideology – 72 sumptuous virgins waiting to deliver “everlasting happiness”.

But the Taliban is no friend to women.

After all, if in Islam female sexuality is something to be respected – the Taliban take this ideology a step further to be something to be feared, repressed, punishable. Women are to cover their faces because “the face of woman is a source of corruption”. Under Taliban rules, women are not to be educated, and face public flogging and execution if they break their rules. So, affiliation with the Taliban appears on the face of it an unlikely motive for a female suicide bomber. And yet the bomber on Saturday is believed to have been acting for the Taliban. 

AP: The Christmas DAy Pakistan bombing

 In researching this post, the study “Female Suicide Bombers”by Debra D Zedalis starts with a rather suprising quote from Hiba, a mother of five- and a suicide bomber trainee.

“I have to tell the world that if they do not defend us, then we have to defend ourselves with the only thing we have, our bodies. Our bodies are the only fighting means at our disposal”

 This rings surprising sounds of Femen, the activist group based in the Ukraine, which argues that they have to use their bodies because it is all they have to protest with. This idea of physical-based protest, of women being rendered so powerless that their bodies are the only tool they have to protest does not sound particularly likely in this case, since suicide bombing is a tactic used predominantly by men.

Some reports suggest that the enforced female attire is the biggest help for women working with the Taliban – after all the shapeless burqa is a perfect hiding place and male police are forbidden to touch or search women. Incidentally, see this story on a father who killed his own daughter who he claimed had been joining a suicide mission with al-Qaeda.   

 Perhaps it’s wrong to try and seperate motivations between men and women taking such drastic actions. It does strike me as sadly ironic that allowing women to take part in such acts of protest could be seen a sign of rising status for women in the Arab world. Hamas, for example, issued a fatwa that women could participate in suicide missions – but has still banned women from smoking water pipes, or having their hair cut by male hairdressers, for example. 

Should we be celebrating the inclusion of women in extremist politics and actions as in some dark way a step forward for Islamic women?

Related Articles

Female suicide bomber kills 43 at Pakistan food aid center (capitolhillblue.com)

Villagers fear hunger after Pakistan bombing (abclocal.go.com)

Najim al-Anbaky, Iraqi, Kills Daughter Recruited As Al-Qaida Bomber (huffingtonpost.com)

Ten years old – and married

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Having only recently discovered the brilliant World Pulse, it is a wealth of information – this is one story that struck me from it today.  The young girl, Reem Al Numery, was married at 10 in Yemen, whose case became the focus of international media attention. She even has a Wikipedia page.

But what happened after the camera flashes stopped? According to this article, the media focus did not relate to practical help – although Yemen has raised the legal age of marriage at least, to 17, in the wake of the negative media focus, there are still many who oppose the shaky law, and its too late for the quarter of all women in the country married before the age of 15. As for Reem, she is struggling to afford transport to school, to secure an education. Hailed as an “activist against early marriage”, she is left poorer financially, in the poorest country in the Middle East.

“I am so frustrated,” she said. “I see girls who are able to study and able to speak English and I am not. I would like for someone to help me.”

And this is the girl who has been the centre of focus in the media. Imagine all the girls who are forced into marriage and don’t get the benefit of media focus

“It is not really marriage, it is rape” says Shada Nasser, the lawyer who represented both Reem and the little girl Arwa in this video –  a good piece on another girl’s story of early marriage. Particularly interesting is the interview with the male doctor who helped Arwa escape her husband – but says that raising the legal age to 17 was a mistake.

“Islam determines the age of marriage to be when a girl is ready for intercourse” he says.

Beware of filmed “confessions” from a scared, intimidated woman

December 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

Sakineh Ashtiani

Celebrities are getting involved with the case of Sakineh Ashtiani (see my post on November 3rd) who is still languishing in prison in Iran facing death by stoning for the alleged crime of adultery.

To say this case is confusing is an understatement. Sakineh’s alleged crimes include adultery (after her husband’s death) and then the renewed charge became the murder of her husband. Her children have led the campaign worldwide after the case was conducted in a language she didn’t speak with allegations that the 43-year-old was tortured in prison. She was first accused in 2006 and sentenced to 99 lashes, which were carried out in front of her 17-year-old son. Various reports that she will now be sentenced to hang rather than face stoning have been confused with reports of more torture and the Iranian judicial services “losing” the notes on her case – and despite a man having already been convicted for the murder of her husband.

Basically, it’s a shambles, and it’s hard to know even where to start with the human rights abuses in this case.

Videos of her “confessing” being shown on state TV have done little to change international opinion (watch the video here) that the Iranian system is barbaric and unfair towards women and that Sakineh should be released – or at least in the immediacy, that the death penalty towards her should be revoked. The confession of a woman under duress, facing death and torture, should not be allowed to stand up in court. Even a corrupt court.

What this case urgently needs is more high-profile media attention to shame Iran into revoking this inhumane sentence. And so the likes of Colin Firth, Sting, Robert Redford, Damian Hirst and Robert de Niro have joined more than 80 actors, politicians, writers and artists to raise awareness of her case and call for her immediate release. This is a brilliant example of how celebrities can use their status to bring about change. After all, she has been in prison for more than three years. It’s time the world stood up to Iran and keep the focus on her case until she is free and safe.

Lack of coverage on “honour killings” shames us all

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Having the word “honour” associated with any type of crime is a contradition in terms, and honour killings have to be one of the least spoken about crimes against women, in my opinon.

A report from the UN finds today that Afghan women are still at massive risk of violence and “honour” crimes. The government is simply not doing enough to protect women – probably because they are not really adressing issues like education or financial independence, which have the power to place women in a much stronger position than simply bringing in a new law – which they have done. Laws are easy to bring in, but not to enforce, particularly in a difficult scenario like this which delves into the heart of private communities.

Women in Afganistan

The other day I was on the Stop Honour Killings site, and with less than five minutes on it you can see examples of recent honour crimes in Iraq, the UK, India, Kurdistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda  – and it really hammers home that this is a worldwide  issue. This site has a gallery of victims on its homepage of honour killings, and it makes chilling viewing to see so many women assualted or killed in the most gruesome of circumstances, in cases that never made it into the papers.

Perhaps because it goes on typically within smaller or more private communities, or perhaps because they frequently take place in Islamic communities where the press is wary to probe, these crimes just don’t seem to get the press coverage you’d think they would.

Our real shame in these crimes is that we just don’t hear enough about them – shocking when the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are murdered by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more. So, as many potentially as 20,000 women and girls are directly affected – and many reports suggest that incidents are increasing in the last 20 years. The victim’s family members – male and female, guilty or innocent – are affected. Their communities are affected, by implication their economies are affected, and the country is affected.  

How many more people have to be affected before this stops being a “women’s issue?”

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