Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oh happy day

Young Saudi girl's marriage ended

Saudi Arabian women in Riyadh (March 2009)
Saudi Arabia is ruled under an austere and patriarchal form of Sunni Islam

Media reports say an arranged marriage between a Saudi girl aged eight and a man in his 50s has been annulled, in a case attracting worldwide criticism.

The Saudi Gazette says the divorce was agreed in an out-of-court settlement after a judge rejected two attempts to grant the girl a divorce.

The case prompted Saudi officials to say it would start regulating the marriages of young girls.

Rights groups say some Saudi families marry off young daughters for money.

The judge who first heard the case in the town of Unaiza refused to end the marriage at the request of the girl's mother , but he stipulated the groom could not have sex with the girl until she reached puberty.

The girl's father is said to have married her off against her mother's wishes to a close friend in order that he could pay off a debt.

A new judge was appointed to oversee the case, who issued the annulment after the husband finally gave up his insistence that the marriage had been legal, reports say.

Saudi Arabia implements an austere form of Sunni Islam that bans free association between the sexes and gives fathers the right to wed their children to whomever they deem fit.

Saudi commentators pointed out that the marriage took place in the central province of Qaseem - the heartland of Saudi Islamic fundamentalism.

Earlier this year, the country's highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, said it was not against Islamic law to marry off girls who are 15 and younger.

On 15 April, after this case generated considerable negative publicity, Justice Minister Muhammad Issa said he wanted to put an end to the "arbitrary" way in which parents and guardians could marry off their young daughters.

However, he he did not say that the practice would be banned.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Michelle Obama's first 100 days

Michelle Obama lifts the 'curse'

Why Michelle Obama inspires women around the globe

(CNN) -- Heather Ferreira works in the slums of Mumbai, India, where she has watched thousands of women live under a "curse."

The Obamas enjoy their new family dog, Bo, at the White House.

The Obamas enjoy their new family dog, Bo, at the White House.

The women she meets in the squalid streets where "Slumdog Millionaire" was filmed are often treated with contempt, she says. They're considered ugly if their skin and hair are too dark. They are deemed "cursed" if they only have daughters. Many would-be mothers even abort their children if they learn they're female.

Yet lately she says Indian women are getting another message from the emergence of another woman thousands of miles away. This woman has dark skin and hair. She walks next to her husband in public, not behind. And she has two daughters. But no one calls her cursed. They call her Michelle Obama, the first lady.

"She could be a new face for India," says Ferreira, program officer for an HIV-prevention program run by World Vision, an international humanitarian group. "She shows women that it's OK to have dark skin and to not have a son. She's quite real to us."

Those who focus on Michelle Obama's impact on America are underestimating her reach. The first lady is inspiring women of color around the globe to look at themselves, and America, in fresh ways. Photo See photos of past first ladies »

"She might be the first woman of color that females in male-dominated countries have seen as confident, bright, educated, articulate and persuasive," says Barbara Perry, author of "Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier."

A symbol for women around the globe

The notion of a woman being a first in anything is alien in many parts of the world. Millions of women struggle against sexual violence, discrimination and poverty, several women activists say.

But Michelle Obama offers a personal rebuke to that message. Her personal story -- born into a blue-collar family; overcoming racism and once even making more money than her husband -- makes her a mesmerizing figure to women across the globe, says Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women's studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Reverby says this is the first time many women have seen their class and color reflected in America's first lady. Video Watch how Michelle Obama has done during her first 100 days »

"This is someone who appeals across the usual divides," Reverby says. "She is a celebrity you can imagine being, not a celebrity you have to watch from afar."

A hint of Michelle Obama's global appeal came recently when she spoke at an all-girls school in London, England. The students came from various backgrounds: Muslim, Christian, black and white. Yet they all surged forward, shrieking and even crying, as they hugged the first lady.

Thu Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, wasn't at the London school, but she experienced a similar sense of elation when Obama became first lady.

In her native country, she says women "are not human beings." But when Obama became the first lady, Nguyen called her niece and told her that any hard-working woman could become the first.

Vietnamese women can identify with Michelle Obama, Nguyen says.

"We have a yellow color because we're Asian, so we felt a bond with [Michelle] Obama when she became the first black first lady," says Nguyen, who works at a nail salon in South Pasadena, California.

Some women's identification with the first lady, however, goes deeper than skin color.

Sue Mbaya of Nairobi, Kenya, says the first lady inspires African woman to assert themselves in their personal and professional lives.

Many African women are conditioned to be subservient, she says. They're prevented from rising to management positions in the workplace, and their families often relegate them to taking care of household tasks while sending their brothers off to school.

But Obama is a high achiever who didn't intimidate her husband, says Mbaya, a native of Zimbabwe who is the advocacy director for World Vision's Africa's region.

"I've always liked knowing that she was Barack Obama's supervisor when they first met," Mbaya says. "He once said that he wouldn't be where he is without his wife. That really appeals to me."

Women in the West also find inspiration in Obama.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum, who lives near Munich, Germany, says the first lady impresses German women because she is a powerful public figure who doesn't seem threatening. German history is marked by charismatic leaders who wielded personal power for malevolent ends, she says.

"She's the perfect blend of power and civility. That's important in German culture," says Hohlbaum, author of "The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World."

How does Michelle Obama define herself?

While other women have defined Obama's appeal, the first lady is refining her role.

She has talked publicly about the pressures military families face. She has encouraged healthy eating by planting a White House garden. She's opened the White House to ordinary people and children. Service to community and family seems to be her theme.

She recently drew the most attention for what she did, not said, during a visit to London. She briefly embraced Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, breaking royal protocol. The Queen, however, according to press accounts, responded warmly to the first lady's embrace.

Obama has often been compared to another regal woman: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. But Autumn Stephens, author of "Feisty First Ladies," says that Obama reminds her more of former first lady Hillary Clinton.

"But Hillary really downplayed the mom part whereas Michelle has really played it up," Stephens says. "She is straddling both worlds."

In a poll of first ladies, certain women are invariably cited by historians as the most noteworthy: Abigail Adams, Lady Bird Johnson and Eleanor Roosevelt, who is widely considered to be the most influential first lady, Stephens says.

Where would Stephens rank Michelle Obama?

"She's got the whole package," Stephens says. "She's in a class by herself."

View source article

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guerrilla Girl Power: Have America's Feminist Artists Sold Out?
Guy Adams, The Independent UK: "After a quarter of a century railing against the dusty establishment, the art world's most prominent group of radical feminists has decided to join it. The Guerrilla Girls, a collection of radical, left-leaning pop artists famed for wearing gorilla masks and fishnets to highlight sexism, racism, and other pillars of injustice, announced this week that its historic archive will be kept, for posterity, by the bluest of America's blue-chip cultural institutions."

Heroine: Sitara Achakzai

Taliban Shoot Dead Afghan Politician Who Championed Women's Rights
Jon Boone, The Guardian UK: "A leading female Afghan politician was shot dead yesterday after leaving a provincial council meeting in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, which her colleagues had begged her not to attend. Sitara Achakzai was attacked by two gunmen as she arrived at her home in a rickshaw - a vehicle colleagues said she deliberately chose to use to avoid attracting attention. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murder. The two gunmen were apparently waiting for Achakzai, a 52-year-old women's rights activist who had lived for many years in Germany when the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan."

See also:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saudi judge upholds man's marriage to 8-year-old

By Mohammed Jamjoom

(CNN) -- A Saudi mother is expected to appeal a judge's ruling after he once again refused to let her 8-year-old daughter divorce a 47-year-old man, a relative said.

Sheikh Habib Al-Habib made the ruling Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza. Late last year, he rejected a petition to annul the marriage.

The case, which has drawn criticism from local and international rights groups, came to light in December when Al-Habib declined to annul the marriage on a legal technicality. His dismissal of the mother's petition sparked outrage and made headlines around the world.

The judge said the mother, who is separated from the girl's father, was not the legal guardian and therefore could not represent her daughter, the mother's lawyer, Abdullah al-Jutaili, said at the time.

The girl's husband pledged not to consummate the marriage until the girl reaches puberty, according to al-Jutaili, who added that the girl's father arranged the marriage to settle his debts with the man, who is considered "a close friend."

In March, an appeals court in the Saudi capital of Riyadh declined to certify the original ruling, in essence rejecting al-Habib's verdict, and sent the case back to al-Habib for reconsideration.

Under the Saudi legal process, the appeals court ruling meant that the marriage was still in effect, but that a challenge to the marriage was still ongoing.

The relative, who said the girl's mother will continue to pursue a divorce, told CNN the judge "stuck by his earlier verdict and insisted that the girl could petition the court for a divorce once she reached puberty."

The appeals court in Riyadh will take up the case again and a hearing is scheduled for next month, according to the relative.

Child marriages have made news in Saudi Arabia in the past year.

In a statement issued shortly after the original verdict, the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia said the judge's decision went against children's "basic rights."

Marrying children makes them "lose their sense of security and safety," the group said. "Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression."

Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Saudi Human Rights Commission, a government-run group, told CNN that his organization was fighting child marriages.

"Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed," al-Harithi said.

Child marriage is not unusual, said Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabian researcher for the international group Human Rights Watch, after the initial verdict.

"We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger, especially so when girls are traded off to older men," Wilcke told CNN.

View source article

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Chad: Fighting Violence Against Women - but How?
IRIN News: "Awa was killed by her husband last November in Guelendeng, 150 km south of the Chad capital N'djamena. Her death was the tipping point for the town's women, who, appalled by the rampant violence they face, have decided to fight for their rights."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

BBC World Service Have Your Say: Religion and Women's Equality

Click to listen to the podcast:

Frances Benjamin Johnston

Frances "Fannie" Benjamin Johnston (15 January 186416 May 1952) was one of the earliest American female photographers and photojournalists. Her photographs of the Hampton Institute were exhibited at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Read all about her on Wikipedia

Katharine Gun: The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War
Marcia Mitchell, Truthout: "Pigeons are coming home to roost in the prestigious halls of the United Kingdom's Parliament building. Whether they make it across the Atlantic to the US Capitol is a matter that should be of interest to all Americans. On March 19, Katharine Gun testified before British lawmakers, asking them to commit to a full public inquiry into the decision to invade Iraq. Gun is well-known to Members of Parliament. She was the young British secret service officer who was arrested for leaking an illegal US spy operation against members of the UN Security Council debating the decision for war. The operation, mounted by the NSA, targeted six nations whose vote for a preemptive strike was considered essential to winning broad international support for war."

Friday, April 03, 2009

Pakistan to probe girl's flogging

The Taleban made her brother hold her down, witnesses said

Pakistan's top judge has called for a court hearing into the public flogging of a teenage girl, which was captured on video and shown around the world.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has ordered police and government officials from the north-western Swat Valley to bring the girl to court next week.

The film shows apparent Taleban members holding her down and hitting her with a strap as she cries out in pain.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has condemned the incident as "shameful".

Local sources said the girl had been accused of illicit relations with a man and that the flogging took place about a month and a half ago.

Since then, the provincial government in the North West Frontier Province agreed to implement Sharia law as part of a peace deal with militants there.

A press release quoted Chief Justice Chaudhry - who was only recently restored to office - as saying the action was a cruel violation of fundamental rights that gave Pakistan a bad name.

Forced to marry

The language in the video is of the Swati dialect of Pashto, says the BBC's Abdul Hai Kakar.

The burka-clad woman is heard crying throughout the two-minute flogging and at one point swears on her father that she will not do it again.

Tribal areas map

Relatives of the man involved in the incident told the BBC he had gone to the house of the girl in the village of Kala Kalay to do repairs as an electrician, but militants accused him of having a relationship with her.

They dragged him from the house and flogged him before punishing the girl, his relatives said.

The Taleban made the girl's brother hold her down during the flogging, they said.

After the incident, the Taleban forced the couple to marry and instructed the man not to divorce his wife. His relatives say he has been left mentally scarred.

The incident happened weeks before the new Sharia courts began to be introduced in Swat.

Militants 'still in control'

Prime Minister Gilani said he strongly condemned the "shameful" incident in a statement issued by his office.

Mr Gilani said it was contrary to Islamic principles, which teach Muslims to treat women politely and gently.

He said the government believed in the rights of women and would continue to take every measure to protect their rights.

The Sharia system was agreed in Swat to try to stop the Taleban from imposing their harsh brand of justice, the BBC's Islamabad correspondent Barbara Plett says.

Previously they had beheaded dissidents and killed women accused of un-Islamic behaviour.

That seems to have significantly decreased after the Taleban leader officially accepted the Islamic courts.

However, it is not clear whether this new justice system will replace Taleban rule in practice.

The courts seem to be operating with some effect in Swat's main city of Mingora but not in outlying rural areas.

There witnesses say the militants continue to exercise control, if not as brutally as before.

View source article

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Death on the Home Front: Women in the Crosshairs
Ann Jones, "Wake up, America. The boys are coming home, and they're not the boys who went away. On New Year's Day, The New York Times welcomed the advent of 2009 by reporting that, since returning from Iraq, nine members of the Fort Carson, Colorado, Fourth Brigade Combat team had been charged with homicide. Five of the murders they were responsible for took place in 2008 when, in addition, 'charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault' at the base rose sharply. Some of the murder victims were chosen at random; four were fellow soldiers - all men. Three were wives or girlfriends."