The Global Persecution of Women
Halima Kazem, “Afghans Decry Violence Against Women. After recent slayings, female protesters in Kabul call on Karzai's government to protect their safety and their constitutional rights,” LA Times, 6 May 2005.
Although the constitution of Afghanistan, signed in late 2003, gives women equal rights, including the right to vote and to a fair trial, most of the country operates on customary laws based on traditions and interpretations of Islam.
Warlords still control large swaths of the country, and the family court system is practically nonexistent. The problem is compounded by a tradition of families taking matters into their own hands out of fear of public embarrassment. ...
The majority of crimes against women still go unreported, and many women say that there must be a shift in cultural attitudes.
"The government must enforce laws that protect women," said Rahina Saboor of the private Center for Afghan Women's Health Development. "The fear of a working justice system will start to change behaviors and eventually change the anti-woman culture that has developed in Afghanistan in the last 25 years of war.
”Bahrain: Women battle for their rights,” Women in the Middle East, No. 45, Nov.-Dec. 2006.
Bahraini women are battling a male-dominated society and powerful Islamists in their quest for reforms that would shift jurisdiction over family and women's affairs from Islamic to civil courts.
In the absence of a personal status law in Bahrain, Sharia (Islamic law), in both its Sunni and Shiite interpretations, is the only arbiter when it comes to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. But after years of struggle, Bahraini women have finally found an influential supporter. The first lady of the Muslim island kingdom, Sheikha Sabika al-Khalifa, who chairs the supreme women's council, has sponsored a bill for a personal status law that would still be based on the Sharia.
It faces fierce resistance from the religious establishment, particularly among Shiite clerics, who have recently brought thousands of people on to the streets to protest against the proposed law. Bahrain is a tiny archipelago of 35 islands off the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. It has a population of 650,000, the majority of whom are Shiite Muslims. "The clerics are opposed to the law because it limits their powers. They would be overridden by legislation and would no longer be able to issue verdicts according to their whims."
"The situation of many Bahraini women is tragic. Each neighbourhood has an average of four women that were thrown on the street by their husbands after, say, 30 years of marriage just because they wanted to have younger wives." A man is allowed four wives according to Sharia.
A government fund was created recently to help women awaiting Islamic court decisions on alimony, according to another activist Mariam al-Ruwei, who is in favour of the family law. And according to an amendment to property laws, couples also have the option to jointly own their matrimonial house, which according to Bahraini tradition must be in the man's name.
”Bahrain Files Charges to Silence Women's Activist,” Feminist Daily News Wire, 3 June 2005
Ghada Jamsheer, the head of the Women's Petition Committee (WPC) in Bahrain, faces three trials for slander this month as a result of her involvement in family law cases and her criticisms of Bahrain's sharia judges. There are two sharia systems in Bahrain, one for Sunni Muslims and one for Shia Muslims, and both courts hear family law cases such as divorce, custody and inheritance and make decisions according to interpretations of Islamic law. There are no codified family laws.
Human Rights Watch reports in its statement that the WPC has documented many cases in which judges ruled capriciously, as when women are denied custody of their children because they either work or attend school. In 2003, the WPC collected 1700 signatures in favor of codifying family law, and while the Bahraini government has promised to codify law granting divorced women custody of their children, no action has been taken.
The cases against Jamsheer come from the former husband of a woman championed by the WPC and from several judges, claiming she committed libel by referring to the sharia judges as "corrupt, biased and unqualified," and calling one particular judge "rude and unfair," reports Agence France Presse. Her first case begins tomorrow, with others later this month. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years in prison, but Jamsheer tells the Gulf Daily News "I'm prepared to go to jail if I have to in order to fight for the rights of women."
Human Rights Watch has demanded that Bahrain drop these charges, and eliminate its criminal penalties for slander that does not involve a call to violence. LaShawn R. Jefferson, Women's Rights Director at Human Rights Watch, states that "Ghada Jamsheer is being punished for exposing the injustice that women face in the courtroom. These laws are a blatant attempt to silence her and undermine the reform efforts she spearheads." The Arab Programme for Human Rights Activists has also demanded the retraction of the charges against Jamsheer.
”Sharia law move quashed in Canada,” BBC News, 12 September 2005.
The head of Canada's Ontario province has rejected attempts to allow Muslims to use Sharia law in family disputes.
A report by Ontario's former attorney general Marion Boyd had recommended the use of Islamic law to settle issues such as divorce and child custody.
But Premier Dalton McGuinty ruled against the move, saying there should be "one law for all Ontarians".
Protests were held against the Sharia law proposal in major Canadian cities, as well as in Paris, London and Vienna.
Critics said allowing Islamic tribunals could lead to discrimination against women.
If the recommendation had been accepted, Ontario would have become the first Western jurisdiction to allow the use of Sharia.
Mr McGuinty said he would introduce "as soon as possible" a law banning all religious arbitration in the province.
Ontario has allowed Catholic and Jewish faith-based tribunals to resolve family disputes on a voluntary basis since 1991.
Mr McGuinty, who had been studying Ms Boyd's report since last December, said he was concerned religious family courts could "threaten our common ground".
He told the Canadian Press news agency: "There will be no Sharia law in Ontario. There will be no religious arbitration in Ontario. There will be one law for all Ontarians."
'Loud and clear'
Women's rights activist Homa Ar-Jomand, who helped organise the rallies last Thursday, said she was delighted by the decision.
"I think our voice got heard loud and clear, and I thank the government for coming out with no faith-based arbitrations.
"That was the best news I've heard for the past five years," she said.
According to the latest census in 2001, about 600,000 Muslims live in Canada.
Marina Jiminez, “Sharia protesters target Canada. Groups to fight Ontario's tribunal plan in cities across Europe next month,” Globe and Mail, 30 August 2005.
A campaign against Ontario allowing sharia tribunals to resolve family disputes has spread to Europe, where protests are planned for Sept. 8 in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf and Stockholm.
As many as 89 international groups have spoken out against an Ontario law allowing faith-based arbitration, saying it will create a precedent for religious fundamentalists working to suppress women's rights, and give fodder to political Islamists in Europe who are also lobbying for sharia law to be used to settle family matters.
"A lot of French people cannot believe it, because for us Canada is a country with very good rights for women. It is unbelievable," said Michèle Vianès, president of Regards de femmes, a non-governmental organization in France. "Under sharia, women do not have the same rights as men. Sharia is a bad idea. How is it possible that Canada would back it?"
Ms. Vianès will demonstrate outside the Canadian Embassy in Paris next Tuesday, alongside a number of high-profile French activists and politicians, including two former government ministers, the vice-president of the municipality of Lyon-Grand, dozens of writers, and representatives of human rights and women's groups.
Similar protests will take place outside the Canadian High Commission in London (in an event organized by the British Humanist Association, a human rights group whose international branch has consultative status with the United Nations), in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Düsseldorf, as well as in Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Ottawa, Montreal and Waterloo, Ont., said Homa Arjomand, co-ordinator for the International Campaign Against Sharia in Ontario.
The issue of sharia-based tribunals in Ontario is causing alarm in Europe, where Muslim feminists fighting for greater equality clash with conservative Muslim groups lobbying for faith-based family law.
"It is a battle to control the discourse of the religion. In Canada, political Islamists are using the tool of multiculturalism and freedom of culture and religion to oppress women. The introduction of sharia courts in Ontario would send the wrong message to the world," said Ms. Arjomand, who fled Iran in 1989 and settled in Toronto.
Rights and Democracy, a Montreal-based non-governmental organization, has also lobbied against faith-based tribunals, and won backing from 80 national organizations including the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Canadian Council for Muslim Women and the YWCA. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Women Living under Muslim Laws and dozens of other international groups have joined the global campaign.
Ontario's Arbitration Act from 1991 provides for voluntary faith-based arbitration to resolve civil and family-law disputes. This allows Muslims, Jews and other religious groups to use the principles of their faith to settle matters such as divorce, inheritance and custody outside the court system.
In 2003, Syed Mumtaz Ali, a retired Muslim lawyer, established the Islamic Institute for Civil Justice, with an aim to train imams and religious scholars to resolve civil dispute in the community, a process already under way informally.
His announcement prompted the Ontario government to appoint former NDP attorney general Marion Boyd to review the Arbitration Act. She concluded there was no evidence women were being discriminated against in faith-based arbitration and recommended the existing arbitration system be strengthened. The Ontario government has not yet responded to the report; a spokesman for the Attorney-General did not comment on the growing international outcry.
Sharia, a body of law based on religious principles, is interpreted differently even among Muslim nations. However, critics say it is inherently discriminatory toward women. Male heirs receive a greater share of an inheritance than female heirs; husbands, not wives, may initiate divorce proceedings; and in divorce cases, fathers are generally awarded custody of daughters who have reached the age of puberty.
While in theory, faith-based arbitration must comply with Canadian civil law and decisions may be appealed, in reality, many Muslim women are isolated, with no idea what their rights are under Canadian law, Ms. Arjomand said.
"These international demonstrations reflect the concern that Ontario's approval of faith-based arbitration of family law will have serious consequences for women's rights beyond Canada, and that's a responsibility we urge the Ontario government to consider," said Gisèle Eva Côté, of Rights and Democracy.
Ingrid Peretz, “Ebadi Decries Islamic Law for Canada,” Globe and Mail, 14 June 2005.
Montreal - Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, a leading human-rights crusader in her native Iran, took a firm stand against the introduction of Islamic tribunals in Canada yesterday, warning they open the door to potential rights abuses.
"I'm against having several courts and separate laws," said Ms. Ebadi, who was in Montreal to receive an honorary degree from Concordia University.
"One country, one legal code, one court - for everybody."
Ms. Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, said she opposes the idea because Muslim law is vulnerable to interpretation. As one extreme example, some Muslim countries allow polygamy and others do not.
"Which interpretation would apply here?" she said in an interview, speaking through an interpreter.
"Because there are many interpretations of the same Islamic teachings and laws, it's not clear what interpretation will be used. Often, a lot of the interpretations are anti-democratic and against human rights. That is my main concern."
The advent of traditional Islamic law, or sharia, to settle family disputes has set off an impassioned debate in Canada ever since a Muslim group proposed setting up an arbitration panel in Ontario. An Ontario report has recommended an Islamic arbitration system. But Quebec's National Assembly this month voted unanimously to oppose Islamic tribunals, saying they undermined democratic values. Ms. Ebadi said her comments can be interpreted as support for Quebec's position.
Ms. Ebadi, who won the Nobel Prize in 2003, has taken up the cause of women and children in Iran. and her vocal defence of human rights has led to frequent clashes with Iran's theocratic leaders. A long-time lawyer and former judge, she heads a group in Iran that offers legal support to prisoners of conscience including journalists, political dissidents and student activists.
She has also strongly protested against the decision by Iran's Guardian Council to bar women from running in this Friday's presidential election. Ms. Ebadi is boycotting the vote.
Ms. Ebadi's visit to Montreal also marked an occasion to visit her daughter, 25-year-old Negar, who studies electrical engineering at McGill University. The Nobel laureate said she prefers Canada to the United States, where a harsher climate since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks has made life more difficult for Muslims.
"I find the political system and environment much better in Canada than the United States," she said. "Multiculturalism is respected in Canada."
In her commencement address, she said that the 9/11 terrorist attacks have made it "almost impossible" for foreign students to study there. "We must separate people's mistakes and sins from their religion and national origin," she said.
In the interview, Ms. Ebadi also urged Canada to keep pressure on Iran in resolving the death of Iranian-born Canadian Zahra Kazemi, the Montreal-based photojournalist who died in custody in Iran after being arrested in 2003.
"It appears the courts are basically trying to waste time in hopes this story will fade away and the public will forget about it," said Ms. Ebadi, who represents the Kazemi family in Iran.
Anne Pélouas, “ Proposed Islamic Arbitration Tribunals Trigger Intense Debate in Canada,” Le Monde, 5 May 2005.
"If you put one finger in that wringer, your whole body will follow." Fatima Houda-Pépin, Muslim Québec Deputy, her voice strong, like those of the other women who are trying now to prevent Canada from becoming the first Western democracy to allow Islamic courts - even if only arbitration courts - to settle family differences by sharia.
The argument has been simmering since 2002, the year when the project was put on the table in Ontario - the province where over a third of Canada's 600,000 Muslims live - by Syed Mumtaz Ali. The president of the Canadian Muslims' Society demanded that the government revise a 1991 law allowing numerous civil and commercial differences to be settled by arbitration. The objective was to go still further by establishing a structured network of Islamic arbitration courts.
In response, the provincial government ordered a report from Procurer General Marion Boyd. In December 2004, she said yes to religious arbitration to settle family differences (guardianship of children, disposition of assets in cases of separation ...) in the name of defending minority rights as well as from a desire to unclog the civil courts.
It's that report that put fire to the powder. Conservative Muslims applauded with both hands, but the report rather embarrasses the Ontario government. It has neither reacted to Mrs. Boyd's recommendations nor indicated when it will make a decision. Recently a justice department spokesperson, Brendan Crawley, simply indicated that revision of the 1991 law was "a government priority."
The opposition side is already in battle formation. A petition launched on the Internet site nosharia.com by a Toronto woman of Iranian extraction, Homa Arjomand, has already received 10,000 signatures. Just recently, Ziba Mir-Hosseini, from the London-based network Women under Muslim Laws, came to support the associations that militate against the proposal. The subject is the order of the day for an international meeting scheduled for May 12-14 in Montréal on "Fundamentalism and Human Rights," then a big public meeting against the creation of Islamic tribunals in Ottawa on May 17. The international campaign will intensify this summer with demonstrations in front of Canadian embassies.
Equality of Law
The Muslim community itself is divided on the subject. Imams from the Canadian Muslims' Society are pro, demanding equality of rights with other religions. "The Jews already have these courts, why not us?" asks Mr. Mumtaz Ali. In fact, the Orthodox do practice arbitration by virtue of the 1991 Ontario law, but mostly to settle commercial disputes. For their part, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women rejects "two speed justice," one for Muslims (which would hurt women) and one for the rest of Canadians.
Homa Arjomand reminds us in this respect that "according to sharia, women are under trusteeship," that "many arrive destitute, dependent on their husbands, without knowledge of their rights. They live in a ghetto and Islamic courts will isolate them even more."
Jean-Louis Roy, President of Rights and Democracy, also believes that this "viscious" project will affect "the most vulnerable," in short, Muslim women immigrants. He adds: "Everywhere in the world people are fighting to abolish references to religion and here we want to back up on such a principle? There can be no question of having Islamic courts in Canada, of finishing with the concept of equality before the law, of privatizing family law to the benefit of religious authorities, which runs counter to Canada's international obligations with regard to human rights and discrimination against women."
Some also fear that the Ontario "legal diversion" will take hold in other provinces. In Québec, the minister for international relations, Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, was categorical: "Those who want to change our values can go elsewhere." Julius Grey, a lawyer opposed to religious courts, is more nuanced: "There's an enormous difference between allowing reasonable accommodation - permitting the wearing of turban, kirpan, or veil, for example - and creating separate courts."
Laura Trevelyan, ”Will Canada introduce Sharia law?” BBC News, 26 August 2004.
Canada is a country well-known for being committed to multiculturalism, but now this most accepting of countries is debating whether tolerance has its limits.
The basketball hoops, the sprinklers, and the two-car garages made the Toronto street look like just another unremarkable North American suburb.
Except on this street I met Mr Mumtaz Ali, the first Muslim to qualify here as a lawyer, and now the man behind the proposal to introduce Sharia law to Canada.
Over a snack of fried chicken and Indian chutney, he told me about the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice.
A Muslim has the right to live as his religion wishes him to, Mr Ali explained, and under Sharia he can finally live like a true believer in his faith.
What is more, Mr Ali pointed out, in Ontario Orthodox Jews are able to settle their civil disputes in religious courts, so why not Muslims?
Why not indeed.
It is a question which the Ontario Government is currently wrestling with.
Mr Ali puts the controversy over his plans down to what he calls post-9/11 Islamophobia.
It is probably true that Canada's neighbour, the United States, would not entertain Mr Ali's vision.
But Canada is different, and it is not just the legacy of 9/11 which is muddying the waters for Mr Ali. It is what Sharia represents to many Muslim women who have fled to Canada escaping repressive regimes.
Leading the charge against Sharia law here is a group of mainly Iranian women who fled from the theocracy of Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter of a century ago.
In a peaceful Toronto park, as the rain began to fall, several of these women told me why they are so viscerally opposed to the idea of Muslim religious law being used in Canada.
"I came here to escape Sharia," one woman told me. "Under it, a woman is worth half a man. He can divorce her and she has no rights."
Another woman who was tortured in Iran told me the very word Sharia made her shiver. To her it is synonymous with a brutal form of authoritarianism, which discriminates against women.
These Iranian exiles are creating a considerable PR problem for Mr Ali and his supporters.
But there are women who speak out in support of Sharia too.
In Mr Ali's front room, he introduced me to eloquent and educated Muslim women who accept that Sharia has a bad name because of how it has been interpreted.
"This is a chance for us to develop a progressive and tolerant form of Sharia, one that is consistent with 21st Century notions of gender equality," so a female PHD student told me.
"But how do you get round the fact that women do not have the same rights as men?" I asked.
"Well, they could," said the PHD student. "I think women should be able to get as much as men out of a divorce."
Mr Ali wants the Sharia courts to be used to negotiate pre-nuptial agreements, putting women in the driving seat.
"But inheritance law is unfair," I said, "women always get less than men."
"That is because women's outgoings are less than men's as the man must always support every woman in his family, so it is fair he gets more," I was told by a chorus of female voices.
Across town from Mr Ali and his front room supporters, I sat in on a class at the University of Toronto.
The class lecturer helped set up the first Toronto mosque where women and men pray together.
"I am cautiously optimistic," the academic told me. "This will force Canadian Muslims to define who they are. It could even be a Canadian contribution to an Islamic reformation."
In a dreary looking office block in downtown Toronto, I found the woman who will decide in September what fate awaits Mr Ali and his Sharia courts.
Marion Boyd, a lawyer and former feminist activist, has been asked by the Ontario Government to review the arbitration act which allows religious groups to settle civil disputes using their own courts.
She hinted strongly to me that the government could not allow Jewish courts and forbid Muslim ones; that would be discrimination. But Ms Boyd stressed that decisions reached by Muslim courts would have to be consistent with Canada's charter of rights and freedoms.
I left Marion Boyd trying to reconcile respect for the rights of minorities with Canadian Law, and went to see a Toronto rabbi who heads a Beth Din court.
Muslims and Jews may not always be natural allies, but on this they are united. All religious people have the right to settle difficulties according to their religion, the rabbi told me, as he sat in front of a large poster of Jerusalem.
The problem the Ontario Government has is it cannot say: Jews, we like your law, it is good; and Muslims, we do not like yours, it is unfair to women.
They must find a way round that.
And this being Canada, they will find a way round it.
Since its creation, Canada has accommodated the rights of different minorities. This is just the latest challenge to a nation built on tolerance.
”Canadian Province Allows Islamic Law to Solve Civil Disputes,” Feminist Daily News Wire, 25 May 2004.
The Canadian province of Ontario has approved the use of Islamic law, otherwise known as sharia law, to resolve civil legal disputes, angering Muslim women's rights activists. According to the Toronto Star, Ontario’s Arbitration Act of 1991 has previously allowed religious groups such as the Hassidic Jews and Catholics to resolve civil disputes.
Ontario’s Attorney General’s office has stated that there are “safeguards built into the act” and the “participation must be voluntary by both parties,” reports the Toronto Star. However, several prominent Canadian women’s rights activists, such as Homa Hoodfar, are worried that female immigrants could be forced into participating in the Islamic tribunals where women are not equal under the law. According to Hoodfar, the use of Islamic law to solve family disputes “won’t affect [her] life or educated women who know their rights…It will affect the rights of women who are new and need protection,” reports the Washington Post
Amnesty International, "Women’s Status in Egypt," Divorced from Justice: Women’s Unequal Access to Divorce in Egypt. Dec. 2004.The State shall guarantee coordination between a woman’s duties toward her family and her work in the society, considering her equal to man in the political, social, cultural and economic spheres without detriment to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence (Shari’a).
—Article 11, Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Despite some improvements in their status over the past few decades, women remain worse off than men in Egypt by just about any measure. In 2000, the last year for which statistics are available, an estimated 56 percent of adult Egyptian women were illiterate as compared to 33 percent of adult men. Women’s health and lives continue to be jeopardized in Egypt by harmful customary practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), which is practiced on an estimated 97 percent of ever-married women in Egypt. Women constitute only 21 percent of the labor force. On average, women are paid only 76 percent of men’s wages in the private sector and 86 percent in the public sector. An estimated 19 percent of women are unemployed compared to 5 percent of men. The share of women members in the Egyptian parliament does not exceed 3 percent in the lower house and 6 percent in the upper house. Rural women in Egypt are even worse off than their urban counterparts. In rural areas, although 20 percent of agricultural workers are women, they own only 6 percent of the land. They are also often prevented from exerting meaningful control over the little land they own since they are routinely coerced into surrendering control of land to their husbands or male relatives.
Women’s second-class status translates into a lack of decision-making power in the family, even on the most intimate aspects of their lives. Many Egyptian women are forced into marriages by a male relative (usually their fathers), often before adulthood. As many as 20 percent of Egyptian women aged twenty to twenty-four were married by the age of eighteen. Among adolescents, as many as 9 percent of those aged fifteen to nineteen and as many as 20 percent of those age nineteen had already given birth to at least one child. Early marriage and childbearing does not only jeopardize a girl’s education, but can also puts her life at risk; early marriages increase the risk of maternal and infant mortality and make girls more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Forced marriage, a slavery-like practice, violates a number of international human rights norms, including the right to freely enter into marriage, the right to personal liberty and security, and the right to bodily integrity. Forced and early marriages are particularly acute in rural areas.
A number of Egypt’s laws and certain provisions in its constitution maintain and perpetuate women’s unequal status. Article 40 of the constitution states: “all citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination due to sex, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed.” Yet, article 11 of the constitution places certain limitations on women’s enjoyment of their rights. While article 11 explicitly refers to women’s equality in the “political, social, cultural, and economic spheres,” it leaves room for the denial of these rights if they are interpreted to be at odds with Islamic jurisprudence.
Although women have nominal equality under article 40 of Egypt’s constitution, gender inequality persists in Egyptian society and numerous laws directly violate these constitutional guarantees. Under article 4 of ministerial decree No. 864 (1974), an Egyptian woman may not be issued a passport without the prior written consent of her husband or his legal representative. The law also allows the husband to reverse this consent at any time. Under this decree, a husband can prevent his wife from traveling, even if he had given his consent to her obtaining a passport or making previous trips. Although there was a proposal to change this law in 2000, the Egyptian government decided to drop this provision from the draft law just before passage, reportedly as a concession to religious conservatives, despite the fact that Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Shaikh of al-Azhar University, had supported the new law even with this provision. Despite a 2003 reform to the citizenship law, Egyptian women still have an unequal right to pass on their nationality to their children if they marry foreigners.
Provisions of the penal code also discriminate against women. Egyptian law imposes harsher penalties for women committing adultery. A wife is penalized for two years, whereas a husband is penalized for no more than six months. For adultery, the evidentiary standards are different for women and men. While a wife is penalized for committing adultery anywhere, a husband must do so in the marital home in order for such an act to be considered adulterous. The murder of a wife (but not a husband) in the act of committing adultery is categorized as an extenuating circumstance, thereby commuting the crime of murder to the level of a misdemeanor.
Neil McFarquhar, "In Najaf, Justice can be Blind but Not Female," New York Times, 31 July 2003.
NAJAF, Iraq, July 30 — The United States Marine colonel supervising the reconstruction of this Shiite holy city's government indefinitely postponed the swearing in of its first-ever female judge today after her appointment provoked a wave of resentment, including fatwas from senior Islamic clerics and heated protests by the city's lawyers. The sudden firestorm was emblematic of the tension between the American desire to leave an imprint on the levers of government in Iraq versus a conservative religious establishment determined to fight what its sees as a military invasion dragging Western cultural norms in behind the tanks.
Some of the Iraqis protesting the appointment were women, leaving the Americans even more surprised and confounded.
"There is a woman on the Governing Council and nobody batted an eye," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Conlin, the senior commanding officer here. "Sometimes you just don't know until you hit a point of sensitivity."
The swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for today for Nidal Nasser Hussein, a 45-year-old lawyer with a history of breaking precedent in Najaf. She was the first female lawyer to begin working here when she started 16 years ago. There are now 50.
A huge white cake decorated with multicolored flowers surrounded by dozens of cans of chilled Pepsi sat at one end of the chief judge's somewhat battered chambers when Colonel Conlin arrived for the ceremony.
Outside, a group of about 30 male and female lawyers were chanting in English: "No No Women" and "Out Out Roe," referring to Specialist Rachel Roe, a Wisconsin lawyer serving as the adviser to the court system in Najaf. A lone Marine gunnery sergeant prevented them from storming the chambers.
"We refuse the appointment of a woman judge, because it contradicts Islamic law," said Rajiha al-Amidi, one of the women in the group protesting the appointment. "This is what the Americans wanted to achieve in the first place with their invasion, to undermine Islam."
A woman cannot be a judge, she explained, because "women are always ruled by their emotions."
Colonel Conlin huddled with the Najaf's chief justice, who showed him at least three fatwas — religious fiats by senior clergy. One was dated June 5, well before the current controversy, but it carried extra weight because it was issued by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq.
A follower had asked the grand ayatollah two written questions — whether perfume was permissible to wear, given its alcohol content, and whether women could be judges. Although Islam forbids drinking alcohol, wearing perfume is fine, the grand ayatollah ruled, and as for judges, they had to be mature, sane and masculine.
Another fatwa was issued by Sheik Moktada al-Sadr, whose decisions carry virtually no theocratic weight because he is a 30-year-old seminary student. But he commands a mass popular following because of love for his late father, an ayatollah who opposed Saddam Hussein and was assassinated.
The young sheik wrote that filing a case before the female judge was forbidden.
"This will cause big, big problems in all governorates, in all cities," said Iltifad Abdul Sadeh, one of the female lawyers opposed to the idea. "It will lead to confrontations."
She then got into a brief spat with Ms. Hussein about the basis on which Islam bars women from being judges. It is not in the Koran, religious officials say, but it is mentioned among the sayings of Muhammad, which some consider open to interpretation.
"I have an angry crowd, and there are indications that some of the senior clerics have some serious issues," Colonel Conlin told Ms. Hussein. "It is my goal to make you a judge, but I need to do better research."
The colonel said he viewed the appointment of a judge a civil matter, something that would have been taken care of by a simple election back home in Falls Church, Va., so he had not even considered consulting the religious authorities.
Ms. Hussein, a smiling woman wearing a head scarf — liberal clothing in a town where women drape themselves in black head-to-toe abayas — tried to argue.
"There were demonstrations against the first elementary schools for women, too, but everything needs a beginning," she said to the colonel. "Don't just talk to the people who are shouting, talk to sensible people."
The chief judge's chambers were crowded with other judges, and a few supported the idea of a woman on the bench. They said nothing in Iraq's legal code barred women from serving as judges and the religious establishment would just have to learn to live with it.
But while one judge was making such remarks, others in the room were shouting him down. "Not even Saddam Hussein appointed women judges!" cried one opponent.
Indeed, under the previous government all judicial appointments were made by the president himself. At the secular height of Baath Party rule, around 1979, a half-dozen female lawyers graduated from the Judicial Institute and were appointed to the bench, the Najaf judges said. But Mr. Hussein then banned women from the institute.
The institute has yet to reopen since Mr. Hussein's overthrow. In that time, one woman prosecutor has been appointed in a provincial capital without protest and one woman to the new Federal Criminal Court in Baghdad, Ms. Roe said.
The idea of appointing a woman to the bench in Najaf evolved during a discussion about how to fill 12 empty positions previously filled by Baath appointees.
When Ms. Hussein put her name forward, Ms. Roe embraced the idea. Ms. Hussein was expected to be a family court judge, with two male colleagues who could be assigned the cases in which anyone objected to a female judge.
Ms. Roe expressed disappointment at the outcome, although conceding that she had to accept what the town wanted.
"I don't think that government institutions should be controlled by religious organizations," she said. "I was under the impression that Iraq was going to have a secular government. I might have been wrong."
"Italian Supreme Court: Sex Abuse of Non-Virgins a Less Severe Crime," Feminist Daily News Wire, 24 February 2006.
In a decision condemned by women's groups, Italian MPs, and UNICEF, Italy's Supreme Court ruled last week that sexual abuse is less serious if the victim is not a virgin. The court ruled in favor of a middle-aged man who forced his 14-year-old stepdaughter to have oral sex with him, a crime for which he was sentenced to three years and four months in jail. The man appealed the decision, arguing that he should have a lighter sentence because the girl had had prior sexual experience, according to Reuters. The court agreed, reports the Italian news agency ANSA, ruling that the psychological damage of sexual abuse was less serious for the girl because her previous sexual activity made her "personality…much more developed than one would normally expect in a girl her age."
The decision shocked the country. "I feel like I'd been kicked in the stomach, as if we'd gone back 50 years," said Maria Gabriella Carnieri, the head of the 'Telefono Rosa,' a helpline for sexually abused women, reports ANSA. Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, called it a "shameful, devastating ruling," and said that "the real problem is that there are no women on the supreme court," Reuters reports.
The Italian court has issued several other controversial decisions in recent history, according to ANSA. In one case, the court ruled that a woman was not raped because she was wearing jeans that were too tight to have been removed without her help. In another ruling, judges said a "sudden and isolated" pat on a woman employee's behind in the workplace was legally permissible.
Malaysian state passes Islamic law, BBC News, 8 July 2002.
A state government in Malaysia has approved a bill to bring in Islamic criminal laws, including death by stoning for adultery and cutting off hands and feet for theft.
The bill on hudud law - the Islamic penal code - was proposed by the government of Terengganu, a rural state in the north-east run by Islamic party PAS.
The bill was easily passed as PAS (Parti Islam se-Malaysia) has 28 members in the assembly, with only four from the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) which dominates nationally.
But PAS has little chance of imposing the proposed law as the federal government controlled by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's coalition has vowed to block it.
The state government in Kelantan, the other Malaysian state controlled by PAS, passed similar laws in 1993 but they have never been enforced because of federal government opposition.
As the controversial bill was passed on Monday, the Umno legislators left the chamber in protest.
Under the code, a robber who kills his victim can be sentenced to death and crucified. A thief's right hand is amputated for his first offence, and his left foot for the second.
A Muslim who renounces Islam is punished by death.
Women's groups have been particularly angered as the bill states that four male Muslim witnesses are needed to prove a rape.
If they cannot back up their claims they can be charged with slander, which is punished by whipping.
Sodomy and adultery is punishable by death by stoning, while Muslims who consume alcohol can be whipped up to 80 times.
Analysts say PAS - the main opposition party in Malaysia - is using the Islamic law as a way to try to win the support of the country's Muslims ahead of general elections due in 2004.
But Terengganu's Chief Minister Abdul Hadi Awang has defended the bill.
"Although our penalties are harsh and terrifying, we must realise that these offences and sins... are truly evil and despicable," he told the assembly on Sunday.
Mr Abdul Hadi, a hardliner, has been the party's acting president since the death last month of more moderate leader Fadzil Noor.
Muslims make up just over half of Malaysia's 23 million people, but they are in the majority in Terengganu.
”Gender Activists Celebrate Property Law Reform,” Aviva, 16 Dec. 2005.
Human rights activists in Nepal are celebrating the latest Supreme Court ruling on women's rights. The court asked the government to scrap a "discriminatory" rule that women must ask permission of family members before selling inherited property. In addition to the ruling on selling or transferring property, the court issued directions to the government to review the provision in which a daughter is required to return her inherited property to her paternal home after getting married. Lawyer and human rights activist, Sapana Pradhan Malla, said these were landmark judgments. She said the rulings would go a long way towards ending discrimination against women in Nepalese society. In November, the court ruled that women under 35 years of age would not need the permission of their parents or husbands to apply for a passport. In September, it ordered an end to discrimination during the menstrual cycle, there is a tradition in parts of Nepal of keeping women in cow-sheds during their period. Also, in a separate ruling, the court asked the government not to recruit underage boys into the security forces. It said the recruitment contravened the country's constitution and international children's rights treaties that Nepal had signed. Source: BBC News, 16.12.05.
Nigeria: Islamic Province Segregates Public Transportation by Sex,” Feminist Daily News Wire, 25 Aug. 2005
The state of Kano, in northern Nigeria, has banned women from most motorcycle taxis and has instituted segregated seating on public buses. The ban is seen as a step in instituting sharia (Islamic) law in the province, as conservatives objected to close proximity to men necessary when women rode motorcycles or buses. IRIN News reports that a religious police force of 9,000 will enforce the ban, with drivers who violate it facing fines and possible suspension of their licenses. Kano is the first state to institute such a ban in the name of Islam, and Christians in the region are uneasy about how strictly the law will be applied to their behavior.
Many women are upset about the difficulty they will now face in going about their business in the city. “We don’t want this. Goodness, I’ll be frustrated” said Miriam Muhammed, 24, in the Washington Post. Another young woman expressed her resistance to Online Nigeria Daily News, saying “I love to go about on motorcycles but now the government is saying they will stop women… let me see who will prevent me from doing that.”
”Group Criticizes Islamic Law in Nigeria Citing Discriminatory Practices,” Feminist Daily News Wire, 28 September 2004.
Sharia (Islamic) courts in northern Nigeria impose discriminatory and harsh sentences and have failed to respect due process rights, according to a report just released by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The report documents that at least ten people have been sentenced to death and dozens sentenced to amputation and floggings since Sharia (Islamic) law was reintroduced in Nigeria in January 2000.
According to HRW spokeswoman Carina Tertsakian, “women have been and still are discriminated against both in legislation, but also in practice.” Ms. Tertsakian said that this is especially apparent “in cases of adultery or extramarital sex where the standards of evidence are different for men and women…if a woman is pregnant that is considered sufficient evidence to convict her of adultery. Whereas for the man, they need to have four independent eyewitnesses to the act, which you can imagine is practically impossible.” In addition, there are no female judges in the Sharia courts and judges have often punished women who claim they are victims of rape.
The report cites restrictions that have been placed on women’s daily lives reminiscent of Taliban restrictions on Afghan women including their freedoms of movement, dress, and right to associate with others. According to HRW, some state governments have introduced measures not codified in law to limit women’s freedom of movement and association. For example, in some states measures were implemented preventing men and women from being seen together in public. The hisbah, a group given responsibilityp to make sure Sharia law has been enforced, were found to pull women out of taxis if the driver is male. There were even cases of drivers being flogged for carrying female passengers. By 2003, HRW reports that these measures have been enforced less stringently, however, there are still cases of taxi drivers refusing to carry females in the Zamfara State.
In most states it is the hisbah that are making sure that the women are dressing “appropriately.” However, in the Zamfara State, it is the state government itself that passed a law in 2001 prohibiting “indecent dressing in public” and “the association in public of two or more persons of opposite sexes.” The law states that “every female of Islamic faith, shall put on dress to cover her entire body except for her feet, hand, and face in the public.”
Sharia law has been introduced in twelve states in northern Nigeria. Last year a woman, Amina Lawal, was sentenced to death by stoning for having sex out of wedlock. Following an outcry from women around the world her case was then overturned in September 2003.
"Pakistan," DOS Report 2005.
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; however, in practice this provision was not enforced. Women faced discrimination in family law, property law, and in the judicial system (see section 2.c.). The Hudood Ordinances create judicial discrimination against women. Women's testimony in cases involving proposed Koranic punishment was considered invalid or discounted significantly. In other cases involving property matters or questions of future obligations, a woman's testimony is equal to half that of a man's testimony.
“Saudi Rape Victim “Crushed” by Ordeal,” CNN.com/World, 21 Nov. 2007, downloaded from http://edition.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/11/21/saudi.rape.victim/index.html.)
(CNN) -- The husband of a Saudi rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison said his wife is "a crushed human being," and blamed one judge with a personal vendetta -- and not the Saudi judicial system -- for treating her as a criminal.
But he said Saudi society was respectful of women and he had faith that his wife would get justice.
In March 2006, the woman, then 18 and engaged to be married, and an unrelated man were abducted from a mall in Qatif, Saudi Arabia and raped by a group of seven men.
In October, the men were convicted and sentenced to between two and nine years in prison for the assault. She was convicted of violating the kingdom's strict Islamic law by not having a male guardian with her at the mall.
"From the outset, my wife was dealt with as a guilty person who committed a crime," said her 24-year-old husband. "She was not given any chance to prove her innocence or describe how she was a victim of multiple brutal rapes."
The husband, who asked not to be named, spoke to CNN Senior Arab Affairs Editor Octavia Nasr. He spoke in Arabic and Nasr translated his words into English for this story.
His wife, who he said is "a quiet, simple person who does not bother anyone," is in ill health and too fragile to speak about the case, he said. As her guardian under Saudi law, he is standing up for her publicly.
The attack, trial and sentencing have taken a heavy toll on his wife's health, which was already poor, he said.
She suffers from anemia, a blood disorder , and asthma, he said. She will have surgery next month to remove her gallbladder.
"Since the attack, she's been suffering from severe depression."
The events ended her pursuit of an education beyond high school, he said.
"Her situation keeps changing from bad to worse," he said. "You could say she's a crushed human being."
"The court proceedings were like a spectacle at times," he said. "The criminals were allowed in the same room as my wife. They were allowed to make all kinds of offensive gestures and give her dirty and threatening looks."
Of the three judges at the trial, one of them "was mean and from the beginning dealt with my wife as a guilty person who had done something wrong," he said.
"Even when he pronounced the sentence he said to her, 'You were involved in a suspicious relationship and you deserve 200 lashes for that'," he said.
Her lawyer, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, was dismissed by the judge after the two clashed in court, he said.
"The judge took things personally and was reacting to our lawyer, who's a known human rights activist," he said. "The judge undermined the lawyer, decreased his role and then dismissed him from the case altogether. The judge simply couldn't work with our lawyer."
The woman was originally sentenced in October 2006 to 90 lashes, but when she appealed that sentence, the court more than doubled it. The husband said it was a judge pursuing "a personal vendetta."
"We were shocked when the judgment changed and her sentence was doubled," the husband said. "We were looking for pardon; instead she got double the whipping and more jail time."
A court source told Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern daily newspaper, that the woman's sentence was increased after the woman spoke to the media about the case. But a Justice Ministry statement said the permanent committee of the Supreme Judicial Council recommended an increased sentence for the woman after further evidence came to light against her when she appealed her original sentence.
"If this sentence is based on the law then I would've welcomed it," he said. "But it is harsh and the Saudi society I know and belong to is more sympathetic than that. I do not expect such harshness from Saudis, but rather compassion and support of the victim and her rights."
Saudi society, he said, is "is very respectful to women in general."
"If a woman raises her voice to a man in public, it would be very unusual for the man to respond or argue," he said. "When a woman enters a bank for instance and there is no women's section, all the men make way for the woman to go ahead of them and get her business first. I would think that putting seven men in jail for rape shouldn't be difficult."
Despite the treatment given his wife by the Saudi judicial system, he believes his society respects human rights and he is optimistic about the future.
"Through this case, as a citizen and stemming from my sense of security and patriotism, I believe in the future... And I have faith and trust in the system," he said.
The case, which has sparked media scrutiny of the Saudi legal system, has drawn a strong reaction from Washington where State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials had "expressed astonishment" at the sentence, though not directly to Saudi officials.
Human Rights Watch said it has called on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah "to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer."
The man and woman were attacked after they met in Qatif on the kingdom's Persian Gulf coast, so she could retrieve an old photograph of herself from him, according to al-Lahim. Citing phone records from the police investigation, al-Lahim said the man was trying to blackmail his client. He noted the photo she was trying to retrieve was harmless and did not show his client in any compromising position.
Al-Lahim said the man tried to blame his client for insisting on meeting him that day. It is illegal for a woman to meet with an unrelated male under Saudi's Islamic law.
Al-Lahim has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month, where he faces a possible three-year suspension and disbarment, according to Human Rights Watch.
He told CNN he has appealed to the Ministry of Justice to reinstate his law license and plans to meet with Justice Minister Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Ibrahim Al Al-Sheikh.
"Currently she doesn't have a lawyer, and I feel they're doing this to isolate her and deprive her from her basic rights," he said. "We will not accept this judgment and I'll do my best to continue representing her because justice needs to take place."
He said the handling of the case is a direct contradiction of judicial reforms announced by the Saudi king earlier this month.
"The Ministry of Justice needs to have a very clear standing regarding this case because I consider this decision to be judiciary mutiny against the reform that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz started and against Saudi women who are being victimized because of such decisions," he said.
Under law in Saudi Arabia, women are subject to numerous restrictions, including a strict dress code, a prohibition on driving and a requirement that they get a man's permission to travel or have surgery. Women are also not allowed to testify in court unless it is about a private matter that was not observed by a man, and they are not allowed to vote.
The Saudi government recently has taken some steps toward bettering the situation of women in the kingdom, including the establishment earlier this year of special courts to handle domestic abuse cases, adoption of a new labor law that addresses working women's rights and creation of a human rights commission.
The Global Persecution of Women