On International Women’s Day 2011, WLUML would like to share a few of the many successes and struggles of our networkers across the world: from Malaysia, Sudan, Pakistan and Egypt
Malaysia – Sisters in Islam
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, Women Deliver announced the “Women Deliver 100,” its list of the hundred most inspiring people who have delivered for girls and women. Zainah Anwar, Founding Member of Sisters in Islam (SIS), Director of Musawah, said of her inclusion in the list: “It is an honour for Sisters in Islam’s work to be recognised at the global level. Our work breaks the myth that Muslim women are oppressed and victimised, and further breaks the myth that Islam is inherently a religion that discriminates against women,” According to the New Straits Times, Zainah described her biggest achievement was in empowering Muslim women to claim their right to be treated as human beings of equal worth and dignity. She added Musawah, which was initiated by Sisters in Islam two years ago and led by an international committee of scholars and activists from Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Gambia, Nigeria, Iran, the United States and the United Kingdom, had become a source of hope for change in the Muslim world.
In March last year, the Malaysian Assembly of Mosque Youths (MAMY) filed a lawsuit against SIS, questioning the use of the word “Islam” in the website and publications of SIS. It claimed that “Islam” is a word controlled and limited by the Registrar of Companies and can only be used after obtaining permission from the Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) and related government agencies which deal with Islamic affairs. This month, Sisters in Islam (SIS) welcomed the withdrawal of the appeal by MAMY against the High Court decision to strike off MAMY’s application for the court order.
On the occasion of IWD, Sisters in Islam has called on the Federal and state governments to make good on their promises to revise the discriminatory amendments to the Islamic Family Law (the IFL) statutes passed from 2003-2005. In response to the critical situation faced by women, SIS has drafted a model Muslim Family Law drawing on best practices from Muslim countries, a national consultation on the IFL, and the lived realities of Malaysian women.
Sudan – Salmmah Women’s Resources Centre
In celebration of International Women’s Day, Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), Salmmah Women’s Resources Centre and other participating Civil Society Organizations is putting on the event in Khartoum: Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.
In Sudan, legal discrimination on the basis of sex still exists in law. Under the Criminal Act of 1991 (the current applicable law), Zina comprises both the offences of adultery and sodomy and is defined as a crime against the state and public morality. Any person can accuse any other person of Zina and institute a case. The burden of proving the offence of rape lies on the victim. In collaboration with Refugees International, and with the assistance of WLUML, in 2008, Salmmah Women’s Resources Centre started to coordinate with the Sudanese groups in order to assist them in taking practical steps to implement recommendations relating to the Sudanese rape laws made in the Refugees International ‘Laws Without Justice’ report. The Salmmah center is the contact point with the WLUML network in Sudan and it was able to build a strong national coalition for the launch of the large advocacy campaign aimed at reforming laws on sexual violence offences, with a special focus on rape and its consequences. The campaign on rape law reform project in Sudan has achieved tangible success so far: it has created a network of women’s rights activists who have been able to launch and manage the campaign by utilizing the strategies used by women’s movements in other Muslim-majority countries around the world. The campaign has created strong links between these Sudanese women’s organizations and feminist movements at the international level. Salmmah will shortly publish a book on the campaign for reform of Sudanese rape laws.
Pakistan – Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre
Shirkat Gah (SG) organized an inter-university film festival on Thursday, 3rd of March 2011, as part of its campaign titled ‘Violence is not our Culture’. This event also marked 100 years of International Women’s Day, and was attended by university students, Civil Society and NGO members and people from all walks of life. The film festival was a joint initiative of Shirkat Gah and WLUML-Women Reclaiming and Redefining Culture (WRRC) program and sought to dispel societal misconceptions regarding violence against women (VAW) and cultural and religious justifications for it.
In November 2010 for blasphemy in Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of five, was sentenced to death, the first conviction of its kind for a woman. Ms Bibi was accused by a group of female Muslim labourers who complained that she had made derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed. The Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, supported Ms Bibi and asked for a presidential pardon for her. He was murdered on 3 January 2011 by his own bodyguard for what is thought to be his public support for Ms Bibi. His murderer was hailed as a hero, not only by religious fundamentalist elements of society but many others including lawyers who garlanded him when he appeared in court. On 2 March, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was brutally murdered when a gunmen riddled his car with bullets. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, saying the minister had been “punished” for being a blasphemer. Witnesses said the attackers scattered leaflets signed by “The Qaeda and the Taliban of Punjab” at the attack scene, which read: “This is the punishment of this cursed man.” Taliban militants had called for Bhatti’s death because of his attempts to amend the blasphemy law. In a recent statement, Women’s Action Forum (WAF) said Bhatti “took a principled stand for justice to those victimized by misapplication and misuse of the law. The slain was one of the few political leaders who continued to resist radical forces and speak up against extremist elements.” Sherry Rehman, a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) parliamentarian, who submitted a bill in December 2010 seeking to repeal or at least review blasphemy laws, with proposed amendments including consideration of the intent of the accused, must now fear for her life.
According to Fauzia Viqar, Director of the Advocacy and Communications Unit at Shirkat Gah, “Individuals and groups have also used laws like the blasphemy law for personal gains and private vendettas. According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the allegations of blasphemy tend to be “premeditated”, levied against others for reasons of personal enmity, economic rivalry or political motivation. However, the citizens of Pakistan have historically not supported militant or conservative Islamic groups in public polls and have condemned unfair legislation like the hudood laws that punish the victims of rape.”
WLUML has joined civil society groups in Pakistan and around the world, calling for the urgent repeal of Blasphemy Laws on the grounds that they excuse violence and repression and lead to impunity.
Egypt – Nazra Association for Feminist Studies
On 24 February, a Coalition of Women’s NGOs in Egypt, including the Nazra Association for Feminist Studies, issued a statement in which it affirmed that it endorses and supports all the demands of the 25th of January revolution, and in which it refused the “illegitimate National Council of Women or its representation of Egyptian women and the feminist efforts in Egypt”. The coalition called for the rapid dissolution of the National Council of Women and the prevention of its leaders from “benefitting from any authority in representing Egyptian women internally or internationally”. Finally, it reiterated the demand for the establishment of a temporary civil presidential council that will be responsible for a temporary committee composed of women’s figures well known for their independence, integrity and efficiency, formed by consensus among women organizations and civil society in order to “represent Egyptian women at the local, Arab and international levels and ensure women’s participation in shaping the political life during the current period”.
Nazra for Feminist Studies is a Women’s Rights focused research organization, composed of young researchers and activists of both sexes. WLUML council member, Doaa Abdelaal is part of the Nazra community, with Fatma Emam. Both WLUML networkers reported the Egyptian revolution from Cairo to WLUML and their words can be found on the website here and here. Doaa explained in a recent interview with CNN that a more open society would lead to less harassment of women in the streets: “In an oppressive society, people oppress each other,” she said. “It’s a justification for everyone to be unjust. Under a more open society these things can be discussed, I think changes will happen.” She added: “I was very happy to see all the generations of women’s rights activists, poor, rich, middle class, all types of women, there every day and every night. We have been doing everything we can to make ourselves visible, writing, talking, sending out information, because we didn’t want it to be called an Islamist revolution. We needed to be seen in blue jeans and T-shirts as well as in veils and scarves.”
On IWD, Fatma, reported from Cairo: “Today I was heading to Tahrir square, again to protest. This time I will protest against the despotism, lack of full citizenship and the weak fake democracy we are witnessing and I add to my list special things because today is the international women day I added patriarchy and misogyny.” And Doaa, also commenting on the women’s march today in Egypt, made a plea to the international media, “Please do not focus only on the sexual harassment issue that happened – focus on how beautiful it is to have women in the streets demanding their rights. This year we were 1000, but next year I know we will be a million. Long way to go but loved every minute of it.”
The struggle continues…
Happy International Women’s Day!
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Coordination Office