FaithWorld

Women brave social barriers to join Afghan police force

(Afghan policewomen search women at a polling station in Herat, western Afghanistan September 18, 2010/Raheb Homavandi)

Married off at 12 years old to an abusive husband more than four times her age, Maryam wanted to join Afghanistan’s police force to help others avoid an all-too-familiar plight in a country where women’s voices often go unheard. A mother of three, Maryam is one of the women who make up less than one percent of Afghanistan’s National Police. They wear knee-length olive green skirts over thick trousers with navy hijabs.

The 22-year-old’s eyes light up when she talks about her job, one widely viewed in deeply conservative Muslim Afghan society as off-limits for women. This sentiment is shared by her father, who has stopped speaking to her and moved out of the family home because she works in an office with men who are not relatives.

“I am serving my country, which needs kind, honourable and honest women who are able to solve specifically women’s problems. We need policewomen as well as men,” Maryam, who only gave her first name, told Reuters. “With this job, you get to feel like a human being in this society. I love it,” she added, enthusiastically gesturing her manicured hands in a small room in the heavily barricaded Interior Ministry in Kabul, which has been repeatedly bombed in recent years by Taliban insurgents.

Women number up to 1,000 of Afghanistan’s 126,000 police officers. Afghan officials and the West, who do most of their training, say female police fill much-needed gaps in a society where the two sexes must often be separated.

Malaysia’s Obedient Wives Club angers women’s rights groups

(Ishak Md Nor, 40, (2nd L) and his two wives, Aishah Abdul Ghafar, 40, (C) and Afiratul Abidah Mohd Hanan 25 -- both members of the Obedient Wifes Club -- laugh with their children after the club's launch in Kuala Lumpur June 4, 2011/Samsul Said)

A Malaysian group urging wives to avoid marital problems by fulfilling their husbands’ sexual desires like prostitutes has angered politicians and women’s rights groups, the New Straits Times reported on Sunday. The Obedient Wives Club, which was set up by a group of Muslim women, said domestic violence, infidelity and prostitution stemmed from a lack of belief in God and a failure of women to satisfy their husbands.

The club’s president, Rohaya Mohamed, said it was open to women of all religions and would conduct seminars on how to be a good wife as well as offer marriage counseling. “A man married to a woman who is as good or better than a prostitute in bed has no reason to stray. Rather than allowing him to sin, a woman must do all she can to ensure his desires are met,” Rohaya told the newspaper.

French police arrest protesters before burqa ban goes into effect

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(A Muslim woman protests against France's banning of full face veils from public spaces, outside the French Embassy in London September 25, 2010/Luke MacGregor)

French police have arrested 59 people who turned up for a banned protest over the banning of the Muslim full face veil, a police spokesman said. The measure goes into force on Monday and prohibits wearing the full veil, the burqa, in all public places, with a 150 euro ($216) fine for offenders.

The spokesman said 20 of those arrested on Saturday had turned up for the prohibited protest at the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris wearing the full veil. One person was arrested on arrival in France from Britain and one came from Belgium.

Witness – Searching for reforms in King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia

(Saudi King Abdullah address the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011. Saudi King Abdullah announced on Friday billions of dollars in handouts for his people and boosted his security apparatus in a renewed effort to shield the world's top oil exporter from unrest rocking the Arab world. REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency)

(Saudi King Abdullah address the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011/Saudi Press Agency)

Ulf Laessing was Reuters chief correspondent in Saudi Arabia until last week when the government terminated his accreditation over coverage of recent protests in the kingdom. He was based in the Saudi capital Riyadh since 2009 and previously worked in Kuwait after joining Reuters in his native Germany in 1997. In the following piece he describes the little progress of reforms launched by King Abdullah often titled as “reformist” in the Western press.

By Ulf Laessing

RIYADH (Reuters) – The moment my wife and I left our apartment compound in downtown Riyadh, a jeep screeched to a halt in front of us and a bearded man stepped out. “Is this your wife? I want to give you some advice. Don’t let her wear makeup,” said the religious policeman, dressed in a traditional white robe. “If she uses makeup, other men will only look at her,” he added, raising his forefinger to stress his point and staring hard at me.

Conservative German state bans burqas for civil servants

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A French Muslim wearing a niqab veil in Nantes, April 23, 2010/Stephane Mahe

Hesse, a state run by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, on Wednesday became the first German region to ban Muslim face veils for public sector workers.

Hesse Interior Minister Boris Rhein announced it was “not acceptable” for the teacher in Frankfurt to wear a face veil because “public sector workers are obligated to have neutral religious and political views”.

The decision was prompted by a local teacher who had told her school she wanted to wear a burqa in the classroom after returning from maternity leave. She had not previously worn one.

Top French court rejects gay marriage appeal

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France’s ban on same-sex marriages was upheld by the country’s constitutional authority on Friday, in a ruling that relieves the government of any obligation to grant gays the wedding rights enjoyed by heterosexuals.

A handful of countries in Europe allow couples of the same sex to wed, and rights campaigners had hoped for a breakthrough in France, where two women living together had demanded the view of the Constitutional Council.

The Council said it found no conflict between the law as it stands and fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. It ruled that it was up to parliament, rather than the constitutional authorities, to decide whether the law should change.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, blasphemy, and a tale of two women

blasphemyprotestFor all the bad news coming out of Pakistan, you can't help but admire the courage of two very different women who did what their political leaders failed to do -- stood up to the religious right after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his call for changes to the country's blasphemy laws.

One is Sherry Rehman, a politician from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, who first proposed amendments to the laws. The other is actress Veena Malik, who challenged the clerical establishment for criticising her for appearing on Indian reality show Big Boss.  I'm slightly uncomfortable about grouping the two together -- the fact that both are Pakistani women does not make them any more similar than say, for example, two Pakistani men living in Rawalpindi or  London. Yet at the same time, the idea that Pakistan can produce such different and outspoken women says a lot about the diversity and energy of a country which can be too easily written off as a failing state or  bastion of the Islamist religious right.

Sherry Rehman is living as a virtual prisoner in her home in Karachi after being threatened over her support for amendments to the blasphemy laws. She has refused to leave the country for her own safety, nor indeed to accept the position adopted by her party leaders -- that now is not the time to amend the laws. Their argument appears to be that trying to amend the laws now would just add more fuel to the fire after religious leaders defended Taseer's killing and organised huge protests in favour of the current legal provisions.

Orthodox Church asks Russian women to dress modestly

russian orthodoxRussian feminists have expressed outrage after the country’s increasingly powerful Orthodox Church proposed an official dress code to ensure that women dress more modestly.

A top Church official, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, called for the code in a letter in which he said: “Either scantily clad or painted like a clown, a woman who counts on meeting men on the street, in the metro or a bar not only risks running into a drunken idiot but will meet men with no self-respect.” (Photo: An Orthodox priest leads an Epiphany day celebration in Moscow January 19, 2011/Denis Sinyakov)

Chaplin, who heads the Church’s department for relations with society, said last month that women in mini-skirts were to blame if raped as they “provoke men.”

Dutch may introduce burqa ban as early as 2011

wilders (Photo: Geert Wilders in The Hague, December 16, 2010/Jerry Lampen)

The Netherlands could ban full face veils worn by some Muslim women,as soon as next year, Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. Wilders’ populist Freedom Party is the third largest in parliament and provides crucial support to the minority ruling coalition in exchange for the government taking a tougher line on Islam and immigration from non-Western countries.

His party has grown in popularity largely because of his outspoken criticism of Islam, which he describes as “a violent ideology.” He has been charged with inciting hatred against Muslims for comparing Islam to Nazism. The case is due to start over again following a request for new judges.

“We are not a single issue party but the fight against a fascist ideology Islam is for us of the utmost importance,” said Wilders, who argues his comments about Islam are protected by freedom of speech.

European human rights court faults Ireland on abortion ban

echr (Photo: European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, January 30, 2009/Vincent Kessler)

The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Ireland on Thursday for stopping a Lithuanian cancer sufferer from terminating a pregnancy, in a blow to the predominantly Catholic country and its tough abortion laws. In a final ruling, the rights court found Ireland had not respected the privacy and family rights of the Lithuanian woman, who was living in Ireland and feared a pregnancy could trigger a relapse of her cancer, in remission at the time.

The court, based in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, ordered Ireland to pay 15,000 euros ($19,840) in damages to the woman, who was forced to travel to Britain, where the laws are more liberal, to have an abortion. Terminating a pregnancy has long been a fraught issue in Ireland, where some of the toughest abortion laws in Europe allow terminations only when the mother’s life is in danger.

“The Court concluded that neither the medical consultation nor litigation options, relied on by the Irish government, constituted effective and accessible procedures which allowed (her) to establish her right to a lawful abortion in Ireland,” it said a statement on the ruling. Here is a court press release and the full text of the judgment.