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Saudi Arabia cracks women political barrier, allows them to vote

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Saudi Arabia women (source: lifegate.com)
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While women in Saudi Arabia still aren’t allowed to drive cars, and need to take permission from a male guardian to work, travel, or enroll in school, they will be standing for the country’s municipal elections slated for December 12. This is the first time in the history of the country, where ‘women emancipation’ is a strange word for many, that women have been allowed to participate in the electoral process.

The only two former elections in 2005 and 2011 featured only male candidates campaigning for a mass of male voters. In a country where tribal loyalties are of great importance, the concept of electoral democracy is still new.

The late King Abdullah, in 2011, had given the country’s women the right to vote in the 2015 elections and also stand as candidates. Women had enjoyed at least some voting rights in the other Gulf countries till then. He had also ordered that 20 per cent of members of the Shura Council, the kingdom’s quasi-parliament, be females.

“We reject to marginalize the role of women in the Saudi society,” he had said at the time.

According to reports on Monday, among the 6,917 total candidates this year, 979 are women competing for positions in 284 municipal councils. However, in a population of 31 million, only 131,000 women have registered to vote. Still, the move is massive step towards progress.

“We will vote for the women even though we don’t know anything about them,” Um Fawaz, a young teacher, told The Arab Weekly, “It’s enough that they are women.”

Men haven’t been completely hostile to this idea either. Saud al-Shammry, a Riyadh resident of 43, commended the move and said that it was time for a new approach. He added that “there’s a big possibility” of him voting for a woman if her platform was convincing enough.

“If we want to develop or reform our country we should put a woman in every decision-making level,” said Nassima Al-Sadah, a Qatif candidate.

Females however, still have a long way to go in the country. Rules which strictly keep the two sexes separate and other gender-specific restrictions hinder the campaigning process of the women to a large extent. Moreover, women are barely aware of the registration procedures and the number of registration stations opened by the government is too few.

Though candidates are not allowed to communicate directly with members of the opposite sex, it doesn’t pose a problem for the male candidates who can speak with the men voters who form the majority. Women are left to campaign mainly through spokespersons, as they are not allowed to contact men even via social media.

“If I want to win, I have to target men,” candidate Nassima al-Sadah told The New York Times earlier this month. “I can’t win if I don’t talk to men.”

An official promotional poster for the elections in Hafr al-Batin, which contained a drawing of a man and a woman, had the woman’s face slashed out.

“It’s very, very difficult for us to win and to target our voters,” said 33-year-old Safinaz Abu-Alshamat, who is planning a social media campaign in her Makkah district.

Yet another cause of worry for the country’s female population is that King Salman, who succeeded the late King Abdullah in January, hasn’t done much towards politically empowering women. So, there is a great need for rigorous active female participation in this year’s election, in order to make sure that the women’s rights reforms aren’t scaled back by the ruling monarch.

“I’m not excited by the idea of winning,” candidate Loujain al-Hathloul told Britain’s The Telegraph. Hathloul spent 73 days in jail earlier this year for her participation in a women’s voting drive. “I’m focused on increasing the number of women who stand in elections,” she said.

While some, such as university professor and women’s rights campaigner, Dr Hatoon Alfassi call the move “a step toward women’s full citizenship”, others count the changes to women’s suffrage laws as amounting to nothing.

“Things are getting worse and worse,” remarked activist Aziza al-Yousef. “I think we need to change the whole system.”

 

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Rampant Sexual Harassment of Children & Women in Islam

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place

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MUSLIM MAN
How safe are Muslim women? Wikimedia

Gaurav Tyagi

  • Sexual harassment of women and children is a serious problem in Pakistan
  • Kidnapping of girl child is also very common
  • It is not only a problem in Pakistan but in all countries where Islam prevails

Khaled Ahmed a senior Pakistani journalist and the consulting editor of ‘Newsweek Pakistan’ stated that raping and killing of children is a serious problem in Pakistan.

According to him three incidents were reported on January 28 from different districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A girl child was also kidnapped, raped and killed in Quetta, Balochistan.

1300 applicants after the new rule came in. Wikimedia commons
Muslim women and children are subject to rampant sexual harassment. Wikimedia Commons

A 24 year old man was arrested for raping and killing seven year old girl, Zainab in a city called Kasur, which lies south of Lahore in the Punjab province. This pervert is a religious person and sings songs praising the so called holy prophet of Muslims for a living. He killed seven girls before sexually assaulting Zainab for four days then killing and throwing her dead body in a rubbish dump on January 9.

Police treated her abduction as a routine matter. As per an official count ten children, five of them girls were sexually assaulted and murdered in Kasur within a short span of time.

The first of such incident was reported way back in 2015. This reveals the incompetence of Police and administration in Kasur. Khalid says these sort of unfortunate incidents are rapidly rising all over Pakistan.

Also Reading: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Eight boys were murdered after criminal assaults in 2017. In Sargodha, the body of a violated 15 year old girl was dumped in the fields on January 11. In Pattoki, an 11 year old boy was strangled after being sexually assaulted. In Sheikhupura another eight year old girl was abducted, raped and strangled to death before being thrown in a dustbin.

In Kasur, the Police registered cases against the Plaintiffs for reporting the crime instead of arresting the offenders. The local judge incarcerated the poor parents.

The victims of a gang of rapists even went to Lahore and protested in front of the assembly, after which the Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif heard their grievances for four hours. He promised to help the victims with lawyers and transportation but ultimately Sharif didn’t provide any assistance. (1)

Muslim women
Muslim women are being exploited in the name of religion.

‘Bacha bazi’ an old tradition of Afghanistan has been documented in the award winning film ‘The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan’ featuring journalist Najibullah Quraishi. The film depicts accounts of Afghan boys subjected to sexual slavery.

According to ‘The Guardian’; “The bacha (child) dancers are often abused children, whose families have rejected them. Their owners or masters can be single or married men, who keep them in a form of sexual slavery as concubines.”

An Afghan boy Omid says that he is paid approximately $2 for the night and often gang-raped. He mentioned that he cannot go to police for help because the perpetrators are powerful and rich men. The police cannot do anything against them.

The ‘New York Times’ wrote that American soldiers are ordered to ignore the screaming cries of young boys sexually abused by their Afghan allies. The Americans are told to turn a deaf ear to this aspect of ‘Afghan culture’.

‘Pakistan’s Hidden Shame’, a documentary directed by Mohammed Naqvi and produced by Jamie Doran tells deeply distressing stories of vulnerable children from Peshawar.

These unfortunate kids try to ease the pain of their lives by using narcotics or resorting to self-harm by cutting themselves. They get regularly raped as well as gang raped.

Children are being kidnapped and raped on almost daily basis.

According to one man, “Once there was a boy on the bus and everyone had sex with him”. This pervert boastfully admitted to raping 12 different children during his career as a bus conductor. (2)

More than 150 women filed criminal complaints, three quarters of them for sexual assault. Two cases of rape were reported in the infamous mass sex assault by Muslim asylum seekers on girls and women in the German city of Cologne on New Years Eve of 2016. (5)

David Spicer led a review in the wake of ‘Operation Sanctuary’, which saw 18 people jailed for the sexual abuse of young women groomed in Newcastle, U.K.

The exploitation was not recognized in adults. This operation identified approximately 700 victims across the Northumbria Police area, 108 in Newcastle.

Also Read: Muslim women can now travel for Haj without Mahram

Mr. Spicer carried out the serious case review for the Newcastle Safeguarding Adults and Children Boards. He said that “adults were being targeted, groomed and exploited besides children” but the authorities did not have the powers to intervene with adults to stop them from ‘making bad choices’ or forming ‘inappropriate relationships’.

The report also examined the exploitation of boys and men but said it was complex as well as hidden and operated differently to female victims.

Mr. Spicer stated, “The low incidence of identified cases is likely to be a significant under-representation of the abuse occurring”

One of Spicer’s 33 recommendations includes a need for research into the cultural background of abusers, majority of which are from a ‘predominantly Asian or British minority ethnic culture or background’.

Muslim women and children deserve greater justice. Wikimedia Commons

Most of these abusers are British born but came from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish Muslim communities.

The Quillam Foundation think tank, which focuses on counter-extremism said 84% of the 264 convicted offenders of gang grooming between 2005 and 2017 were of South Asian Muslim heritage.

David Spicer mentioned that the perpetrators he spoke to ‘displayed no regret and spoke in a derogatory manner about lack of morals in British girls”. (3)

Muslims consider Mecca in Saudi Arabia as their most sacred pilgrimage site. A woman named Sabica Khan took to Facebook to share her #MeToo moment at the aforesaid place.

Sabica says; “It’s sad to say that you are not even safe at holy places. I’ve been harassed, not once, not twice, but thrice. My entire experience at the holy city is overshadowed by this horrible incident”

As soon as Sabica’s post went viral on social media, a large number of Muslim women started sharing their sad experiences of sexual molestation at religious places with the hashtag #MosqueMeToo.

“Each time my mom and her sisters went to Hajj, they were groped-disgusting ppl w/no morals. Toxic patriarchy; keep doing what you’re doing, Mona”- Hassan Saleh.

Muslim
Muslim women are not safe even in the place of their worship. Twitter

“Had to stop going for Taraweeh and Qiyam one Ramadan because of some gentlemen. Stayed mum because I thought no one’d believe me, or I’d be accused of having an overactive imagination. #MosqueMeToo is our skeleton in the closet”- Kali. (4)

It is quite clear from the above mentioned ghastly criminal acts that Islam has a chronic problem regarding sexual abuse of children and women.

Sources;

  1. http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/unsafe-spaces-5057826/
  2. https://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/29547/the-filthy-culture-of-bacha-bazi-in-afghanistan/
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-tyne-43153556
  4. http://indianexpress.com/article/trending/trending-globally/muslim-women-sharing-their-sexual-harassment-incidents-at-hajj-has-shaken-up-netizens-metoo-5058222/
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/12086473/Suspects-in-Cologne-sex-attacks-claimed-to-be-Syrian-refugees.html

(The author, Gaurav Tyagi, is a Master Degree holder in International Tourism & Leisure Studies from Netherlands and is based in China.)