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By Nafisa Hoodbhoy
Pakistani feminists say they are determined to fight blasphemy charges filed in mid-April by militant Islamic groups opposed to their International Women’s Day rallies held on March 8.
They rejected “totally false” blasphemy allegations based on the social media postings of their rallies.
“We’ve seen a weaponization of blasphemy increase,” said Fariha Aziz of the Karachi-based Women’s Action Forum. “There’s a pattern since 2017 of using it against dissidents in particular.”
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Until recently, Aziz said, social dissidents were labeled “anti-state” and “anti-Islamic,” with the blasphemy charges taking opposition to a whole new level.
Nasir Minhas, an activist, and lawyer with the far-right political party Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) told VOA he would pursue his blasphemy petition in the High Court of Islamabad after it was rejected by a lower court.
“These women had raised objectionable slogans which were anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam, and they held banners which symbolically insulted the Prophet of Islam,” Minhas said.
Pakistan’s laws carry the death penalty for those charged with blasphemy, and some of the accused have been killed even before their cases reached court.
Aziz said the allegations have had a “chilling effect.”
“There are those who continue to speak up, and will,” she said, adding the charges have organizers concerned about the impact on the women’s movement.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan People’s Party chairman and opposition leader, opposed the “misuse” of the blasphemy charge, and the PPP has stopped police from registering cases against women.
But Firdous Naqvi, a parliamentarian from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) ruling party, told VOA his party cannot support the women for raising “Westernized slogans” such as “My body. My choice.”
“Islam clearly lays down the guidelines for women’s dress and their code of conduct,” he said.
In videos posted on social media, some women are wearing jeans and several others are without the dupatta, a traditional loose cloth covering.
One young female organizer, who requested anonymity for her safety, said she believes Pakistani women’s “consciousness” has progressed more than the state.
“Younger women who have studied abroad and had access to social media know-how different our lives are in Pakistan compared to women across the world,” she said.
Rally organizers said their slogans were misinterpreted and their videos were doctored to force them into silence.
They claim when they shouted “mullahs” (Islamic clerics), the sound was doctored to sound like “Allah.” And “Fazlo” (Islamic party chief Fazlur-Rehman) was altered to sound like “Rasool” (prophet).
Latif Afridi, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan whose legal team is working to quash the blasphemy cases in the Peshawar High Court, called the manipulation of social media content a “very dangerous trend.”
“If today they use the videos against educated women, tomorrow they will use it against political workers. It makes us wonder where this country is headed,” he told VOA.
Thousands had viewed women’s rallies on Facebook and Twitter, after which the doctored videos appeared. As the two sides traded barbs, Pakistan’s Ministry for Religious Affairs said it would probe the matter.
PTI lawmaker Naqvi said the videos would not be used in investigations but “in some instances, the women appear to have crossed the line.”
“Their cases will be sent to the Islamic Shariat Court, where we should wait to see (the) results,” he said.
Civil society participation
The left-leaning Women’s Freedom March in Islamabad, with its inclusion of young, grassroots female activists, is the primary focus of the Peshawar investigations, organizers say.
After the Islamabad rally, Islamabad’s Red Mosque petitioned the high court to ban such rallies in the future for their “un-Islamic” and “unconstitutional” nature.
Ismat Shahjehan, a socialist feminist with the Women Democratic Front, is among the organizers accused of blasphemy by the Red Mosque’s Shuhada Foundation.
She told VOA the group’s demand for the rights of Baloch and Sindhis reverberated nationwide and triggered the blasphemy cases.
Defense analyst Brig Tipu Sultan rejected charges that the state used accusations of blasphemy to crush social dissent.
“It (the charge) is something that is yellow journalism. It is something that represents intellectual corruption, nothing more,” he told VOA.
He claimed the West is using the blasphemy law against Pakistan.
Last week, the PTI government said it would not compromise on its blasphemy law, even if it hurts its trade options.
It was responding to the European Parliament’s citing of an “alarming” increase of abuse in Pakistan’s blasphemy law, followed by a resolution to revoke the country’s preferential trade status.
Organizers say their rallies have inspired women to speak on formerly taboo subjects such as sexuality and violence.
“The women’s march is a very large and growing movement that was held in 17 cities this year,” said Arfana Mallah, a Sindh University professor.
The Jamiat-i-Ulema and Sunni Tehrik targeted her last year after her tweet in the Sindhi language criticized the blasphemy law as a “colonial-era decree used to target opponents.”
Mounting death threats forced her to temporarily flee the country, retract her statement and apologize in a YouTube video.
The TLP, now the third-largest political party in Punjab, said such women are “Western-funded,” who do not represent the mainstream.
“Religious parties’ interpretation of Islam revolves around women’s bodies and now, seeing women rise. They’re using blasphemy laws as a tactic to frighten them,” Mallah said. (VOA/KB)
Over the last one-and-a-half-year, people have been vocal about both mental and physical health in relationships. Even while miles away from one another, people kept checking on the health and well-being of their loved ones. However, one issue, i.e., breast cancer has been affecting women throughout the world, and it still needs much more focus and attention.
According to the World Health Organization, in 2020 itself, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer in the world. A report published by National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP) estimates that breast cancer cases are likely to increase by nearly 20 per cent. Throughout the world, the tenth month of the year is recognized as the month of "Pink October" to raise awareness about breast cancer. The month should also be a celebration of encouraging the women in our lives to take the first step in this journey of staying in "Pink of Health". happen, an international dating app, conducted an in-app survey to understand how Indians discuss health issues like breast cancer with their partners. The survey gave a glimpse of whether health issues are impacting the life and relationships of singles.
41 per cent of users are not aware of examinations related to women's health
Forty-one per cent of users shared that they did not encourage the women in their life (mother, sister, friend, etc.) to go for checkups for issues related to health. Sixteen per cent of the respondents confessed that they did not remind women in their life to take examinations for their own health. It is important to note that regular self-examination is likely to detect breast lumps early. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. If it is detected in time, it will be cured in nine out of 10 cases.
41 per cent of users are not aware of examinations related to women's health. | Photo by Unsplash
49 per cent of users said, "Breast Cancer is not an impediment when in love"
A disease like breast cancer is likely to affect the confidence and self-esteem of women who are diagnosed with the same. With the change in the body, they might feel scared, less confident, and unloved at times. However, when questioned if breast cancer can be a deal-breaker for men, 49 per cent of them shared that it is not a problem.
When questioned if breast cancer can be a deal-breaker for men, 49 per cent of them shared that it is not a problem. | Photo by Angiola Harry on Unsplash
55 per cent believe talking about physical and mental health is no longer a stigma
The past year provided users with an opportunity to be open about their health issues--both mental and physical. Fifty-five per cent of users agreed that they are comfortable talking about such issues even when they still explore the relationship. Thus, establishing how the new generation is not shying away from breaking the taboo and stigmas around the notion of keeping one's health issues secret.
Fifty-five per cent of users agreed that they are comfortable talking about such issues even when they still explore the relationship. | Photo by Unsplash
40 per cent of users believe that a couple's everyday life can be affected by some health problems
A minimal headache can disrupt our whole routine for the day, so relationships are bound to be impacted by the health problems of our partner. Users shared that health issues can bring a little bit of tension and worry in the relationship with their partners. Health issues can be overwhelming for couples; thus, it becomes essential to voice your concerns to your partner. Sharing what you feel will provide you with clarity and make your partner your biggest support system. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: Indians, women health, relationship, breast cancer, mental health, examinations
One of the world's largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia, announced Saturday it aims to reach "net zero" greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, joining more than 100 countries in a global effort to try and curb man-made climate change.
The announcement, made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in brief scripted remarks at the start of the kingdom's first-ever Saudi Green Initiative Forum, was timed to make a splash a little more than a week before the start of the global COP26 climate conference being held in Glasgow, Scotland.
Although the kingdom will aim to reduce its emissions, Prince Mohammed said the kingdom would do so through a so-called "Carbon Circular Economy" approach. That approach focuses on still unreliable carbon capture and storage technologies over efforts to actually reduce global reliance on fossil fuels. The announcement only pertains to Saudi Arabia's efforts within its national borders and does not impact its continued aggressive investment in oil and exporting its fossil fuels to Asia and other regions.
"The transition to net zero carbon emissions will be delivered in a manner that preserves the kingdom's leading role in enhancing the security and stability of global energy markets, particularly considering the maturity and availability of technologies necessary to manage and reduce emissions," a statement by the Saudi Green Initiative forum said.
The kingdom's oil and gas exports form the backbone of its economy, despite efforts to diversify away from reliance on fossil fuels for revenue.
The global summit COP26 starting Oct. 31 will draw heads of state from across the world to try and tackle global warming and its challenges. It is being described as "the world's last best chance "to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels. The summit is expected to see a flurry of new commitments from governments and businesses to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Leaked documents first reported by the BBC emerged Thursday showing how Saudi Arabia and other countries, including Australia, Brazil and Japan, are apparently trying to water down an upcoming U.N. science panel report on global warming. The documents are purportedly evidence of the way in which some governments' public support for climate action is undermined by their efforts behind closed doors.
Saudi Arabia has pushed back against the recommendation that fossil fuels be urgently phased out of the energy sector. Instead, the kingdom is touting, thus enabling nations to continue burning fossil fuels by sucking the resulting emissions out of the atmosphere, according to Greenpeace, which obtained the documents.
The kingdom repeatedly seeks to have the report's authors delete references to the need to phase out fossil fuels, as well as the panel's conclusion that there is a "need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales," according to the leaked documents
Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates - another major Gulf Arab energy producer - announced it too would join the "net zero" club of nations with a target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The UAE did not announce specifics on how it will reach this target but said its Ministry of Climate Change and Environment would work with the energy, economy, industry, infrastructure, transport, waste, agriculture and other sectors on the government's strategies and policies to achieve net zero by 2050.
The UAE says it is home to three of the largest solar facilities in the world and is the first country in the Middle East to deploy nuclear power. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: UAE, Oil Producer, Carbon Economy, COP26, Saudi Arabia
Apple has updated its App Store rules to allow developers to contact users directly about payments, a concession in a legal settlement with companies challenging its tightly controlled marketplace.
According to App Store rules updated Friday, developers can now contact consumers directly about alternate payment methods, bypassing Apple's commission of 15 or 30%.
They will be able to ask users for basic information, such as names and e-mail addresses, "as long as this request remains optional", said the iPhone maker.
Apple proposed the changes in August in a legal settlement with small app developers.
But the concession is unlikely to satisfy firms like "Fortnite" developer Epic Games, with which the tech giant has been grappling in a drawn-out dispute over its payments policy.
Epic launched a case aiming to break Apple's grip on the App Store, accusing the iPhone maker of operating a monopoly in its shop for digital goods or services.
In September, a judge ordered Apple to loosen control of its App Store payment options, but said Epic had failed to prove that antitrust violations had taken place.
For Epic and others, the ability to redirect users to an out-of-app payment method is not enough: it wants players to be able to pay directly without leaving the game.
Both sides have appealed.
Apple is also facing investigations from US and European authorities that accuse it of abusing its dominant position. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Apple, App store, Epic, Games