MENA Women's News Brief

Dec 16, 2014

The Middle East Program will send out the latest developments on women’s issues in the region on a bi-monthly basis.

December 7: Gulf women: ‘Modernization’ vs. ‘marginalization’

“Arab Gulf women are usually perceived by many feminists and commentators as one homogenous group. However, despite certain common conditions for women in the region, rights enjoyed by women differ from one Gulf country to another. Reem Al-Harmi, a Qatari feminist and writer at Al-Raya, argues that the most important determinant of women’s status is the extent of the government's support; whether they grant women the same rights as their male counterparts, and whether women have access to the same opportunities and chances to climb the professional ladder, in governmental or non-governmental institutions.” (Al-Ahram)

December 10: Meet the Guests of Malala Joining Her as She Receives the Nobel Peace Prize

“A group of friends and fellow activists invited to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on Wednesday, December 10 have described how they have been inspired by the example of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager whose determination to receive an education provoked the Taliban to try and kill her.” (TIME)

December 18: Is a women’s college right for you?

“With women now making up more than half the student body across the region — and close to two-thirds in Gulf nations such as the UAE and Qatar — universities are rushing to open new campuses to better meet their needs. The surge in women’s colleges is aiming to meet their unique needs. The trend is particularly pronounced in the more conservative GCC states, where women’s colleges are billed as largely male-free environments where women can let their hair down and speak their minds in public.” (Al-Monitor)


December 4: Zainab Al-Khawaja sentenced to years in prison

“On 4 December 2014, Zainab Al-Khawaja, a Bahraini human rights activist, was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 3000 BHD (approx. USD $7960) on the charge of ripping a picture of the Bahrain monarch during a court hearing in October 2014. She has paid a 100 BHD bail to remain out of prison until her appeal for that charge on 15 June 2015, and if the sentence is upheld then, she will be imprisoned for three years and made to pay the fine.” (Gulf Center for Human Rights)

December 9: Bahraini women may lose jobs after budget cuts

“Women hired under a graduate recruitment scheme in Bahrain face losing their jobs because of budget constraints, according to a senior unionist. The General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU) has received several complaints from women working in the private and public sectors who feared their contracts would not be renewed, said secretary general Salman Mahfoodh.” (Trade Arabia)


December 2: World Health Organization demands end to ‘virginity tests’

“The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) proposes governments worldwide to put an end to ‘virginity tests’ performed on women and girls according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The WHO handbook published in November states ‘there is no place for virginity testing.’ The handbook goes on to add that the invasive practice has ‘no scientific validity.’” (Daily News Egypt)

December 11: 95 percent of Cairo women have been sexually harassed, says survey

A survey shows that 95.3 percent of Cairo women have been sexually harassed, according to a study published by the anti-harassment initiative Harassmap — most often in broad daylight while walking down the street or riding public transport. The study is based on a questionnaire distributed to 300 women and 150 men in the greater Cairo area. Out of the male respondents, 77.3 percent admitted to perpetrating sexual harassment. (Mada Masr)

December 11: (Op-Ed) Violence against women and exclusion from public life (Douaa Hussein)

“Some non-experts believe violence against women is limited to physical violence, but this undermines the issue of violence and ways of confronting it and ignores many other forms of violence that have long-term effects on the status of women in Egypt. Thus, there is emphasis on effective participation of women as voters in the political process but not as candidates, as a result of a cultural, political and economic tradition and violence that has negatively influenced the role of women in elected councils, or even political parties. The 16-day campaign to end violence against women — from 25 November to 10 December — still raises the banner of "No to sexual harassment," although violence also extends to exclusion and stereotyping in political life because of violence.” (Al-Ahram)

December 12: Mansoura court accepts appeal on FGM verdict

“The Mansour Misdemeanor Court has accepted the appeal submitted by prosecutors in the case in which a doctor brought to trial on charges of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was acquitted. The appeal will begin on December 15. The doctor, and the thirteen year-old victim’s father, were acquitted in November. The judge gave no reason for his verdict.” (Aswat Masriya via Atlantic Council MENA Source Blog)

December 13: Egyptian group challenges norm, calls for female military service

“A group of activists in Egypt is challenging the country’s mandatory military service for men, demanding that it be amended to allow women the right to serve on a voluntary basis. While Egyptian women have served in the military for decades, their roles have been limited to administrative and medical posts.” (Al-Arabiya)


December 3: Stabbing of Six Women Continue Series of Attacks Against Iranian Women

“In a continuing series of attacks against women in Iran, a suspect has been arrested for the stabbing of six women in the southern town of Jahrom in Fars Province over the past week. The stabbings follow the numerous acid attacks against women in Isfahan over the last few months, which were allegedly linked to vigilante justice that was aimed at punishing ‘improper’ hijab and encouraged by the Iranian Parliament’s proposed ‘Plan to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice.’ There is growing concern that the stabbings reflect a continuation of such ‘Virtue Plan’-inspired attacks, especially as state officials have rushed to dissociate the suspect in the stabbing attacks from the proposed Parliamentary Plan. (Payvand)

December 5: (Op-Ed) Reliance on Ethnocentric Solutions Equates to Deceiving Women (Mehrangis Kar)

“Through the pretext of defending Islamic values, it has been claimed for the last thirty-six years that relying on international provisions and documents will not correct the gender discriminations that exist against women in Iran’s traditional society. It is only through reforming religion, the claim goes, that violence against women at the minimum can be ended. Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, our beliefs were shaped with this view, and we were desperate to keep the light of hope alive in ourselves through any means and avoid falling into despair.” (Payvand)


December 10: ISIS sex slaves guide mars international Human Rights Day

“As the world marks Human Rights Day, reports swirl over the militant group ISIS’s recently released rules about how female sex slaves should be treated. The pamphlet was published by the Research and Fatwa Department of ISIS on December 3 and is written in the form of questions and answers. The rules allow ISIS members to have sexual intercourse with, beat and trade non-Muslim slaves, including Yazidi women and girls.” (Al-Arabiya)

December 10: For Yazidi Women, Escaping ISIS Doesn't Mean The Ordeal Is Over

“Khalida Khalid is a Yazidi adviser to the speaker of the Parliament in the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. She is working on the cases and says there have been instances of pregnancy. But no one wants to talk about it outside the community, she says… Khalid says the women who have escaped ISIS need protection when they return. The estimated number of escapees varies from 50 to nearly 300 women and girls. ‘As a community we have societal rules. Some of these families have accepted the reality, the de facto situation they've been put in’ she says. ‘We're more concerned about what will happen later to these women, will they face discrimination or violence from their families.’” (NPR)

December 7: Dar Al-Ifta details ISIS’ violations against women

“Dar Al-Ifta, the official institution responsible for issuing religious edicts in Egypt, detailed violations against women in ISIS in a report released Sunday, December 7. The report stated that ISIS ‘has killed and enslaved women,’ turning women into ‘sex slaves that are sold to the highest bidder.’ The report added however, that ISIS is “unusual” when it comes to the role of women in takfiri, terrorist organisations, since it has intentionally changed the image on the magnitude of violence committed against women within these organisations to that of violence committed by women, in a sharp contrast.” (Daily News Egypt)


December 7: Ultra-Orthodox women launch election campaign

“Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women in Israel have begun an unprecedented campaign to have female candidates on the lists of religious parties for next March’s general election ‘We want ultra-Orthodox women — five percent of the population — to have a say in the Knesset and demand that the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties choose at least one candidate of their choice,’ activist Esty Reider-Indorsky, a driving force behind the move, told Israel Radio on Sunday, December 7.” (Times of Israel)


December 8: Woman in Jordan's Parliament, berated in chamber, becomes social media star

“Hind Al-Fayez, a female member of the Jordanian Parliament, was in a heated exchange last week with a fellow MP regarding gas imports, when the floor was yielded to another member, Yahya Al-Saud. ‘Sit down, Hind!’ Al-Saud loudly repeated numerous times, before banging on the desk and yelling, ‘God curse the person who brought the (female) quota to Parliament!’ By law, 15 seats in Jordan's 150-member House of Representatives are reserved for women, with female members determined by election results. The gender dispute, caught on video, has raised awareness of women's rights issues in Jordan and across the Middle East.” (CNN)


December 3: Lebanon says detained woman was Baghdadi wife for three months

“Lebanon's interior minister said on Wednesday, December 3 that a woman detained by security forces was the wife of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for three months, the first Lebanese government official to speak publicly on the arrest. Security officials in Lebanon, speaking on condition of anonymity, had said on Tuesday, December 2 that the Lebanese army detained a wife and daughter of Baghdadi as they crossed from Syria late last month. Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk told Lebanon's MTV channel on Wednesday, December 3 that the woman was no longer Baghdadi's wife:‘Saja al-Dulaimi married three times and Baghdadi was her second husband for three months six years ago.’” (Reuters)

December 8: Lebanese women underrepresented in the workplace

“Women in Lebanon continue to outnumber men in universities but are underrepresented in the workplace due to social norms, discrimination by employers and an inhospitable economy, experts say. The World Economic Forum’s annual Gender Gap Report found that only 26 percent of working-age women are in the workforce in Lebanon, compared to 76 percent for men. There were particularly few female legislators, senior officials and managers. However, Lebanon ranked first in terms of the proportion of women in secondary and postsecondary education, with more women enrolled than men.” (Daily Star)


December 3: Kuwaiti MPs call to ban women from judiciary

“A group of five Kuwaiti MPs has proposed banning women from joining the judiciary, using the fact there were no female judges when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was alive to support their controversial motion, Kuwait Times has reported.” (Arabian Business)


December 4: Morocco’s Remote Areas: 83 percent of Married Women Are Underage

“Ytto Foundation, an association that works to end violence against women released a troubling report on the situation of women in remote areas of the High Atlas. The association went to very remote villages only to find out that among the 743 women interviewed, 83 percent were married before the age of 18.” (Morocco World News)

December 5: Moroccan Woman Tops Forbes’ List of Most Powerful Young African Women

“Morocco’s Fatima-Zahra Mansouri, Mayor of Marrakesh, ranks first in Forbes magazine’s list of 20 young powerful African women released this Thursday, December 4. According to Forbes, Mansouri has, ‘Significantly cut down on graft, and is widely credited with introducing transparency, accountability and efficiency within Marrakech’s 96-member city council.’” (Morocco World News)

Saudi Arabia

December 3: Behind Closed Doors, Women Are Leading a Revolution in Saudi Arabia

“When the Western media look at Saudi Arabian women, they tend to focus on the problems, the restrictions and the abuses... But what’s being overlooked is a stunning transformation. Behind closed doors, in schools and on university campuses, there’s a breakneck, education-led revolution unfolding that could define the country’s future. Saudi women are now graduating from university in higher numbers than men, and their government is actively encouraging them to join the workforce.” (Huffington Post)

December 6: ‘Work from home’ project to begin next month

“The Ministry of Labor has initiated the trial application of telecommuting programs that will continue until the end of December, pending a ministerial decision that should outline the parameters of remote work, a source in the ministry said. The ministry will officially announce the new telework program this January, in the hope that it will encourage Saudi women to work, as well as open more employment opportunities for disabled people.” (Arab News)

December 7: Saudi Arabia records higher number of women forced to marry relatives

“Saudi Courts reported an increase in ‘tahjeer’ cases where the male relative of a woman strikes an agreement with her guardian to marry her without consultation and she is then banned from marrying anyone else, Al-Hayat daily reported. Courts in the kingdom confirmed that there were nine cases of tahjeer during the last two years, three of them in the last 40 days. Khalid al-Fakhry, the general-secretary of the National Society for Human Rights, said tahjeer was a crime against Islamic, international and national law.” (Al-Arabiya)

December 8: Saudi Arabia extends detention of female drivers

“Two Saudi women detained nearly a week ago for violating the kingdom’s female driving ban were ordered to be held for 25 more days Sunday, December 7 a relative told the Associated Press. The women, who were arrested December 1 after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, are supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban. The two women have a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000.” (Daily Star)


December 3: Inside Kobane: The female fighters taking on ISIS

“An Associated Press report from Kobane, Syria reveals that female fighters are playing a major role in the war against ISIS. The AP spoke to 19-year-old Pervin Kobani, the daughter of a farmer from the town. She left Kobane two years ago in order to join the Syrian-Kurdish Women's Self Defence Force (YPJ). Now, with the fight against ISIS moving to Kobane, she has returned to her hometown. ‘I didn't really have any other ambitions. I just wanted to live a free life, as a woman be able to see our reality, and have our rights and just live,’ she said, explaining why she joined the YPJ two years ago.” (The Independent)

December 9: No Word on 4 Abducted Activists

“The prominent Syrian human rights defenders Razan Zaitouneh, Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamada, and Nazem Hammadi – the Douma Four – remain missing a year after their abduction, 71 organizations said on December 9, 2014. On December 9, 2013, at about 10:40 p.m., a group of armed men stormed into the office of the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC), a Syrian human rights monitoring group, in Douma and abducted Razan Zaitouneh, the head of the center, and her colleagues – Wael Hamada, who is also her husband, Samira al-Khalil, and Nazem Hamadi. The four human rights defenders have not been heard of since.” (Human Rights Watch)

December 12: As war rages, Syrian women strive to keep up appearances

“Surrounded by Syria’s raging civil war, some women in the bubble of regime-held Damascus are determined to keep up appearances, intent on maintaining their beauty regimes despite the ugliness of the conflict.” (Daily Star)


December 14: Women welcome early retirement ruling

“Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, directed the human resources department of the emirate’s government to assist any female employee wishing to retire upon completing 15 years’ service. However, women will only be allowed to take early retirement based on their circumstances and with an explanation of the reasons for finishing work, said Tareq bin Khadem, a member of Sharjah Executive Council and chairman of the Human Resources Department.” (The National


December 10: Violence against women awareness campaign launched in Sanaa

“Yemen-based Women's Independent Network (WIN) launched an awareness campaign for a number of educational and social institutions as part of efforts to combat gender-based violence in the country, Yemen's official news agency Saba reported Wednesday (December 10th). The 16-day campaign marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which was celebrated on November 25.” (Al-Shorfa)

By Samaa Ahmed

The Middle East Program would like to thank Samaa Ahmed for compiling the MENA Women’s News Brief throughout the last year. We wish her well in her future endeavors. The MENA Women’s News Brief will be continued in 2015 by Julia Craig Romano, Program Assistant of the Middle East Program.

Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program

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